Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Converting back to pure sprinter

Five years ago (how time flies!) I decided to get smart about my training and embarked on a long-term diet of aerobic-threshold intervals. I knew then that this would diminish my sprint power some, but I hoped the improved endurance would benefit me in long races, especially with climbs, and allow me to be fresher for the final sprints. All of that training, over the last five years, was designed to improve my weakness: endurance power.

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!

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