Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Training Meeting Recap

In lieu of watching the "sporting" match (and I do mean that to be ironical in every sense of the term) between the birds and the Washington Redskins, the fine athletes from Penn, Drexel, Temple Cycling teams gathered at Drexel's DAC (Dragons are cool) for a meeting to discuss how to train to race bicycles at the collegiate level.

For those of you who attended and were disappointed to miss the "game," I believe I found highlight footage here:

And so for those who were busy with other matters and could not attend, or for those who were too distracted by the glare coming off Charlie's receding hairline, I'd like to give a brief recap of what we talked about. Those of you with listserv access should be able to access the powerpoint; those who do not, listen up.

At some point, or whatever reason, whether to lose weight, to rehabilitate from a running injury, or for a penchant, you cyclist decided you'd try cycling. And now you want to race. But you're wondering...

What should I do?

Should I go out and ride 100 miles every day?
Should I do tons and tons of squats and leg presses in the gym?
Should I both training at all, or just show up and race?
Should I contact Joe Papp and ask him to pump me full of Chinese EPO?
What should I do?

First off Lebron, the answer is No--o all of those (and also to the question, "does this ad campaign reflect positively on me?"). But there are good lessons to be learned by asking each of these questions (yes there really was a point to them, other than making fun of Mr. James).

Should you ride 100 miles every day? Well, certainly it'd be nice to have the time, and some top level riders probably ride close to 100 miles many times each month. One reasonably effective training plan is the "get on your bike and ride a lot" plan. The more you ride your bike, the faster you will be. But very few collegiate races are decided by one's ability to ride 100 miles. Your races are more likely to be an hour long than 6, and the intensity of a 1-hour ride will come as a shock to a person who only does very long, relatively slower rides.

Also--doing 100 miles a day is really hard! A good training plan requires periods of intensity, but also recovery. Training breaks you down, and resting builds you back up even stronger. Like a Phoenix! Or LL Cool J!

Should you do lots of squats and leg presses? Not really. Leg strength is important in cycling, no doubt, but (road) cycling is first and foremost an endurance sport. When you lift weights, you are building skeletal muscle mass and recruiting fast twitch (type II) muscle fibers. Cycling is an endurance sport, requiring slow twitch (type I) muscle fibers. Type 1 muscle fibers derive their energy from your oxidative metabolism: that is, they require oxygen--they are part of your "aerobic metabolism," that is, the production of energy fuel, ATP, using oxygen as a key ingredient. Fast twitch muscles are reliant on anaerobic metabolism, and thus fatigue much faster. If your legs muscles are primarily type II, then they will be very explosive at the start of the race, but they tire quickly, leaving you huffing and puffing, in want of more oxygen, very quickly into the race. Anaerobic metabolism simply cannot be sustained for that long; you need to have a good, efficient aerobic metabolism. This means you need to improve your lung capacity and your cardiac endurance, even more than your overall leg power, to do well in cycling. Think of your muscles like your brain: if the body can't deliver oxygenated blood to them, they don't do so well. This is what happens to people when not enough oxygen gets to their brains:

So before worrying about overall leg strength, start thinking about building up your cardiac and respiratory endurance.

That said--lifting can play an important role in your cycling training. But save that topic for another day.

Should you bother training at all? Like all answers this one begins with: That depends. If you just want to show up on weekends, have a blast, goof off, and get a little bit of fresh air, then no, really, you don't need to train much. A reasonably fit person who rides a few E races each weekend will probably be fast enough by the end of the year to move up a category. Racing is training, after all--just way more fun. And it's some of the best training you can get. I call this the "race into shape" mode of training. It can get you pretty far, but once you start getting into the upper categories, your natural abilities don't cut it. You'd be hard pressed to find a category B or higher rider who doesn't spend at least 1 other day of the week on the bike outside of race weekends. But the beauty of cycling is that there's something for everyone, from the serious elite racer to the weekend warrior. Decide what you want to be, and plan accordingly.

Should you dope? No. Seriously, dopers are an affront to fair play, and they are harming themselves, their peers, and the wonderful sport of cycling. Forshame.

What should you do? Have goals. Have a plan that helps you achieve your goals. Train your weaknesses. Race your strengths. Know what those strengths and weaknesses are.

Potential goals can be to win a race, upgrade, secure a certain number of podiums or top-10s, or maybe just finish a race. Doesn't matter what they are, just have them.

A plan that helps you achieve your goals is fairly simple to devise. You want to have a plan that incorporates periods of gradually increasing volume (time on the bike) intensity (how hard you're going on the ride), followed by rest. Come to priority events with a good amount of hard training in your legs, but also a fair amount of rest so you're not too tired. A standard plan might look something like this:

4 weeks of "base training"--low intensity, high volume
3 weeks of building, with increasing volume & intensity from week to week
1 week rest
3 weeks build
1 week rest
3 weeks build, with some racing
1 week rest
Big Race Week
Big Race Week
1 week rest

and repeat. Good training also involves specificity. If your main events require you to go long distances, ride long distances. If your rides require repeated short efforts at high intensity, do some high intensity intervals.

Eat right. Spend some time alone riding, so you can focus on your own specific workout goals. Tell someone like a spouse or boy/girlfriend, and have them ask you whether you did what you said you were going to do, and make them hold you accountable. Spend time riding in groups, so you improve your bike handling and comfort level riding in a peloton.

If it's feasible, buy a heart rate monitor or power meter and learn your training zones (I discuss how a power meter can help your training here. Consider hiring a coach--they come in all shapes and sizes...

But finally, remember that you have to love this sport to do it at all, let alone do it well. But doing it well also requires some effort. No one is born a brilliant endurance athlete, but anyone can become one. Really, I do mean anyone.

1 comment:

Vincent Martin said...

Great entry. I am just starting to move past being primarily a commuter on the bike. So this article for sure helps me out. Thanks.