Thursday, December 10, 2009

Slave to the trainer

I remember telling Coach Mark that I'd rather cut my throat than ride a stationary bike in a gym, or a trainer (a regular bike mounted on a stand). I never rode my bike purely for training, but for commuting, health and fun. The idea of riding a "nowhere bike" seemed ludicrous. Trainers were torture implements for obsessed type-A athletes... I was right.

But over the years my riding has shifted more from commuting and more to racing. Racing is exciting! But racing requires very dedicated, consistent training almost every day. I work from home twice a week now, so on those days I need to do training rides; there's no pretense about commuting. But the quality of those workouts is higher than that of the intervals I shoehorn into my commute, so I am well aware of the compromises I was making.

I got a taste of trainers from using clumsy stationary bikes in hotel gyms while on vacation, or in the gym at work on rainy days. Yet I still managed to get in some good workouts that way. All that left me more receptive to the concept of using a trainer. I just needed a push.

My job has kept me very busy lately, and the cold, wet, dark winter leaves me less motivated. And this winter is supposed to be extra-wet. The stress of dealing with all that provided the push I needed. A couple of months ago I broke down and got myself a nice CycleOps trainer. And I'm glad I did. Now I am much more able to get in high-quality intervals without compromising my job, health, safety, or time with my wife, family and friends.

Using a trainer takes skill and incredible self-discipline. Those of us who use a power meter know how hard it is to produce the same power on a trainer as we can while riding the awesome mountain roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Psychologically it is way harder to push yourself to utter exhaustion while standing still.

For my first session on the trainer I was unsure how to dress, or arrange the many little details we usually deal with before a ride. On the plus side I didn't need to wear a helmet or sun screen, or carry tools and such. No worries about flat tires... or getting run over!

On the downside I knew the lack of wind would make me run hot. But it was only 52 degrees outside so I figured I could ride outside comfortably. And the lack of scenery would make time move very slowly, so entertainment would help. I settled on shorts and a long-sleeved jersey. A magazine for distraction. A kitchen timer ticking it off.

I started with 5 minutes of easy warmup, in my L1 power zone (much better than trying to pace with heartrate; prevents blow up!). Then I stepped it up into my L2 for the workout, while not overdoing it. Soon I was dripping with sweat, jersey open. I felt OK but soon the jersey was off. After a while I actually saw steam rising from my back... now I understood why guys talked of using huge industrial fans for cooling!

I wanted to play it safe by aiming for L3 at most. My legs said they could go harder so I moved into L3. It was hard, but not what I'd call suffering. Soon the timer said 10 minutes to go, so I moved up into my L4. It's really hard to hit my usual L4 power on a trainer. That's hard! But I held on for 5 minutes, then cooled down. A humble beginning, but a beginning.

The other day I did my next trainer workout: 40 minutes with 30 of them starting in L3 increasing well into L4. Very nice! It was even colder but I didn't need a jersey. I even managed to get some more reading in.

Over time I'll probably experiment with trainer-specific tires, since tires actually wear out a lot faster than on pavement, due to the high tire load required to make up for the lack of wind resistance and hills.

I have a long ways to go before I can do a 4×20 trainer workout like Coach Mark does, but by not overdoing it I know I can get some good trainer workouts in. Good thing too; work is still insane and it is 39 degrees outside, with a chance of rain!

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