Automatic Endurance Training
I gotta say, I couldn't have asked for a better start to the year. Winning races is pretty frickin' neat. I already knew this. What I didn't know is how much cooler it would be to see one of my athletes lay down the law on her rivals. Or better yet, see two of my athletes do it on the same day, in two different races, just a couple hours apart. So without further ado, allow me to introduce to you:
1) Perrin Clavijo is someone I have to be careful with when writing her workouts. She's the type of person who, whatever you tell her to do, will do it, plus 10 percent, then maybe go for a trail run, break her foot, then continue to train through said broken foot (seriously, stop doing that). This little ball of enthusiasm races for Georgia Tech and just recently switched over to road cycling from triathlon, a path I myself took. It's a tough path because, although both are endurance sports, and both necessitate riding a bike well, each is on a different planet when it comes to physical and tactical preparation. It takes a long time to shake one mentality in favor of the other. In any case, Perrin seems to be making the transition well enough, winning in her first ever road race this past Saturday at the Swamp Classic in Gainesville, Florida. I think it surprised her a little more than it surprised me. In fact, it didn't surprise me at all. I was expecting it, but no coach in their right mind would tell an athlete before their first race ever, "you're probably going to win." That's a sure-fire way to make their head so big they need to buy a new helmet. But that's exactly what she did, flying away from the field to cross the line alone, with no competition in sight. Perrin's wins won't always be so... lonely. But I have no doubt this is just the beginning for her. Read the name. Remember it. You'll be hearing it a lot from now on.
2) Lauren Dodge is a natural. born. killer. She just doesn't know it yet. If she has a weakness, it's confidence. It's a weakness I myself share, and one that is easily addressed once you start winning races, which she's already done this year, in pretty violent fashion. She told me on Friday night when we were pre-riding the course, "I'm going to open the sprint from here." As it turns out, "Here" was about 250m, uphill. I voiced soft concern, but she was adamant. I figured, well that's bold, but hey, YOLO, let's let her make her own mistakes. Turns out I was the one mistaken: a gap on the line of eight bike lengths in the P,1,2 field is hard to argue with. Toss in a new max power by 50w, and any critiques you might have had start to fade away. She made it look easy. But it wasn't, and she'll be the first to tell you that. This is the same woman who told me last August when I started training her, "I'm not good enough to deserve a coach." And just last month told me, "I never thought I'd be athletic." Let that sink in for a minute: this woman, who is just entering her second full season of racing, and is now just a couple points away from her Category 1 upgrade, didn't think she'd ever be capable of being athletic. That's how hard she works. Hard enough to entirely change her perception of herself from underserving of a coach, to killer in just under six months. She's still got a long way to go until she even gets close to realizing her potential. But for day 1 of 2017... well, shit. I couldn't have asked for a better performance.
It is no exaggeration when I say I'm humbled to coach these women. Seeing the tenacity with which they attack my training plans keeps me honest in my own training. It pushes me to hold myself to the same standard that they hold themselves: a standard that says, anything less than better every day is a goddamn travesty.
Forget the data. Forget the watts. Forget the hours, the heart rate, the nutrition, the weight... hell, even forget the sleep. Speed wins races. Now of course all these factors play into speed, but if I had a dollar for every time someone said, "But I did 20w more than you," I'd have enough money to buy, like, I dunno, maybe a Twix or something. Shut up. Point is, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is speed: how fast you can go. No training metric will ever beat speed. And that's something that I think has been lost lately. We overanalyze every little aspect of our training, down to the coffee we drink, and as a result, we sometimes forget that nothing beats plain old Fast.
Now, if you want to go fast, you've got to train fast. Simple as that. Nothing can prepare you for sprinting off a wheel moving at 60kph, like sprinting off a wheel moving at 60kph. Whether you do this behind a moto, or down a hill, or with your own personal leadout train, you must get the feel for engaging the pedals at speed with your maximum effort. If this sensation is new to you on race day, then allow me to extend my sincerest congratulations on your 9th place.
If you want to be fast, the first thing you must do is stretch your strength. You've built peak strength through your standing starts and tractor pulls. Now it's time to work a percentage of that for a sustained period. Got 1200w in the bank for 5 seconds? Find a hill of roughly 30 seconds, pick a spot in the road, and focus on holding an even 700w though the line. If that's too easy, then go a little deeper next time, but make sure it's something you can hold. We're building what I refer to as your Fade Point: the point at which the decline in your power production levels off. By doing these efforts evenly throughout, you're training your body to hold a high power even as the world starts melting around you. These are not efforts for peak value, but rest assured, by 30 seconds you'll be seeing black. As you do them, stay out of the saddle for the full duration and work on maintaining your form while keeping the power down: get low over the bars, and work on holding a straight line. Often you'll see someone open a sprint and start zig-zagging all over the road in an attempt to get other riders out of their draft. It almost never works, and they've just increased the distance they have to travel. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Take that line, and if you've built your quickness, the person on your wheel will be out of your draft before they even have time to react.
As the season draws closer, you're going to take that sustained effort, combine it with your peak, and apply it at speed. As mentioned earlier, it doesn't matter if you do that effort behind a moto, or off the back of a leadout train, or by just rolling down a hill, but you must get the feel for pushing at a speed that will win races. 1200w at 20kph is not the same as 1200w at 65kph.
Training Fast is a whole-package kind of deal. You're not so much training adaptation as you are practical race readiness. Because of this, rather than having my athletes sprint for a given amount of time, I have them set a line in the road, and practice pushing their limit through that line: no looking at numbers, simply getting to the line in the shortest time possible. Start with a set distance of 200m, hit it at speed, engage at your maximum and plow through the line. When 200m becomes something you can do without fading, push the line out 50m. Keep going. After each effort, take a minimum of 10 minutes rest. If you're not recovered enough to fire at capacity, then you're defeating the purpose of the workout. Most of the efforts we do on the bike focus on optimizing our ability to clear acid from our muscles. These efforts are just a sheer acid dump. Because of that, carrying any fatigue from one effort into the next will limit its benefit.
Too often we put ourselves in a box: "I'm not a sprinter. I'm not a This, I'm not a That." Good news is, if you're "not a sprinter," you have a huge deficiency that, when addressed, will make a world of difference. If you can survive a race without any sprint ability, you'll be amazed how easy racing gets once you've dedicated one session per week to working on peak values. And it comes quick. Just by doing the efforts, you'll see a huge improvement.
Now get out there, and push the pedals. Punxsutawney Phil says only 6 more weeks of winter.
That was my nickname in high school. Jk. But seriously. Words can hurt.
Anyway, I promised to explain quickness. Simply put, Quick is Power relative to size. Quick is the ability to deliver huge force in an instant. Deliver your maximum force in half the time, and congratulations, you're now twice as quick. Simple as that. Pretty easy, right?
Not so fast. The relationship between torque (effectively your strength), RPM and power is a linear one. If you have the torque to crack 1000w at the 50rpm mark, then delivering that same torque at 100rpm will give you 2000w. So just pedal faster, right? Well, sort of.
Generally when we ride, our energy systems work like a light dimmer, ramping up to our desired intensity, then holding steady. The light stays on, but the intensity depends on where we put it.
Peak power isn't a dimmer. It's a switch: it's on, or it's off. Taking the stored potential of your muscle and releasing it in an instant: BANG. That's quickness. So how do we train this?
Here's something to try: Small ring, midway up the cassette. Gearing in the 39x15-17 range. You're going to ease your leg speed up to the point you can just barely keep your hips from bouncing on the saddle. If that's 110rpm, that's fine. But try to work up to 130rpm or better. Your goal here is to avoid wasting any strength getting up to speed. You should still be in zone 1 when you hit your target RPM. When you get there, rip a sprint out of the saddle for maximum rpm. Drive that number as high as you can, and as quickly as you can. 150rpm? Good. 180rpm? Even better. 200+? Now we're talking. So why do we do this? Certainly you wouldn't sprint at 200rpm.
The idea is this: If you can keep the pedals from falling away from you at 180rpm, or 200rpm, you'll develop the necessary coordination to access a high percentage of your maximal force at 110rpm. And that's what this is all about: Coordination. Fair warning: You will not look cool sprinting at 180rpm.
Something else to try: roll along in an easy gear, not putting much effort into the pedals. Have a friend with you, riding just behind. Have them yell, GO (or Bang, or pineapple). The instant they trigger you, rip two hard pedal strokes: left, right. Then sit back down. That's it. If you've got an SRM or some other PM that will register that quickly, you can track your progress based on what readout you get. But even if you've got a super laggy Stages, or Pioneer, or even nothing at all, you can gauge your effort based on the top speed you hit. Rolling from 35kph, and you hit 40kph after 2 strokes, that's good. Hit 41kph next time, and you've improved. Again: it's all about switching on. All Systems Go.
Now I must state: this isn't training you to be fast. This is training you to be quick. You can have the explosive power to get from 0-50kph in 5 seconds, but if you never hit 60kph, you're probably never going to win anything. That said, if you go 0-50 in 5 seconds, you're probably a fucking mutant and will have no trouble dispatching the local category racers.
Now go push the pedals.