Dec 29, 2011

Tahoe on PowerCranks

I'm spending the last week of the year in Tahoe. Last year, I swore off writing anything this time of the year because I was playing in pow-pow up to my unmentionables, but this year, Tahoe is pathetically dry (so far). I knew the conditions were not ideal for skiing, so I brought two bikes: my cyclocross bike for some potential trail riding and my Jack Kane equipped with PowerCranks.

On Saturday and Sunday I went to do some skiing and finished off the days with an hour and half hour, respectively, on the trainer spinning PCs. The sets were really clicking and I hardly ever had to think about how my legs should be moving.

On Monday, I decided that I'd get bored very quickly if I continued to ski the same few open runs, so I deiced to make it a day on the bike. I mapped out a route on Strava and figured I'd hit Donner Pass summit first, and finish the day off with a near-seven-mile slog up Alder Creek/Skislope back home. Now I had to decide whether I wanted to ride PCs, or ride my CX bike. The difference between the smallest gears is one gearinch, so that wasn't really a factor. But I didn't want to ride 35s on the road because of how heavy they felt, so I decided to ride PCs.

I've previously never ridden this far on PCs or climbed that much, so I had no idea what would happen to me. I asked my usual question: "What's the worst that could happen?" I figured that if it really got to be too much, I'd just turn around and head back.

I rolled out of the house and headed toward Donner Pass summit through the first few flat miles. The first thing I noticed was how smooth my pedal stroke was. I didn't even have to think about what I had to do, my legs just knew it. I think having spent some trainer time on PCs the two previous days definitely helped.

Then I hit Donner Pass - a 3.2-mile climb that rises about 1000 feet - the pedal stroke remained smooth, but I definitely felt that I wasn't on my regular cranks. I didn't have any issues going up the climb, even when it pitched up, but I did notice that my legs were in a greater amount of pain than they should have been for the watts I was seeing. At the top, I flipped myself around and descended back down toward Donner Lake. I figured on the way back, I'd go around the lake on the other side, but for those of you trying that in the future, don't do that in December. There was about a 70-meter stretch of snow/ice that I had to hike my bike over, which could have been avoided had I gone back the same way I came. 

My legs were feeling relatively good after coming down from Donner, so I decided to proceed to do the other major climb in the area - Alden Creek/Skislope. Strava has this at 6.8 miles (my Garmin measures it at 7.5 miles) and rising about 1500 feet; however, a good chunk of that elevation is gained in the last 2.5 miles, so if you feel like you're flying for the first four miles, don't worry, you'll pay for it soon enough. 

That was roughly my experience, as the first four miles of the climb came and went relatively painlessly, but once I hit the last 2.5-mile stretch, the really hard climbing began and my legs were definitely in a lot of pain. The one good thing about reaching the summit of that climb was that from that point, it's a downhill shot back to the house, so I knew that once I was done with the climb, I was done!


Yesterday, I decided to go ride once again, and see if  can better my time on Alder Creek. I rolled form the house up to Skislope and began climbing the road I descended earlier in the week. It's a 2.1-mile climb that goes up about 700 feet and it really hurts near the top as the pitches go higher and over 10%. It's especially unpleasant when you hit it 10 minutes into your ride without enough time to thoroughly warm-up. But once that was over, I knew I had a seven-mile descent down to the start of the main climb of the day. 

I hit the climb hard and took about five minutes off Monday's time, though I managed to lose about 30 seconds when I dropped a bottle and stopped to pick it up. 


Both rides above were done on Power Cranks. So how did they feel in comparison to riding regular cranks? There are at least three different aspects of riding you work while riding PCs. First and foremost, they force you to work on syncing your pedal stroke, otherwise you end up in a galop. Having never ridden PCs before September of this year, I've been on them for about three months now, and I no longer have syncing issues while riding them. From my experience, I feel that anyone who's willing to put in at least 2-3 hours a week riding PCs (on trainer first then outdoors), can get their legs consistently in sync in one to two months. Obviously, more time on PCs, yields faster results, but 2-3 hours is what I've been doing. 

The second wrinkle PCs help iron out is leg power disparity. I don't suffer from this to a great extent, but traditionally my left leg has been stronger, and on some climbs, I have noticed that my right is in just a little more pain than the left. Hopefully, with time on PCs, that will even itself out. 

The last, and in my opinion, largest issue is engaging muscles in your pedal stroke you never knew you had, or knew you had but didn't know you could use them to propel yourself on a bike. The need to engage the hip flexors and hamstrings definitely makes climbing harder - it almost feels like I'm riding with a heavy backpack. However, at the same time I realize that it's harder simply because those muscles were not developed enough in comparison to my glutes and quads which are likely more engaged when I'm on standard cranks. As the muscles strengthen, with time this third issue should go away, but in the meantime, I definitely feel it helping me when I jump back on my regular bike and head uphill. 

Dec 22, 2011

What doesn't bend breaks

In just a matter of a few days, I went from having not much to write about to having a lot of stuff I'd rather not be writing about. However, seeing how these recent events have derailed my scheduled training, they are worth a mention. 

The crash

On Saturday, the team ride was starting in Occidental and the plan was to go up Kings Ridge, down to the coast and back into Occidental via Hwy. 116. The ride started out on a very chilly side, in the low 30s, but by the time we started climbing Kings Ridge, the temperatures started to go up and the cold was no longer noticeable. 

My legs were feeling great, despite a few hard training sessions earlier in the week. I was dropped by the front group of five riders and was riding solo with the rest of the team close behind (with a follow vehicle). Coming down one of the large rollers on Kings Ridge, I hit a patch of new black asfalt with black gravel on it - completely invisible. I hit the patch at about 28-30 mph and began to drift. In another moment, my rear wheel slipped form under me and I was sliding along asfalt on my ass like a baseball player into second base. 

I managed to slide off the road, so I didn't have to worry about traffic from either direction, but I was in quite a bit of pain as the gravely surface took a good chunk of meat our of my upper thigh. No more than a couple minutes after the crash, my teammates rolled up with the follow vehicle and I washed the wound out with cold water. This was about 1:50 into what was supposed to be a 4-hour ride. 

I had a call to make, do I get into the follow vehicle and sit there for two more hours at 17-18mph, or do I get back on the bike and ride? I looked over the bike, and other than a missing end cap and some torn handlebar tape, it was completely fine. I decided there would always be time to jump into the follow vehicle and I would try to ride. I stuffed some baby wipes into the wound and got on the bike. The riding actually made the wound feel better as the cold air proved to be a nice natural anesthetic. 

In another two hours, we were back in Occidental. I discretely stepped into a diner in front of which we were parked and cleaned up the best I could with baby wipes and paper towels. Then I did what any cyclist bleeding out of his side, with road rash and who just finished a 4-hour ride would do - it was time for beer and burgers! A bottle of Chimay and some rare beef helped ease the ache of my hip, while I was trying to keep my mind on something other than the road rash. 

I was still hoping to go out for a ride on Sunday, but by Sunday morning, the soreness from the crash set in and I knew I wasn't going anywhere. Monday wasn't that much better and I ended up working from home as a result. By Tuesday the wound got only marginally better and I had decided to give it one more day of rest and go out for a nice long ride on Wednesday - my scheduled day off from work. 

But as Morton's Salt would have us believe, when it rains it really does pour.

The cold

I was feeling somewhat under the weather Tuesday night, but hoped that some hot tea and a good night's sleep would fix me. Unfortunately that was not to be. I woke up with a mild fever, sore throat, chest and nasal congestion - the whole nine yards. 

As much as I would have loved to get on the bike, all of the things combined, I took my illness as a sign my body wants me take a step back for a moment. 

Four days off the bike this week were definitely not part of my training plan, but as they say about the best laid plans... 

As someone coaching himself, I have to find a balance between being strict with myself about following the prescribed training plan and flexible enough to adjust it only when absolutely necessary. I feel that to some extent, those things are easier to conduct with an outsider's perspective. 

These challenges are always frustrating, but they are there, can't change that. I can, however, change how I feel about these circumstances and make the best of them. Do as much as I can when I can and get healthy. Then pick up the training from there. No sense in running myself into the ground while I'm already sick. Getting fixated on numbers in spite of everything seems like a damn good way to brake yourself early in the season (or at any point for that matter) and something I'd like to avoid. 

Dec 14, 2011

Training update

Oh boy, so it’s been a few days. Actually, right after the one-year anniversary of the blog, I sort of took a little involuntary hiatus. Work, life, long base miles and a bunch of other stuff just got in the way with no time to write, but more importantly, not much going on with my cycling to write about. My Achilles tendon told me to stop racing cross or it wouldn’t heal up in time for the real pressures of the road season, so I’ve simply been clipping away at the base miles, desperately looking forward to when I can get some good interval training going and grind out some major wattage!

The training overall is going great. This is the strictest I’ve been with my base ever. Despite the fact that it’s difficult to keep my HR in zones 1 and 2 on team rides, 90 percent of my time in the saddle these days is still in that range, and with over 1K base miles already in the bag, I figure a little effort here and there can’t hurt that much. I will admit, as I’ve mentioned before, base can be a very mind-numbingly boring phase, but I’m hoping to reap the benefits of it come peaking time.

Aside from just base training, there are a few specific aspects of my current training I feel deserve a highlight.

Golden Cheetah

I’ve written about it previously here and here, but this is the first season where I really got religious with the performance manager (PM) options, tracking the stress all my workouts are placing on my body, and most importantly, making sure that recovery weeks are actually recovery weeks.

This is also tangentially related to taking to heart Joe Friel’s advice with regard to tracking workout volume. I used to always track volume in terms of miles. This was probably for no better reason than others would appreciate a number of miles more than a number of hours. When I tell someone, “I rode 250 miles this week!” – they sometimes go, “Ahh! Ooh!” But when I tell someone I put in 18 hours on the bike this week, they scratch their head and go “huh?” and sometimes ask if I have a full-time job. However, tracking time has been very beneficial for staying focused and not worrying about having to ride around the block because the weekly target mileage has fallen short. It’s also helpful with tracking gym time, which of course has no miles.

Power Cranks

I’ve been riding these more and more, and no longer on the trainer. Nowadays, all the PC work is happening outdoors and I’m enjoying it quite a bit. As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s a challenge and makes even the easy recovery rides interesting because while I’m pedaling lightly, I’m still training my muscle memory to fire the fibers in proper sequence, and I no longer have issues with the pedal stroke while on PCs. Now it’s all about building up stamina to go long distance on them.

The most recent PC workout was on Tuesday, when I did one 40-minutes set at tempo, averaging about 210 watts at HR of 159 (my zone 3 tops out at 162). The first five and the last 10 minutes were the hardest. For the first five minutes, my hip-flexors were telling me to go “F” myself due to some residual soreness, but then the muscles got used to the motion and that wasn’t an issue at all. I went through the first 30 minutes without any issues whatsoever, but as I crawled closer and closer to the 40-minute mark, I did hit a few dead spots and heard the familiar clunk. This only happened three or four times over the last 10 minutes, but it was still a sign of fatigue, which signals two things. First, more time on PCs is needed to build up stamina. Second, and most obvious, when I get tired, the pedal stroke gets sloppy.

The greatest benefit I feel I’m already getting from riding on PCs is my climbing feels much more comfortable. I’m not making a claim that I’m all of a sudden flying uphill. Given that I’m still in base, no serious hill training has yet taken place, but I am saying that my biomechanics are working better. I’m having a much easier time relaxing most of my upper body and just pedaling from the core. I’m very curious to see what will happen once I get to the build phase and actually start doing hill repeats on PCs.

Diet

I’ve written about dieting before, but this season, as with most aspects of my training, I’m taking a slightly different approach. After dropping a significant (to a cyclist) number of pounds last year, I’ve figured out how my body works and loses weight. I can lose a ton of weight in a very short period of time by going into a huge calorie deficit, but my body fights me every step of the way. The lowest I saw my weight last year was 165, but I raced most of my races at about 175. However, currently, my body is very comfortable in the 170-172 range (as compared to 175-178 range of early this year).

I learned this year that I can’t make major swings and keep the weight off. I have to go very gradually and then my body has an easier time cooperating with my dieting and getting used to its new weight.

As far as the actual methods, while there’s still a lot of focus on how many calories go into my body in a given day, I’m much more careful about when I eat and what I eat at different times of the day. I make sure to have a big breakfast, which also often serves as my recovery meal. It has to have proteins, soluble fiber and a good number of carbs. At lunch, I make it my goal to eat the lion’s share of my daily carbohydrates. This way, I can burn most of them off with daily activities like walking around, sitting in my chair at work and typing this blog. For dinner, I end the day with a protein and fill up on my veggies.

One “problem” with training a lot is that my metabolism goes through the roof and I’m perpetually hungry. An effective way I’ve found to deal with this is to snack mostly on fruit and sometimes nuts. I think I’m up to about five to six servings of fruit per day. This probably exceeds the recommended amounts, but the weight stays in check and I’m not miserable and hungry – win, win!