For all Race Reports, click on Race Reports Menu item in the top right of the page.
“We swore we’d never take pictures, pictures only prove you can’t convince.” -The Format
Long 5 hour rides used to scare the pants off of me. The slight but enduring pain of tempo always made me feel self conscious of my ability to complete these marches. They are vital to competing at road races, and I would begrudging drone through them weekend after weekend. Yet I’m always amazed at how the body can condition itself, and now it’s what I crave and look forward to after a week of 2 hour interval rides.
Last week Bill Fiser and I traveled 20 minutes south to Pearland, and met up with Michael Pincus for a 5.5 hour soirée. In doing this, we saved ourselves the trouble of riding from downtown through decreasingly urban roads to the open countryside. In Houston, this can take up to an hour each way. He said he knew good roads, and putting all my trust in him, we embarked, me not having the slightest clue where we were going. I knew the ride would be challenging as Pincus is one of the cyclists in Houston my ego or legs cannot overcome. I know he is stronger than me. He delivered on a great ride, and he rarely saw the draft.
Some people decry Houston (especially Austinites) for how horrible the riding is. Just flat ground everywhere. But it is really perfect for long endurance rides. There is nothing to distract you or take your attention from the task at hand. There is no reason to stop and marvel at the picturesque scenery. I never stop to take pictures, because there is nothing worth photographing. There is nothing but you and the bike’s constant fight against deceleration. And that is what makes it beautiful.
Most of the ride was in Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, which has nothing in it but grass, dead trees, water, and gators. After a week of riding to and from work through urban sprawl and concrete jungle, this was bizarre. The roads have nothing to cause them to deviate, so they are completely straight. Dead, gnarly trees line the roads, and I can’t imagine a time where they were actually growing, because their bleached branches are so appropriate to the rest of the landscape. A slight emotional stress bubbled inside me, because I had no idea where Pincus had taken us. There is absolutely no elevation change, and you can’t see much more than 200 ft around you. We were riding too hard to have meaningful conversations, so I pedaled thinking about nothing, hearing nothing but wind and my breathing.
At the other side of the park, we came across a bayou bridge where the road goes over a major waterway. After the last 20 miles of flat and straight, the 50ft tall structure looked monolithic. As we crested the top of the ‘hill’ I looked behind me, and I was stunned by the abrupt vista. You could suddenly see for miles and miles, nothing but swampland. It was beautiful. I braked and thought about dismounting to snap a photo, but decided against it. It honestly wasn’t very scenic. A photo would only show the small country road disappearing into the distance with green and blue all around. The beauty came from the effort it took to get there, and how I could suddenly see where I was and where I was going. My location made sense. There was no way to convey that feeling in a photo. And I wanted to keep that impression to myself and not share it with anyone except the two that had made the journey with me. So I just smiled and tucked low for the 50 ft descent down the other side like I was speeding down the Alpe d’Huez.
We stopped near the ocean for a water bottle refill, and I could smell the saltwater and fishing industry around me. It had turned out to be abnormally warm for December, even for Houston, and we laughed and joked as we headed home.
This is my third year with a power meter, and it’s amazing to see that each year I get more and more consistent with my training. In 2010, I was working to become a Cat 2 cyclist. I would have good weeks, where I would meet all my workout volume goals, and some weeks where I would fall flat on my face, only getting in 4-5 hours. In the 2011 racing season, I even had a point where I couldn’t ride for 2 weeks, which ruined a good part of my racing season.
While working with David Wenger going into the 2012 season, I found having a coach plan workouts helped me to have accountability and to remain more consistent. But some weeks, I would be too tired, and would have to cut back. I was working offshore a lot, causing me to have a couple of big holes in training volume, but nothing that affect my racing goals for the season. Because of this, I immediately saw the benefits of being consistent.
Consistency is a learned process like any other skill in life. It is impossible without commitment and dedication, so much so I would argue they are one in the same. Only with the most expert of planning can you do anything else and remain consistent on the bike. So, planning consistency proves to be a learned skill as well. For me, this means working hard to fit my training around the more important aspects of life, specifically time with my wife, family, friends, and my dog. This is something I have gotten better and better at, but I can still improve. In our world, it can be incredibly hard to remain focused enough on one thing or another to see goals realized. There are plenty of people that never learn how to do this, and I actually wonder whether the dogged determination it takes to find personal forms of success are from ‘talent’ or are ‘learned.’
Joe Friel talks about consistency a lot, saying that it’s okay to miss a workout here and there, because it will not affect your overall fitness on race day. I agree to an extent, but this argument almost feels like a cop out, more designed to guard athletes against emotional guilt. To me, my training plan should not be a wish list of great workouts I hope to fit in this week, but a realistic set of expectations, in which every workout builds upon the last. In this sport of incremental gains, every workout should have a specific purpose, and should not be written off so easily. More than 2 workouts missed in a month is too many, and shows my goals and training plan should be reviewed.
So far this year (knock on wood) I am feeling good about my consistency. Every week this month I have ridden over 200 miles, and have met my training volume goals. I missed 2 workouts, one being a recovery ride on Thanksgiving Day. My endurance is much better, so I can complete 4 full weeks of training before I need a rest week. I am learning to be realistic about how much training I can fit in, and keep my goals realistic for my training allotment. Doing this without a coach is hard, and takes another level of commitment and determination. I believe I can keep this up, but need to continually remind myself to put the other things first so as to keep balance.
My work must be trying to torture me. I just moved desks, and now I have a window view of sun and trees. I have trouble not thinking about biking in the beautiful weather that Houston Novembers serve up. It’s also the time of the year where any sun time is used in doors in front of a computer. Ick.
As far as riding and fitness goes, I always love to compare how I’m riding this year versus last year. It’s amazing how my endurance has gone through the roof. In November of 2011, I was hesitant to ride over 4 hours, and would usually have to take at least one day off after that type of workout. Last year, with the help of a coach, I focused hard on getting in longer rides. Over the 2012 season, 5 hour rides slowly went from being extremely taxing, to hard, to routine. This November I have been prescribing myself with at least one 5+ hour ride per week through the base period, followed by a 3-5 hour ride the next day. This has really helped my confidence for the road race season, because I know none of the road races on my schedule will be too long in time.
I also have been working to increase the average power through these rides, and gauging this based upon KJ’s produced during the rides. The idea is that I want my long training rides to be at or over the amount of KJ’s produced in the races I will do. For instance, in the 99 mile State Road Race this year, I produced 3500 KJ’s in about 4. 5 hours. The training ride I did on Saturday was 5 hrs, 45 min, and I produced 3400 KJ’s doing around 230-250 watts the whole time. Same KJ’s for both ride/race, but the race was an hour shorter, so obviously it was at a higher intensity. But at this point in the year, this is great training, because it models the total KJ’s of a target race, except no top-end intensity.
One thing that I had issues with most of last year was sprint power. I had always been a good sprinter, but I really set training my sprint aside for other things. This means that I have lost some of my top end fitness. For now, I’m doing 1-2 sprints at the end of most rides, no matter what I trained that day. Some will say it’s way to early to be doing sprint training, but it’s fun for me, so I do it! I have not incorporated weight lifting or plyometrics into my schedule yet. I really need to get on that.
I have some concern on when exactly I should start threshold intervals. A couple of weeks ago, I tried to start doing threshold intervals in earnest, but fell flat on my face. I couldn’t do the planned workouts! I had to take a step back and try to realize that I wasn’t ready to do these workouts and to keep doing endurance and tempo pace riding. I think I was also trying to do the workouts at too high a wattage. Hunter Allen says that it is not uncommon to lose 10% of FTP for every two weeks of unstructured training. My mistake was trying to target threshold intervals at my highest 20 min power numbers last year, about 320 W. This was probably way too high. Starting last week, I was able to start completing workouts at lower power numbers. I labeled this as a success and try to slowly ramp up the intervals over the next couple of weeks. Over/Under are so fun….
Over Thanksgiving, I will be up in Dallas with my parents. I’m going to take it pretty easy over Thursday through Saturday, as I’ve just completed about 3 hard, 16+ hour weeks. On Sunday I’m going to get a ride in with some of my new teammates living in Dallas.
Sometimes my job requires me to go offshore for different projects. I fly into New Orleans and take a helicopter out to the different production platforms. Right now, I’m out at Holstein, pictured below. I’m working a wireline job, where you enter a well and do different procedures to help it produce more oil. I like going offshore because it gives me a chance to be right at the wells and not be in the office. Also, there is someone to do laundry and cook for me. Better than I get at home! Just kidding Ally….
The main thing I don’t like about going offshore is missing training. After 3 years of dedicated training, I am used to the routine and hate breaking it up. And obviously, you can’t ride a bike very far on an offshore platform. Luckily, BP has really great facilities with a workout gym. The gym is nothing fancy, but with a treadmill, stationary bike, and a TV, it’s all I need.
The way I figure, there is no way to gain fitness offshore, and really I expect to lose fitness. Usually I’m offshore for less than a week, which according to Coggan, is around the maximum time you can go without training before your blood volumes and fitness begin to decline rapidly. The work days are usually long for me, around 15 hours. Knowing this, I take the approach of doing enough aerobic activity to try and keep my body producing blood, and mostly use the time for a recovery week. The biggest problem with this is trips offshore aren’t built around my cycling season. It makes no sense to take a very restful recovery week when I should start ramping up my training for next season. I am already plenty rested from taking most of October off.
In the past, trips offshore have done more harm psychologically than physically. After the week is over, I start to feel behind my competitors in fitness and that I could be training harder. I can get frustrated easily and resent my job because of my lack of fitness. Really this is crazy. Dan Harm just wrote a great blog on the lack of belief in Self in cycling. He writes a lack of self confidence can cause over-training and frustration. In reviewing my own thoughts, I can see that this happens to me when I go offshore. Instead, I should realize that in the grand scheme of things, a week of unspecific training will not hurt me if I can be consistent the rest of the time. I will still be able to perform and compete at the P12 level. And I shouldn’t resent a job that I love doing and which pays for all my cycling stuff!
Having said this, I’m excited to start my true winter training next week. I will be doing Tour de Gruene for fun, and then the sky’s the limit. It’s going to be a fun and exciting winter season!