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Editor’s note: The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is honored to host a new series on our blog about adaptive cycling, written by local cyclist Patrick Sweeney. As a differently-abled person, Sweeney has found freedom in his bicycle and has used that freedom to become an athlete. 

Like in any sport, training is an important part of cycling. I train to keep improving myself, so I am able to keep striving to reach my goals. Having training goals keeps you in a positive mindframe and helps you improve your performance. To improve, you need to understand the science behind training. Having a coach makes a big difference. My first big race, I had no idea what I was doing! I didn’t have a coach yet. I ended up going all out at the beginning, and then I didn’t finish.

When I first met my coach, he said I was going about training all wrong. I said, “This is all I know, to go hard”. He said, “no you don’t have to”. He gave me an easy training program and taught me about pacing. Now I know that pacing is everything. The expression is slow and steady wins the race. Once I started training right, I finished a half iron man.

My coach taught me about the relationship between wattage and speed. Wattage is the power exerted on the pedals. When you’re riding, you want to watch the wattage as you go uphill or downhill, because you want your speed to stay the same in order to meet your time. You’ll want to increase your wattage when you’re going uphill.

Your heart rate indicates the exertion on your body you’re using to produce wattage. You need to train your body to be able to produce wattage without over exerting yourself. Being able to watch my wattage and speed is what allows me to keep a pace.

I use training devices to help me track my performance. Some people use Garmin watches that track them, like a fit bit. But for me, I like to keep it simple. I think the simplest device is a Wahoo bike computer. It is able to tell you your speed, wattage, and cadence/revolutions per minute (rpm). Cadence is important in the beginning because it helps you build strength. As you get more advanced, I recommend that you get a smart trainer and pair it with a ride stimulator. This lets you ride virtually.

I use Training Peaks so my coach can pre-set specialized workout programs just for me. But if you don’t have a coach, it’s a great app too because it has preset programs you can choose from. Zwift is an app that converts Training Peaks programs into a virtual ride. A similar software is Full Gas. Unlike Full Gas, which only gives you verbal instructions, Zwift uses visual stats, which I find easier to use. Overall, don’t overthink it; especially if you’re doing it recreationally. Numbers are important, especially when racing. But don’t let them stop you from listening to your body and enjoying the rides.

It’s important to be able to train no matter the weather conditions, so I use my trike indoors and outdoors. I use a bike trainer, a device that puts the trike’s back wheel on a drum, to keep it stationary. I can ride indoors year round. When I’m training inside, I’ll do the same workout once or twice a week but I like to mix up my training to keep it interesting. It’s important to be able to find a happy medium between pushing yourself during training and finding time for rest and stretching.

I stretch 3 times per week and have a whole separate program devoted to it. I use a calendar to help ensure that I stay consistent and build a fitness routine outside of cycling. A great resource for me has been Fighting Back, a gym which has adaptive fitness programs. Fighting Back helps me build strength and mobility. They taught me stretches that work for my body, like leg swings, since my hips get tight.

I’ve had a lot of help to get where I am now as a cyclist and am thankful for everyone– it takes a community. Getting to this point has taken time. If you’re new to cycling; build on your strengths, don’t rush, and be patient. Structure in life is important. But not too much structure! Keep a balance.

— Patrick Sweeney

Read the whole series here: 

Part 1: Meet Patrick Sweeney 

Part 2: Training 

Part 3: Safety 

Part 4: Racing 

Part 5: Race Day

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