Feb 15, 2011

The building blocks of progress

It’s been a month and a half since I began my training regiment, so I guess this would be a good time to look back and see how it’s going. One thing I can say with certainty is that I feel my fitness has improved many times over since the beginning of the year. I think there are several aspects of my training that are responsible for this, so I’ll address each one separately in the order they come to mind.

First, there is the technology aspect of my training. Riding and training with a power meter definitely helps me train because I can aim at a number and work toward that number, regardless of hear rate or how my legs feel. It is much easier to do an interval and watch the interval average watts drop or grow (the latter being preferred). This lets me know if I started too hard, or if I’m building within the interval, as I should be. Doing hill climbs is easier – not that climbing the actual hill becomes easier, but rationing the effort is much simpler – because I know what I want to average for the duration of the climb and I aim at that number. Then, I simply compare the number with my relative perceived exertion and determine if I should go harder or stay at the same level for the next one.

Hitting various zones (aerobic, anaerobic, neuromuscular) is also much easier with a power meter, as I know my critical power (CP) and all I need to do to train the various zones is hit the proper percentage of CP for the prescribed amount of time – it doesn’t get any more straightforward than that.

This brings me to my second point – focused training. Last year was all about rides and miles, and while this year is also about rides and miles, the types of rides and miles matter way more. There is a day for hill repeats to work on my climbing. There is also a day for intervals to work on my neuromuscular endurance and explosive power. There are also days for long, hard rides to build my aerobic capacity and muscular endurance. Of course, there are also those easy days where I just like to spin the pedals to let all the junk flush out of my system, but everything is structured and organized – I know this just makes you jump out of your chairs with excitement. Don’t worry, even on those hard days, I still lift my head up to enjoy the beautiful nature around me and take time to take in the joy I get from simply being on the bike.

The third aspect of my training is miles logged and time in the saddle. I logged more miles this January than any other month last year, and that’s saying something. My current plan is three weeks of 200+ miles and one week off at about half the miles I did on the longest week in the previous three. So if during one of my three weeks of training I logged 240 miles, then the “rest” week will have about half the volume, or 120 miles. I drop the intensity somewhat to let the body actually recover, but I still put in a couple hard efforts here and there so the fitness doesn’t drop too much. Being in top form for racing has to be a constant balance between fitness and fatigue – too much of both is as bad as the opposite.

Fourth is diet. I don’t think I’ve ever taken what I eat so seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I had some pizza during Super Bowl and I’ll have a sweet thing here or there (actually I prefer salty/fatty things more), and an occasional beer or two, but overall, I’ve tried my best to take in only the necessary calories and fuel my body properly. This has benefited me twofold. One, I’m about 10 pounds lighter than I was the same time last year. Two, I feel like I have more energy and it’s amazing what it feels like biking 10 pounds lighter. If anyone would have told me that the difference in feel would be so dramatic, I would have started doing this a long time ago. Come to think of it, someone probably did tell me, but I probably wasn’t paying attention. Can’t stress enough how much Racing Weight helped me understand what I need to do and how. I know that the immediate effect of going up the hill faster is an easily measured metric, but the way I feel just getting out of the saddle and pedaling has also changed – in part maybe to fitness, but in part, probably due to weight as well.

Lastly, I cannot stop talking about how much going to M2 has benefited me. I’ve been sold on indoor power training a long time ago by Robbie Ventura, and have resumed it at M2 last November after taking a year off from doing it regularly. It does amazing things for building power, endurance and just gives me the extra edge I need to power over a climb or to finish a sprint. You might think that it’s stupid to ride indoors when you can ride outside virtually year round in California, but even pro tour riders get on the CompuTrainer or a CycleOps power bike once a week to zone in on what they need to do. One a week (or more if the weather is really bad out) at M2 is something I intend to do for the remainder of the season.

So if I had to sum it up in this one paragraph, I’d say that I’m feeling at least 10 times stronger than I did the same time last year and going into my first races of the season this upcoming weekend, I’m feeling confident that I’ll be able to hold my own. However, don’t let me saying that I feel great and strong be confused with saying I’m content with where I am. While I’m definitely pleased with the progress, I’m not yet satisfied. I’ll steal my best friend’s e-mail signature, which is a saying he lifted from his power lifting coach in college – “development ends where satisfaction begins.” I’m excited at the progress I’ve made, but I’m even more excited as I look forward to the strides I am yet to take. 

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