From Cookie Monster to Endurance Athlete

Can Zone 2 training be my catalyst to achieve a podium at the national level?

Posted by Vaughn Pretorius


Sprinting at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit London 2021

Zone 2 according to the Cookie Monster

I have raced on the road for over 15 years. From a junior racing at the top national level in New Zealand to Elite multi day tours at UCI 2.1 events.

But since moving to the UK 3 years ago I have struggled to break into the podiums at national level road races. With a major problem of over overexertion and cramping after 3 hours into a race.

Race the events you are good at:

Let’s accept it, I am a short stocky sprinter. I am not built for the mountains or long endurance road races. Give me a bunch sprint at the end of criterium any day, where I can snake around riders, charging for the finish line exerting 1500 watts, and hitting over 70km/h.

But please don’t give me a 20min Vo2 or FTP effort where I need to hold the pace just under the redline.

"You can't win a race if you can't sprint"

Bob Pratt

St Ives CC National B Road Race 202


Bovingdon Bomber Criterium Series - 1st Place 2022

I had a meeting with our very own Dr Jon Baker and asked for his advice. “How can I train more effectively to get to the end of a road race and contend the finish?”
Jon's answer was, “how much Zone 2 training do you do?” My response was, "not much".

I’m not going to explain the science behind Zone 2 training because you have probably read it all before. Here is an article about Zone 2 from Dr Jon Baker.

But I will explain my personal experience with Zone 2 training and how it's changed my training and body.

"To go faster, first, we must slow down. Counterintuitive, but true"

Dr Jon Baker
Image 5

Full Gas Winter Circuit Series - 2nd overall Cat2

What is fuelling your engine?

Road cycling is an endurance sport, so it’s all about being efficient on the bike. A big part of efficiency is how your muscles are being fuelled. We either the use of fat to turn into energy or carbohydrates. With the use of carbohydrates we have a by-product of lactate acid which builds up in our muscles and left to build up and not cleared will result in the muscle becoming very inefficient and stop working (eg, cramping).

Zone 2 training is an intensity that your body uses fat stores as a fuel. The more training we do at this intensity the more efficient our body becomes at using fat as energy. We have naturally a lot of fat stores in our body and hence a big tank of fuel to pull from. It is much easier for your body to recover from these training rides and to replace the fat used.

How can I change to be this endurance athlete:

Winter is time for base miles and volume. With the help of Jon we have structured in 4 months of Zone 2 base to change my bodies energy pathways to more fat burning and fewer carbohydrates. We determined my Zone 2 through a metabolic lactate test. The result identified my heart rate and power (Watts) at which my body is in Zone 2. From the test, we quickly found that I love burning carbohydrates and this is reflected in the foods I eat.

This has resulted into a few changes in my training and daily habits:

  • Slower riding to maintain Zone 2 for the whole ride
  • Increasing duration of rides and frequency, 12 – 20hrs per week, 6 days a week
  • Focusing on nutrition on and off the bike (No more cookies)

"Ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike"

Alann Rice

What I have learn and felt so far…

  • I used to eat a lot while riding. Normally consuming 1 gel every 30mins and a banana every 2hours. But now I can go 3hrs with just 1 banana and 2 gels without feeling hungry. This has lead to weight loss naturally but with the same calorie intake off the bike.

  • My biggest take away from me so far is how easy endurance rides have become. As my body has become more efficient with at burning it is easier to maintain a steady effort for longer.
    My average speed in Zone 2 have increased from 27.5km/h on the flat to 31km/h at the same heart rate.

Over the Christmas break I had a solid week of training where we tested my endurance out. 24hrs on the bike over 6 days. This was a massive success!

I still have 2 more months of training before the 2023 race season commences.
The aerobic endurance base that has resulted because of Zone 2 training has been impressive even over the last 10weeks.
Is this going to be the break through year I can podium a National B Road Race?


About the author

Vaughn Pretorius, Bike Fitter

Bikefitter and customer service. Vaughn loves racing his Pinarello and is a great sprinter. Originally from New Zealand he is enjoying racing in London and he spends most of his time riding his bike. Vaughn's speciality is working with male and female racers, who are interested in using bike-fit to ride faster, more efficiently for longer.

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