Saturday, November 16, 2013

My 2014 season plans

After a good 2013 season it might seem strange that I am completely changing course for 2014, but there are many reasons. 2014 is the season I am finally committing to an all-out pursuit of my strengths in racing.

Why my 2013 season wasn't a full success: 

My podium appearances at road races were in the less-competitive Masters Category 3 and 4 circuit races at CCCX. I am still not podium material in the real contests where I have to compete against talented and experienced Cat 1 racers. Years of training for this haven't changed things for me much. My placings in the other road races (usually Masters Cat 1/2/3), criteriums and even mass-start track races I entered this year weren't spectacular; even though I did consistently finish near the front I could never seem to sprint much.

When I tell people I am a pure sprinter they immediately think of guys like Mark Cavendish or Peter Sagan... they are not pure sprinters at all, but what I would call "road-race sprinters." They can ride for hours at a high speed, then sprint hard out of the huge mass of riders, something I have never been that good at as I am usually too tired from the high typical speeds. While it's true Cavendish has twice won world championships on the track it was in the "Madison" race, not track sprints at all. The more I know myself the more I know how different I am from guys like them.

Why I should change course for 2014: 

My two silver medals from the 2013 Masters State Track Championships follow the bronze medal I won in 2012; all of this was in pure track sprints. This is far more telling to me; I did well without even doing the very specific training required for these races. Well, that is all changing...

What I am doing about it: 

I am still a big believer in "riding lots," to improve in bike racing, but I am ramping down my cycling with just shorter, easier rides filling in the gaps as I feel like it... I do love riding and these moderate rides sure are a pleasant change from the pain of my old workouts. Conversely I am now starting to ramp up my gym workouts, even going so far as to pay my teammate Ed Price, a Certified Personal Trainer, to help me.

Strength training seems to be the accepted training for track sprinters (though I am still researching this topic). Currently I am doing lots of lighter weights with high numbers of reps (repetitions) to build up my strength gradually as I enter the 2014 season. Recently Ed started introducing slightly heavier weights with lower reps, and plyometrics (dynamic jumps and such) into my weekly workout with him. So far I am actually really having fun and look forward to these 2-hour sessions, much to my surprise! Who knew gym workouts could be fun? Ed's energy sure helps too.

My trusty, but sold, 2010 Felt TK2
Another step I took was to buy a new track bike, though it's actually a slightly used bike. My 2010 Felt TK2 was a nice, solid bike, but not as nice as the carbon Serenity Marvel I bought. The TK2 also had a nasty shimmy  (speed wobble) from the front wheel during maximal sprints that was frightening; several adjustments didn't fix it and I was told a larger frame would help. Buying used equipment also allowed me to upgrade to a much higher level than buying a new bike would have allowed within my budget.

My Serenity Marvel has a larger frame (57 cm vs. 53 cm) and is much stiffer (full-carbon vs. aluminum). And with the money I saved buying a used bike I was able to buy a Zipp carbon wheelset with tubular tires: a 2006 808 front deep-dish wheel and a 2005 900 rear disk wheel. Plus, the guy who bought my TK2 didn't want its wheels so I got to keep them as spares, perfect for warmups too!

My new-to-me Serenity Marvel, with Zipp wheels
One hiccup occurred early on: Shortly after I bought the Serenity I started testing it at the Hellyer Park track and I was still getting a bad shimmy during all-out efforts at high speeds (over 35 MPH). That was frustrating as that was one of the reasons I sold my TK2, and here was that same problem resurfacing. Fortunately Jeff Solt, who has coached me a little in the past, was available to help me sort the new bike out and after changing the handlebars and stem my position on the bike was what he called "...pretty much perfect. There are many sprinters who have worked a long time to get as good a position." That reassures me that if I can do everything else right I will get as close to realizing my full potential as can be expected in this imperfect world.

My 2014 season schedule: 

I plan on racing just about every single track sprint race at Hellyer that I can manage, including match sprints, team sprints, 500 m time trials, and perhaps even an occasional Keirin just for fun. Then on June 7th and 8th I will try for gold again at the 2014 Masters District Championships. And since the USA Cycling Masters Track National Championships are in Redmond, Washington this year, I will try to race there too, even if just for the experience.

I must admit that I have been moving in this direction with some reluctance, because my heart is still fixated on the glorious image of epic road racing over vast distances, up and down mountains. But I also must admit that I love to win, or at least feel like I have a a chance, and the track is far more inviting to me for that reason. And the more I explore track racing the more fascinating it is.

Now I just have to keep training properly and keep my mind aligned. Exciting stuff!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My 2013 season retrospective

The season is pretty much all done, and it's always good to look back and see what worked, what didn't, and where to go from here.

The last couple of years I was considering returning to a "periodized" training program, as I did in the past before I joined Team Bicycle Trip and Mark's consistent, year-round FTP-focused workouts ("FTP" is "functional threshold power," one's 1-hour power). I felt periodization was best for me for a few reasons:

  • Fun! Variety is more interesting. 
  • My power levels have barely changed at all after 5 years of consistent FTP workouts. 
  • Align my workouts more with the type of racing I do: short with highly variable efforts. 

I was putting my periodized plan together last fall and happened to show it to Steve Heaton on our way back from Race Around Lake Tahoe. He was more than happy to help me flesh out the weekly program with a huge variety of workouts to choose from to suit the various periods in the season's workout schedule.

For 2013 I ended up following Steve's workouts very closely, incorporating them into Mark's team workouts whenever possible. So, where in the past I might have done steady-state intervals up the various long climbs in our area, this year I would instead make the pace much more variable to simulate the way races surge, slow down, sprint like crazy, slow down, etc.

This ended up being quite fun, as I would often draft my poor teammates and then attack around them. Since that's usually considered rude I always made sure to clear that with them first. But the upside was that I was able to stay with some of the fastest guys who would usually fly by me on those climbs, all while improving my ability to sprint and recover quickly.

I would usually do a few rides every week at L2 ("level 2") or L3 power for a full couple of hours; a nice 'tempo' pace that's tiring but doesn't cause suffering like the usual 20-minute L4 intervals. The other rides would usually involve very hard, but short, efforts in L5 or L6, separated by easy pedaling to recover before hitting it hard again, time after time.

One workout I liked was the "3x5m(30s L5/30s L2)" workout, as I wrote it in shorthand. I would warm up, then for 5 minutes I would alternate between 30 seconds in L5, then 30 seconds in L2. This I would do 3 times (sometimes with the team at the UCSC workouts), when a given week called for this type of workout. Another was in L3 with L6 sprints every few minutes, with no recovery, followed by a few sprints. The hardest was a "3x10m(15s L5/15s L2)" workout (if you can decipher that you will see why!).

The result? My best season since 2007! I had two 1sts at the CCCX circuit races, two 2nds, several other podiums, some track 1sts, plus two silver medals at the Masters State Track Championships.

Interestingly my results for criteriums weren't that good (my best was 11th at the Masters State Criterium Championships), nor in mass-start track races (I got 4th in the Masters State Track Championships scratch race). I thought I'd do better... but I have learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses and how I respond to training.

Mostly I have to acknowledge that I am a pure sprinter. So much so that when the pace is high I am too tired to sprint very well. I have known this a long time, but this year I have had to finally accept that no amount or type of training will change that.

That's OK; knowing all of this helps me decide on a course that will best suit my potential, instead of trying to be what I am not. So... on to 2014 and a whole new beginning for me!