Monday, January 21, 2008

The Indoor Trainer...

Having just checked the temperature on weather dot com and found out that it's 15 degress outside (no, I couldn't just go outside...I have to check the internet) I have decided to "ride" indoors today. I really do love my indoor trainer. It's a 10 year old, noisy wind trainer. I don't like the quite liquid kind...too much harder than riding the road...not enough inertia either, for my taste.

Typically, I've been writing about cycling training with a power meter, but the indoor trainer allows those without one to have an objective measure of fitness that isn't possible outdoors with a mere cycling computer. This isn’t such a crazy notion if you hear me out. When paired with a rear wheel mounted cycling computer, your indoor trainer can becomes a home based “lab” where you can assess your fitness gains periodically by testing yourself in controlled conditions.

With swimming and running, athletes can rather easily check fitness gains by completing a standard set in the pool or on the track, or running a flatter race. By doing timed distances in these disciplines, athletes can compare with confidence, current fitness levels with those in the past. But, what about on the bike?

Unfortunately, there are many more variables that can affect your bike TT when performed outdoors than with the other events. Wind speed and direction are the two most obvious variables that can confuse outdoor fitness evaluation results. Air density is significant also. This also assumes that you complete the test on the same course, let alone using different courses with different road surfaces and gradients. For those of you that have ridden around Hecksher from one day to the next, you know that one day you can ride 2 minutes faster per loop than the next.

So, this is where the old trainer becomes useful in assessing fitness. While temperature and humidity will affect your strain (heartrate may be higher) in the basement differently, these factors will not affect how the bike is rolling through the air. So, go into the basement or garage, put your fan as close to you as you can, put it on high and go, go, go.

What to do. First, try to keep conditions between tests as consistent as possible. Time of day, state of restedness, pre-test meals, and even music being blasted should be the same from test to test. Warm up thoroughly, then either ride a set duration, looking for an increase in distance “covered” or ride a set distance and compare times. Since the most informative fitness marker for the triathlete, actually, every endurance athlete, is maximum sustainable power on the bike or pace running or in the water, you want the test to reflect what you are interested in measuring. For this reason, the test should be sufficiently long. Either 8-10 miles or 20-30 minutes, depending on your preference. Most coaches test once every 4-8 weeks, typically at the end of a recovery week. I prefer a little “opener ride” the day before, otherwise, I feel a bit “blocked” during the test. Keep the opener ride as close to identical as possible by doing this on the trainer the day before, as well.

What to look for. Well, faster times for a given distance or more distance over a set time. If you are not improving, you have to re-evaluate your training. Unless you are increasing your maximum sustainable power on your bike, you aren’t’re maintaining, or worse! As an aside (as if I could avoid slipping this in), those of you with portable power measuring devices, like a Power Tap, can forego the indoor test and do it outside, wherever you choose. A watt is a watt and you can compare average watts for a given duration anywhere for a quick comparison, anytime you would like. Personally though, since using a power meter I rarely formally test, as every training day becomes testing as I compare my body’s sensations to recent history. But, that is for another entry.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ten (More) Years on the Bike...Just the Numbers

I read a comment about a week ago by Dr. Andy Coggan in which he stated that in the last 10 years (in his case, from ages 38 to 48) he hasn't lost a single watt at his VO2 max or at his functional threshold.
Having hit "the big four-oh" on New Year's eve, I began to ponder where my fitness is and, for comparison, from where it had come from in the last 10 years.
While knowing where it was 10 years ago isn't quantifiable for me because unlike Andy, I "only" began training and racing with a power meter after the 2001 racing season. I do, however, know exactly where my fitness was in the winter of 2001 coming into the 2002 spring race series.
It was at this time I purchased a power meter and tested my fitness with some field tests designed to indicate the status of certain key elements of my fitness and began to correlate them to each other. I chose this time because I had just finished the 2001 season and had experienced the best race results of my racing "career" and was feeling even better as the new season approached.

I mention the state of my fitness at this time because I believe that at this time it was better than it had ever been. I had been (finally) training with a plan in 2001 and was able to stay healthier throughout the season and place consistently higher in races than ever before. I had been performing certain training sessions that I'd use as marker sets and was doing so better than any point in the past year. So, roughly six years ago, I began to keep a record of my fitness that I am still keeping to this day.

In the last six years I have increased my power at VO2 max by 10%, my functional threshold by 12% and my 5-second power by 20%. Better still, I have managed to increase theses power outputs while decreasing body mass by 2 kg. By understanding the actual intensity of my bouts of cycling training via a portable power meter, and through correlating intensity with perceived exertion, I was able to find and push through the old "ceiling". I know not only how long and how it "felt", I know at what intensity I elicited these results. The single biggest advantage for me to this has been knowing when I need rest. By knowing when to rest, I have actually managed to get better as time has passed.
I'll keep on keeping on and see if I can manage to hold this for the next 8 years or so.