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.