The temperatures, not the date on the calendar, might be fooling me into thinking that spring is sticking around for good, but a few warm weather days here and there have gotten me excited for the season ahead. And they’re reminding myself to put in the proper training before the race season hits. In this respect, cycling is a lot like baseball where we lay low in the winter (for the most part), then head into spring training in February and March to dust the cobwebs off our playing/riding for the season’s debut in April. And as the weather starts to improve ever so slightly, it is getting to the time of year where we really want to start ramping up total training volume. The intensity will be increasing a bit as well, but try to make the last weeks of March and April your biggest of the year unless you are on a rest week. Here are some things to think about going into the next phase of training:
Regardless of what your goals are, everyone can benefit from training the threshold system. This may come in different forms, some will be doing 3×15 minute intervals, others 2×20’s or even 2×30 minute efforts. Whether you are racing Ironman, road races and crits or even just gearing up for local group rides and centuries, these intervals will be very effective for building the lactate threshold component of your engine, which is a key piece in your ultimate success. The only reason these types of sessions won’t valuable is if they completely destroy you and prevent your from getting your other required training in at the appropriate intensities or durations. Being a little tired is OK, even if you have some races coming up, since for almost all of us, these are just races, big goals for Midwesterners should be falling in the July to September time frame. Below are some tips to ensure you are getting the most from your threshold training.
1) These intervals are tough and take a lot of concentration and continual adjustment. Understand that doing these workouts correctly should leave you tired but not completely spent! If you are feeling strong, work a little harder. If you are on an off day, maintain a lower wattage and still get the work in. Both are beneficial, unless you aren’t able to maintain at least 90% of your 40 minute test number, in that case you’re best served by riding easy submax pace for the rest of the workout and living to fight another day.
2) Hard but not too hard! The goal of these intervals is to find the “sweet spot.” This correlates to “hard but doable.” Keep in mind that overall you should be aiming to maintain an RPE of 8 for these intervals, not 9 and certainly not 10. If you find yourself consistently hitting high RPE numbers and also tired the rest of the time, you are probably putting a little too much into the intervals. Don’t be embarrassed about taking your wattage down a notch, no one else cares what you’re doing, so don’t worry about anything but yourself and the quality of your training. On the road, start with an idea of the number you’re trying to hit, but don’t focus on it too much. Just set an interval, ride hard, and evaluate things later.
3) Change things up. Don’t just slave away on the Computrainer programs week after week. Mix it up by including Program Mode and forcing your body to maintain the power on its own. Try the intervals on the road at Fort Sheridan or the VQ TT course, or even on some of the Computrainer courses. The variation you will see in gradient will really teach you to be smooth during the efforts. After all the time we spent indoors on the trainers in the winter, getting outside for the intervals will make the effort feel much more manageable. When the group heads outside, come join us!
4) Don’t set goals for threshold progression. Let it happen naturally when your body tells you its ready. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see your power climbing, improvement is not linear. It comes in bursts and sometimes at very unpredictable times. Similarly, don’t push harder week after week just to stick to some type of progression. All those it may be physically possible for you to do this, you may be pushing past your bodies natural growth curve and set off a bout of fatigue that could be very difficult to recover from. This is the all too often heard “flying in April and toast in July” axiom that leaves many riders wondering what happened to the great feelings they had in the spring.
When your training volume starts to grow, it is important that the bulk of your time be spent at submax. This is the point on the lactate curve where the lactate just starts to accumulate. This also correlates with Ironman pace, or 4-5 hour power. Most people tend to ride a bit too hard on submax days. This is OK if you hare not getting as much time in as you need and you have to do a little extra work when you have the chance. However, the overall intensity of training is increasing from the threshold work and for some starting to race on the weekends or increasing the length of the long run. With this increase in intensity, submax needs to be done at a pace with no further damage to the system. Training above this pace not only short changes aerobic development, but also does more damage which compromises recovery. Keeping the intensity at breakpoint and below ensures that lactic acid is not accumulating, which is when the real damage starts to occur. This also correlates with the point where you are still burning fat as the primary fuel source. Teaching your body to burn fat efficiently will allow you to maintain that pace for a long period of time because you have an essentially unlimited supply of fuel for this effort.
Bike handling certification
We’ve been able to fit in a few outdoor rides here and there over the winter, but the time is fast approaching when we’ll leave the trainers behind and be outside every weekend. Please, please, please get certified before you come to the VQ rides. We began an excellent certification program last year and will be resuming it again this year starting in April and I want all of those who have not already gone through the program to sign up to get certified. VQ prides itself on the effectiveness, organization, specificity and most of all safety of our rides and this certification is one layer of the safety piece. When you see “Certification Sign-up,” make sure you click on it. The course will only take an hour, but we will run through teaching basic cycling skills, etiquette and group ride skills. After learning all these things, we will spend the second half of the hour running through the test course and practicing the paceline. Even if you think you have these skills mastered, be sure to come out. It will be great for you to brush up on some things you haven’t practiced in a while and you may even learn something new or have a chance to help newer riders learn. Look for the certification on scheduled Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings (usually before the VQ group rides).
Run durability and long runs
As the overall training volume is going up, triathletes are starting to increase the run volume as well. Make sure you don’t overlook the importance of remaining injury free. A setback now can disrupt a whole season, meaning all the work you did to get yourself healthy in the off-season will be for naught. Here are some tips to help you remain injury free as you start to up the intensity and volume of your runs:
1) Limit the intensity as you increase the volume
2) Increase the frequency of your runs first and then the time or distance. After you’ve done this, you can begin to carefully integrate some intensity. This also depends on your race distance and past training experience. If you are still on a steep upward training curve, it will be more important to just build the running base without worrying about intensity.
3) Keep the intensity on the bike. Running is already very high impact and those forces only increase as you start training harder. Performing your intensity work on the bike will reduce the risk of impact related injuries as well as reducing the recover cost of hard workouts. Plus, on the bike you have a power meter that allows you to better measure and control your specific workload.
4) Maintain your functional fitness base by attending the VQ Yoga and Functional Training Maintenance courses to keep your range of motion and core stability solid. This will ensure that you keep making efficient movements and help to reduce the risk of injury in all sports.
Have fun with everything, this is a great time of year and people start to get excited looking forward to upcoming events and competitions. Be smart with your training and you will get there in the best possible condition, which will give you a lot better chance at success and make the whole endeavor even more enjoyable.