Racing a bicycle is always a challenging experience and it is not for everyone, but I encourage every cyclist to at least try a bike race at one time or the other. There are lots of options from racing on gravel bikes, to road races to cyclo-cross, mountain bike, and track racing. All have their own specific demands and needs, I suggest you find a race that is local to you, and you have the right bike, to go for it! I promise in the end you will have a greater appreciation for cycling.
4 Goals of a Bike Race
For example, if there is a local cyclo-cross race coming up next month and you already have a gravel bike, then jump in there! You have 4 goals in finishing a bike race: 1) Learn the overall experience of preparing for the event, proper nutrition, warming-up and racing. 2) Make a new friend. Meet someone there and introduce yourself. Friend them on social media. Stay in touch. 3) Push yourself! Go for it! It’s important to push your limits on a regular basis and keep life interesting. Suffer a bit. Feel the desire to quit and don’t. 4) Bask in the accomplishment of racing your bike and doing something new and keeping life interesting. It doesn’t matter what place you get, just enjoy the feeling of racing hard and pushing it.
You vs. You – Don’t Quit!
I started racing bicycles when I was 11 (now 53) and I raced constantly from 11 till I was 27, when I retired from Pro racing. Since then, I have raced here and there for kicks and grins and to remind myself of the things I have forgotten! All those above goals I mentioned are why I race now. While highly competitive, I have long ago let go of the need to win every race, understand/know the limits of my current FTP and also know what it takes to win. I am happy to just enjoy some good overall fitness and go racing whenever I want to and still be competitive in the 50+ age group. And yes, during the race, I wanted to quit. I didn’t.
I have written many times about the relationship between training and racing, training for the demands of the event, conserving energy in your races, optimizing your training volume and how to use your powermeter effectively in racing. All of these articles have focused on improving in one way or the other, and that’s because that’s the name of the game, right? No one wants to stagnate or heaven forbid, get worse! So, when one of my clients, James Kramer, made the observation that his first races of the year were so different than all of his hard training done this past winter, I was curious to what he meant. Of course, I had him training specifically for his first races, tracking his CTL ramp rate, making sure he was on target for his first peak of the season and definitely giving him plenty of hard workouts. James explained, “Hunter, that race was easy. I mean, I am not even really tired after it. My training has been much harder than the racing so far and I even feel like I am losing fitness going to these races because they aren’t that hard.” Of course, this is music to my ears as his coach and I know when an athlete tells me this, he’s going to be on the podium soon enough. This also means he adhered to my coaching/training philosophy of training harder than the competition, doing ‘intervals to exhaustion’ and pushing himself to the max fairly regularly. James expanded on this first comment and said, “In races, it’s all about conservation, holding back, saving yourself for the right move or final sprint and that’s very different than in training, where you have me killing myself in nearly every interval and there are hard rides after hard rides every week.” This great insight and awareness is something that many of us reach when we begin racing and winning.
What it means to do the Minimum to Win.
It is this incredible contrast between doing every interval and every workout to your personal maximum, exhausting yourself daily in order to improve, but in racing making sure you are smart and expending effort only when you need to so that you can win. I remember a particular pro racer back in my old pro days in the mid-90’s and this guy was a ‘horse’, I mean, he would attack you until you gave up or he would just grind your legs into little stumps with his hard pulls in the breakaway. Often times, he attacked so many times or rode so hard in the breakaway that he dropped himself and would say afterwards, “wow, you guys are so strong.. you just dropped me..”. We definitely weren’t going to tell him that he was riding too hard or attacking too much! It really came down to the fact that he thought the only honorable way to win a bike race was to be solo off the front and just prove to everyone that he was the strongest(he should have quit road cycling and taken up Mt. Biking!). Naturally, his tactics didn’t work well, as there is this thing in bike racing called the ‘peloton’ and its collective energy can run down just about any single racer if they want to. Unfortunately for him, he never got it through his thick skull that you had to be strong and smart to win bike races and it really is “chess on wheels”. He didn’t know how to conserve, how to save his energy, how to race with the minimum needed effort in order to be a winner and that prevented him from ever living up to his potential.
How does this relate to training with power?
Well, let’s take my client, James. James is sharp, he listens to his coach, he does the hard work, has a racing strategy for each race and then he watches the race unfold listening to his intuition while at the same time making sure he checks back in periodically with his overall strategy for the race. He won’t make a move unless it’s a real threat for the win and then when he’s in the move, he’s racing smart so that he doesn’t expend any more energy than necessary. He’s learned a lot of these things from his past bike racing career when he was in his 20’s, and he’s also recently learned a lot from training and racing with a power meter. Let’s examine a recent race win from an early season race so you can learn from his correct execution and smart racing and begin to understand how the minimum can make the difference between winning and being pack filler.
In this race, James spent much of the race conserving his energy as he knew it was likely that it would come down to a field sprint, which he could win, but he did make a few hard attacks to see if he could initiate a breakaway, since he also knew that he could win this way as well. In figure 1, we see the overall power graph for the race itself which shows just how variable his power was over the race, but also how much time he spent below his threshold power. I have added two gridlines in here in order to give some perspective to the graph, the lower gridline is at his FTP power- 345 watts and the upper gridline is at 700 watts where he had to do much of his surges in order to stay near the front of the race. The race had two distinct hard sections in it when he had to push himself close to his FTP. The first one occurred about 12 minutes into the race when he attacked and attempted a breakaway and then the 2nd hard effort was in the last 5 minutes when he had to jockey for position, maintain that position and prepare for the sprint. The rest of the time was really pretty easy for him as evidenced by his heart rate barely going over 160bpm for much of the race.
In figure 2, we see the cadence distribution chart from the race itself which shows how much time he spent pedaling in different cadence ranges along with how much time he spent not pedaling. James spent over 22% of the race not pedaling and even in a short race like this one, that can make a difference. Conservation of energy is definitely critical here as it is in any race.
“The sprint before the sprint”
Examining the two minutes of the race leading up to the finish in Figure 3, we see that the old bike racing saying, “the sprint before the sprint” proved accurate and was critical to his positioning so he could sprint for the win. We see that he did 4 fairly hard sprints in those last 2 minutes and his average wattage was 444watts, which is nearly 100 watts over his threshold power, but clearly sustainable for a short period of time. Those sprints were not very hard for him as he can do over 1300watts for 5 seconds, and these just barely cracked 1000 watts for 2-4 seconds, however they do have the ability to pre-fatigue those sprinting muscles which means that quick recovery from sprints, along with doing sprint repeats in training is critical to success. Notice that between the sprints, James didn’t pedal much and was doing everything he could to recover for the next sprint and truly minimizing his effort.
Training at your Maximum
For racing, doing the minimum needed to win is one of your key goals in every race, since you want to conserve energy and only use it when you need to and want to for the most effective effort. Let’s look at the maximum of training now, so that we can see the stark contrast between a race and a tough ‘kitchen sink’ workout.
James did this ‘kitchen sink’ workout leading up to his first peak of the season and I really like prescribing these kind of workouts, as they simulate closely the different demands of racing, fatigue the cardiovascular and muscular system and also help to get the athlete to learn just how fatigued they can be and still go hard. A ‘kitchen sink’ workout is so called as it contains a bit of all the training levels, from easy endurance riding to hard threshold intervals to some short sprints and tough tempo near the end. In Figure 4, you’ll see that James did (4) x 12 minutes at his FTP, some hard sprints afterwards, fast pedaling drills, 2 minute anaerobic capacity efforts and then finished off with 45minutes at sweet-spot(88-93% of his FTP). This workout resulted in a Training Stress Score of 333 points, was over five hours long and had a normalized power at 274 watts, which means it was the equivalent of a solid tempo ride for over 5 hours. Clearly, this is not an easy workout and one that you undertake without building up to it. When executed well, you should come home pretty spent with muscles twitching from the effort and ready for a nap! When going for maximum exhaustion in a workout such as this, it’s important that you hydrate and feed yourself correctly, otherwise you won’t have a chance in completing it properly and if you do start to get some muscle cramps near the end don’t allow them to go into full blown ‘lock-ups’ as that damages muscle tissue and takes a long time to repair. Sure, this is way harder than anything James would do in a race and way harder than anything you might do in a race, but that is the purpose. If you really want your FTP to improve, then you have to do some incredibly difficult five hour rides, which bring you to near exhaustion. These kinds of efforts make you stronger, help you to improve throughout all your training levels and give you a maximum return on training investment. They are not workouts that you should do every weekend, but doing them every couple of weeks would be great in order to continue to push up your fitness level.
Maximizing your training really means maximizing it in every aspect that you can think of, so making sure you are doing the intervals correctly and completely, maximizing the time you have to train, maximizing your effort itself so that you are digging deep enough even though you are tired and doing your best. The best that you give to your workouts should be your maximum. Ask yourself after your intervals at threshold, “Did I do my best?”, “Did I push as hard as I could?” and then analyze your power files to see if those wattage goals for each sprint, each anaerobic capacity interval, each sweet-spot push were done in the correct wattages as well. Many of your training rides won’t be like the ‘kitchen sink’ workout, but you’ll still need to crush it on those short, but intense 1-2 hour rides and push those intervals to the maximum. In my book, “Training and Racing with a power meter”, there is a section on doing ‘intervals to exhaustion’ and that is one of the ‘maximums’ that you should strive to do at least once a week. The contrast between your training and racing is often times completely at opposite ends of the spectrum and this is important for you to realize and understand. When you race and finish the race can you say to yourself, “Wow, that was easier than my training”? If so, then you know you are ready to win. Strive to push yourself to the max in most of your workouts, strive to achieve more in your cycling and in your life, as when you maximize your training and learn to do this, you can take these same principles to your daily life.
James Gleick in his new book, “The Information” says that the basis of the universe isn’t matter or energy. It’s data. This is quite a profound and magical statement when you begin to think about it and how we interact with data changes our lives. It changes our cycling lives and our life in general from your iPhone to your connection to the internet and knowledge from all parts of the world. Data is just strings of bits, but whether or not it contains information, depends on what you do with the data and how you learn to interpret it. Interpreting data into useful information is a key skill that we all need to improve in all facets of our lives. The more information that we have, the more we can understand the role it plays in our lives and how we can become better cyclists and citizens in the world around us.
Using a power meter is one of the main ways that you can collect data in your cycling training and racing. A power meter can collect the data, but you have to turn that data into information that can be interpreted and used to make changes in your cycling. Your power meter collects this data at one second samples and it can be up seven different channels of data like speed, cadence, elevation, torque and even GPS. The key is that we turn that data into information and that is done through software analysis in a program like TrainingPeaks WKO+ and also education in articles and books so that you can understand this data and information. In this world of cycling in which you are immersed and inside this amazing magazine full of information, we need to discuss the different categories of data. Each category can give us some insight into a part of our cycling that we can improve or just learn about for a better experience down the road. Of course using a power meter on your bike is really our only meaningful data capture device we currently have available in our world. A meaningful data capture device to me means that it has the ability to help you make changes in your training; it gives me the information I need to decide whether or not one of my athletes should do a workout or not, or do 8 hill repeats or 12 hill repeats, or whether they should train their threshold power or their anaerobic capacity and this information makes my job more precise and efficient.
There are seven main categories of data:
1-Point related data, you look at the power or cadence or HR at specific moment in the ride. This can help to determine if the interval or exercise was executed correctly. This is the simplest of the data you are capturing and here you are drilling down to the minutiae so that you can determine if you held just enough watts for the required period of time. I look at point related daily with my clients’ files, and this is something that I learn many things from how many watts an athlete cracked out for the interval to whether or not they paced themselves correctly and even if they created the watts correctly using the right balance of force and cadence
2-Warning system Data. Data can be used as an early warning system. This data is comprised of many, many smaller data sets and we need to look at this data over a longer period of time. Unfortunately, in order for this warning system to ring the warning bells, you need a large data set of your rest days, your hard days, your races and all your rides no matter how easy or hard they are. This is a critical part of the warning system and if you are missing data because you didn’t use your power meter in a race or because it had to be sent back for repairs then you really compromise the integrity of the warning system. My warning bells can tell me if a client is doing too much training too quickly and overtraining could occur. Another warning could be that you might see a drop in your threshold power suddenly and unexpectedly. While out on a ride doing intervals you could use your power meter to tell you when to stop doing intervals, as your power has decreased below optimal in creating the right training stress.
3-Detector Data. Data can be a detector. When you cracked out your best 20 minutes, how fresh were you? When you blew on the big climb, what happened in the 5 minutes before it? 10 minutes before it? In post analysis of your data, you can use your data to better understand your failures and your successes. When you succeeded, what exactly did you do in order to succeed and when you failed, why did that happen? Was it the 10th hill that crushed you or was it the violent attacks up the 10th hill that crushed you?
4-Instanteous Data. Data can give you instant feedback. During a workout, you continually watch your powermeter to stay within required limits for optimal training. This is where your power meter can help you in pacing. Cycling is a sport of pacing, and you must pace yourself in a breakaway, in a long road race, in a short criterium and in a century ride or gran fondo. Pace your effort on the hills and pace yourself with your nutrition and hydration as well. These are all key fundamentals to your success as a cyclist and one of the beauties of using a power meter: the data is instantaneous. You push down on the pedals, and you see the number on the screen instantly. There is no lag time, there is nothing to wait for or download later, it’s right there and it happens immediately.
5- Investigative Data. Data can help you be a detective. If a problem occurs, then that’s when you can use the data to help you detect the problems. Sometimes you have to dig deeper into the issue surrounding a success or failure and reviewing the data maybe the way you discover the true underlying cause of your performance. I spend a lot of time being a detective when I analyze an athlete’s data, asking myself questions like: “How many times did he have to attack and how many watts were in each attack before he was able to get away?” or “As this athlete fatigues, does she choose a bigger gear because they have more natural strength than endurance or do they just not have enough muscular endurance to begin with?”
6- Explanation Data. Data can explain why you are faster or slower. You have to understand what information the data is trying to tell you. You have to translate it. Like James Gleick said, “Data is only a string of bits and has nothing to do with information. The information comes from understanding and that is our job to understand it.” Why were your watts lower than yesterday? Is it because you are tired and couldn’t physically produce the watts? Was it because you tried to test up a steep climb and you are better as a flat time trialist? Was it because you had your arch-nemesis to chase therefore you were pushing harder than ever to beat them? This type of data is similar to the data you get from investigative data, but explanation data provides a quicker insight into the information you need.
7-Incorrect data or biased Data- This is worse than no data at all. Sometimes you can correct for incorrect data from your past experiences. Other times you have to throw it away. Incorrect data is easy to identify in most cases, but biased data is much harder to discern. Fortunately, our power meters are not biased (I hope!) and therefore we rarely have to consider biased data, but often our data can be incorrect and that can pose many problems in analysis.
The data is always clear as a bell to see, but it’s not clear whether or not it explains the problem.
You must first prepare the data in order to identify the problem and this is what turns data into information. To achieve the right interpretation of the data, you need experience and a gift for joining the dots together in one picture or just good computer software….. I do believe that you need to have a personal connection to the data and understand this information first for yourself and then you can understand it for others. I have seen too many coaches trying to coach athletes with a power meter, but they have never used a power meter themselves, so have no understanding of what 300 watts feels like to them or what 1000watts feels like. This data, this information that we capture on a power meter has the unique aspect in that we can associate it with a feeling and learn that sometimes our feelings are incongruent with the data and other times feels exactly how it appears.
The experience and a basic knowledge of riding and racing a bicycle are essential. You are creating a harmony between man and machine. You are looking to optimize what your body is telling you about how it feels and what the data is telling you about how you feel. Relying solely on the data is dangerous and doesn’t tell the whole picture, but the information we gather from the different categories of data can help us to improve as cyclists and citizens of this world of data.
In late 2021, PCG Texas hosted the first ever PCG Texas Fall Power Camp in Leakey Texas. (Leakey is pronounced LAKE – E). Leakey is a tiny town in the Texas hill country west of San Antonio. It’s a hidden gem for cycling. (Please don’t tell anyone else.)
PCG Texas is a group of cyclists coached by Elite Coach Rickey Wray Wilson and Associate Coach Keith Nelson in the Fort Worth, Texas area. This group does their own weekly group rides, they also like to join local charity or organized rides like the MS-150 with Health’s Angels MS Cycling Team and The Hotter Than Hell 100.
PCG Texas Fall Power Camp was headquartered this past year at the Frio Pecan Farm. This is a working pecan farm with over 1000 pecan trees (11 different varieties), it has the crystal-clear Frio River running through it, and deer roam freely on the farm. It is so amazingly dark and quite at night! The farm also boasts amazing cabin style accommodations, some with their own pool! Check out Frio Pecan Farm!
Rickey and Keith led the camp, they were supported by Eddie Holsopple from Eddie’s Bike Fit, while HC Gordon served as the official camp SAG driver. HC has years of experience supporting the Fort Worth Bicycle Association with annual rides in Leakey, and he has an incredible knack for being in the right spot when you need him.
On Sunday, the camp early birds did a fun ~25-mile ride from Leakey up the 2-mile 7+% grade toward Camp Wood. Then, the camp officially started with a warm-up ride to rid our bodies of the hours of driving to the Texas Hill country.
Each day presentations were on such topics as:
Training with Power
Training zones and testing protocols
Basic Bicycle Maintenance
Bike Fitting Basics
Creating an Annual Training Plan
Riding as a group
Basic cycling handling skills
Planning and Training to do your best at your races, rallies, or Gran Fondo
Around 250 miles of cycling were on the agenda for the week, with over 13,000 feet of climbing and campers each accumulated over 1,000 Training Stress Score (TSS) points! Each day was capped with yoga, bike maintenance, and social hour followed by dinner by a local chef, Robin Waltrip. Of course, no Texas event would be complete without Texas Barbecue which was catered by Canyon BBQ on Wednesday night and Texas pecan pie (after all we are at Frio Pecan Farm). It was absolutely incredible having catered breakfast, lunch, and dinner ready in our open-air pavilion every day.
Phil Henslee led the campers through yoga after each day while Will Jiron was Mr. Versatility as bike mechanic, on the road assistant and general fun leader. Casey Gordon provided on the road assistance and added spice to the riding of the speedsters.
Day 1: Skills, Drills, and FTP testing!
After a short skills drill session, the campers went out for their FTP test. This is an out and back course. Following some fast-pedaling intervals and the 5-minute burn-off, the groups started their FTP. Some of the faster campers flew right past HC at the turn around point. The return trip was a whole lot better than the FTP test!
Day 2: 1 Minute & 5 Minute Testing
Day 2 was a blast, leaving Leakey and heading to Utopia and a much-needed rest stop at Postal Brews. We had to be careful not to linger too long because of the pending climbs at the end of the course. Those climbs are so much fun because the descent carries you back to Leakey where a cold one awaits.
Day 3: Thrill Ride
Day 3 is a reverse of Day 2 which means there’s a screaming descent into Utopia and the rest stop at Postal Brews. Crazy Casey hit 60 mph on the descent (not recommended by the PCG Texas coaches!). We could linger a little longer at Postal Brews because the more-gentle course awaited us, and the Day 4 Queen stage loomed large.
Day 4: Queen Stage
Queen stage featured two options either a 96-mile route with a departure from Leakey to Camp Wood or a shortened version 70-mile route departing from Camp Wood. Both routes provide scenic beauty and exhilarating rollers along the Nueces River and ended along Monday’s FTP course. The end of Day 4 featured “awards” night where the prime rib feast was followed by Texas pecan pie and ice cream. (We burned a lot of calories!) For Awards Night, the coaches recognized the campers for their spirit and determination.
Day 5: Cool-Down Ride
Sadly, the Friday departing cool-down ride was cancelled due to weather.
PCG Texas inaugural camp was so good that campers were requesting the 2022 date and plans are under development for camp in late September. Special thanks toUCAN for fueling the camp, Eddie Holsapple of Eddie’s Bike Fit, Will Jiron, Phil Henslee, Casey Gordon and of course our professional SAG driver extraordinaire HC Gordon who has an amazing instinct to be just around the curve when you need him!
When Joe Bidlow, our PCG social media manager, asked me to write a bio article and talk a little about how PCG Texas came about, I was not sure as to the best approach. We talked about what he was looking for, and I liked his suggestions, so here we go. He asked, “What defines you as a coach, and how do you approach coaching your athletes?”
I thought about that, and the first thing that came to mind, is that I am one of the most “senior” coaches for PCG, along with Gordy Paulson, PCG Master Coach. Note that I said “senior,” and not “seniority,” although Gordy certainly has both, given his many years with PCG. Turning 70 next year, I have many years of life experiences behind me, and many, many miles of cycling. God willing, I hope to have many more of both!
Teaching, mentoring and helping others to improve, has always been my passion. I truly take as much pride and pleasure in what those that I teach accomplish, as much as my own accomplishments. All the way back to my Boy Scout days, as I obtained my Eagle Scout rank, I was working on becoming qualified to teach a wide range of merit badge skills. As part of the Boy Scout Voyageur Canoe Training Program, I became a certified instructor, so that I could teach others canoeing and camping survival skills, including even the Cooking Merit Badge. My main requirement with the campers as far as meal preparation was, if we could both hold down his cooking, he passed! Not everybody did the first time!
I was not always an athlete, nor a cyclist. In fact, far from it! Up until the mid-1980’s, when Mary Kay and I moved to Seattle, I had not exercised, nor rode a bike, since Freshman high school football. In fact, for many years, with the railroad, as a 24/7 front line operations manager, I was a heavy smoker, consuming at least a pack a day or more, and struggled with weight management. While living in Seattle, we started cycling with department store bikes, then got into mountain biking in its infancy, with two of the original bright yellow Cannondale mountain bikes. By then, I had quit smoking, and Mary Kay and I enjoyed many weekends of cycling and cross-country skiing, and had even started kayaking, when the railroad moved me back to Fort Worth.
Mountain biking was not a big thing, yet, here in Texas and so we got into road cycling, and not being content to just ride my bike, I met three women, Clare Rietman, Debbie Breaud, and Diane Owens, who introduced me to ultramarathon, endurance cycling. Which led to two successful Race Across America (RAAM) finishes, the first of which, was on a tandem with Clare. In 1995, after my second solo RAAM, I was burnt out on cycling and focusing on my career, unfortunately, gaining almost 100 pounds during that time. By 2003, I realized that my obesity would kill me early, and I always felt lousy. So, I returned to recreational cycling, then Master’s road racing, and now the latest, gravel bike riding and racing, dropping all that weight, and then some, in the process.
Being a numbers geek, I adopted power training early on, purchased Hunter’s first edition of “Training and Racing with A Power Meter” I attended many training camps, and hired a coach, Gord Fraser, a retired pro, who coached me for several years, as we both learned the intricacies of the training software, WKO. In 2011, I met Hunter Allen at a PCG/Quarq power training camp, and wow, I realized just how much I had to learn from the master of power training, himself, and I still have so much to learn. One of the many reasons, I became a coach for Hunter and Peaks Coaching Group, after my retirement from a 40-year career in railroad management.
Before I joined PCG, I worked at a local cycling virtual training studio. It was there that I met a group of cyclists the comprises the Health’s Angels MS cycling team. I joined PCG right before the studio closed and many of these cyclists transitioned to become Peaks Coaching Group athletes. Over the next few years, we frequently rode and socialized together. More to come on those cyclists.
That was just a glimpse of my almost 70 years of life’s experiences and I hope provides a look into what defines me as a coach, my passion for teaching, and a broad empathy for what life throws at each one of us. Numbers wise, I am an average athlete, no super high FTP (w/kg) and my FRC (anaerobic capacity) is on the low side. Or, as Hunter said one time many years ago, at a camp, “you don’t got no sprint, we need to work on that!” Which we did, but I will never be a sprinter. On the other hand, fortunately, I do have a very high Stamina, and can just ride my bike forever below FTP.
To close, my life and career experiences have provided me with a deep understanding of athletes who are seeking a reasonable work/life balance. Having been extremely overweight and a heavy smoker, I have a deep, personal, understanding of the additional challenges that unhealthy habits have upon your quest for improved fitness.
What is next? I have the pleasure of mentoring our newest PCG Associate Coach Keith Nelson and working together we developed a unique local coaching program, the PCG Texas Team plan that Keith is leading. The PCG Texas Team plan, balances the use of Hunter’s structured programs along with personalized coaching by Keith. We are also pleased to announce that we are hosting our second, Fall Texas Hill Country Power Road Camp, in September, in Leakey, Texas.
Hope you can join us in Texas in September, for some of the finest cycling Texas Hill Country has to offer! All meals prepared onsite by a professional chef in an open-air pavilion, with lovely housing available.
Is it too early to begin next year’s foundation training? Yes! You need a break at the end of the season. If you are planning on a big 2022, and you are just finishing your 2021 season, it’s not too early to plan though! You do need to take a break to re-charge your batteries, and that usually lasts a 2-4 weeks, but that is also what I consider as prep for 2022. Now is the time to really plan for 2022 and once your enter into the off-season training phase, I want you to consider some of the below workouts and training principles to make 2022 great!
I really don’t like the phrase, “Base Training” because it produces images of long, slow distance training where your watts are at 60% of your threshold and you just putter along in your ride. Too many athletes and coaches believe that an athlete has to do “Base training” first and before any other type of training can be started. Now, I’ll concede that if you are a Pro cyclist and training for a huge season in Europe in 2022, then yes, you should be doing some serious “Base training” right now. Riding your bike for 4-6 hours a day at endurance pace will help continue to develop your aerobic system and also prevent you from peaking in January. But, everyone else? Forget it. We don’t have the time to put in 4-6 hours a day at a slow pace, stopping at coffee shops along the way and enjoying the sights.
For most of us, we have only 1-2 hours a day to train and we have to make the most of those hours, optimizing our training for the highest ROI. If we took that 1-2 hours a day and rode at endurance pace, then what would happen? We would lose fitness and get slower. There is a relationship between time and intensity that must be respected and the lower the intensity the longer the time you should ride in order to stress that energy system. If you really want to improve your endurance system, then riding at endurance pace for 4-5 hours is what you need to do. A 2 hour ride will not be long enough to create the necessary stress on the body in order to adapt and improve endurance. So what is the correct intensity for your 1-2 hours of available time? This is the tempo zone, Level 3 on the Coggan Power Level chart and from 76-90% of your functional threshold power (FTP).
Riding at tempo pace is a challenge and not easy, but it won’t make you peak in January either. By pushing yourself a little harder this winter in your shorter sessions (many of us are stuck on the trainer all winter too!) you’ll be able to stress your aerobic system appropriately enough to continue improving throughout the winter. In a previous article, that was titled, “The Next Level”, I talked about how to train in order to get to that elusive next level of fitness and riding at the tempo level this winter is one of the keys toward moving to that next level. You have to be willing to trust and believe that training in the tempo zone will create the training stress you need as your “Power Foundation”. This phrase, “Power Foundation” is how I prefer to talk about winter and pre-season training as it doesn’t conjure up those dreaded thoughts of LSD training, and more focuses one on the ‘power’ side of the equation, since your goal is to increase your power at threshold this winter. Overall aerobic fitness improvement is always something that we all want to accomplish every season as more fitness=more fitness and you will be riding faster than previously.
What types of workouts should you do this winter to make sure your “Power Foundation” is sufficiently challenged? I have written below three workouts that are perfect for both indoor and outdoor workouts, as each can be adapted to either environment.
Tempo with Bursts and Big Gear efforts- This workout is designed to make you ride at a relatively high intensity keeping your aerobic system taxed, but not so much that you can’t do the big gear efforts afterward. The big gear intervals are done afterward since your muscles will already be fatigued from the tempo work and then make you summon more strength to do the work. The big gear efforts are there to help you create some additional muscular strength and translate any weight training you might be doing onto bike specific work.
Warm-up (WU): 15 minutes. Main Set (MS): Then Nail it for 60 minutes at 80-83% of your FTP, with 20 bursts (every 3 minutes!), hold for 10 seconds at 120% of your FTP. EASY 10 minutes. Then do 20 minutes at 80-83% of FTP and this time do big gear intervals- Put it in your 53:13 – 50 rpm and every 2 minutes, (so 10 total)… Slow down, stick it in the 53:13, stay seated and then use strength to push it to 90rpm. Once you reach 90 rpm, and then back to your tempo pace. Cool-down (CD): 10 minutes easy spinning
Tempo and Sweet Spot intervals- This workout is designed to both fatigue your muscular endurance and cardiovascular system. By doing two longer 30 minute intervals at your sweet spot(88-93% of FTP or Upper tempo/lower level threshold pace), you’ll really have to work and stay focused but it will be ‘do-able’. After you do the 30 minute efforts, then you’ll have to ride at tempo for 45minutes, but at lower level tempo pace, which again will be challenging but stress that muscular endurance system.
WU: 15 minutes steady.MS: 5×1 minute fast pedals- over 110rpm with 1 minute recovery between each. Then do 2×30 minutes at 88-93% of threshold, right in your sweet spot. Rest for 5 minutes easy between each. Then finish with 45 minutes at 76-80% of FTP. Nice tempo, but not hard. CD: 15 minutes.
Solid tempo workout- This is your bread and butter winter workout where you get plenty of tempo work done and that will challenge your cardiovascular system and is sure to make you “red in the face” with some early, hard work to assure you are awake.
WU: 15 minutes steady and smooth, getting the legs going.MS: After you are warmed up, do (1) 3 minute effort all out to get the carbon out of the legs, shoot for 115-120% of your FTP. Then do 5×1 minute fast pedaling intervals with 1 minute rest between each. Ride for 20 minutes at endurance pace and faster cadence than your normal self-selected cadence by 5rpm. Legs just spinning a little faster than they want to! Then do 60 minutes at Tempo pace, NOT race pace, but a notch below uncomfortable, but do-able and at your normal cadence. Tempo Pace is 76-90% of FTP. CD: 10 minutes.
These workouts are just some of the great variations on Tempo that you can do this winter. The goal is to keep improving, without peaking in January and build your ‘foundation’, so that you’ll be ready for more intense threshold work later. These workouts are for riders that don’t have 4-6 hours to ride each day and will keep your fitness higher throughout the winter than normal, but that means you don’t have that far to go in order to peak for your key event in the spring. Give these workouts a shot and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with your new higher threshold this spring!
Using your power meter in cyclocross is not only effective, but arguably one of your best weapons in pushing yourself to the next level. Cyclocross brings its own set of demands in that you must be able to create quick bursts of effort over small obstacles, leap off the bicycle and run while carrying it for sections as long as 30 seconds – all the while maintaining a your race pace. Cyclocross might not seem like the best place to utilize a power meter, since there is hardly time to get a sip of water from your bottle, much less look at those tiny numbers on the handlebar, but there are quite a few ways you can use a powermeter to improve in cross. What if you knew the best tire pressure to run for optimal power output , traction and puncture resistance? What if you knew the correct gearing to use in that upcoming race when you have to cross the tilled farmers field? How important is your warm-up and how much does that impact your race? The answers and more can be found with simple power analysis of your training and racing files and that’s the true “power” of a power meter for cross. You are going to use it more as a post-ride/race tool and not so much focus your hard-core cross race rehearsal or race itself and from that perspective you can use that information to tailor your training so you’ll be ready for the next race.
While the data from a cross race is invaluable, I won’t try and fool you, there are barriers to utilizing a power meter and it’s data as well. First off, you need to understand what all those squiggly lines mean in the download and how they relate to the terrain, your effort and even your line on the course. Coaches like myself have been using power meter data now for over 10 years to help their athlete improve in a variety of cycling disciplines and while consulting a coach can definitely shorten your learning curve, it’s not required. For those of you that are more artsy, fartsy(as my mom used to say), and less analytically inclined, all this data might be a bit much and conversely… for all you engineers out there, you might become too obsessed with the numbers! On the whole, once past the learning curve, I know you’ll really enjoy training with a power meter and the new dimension it brings to your passion in cycling.
Power meter files from ’cross races typically average about 20 to 40 watts below an athlete’s actual FTP, since there’s so much “down time” when the athlete is either coasting down a technical hill, off the bike and running or just experiencing a lack of traction. The difficulty of putting the power to the ground skews the power numbers down, and one has to take this into consideration when reviewing cyclocross power files. Because of these running and technical coasting sections, it’s hard to determine the exact muscular demands of cyclocross. When viewed in a Quadrant Analysis plot, which breaks down a ride based on time spent with different force outputs and cadences, a ’cross race contains the largest amount of amount of the effort in Quadrant II, which represents slow pedaling and higher force, but Quadrant III (slow pedaling, low force) and Quadrant IV (fast pedaling and low force) are also heavily represented.
When you examine your power file from a ’cross race, one of the first things you might notice is that it looks a lot like some of those criteriums many of you did earlier in the year: loads of stochastic power spikes, easily discernible laps and big “race winning” type efforts are all commonalities to criteriums. A cyclocross power file will define the power bursts needed in the race, reveal the amount of rest in each lap and show the overall training stress accumulated in the race. One thing that’s important to identify in a cyclocross power file is the number of efforts you have above your FTP and how long each of these efforts is. In other words, how many matches you needed to burn. A cyclocross “match” is a little different than a match in a road race or a criterium because most likely you will already be at your FTP and then have to do hard efforts above it, depending on the terrain and your competition. In this case, the matches are really just bursts of flames coming up from the already raging fire! However, identifying these flames and their intensity will allow you to train more specifically for the effort.
After reviewing hundreds of cyclocross race and training power files, I have determined that a specific training workout good for ’cross is one that I call the “30-30-30” workout; it’s made up of 30 seconds at 150% of FTP, 30 seconds coasting (0% of FTP) and 30 seconds of running. The “30-30-30” workout is done continuously for 10 minutes and then a rest is taken for five minutes before doing two to four more sets total.
The “30-30-30” Cyclocross workout
15 minute warm-up, level 2.
(1) – 5 minute hard effort at 110% of FTP
5 minutes easy- Level 2.
2 x 10 minutes — 30- 30 -30. Which is 30 seconds RIDING hard as you can, 30 seconds not pedaling and coasting, 30 seconds dismount and running fast…. REPEAT.
10 minutes Level 2 after each 30-30-30 block of efforts.
4 x 2 minutes- at 150% of FTP. Anaerobic Capacity work.
REST 2 minutes after each.
10 minutes Level 2
Finish with 10 x 1minute FAST PEDALING at 110rpm+. 1 minute on, 1 minute off at 80rpm
15 minutes cool-down
One of the most important reasons to use a power meter is to training for the demands of the event, and this reason is highly applicable in the case of cyclocross. Addressing the specific needs for a strong anaerobic capacity along with highly-tuned technical skills (dismount the bike, run with the bike and remount) creates a perfect blend of a workout in the “30-30-30,” which you’ll find below. Along with this anaerobic capacity workout, cyclocross demands a strong FTP, so the traditional Level 4 threshold workouts done at 4 x 10, 3 x15, and 2 x 20 minutes at FTP are important for the successful ’cross racer. As Sam Krieg, a coach for the Peaks Coaching Group and Elite ’cross racer said, “The ability to train with power on your ’cross bike and develop specific ’cross workouts has allowed me to not only coach ’cross riders more specifically, but also improve my own fitness. My favorite workout is the ’30-30-30′ that Hunter developed because of the structure it provides – the nearly identical similarities to my ’cross races – and it forces me to go hard for the entire 10-minute set.”
Kris Walker, the 2009 national champion in the Masters (45-49) Time Trial and 2008 Masters Cyclocross events adds, “As a classic steady state rider, my forte is my ability to hold a constant power for the entire event, and cyclocross is very challenging to me because I have to train my weakness , anaerobic capacity. After reviewing my power files with Hunter, we were able to determine just exactly how much anaerobic work I was going to need in order to be on the top step of the Cyclocross National Championship podium.”
Cyclocross is another discipline within cycling where using a power meter in order to train more quantitatively and also more specifically to the demands of the sport allows racers to improve their performances. A key component of this improvement hinges on the ability of the athlete to mimic the demands of upcoming ’cross races and develop training routines for them. As the popularity of cyclocross continues to gain momentum, more and more racers will be using a power meter to collect data, analyze the demands of the events and then train for them.
With the advent of power meters, one of the age old questions asked by many can finally be answered. How much training should I do before I rest? When should I take my rest week? As coaches and athletes, we have never really been able to determine the best time for an athlete’s rest week other than going by the standard 3:1 work/rest ratio(which is very good btw) or listening to your body (also a good thing). However, these can be somewhat arbitrary and subjective. Some riders can go longer than 3 weeks before needing a break, and others need a rest after only a week of focused training, while others might be able to go for 6 weeks before needing a true rest week. Discovering your ideal work/rest formula is just as exciting as discovering your threshold improvement formula. This is one of the many changes that have occurred in training for cycling since the introduction of power meters and cutting edge software. Now, that we can quantify training load and the corresponding response to that training load, finding your ideal work/rest formula is only a matter of time and data analysis.
What is your work/rest formula?
Let’s examine an athlete that I have coached for five years in order to better illustrate the principles behind this concept. The rider is Gilbert Ducournau, a young rider, 22 years old and a Category 1 that was striving to turn professional at the end of 2015. He has been racing seriously since he was 17 years old, and each year has progressed up the ladder in both categories and FTP. As he has progressed and matured as an athlete, his ability to recover has also improved and over the years we have had to update his work/rest formula. In year 1(figure 1) of his training, he was barely able to train hard for two weeks before he needed a rest week. Gilbert was new to endurance sports and really struggled with the initial training and frequently needed breaks in order to recover in the first four months of training. After the fourth month, he was able to handle nearly 6 weeks without a rest week. However at the end of the 6th week, he did get sick and had to rest for two weeks. Therefore in retrospect, he still wasn’t ready for that long of a block of training.
Know your goals
As we jump forward to year 4 of his training, where Gilbert achieved a Category 2 ranking, and he was able to sustain a very hard two weeks of training, followed by 3-4 days of rest and then train hard again in the early season. As Spring approaches, he was able to consistently increase his training load for 8 weeks with short micro rests, so that his TSB(Training Stress Balance) never dipped too low, hovering around -24 and -12. In the middle of this phase, he went to a training camp which significantly upped his training load and now his TSB dropped to -50 and this created the needed rest week. During the summer, he was able to consistently train hard for two weeks with one week of rest. This was an interesting year and one that will be important for you to understand and look for the pattern in your own workouts.
The pattern here was:
1) He was able to train very hard for two weeks, but then needed a rest week.
2) He could train relatively hard, and then only take 2 to 3 days easy and continue on this schedule for 8 weeks.
This brings about the questions, which was better for him? Which is better for you? Will a 2 week very intense block of training be better than 8 weeks of steady hard work? The answer to this question depends on the goals of the athlete. If you are in the beginning of the season and need to improve your FTP quickly with some hard focused weeks of training then that will be a good choice. Another scenario to use the 2:1 formula, is if you are in the middle of racing season and/or need to get a quick bump of fitness, then do the 2 week intense block. If you are building to a peak of fitness and your “A” goal, then stick with the longer, and steadier progression. The take home here with Gilbert is that I was now seeing a nice pattern of improvement based on two different work/rest formulas. This could now be used in future seasons.
In Year 5, we finally saw his true sustainable training ability come to fruition. His season was up and down, as he had a great spring, but unfortunately crashed and fractured his hand in 3 places which required surgery, and then a month later, a second surgery. These two events dramatically slowed down the middle of his season, however, if we looked at his season as two separate parts, we saw a very different rider in this 5th year of hard training. The first half of the season, he was incrementally building his CTL up to the middle of February and then pushed very hard for 4 weeks driving his CTL to a career high of 96. This was a new pattern, but made sense in that his previous year he was able to train hard for 2 weeks and not quite as hard for 8 weeks, so was now splitting the difference with a hard 4 weeks of training. At the end of that 4th week, he didn’t need a big rest period(more than a week) like previous years, but a solid 7 days of easy riding brought his TSB positive and then he now maintained between 90-98 CTL for the entire month of April and kept his TSB just barely positive for good results on the weekends. While, I had predicted that he could hold a solid 4 weeks of training, it wasn’t obvious that he could do this from his data, so I had to rely on his previous year 4 data to see that the expected outcome would be 4 weeks splitting between 2 and 8 weeks.
The “holy grail” of training
The middle of the year was a bust with recovery from his broken hand. But, the fall and winter have been very good for Gilbert as he has been training for the Vuelta a Tachira in middle of January . Looking at Figure 4 below, he has been able to maintain an incredibly steady and incremental ramp rate of 5-8 TSS/week as an increase in CTL that peaks at 137CTL at the end of 2014. This has been his longest, continuous block of training and his highest CTL ever. This long ramp of training load increase has been sustainable because of two things: 1) Ability to handle this type of training. 2) Short rests within the build period that allow for some recovery. These short rests are critical to keep fatigue at a level which still allows for hard training and focused efforts.
Hard training does not always require absolute freshness and the mark of a successful cyclist is one that can train hard while tired and still gain a tremendous training response from it. If you have made it this far in the article, note that you have now gotten to the magic of using a power meter. Pay attention closely! By using a power meter, and watching your Performance Manager Chart to modulate the exact amount of fatigue(negative Training Stress Balance) and freshness (positive Training Stress Balance), you can continue training while fatigued for a very long period of time. Let’s examine Gilbert’s PMC with a higher level of detail (Figure 4), so you can easily understand this concept and how to use it in your own training. The most important detail in this Figure 4 is that the blue CTL line continues its steady march upward with short bumps of hard training followed by short rests. This allows Gilbert to continue to train hard and rest just enough in order to train hard again. He continues to increase his CTL to the peak of 137, without a single day of positive TSB in the entire 12 weeks of training! Practically speaking, what does this mean from day to day, week to week training? I planned his training so that he would do 3-4 days of hard training, followed by 2-3 days of easy riding.
This can also be viewed as “block” training, where the athlete trains in a “block” of days, and then rests until he is ready to resume training. In this case, I did not allow him to have full recovery and forced him to return to training with some fatigue in his legs. The combination of work/rest changed radically from the two weeks on and one week off, or just steady hard training. Now, he has been able to achieve the holy grail of training, the ability to train very hard to near exhaustion in 3-4 days and then recover quickly in 2-3 days, ready for another block. These micro-rests are critical in the equation as it’s that small recovery that allow the TSB to move toward a positive number (not become a positive number though!). It is critical in your own training that you watch your Performance Manager Chart closely so that you don’t become too fresh. I would recommend allowing your TSB to get to -10, but not any closer to 0, in order to maintain the constant ramp rate.
Training has always contained a bit of “Art” along with the science of exercise physiology, however there are 3 strategies that you can use in your own training. First, try the strategy of two weeks hard and one week easy (also try the 3:1 ratio as well), especially if you are relatively new to the sport. Secondly, try to extend the length of your harder weeks, so that you can do up to 4 weeks without a full rest week. This period will contain the micro-rests, and the first time you embark on this journey, I recommend you reduce your overall intensity just a little and by that I mean reducing the number of intense days, not reducing the percentages in your training zones. This will be the toughest transition for you, but if you can do it and keep your CTL ramp rate between 5-8 TSS/week, then you will be on the right track. At the end of the four week block, take a mandatory rest week no matter if you feel tired or not. This will guarantee that you don’t over-reach too much. The third strategy is to employ the full blown “block” training method for a period of 8-12 weeks. After you have been successful in strategy number 2, and you have enough time leading up to your priority “A” event, then employ this strategy.
Remember, on your hard training days, you have to ride hard or long, it can’t be a medium intensity workout, and you have to do this for a minimum of 3 days in a row, followed by days off and easy days. Your rest days are a minimum of 2 days where you ride easy or completely rest. Do not take more than 4 rest days though, as that will raise your TSB too much. Constantly watch your Performance Manager Chart to see your TSB numbers making sure that you continue to stay in negative territory (from -10 to -70). What you have successfully accomplished now is determining exactly when you need to rest! This is obviously a more advanced concept, but anyone with a power meter and TrainingPeaks WKO software can easily understand the data behind all the training.
Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group. This has been the 24th year that he has conducted training camps in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
Everyone has seen a “Tractor Pull” on TV at one time or another, even if it has just been a commercial. What started out as a bunch of competitive farmers seeing whose John Deere tractor could pull the most mass over a field, has turned into insanely high horsepower “dragster” tractors, complete with flames coming out of the exhaust and pulling specialized weights with sliding loads. The original premise remains the same though and it’s about seeing which tractor has the greatest pulling capacity or torque producing ability. What does this have to do with cycling you ask? As cyclists, we also need this big burst of torque on occasions and while we normally have very low loads of torque, there are times we need to use this ability to accelerate in a sprint, to jump out of a corner, climb up a very steep hill and in track racing.
Tractor Pulling and bicycle racing.
One of the challenges of weight lifting when you are a cyclist is translating that new found strength into something useful on the bicycle. I once had a NFL linebacker in one of my power seminars. He could squat over 500lbs and for the life of him, he didn’t understand why he couldn’t ride with the best cyclists on the Tuesday evening ride. He said, “Man, I am strong. I put out 450watts when I just push down on the pedals, but I can’t stay with the best guys on the bike. I don’t get it.” The concept that I had to explain to him was that he had an incredible ability to create force on the pedals, but it wasn’t “effective force”. Meaning that he was “stretching” the crank arms at the bottom of the stroke, but wasn’t able to effectively use all his strength in a circular motion to create more forward movement. What he could do though was accelerate from a near dead stop in a 53:11 though and crush us all for the first 100meters, when his cadence became too fast for him to be effective any longer.
We all will have this problem (to a lesser extent most likely!), when we try to convert our new found strength gained in the weight room to the bicycle. Increasing your strength in the weight room can be easily done over a winter season, but typically that new strength is only applicable to the exercise you were doing like squats, or ham string curls, etc. The trick is taking that strength and making it effective on the bicycle, so that you go faster! How do you do that? Tractor Pulls, I tell you! Tractor Pulls!
Why you need “Tractor Pulls”
Before we go into the mechanics of “Tractor pulls”, let me further explain why you need to do them on the bike and why it’s critical to do them correctly. Lower cadence workouts are great to do in the winter transition period and throughout the winter really, because they can enhance your muscular strength, which in turn can help you to sprint with more peak wattages and to push a bigger gear into the wind, in a time trial or up a steep climb. Muscular strength (Tractor pulls) workouts are based around hard, but short intervals done in the biggest gear you can manage at a low rpm. Many people have long believed the myth that riding for hours in a big gear at a slow rpm will increase their muscular strength and consequently make them more ‘powerful’. However, this only makes you good at riding in a big gear at slow rpm’s! Riding at 50rpm for hours on end is just not creating enough muscular stress in order to strengthen the muscles. You can think of this analogy: If you are trying to bench press 200lbs, then you need to start at 150lbs. and build up to it with low reps, high sets and the most weight you can lift. You have to use heavier and heavier weights to stress the muscle in order for it to adapt. Now, if you lifted 100lbs, but one million times, you would never adapt to lift 200lbs. for one rep. This is similar in this ‘big gear’ myth in that when you are pedaling at 50rpm for hours on end, it’s just like lifting 100lbs. for a million reps. While 100lbs. (metaphorically speaking) is more than your normal pedaling force of 80lbs., it’s just not enough stress on the muscles to get them to strengthen. In order to increase your muscular strength on the bike, then you need to do hard, short bursts of effort in a big gear.
The mechanics of the Tractor Pull is simple, but important. First off, they are usually better done while you are in the saddle the entire time of the effort. Secondly, in order to elicit the most force, you’ll want to do these on a flat road or false flat upward slope. For example, put your chain in the 53:12 gear and slow down to about 5-8mph, then while you stay seated, tighten your abdominals, grip your handlebars tightly and then with all your force, turn that gear over until you reach 85rpm. Once you have reached 85rpm, then the amount of force you are putting on the cranks has reduced to a point at which it’s just not enough stress to create muscular strength improvements. You should plan on doing about twenty of these power bursts in a session in order to create enough of an overload to achieve some benefits. See figure one to understand what this looks like in a power file.
Besides seeing the correct way the tractor pull should look in the graph, you should also confirm that you executed the tractor pulls correctly, by looking at the Quadrant Analysis scatter plot. Most if not all the points from your tractor pulls should in quadrant II, where the high force and low cadence intersect. When you see the dots in QII, that’s a great confirmation you elicited the right amount of force from the workout. The higher the dots are up in the upper left quadrant, the better you did!
Now you know the secret of how to take your hard work in the weight room and make it effective force on the bike. I suggest in the month of January and February that you do at least two of these workouts every week, and of course this work should be done at the beginning of the workout when you are the freshest and have the most strength to apply. This also means that you’ll want to do some tractor pulls at the beginning of a workout that addresses other energy systems as well. I would suggest doing tractor pulls before your sweet-spot 2 x 20’s or before your FTP 4 x 10 intervals and even at the beginning of a kitchen sink workout. These are great additions to riding on the indoor trainer as well, and are easy to execute correctly, just remember if you can’t reach 85rpm in less than 30 seconds, once you reach 30seconds the interval is over. Your sprint, your explosive snap, your time trial and ability to charge up steep hills will be forever changed for the positive!
First you start out “wide-eyed and bushy tailed”, excited for everything and everyone related to cycling. It’s a great time when you are absorbing as much knowledge as you can, getting stronger, ripping through every cycling magazine and website memorizing all the names of the riders, and generally throwing yourself into the sport. After this phase wears off, you continue to learn, but in a way that makes you wiser now, the “wise” phase. You are learning from your mistakes made in training, mistakes in races and as you learn, you become more successful. This second step is an important one because it causes an upward spiral of success, happiness and adds to the whole “fun quotient” of cycling in general. At the start of the next phase, the “serious” phase, you are still improving but at a slower rate now. You are continuing to get wiser and ride smarter saving precious energy to keep those legs fresh for the end of the ride. This phase lasts a disproportionately long period of time because the gains are slower, the desire is still high and you are now trying harder than ever. Eventually though, you reach a place when you are not able to improve and you begin to stagnate. This next phase or evolution of training is one in which you begin thinking about all the smaller ways you can improve and that idea of “the accretion of incremental marginal gains” begins to run through your mind. Can I buy a little faster wheels? Can I train a little smarter? Do I get a coach? Maybe if I used my Power meter more effectively? This phase is what I call the “Dedicated” phase. You are dedicated to your hobby, sport and for some of you, your profession. It could move onto the next phase, which is called the “monk” phase, where you do nothing but ride bicycles and eat special food, do special training, etc. and this is the phase that all pro cyclists much reach to pass into the professional ranks. There are other phases after this of course, but for this article we are going to focus on the “Dedicated” phase. Going through to the next phase is not something that is a discrete, door opening experience, and it’s generally a slow change over time from one way of being/thinking to another.
In this “Dedicated” phase of cycling, this idea of smaller improvements dominant the thinking and actions. Improving your nutrition and its corollary, losing weight, always seems to be close to the top. From there we move onto harder training and smarter training, generally in that order because you first train harder and then you get smarter, learning that harder training only works at the right times. The next step is you begin learning about the power of the mind, positive self-talk and improving your mental game. There are many more steps that you take in this “Dedicated” phase but let’s focus on the “smarter training” one in this article.
Smarter training does not mean less training and it does not mean more training. Smarter training means training more efficiently. It means training the correct physiological energy systems at the time they need to be trained and for the right amount of time so that they give you the greatest adaptation/improvement. Training smarter does not always mean training only when you get the highest benefit for cost, as many of the strategies of training require a large investment with a small return. It is often the case, that the smallest of improvements are the improvements that make the difference between winning and getting dropped, and those smallest of small improvements take a large investment of time and hard work.
Smart Training Investment #1
Each week, you should do a workout that I affectionately call, “Intervals to Exhaustion” (ITE). ITE intervals are the epitome of effectively using your power meter for smart training. Pick an energy system you want to train on that day, and then train it until you can train it no more. ITE is based on your average watts from the third interval and typically you will stop the interval session when your power drops off about 5-12% (depending on the length of the interval) from the average watts in that third interval. See Table 1 for a guideline on when to stop doing intervals. Check out Dr. Coggan’s and my book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” for a more in depth discussion on ITE. To increase your fitness, you have to push yourself a little farther than before in your interval repeat sessions. If you normally do five intervals, then using the ITE concept can help give you the confidence you need to keep doing more intervals until they aren’t being effective anymore. Who knows? Should you do six repeats? Ten repeats? Four? With a power meter and using this concept, you can easily determine the exact optimal number of repeats needed for maximum training adaptation and time efficiency. Smart training.
Smart Training Investment #2
Cut out the “Fluff” in your workouts and in your week. When you are focused on training hard and really going for it that week or workout, then cut down the warm-up time, time between intervals sets (not intervals, but sets of intervals) and get rid of the endurance paced riding. The workout becomes shorter, more focused and efficient. Here’s an example of a workout with the “fluff” and then without the “fluff”.
Threshold power and Anaerobic Attacks:
WU: (warm-up) 15 minute- endurance pace and do 4 x1 minute fast pedaling intervals –cadence over 120rpm. Rest for 1 minute between each.
Then MS: (main set) 4 x 10minutes at 200-210 watts, 100- 105% of FTP. Nail these and do your best. Rest for 5 minutes between each.
Do these at a faster than normal cadence- by 5 rpm! So, legs should be burning a bit just from the spinning faster. Then 20 minutes at endurance pace- 150-180 watts.
Then do 10 x 1 minutes all out- Attack these like you are in a race and you are attacking to get away! Do your best to average 150% of your FTP for the minute- 300watts or greater.
Hammer and push it with 3 minute between each.
CD (cool-down) Head home 20 minutes.
Total time: 2 hours 43 minutes.
Now, the same workout without the Fluff.
Threshold power and Anaerobic Attacks:
WU: (warm-up) 10 minute- endurance pace and do 4 x1 minute fast pedaling intervals –cadence over 120rpm. Rest for 1 minute between each.
Then MS: (main set) 4 x 10minutes at 200-210 watts, 100- 105% of FTP. Nail these and do your best. Rest for 3 minutes between each.
Do these at a faster than normal cadence- by 5 rpm! So, legs should be burning a bit just from the spinning faster.
Then do 10 x 1 minutes all out- Attack these like you are in a race and you are attacking to get away! Do your best to average 150% of your FTP for the minute- 300watts or greater.
Hammer and push it with 2 minute between each.
CD (cool-down) Head home 10 minutes.
Total time: 1 hour 50 minutes.
That’s a time savings of 57 minutes!
Smart Training Investment #3
Forget the easy days. You are on a time schedule and have no time for ‘putting’ around spinning the legs in active recovery. This is a waste of your time. Instead of doing easy rides, just sleep or rest, do a yoga class or get a massage. Forget the easy days as they are not really helping you to improve your fitness and while active recovery does have some benefits in helping you to recover more quickly for the next workout, you need to just fully rest one day a week and do nothing. That is a more effective use of your limited time, plus it allows you to catch up around the house on those things that need to be done.
Smart Training Investment #4
Learn how to analyze the periodic charts in TrainingPeaks WKO software. The periodic charts are the charts that allow you to see your changes in fitness over a time period. These include the Mean Maximal Power Chart (Figure 1), the Performance Manager Chart (Figure 2) and the Training Stress Score by week (Figure 3) charts. The Mean Maximal Power chart graphs your ‘bests’ or ‘peaks’ for whichever time period you decide to plot. This defaults at 5 seconds (Neuromuscular Power), 1 minute(Anaerobic Capacity), 5 minutes(Vo2 Max), 20 minutes(close proxy of functional threshold power), so that these default time periods will easily tell the user which energy system is on the upswing and which is on the downswing and this will help the user to make the correct decision on current training to impact future fitness. The Performance Manager chart teaches you the dose and response relationship between work and fitness, by clearly quantifying the level of your accumulated training stress and showing you the best wattages you produce as a result of that training stress. The peak wattages always trail training stress, since it’s the training stress that causes adaptation and improvement. The Performance Manager is one of the most useful charts that a smart ‘trainer’ should invest in understanding. The Training Stress Score chart is an important chart as well and something that you should look at on a regular basis to get a clear understanding of how many TSS per week you can handle, what your rest weeks look like and what are the maximum TSS points you can score in a week. While this is not earth shattering in terms of analysis, it does give you perspective and sometimes having perspective makes you smarter and wiser.
The different phases that we go through in cycling are always interesting, exciting and motivating. We learn something at each phase and those key understandings are what allow us to move to the next phase in our cycling experience. Evolution in your cycling is like how training itself has evolved. It’s grown over the years, adapted, improved, and grown some more. I would argue this is the hallmark of success and those that are not able to follow this path, are destined to mediocrity and stagnation. Push yourself in your adventure, open your mind to new ideas and use the most advanced tools to improve. Remember that if you do five smaller ‘things’ to help you improve for next season, they will add up to one BIG thing and that contributes to the next level.