How do you train for the Simpson?

Have a look at the course.
First thing to note, it’s a long way, almost 600km. Secondly, there are lots of sand dunes to climb before you reach the bar at Birdsville. Thirdly, it’s a race. You’re going to need endurance, power and speed, in that order.

To complete the distance you’re going to need endurance. For years I’ve used a 100km ride in the Blue Mountains as the cornerstone of my Simpson training. It’s a big day out, with 2500m of climbing, taking 7 or 8 hours. I normally do this ride once a month throughout the year and twice a month leading up to the event.  In terms of energy output, it’s equivalent to a hard day in the Simpson. It’s interesting how many people reach the 75km point of the circuit and then are completely er, rogered.

The pace on this ride is not too important and over the years it’s been a good social ride with Simpsonites old and new. Learn to eat and drink on your training rides and make sure your bike is comfortable.

The next challenge is the dunes. The secret with the dunes is to get over without having to walk. Walking really is crap, it’s slower than riding and harder too. Even with fat tyres you need to maintain momentum climbing a dune and that requires power. The dunes start at about 2 metres high and increase in size as you head west. You’ll need bursts of power from 1 to 5 minutes to get over the dunes and you’ll need to recover from the effort in between. Before Birdsville they will be 50m high.

Hill repeats are good training for dunes, as are sprints on the beach. You need some high intensity training and it’s good to hit this during the week when work intrudes on the time available for cycling. Two or three sessions of about an hour should do it.  Chris Carmichael’s book, ‘The Time Crunched Cyclist’ is a good reference. It tells you how to test yourself, what zones to train in and provides training programs. Bear in mind that these sessions, though short, are really hard. That, unfortunately, is the point.

Lastly, the Simpson Desert Challenge is a race. Racing requires the ability to ride fast for long periods. To train for this you need tempo training. How fast can you ride for 4 hours without falling off the pace? That’s something you can find out over time and a heart rate monitor is a great help. If you ride the first hour at 150bpm and the last hour at 130 you’re doing it wrong. Hold 140 for the entire duration. If you can do that, go up to 145. Warning, these are hard sessions, it’s hard to go fast for long periods. The best way I can explain a tempo pace is the pace that you can’t daydream. By contrast on endurance rides I can daydream, talk to myself, chat to mates or think about work and generally lose myself. On a tempo ride, if I lose focus for a couple of minutes I look down and my heart rate has dropped off. It’s a swine because you need to be awake and present for the whole training session and the whole session is uncomfortable. Still – the benefits are substantial.

So what does all that look like? During the week, hit the intensity 2 or 3 times. You’ll need mega endurance rides once a month, rising to once a fortnight in the build up to the race. On the weekends that you’re not doing endurance, ride tempo. Grab a day of rest at the start of the week, hit the intensity during the week and ride long at the weekend. Rest and repeat.


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