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.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sharing my data - FTP Builders

Why do we train? To improve weaknesses and become a better all-around cyclist/racer/athlete. An old quote explains a lot. "Train your weaknesses...Race your strengths!"

Train aspects of your fitness where you will see the biggest rate of return. On race day, look for opportunities to crush your competition by using your strengths. I don't expect big personal results in a flat criterium. I have a weak sprint even after years of training to improve it. With my body type, I will never be a great sprinter. I have improved this weakness significantly. It still won't get me across the line ahead of the big powerful guys.

I have always been strong at longer events. As others fade, I seem to be able to continue pushing myself. That brought me success on the MTB and ultra-endurance events. For road racing, I target longer events.

I am continuously looking to improve weaknesses. They are prioritized. I spend time on each. One area where I still see a huge rate of return is building my FTP. Make a bigger engine! I have spent months including Sweet Spot intervals. Creating a resistance to fatigue during long sustained efforts. 3x12min, 15min, 18min, 20min, etc.

I am ready to move on. What is the next step? We reset the repetitions and duration of the intervals but increase the intensity and repeat. While Sweet-Spot is below Threshold, these "FTP Builders" are just above. 100-105% FTP. These are the intervals that push you to the next level.

This time I will share my data when doing FTP Builders. This workout shows how quickly you can inflict some serious discomfort. I started this from home on limited time. This was my second ride of the day after riding with a client earlier. I could get away with a lesser warm-up, doing just a few short sprints to ensure the muscles could handle what I was about to throw at them.

One huge factor on this day was the wind. I wanted it to be tough. I wanted some resistance. I pointed myself into the wind as much as possible for each interval. I returned to the same spot to begin again. When looking at the data, you can click on the interval name and the segment will highlight in the map and graph. The stats will also update to display the data of that interval.

In an interval workout, I try to make each interval harder than the previous one. Push yourself through increasing discomfort. Did you ever do a race that got easier as it continued? Not likely. I mimic my race experience in my training workouts. My prescribed power range for the intervals was 280-296 Watts. My interval numbers were 289, 293, and 298 Watts. I buried myself in the last interval going above the target. Ouch!!!

This is the type of effort that breaks down barriers. This is the effort that most people are not willing to do. Too hard, too many excuses. I previously mentioned how important is is to go easy on those easy days. Conversely, we have to go really hard on the hard days. This is one of those workouts. This is what improves weaknesses!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sharing my data - Race data and video

This past weekend provided the first opportunity to race in the New Jersey area. As I am prepping for mid-April goals, it is important to get some race miles in. The workouts I have you do are great for preparation and improvement. There are a couple things missing though; anxiety, high speed, and the element of surprise.

You do your workouts mostly alone, during your available time, on roads or trails you are familiar with. No crowds, officials, start whistles, rules, etc. Most importantly...NO COMPETITION! You may get excited or pumped up to do some intervals but it is generally a pretty relaxed environment. Racing is different. You may be anxious for days ahead of the race. Butterflies as you drive to the venue. Shaking with anxiety on the start line. "Holly Crap! Please blow the whistle and start this race before I throw up"

Race speed is different than training speed. We often race at a level above what we can do on our own. For the MTBers and CXers, it is primarily due to adrenaline. You can push through increased pain and discomfort when the adrenaline is flowing. The road racers have the added element of drafting. A road race is often about 5mph faster than you could possibly do on your own. Turns come at you much faster. your view can be obscured by another racer ahead. Bike handling skills become a much bigger factor when you are pushing the limits around turns. Race speed reduces the margin of error.

The most unique thing about racing is that you never know what or when something is going to happen. During your workouts, you read the description and know what to expect. The effort doesn't start until you are ready. You know how long you will have to push yourself. You have the luxury of knowing a rest/recovery period is coming soon. Not so in racing. You may be forced to increase your effort due to terrain or response to competition. Go around a turn and see the road or trail going straight up. A couple racers launch off the front of the road race and it is "Game On!!!"

In early-season interviews of pro racers, they often say, "Yeah, my fitness is good. I'm on schedule for Blah blah Blah. I just need to get a few races in to hone my form." Or maybe something like, "I've been doing this for 10 years. I don't allow my fitness drop too much in the off-season. After a few early races, I'm good to go."

This weekend, I showed up in Newark for the first day of the Branchbrook Spring Series. After a year off due to pavement issues, this early season series has returned for 2013. In order to maximize my training, I entered the 35+ and the CAT 1/2/3 race. In addition to racing, I was providing some race-day support to a couple clients. Mostly a last-minute show of support and calming of the nerves.

I'll just keep it short and say that the racing was good. 35-40 racers in the 35+ race and nearly 60 in the 1/2/3 race. That is a good turnout for 35F temps in March. I was just going through the motions in the early race. Conserving a bit for the later race. I'll admit, I'm only a Cat 3 and have a Cat 5 sprint. I'm happy to just play with the big boys. I'm not a threat in this race.

The 1/2/3 was pretty fast but I was able to stay towards the front. I responded to all the surges and held my own. The biggest excitement? Another racer reached out and slapped me in the arm. (I don't know why) Also, when the race finished. I was only 100' behind the winner. There may have been 26 other racers between us but I was right there.

Here is my race data. It includes my less than appropriate warm-up and both races. What do you see? Two really long intervals of exertion. Not much else. That is because the effort is completely out of my control. I am responding to the demands of the race. You don't get this experience in a training exercise. I can dive into the data and do some analysis. I can measure the duration of intensity of big efforts and apply them to my training. This course is pretty boring. The competition dictates the exertion required. That can change dramatically from day to day.

Want to get a view from inside the race? I recorded video of both races I was in. Not much drama to highlight so I'll just provide the last lap in its entirety. Enjoy! https://vimeo.com/61003371 

So as you prepare for your own goal events, look for opportunities to race ahead of time. Show up to your BIG event without preparation and you will become easily distracted, stressed out, and generally fall short of your potential. Use lesser races to practice your pre-race routine, experiment with nutrition, and generally use them as practice. When done right, everything goes much smoother on the big day.

Thanks for reading.