Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How do you describe the act of shifting gears?

While many aspects of riding are intuitive and easy to understand, some are often very difficult or odd to explain. One thing that often causes confusion during conversation is the many ways cyclists describe the act of shifting gears. Based on feedback or occasional strange looks I get, I'd like to eliminate some confusion.

As we increase or decrease our speed on a bike, we are required to shift gears in order to continue pedaling comfortably. Describing that action to others has numerous variations. Let's see...is it shift up to a bigger gear? Harder gear? Smaller cog? Bigger chain ring? Easier gear? Do easier gears make it harder to go fast or easier to go slow? Is first gear the biggest or the smallest option. How many gears does this thing have? Argh! Now, I understand why people enjoy the simplicity of single-speed and fixed gear bikes.

Long ago, when bikes had just one gear we didn't have to worry about shifting. Bikes similar to what we have today, had one front chain ring and one rear cog. The combination of varying sized chain rings and cogs produced a unique, measurable gear. "Gear Inches" refers to the distance in inches that the bike travels during one full rotation of the crank.

Cyclists used gear inches to describe the gear they prefer or had chosen for a ride. The topic would often be discussed before, during, or after rides. "You're running 76 inches? You'll be spinning like a top during this flat ride!" Conversely, "110 inches? You'll likely need knee replacement surgery during the off-season!"

The term "gear inches" may be new to many and unfamiliar to most. Today, only track racing cyclists and single-speed mountain bikers use this terminology. Even among them, "Gear Inches" isn't often heard. More commonly, we describe gears as being bigger or smaller.

A bigger gear is one that has more gear inches or allows you to travel further per pedal stroke. When you are pedaling fast or accelerating down a hill, you shift to a bigger gear to continue pedaling. Conversely, when you find yourself struggling on a climb, you shift to a smaller gear that has fewer gear inches.

Try to avoid using the words, Hard or Easy when describing gears. They may mean the same as Bigger and Smaller but this is where the confusion begins. Let's all speak the same gear language and avoid confusion.

I use the phrases bigger and smaller gears in many of my workout descriptions. I may suggest shifting to a bigger gear to do a more strenuous pedaling exercise. I refer to Spin-Ups being done in an easier gear. Hopefully now, you have a better understanding of what I mean.

Now go correct all your riding buddies when they say all types of weird things to describe shifting. It's Bigger and Smaller and you have an understanding of Gear Inches to back it up.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sharing My Data - Workout Progressions

As you look at your workouts over time, you may notice how they slowly evolve. Often starting with some fundamental drills or skill development. Then incorporating more intensity or personal goal-oriented purpose. These are called workout progressions.

My own workouts go through progressions. As I refocused months ago, I included longer rides simply to regain some endurance that I may have lost. I continued by incorporating long intervals towards the end of those endurance rides. I shared some of those efforts in earlier posts.

Earlier today, I incorporated another progression. Endurance rides are getting slightly longer. The efforts I add at the end are becoming more intense. I previously did numerous rides including 60-minute Tempo intervals. Although they were difficult, I had proven that I could do them and was ready for more. On this rainy Monday, I progressed by including Sweet Spot Training intervals in the last hour of a 3+ hour ride.

Sweet Spot is identified as the top of Zone 3-Tempo or lower portion of Zone 4-Threshold (88-93% FTP). A little more intense than a Tempo effort. It is significantly more difficult when doing longer intervals. Today, I did 2x25-minute Sweet Spot Training (SST) intervals within the last hour. I dealt with rain throughout the ride while an early headwind and rolling terrain created some fatigue.

I often hear feedback that it is difficult to remain within the Sweet Spot Training zone while out on the open road. Yes, it is a narrow zone of intensity but it can be done. I try to do my longer intervals on flatter routes with fewer intersections. Sometimes we simply have to improvise.

I originally planned to do a 20-minute interval. I came to a red light at 18 minutes. Nothing I could do at this awkward traffic intersection. I was forced to wait. To make up for it, I decided to stretch the interval to 25 minutes.

As I was nearing 25 minutes, I was approaching another long traffic light at a highway. I turned left before the highway intersection to finish the interval without interruption (see image). This spontaneous change in route allowed me to complete what I had set as my goal. I turned around to cross that highway during my rest period.

During this first interval, I was right at the upper limit of the zone and happy. That was encouraging. After a brief rest, I started the second interval hoping to repeat with another 25-minute effort. This time, my average power was slightly lower but still well within the Sweet Spot Training zone.

Now let's return to the topic of progressions. It is important that we complete all of our critical workouts. Just like students in a classroom, you don't continue to the next chapter of study until completing the previous. Doing so may be inviting at first but you may be missing something critical to future progress.

We have to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for each progression. We can't just dump in with 4 hour endurance rides. That could lead to overuse injuries. Trying to go too intensely too soon may cause injury plus be too mentally straining to maintain until your goals arrive. That creates an overtraining or burnout scenario. 

We start training early and train with the appropriate volume and intensity. Slack off for a few weeks and I will be forced to hold you back until you are prepared. Starting early provides time to overcome the inevitable "training distractions".

As you look at your workouts evolve over weeks and months, appreciate the progressions. They indicate that you are moving forward with your training. Ready and prepared for what I may throw at you next.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sharing My Data - Prepare your bike for winter riding.

It may not be Winter yet, but the cold and nasty weather has arrived early. You've likely had to pull out all of your deep winter clothing already. As you fuss with how to dress yourself for the endless weather variations, consider dressing your bike for winter riding too.

As cyclocross season has just ended in our area, my CX bike went through its typical winter conversion. The fender are back on. Wet roads, snow melt, salty and dirty road spray is contained by my favorite Planet Bike full fenders. They keep me clean and dry while helping to keep the bike clean too.

I reserve two sets of wheels for the winter. One set with wider and more durable road tires. Another wheelset with CX tires for more versatility. Within minutes, I am ready to ride on paved or gravel roads and towpaths. Cyclocross bikes are great for their versatility. I often say that if I were forced to own just one bike, it would likely be a cyclocross bike.

We may notice the extra weight and sluggish feel of the bike. It is winter. We are just riding or training. It is important to maintain our ability to ride and train although mother nature is not cooperating. Feel free to reach out to me if you'd like some additional tips or guidance to make your bike more hearty this winter.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sharing my data - You don't need hills to improve your climbing.

Last weekend, I did an impromptu experiment. On Saturday, I did a workout on the towpath that included 3x5minute Zone 5-VO2 Max intervals. I was on a dirt/gravel surface using my cyclocross bike with CX tires. This combination provided some increased resistance when compared to road riding on a road bike. I recorded the 5 minute intervals and noted the average power for each.

The next day, I found myself riding in an area that I was not that familiar with. While driving to the location, I noted a long hill that I could use for training. I rode back to that hill intending to do some hill repeats.

I began the first interval without knowing how long it would take to reach the top. To my surprise, it was exactly 5 minutes. My workout just became more useful to you. How would my power on a 5-minute climb compare to the 5-minute intervals I did the previous day on a completely flat towpath with just added resistance?

I stacked the graphs and noted the average power in each interval. Click on the image to enlarge.

The top graph is the flat towpath ride.

The lower graph is the climbing ride.

All of the intervals were within my VO2 Max training zone. All were 5 minutes long. The average power for each was relatively similar. This provided some evidence to support something I've been saying for a long time. "You don't need hills to train for climbing!"

I know people who insist that they cannot prepare for hilly events or improve their climbing because of their flat geographic location. I tell them, "You don't need hills. You need creativity!" I suggest they go out on windy days in search of open roads.

A headwind or stiff crosswind will add resistance to the effort. Do the ride on a heavy bike or with some other handicap and you increase the resistance. This is how you mimic the training load experienced while climbing while in the absence of hills.

Unfortunately, there is more to being a good climber than just overcoming increased resistance. Understanding how to read the grade of a hill is critical. Planning a strategy for shifting gears or figuring out when to stand out of the saddle is important. Mountain bikers have to use bike handling skills to deal with varying traction on uneven surfaces or obstacles. You won't get the entire climbing experience while on flat terrain. So, I recommend an occasional trip to hilly terrain for those intent to improve their climbing ability.

So as you look ahead to new events or ways to improve, your geographic location does not limit you as much as you think. You just need to be creative.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Isolated Leg Training Intervals...Part 3

Yes. It takes three blog posts to break down this one workout. It can be complicated or confusing. I want you to get it right.

I created a short video to help you with the Isolated Leg Training Workout. After a good warm-up, I do a segment of time with each leg. Then pedal with both legs for a short time just to get a rhythm back and then repeat the ILT interval.

In this video, I’m doing 25 seconds with each leg. When you include the time fumbling with pedals, it takes a full minute to complete both legs. This makes it easy to use a stop-watch to keep track of how much you have done.

Coordinating your intervals with a stopwatch makes this workout much easier. My personal workout often looks like this:
01:00 start Warm-Up
10:00 Start Right Leg
11:00 Start Left Leg
12:00 Use both Legs
13:00 Start Right Leg
14:00 Start Left Leg
15:00 Use both Legs
16:00 Start Right Leg
17:00 Start Left Leg
18:00 Use both Legs
19:00 Start Right Leg
20:00 Start Left Leg
21:00 Use both Legs
22:00 Start Right Leg
23:00 Start Left Leg
24:00 Use both Legs
25:00 Start Right Leg
26:00 Start Left Leg
27:00 Use both Legs
28:00 Start Right Leg
29:00 Start Left Leg
30:00 Start Cool-Down
40:00 Complete Workout

I hope this helps you to visualize how this workout should be done. Let me know if you have any questions.

Isolated Leg Training intervals...Part 2

So now we know why Isolated Leg Training is important. How do you do these intervals properly? Here are some responses to feedback I often receive.

Where do I do these intervals? I do my best to avoid the trainer. ILTs are one of the few workouts that need to be done on a stationary bike. Pedaling with only one leg is certainly awkward and potentially dangerous. Let's try to avoid getting hurt before the season begins. Also, save yourself the strange looks as you pedal down the road like an amputee. 

Am I supposed to get this sore? Proper warm-up is crucial. We are going to be using some new muscles during the workout. It may be early in the season. The muscles may have gotten used to some time off or reduced intensity. Warm up the legs thoroughly to avoid muscle strains and excessive soreness the next day.

What do I do with my other leg? Unclip one foot and put it on a piece of furniture or on the trainer near the rear axle. Pedal with one leg for 20-60 seconds. You should be at your normal or higher cadence as you begin the interval. Your cadence will slow as you fatigue.

Is it supposed to be this difficult? Think about smooth circles. DO NOT drive the pedals down and rely on momentum to bring it back up to the top. That defeats the purpose of the workout and is cheating. Push down, pull back, pull up, push forward....Repeat.  

How much resistance should I have? If you are unable to get to 20 seconds, reduce the resistance or shift to an easier gear. If you are able to get to 60 seconds and continue, you need to increase resistance or shift to a harder gear. 

I feel sloppy. Not only are you recruiting muscles, they have to contract at the correct moment to work in harmony. The sloppiness or choppiness of the stroke is due to a lack of coordination of these muscles. This will improve with practice. If this continues, use less resistance. Allow the muscles to get used to the new movement before increasing intensity.

I'm totally confused by the timing of the intervals. One complete interval consists of riding with each leg. Then return to using both legs and regain a rhythm before beginning the next interval. Right, Left, Rest, One...Right, Left, Rest, Two...Right, Left, Rest, Three. Use a stopwatch or bike computer to coordinate your intervals and keep track of how many you have done. I do one minute with each leg followed by one minute with both legs, starting a new interval every three minutes.   

How often or how long do I have to continue these workouts? This is usually asked by those who are struggling and need it most. My workouts build upon one another each month or so. If you skimp now, I will make you pay for it later. Next month, I will be pounding you with seating climbing intervals. You will be using these recruited muscles, driving the pedals at a lower cadence, concentrating on spinning circles and remaining relaxed. After that we move on to seated climbing with explosive bursts or sprints as you approach the top of hills. It won't get easier.

I hope this adds value to your ILT workouts. Early in your training, it is time to gain form, strength, and set the foundation for future workouts. As always, do not hesitate to ask questions and provide feedback. I enjoy the opportunity to help.

Isolated Leg Training intervals...Part 1

I prescribe isolated leg training intervals (ILTs) for nearly of my clients. I often get comments and feedback. I wanted to take a moment to share some FAQ's about this workout.

In my experience, ILTs are by far the most important workout for new and intermediate cyclists. After 20 years of riding and racing, I still incorporate them into my own training routine. ILTs are short intervals pedaling with only one leg. Why are they so important and beneficial? 

Not all legs are equal. We all have some amount of strength imbalance. We have a dominant side. We also may not be symmetrical. Bone length, muscle size and strength, and hip alignment contribute to variations in strength. By pedaling with only one leg, you expose the differences between each. You can focus to improve the weaker side. For those with a severe imbalance, I recommend doing more intervals on the weaker side to correct the imbalance faster.  

Build strength, recruit muscles. ILTs are similar to a one-legged squat. When doing a squat, you are building strength. With only one leg, other smaller muscles are forced into action in order to maintain balance. In pedaling a bike, the gluteal muscles and quadriceps do the majority of the work pushing the pedals down. When pedaling with only one leg, other muscles are forced into action. The calves and knee flexors pull the crank back at the bottom of the stroke. The hamstrings pull up. The hip flexors push the cranks forward at the top. See the attached muscle use chart. 

This is the time to remember. The early-season is the time to incorporate these intervals. Build strength, recruit muscles. Correct imbalances and poor form. Then we can move on to more advanced workouts to maximize the gains made. 
Pedal in circles...Not squares. Untrained cyclists tend to have a choppy pedal stroke, pushing too hard for only a portion of the stroke. They often appear to fight the bike, rocking body and bike as the cranks turn. ILTs improve your pedaling technique. You apply force more evenly throughout the pedal stroke with both legs. More muscles are involved. When you get it right you feel a certain unity between bike and body. You may be putting in a big effort but the upper body remains still and relaxed while the bike continues straight with little effort required for balance. 

Use the element of surprise. When significant power is not required, we can ride without concern for form and technique. When it is time for a big effort, use good form to disguise your effort. Maintain the same appearance or body language while you fire up all of those extra recruited muscles. As the gap between you and your competition opens, leave them wondering how you sped away without any sign of extra effort.
I hope this provides a better understanding of why these intervals are so important. I will come back and explain how they are to be done effectively in a second message.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sharing my data - Establishing Benchmarks

As I mentioned a couple months ago, I allowed my fitness to drop pretty low this past summer. Things got away from me. Enough that it became a concern. After a few substandard Functional Threshold Power (FTP) tests, I needed to get my act together in preparation for upcoming goals.

We typically want to benchmark the beginning and end of a training plan. What was our level of fitness as we begin and how much did we improve? The FTP test is also used to establish our training zones. Those zones will change as our fitness improves. That is especially true for those training with a power meter. We repeat the test as required to ensure that our training zones are accurate. When fitness progresses at expected rates, we can get by without testing. When fitness levels becomes uncertain, we test to confirm our training zones and continue forward.

After a couple months of improved focus in training, it was time to see if I was getting myself back on track. I also wanted to create a benchmark for comparison. Benchmarks are important as we need to monitor fitness trends both up and down. How does my current fitness compare to this point in previous years. Establish a personal database of fitness levels at critical junctions on the training calendar. As with any scientific experiment, the more you repeat the test, the greater the value of the results.

My previous FTP test was September 13th. I have been training consistently since then. I did a couple recent races. Then took a few days to rest and re-energize. On Thursday, I repeated the FTP test

The result was a pleasant surprise. From April 2013 to Sept, I benchmarked a slow but steady decline of 11%. This recent FTP test result illustrated a 10% increase. That is something to get excited about.

As power is influenced by body mass, we also have to consider weight gain or loss as we create our benchmarks. A person with more mass, has the opportunity for more muscle mass and greater strength. Additionally, gravity is pulling our mass down on the pedals. Typically, higher mass creates higher power.

We know that higher mass is often a burden when cycling. Especially when climbing. Ideally, we want to increase power while minimizing body mass. The reason I mention it is because during the time between my recent FTP tests, I lost 5-7 pounds of body weight. That makes the 10% power improvement a little more exciting.

How did I make such a noticeable gain? One day each week, I did a long ride of up to three hours containing a 60-minute Tempo interval. Two days per week, I did shorter rides containing Sweet Spot Training (SST) intervals. I worked up to 4x20min SST intervals. Those are the intervals that build our engines. It is not a coincidence that I did 20-minute intervals. I was preparing to repeat the 20-minute FTP test. When you do 4x20minute intervals just below FTP, one interval doesn't seem so bad. That is exactly what intervals are for. Overload in training to stimulate an adaptation in the body. The results of the adaptation make the test, race, or event seem easier.

So, I got a little boost as I get ready to begin my next segment of training. Am I back to my old self? All race-ready? Absolutely NOT. I have not been doing the shorter and more intense efforts required in the races I plan to do. I have not been climbing which will determine the outcome of my events. I am just beginning to get race-oriented. I have plenty of work remaining to be done. I am on schedule and ready to continue.
Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sharing my data - The race within a race...

The 6 Hours of Cathedral Pines is an endurance mountain bike race out on Long Island, NY. It is also one of the last MTB races on our local calendar. Lots of people are looking to extend their season, cash out on their long training season, or just have fun.

I had numerous motivations. There is no better way to help others prepare for a race than to do it myself. First hand experience on the course is a huge benefit. Afterwords, I can share my specific experiences to help others prepare. When you see me showing up for somewhat random races, this is often the reason why. I need to see things for myself in order to better help you.

While 2014 is often on my mind, it is too soon to become overly focused. Having just one vision or goal can often lead to overtraining and disappointment. We set up a training path towards something big in the future. We use secondary goals or events to motivate us along the way. In some cases, we mix things up to provide a "healthy distraction". That is what this race was for me.

Cross-Country and endurance MTB races were once my bread and butter. I don't want to bite off more than I can chew by doing a 6-hour MTB race. I want healthy distraction, not a death march that requires weeks to recover from. I registered as part of a Co-Ed team with a client. Sherry was also interested in checking out the event although 6 hours was less inviting. We decided share the time.

We rode the course the day before the race. Just to check things out and know what to expect. The trails are relatively flat, very twisty, and often very narrow. A non-racer may say they are flowy and fun. A racer may say they are fun but frustrating as passing is difficult.

On race day, I would start the race to manage the craziness of the start and deal with other anxious riders. I had no visions of a great finish. Just looking to gain an early position to stay amongst those racers that had their game face on. That is where I would enjoy myself and get the most out of the day.

The first lap was relatively uneventful. Lots of anxious riders gunning for the entrance to the woods. As part of a team, I could race more intensely than those doing the full 6 hours alone. I went into the woods among the leaders and things went smoothly. Actually very smoothly and I enjoyed the twisty trails. Visual overload as trees and brush fly by while you focus on the rider or two ahead.

I finished one lap and took a break. Sherry did a lap and I went back out. This time I did two laps. I was just chilling, riding fast, and enjoying the trails. Enjoyed passing a few riding buddies as they were pacing themselves for 6 hours in the saddle. When I returned, Sherry did two laps. I relaxed and caught up with some old friends around the race start/finish area.

Things got interesting for me as I checked the standings. We were once in 2nd place, had been passed, and now sat in 3rd place. Another Co-Ed team rider had passed Sherry and was only a few minutes ahead.
Finally, I get to the subject line of this email. We all have different reasons for entering a race and unique expectations. There can only be one winner. We don't always race to win. Most races I enter, I have no chance of winning...EVER! So what should we do? We create "The race within a race".

I decided that I wanted that 2nd place spot back. I got myself excited to do some real racing. No ill intentions for that other team. It was just my own private challenge. I got ready to go back out on the course. Shed some layers, fuel up, and wait patiently for Sherry to finish her lap.
In timed Endurance races, the race is decided by who can finish the most laps in the fastest time. You can't begin a new lap after the time cut-off. The anxiousness at the start is only matched when riders try to beat the 6-hour cut-off time in order to begin another lap.
I watched the clock as I waited for Sherry to return. I began the next lap not knowing if I could beat the cut-off. I now had two "Races within a race"; to pass the other team and finish this next lap before the cut-off.
It became a very exciting race for me. That is why we create the race within a race. Find something that provides a challenge, motivation, and reward. What you choose to race for is only limited by your imagination. Do better than the previous race. Finish in a higher position. Finish in less time. Help your team to succeed. Keep people from passing you. Pass as many as you can. Make the funniest face for the photographer. The options are endless. Find one that works for you.
I put the hammer down in that lap. The course had gotten worn in by all the previous riders. Ruts and berms had formed to provide better traction in corners. The leaves had been pushed aside. I pushed myself to the limit my body would give. I pushed my skills to their limit on the twisty course. I was completely race focused while having fun. I came out of the woods and towards the finish with just 30 seconds to spare before the 6-hour cut-off. My reward? I got to go out and do another lap. (sarcasm)
That 45-minutes lap was my fastest of the day. It was within one minute of the fastest time by any racer that day. I won my race to beat the cut-off. After all racing was done, we were back in second place. I won my other race within a race. Apparently, I had passed the guy from the other Co-Ed team during my fast lap. I had no idea who he was as I passed. He did not beat the cut-off time.
While waiting for awards, that gentleman approached me to offer congratulations. He shared a story of how I passed him as we each attempted to beat the cut-off. As I went by, he knew he had lost his 2nd place position but couldn't push himself any harder. His tale provided an even deeper satisfaction to my race within a race. I thanked him for the story and for pushing me to race hard to the finish.
Although I had no ambitions for a great race result, it resulted in a great race. There is always something to race for. All you have to do is create an opportunity to motivate yourself. It was a great day and one of my most enjoyable races of the year. Thanks for reading along. Now, go out and discover something to race for.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sharing my data - Adding value to workouts

I answered a few questions and had discussions with a few of you this week that I'd like to share with everyone. Although the questions were not identical, they followed a similar theme. Is there something more I should or could be doing during my workouts and/or intervals?
The workouts and intervals I prescribe are intended to provide a stimulus for improvement. There is a progression or pattern to how they are organized for you. Early in the training calendar or plan, we set the foundation and prepare for longer and more intense efforts to come later. With a sound foundation, the workouts contain intervals that are increasingly specific to your weaknesses and goals. With your goal events on the horizon, training intervals become very similar to what you should expect to encounter in competition. 
As cyclist, we are all looking to improve similar things; pedaling technique and efficiency, endurance, strength, climbing, sprinting, etc. We are similar but very different. In order to accommodate everyone, the workouts are sometimes intentionally vague. I do this to enable various athletes to complete them in their own unique circumstances.
Some of us are using heart rate monitors, others use power meters. Some work 9-5 weekdays, some are students, while others have a unique schedule or weekly pattern of available time. For some, training time is plentiful while others scramble for each opportunity.
Our geographic location is often a huge limiter. Congested areas limit our available roads and traffic signals and intersections segment our efforts. Flat topology limits our resistance or hill-climbing while hilly areas make it difficult to maintain a steady effort. Some of us are forced to use the dreaded indoor trainer.
When creating workouts, I try to accommodate as many people as possible. I make the workouts "doable" for the masses. Unfortunately, they end up being vague or seem generic. After doing them for a few weeks or repeating them in a new season, they may even seem boring. That is a big fear for any coach. I can't have you getting bored or uninspired to complete your workouts.
Here are a few ideas to consider adding to your rides. Some may be obvious but easily overlooked. Some may seem silly although they are actually very important. I hope to avoid getting too "wordy" but please stay with me.
Endurance workouts are often the most vague. The primary purpose is to Endure the time on the bike. In coaching circles, we call this "soft-tissue development". The most obvious soft tissue is your bottom or your butt. Other areas that begin to ache are shoulders, neck, back, hands, and feet. "How am I supposed to entertain myself for four hours at Zone 2?"
There are many things we do just to maintain comfort; change hand positions, shift position in saddle, vary cadence or coast, occasional stretch, etc. Consider some new or unusual options.
Riding with only one hand or no hands is a learned skill. We need to be able to drink from a bottle while riding. Other racers will not stop to wait for us. Ride for a period of time with just one hand. Extend the period of time as you gain confidence. Be sure to do this with each hand to develop a balanced or symmetrical skill. Secret tip: before letting go, move other hand towards the stem. It is noticeably more stable when the remaining hand is closer to the stem.
When safe to do so, try riding with no hands. Use your knees and pelvis to steer the bike while pedaling. This will be especially helpful when you need to open a food wrapper or remove your eyeglasses. PLEASE don't do this on windy days or when road conditions are not favorable. Secret tip: Continue pedaling. The rotating wheels keep the bike pointed straight. The faster they spin the more stable you are. The pedals act the same way. A fast but comfortable cadence will increase the bike's tendency to steer straight.
Ride with a buddy or training partner. A companion can provide plenty of entertainment. Spend periods of time with a hand on the shoulder of your companion. Also consider holding onto their jersey pocket or simply touching them. I do these "Proximity Skills" with many of you. Do this exercise on both sides so you don't develop an imbalance or favored side.
If you've done road races or a spirited group ride, you've likely heard, "Hold your Line!" The phrase drives me insane as it is usually said by a over-reacting clown that can't handle their own bike. If you ever hear this while going around a turn...please shoot that person. Anyway, riding in a straight line is important. While riding with two of you this weekend, I rode the white line for an extended period of time. Yes, I came off occasionally but I generally stayed straight and it provided some entertainment. Our pedaling technique will often steer the bike unintentionally. It is often the result of an excessively low cadence that causes us to steer side to side a few inches or more. So find a comfortable but fast cadence and attempt to stay on the white line. Don't look down at the front wheel. Look well up the road to where you want to go. Rock your hips or pelvis to make small adjustments without steering the handlebars.
Vary your cadence. This is actually extremely important. We all need to develop the ability to pedal at excessively low and high cadence. The explanation is lengthy but trust me. If you prefer a certain cadence and stay there all the time, you are doing yourself a disservice. When doing longer or flat intervals, break it up by shifting gears to decrease or increase cadence.
One more and I'll stop for the night. Spend time riding in the drops. We often get lazy and just ride around on our brake hoods. I know, it's comfortable while allowing you to reach the shifters and brakes. The upright body position catches more air and increases resistance. It is also not a confident position when going fast or descending. When in the drops, you have to "Crane" your neck more to see up the road. This can quickly cause soreness in the neck and shoulders. There are times when it is critical to be in the drops. Get used to it in training and break up the ride.
I can provide endless examples. Some of them are silly or laughable. They all have a certain benefit and will make you a better rider. They will also pass the time on those long rides that may get boring. Boredom is caused by a lack of creativity. Let your ideas entertain you. The ride time will go by much faster. Feel free to ask me for additional ideas when we see one another.
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sharing my data - Cross-Training, Active Recovery, & Frustration

It's been a couple weeks since I shared some data. I have things to share but haven't had the time to explain. I'll try to do some catching up here.
Some may have gotten the impression that I have begun focused training exclusively for April/May and Battenkill. While I have that in mind, it is too soon to have such a narrow focus. For now, I'm simply getting myself back on the bandwagon. Slowly building the engine with moderate intensity endurance.
Historically, I found my greatest success in Cross-Country MTB events. My body and especially my back have forced me to move away from that. I often forget how much it hurts me and decide to do an off-road race. Cathedral Pines is a 6-hour MTB event coming up in a couple weeks. I've never been to this venue. I've heard great things about the event (from some of you) and am genuinely intrigued. So I'll be racing but primarily just looking to enjoy myself.
This event is an example of including some healthy distraction or cross-training into a training plan. While we may have long-term plans, incorporate some complimentary events to mix things up. This helps to avoid burn-out or overtraining. Since I have this event coming up, I've been doing more MTB riding than usual. I had a friend provide a tour of some trails I was only mildly familiar with. This was some really rugged terrain with trails leading into big boulder fields or over huge rock outcroppings. Lots of fun but requiring solid bike-handling skills and patience. I was also borrowing a buddy's bike. It is always more fun to ride someone else's $7,000 bike. ;-)

Another ride I want to highlight was less than you might expect. You all have Active Recovery rides on your schedule form time to time. These are intended to promote recovery. Get the legs moving and blood flowing to flush out all the bi-products of hard training. I often recommend using these rides for running errands around town or making a coffee run. On this day, I rode my bike to pick up my car that was being serviced. Just 25 minutes of riding. Really slow and relaxed. Some may call it boring. I did it after dark, while it was raining. That keeps in interesting.
This past weekend, I did two days of CX race support. These are very rewarding days. You are all putting on a show and I have an all-access pass. I get to ride with you, get excited about a course as I help you to choose your lines and plan strategy. Just one problem? I'm not racing!!! I'm choosing not to race to avoid messing up my back. That doesn't keep me from wanting to race. All the tips and recommendations I provide are things that I would be doing myself. Pre-ride, strategize, warm-up, practice starts, put on a number, toe the line, etc. When I hear a whistle signal the start of a race, my muscles twitch with anticipation.
After a lack-luster solo ride on Friday, I watched races at Fair Hill, MD all day on Saturday. I briefly considered riding later that day. Instead, I felt the need to go home. You know, family stuff. I returned to find an empty house. "Crap, I could have gone for that ride". I decided to head back out and do a race-like effort of my own. Fueled by the efforts I witnessed earlier in the day and a little frustration. It was a great workout and I was refreshed and ready to repeat the race-support the next day. My legs were sore on Sunday so I was happy not to be racing on such a demanding course. I enjoyed helping all of you to have the best race possible. You did not disappoint.
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sharing my data - Make your training mimic your events.

It is never to early to begin practicing for a big event. As I mentioned previously, I'm starting early. Adding miles, increasing endurance, and riding with more purpose. Although I'm not doing many structured intervals, I'm not just riding around.
Riding with purpose can have many forms. Long steady-state intervals, varying cadence, varying terrain, varying road surface as I plan to do some dirt road races. How about simply riding more in the drops to get my back and neck to acclimate to the lower position? Always look for something you can add to your workouts in order to increase the benefit.
I had this in mind during recent workouts. I did about a dozen road races in the Spring of 2013. I analyze races to find trends. Then apply training strategies to prepare for common race scenarios. Let me share two race files with wildly different circumstances but a common pattern. 
In the Tour of the Battenkill, nearly all race categories explode on difficult climbs towards the end of the race. Only the leaders of each race ride together to the end. Everyone else is left behind and fights to minimize their loses.
During my 2013 Tour of the Battenkill, I was fighting to minimize loses much earlier than I anticipated. You can see exactly where that happened in the graph. Lot of haphazard efforts for an hour or more while sitting within the group. After being left behind, the effort became much more consistent.
The next weekend at the 2013 Farmerstown Road Race, I went out to crush people. Halfway through the race, I broke away to catch another rider while leaving everyone else behind. Notice a similarity in the graph? The second half is significantly more difficult with very few opportunities for rest.
These two events were among my hardest of the year. Although every race plays out differently, this is the type of scenario I need to prepare for. I recently did a couple Endurance-building workouts. My current priority is extending my endurance. Additionally, I'm trying to build resistance to discomfort and fatigue. Resistance to fatigue and endurance are very similar. I want to do more than endure. I want to overcome. Train through discomfort. Ignore the burn. Ignore all the signals asking you to slow down. Focus on the task and put everything else aside. I am making mental preparations for those max efforts I will do in future training. 
During this 10/16/13 Tewksbury Loop, I started at just a moderate intensity. I mixed in some hills and rode them briskly but well below a max effort. I wanted to generate fatigue. During the second half, I hit my lap button and punched it all the way back. I rode at Zone 3-Tempo for the remainder of the ride. It started relatively moderate but becomes a race-like effort towards the end. 50 minutes at Tempo at the end of a three hour ride is not easy.
This past Thursday, I did this 10/24/13 Princeton Loop. Very similar. This time is was 57 minutes of Tempo. This was a killer on a windy day. At this point, I am not ready for short and very intense intervals. If you visualize a pyramid of fitness, I'm building the foundation. The wider the base, the higher and more stable my fitness will be. I will top off this Pyramid in March and April. We don't know what it will look like but construction has begun.
This is why I nag you about your goal events. I need to know well in advance. I will dissect previous versions. Look at course maps and profiles. Consider your strengths and weaknesses and figure out what you need to do in training to prepare. Vague goals leads to vague training. You end up with vague results. We can do better than that.  
Don't just go out and ride. Ride with purpose. 
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sharing my data - I have a sweet tooth.

Those of you who have gotten to know me have learned that I have a sweet tooth. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. This email isn't intended to talk about my eating habits though. I'm going to highlight Sweet Spot Training (SST).
Sweet Spot Training is a phrase created in 2005 by a panel of cycling coaches and exercise physiologists experimenting with power meter data. One goal of their study was to figure out what level of exertion produced the greatest overall fitness benefit or "Bang for the Buck". The test subjects trained exclusively at a specific exertion or Training Zone. Throughout the study, the rate of physical adaptation was recorded. The results indicated which level of exertion produced the greatest overall fitness gain. Sweet Spot is used to describe an intensity that is manageable for the athlete to do regularly while being hard enough to stimulate a significant adaptation.
The table below shows how SST fits in among the other common training zones. The harder we can train, the greater the benefit. SST produces greater results than training in Zone 3-Tempo. Although Training at Zone 4-Threshold is even better, it is too difficult to repeat often. SST provides balance between Zone 3 and 4.
SST is often incorporated on the calendar between the Base and Build training phases. The long endurance rides have been done. Fundamentals have been established. SST is done before the more intense event-specific training. SST is often described as the training that increases the size of your engine. Car enthusiasts say, "There is no replacement for displacement." The bigger the engine, the greater the capacity to perform.  We will do some tuning later as we approach goals. Ahead of that, SST will provide the best bang for our training buck.
After a month of training with increased purpose, it was time for me to incorporate some SST intervals. I headed to a flat canal towpath. SST is a very small window of exertion. Too intense and you'll pop. Too easy and you will see less benefit. These intervals are a test of our ability to pace ourselves. This flat terrain allowed better control over my exertion. I also chose this location because I would be riding after dark. Riding in the dark has inherent dangers. I wanted to focus on my intensity without concern for hazards in the road, traffic, etc.
As you look at the workout graph, you can easily recognize the intervals. I did a long warm-up including two Spin-Up intervals. Then I went on and did four SST intervals. Each one progressively harder. Have you ever done a race that got easier as you got closer to the finish? No likely. Our training should often imitate that trend. Hold back slightly early to ensure that you can complete the entire workout. As you get closer to the end, you can risk a little more and go harder.
Sweet Spot is 88-93% of FTP. For me, that means 220-233 Watts. The average of the first three intervals was 223, 229, 242 Watts. During the third, I increased the training benefit by lowering my cadence about 10rpm. I was grinding in order to build strength in the glutes, quads, and lower back. I was pretty cooked at the end of the third interval. Also recognize that my rest intervals were really slow and easy. For five minutes, I rolled at a walking speed just moving my legs. Maybe unclipping to stretch. Allowing myself to relax as much as possible before beginning the next interval. Work hard, rest easy.
For the fourth interval, I returned to my preferred cadence and lowered my average target. It ended up being 232 Watts. Still at the upper end of my SST range but I could no longer continue to go higher. I also ended this interval at 16 minutes as I arrived in Lambertville. Even at night, there are people using the path to get around town.
With Lambertville behind me, I still had a long ride back to the start point. I decided to add in more training efforts. No "junk Miles" on this ride. I did ten minutes within Zone 3-Tempo plus a Form Sprint every minute. Remember, a Form Sprint is a short out-of-the-saddle sprint of 8-12 seconds. Focusing on form rather than power. That is good because by this point, I was running out of power. Although I was tired, this last intervals provided interest and entertainment as I finished the ride. Instead of feeling exhausted, I felt invigorated and determined to finish strong until I was ready to start my cool-down.
It was a great workout. Many other small things were going on that are simply too detailed to explain via email. Give me a call the next time one of these SST workouts are on your calendar. I'll show up and help you to get it right.
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sharing my data - A New Beginning

During my build towards the 2013 Tour of the Battenkill, I shared my thoughts and personal training data to provide some insight that may help you in your own training. I received great feedback from many of you. Believe it or not, the time has come for me to begin again. One of you asked recently when I was going to begin training for Battenkill again. My response was, "About a month ago."
What have I been doing? I enjoyed my off-season. Yes, Summer is my off-season. It is when I focus my attention on all of you. I do your workouts with you, instructional skills sessions, and provide support at events. I made an effort to improve my poor spine and back condition which continues to be a problem for me. That is why you are not seeing me racing my CX bike this year or last.
Additionally, I was enjoying my kids as one was leaving for prep-school. Helping my friends at Halter's Cycles during their busy season. I attended coaching seminars. I was on my bike but not really training. After decades of riding, I can ride all day at any point. I do lose the sharpness, race-preparedness, or my "top end speed".
I did an FTP test with clients at the end of July. It resulted in a concerning 9% drop in Functional Threshold Power (FTP) power since April. I spent the next six weeks hosting Cyclocross skills clinics with most of you. One huge clinic for the public. I also spent two long weekends at clinics hosted by other coaches. Some additional family time didn't allow much opportunity to train. I did another FTP test a month ago. Another 2% drop in FTP power. "Okay, that is enough! Time to get back on the horse!"
I have spent the time since increasing the duration and intensity on the bike. Simply riding with more purpose. When legs feel good, do something with them. Not much structure required. I simply followed the old Eddy Merckx recommendation, "Ride Lots!"
Feel free to take a look at my test data. You may notice that I do not put out impressive numbers. You won't hear me bragging about my huge engine. I picked the wrong parents. I like to think I extract every bit of power from myself with excellent coordination and efficiency. Coupled knowledge and experience, I can still surprise a few people.
In the future, I hope to share my thoughts and data from key workouts. I began introducing some structured intervals last week and will share one of those workouts in the coming days. In the future, I hope to share about one workout per week. We'll see how things go.
The intent is to help you in your own training. I do many of the same workouts you do. I practice what I preach. I always enjoy your feedback and questions and look forward to hearing from you. 
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sharing my data - Using sound strategy...

I've done each of the Lancaster road races this spring. Previously, I did many Cat 1/2/3 races where I could get crushed by much younger and fitter guys. When the big guns showed up, it could be a struggle to outlast their attacks and finish among them at the end. A new category in the Lancaster series, 40+ Cat 3/4 Men, allows me to go in with some new confidence. I'm younger and more experienced than the majority of my competition.

The races have been so-so. Not much team representation. Mostly solo guys racing for themselves. That can make things boring as no one is willing to go too far beyond their comfort zone or take risks. Instead of working together, racers look at each other and say, "Screw you, I'm not going to exert myself in a way that others may benefit from." What often develops is what I refer to as "Negative Racing". Instead of racing aggressive to win, racers are trying to avoid losing.

As I was previously using these for training, I often showed up with tired legs. That caused me to race more conservatively than I would like. I also don't know anyone in the races as these are far from home. In my Salisbury Road Race, a team of two riders successfully dictated the entire race. A solo breakaway with a good blocker among the rest of the field. Basically, one strong guy and one smart guy. While frustrated, I was very impressed. I took note of who they were, the team they were on, and how others responded and behaved.

Last weekend, I showed up at the Farmerstown Road Race. Same series and race category but a course I was not familiar with. We began the 42-mile race in a stiff wind. Enough wind to dampen the enthusiasm of many racers. In the first third of the race, a solo rider attacked and got a gap ahead of the group. It was a rider on the same team that dictated the previous race but I did not recognize the rider. I noticed him earlier in the race and wasn't too impressed. The winner of the previous race was playing the role of "blocker". That got my full attention. I'm not going to get caught sleeping again.

At about the half-way point, the solo rider was hovering with a 30-40 second lead. Impressive but not beyond the reach of others. In this situation, I'm looking to "bridge" up to that leader while leaving everyone else behind. I was anxious to do something before allowing that rider to slowly increase his lead. Still a long way to go to the finish so I had some reservations.

I noticed a farm vehicle on the road ahead of us. There was a right turn ahead and I thought we would hit that turn at the same time as that vehicle. I hit the gas. Getting a small gap on everyone else and passing that vehicle before the turn. Actually, I cut him off as motorists often do to us on our road training rides. I don't know that vehicle impacted everyone else but I got the gap I wanted and my race got much more interesting.

Now, I can share my race data to help you to understand what was going on. I do not look at my data while racing and do not recommend it. It usually tells you you are suffering badly (of course) and becomes a distraction. I do my analysis after races to see how the data compared to what I was "feeling".

After leaving the field behind, it took exactly 8 minutes to catch the leader. A short max sprint and Zone 5-VO2 Max effort. Then I settled into the high end of Zone 4-Threshold and hoped to make progress. It was difficult enough that I didn't know if I'd make it to the leader. I did make it up to him eventually. After the race, I created a lap in the data called "Bridge". You can click on it to highlight that portion of the map and graph.

I pulled up next to him and immediately introduced myself, asked his name, and told him he had an awesome teammate blocking in the field. I showed I was friendly and provided encouragement to keep digging deep. We now needed to work together to remain ahead.

We did that for the next 45 minutes. Exchanging pulls and trying to compliment one another. As one slowed, the other came around to keep the pace high. The wind kicked our butts at times. Bringing us down to jogging speed. I'd look back as we went around turns to gauge where the rest of the racers were. At times, they were out of sight. That was encouraging.

We started the bell lap with about a 20-second advantage. Not very good, as road races tend to get faster towards the end. Others are willing to take greater risks with their energy as they know the end of the race is approaching. If caught, I wouldn't have the legs to contest a field sprint. No choice than to remain committed to what I started.

The gap got slowly smaller. The undulating terrain made it hard to tell but they were slowly getting closer. I was getting fatigued. Confident that I could beat my companion at the end but needed his help to get there ahead of others. We were caught with 3/4 of a mile left in the race. As the field swallowed us, we exchanged a sincere thanks and good luck.

Immediately, the blocking teammate and another strong rider counter-attacked and they finished ahead of the field. The blocker finished second. A strong showing for a guy who likely put in some big efforts to support his teammate in the breakaway. The winner got the golden opportunity and capitalized.

I reintegrated into the field with tired legs. As they ramped up towards the finish, I could only watch while in their draft. Not enough left in the tank to stand and sprint. 38 riders started. Many were dropped and abandoned due to the wind. I finished 14th of the 21 who finished. The winner put in a two minute effort, at the perfect moment, and won. I put in a 52 minute effort and got zilch.

That is road racing. Chess on wheels with lots of sweat and a little bit of NASCAR. I drove home imagining what I could have done differently to change the result. I also drove home feeling as if I had raced aggressively, dictated the race to others and left it all out on the road. For me, that is a success and keeps me going back for more.

I appreciate your attention. Now go make an impact in your next event or leave it all out there trying.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sharing my data - "Form = Fitness + Freshness"

Thanks for the well-wishes ahead of Battenkill. Many of you have asked how it went. Some of you were there. Unfortunately, I came away disappointed in my performance. I had numerous distractions in the month ahead of the race. I did my best to stay on target but fell short of my expectations.

The end result reminded me of a common quote, "Form = Fitness + Freshness". Good form is what you want to have when you toe the line of your big event. It is a complex combination of many things. We gain fitness as we pile on the miles, intervals, and sporadic races or big rides. We increase our endurance, our VO2 Max, maybe drop some weight, improve fundamentals and hone our form. Although we gain significant fitness, we can suffer from the accumulation of training demands.

As we approach our big day (or cluster of events), we incorporate additional rest. Workouts are shorter while maintaining the high intensity or our racing edge. We allow for more recovery. We spend the extra time to finalize our equipment choices, tuning bikes, putting on fresh tires, and generally get ready for battle. In general, we are resting, recovering and gaining freshness.

The end result is great form. We have done the work needed to improve fitness. We allowed for recovery and reached a state of confident calm for the big event(s). Our engine is tuned, cleaned, fueled, and waiting for the green light. We are fit and fresh.

In the month prior, I was forced to do some scrambling. The legs were good and fit but I was dodging obstacles. As I need to taper and gain freshness, I was feeling flat. Legs sore on most days. They did not respond to recovery days. Too late to change much. I reduced the volume and did the intervals and races that my legs would allow. The body continued to feel bad.

The Rhonde Van Mullica two weeks ago compounded the issue. It was the first race this year that my mind could not overcome my legs. "Shut up Legs!" was not good enough and I just rolled through that race. The next week didn't include many hard efforts. It was intended to top off my freshness. The flat legs, fatigue, and soreness continued.

I warmed up for Battenkill with a strange numbness. Too excited to feel what my legs were telling me. At the first big climb of the race...it became clear. This was not going to be a good day. It was arguably the first of four decisive points in the race. I made it through with the contenders but it was obvious to me that my time there would be limited.

I didn't back off and continued to race. At the next significant climb, I put myself in a good position at the front. Hoping that I would still be within the group at the top. That didn't happen. I finished the race playing leapfrog with a few people in my race. Even some from earlier races that were less fortunate than myself.

So I'll share my race data. Ignore the early spikes of heart rate. My Garmin sometimes does that in the early portions of workouts. I'm too lazy to edit the raw data this time. You can see the erratic power while I'm riding within the group. Alternating between pedaling and coasting. We hit that climb near the middle and all that changed. The rest was just me telling my legs to shut up.

I had the good fortune of being with friends and clients for the entire weekend. After racing, I was in the feed zones handing out bottles to others. Battenkill provides a very rare celebration of bike racing. I came home with souvenirs and good memories.

I have felt slightly better this week. I had a very good race out in Lancaster, PA today. Just short of a win. I'll have to settle for just a great day of racing instead. That's not bad. I'll share that experience and data in the next couple days.

As the days get longer and warmer, I'm out riding with all of you more often. I put my own race ambitions aside in order to provide a better coaching service to you. I'll continue to race as my schedule allows. I have a habit of pinning a number on while out there providing race support for all of you. (wink)

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sharing my data - More race video

On March 31st, I made a return to the Salisbury Road Race. It was a race I did last year for the first time. I enjoyed the race last year, had a strong finish, and it is a good tune-up race leading up to Battenkill.

I hampered my chances slightly by dealing with a couple "distractions" and doing a hard workout just two days before. We always want to race well but we often have to sacrifice in order to remain focused on bigger goals. Nonetheless, I would line up hoping to do well.

Again, I was recording the race on video. You never know when you may capture something to share. I witnessed a couple incidents I'd like to share. Most road races in our area utilize what is called the "Yellow Line Rule".

Due to numerous factors in our geographic area, the roads need to remain open for travel while we race. The race only uses the right ride of the road. Allowing traffic to travel normally on the other side of the road in the other direction. Racers are not to cross the yellow line for any reason. Penalties for those that violate the rule can vary but may include disqualification.

There should not be any gray area here but there are many situations where riders cross the yellow line. Some get crowded and feel forced across the line. Maybe they are bumped or are forced to swerve around a hazard or crash. This can be extremely dangerous as there may be an oncoming vehicle.

These violations are often overlooked as they appear unavoidable. As long as the racer returns to his position within the group quickly, most will turn a blind eye. In some cases, racers will cross the line in order to pass riders that are obstructing them. That is when you will hear lots of grumbling from your competition and catch the attention of the officials.

During my race at Salisbury, this happened a couple times and the moto-ref was quick and assertive with his response. This race video shows a rider passing numerous other racers in order to launch an attack. The referee didn't hesitate to accelerate up next to that racer and tell him to sit up and return to the field. Big thanks to that ref for enforcing the rules.

The last segment of the video is the finish of the race. With about 1 mile to go, I was sitting in a good spot towards the front. As we approach the last turn, that changed quickly. In previous laps, I had set up a plan if I were involved in a field sprint.

We had a tailwind so there was less reason to hide in the draft of others. The entire width of the road could be used going up the hill towards the finish line. The referee pulled up along the racers in order to discourage them from crossing the yellow line too soon. Once he pulled back, we were free to use the entire road. I planned to set up along the yellow line and be prepared to finish the race on the left side of the road. Hoping to pass as many as possible before reaching the line.

There were two guys that had gotten away in a breakaway earlier in the race. Those of us in the field were racing for 3rd. In the last two minutes, I went from good, to bad, to good again. I finished 9th out of the 40 or so guys in the race. Not an awesome result but one I can be happy with.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sharing my data - Bad weather racing.

We invest a great deal of time in our training. We prepare ourselves for what we expect to encounter during our events. We will spend months focusing on endurance, climbing, sprinting, MTB skills, running, etc. We may research a course route and profile. We can go ride the course ahead of time. We may have done the event many times before.
When we wake up on race-day, Mother Nature can turn our world upside-down. When that occurs, there is nothing we can do. It is only a matter of time before this happens to each of us. It could be cold, dumping rain, gusty winds, or 110 degrees. Those factors can have a significant impact on our results. We need to prepare for them. We can't allow months of training be washed away by rain.
Rain is the most obvious obstacle. Summer events could be unbearably hot and humid. If you want to do well during that time of year, you should mix in some workouts during the hottest time of the day. If training for a 24-hour race, you had better be doing some workouts at night. If your road race is on long open roads, you better learn to deal with the wind. It is no different than training in the hills for a hilly race. You are preparing yourself for the event. Prepare for weather challenges too.
In order to overcome the weather, we have to acclimate to various weather conditions. That means training outdoors when some may not want to go outside at all. Consider expanding your limits in training. It takes time to accumulate clothing, knowledge, and experience to deal with adverse conditions. Be patient but take appropriate steps allowing you to train in more varied weather conditions.
We all love to brag about how we overcame a bad weather day. “The greatest motivation to train, is knowing that your competition is on the couch!” The intent is not to be the heartiest or bravest rider among your friends. The benefit is being able to show up for an event in miserable conditions and remain focused on what you came to achieve. Remaining focused on your goals.
Last weekend, I showed up for the Strasburg Road Race in Lancaster, PA. It was 36F with a wintry mix of rain, sleet, and snow. These were the worst road racing conditions that I have ever raced in. Adding to it was the dirt/mud on the road from farms, slick tar pavement, and a few challenging portions of the course.
Instead of sharing data, I’ll provide video. I edited the video to include only a few segments. Segment one give you a good idea of the road conditions. Clumps of mud and manure are on portions of the course. At the end of the race, I looked more like a MTB racer than a roadie.
The next two segments show a corner where racers were having trouble. In the first instance, a rider takes a poor inside line and waits too long to brake. He had no chance. Traction was so bad he appeared to not even try to turn. Unfortunately, someone was on his outside and forced to go straight too. The next segment is a later lap. The lead rider isn’t able to slow down and ends up riding through a farmer’s field.
The last segment is the finish. One rider had gotten away much earlier and won. I finished among a pack of 6 racers just ahead of the remaining field. Interestingly, no one stood up to sprint for the line. I know my hands were too cold to feel my handlebars. I finished 6th.
There were some areas of the course that were dangerous in those conditions. I’m sure that many racers were just happy to finish and go home. Because I spend considerable time training in atrocious weather, I had chosen the correct equipment and clothing. That allowed me to focus on racing rather than just finishing.
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sharing my data - Make training really hard.

"Make you training really hard and your race days will seem easy." Well, maybe not easy. If you go really hard on those training days that call for it, you will be better prepared for what may be required on race day.

As my goals approach, I'm cranking up the difficulty to prepare myself for battle. I have my sights set on Battenkill. I have raced it twice and know the demands. Each week, I include one ride that is equal to the demands of the race. I may hit the dirt roads around Hunterdon County, the hills of the Sourlands, or show up for a fast group ride and do battle with others.

Remember those FTP Builders and Microbursts that I shared earlier this week? Last Saturday, I combined them into one monster workout. These intervals are difficult to mange in mountainous or congested areas. For this ride, I did a straight line across the state. Flat or slightly rolling farmland, little traffic, and few interruptions.

The ride data provides a pretty good view of what I was doing. After warming up I did 4x10 at 100-105%. Each was slightly harder than the previous until the last one. I lost it in that interval as I encountered a couple stop signs and traffic.

I decided to stop at Allaire State Park where I knew there would be a bathroom. I answered a text or two then started the return leg. I rode at Tempo for 60 minutes. After FTP Builders, an extended time at Tempo feels much more like a Threshold effort.

I made a quick stop at a store for fluids and then began the last portion of the ride. Now, I mixed in the MicroBursts. 5 Minute blocks of 30sec On, 30sec Off. The On segment consisted of a Form Sprint for 10-15 seconds. Then I would sit and grind the rest out until the Off segment began.

I rode up my driveway and had trouble getting off my bike. Back and neck in pain. Just standing up straight took a moment. Legs tingled the rest of the day. I downloaded the data later and found that the demands of this ride were actually harder than each of my Battenkill races. The efforts may be different but the post-ride discomfort certain feels the same.

I often say, "Make the Hard Days Hard!!!". Every once in a while, throw in a monster workout. Overreach and bust through to the next level. This past week, my 90 minute workouts felt much easier.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sharing my data - Microbursts

I often prescribe a workout to my criterium and cyclocross racers called Microburst Intervals. A Microburst interval consists of short repeated efforts with short recoveries. An example would be a 10 minute block made up of 15 second On and Off intervals. Basically, go as hard as you can for 15 seconds, pedal easy for 15 seconds, and repeat for 10 minutes. It starts off feeling moderate and manageable. By the time you are 8 and 9 minutes in, you are feeling the repeated efforts.

A typical prescribed intensity for the On interval is 150% FTP. When these are done while remaining in the saddle, 150% FTP is a max effort. Conversely, the Off period is 50% FTP or equal to Zone 1-Active recovery.

Obviously, the On interval is going to be the hard part. That is where you train the body to handle the exertion of repeated quick acceleration. The Off period is equally important as you are trying to teach the body to recovery quickly. These types of effort would be seen towards the end of a criterium as racers are jockeying for position and then getting in a good draft. Also the CX racers have to punch it out of corners but then settle down behind someone as the prepare for the next corner.

Here is an example of the 15 sec Microbursts. Short Microbursts In this workout, I did two blocks of 10 min Microbursts. Then I followed up with 10 minutes at 100% FTP. For such short microburst intervals, I create a Garmin Workout that beeps to indicated when to begin each interval. It is a very cool feature of the Garmin devices but a pain to create or program. I would find this workout of such short intervals to be difficult without an audible beep to tell me when to begin. When/If Microbursts appear on your calendar, let me know if you'd like some help using your Garmin.

I also prescribe a second Microburst workout. In this one, you do blocks of 30 seconds On and 30 seconds Off. For these, you get out of the saddle at the beginning of each On interval. Put in a 10-12 second Form Sprint. Then sit in the saddle and continue pushing as hard as you can. These are noticeably harder as the On interval consists of a sprint and is longer. A block of 30 sec Microburst is often just 5 minutes but could be longer for more advanced athletes.

Here is a workout I did with 30 second Microburst intervals. Long Microbursts Yeah, I'm on the towpath again. This was during a storm of mixed precip. The roads were not safe and the towpath was my only option to get this workout in. When doing these longer intervals I do not program the Garmin to beep. I just hit the Lap button and begin a new interval every 30 seconds. You can see the spike in power as I jump out of the saddle at the beginning of each On interval. Then I sit and push through the remaining time. Trying not to let my speed drop. Ouch!!! During the Off segment, I will coast for 5-10 seconds, allowing myself to return to a normal speed, then pedal easy to recover and keep the legs moving.

Microburst prepare you to respond to race situations quickly. Allowing you to react with instincts as the race unfolds. See that racer go by and want to jump on his wheel and follow? The guy you need to watch just launched an attack? Need to make a quick pass in the CX race as the next turn approaches? These little bursts are crucial. Because of the rapid nature of the intervals, people often mess these up the first couple times. They miss the start of an interval or lose track of how much time is left in the block. Be patient and keep at it. Reach out to me for help beforehand if you have questions.

Thanks for reading.