Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A "36" Ride

Well, decided to give myself a little Christmas gift a day late.
I waited until late morning to ride and unfortunately, missed an opportunity to hook up with anyone else for my epic ride...then again, doing a solo "36" ride in the cold, grey wind makes it that much more special...

A ride like today's comes in the wake of either a very hard ride/race the day before or at the end of a tough block of training...IOW, I start the ride tired. Yesterday's ride with George and Danielle was the perfect set-up for a 36 ride today. I felt particularly good yesterday and always enjoy riding with them both, and it being Christmas day, not to mention Tuesday (the day I've been collecting lots of L4) I rode plenty of L4...and a little short, my legs were toasted this morning.

Granted, a real 36 ride is quite a bit more pleasant in that the actual route 36 butts against the foothills of the Rockies in Boulder, Colorado and typically occurs in late Spring or early Autumn.
The road itself is probably the least beautiful I've ridden in Colorado (with the exception of 70...but, I was an idiot for riding it) despite the fact that I've encountered enough famous pro cyclists and triathletes on this route to "name drop" for a dozen blog entries...if you've any doubt as to whether Boulder is endurance athlete heaven, look closer at the participants page of any major race...go to your favorite athletes' website and you'll see that almost all will mention spending some, if not all their time training there.

36 is the gateway to almost every great ride starting or ending in Boulder. It's innocuous rollers meander North on the way out of town and pass by canyons that lead four to five thousand feet up to the Peak to Peak highway...these same rollers aren't nearly as friendly on the way home after having climbed 15,000+ feet vertically for 4-5 hrs. at altitude ranging from 5,300-10,000 ft. above sea level (read: especially difficult for people from Long Island)...the way home, the last 10 miles of the day, is when 36 becomes a monster...

Anyone that has ridden this unforgiving ribbon of asphalt from Lyons (where Tim DeBoom lives..I dropped) back to Boulder with me knows what I mean by writing I went out for a 36 ride today...for upon turning South and back towards "home" with legs tired from this and often many other day's epic rides that preceded it that I put the screws to my legs and anyone else's that happens to be with me at the is with searing pain in my legs, I drill it all the way back to the right hand turn on goal being to leave every last bit of my energy out on the road...quite simple, really.

This brings me back (circuitously, I'll admit) to my ride today. Without the luxury and simplicity of a "Big Thompson Ride" to set me up for self destruction on the inward 10 miles, I set out west from my house hard...I rode past the bike shop and headed up on "the Bike Shop Loop" hour in, the legs were already starting to scream. Now, usually, in Boulder I'll gradually build up to the hard part after hours, but today, there was no time...I had to get up north, shatter my legs pretty soundly, then really start the pain east along 25A back towards Head of the Harbor, and eventually, once I headed south towards home, scatter my own entrails along the road until my legs were a two quivering cold branches.

When I reached the all too familiar intersection of Lakeland and Sunrise, I was so baked that I wasn't sure that the last 2.5 miles was even do-able. As if life could get any better, Dina suggested I shower and grab a nap before going out with her and the kids for the remainder of the is so very good.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Out, Damned Spot

"I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none."
So, how the hell does MacBeth relate to the sports of cycling and triathlon?
Well, as far as I'm concerned, this applies to the modern day athlete, as well as to every human being in every aspect of life as much as it did this would-be king.

While it was penned more than four hundred years before "the clear", before Floyd Landis, Nina Kraft, and Tyler Hamilton all tested positive for doping, let alone before all the baseball players that were named in the Mitchell report were outed, it reminds us that ethics must remain the cornerstone of our ambitions.

I take this quote from MacBeth to mean that in life, it's a matter of an individual daring to do all that they can do in the most honorable and admirable way, to achieve their goals. And so, if a man "dares" to do something excessive and outside the bounds of what is admired and/or what he does is "unbecoming" , for example, cheats, he will be diminished and comes to grief.

Somewhere along the way, some of us get so wrapped up in "the ends" that we begin to justify "the means". I cannot imagine the torment an athlete like Marion Jones or Floyd Landis feels knowing that history will not only remember them as cheaters, but that they will personify all that is wrong in their respective sports in this day and age. These fallen icons spent the better part of their lives training, sacrificing and dreaming of sporting greatness only to have "gone too far" because they ultimately went outside the boundaries of fairness and what was becoming a champion.

It's my hope that athletes take the route of a David Millar, the former World Time Trial Champion who was stripped of that title during the Cofidis affair. When drug enforcement officials entered Miller's home they found empty vials of EPO on his trophy case beside the medal and the rainbow jersey of the world championship. David said they were reminders of his disappointment in himself and of how far he'd fallen to achieve his goals...and how hollow these achievements had become because they were achieved through cheating. Fortunately, for David the "blood" he had on his hands was easier to wash away than Duncan's and he is now one of the strongest proponents of cleaning up cycling and sports, in general.

My faith in human nature and plain old hope lead me to believe that there are more Millars out there and that soon we'll see reformation in the sporting world. It really does only take one to start a revolution.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

My Take on Strength Training and Cycling

The accepted scientific definition of strength is "the maximum force or tension generated by a muscle (or muscle groups)". While I agree wholeheartedly that weight training will increase strength, strength itself is not a determinant of endurance cycling performance. For events lasting as little as four minutes, almost 70% of the work done is via aerobic pathways. The determinants of success in endurance cycling are VO2 max, cycling economy, functional threshold and oxygen uptake characteristics....not strength.

It isn't particularly difficult to understand why the idea of weight lifting seems to make sense. When you are riding for a given duration for the critical power for that duration, it feels like your legs aren't strong enough to keep going. The reality is that the by-products of non-aerobic metabolism bring about the fatigue and require you to stop. IOW, as a result of not being able to generate more power aerobically (as limited by the four elements mentioned above) the rider must stop...not because the athlete was unable to maintain the force on the pedals. In fact, the triathlete at the back of the pack will have no trouble producing the force Norman Stadler does while holding 300W+ or even that which Lance Armstrong produces while climbing Alpe D'Huez at 420w+. They are unable to do so as rapidly, and for as long a period of time as these super-human aerobic specimens.

I find myself (slightly) more successful explaining the concept to athletes with a practical example as opposed to scientific mumbo jumbo. If strength (as defined above) were important for events lasting four minutes or more, then why can tiny Natasha Badmann ride at 200W for hour after hour while many AG'ers 50 lbs. heavier and capable of squatting 100's of pounds more than her, struggle to maintain this power output for even half the time? Or, try this: Why are the "sprinters" capable of peak power outputs in excess of 2000W (more than twice that of "climbers") who are also capable of squatting twice that of their climber counterparts, dropped like stones when the climbs come? You would think "certainly, being able to squat 150-200 lbs more (typically) than a smaller rider who only weighs 25 lbs less should allow them to climb better"...right? Uh-uh.

So what do we make of all of these terms some coaches use like muscular endurance, on-bike strength training, or anything else that confuses strength as being a determinant of endurance cycling success? Answer: Nothing...forget these terms, they are without use. If an athlete wishes to generate more power for climbing or riding faster on the flats, he must improve the big-four referred to above. So, how do you do this? Simple...ride your bike more often, for longer periods of time and do so at increasingly higher power outputs. How these are to be blended optimally, is for another discussion. The most important concept is that all four of these determinants of aerobic energy production are improved by riding your bike. In other words, if you want to ride a bike better, you do so by riding a bike...this is probaly why so many coaches recommend the "on-bike" strength training...if done at a high enough power output, or for long enough, or frequently enough it helps you ride a bike faster because you're improving aerobic pathways.

That's enough for now...I am going to ride my bike.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Off Season and My Favorite President

There's a law on the books in Washington state that requires a driver of a motor car follow behind an individual on horseback holding a lantern. (seriously) Nowadays, this is nearly as preposterous as the concept of an "off season" in endurance sports. The "off season", like motor cars following lanterns, is fast approaching the status of LSD (long slow distance...not to be mistaken for long steady distance). I believe these ideas are all representative of another time period and are no longer relevant in modern times.

Apparently, the Washington law predates the advent of headlights and for it's time was a very important law. Obviously, with the introduction of streetlights, as well as headlights, enforcing this code became unnecessary, if not silly. Likewise, the idea of an "off season" predates the accurate tracking of elements of training and racing stress such as volume and intensity. Just as there was a need for a lantern when there were no other sources of light, there was a need for a period of down-time when athletes trained with little understanding of just where their fitness and their freshness were in relation to each other during a season. And similar to the negative impact we'd see today if there were thousands of lantern carrying horseback riders riding in front of automobiles in downtown Seattle during winter rush hour, the "off season" can wreak almost as much havoc on year over year improvement in endurance sports.

With the availability of training tools like cyclingpeakssoftware's performance management charts, athletes and their coaches can get a better understanding of where their current fitness is relative to any point during the season and in relation to recent training load. Along with being able to track cycling training stress, it allows a method for the team to build training load at a rate the individual can handle and to be able to pinpoint those scenarios where good/great performances are likely.

By looking at simple charts like these the team can understand where the athlete is not only in terms of fitness, but also in terms of freshness. With athletes I coach, after the last race of the season, we do allow for a reduction of chronic (think 6 week) training load to a level at which the individual can get a little breather and not lose too much after their last race. This is typically, under ideal circumstances, a Chronic Training Load from which we'll be able to build up to their race "fitness" in roughly 8-12 weeks, depending on race length. Training composition varies quite a bit from week to week until that time out from which we're 8-12 weeks away from racing. Once we've rebuilt CTL (or base, if you will) it remains fairly constant for that athlete. The old way of not touching your bike and/or swimming and running are gone like the sight of lanterns on main street.

Instead of refighting the battles of last season by taking a couple months off, the athlete's I coach maintain thresholds to within 90% of the previous years' peaks and keep a relatively high training load. These athletes don't get "burned out" because they are never in a position where they are rushed to get fit from a detrained state. They emerge from what other's call an "off season" fitter and are far less fatigued when riding with their "rested" counterparts. We have a firm grip on where the athlete's thresholds and fitness are relative to their history and to where they are compared to where we expect them to go in the upcoming season. There are no accidental peaks...they come when we plan them to come.

I remember a quote from Lance Armstrong when asked what he does after the season ends. To paraphrase, he said "I ride my bike every day, but start to train when threshold drops 50W"...that's about 10% of his peak power at VO2 max. Perhaps my favorite quote regarding preparation for the upcoming season was by Abraham Lincoln (apparently speaking about something other than triathlon) "if I had 6 hours to cut down a tree, I would spend 4 hours sharpening the axe". Note that he didn't say he'd spend 2 hours making the axe dull, then rush to hopefully sharpen it back up in time to cut the tree down.

Don't give back too much if you want to see gains next season...

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Technology (The Monkey and the Football)

Clearly, when it comes to using gizmos and gadgets like power meters, GPS systems and software designed to track training stress, I am as excited as anyone you will find. I do not, however, believe that any tool or program is a substitute for speaking with an athlete directly.
Whether it be on the phone or preferably, in person, there is an "art" to really listening to what the athlete is saying regarding their physical and mental well-being. The tools are simply a measure of training imposed stress. They cannot track how a virus affected an athlete's performance or how a failing relationship diminishes another athlete's desire to train at all.
In fact, given the choice of either all the tools and never speaking with an athlete or no tools and seeing the athlete daily, I would choose the latter.

I bring this seemingly counterintuitive notion up to make a point regarding a tendency I see emerging lately in the multi-sport world. It seems all anyone must do to become a coach or a bike fitter is to take a two day seminar, receive a piece of paper and hang a shingle. It reminds me of the film Field of Dreams..."if you build it, they will come." These newbie coaches and fitters purchase some software and buy into "the system" and receive instant credibility. In my estimation, the problem arises because too often the newly certified have zero practical experience and prey on unknowing athletes that are desperate for help.

Let me make my point like this: If I had a choice to have Andy Pruitt fit me using only his eyes and a few simple tools or someone that had fit maybe a dozen people using software he just took a seminar to use, I'll take Andy...hands down. Andy has fit many of the fastest (and orthopedically healthiest) triathletes and almost all of the best cyclists living in the USA.
Andy does have the bells and whistles, too. In his hands they are additional tools that for him save time...they aren't a substitute.

To use a coaching example, early in my coaching career I asked Allen Lim (think guy that wrote doctoral thesis using Power Tap, coach to Floyd Landis, Christian VandeVelde, Scott Moninger)
if he'd coach an athlete without a portable power meter. You see, I had been coaching a number of cyclists and a few triathletes and had begun embracing the added understanding the tool gave me as to what was going on with the athletes. I was a could I ever go back to the dark ages? I thought I understood his answer then, but realize only now that I've come to feel the same way, just how profound what he said was. He said that "sure" he would, that a good coach is like a chef. A good coach can create a great meal without knowing exactly how much of each ingredient he put in and even without knowing the temperature of the oven...but added that he can make it a little better next time or reproduce the recipe again and again through knowing these details.

I'll leave it to the reader to connect the dots regarding the monkey and the football reference in the title. I've got to run...I'm bidding on a MRI machine on Ebay and need to read up on meniscal tears.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Could vs. Should

Warning: Geekspeak to follow.

A 75 Kg. triathlete with a threshold (think maximum sustainable power for an "all-out" hour TT) power of 300W could ride the bike segment of Ironman Lake Placid at a normalized power (think weighted average power) of 240W. At this effort, "staying legal" and possessing average aerodynamics (whatever that means), he'll likely ride about 5:30. What he should hold is much closer to 220W, though. This will add about 5 minutes to his bike time...and likely save him 25-30' on the run. The reality is that even if he were to drop down to 210W, he'd still go 5:40...and possibly save even more for the run.

It never ceases to amaze me just how huge an impact riding even a little bit too hard on the bike has on an athlete's run. The longer the race the worse the damage. An athlete capable of a 3;30 stand alone marathon, if properly trained and on a reasonable day weather-wise, that has a sound nutrition plan, shouldn't run slower than 4:00 hrs...and in reality, on a flat course (unlike Placid), closer to 3:50. So, why do so many pros, and especially age groupers run so far off their marathon PR? Answer: They ride too hard. You may say, "how hard should I ride then smartass?" Don't worry, I am going to tell you.

If you're a male pro, you should be holding somewhere up to-78% of threshold power , for a female pro, 75% and for an competitive age grouper, between 68-73% of threshold. The variation occurs for many, many reasons, but in simplest terms, if you ride for 4:40 instead of 6:00 hrs. you can hold a higher percentage and still run well. Athletes with a proper understanding of how to use a power meter use their power meters as a governor to ensure they don't ride too hard. It's so common for an athlete to tell me they felt they were going way too easily early on and just how tempted they were to go harder, but how grateful they were later that they didn't.

It's so easy early on when at your fittest and having tapered effectively to feel awesome and be tempted to push too hard, but the power meter is there to tell you "whoa now, you will pay for this later". Remember: "All you can do, is all you can do". (Coggan) There are great days, and they can be planned relatively easily, but there are no miracles. In other words, the above athlete will never (yeah, I'm sayin' never) ride 80% of threshold in Placid without imploding on the run...never. Next time you watch an IM think about all those long runs, threshold runs, all that track work that each and everyone that pinned on a number has done, and then take note of how many are walking. Most simply rode too kills me to see the disappointment.

Now, for those that don't have power meters yet, think about training and racing with one. As Danielle Sullivan says, "having one is like cheating". If getting one isn't in the cards, then perhaps I can offer this advice: Ride easily for the first 80 miles (at Placid until the second time past Upper Jay) and then ride no harder than steady. Then get off your bike a run a marathon.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Eight Minutes I sit here in the shop on this windy, cold first day of December, it dawns on me that forever gone are the last eight minutes I just spent with a young woman that just left.

First a disclaimer...I am here on a Saturday, my typical day off, against my will, as my partner Doug (business, not life) has accompanied his son to a swim meet that will encompass the entire weekend. Also working against my happiness and her chances of encountering a cheerful Mike was the fact that she'd interrupted my breakfast. 'Nough said.

Back to the point...this woman entered the shop requesting "a road- bike-like-bike, but not with the bendover handlebars...I like the old fashioned 3 speed looking ones". Right then and there, I began the all too familiar race to see how quickly I could get rid of her and get back to my eggs.

Now, fellow retailers will know what I mean when I say that comments like hers categorize her as a "stroker". For those lucky enough not to know what a stroker is, let me explain. A stroker is a person that enters a retail establishment with no intention of (ever) buying anything there.
To be completely honest, I haven't a clue as to their motivation.

I welcome any and all questions about my passions, family, friends, coaching and bicycles. Anyone that knows me will attest to the fact that I often don't know when to shut up about these topics. A stroker, however, asks a question that she never even begins to listen for the answer to. For example, a piece of the eight minutes of my life I'll never recapture that the stroker stole through a useless dialogue this morning:

Stroker: What bike should I use to commute to work 3 miles each way?

Me: (Realizing the stroker is already thinking of the next thing she'll say, while she stares off in the distance...yet I begin...) Well, many of our customers that commute find (interrupted by stroker, never to finish this thought...)

Stroker: I work at such and such and my friend does too. We are both thinking about getting new bikes to commute together on. We have a bet about who can lose the most weight.

Me: (Smelling the sausage from 20 feet away, I try once again...) A bicycle such as this one (pointing to a random selection) can be outfitted...(not quite finished with the sentence, I am once again interrupted)

Stroker: Do you sell locks? I live in an upstairs apartment (alone I think to myself...or, did I say it out loud?) and I have to lock it in the storage facility downstairs.

Me: We do. Why don't we find you a bike and then we can look at locks.

Stroker: Well, I'm just starting to look. (It's 32F and wind chill is 20F...she hasn't exercised since the Reagan administration and my eggs are getting cold...a sale is not looking probable)

Me: Take all the time you need, and just holler if you have any questions.

Already leaning towards the uneaten breakfast, it takes but three giant steps and I'm taking a bite...better eat fast...I've got to make up that eight minutes somewhere.