These days we are never more than a month or two away with a new training metric being introduced by one platform or another. TTE, W’, FRC, mFTP, 4DP and the list goes on. Many coaches and athletes use these metrics with great success in their training prescription and review. But often take large amounts of good clean consistent power data to be effective while learning the ins and outs of each of these and understanding the components of each metric can take some time.
With power dominating the cycling and training world I think its worth a look back and to bring back some of the strategies and methods of using an old-fashioned heart rate monitor. A basic downloadable HR monitor can be purchased for well under $150. And the great thing about HR is that it is giving you a small window into your physiology. HR is a measure of internal stress which can be even more important than just the output aka power.
An age old go to test for many is the old fashioned out and back time trial. Using a set distance and equalizing as many variables as possible you can usually track your improvement. The key is to eliminate as many variables as possible, such as equipment, clothing, position, fatigue, weather if possible. This way if all things being equal if you go faster = improvement. There are some other variables in there like pacing and motivation that can throw that off but its still not a bad way to measure physiological improvement.
I’m going to outline another way to eliminate a couple more variables to the “ALL OUT” TT. Using a fixed HR for pacing and controlling your effort can help equalize both pacing and how deep you can dig on a test day.
Real world: Select a flat to gently rolling stretch of road aim for something between 5-10km long, If you’re a novice or just starting into cycling or training then aim for the shorter end. Key is to turnaround(safely) so you can hit/get the wind in both directions. As long as it’s the same course then it doesn’t really matter if its 10km or 20km total. Bonus points if you can find an L- shaped route that you can ride out and back on as this will make sure you hit/get the wind from 4 angles.
Zwift: this Is a great use of the Zwift platform, for both power and zpower users, use one of the climbs or one of the shorter loops again aiming for 10-20km . If your using zpower and a trainer, note your tire pressure and how many turns you put on your trainer roller, If you using rollers just note your pressure front and rear. Again, its all about eliminating variables.
I’d recommend doing this after a rest day or early In a training block, it’s a pretty easy test so you can always add it into a longer ride or use it as a warmup. Try to do it at the same time of day and follow a similar nutrition plan for the day. Make notes of your equipment and tire pressures, clothing, bottles etc. You want to be relatively rested as fatigue can throw off your HR.
This is the great thing about this test, it’s not a maximal test whatsoever so the HR you select to ride at isn’t crucial if you’re in a nice aerobic range. If you already train using HR zones us something near the top of your endurance zone. If you know your threshold HR, then aim for about 30 below that. For most people this will be somewhere in the 130-150 range…. you want to be breathing a little more than usual, but it shouldn’t be strenuous by any means.
Even though this isn’t a maximal test a warmup is still a good idea, 20- 30 minutes of endurance riding with a few efforts to get the HR up is great. Starting is up to you, you can do a standing start… or just roll into it at the correct HR and hit your lap button as you pass the start line. Just keep it consistent test to test. The latter has the advantage of having time to find the correct effort level.
Ride the course trying to maintain a comfortable consistent position on the bike, keep your head up(eyes on the road 99% of the time) with quick glances down to make sure you are riding within a few beats of your target HR. Your HR takes a few seconds to respond to effort changes so be gradual with any changes of pace so you don’t overshoot. When you finish, hit lap on your computer or note the time and avg hr if possible hopefully its bang on your target but if its off by a beat no sweat. Take notes! Be sure to record as much as you can so you can replicate the test as closely as possible…..almost like a science experiment. But more fun.
Even though this isn’t a maximal test you should see your time come down and your avg speed go up over time with more aerobic training as your body becomes more aerobically efficient. You can do this test as often as you like but every 4-6 weeks is enough and don’t sweat it if 1 test takes longer. There are still some variables at play here, but you should see a trend downward. If you reach a plateau that’s a great time to add a little more intensity into your training program.
If you give this a try let me know how it goes
We hear this phrase a lot, I prefer the phrase "Training content" Vs Quantity but that's just me. Many people saw and shared Catharine Pendrels instagram post on the subject. A couple standout points "In training, more isn’t always more " and "But more important to consider than hours, is the composition of your training. "
I believe most coaches, trainers, self coached athletes would generally agree but what that means may look a little different. I just wanted to give a case study of an athlete and give some insight into how I look at training content and its effect on performance.
Reasonably fit with a fair amount of lifetime hours in the sport. In early November had a mFTP of 245, a TTE (time to exhaustion) of 33 minutes, and a 20 minute power of 254. Not the fittest this athlete has been but also not entirely untrained.
The past 11 weeks has been a very focused blend of specific on the bike workouts (53 hours) Focused Strength (10 hours) Aerobic cross training 36 hours. 99 hours total or 9 hours average. Not world class volume at all but the content has really help drive the improvement below.
TTE- Almost doubled
Mftp - + 8%
CP 20 - + 15%
Now for the content LOTS of Endurance, and Tempo/SST work. Also consider this is only the 53 hours of on the bike. The X-training would bring up the total % of the Zones 1-3. And the others down a bit.
Two simple reports but tells a lot about the content and makeup of an athletes training vs their improvements.
This is just one athlete, and by no means am I saying THIS is the only way it should look, simply showing a way of looking at that training composition. But I will say if your 90% in recovery zone maybe there's some room for improvement.
A thought for long days on the bike and back to back rides.
Yes, I know I know another blog about the benefits of just putting in some time on the bike (or skis, snowshoe or whatever you do) to better prepare for a race weekend.
I often write training plans for time crunched cyclists and something I am reminded of when it comes to planning a race weekend for someone is how much time it takes to prepare properly, race and Cooldown. And how important it is to get some back to back days of training in to prepare for that.
Looking at an XCO MTB race weekend, pre-riding a course to the point your comfortable with it and doing some intensity to get all systems firing this can take 1.5-2 hours to do. Then on race day getting in a good warmup which in my opinion is a minimum of 30 minutes of moving time again with some intensity to get all the energy systems activated. Then the actual race part which can 1-2 hours, followed up by a minimum of a 20 minute cooldown. That weekend of riding can easily be 3.5hr- 5hr of saddle time. If a regular week is 6-8 hours you can see how much of a chunk that can take up.
I find many of my squeezed for time athletes CTL’s (measure of long term training stress) can really start to ramp up just due to those weekends. And it actually can be a battle to keep that in check to help prevent burnout, injury or illness. And why its important to always consider racing as a part of training.
I believe this is one reason why many racers feel that “burnout” by July, with a front heavy racing schedule (at least here in Ontario) many athletes simply don’t have the chronic or foundational fitness to handle that ramp.
If you’re a MTB racer who follows a pattern like the one above it’s a great idea to build that kind of stress into your training weeks. Or at least some of your training weeks. Even if your race is “only” 60-75 minutes long its important to consider the saddle time to properly prepare, race, and cooldown from that race weekend.
For development athletes I feel (my opinion) its important to build that race weekend routine as it is a common one when you begin travelling and racing World Cups, Nationals and Canada Cups. But for the master athlete or casual racer who wants to still race well on race day. Consider getting a pre-ride in earlier if possible. Many courses are open to pre-ride earlier than the day before the race. And just stay home, prepare with some intensity and head to the race rested and prepared. (and don’t forget to cooldown after)
If you think of the athletes’ body in terms of its systems, Respiratory, Circulatory, Muscular and Nervous systems. Then you can start to see how HIIT training and Endurance training provide different stresses to each of those systems. Am I an expert in each system heck no, but to understand athletic performance I believe it is important to understand each system and its role
There are other systems in the body as well, Urinary, Digestive, lymphatic, reproductive, Endocrine (hormones). But for now, I’m focusing on the first four.
In HIIT you are usually pushing one system to the max then forcing the other systems to compensate, recover then repeat x times until you can’t anymore or your jerk of a coach tells you to stop. For example, get on the bike, or rower, or track and crush some 30 seconds all out intervals, with 30 seconds of rest. Repeat 10-15 times. You will be maxing out your muscular system and pushing your nervous system as well. Then your heart and lungs kick in to compensate as your muscles are maxing out their utilization of oxygen and need more of it. So with HIIT you are maxing out your systems which is beneficial as your pushing your utilization of that o2 and pushing your delivery systems to get the 02 there. But its very time limited you can only do so much before your exhausted and puddle of goo. NB- the Muscle Oxygen sensor has been great for guiding this HIIT, instead of counting fingers.
Now for endurance training, zone 2, LS(teady)D, the aim is to keep all the systems working but not one system hitting its limit which would result in kicking in another to compensate. Where 95% of cyclists stray from this is they feel its too “easy” and there is nothing to be gained. And begin to start going harder.(AKA more watts more watts more watts then crack) Well if you’re a well-trained athlete riding at 65% of FTP or 50% of MAP its pretty manageable for an hour or two, but what about 6? Just because it feels easy doesn’t mean your body isn’t working. There are plenty of benefits of doing just that kind of training, your laying down the foundation to then build up with that fun HIIT, capillarization, inter-muscular coordination, mitochondria, and getting into how your body uses and stores energy as well. And there are metrics for measuring your growth and improvement with endurance training. (hint: its not just more power) So if you really want to build your aerobic capacity and endurance try your best to do MORE time in that level or zone. Unfortunately, life does come into play and is a limiting factor for many.
I Stole this screenshot from a recent webinar by Tim Cusick of WKO4 (so full credit to him, can be found on WKO4 youtube called “Building and tracking the aerobic engine") This slide is a very detailed look at 4 options to work on that foundational aerobic capacity.
I’ll put the caveat that this is a good time to do some x-training as well, so it could be endurance run/ski/snowshoe/row as your heart and lungs don’t know what your limbs are doing. (but you need to be in each sports specific zone)
So where am I going with all this? Basically, that there is a time and place for everything, as an athlete or just a human being you should look at incorporating both HIIT and Endurance training as they both have benefits that the other doesn’t have.
My advice to any athlete looking to gain some performance this season is to put some time into that “Chronic Aerobic Foundation” When you hit a hill and your HR spikes and your powermeter is reading 400 or your hr monitor is flashing 190 you may be pushing on some limiters. Regardless of what your AVG power is when you get home. Instead gear down, ride the hill, enjoy the scenery and go LONGER. I promise you if you commit to that then the hard training or HIIT will go even better down the road.
With the move to shorter more intense XCO courses the ability to pass and to be passed at speed while racing is an important skill that can affect not only your race but other racers as well.
While this could work for any passing oppourtunity I am mostly speaking about lapping and folks that aren't neccesarrily in your category/age bracket.
If we had the numbers in XCO that we had years ago it would be pure chaos out there but thankfully the numbers have dwindled? Or maybe thats why they have dwindled?...... another blog post maybe.
We'll start with the passing rule from the UCI.
4.1.034 A rider must act in a sporting manner at all times and must permit any faster rider to overtake without obstructing.
So if your at a race governed by a PSO or NSO there you have it, if a faster rider wants by you must let them by. (please don't get angry yet) It doesn't say anything about you must stop immediatly or launch yourself off a trail. And in cases of racing in your own category its kinda a BS rule as positioning is a part of racing. If rider A beats rider B into the singletrack and rides it slow well thats the way the cookie crumbles. If this rule was enforced at world cups 98% of the field would be DQ'd for obstructing the trail. No names #cougheuroscough
But I digress back to our world of provincial and national level XCO racing with multiple categories on the course at the same time. So we've agreed to being good sports and letting folks past and passing with respect when an oppoutunity presents itself. Step 1 done. Now the execution of said pass. There are not hard and fast rules here, but what I like to do is call out to the rider with as much notice as possible. “rider up” or “2 elite* riders up” giving them a heads up that we are not in the same category as them and allowing them to start thinking about the pass. We'll call that the approach.
For the passe, KEEP MOVING if there is nowhere safe or appropriate to let the passer by, keep pedaling and riding as fast as you can. Some people start to panic and hit their brakes slowing down the whole train. Can't tell you how many people I've hit from behind cause they grab two fistfulls of brake on a fast section. #sorry:) For the passer be patient/calm and offer suggestions for spots as you see them. Even encouraging them to keep moving if they seem to be slowing down. Leave a slight gap.
The pass, the goal for both parties is to make the pass as quick as possible and lose as little time as possible. For this I recommend the passe to take the slow line, b line, outside line etc.(hear me out) If you the Passe takes the A line and calls to the passer to take the B line, it will slow you both down. Think of a track pursuit squad, the group doesn't pass the rider coming off the front, the rider pulls off high(maintaining their speed/momentum) then swings down and reattaches to the back of the train.
Every corner/line setup is a little different, but trust me if the passe offers up the fast line to the faster rider you BOTH will go faster with the least amount of energy. WIN WIN.
Alright thats it from the cheap seats, please as always I welcome any angry feedback just send it to my agent. Until then “take care of yourselves and each other” fav Jerry Springer quote.
I can't go a week without someone cornering me or sending me the latest “study” about the benefits of high intensity training. And more specifically high intensity every workout while cutting out endurance training. The tricky part is athletes don't compete in labs, they compete in the real world, in varying conditions, in multiple time zones, after sometimes days of travel.
Endurance training, lets say 4-6 hour rides(skis, snowshoes etc) helps build that athletic areobic foundation. It aids in recovery time, and dealing with ongoing stress. It helps you get to the start line of a race, ready to race. Not bagged and ready for bed after all the preparation that goes into racing.
Point 1) I'll use some of my younger athletes first visit to the Tremblant Canada Cup as an example. (i owe you guys 20 pushups) For many of them it was their first out of province, (heck out of the GTA) bike race. They faced a 7-8 hour drive, sleeping in a hotel, eating on the road, a crazy venue, a crazy course to pre-ride both climbing and technically. All firsts, all adding to their fatigue levels. I'll be honest by the time they arrived at the start line, they were tired. I knew they would be, but it was still an amazing experience for them and they learned a TON. A big limiting factor for that weekend as a whole was their aerobic base, not their intensity, or speed, or climbing, or tech riding.
Key words limiting factor for the weekend, not the race. If all the cadets and juniors woke up at their houses and raced on Zwift that day, I bet the times would be a lot closer. It takes a lot of energy just to prepare for a race, and if you don't have a good base in place you won't be recovered enough to hit your peak in the race.
Point 2) Athletes and coaches aren't stupid(welll.....), coaches have tried this tactic before cut waaay back on volume and increase intensity. It rarely works in the long term, dealing with 50 hour travel days through volcanic ash clouds, to China, to South Africa, NZ , OZ, it takes its toll. Its like its own stage race before the race. Sure you can be fit, fast, ready to rock for the duration of your race, (or lab test ;) but are you ready for a road trip, dealing with road food, sleeping in weird places, not sleeping on a plane and then rolling to the line rested and ready to perform. How does an athlete only doing HIT all year, every week prepare for that long term chaos?
I don't dispute the outcomes of these studies, I have very little doubt that a lot of intensity will lead to some big gains in fitness. But coaching and being an athlete is ALL about sacrifice, balance and compromise. We don't live in labs, not to say we can't learn from studies from researchers and universities but I encourage my athletes and my peers to take a holistic approach to training, racing and life as its all connected.
I often get into chats (sometimes heated) with athletes and other coaches about endurance, aerobic, base, foundation etc rides vs high intensity all the time and which is better. Well both are important and have a place throughout a season of training. But for some reason there is a notion it has to be one or the other.
There comes a point when if you only have 5 hours per week to ride, yeah you may need to keep things spicy as 5 x 1 hour endurance rides isn't really working on endurance at all. But when you get closer to 10-12 hours a week of training time including at least 1 Long workout a week can be a HUGE help.
I like to go by the x2 rule, take the duration of your race like a 90 minute XCO race or 3 hour road race multiply by 2 and that's what you should aim for as a long weekly workout. Maybe not week in and week out, but if your going to be competitive in a 100km road race you should be able to comfortably ride for 5-6 hours once race season rolls around. Or 3 hours in the case of an XCO race.
In short I am not a believer in high intensity 365 days a year 6 days a week etc etc. I do believe that endurance, base, foundation lsd.... whatever you want to call it and its benefits will play a big role in your capacity to recover faster, have a more consistent season, and become more efficient on the bike.
Now comes the conudrum some people hate riding their bikes for long durations without going hard, up climbs, into the wind, sign sprinting, strava hunting etc etc. So what to do if you can't just go for a bike ride and enjoy the scenery. (even if you can just go enjoy the scenery keep reading)
Lay out a focus for that ride, challenge yourself to ride at a higher rpm for the whole ride or break it into intervals. Reverse that and ride at a lower RPM, watch your joints for pain but work on grinding if your naturally a spinner and vice versa. Do you normally sit a lot on climbs? Well then get out of the saddle and climb while working on your rythem, usually climb standing? guess what? Climb seated and build your hip strength. All of these can be done all while keeping your HR or Wattage or RPE or whatever you use to gauge your effort right where you want it. Usually drink right handed? Drink left handed. You can get creative and find ways to challenge yourself without just adding wattage or going harder.
Training is about challenging yourself and improving your range of abilites. Bike Racing is dynamic and challenges you if all you do is ride one loop all the time, at X rpm and Y wattage and with Z people, thats great but when you go race and its V course, and you need to ride at between C-D rpm and A-Z wattage with R riders. Its good to have worked on those things.
Nothing like making something internet official, last Sunday was most likely (never say never) my final MTB race in the Elite category. I've always loved racing bikes and everything and everyone that comes along with that. In the past couple years my passion for coaching and supporting other racers has overtaken that. I now get more satisfaction and pleasure from coaching and seeing other racers perform well, improve, challenge themselves and find their own place in the sport of cycling.
From my time spent at the 9 am races with the Rad Riders this season, and other races like the Canada Cups and Nationals where I could watch my athletes race, I know the best way for me to learn from my athletes and help them improve isn't to be on the course at the same time. It's on the side of the course watching them make mistakes and conquer new territory at the same time.
I will continue to race select races hopefully for many years to come, but its time to focus to the best of my abilities on the athletes I coach.
Lots of thanks coming up.
Big thanks to the athletes I've worked with the past few seasons for always understanding and supporting me still toeing the line sometimes even racing each other. A huge thanks to Norco Bicycles and Live To Play sports for their support the past 7 seasons. They are an amazing company and group of people who support racing in Ontario and the rest of Canada in a huge way.
Maria and Robert J Watson for always supporting my racing, driving me to countless races even across the country, buying me books on bike repair so I learned how to do it myself....but were always there to take me to the bike shop when I snapped a bolt or messed something up.
Kevin and Sue Haviland, for their love of the sport and support of the Norco Factory XC team. I wouldn't have raced for as long as I have without the support of Kevin and Sue.
My early sponsors and shops that helped me along the way, Mike Britten at Cyclepath Newmarket, Aarif Suleman and Bike Depot in Thornhill, Mike Doble at Roces/Bianchi Canada, Kevin Wallace and Ira Kargel at Gears, The Barrie cycling community who pulled together for me when I didn't have a ride in 2008.
Every organizer, club, group and individual and volunteer that put on a bike race. I know that's vague and a lot of people but over 20 years the list would be 13 pages long.
Rob Holmgren and Steve Neal my first coaches whose first/toughest job it was to convince me I needed a coach. Other coaches I've worked with along the way or on projects that have inspired me and helped me both as an athlete and develop more as a coach, Kevin Simms, Dan Proulx, Mike Garrigan, Brendan Arnold, Sean Kelly, Scott Kelly and the rest of the rocky bottom coaches.
To my teammates: Lespy sorry about the Cutlery, Haley sorry about Lespys cutlery, McNeely keep that new van fresh son, Guthrie keep the whips coming, Peter I promise (to try) to stop saying wrong all the time. Havy that well was as dry as the Sahara. Your all awesome people, I will miss our adventures in bike racing together.
To Paige you inspire me everyday, thank you for your support in life, business, adventures, riding bikes and eating really awesome food.
Two things I'll miss a lot and were always special, one is sporting that Maple Leaf and wearing it in Canada at St Anne Worlds in 2010 as a member of the National Team. And two was finishing World Cups on the lead lap. I know its not the highest bar by any means, but there's just something about it. It was a close one this year but making it through for my final world cup at St Anne where I first experienced a world cup at 18 was a nice feeling.
20 years of racing and I can even say I got to the dress rehearsal of the big show the London Olympics........... Test Event. And whatever I did on the bike I did clean and it is something I am immensely proud of.
See you at the races,
photos by Hans Clarke:
What a weekend all around, not a great finish by any means but nothing but smiles after. Having your two youngest teamates take their first Canada Cup wins helps a little bit.
Sean Ruppel of Superfly racing did a bang up job of the course, hard climbs, techincal features that required a goo deal of focus while your red-lined. Ride arounds that are perfectly timed so that its a few seconds slower but not so slow that a rider is going to walk the A line. Race courses are an art I think Sean and Glenn for this weekends race at Hardwood are right up there with Piccasso and Da Vinci.
Saturday was a busy day with several laps with the young guys I coach, 1 lap by myself to try and get a little bit into the zone, and then it was a quick change into my finest attire to head to my good friends wedding not far from Horseshoe. Congrats Matt and Hayley I'm sure Waubashene will never be the same again.
Sunday morning I was up early on the bike at 7:45 to warmup with the young guys again, it was really cool to warmup on the trails we ride every Tuesday night in the Copeland. I think it helped relax them just that little bit before their short intense race.
Wasn't long before it was my time to get dressed up in the Norco skinsuit, let Havy finish up his magic to the Revolver 7 Full Suspension we are doing some race testing with this year. I headed over into Copeland myself had to keep an eye on my watch to make sure I didn't get to far away and sucked into the beauty of that place.
The vibe at the start was fairly relaxed, I think everyone was mostly nervous about the first left hand turn. If we made it through that without crashing each other out we'd be good....... well the pack safely got around it but on the nice open straight away a racer forgot that two objects can't occupy the same space and time #science and started a Domino effect. I was able to just squeak by as riders tumbled to the side. I know its weird maybe my luck is changing. I was able to make up the gap to the two leaders E Guthrie and another rider. I took over the lead for a bit, before being overtaking by Cam J and Guthrie but Guthrie was leading into the first ST so all was well. Hung into third with Petey D on my wheel trying to stay in contact and not open any gaps he would need to close.
Warning graphic content:
By the long fireroad climb I knew I wasn't gonna hold that pace for 6 laps, Guthrie and Petey were right up there. I settled into my own rythem and a few riders came by but I stayed calm and trusted my gut. Partway into lap 2 I was with Lespy around 10th thinking this was good we could shake and bake a couple guys over the next few laps. But then had a bug, a spider, a june bug a object of some kind get caught in my throat. Attempted to cough it up, drink it down, a choking/coughing fit ensued and I had to pull off the course and let the good times roll. Made about 5 trail side stops in the next two laps, good news was I was about a KG lighter but any nutrition I had in my stomach was now gone. As always I got to the end of the race as fast as I could but we'll file that away under it'll go better next time.
Horseshoe is such a nice venue I really hope they continue to host races in the coming years, with a few course upgrades there is no reason why it couldn't host a world cup. Next up there is Marathon Nationals in September.
Gigantic congratulations to the whole Norco team, it was great, and I think this weekend will be even better.
Had the pleasure of racing at home this weekend in the Homage to Ice. A race put on by Dan Marshall of Substance Projects. I've been trying to get to one of his events for a while and finally got the chance. It was worth the wait, great organization, great course considering the conditions which were a mix of everything from snow, ice, sand, gravel.
Arriving to it felt like going to a race from days gone by. The setup was simple and functional just the essentials for a fun MTB race. These kinds of races used to populate the race calendar like weeds. Bike races for the sake of bike races. Don't get me wrong the quality and level of racing going on at the o-cups and canada cups is awesome but its nice to know there are still semi grassroots events happening and being supported.
The weather has been just nuts the past couple winters and these early season races are a challenge for sure. The course was designed to keep the volunteer built singletrack from being destroyed so it consisted mostly of double track and a good solid chunk of gravel road. With one really nice south facing buff dry piece of singletrack.
Which lent itself to some road esque type pack racing. Ergo, it lent itself to me showing why I shouldn't be a road racer. After the 1st lap and everyone settling into their paces and shaking out the cobwebs a group of about 8 formed up for the 1st 8-9 km's of gravel access and gravel road. After one lap of about 46 minutes, I found myself out front with a gap after the piece of singletrack. Contrary to the advice I gave to my athletes before the race about not dangling off the front, I proceeded to sit out front of the group of 6-7 guys heading onto the faster open sections of the course. This early in the season I knew it would be a long shot but opted to try to make it work.
Managed to stay out front and felt pretty good till about 4 km to go when I hit the proverbial wall, hung on to 3rd as I got cobbled up within about 750meters to go by 2 riders. It was a really good test of my early season fitness and gave me a lot to consider in getting ready for the upcoming season.
Good first race on the new Revolver, it rode as expected and I can't wait to get it onto some more singletrack..... if the snow ever melts.
Thanks to Dan Marshall and Substance Projects for hosting an awesome event.