Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Three years later I had, in fact, improve my endurance power... by a small amount, maybe 5 watts as the graph on my later post shows. My hope was that even that would've been enough to allow me to do well in some road races. I did win some races and upgraded to Category 3. But the jury is still out on the question of whether that training truly helped me.
I knew, going into that training program, that I might be a "non-responder" to aerobic-threshold training. The proportion of one's muscle-fiber types can help or hinder one's response to certain workouts. If one has too much of the "fast-twitch" ("type 2b") sprinter's muscle fibers they won't convert to "slow-twitch" ("type 1") endurance fibers. Thus, pure sprinters are non-responders to that training. Had my muscles had more of the in-between "type 2a" fibers I could've been a "responder" obtaining good endurance combined with the ability to sprint. As I started to suspect back in 2010, my muscle fibers are most likely heavily skewed toward the type 2b fibers typical of pure sprinters and endurance races will never be my forte. But I had to try.
Endurance power is still my weakness, and sprinting, my strength, is now slower. As my competition gets faster my training and racing needs to play more to my strengths; nobody wins with their weakness at higher levels of competition and my recent wins have all been on the banked oval track. Now I have to try a new tack; train my strength. To quote an expert: "Popular wisdom believes race your strengths, train your weaknesses; but the most effective coaching programs tend to operate in a tight range of capitalizing on one's strengths." All those endurance workouts destroyed my sprint power and now it will take time to rebuild it; a few more years maybe for the type 2a, but probably not so long for the type 2b. At this rate I'll be 70 before I figure all this out!
But as I've said before, knowing my strength is no guarantee that I can excel in that area. My biggest concern is that I am too small to be a good sprinter. The top track sprinters tend to be rather large (though big is no guarantee of success either: witness Robert Forstemann, a massive guy who yet didn't podium in the Olympics). But I won't know how far I can go until I really apply myself to that area of specialization. And track sprints sure are fun!
I recently hired a coach who is a track-sprint specialist and I hope this can help me get answers to my constant questions and save me some time. For now he has set up a program to help me do better in criteriums with more emphasis on short intervals and no more long hill climbs at threshold.
But, if I can swing it, he may be able to help me on the track going forward. That program would drastically change how I ride, train and eat. My rides would be shorter but much more intense. My training would likely include lifting heavy weights in the gym. My meals would cut out carbs (and probably be healthier!). This seems to be pretty standard approach for track-sprint training.
Wish me luck!
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Many experts seem to agree that having realistic, achievable and measurable goals helps us to progress in whatever area of our lives we choose to focus on. Last Fall I never posted my goals for the 2011 cycling season, but I should've, because they'd make me look successful!
My 2011 season goals could have looked like this:
- Win a race at the velodrome. Done.
- Upgrade to Cat 3 on the track. Done.
- Improve my tactical sense. Done.
Ok, that's after the fact, so not really what the experts would approve of. Had I actually set goals last Fall, I probably would have made one be to win a road race or criterium. Still, I feel good about my 2011 season.
For my 2012 cycling season, I want to:
- Win some more track races: It will be difficult, given I now race against faster guys.
- Improve my power: Unlikely, but maybe getting bigger (muscles, not fat) would help.
- Beat 3 hours in Race Around Lake Tahoe: We were 3:02 this year.
- Help promote a race, probably at Hellyer velodrome.
Let's roll up our sleeves...
Thursday, August 11, 2011
My training has hardly changed in several years: Most weeks I ride 170 to 220 miles, with about 160 minutes in "Level 4" (aerobic threshold) intervals of about 20 minutes each, and 30 minutes in "Level 5" (anaerobic threshold) intervals of about 5 minutes each. Plus assorted miles of mixed riding, racing on the track and commuting.
Track racing is pretty cool. Before I committed to really racing on the banked oval-track, I thought it would be rather dull since the endless laps around the same track would all look the same after a while. And while there may be some truth to that (there's something undeniably epic about long, hilly road-races) the fact is that each race is unique, of course. Different people, different race formats, different weather all combine to make variety.
And it's hard to argue with success: I have been doing pretty well on the track! Not crushing the competition, but definitely one of the top riders in my category.
I've been racing mostly in the Tuesday Night Races; about 15 nights so far. I can leave work about 5:00 and be at the track in plenty of time to register, warm up and the race start at 7:00. I won an Omnium, and placed in several others, also winning quite a few heats, points sprints etc.
I am still a Category 4 on the track (I'm Cat 3 on the road), but I now have enough points to upgrade to Cat 3 if I want to. Do I want to? Hmmm... Earlier this season I raced the "Get Ready for Summer" series, in a combined Cat 3/4 Omnium, with four different heats for us:
- Kierin race
- Scratch race
- Miss-and-out race
- Points race
I've also been racing on the road, though nothing too exciting. Check my USAC results.
Next up for me:
- NCNCA Masters State Criterium Championships, on Sunday, August 21st.
- Match sprints at Hellyer, August 27th.
- Maybe the Bike MS: Waves to Wine Ride 2011 with the HP team, September 17th and 18th.
- Great Lake Tahoe Bike Race, with the Symantec team, on Saturday, September 24th.
Wish me luck!
Monday, March 28, 2011
- Stay cool. I just wear shorts and a headband (with extra headbands in reach) and position my trainer outside where there is the most wind, and in the shade. I keep a couple of hand towels for wiping down sweat. Some day I will buy a strong fan.
- Rock out. I play lots of rock and heavy metal while on the trainer (never on the road though!). This truly makes the time pass faster. I focus on the lyrics and see if there's a story as a distraction from my gasping breath.
- I have a very hard time focusing on movies and TV while at threshhold, so I don't bother with that. But I have sometimes watched big-wave surfing DVDs while training indoors and that was kind of helpful. When I buy that fan I may do this more often.
- Lose track of time. I try not to look at my watch because it seems that time moves verrrrrryyyyy slowly when I do. I'll think I'm 10 minutes into my interval but if I check my watch it says I have only been riding for 1:08 or something. The music helps me forget time a bit too.
- Spin hard. I always shift into my tallest gear to get the highest inertia from the spinning wheel. I adjust the resistance against the rear tire so my cadence in top gear in my power zone is somewhat low; usually about 60-70 rpm for me. This works much better for me than spinning faster against lower resistance for the same power. And the higher wheel inertia seems to mimic the feel of riding on the road better. (I suspect this is personal though, as everybody seems to have their own ideal cadence; experiment for yourself.)
- Display current power. Rather than displaying the current interval's average power on my power meter, I set the display to show the current power. That allows me to constantly stay in my target power zone without the power peaks and valleys typical of riding while displaying the average power. (If you only have a herat-rate monitor, start out easy and allow your HR to gradually rise until the very end of each interval. Then save up money for a PM!)
- Refuel. It's tempting to think that the shorter trainer workouts are less demanding of calories than those longer road rides. That is not true, because the extra time in a road ride is mostly spent rolling down hills, waiting at traffic lights and just getting to and from wherever you are doing your workout. By drinking a bottle of sports drink during my trainer sessions I am able to bang out even 4x20s with confidence.
Friday, July 16, 2010
These are fast-twitch fibers ("middle distance"), but due to their construction they are also very trainable. In fact, they are so trainable they can literally morph from fast-twitch characteristics to become slow-twitch over time, with the right training. Type 2a fibers are red in color (as are type 1) because they have high levels of myoglobin and are thus more aerobic (oxygen burning). Dark meat!
These also fast-twitch fibers (short distance), but rather set in their ways. They can only be trained to be stronger but never abandon their sprinter characteristics. I train these with "L7" jumps; short sprints at my absolute maximum possible power for about 6 to 10 seconds. Some people use weight training, but not I. Type 2b fibers are white in color and are anaerobic (no oxygen). White meat!
The blue line shows my power as it was last year. The red line shows my power as it is this year. The biggest shift has been in my sprint power, which is sadly lower. But there's a tiny improvement in my 20-minute power (enlarge the image to see it!). You might think that very tiny improvement is not worth the big drop in sprint power, but it is important to consider this: My tiny 20-minute power gain is multiplied over a full hour of riding (I ride my L4s at my 1-hour power), while the sprint power is just subtracted from a few seconds. My total potential power is now significantly higher than before.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
So, if we're riding, say, a 20-minute interval, we press the "interval mode" start button and then constantly adjust our pedaling effort so that the interval's resulting average power reading (in Watts) is within our 20-minute training power zone. If the reading is too low we pedal harder; if too high we back off a bit. We then dutifully record this reading in our training logs for future reference. Just for an example, here are my training zones (we rarely train below Level 4 unless we're too dog-tired to do any better):
- Level 4: 246-285W
- Level 5: 286-332W
- Level 6: 333-600W
- Level 7: as high as possible!
Others of us use the current ("instantaneous") power display. It shows the power we're producing at any given moment. I do this to learn how to pace myself as smoothly as possible. The experts agree, as do my legs, that smooth and steady is more efficient. And more efficient is faster and more sustainable over time. Per Matt Russ: "A variable effort is more fatiguing to the body when compared to an even, steady effort." I am pretty much always able to hit my power training zones on every interval, day after day, week after week. I suspect my even pacing gets some credit for that.
So, which is best? Neither; both can work just as well. Try both and see how they work for you...
OK, I admit I prefer current power since our intervals are designed for a specific power level, not the average of wildly fluctuating power. And constant power spikes tire us out; that can jeopardize our power during a tough workout. Check out the following graphs, which charted my power during two similar intervals (the yellow line is power in Watts):
Which one do you think yielded the best average power? The left one did, which may not be surprising if you look at how smooth the yellow power line is on it, compared with the jumpy yellow power line on the right graph. I hope those graphs make my point for me: Use the current power display and try to keep the power exactly where you want the average to be when you're done with the interval.
But it brings up another topic: pacing strategies for time-trials (solo races against the clock). The steady pace that is best for intervals isn't always best for TTs (or other races). But even then I'm convinced current power display is better because it allows us to nail our power level exactly to suit the TT course. But... that is a big topic worthy of a separate blog post. In the meantime, here are some links to pacing articles:
- Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences: Pacing strategies during a cycling time trial with simulated headwinds and tailwinds
- John Hawley: Pacing: A Matter of Strategy
- Joe Friel: Time Trial Pacing
- BioMedSearch.com: Effect of pacing strategy on cycle time trial performance
- Matt Russ: Using a Power Meter for Triathlon Pacing
Thursday, July 1, 2010
OK, first there's the whole issue of buying another expensive bike... one I'd use just rarely. But I do know what I'd get, roughly: A 29-inch-wheeler with full suspension (I've decided no more hard-tails), SRAM 20-speed drivetrain, and just an aluminum frame (no need for carbon-fiber). Tubeless tires would be nice too. What, maybe $3,000 to $4,000 total? Uh, maybe even more?
Lots of money for a bike I'd use... how often? All my training is on the road with my team-mates or while riding to work. Not on dirt where it's harder to pace yourself due to rough trails, or find enough long, smooth climbs. So, mostly just for racing then.
When we do well enough in mountain-bike races we eventually get our racing category upgraded. And in every mountain-bike race I know of the higher-category racers have to race longer. For me, as a sprinter, that is the kiss of death for my chances in races. When I was in "Sport" (now called Category 2), I usually did races that were about 1.5 to 2.5 hours long. But now as a "Cat 1" I not only have to race against faster guys, but race longer... a double-whammy! I am a sprinter, not a marathoner!
Unless I race short-track: Short, intense races rather like a dirt criterium. Now we're talking! But the only race in Nor Cal that I know of with a short-track event is Sea Otter Classic, and not every year either.
So... an expensive bike I'd use once a year or so.
Like I say, no future in mountain-biking for me.