Once in awhile an athlete I work with will offer feedback that is articulate, insightful that it needs to be shared with other athletes. The following training learning points come from a cyclist – Gary Smith – who I’ve had the privilege to coach since late July 2011. Already a strong masters cyclist, this started as an experiment in applying all the science and research we know on running training to cycling. I would categorize Gary as a short time-trial-hill-climber (Uphill races; typically from 11:00-20:00; longest will be about 40:00). Throughout the past eight months of training he has made continuous improvement… not just from phase-to-phase of training or even month-to-month. His improvement has been progressive almost every couple weeks – setting new PRs in power output and times. What follows are his “lessons learned” as we collaborate in optimizing his training. I have added emphasis to major points.
Dean, I agree: the progress has been on a nice steady incline. Satisfying! I thought, then, I’d put together all the things “that matter” as it may be helpful to some of your other athletes. However, big caveat, this all from a guy who hasn’t won a race yet! [ED: But has always been near the top of the field!]
- Rest and/or easy days are critical. In following other riders on Strava, most NEVER have an easy ride. They have some days that are harder than others, but almost no easy days. When you have me for an easy day, I go about Perceived Exertion of (PE) “2”. But, I’ll go even slower if I feel my body needs it. I go easier on easy days than anyone I know. (BTW – most also never do intervals.) [ED: Hard work needs rest.]
- A proper warmup is more important than I originally thought. My hard sessions have taken a dramatic leap forward since implementing a warmup procedure that works for me. [ED: Predictable, refined and repeated warm-up routines aid performance.] And the warmup isn’t haphazard: I have a sequence of steps I go through programmed right on my bike computer. I overlooked a good warmup in the past, and I think that’s why some of my hard interval sessions could be hit or miss.
- Speaking of Strava, I find it extremely motivating as I can see what people in my age group are doing on different hills. That gives me an incentive to try a bit harder to keep up with them. (or surpass them at times.) It also allows me to study my competition. If they’re winning doing 4.5w/kg for 20 minutes I know I have to find a way to get there.
- I focus a lot on nutrition: read about it daily, study it, ask my wife to make certain things, etc.. I’m by no means a saint when it comes to food, but I do consume a lot of veggies, fruits, etc. I also will never shy away from carbs as I’m a believer they’re the fuel that makes me go. [ED: An endurance athlete cannot perform well limiting carbs!] Of course, I’m also conscious of increasing my w/kg, so the only sweet I’ll generally have is a piece of dark chocolate or toffee each day. No cakes, cookies, pies, etc, except on special occasions.
- I take a nap every day. About 30 to 45 minutes where I’m completely conked out. I am certain this helps a great deal with recovery. [ED: Rest and recovery are essential to conditioning.]
- Improvement comes because I specifically focus on times and or w/kg for each critical workout. Knowing what times I need to improve, I specifically plot that interval or segment so I can achieve my goals. [ED: Purposeful training – purposeful workouts.] For example, on Mountain Gate (MG), I knew I needed to go 495w+ to get a PR. So, I just tried to hold 500w for 1 minute, and then hold on until the end of the hill. In short, if I’ve done 300w one day, I shoot for 301 the next hard day.
- Some workouts serve as confidence builders for the NEXT critical workout. [ED: Work the mental game in practice so you will have it on race day.] One of the best workouts I did was the multiple 4 min hill repeats on the GF Climb. I knew if I could do the SIXTH interval at 323, I could definitely go 300+ for 15 minutes. Before doing those GF Climb intervals, I was less confident.
- I try to break down key interval sessions into bite-size segments I think I can do. [ED: Mental game approach for practice and racing!] It’s daunting to do 308w for 11 minutes like today. It’s less daunting to do the first minute hill at 340, then do the flat part at 250, then the next :30sec hill at 320, etc. The 308 was a result, not a goal.
- I do think I am just built for the short, hard stuff. So, that part has probably been underdeveloped in the past. Hence the steady improvement. But, everyone has a best distance, so probably better to migrate to that area. [ED: Specialize to be the best you can be.}
- I spend a lot of time doing post-ride analysis. Especially on my bad rides. EVERY bad ride has a cause: lack of sleep, lack of carbs, lousy warmup, not aggressive enough, etc. I think long and hard about the causes and try to fix them next time.
- Okay, I hope this helps. Nothing new here: most have read it all before. And everyone will respond to things differently. For me, confidence building is key. (#7) And then specifically figuring out just HOW to go faster. (#8) [ED: Mental and physical game has to come together – and this is done in training, not race day.]
Post Script: Dean, it occurred to me in the note below that I did not mention the terrific plan you have me on. Of course, this is the foundation of my training, and you deserve the bulk of the credit. I guess I was thinking of things I do APART from the training schedule.