Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Fun is Over

It's always around this time of year when training turns from peaceful rides through the beautiful country-side, to pain and suffering; either on the rollers or at the front of a fast moving group ride.

This week marks the begin of this season's first build phase. For the past 4 weeks I've been building up from 6 minute threshold intervals to 12 minute intervals. These hurt enough and will continue; however, now I'll also be adding some 3 minute all out intervals, which really, really hurt.

Racing is also about to kick off. The Del Mar Crit series won't be happening this season, so there are a lot less local races at the start of the season. Anyone who races will tell you that the best way to prepare yourself for racing is to go race. Therefore, to fill in the gap, I'm going to be taking a few far off road trips this season in order to get some early season races. Imperial Valley (a good 2 hour drive) is next weekend. I'll also be heading out to Vegas for the Southern Nevada Stage Race.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ice Skating

Carol has been taking some skating lessons. Last night I went out to the rink with her and took part in the public skating session that followed. It's probably been at least 2.5 years since I've skated, which makes you rusty enough, never mind the issues that my left leg presents.

When I first stepped on the ice I just about hit the deck. All of the strength I used to have between my left knee cap and quad isn't really there right now. At least it isn't anything like it was. It took me 5 or 10 minutes or so to start getting some confidence back in my left leg. I finally got to the point that I could stride pretty normally, do some cross overs, stops, etc.

Getting back on the ice made my left leg work in ways that it hasn't in a long, long time. In the end skating turned out to be pretty therapeutic.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Data from Montezuma Climb

As promised, here's some data from Saturday's climb up Montezuma:

(Note that the drop of power to 0 in the middle of the climb is from when I stopped for a few seconds to put my contact back in my eye).

Some stats for the climb (from the turn off from Palm Desert to the top of the climb):

Distance: 10.4 miles
Vertical Climb: 3460 feet
Average Grade: 6.3%

When I do the south grade of Mount Palomar it works out to 11 miles of road and about 3700 feet of climbing, so I'm not too sure why folks on my team were suggesting that Montezuma is easier than Palomar. Looks pretty similar to me. I certainly felt just as much pain on Montezuma as I would on Palomar.

So what does all this data indicate?

1. My threshold power is slowly getting better. I want to get it over 300 watts. This data suggests that it's closer to 270. However, keep in mind that my power tends to be lower on steep hills. The lessened ability of my left leg to pull up means that my power suffers. So it probably isn't as bad as it looks.
2. I did a fairly good job of keeping my power output consistent. Often if you haven't developed your anaerobic system, you'll be able to put in 5 minutes hard effort, then your power will drop 20 or 30% for the rest of the effort. I definitely had a slow drop-off in power, but it wasn't too bad.
3. I'm definitely not back to where I was before I hurt myself. Back in February 2007 I went up Palomar (a little differently than Montezuma in that I did 15 minutes hard, then 4 minutes easy, and repeated 4 times). Then my best 10 minute average power was 337 watts. On Saturday, my best 10 minute average power was 311. A difference of 8% or so. My weight was also 170 pounds back in 2007 though, as opposed to 178 on Saturday, so I was putting out power at a better power/weight ratio back then too.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Team Training Camp

I spent the past weekend at the category 4/5 (mostly 4) team training camp in Borrego Springs.

For those who haven't been out there, Borrego is a small town at the west end of the southern California desert. To get there you drive about 1.75 hours east of San Diego towards Arizona. Borrego is one of the first towns you'll come to once you drop into the desert.

From a team perspective, the goal of the camp was to put some hard work in on the bikes, talk about team goals for the upcoming season and spend some time bonding. From my individual perspective, my goals were the following:

1. Measure how I'm doing with my recovery. At the end of last season I started to feel like I was getting closer to being back to myself. I've been training really hard over the winter and at this point I want to understand whether I can expect to show up at races, get top 5 results, and work towards getting promoted to category 3; or whether I still have a ways to go.
2. Work with the team to set goals that are based upon tangible end points and are achievable.
3. Ride hard and get in some race-like workouts.
4. Show my teammates that I've been working hard and that I can be counted on to deliver the goods this season (assuming goal number 1 worked out well).

We met up in Borrego on Friday evening and got settled at the hotel.

Saturday was to be the biggest, both miles and intensity, day of riding. The goal was to climb Montezuma (about an hour of climbing). Then put in another 50 or so miles of fast riding. Montezuma is something like 12 miles of road that tops out at 8% grade. It varies pretty considerably in steepness with no hint of flattening whatsoever. We ended up putting in around 65 miles of really hard riding for the day.

Sunday was a shorter, but also pretty darn intense. We headed a little ways outside of town to an undeveloped subdivision for some criterium focused riding.

Based upon all the hard work I've put in this winter I was expecting to ride well. I also knew that we'd be climbing Montezuma on the first day and climbing has never been one of my strongest points. When I arrived on Friday night and met the other 19 guys, I looked around the room and it all of a sudden dawned on me that I might be doing well to be 10th over the top of the climb. There are some really strong guys on our team, particularly some 140-150 pound climbers.

As we got started up Montezuma I knew a few things:

1. Climbing at threshold heart rate for 1 hour isn't something I've been doing in my training.
2. An hour of climbing often sucks up just about all the glycogen I've got in my blood stream.

So, I'd laced my water bottles with some dextrose. What I knew for sure was that if I managed my heart rate and didn't let it climb too much past my typical threshold of 183 beats per minute I'd be in good shape.

As we started the climb I got right to the front and started to work pretty hard with the guys that were up there. After 5 minutes they started to tire, so I continued on alone knowing that I needed to not let myself go too hard. The first half hour I was off the front by myself. I knew though that Alcino, our strongest guy, and Doug, another strong rider would probably catch me at one point or another. About half way up I could see that Alcino was starting to gain on me, so I slowed a bit to get my heart rate down from 185, closer to 182. My goal being to catch on to his wheel as he went by and let him pace me as long as I could hang on. In classic Alcino style, not only does the guy make you feel bad by catching up, but he's got his camera hanging off his wrist and he's snapping pictures of the town below (btw - if you want to check out some of Alcino in action, you can check out his youtube page here). So, I'm huffing and puffing at a pretty fast pace, he's breathing pretty calmly, taking pictures and making me suffer as I try to hold on to him. How great it would be to be blessed with his genetics. After a couple minutes of this my heart rate was up around 188, so I quickly abandoned the notion of hanging on Alcino's wheel. A few minutes later Doug did indeed catch me, I managed to pass him back when the road flattened out a bit (only 3% grade now), but once it went back up to 7% I had to let him go as well. From there on out I went as hard as I could manage. In the end I fought off a few guys who were trying to catch up to me, making it to the top 3rd. I couldn't believe it, this was a huge bonus for me as I seriously didn't think that I would be strong enough to put in an effort like this, especially when I'm still 178 pounds.

The rest of Saturday was pretty uneventful. We rode really hard, beat the hell out of each other with attack after attack, and arrived back at the hotel completely drained.

Sunday, went really well for me too. We practiced on a square loop of roads that had a couple power climbs. It was probably 3 miles all the way around. We started it out with a half hour or so of fast moving pace lines. From there we did a couple simulation races of two laps each. The first race I attacked, got bridged by a couple guys and stayed away for a lap or so with them. Then with half a lap to go, I was able to get away with Alcino and lead him out to a solid 1-2 victory. The second race, I broke away after the second corner, worked with a teammate for a lap and then soloed it home for the last half lap.

The bottom line here is that I'm stronger than I thought I was. Most encouraging is that I'm starting to get my ability to accelerate and sprint back. I was able to attack and create gaps whenever I wanted to and I was able to bridge up to attacks when I was called upon. Bottom line is that I'm starting to feel like I'm going to be able to make a real impact this year; both helping my teammates win and getting a few podium results for myself.

Tomorrow I'll post some power data from Saturday's ride.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Starting to spin faster

Pedaling fast is one of the best ways to improve your pedaling efficiently. It helps to activate muscles that might not be normally participating in your pedaling, increases your ability to accelerate, helps your sprinting, etc. All of these skills are incredibly important for criterium racing, where fast pedaling, accelerations and sprinting are what it's all about.

I've found that the best way to do these workouts is on my rollers in my easiest gear. The goal is to keep the gearing as easy as possible so that there isn't any momentum in your cranks, that way you have to keep applying force in both legs the entire way around the pedaling stroke. The goal is to spin as quickly as you can without bouncing on the saddle (i.e. you want to force your legs to keep it smooth) Normally I spin as fast as I can for 3 minutes, recover for 2 minutes, then slowly ramp back up again for 1 minute, and repeat 5 or 6 times.

Prior to my crash I could get my cadence up close to 130 rpm, which isn't phenomenal, but still pretty good. Since my crash I hadn't been able to do better than 114. That's until last week, when I was able to keep my legs going at 120, and at times hit 122. After one year of seeing no improvement, things are finally starting to get better. Yet one more sign that the nerve and muscle control in my left leg is starting to get a little better. It'll be interesting to see if I can now get back on a pace of improving 1 or 2 rpm per week.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Finally Back

I'm back, both literally and figuratively. Carol and I spent Christmas up at my parents' outside Vancouver. I was up there for 10 days, I think it snowed at least 7 of them, which is pretty unusual for Vancouver. Worse still, it snowed 15 to 20 cm at a time. So that meant there was plenty of opportunity to shovel driveways, sidewalks, sidewalks at the church, etc.

On the figuratively side of things, with about 3 days to go on the trip to Canada I began to come down with a cold. It took me until Thursday this week to feel like I was finally getting on top of it. This week was supposed to be the start of my last base phase; however, the cold has kind of gotten in the way. I'm still hopeful that I can cram the rest of this week's workouts into today, Saturday and Sunday. We'll see. If not I may just do some endurance rides over the weekend, start the next phase next week and push my training plan back a week.

I'm also about to move into the second phase of Pat Jak's dry land training program. The next 4 weeks will be spent taking it up a notch and adding a lot more single leg / balance requiring strength work.