Training for a Century Ride

The century ride, or 100 miles for the uninitiated, is a true test of endurance for cyclists.  Completing one becomes a bucket list entry quickly after a cyclist swings their leg over the top tube for the first time and begins seeing just how far they can push their body.  I know whenever I see my cycling computer tick over from “99” to 💯 miles, I accomplished something fantastic that day (or night on a few occasions).  I have thrived during a century ride, and other times barely finished dragging my tired, dehydrated, and sun-burnt body across the mark.  This blog post will serve to help you NOT make the myriad of mistakes I have made in preparing my body for a century ride.

Preparation

A century ride can take anywhere from 4 hours to well over 10+ depending on the terrain, elevation, and your current fitness to name just a few factors.  So, being realistic about what you are getting yourself into is paramount for preparing properly.

Ride Difficulty

Difficulty is subjective and hard to quantify, BUT riding a flat century is going to be far “easier” compared to one that includes 10,000 feet of elevation gain, and an athlete training for the latter must adjust their ride duration, intensity, and overall training volume accordingly.  Therefore, before you even start preparing for a century, make a conscious effort when selecting one that will be a slight overreach, but not impossible to complete.

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Far too many times I have seen an athlete sign up for something way over their head, fail at it, and then blame themselves as a result.  This is obviously not ideal and can easily be avoided if you take smaller bites before going after the “big one”…Be like the gentleman above and sit and contemplate your event before pulling the trigger, gazing off into the distance can really help here too 😜

Designing a Training Plan

Okay great!  You’ve picked a century that is going to be a challenge, scares you a little, but you are confident in yourself and know you can complete it with some hard work, dedication, and consistency…Now what?  Time to get your body (and mind) ready!

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It could look something like this…

  • PART I // Base phase // Goals:
    • ⬆️ aerobic fitness (the ability to transport and utilize oxygen) and ⬆️ endurance (being able to perform more “work” without fatiguing).  Traditionally, this was done via progressive training loads with time mainly spent at Zone 2.  However, I always argue that you need a lot of training time available to reap the benefits of Zone 2 training.  Most everyone I work with currently has a full time job, a family, other hobbies, etc. that all take valuable training time away.  As your training availability reduces, your overall workout intensity needs to increase accordingly to see improvements – Hence, sweet spot training.
    • ⬆️ the amount of force you can apply to those pedals.  This can be done in the gym as well as on the bike with things like force reps and muscle tension efforts.  Remember, Power = FORCE x Velocity
    • Throw in some pedaling drills // cadence work to improve the VELOCITY component of the above power equation.
  • PART II // Build phase // Goals:
    • Maintain the VELOCITY component of the equation with some pedaling drills thrown in here and there, especially at the beginning of the build phase.
    • ⬆️ muscular endurance: This is typically accomplished by extensive (10-30 minutes) and moderately intense (Z3/Z4) intervals.  I also like to add in some over/under type workouts towards the middle to end of the build phase to improve the athlete’s lactate (pain) tolerance.
      • Specificity is key: If you know you will be climbing some big ole mountains during your event,  mimicking the duration, and goal intensity, of said climb/s is a key muscular endurance goal for you.  If your longest Z3/Z4 interval is only 10 mins long in training, and you know the longest climb of your race is going to take ~60 minutes to summit, you’re not going to enjoy the day very much…
    • ⬆️ anaerobic endurance: Think short (30 seconds to 3 minutes) and sharp (Z5/Z6) intervals.  These intervals should REALLY not feel good and labored breathing is a must here.  DO THE WORK!
      • “A rising tide lifts all boats” is something I subscribe to with the athletes I coach.  A typical century ride is going to feature VERY little Z6 (anaerobic) work, BUT that doesn’t mean it’s not important for you to focus on.  Having a greater anaerobic capacity will help to improve your FTP (which is the bottom line here), and will also enable you to power over the shorter and steeper climbs, close gaps in a paceline, have some fun over a Strava segment, sprint to the finish, etc.
    • ⬆️ aerobic endurance: There are 2 ways I have found to best accomplish this…
      • 1) Perform intervals in the 4-6 minute range at Z5 (VO2 Max) with the rest intervals decreasing as you become more fit.  So, you may start off with a 1:1 ratio, and eventually achieve a 2:1, or even 3:1 ratio.
      • 2) Steadily increase the duration of your long rides, keeping the focus on a steady effort between Z2/Z3.  With specificity being key here, a great goal would be able to ride at this intensity range for as long as your event is going to take you in DURATION not MILES.
    • Don’t forget about recovery: Typically, the build phase comes alongside the warm weather and group riding season.  This can be great for motivation, but not so great for allowing the body to regenerate and supercompensate for all the training stress featured in the build phase.  Listen to what your body is telling you, and even better utilize a service like TrainingPeaks to accurately track TSS, fatigue, fitness, and form, etc.
  • PART III // Taper phase // Goals:
    • Maintain fitness while letting fatigue decrease, allowing form to rise.  The amount of training depends on the length of the taper, so if you are feeling pretty darn tired take a longer taper period, and vice-versa. (1)
      • Week 1: ⬇️ Volume by 30% ⬇️ Frequency by 25% ⬆️ Intensity: 40/20s | 30/30s
      • Week 2: ⬇️ Volume by 50% ⬇️ Frequency by 33% ⬆️ Intensity: Microbursts (15/15)
      • Week 3: ⬇️ Volume by 70% ⬇️ Frequency by 50% ⬆️ Intensity: Tabatas (20/10)

Training for a century ride doesn’t have to be overly-complicated if you break down the aspects into manageable pieces, and dedicate time to developing each one.  Of course, what works for one athlete may not work for another, so experiment, try new training approaches, mix up the intervals, etc.  Just be sure to keep your training consistent, enjoy the journey, and strive to get to the ride stronger than ever before!  And, if you feel like your wheels are spinning, but you’re not really going anywhere, GC Coaching is here to help 🙂


References
(1)  Mcneely, E., & Sandler, D. (2007). Tapering for Endurance Athletes. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 29(5), 18. doi:10.1519/1533-4295(2007)29[18:tfea]2.0.co;2

Help us welcome our new coach, Kurt Maw!

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Growing up Kurt was a jack of all trades, focusing mostly on fun;  local BMX racing, some old school mountain biking on fully rigid steel frames getting lost in the woods, some local road biking, windsurfing all around New England, skiing, and mixed in, there was the competitive outlet of fencing through high school and college.  Upon graduation from college, Kurt got back into mountain biking mostly on the North Shore of MA or along some coastal haunts in CT, just for fun.  In 2000, Kurt was convinced to do his first triathlon, a sprint distance race that took place every Thursday night in Nahant.  He was immediately hooked!  And from there, the rest is history, with races of every distance from sprint to Ironman under his competitive belt!

Kurt has competed and trained athletes in all distances of triathlon from sprint to Ironman, has raced on the road for about 10 years, but his passion for dirt has never wavered. As a triathlete competing in Xterra races, mountain biking and cyclocross, that’s where he is most at home.  Currently a Cat 2 XC mountain bike racer and a Cat 3 Master’s cyclocross racer, you can usually recognize him by the dirty smile on his face at the end of every race.  In addition to racing, Kurt has actively managed and developed Comprehensive Racing, a multisport, running and cycling team, since 2001.
Kurt holds a BS in Biomedical Engineering with a concentration in Biomechanics from Boston University and is a USAC Certified Level 3 coach and is USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified.

Overcoming Performance Anxiety – Part 1

For my first blog post, I will be writing about something that is foremost in my mind in regards to training at the moment: anxiety

Firstly, a little bit about myself. From a young age, I was always shy and nervous. It took many years of unsubstantiated panic attacks and general discomfort in social situations to finally think, “maybe I should see a doctor.” I was diagnosed with generalized and social anxiety disorder. At the time I was quite alarmed and worried, but as of now it all makes sense and I’ve learned to manage it day-to-day.

Similarly at a young age, I fell in love with cycling because of the speed the pros could go, but when I started to immerse myself more, I found the solitary nature of riding to be so freeing from all the stress and anxiety that I didn’t even realize I had, not to mention the myriad of benefits that exercise gives for the psyche.

When I started working with Shayne, the organization that coaching gave to my life was a frankly immeasurable benefit. Coaching and cycling got me through one of the lowest points of my life. So long as there was an email from TrainingPeaks in the morning telling me what I’d be doing to improve myself, it could have been raining fire outside and I’d be okay.

As a result, it was very easy to get comfortably complacent and watch the training days and months roll by. Of course, with that kind of consistency, you’re gonna see results. And that’s what we all want, right?

Well somewhat unfortunately for me, all those results have propelled me to the elite ranks of track cycling. Prior to races, I’ve been experiencing panic attacks so bad that I’ve considered not racing. Couple this with all the work and sacrifices I’ve made over the years along with a burning desire to have all that effort culminate into good results, and competition is becoming very stressful. So stressful that I’m wondering if the initial benefit of day-to-day anxiety reduction still balances out the amount of stress I feel before and during competition, as well as the frustration I feel afterwards. Even my training is beginning to suffer as I have thoughts of, “What’s the point?” And, “Who made this so damn difficult for me?”

* I should say at this point as a disclaimer that I am not a mental health professional and that this post is not meant to serve as a proper treatment for anyone’s health. It is merely meant to serve as an anecdotal, first-hand account of my attempts to improve my performance and serve as a set of suggestions or as a potential guideline, should you feel that my situation applies to yours. We’re all different athletes, and results may vary 🙂 *

So my treatment needs to be two-pronged: The first needs to deal with the day-to-day stress of training, and the second needs to deal with staying calm in the moments surrounding and during a track race.

A quick search of articles regarding overcoming performance anxiety reveals several consistent actions to take:

 

Before

Accepting anxiety: They are real fears, but not allowing them to control you. I’m going to try to say things like “Man, I’m nervous!” or “This must be really important!” in a sarcastic way. This will allow me not only to express my emotions, but also accept them and frame them in a way that doesn’t let them take control. It’ll also inject a sense of humor into the event. The last time I was nervous was at what was basically a training series. It wasn’t Olympic trials, it wasn’t National Championships. And even if it was, let’s all keep in mind that riding bikes is fun, and we have to make sure that happens at any level of competition.

Meditation/Visualization: Do the mental work to make sure you’re focusing on positive outcomes. Those who have wrestled with depression or anxiety before are undoubtedly familiar with that little voice inside your head telling you that you’re going to fail, or that something bad is going to happen so you shouldn’t try. It can be easy to let those thoughts wash over you and put you in a downward spiral. It takes real work and self-awareness to break that cycle and to think things like, “I’m going to finish in the top ten” or “I’m going to focus on saving my energy and use it for a good result”. It takes effort to do that, but it’s possible.

-Arriving early is arriving on time: Nothing like showing up to an event late and not just warmed up, but exhausted because you’ve been stressed the whole way there. Take necessary time to prepare for a punctual arrival to an event. Pack your car and food the night before, have breakfast made, check the traffic before you leave. I always tell myself, “Do everything you can the night before”

-Training how you race: At GC Coaching, we try to make sure that your workouts prior to your season or event are tailored to how you will be performing and what sort of athlete you are. Muscle Tension Efforts if you’re going to be climbing, or crit specific efforts if you’re going to be racing short, sweet races. While performing these specific efforts, it can be useful to visualize yourself using these efforts during a race. If you’re knocking out 1 minute efforts, imagine them being the last-minute before the final lap. Beyond that, if you are lucky enough to have a winter bike and a racing bike, once the weather is starting to break, maybe pull out the race rig to remind yourself how it handles.

-Have a plan, basic or complex: As mentioned above, visualizing positive outcomes is an important technique. Sometimes putting together a plan can help you put those positive thoughts into actions. Be aware that having an overly complex plan might be difficult to execute and add to your anxiety, though it could be something to focus on that will take you out of the moment. For myself, my plans are always very simple and usually are something like the above such as, “Just find a good wheel to follow and stick tight to it”

 

During

-Focus on the task rather than the outcome: Those plans can also help you focus more on the process of competition, rather than the goal. This can help take your attention off of the nerve-wracking desire to succeed and place it on more important matters, like staying close to a good wheel.

-Forcing positivity: Grab a breath and crack a joke to the guy next to you! Unless you’re breaking away solo, of course. Again, riding bikes is fun, so force yourself to focus on that. Or try to smile. If you’re moving along in a fast pack, think of how quick you’re moving and just how awesome that is. Injecting humor and positivity into the situation can help distract you from your anxiety. 

-Focus on breathing: This will hitch up well with your meditation, during which you should focus on your breathing and pushing away negative thoughts. While this may be hard to do when you’re on the rivet pushing hard, the rhythm of your breathing can be a consistent pattern in the maelstrom of racing.

 

After

-Review:

It can be hard to not be biased against yourself, especially if you’re struggling with anxiety. If you’ve been practicing pulling yourself out of that negative cycle before competition, use that skill to pull yourself out of chastising yourself after a race, regardless of the outcome. As athletes, we should all be pretty well used to listening to what our bodies are telling us. Try to remember areas of the competition in which you felt good. Maybe you were bridging up to a breakaway, or maybe your CX skills work has been paying off and you’re hopping barriers left and right. Realize your strengths and use them to your advantage during your next competition.

Accept your mistakes but don’t dwell on them. Realize what you could do better next time and move on. This can be tough if you’re tough on yourself. Don’t let that downward spiral of negativity happen and realize that you can always do better.

 

Some sources also suggest that analyzing the source of fear or anxiety yields limited success; exploring your fears can validate them. For example: realizing that at the start line you maybe had a bad winter and think that your perceived lack of fitness may result in getting dropped. You may start to focus on all the things that happened over the winter that prevented you from training consistently and rather than focusing on the race itself and using the fitness you have available, you’ll feel negative thoughts that will distract you from the moment

As far as day-to-day stress, we are all no doubt aware that the joy of improving at a sport we love and competing can bring significant stress as well. Work stress affecting our training, not having enough time to train, poor nutrition, the list goes on. As an example, I live in an apartment with two tenants living on the two floors above. Recently they both complained to the landlord about noises coming from the plumbing or furnace or something. We soon put two and two together and realized that the noise was my trainer and rollers. In order to keep everyone happy, I moved my training equipment to a nearby friend’s place. At the time, I was very upset that yet another obstacle was put in my way. Some of these techniques can be used to help mitigate that frustration. Meditation will likely be a useful tool for me. I’ve had it suggested to me in the past by therapists to help ease my anxiety before I raced.

And also focusing on the process rather than the outcome. When climbing a mountain, don’t focus how big it is, just focus on getting to the next switchback. Similarly, if training seems like this huge mountain, and obstacle after obstacle keeps stacking up, making it higher, just focus on throwing your leg over the bike, rather than the hours you have to put in, or the drive you have to make and so on.

My next competition is considered something of a season opener for east coast track cyclists, the Lucarelli and Castaldi Six Days of Kissena, in Queens, New York. The first race is tomorrow! That means I will unfortunately not be able to enact some of the longer-term solutions such as meditation, but I will be trying out these techniques prior to and during my races and I will report back with how it went. Wish me luck!

Help us welcome our new coach, Nick Baker!

From a young age, Nick displayed interest in endurance athletics, competing in track in grade school, and going to swim meets on the weekend. At around age 12, Nick fell in love with cycling after seeing a single stage of the Vuelta a Espana on TV. Shortly after graduating high school, Nick was badly injured during a training ride after being struck by a car. Largely bedridden for a few weeks, Nick discovered track cycling on the internet.

Thus began his current passion of track cycling. Nick competed at the Northeast Velodrome, and when the program at the time ended, he continued his interest in track cycling by traveling to the next nearest track in Queens, New York almost every week. Locals in both Massachusetts and New York were impressed with Nick’s passion and determination. As a result, Nick began working with Shayne, first at P2, then employing him as a coach, wherein Shayne propelled Nick from an average category 4 track cyclist to a competitive category 3.
Nick has now settled in the suburbs of Philly, not far from the internationally known Valley Preferred Cycling Center velodrome, otherwise known as T-Town. Currently a category 2 track cyclist, Nick hopes to continue honing his own fitness and skills while helping cyclists and endurance athletes attain their own goals.
Nick is a USAC certified level 3 coach and is USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified.
Nick is currently accepting new athletes, so what are you waiting for!?  

Why Your Resolution Won’t Work (again)

Oh, the first 2 weeks of January…You are FILLED with social media gym check-ins, diets, cleanses, scales, and other bologna.  People love to “make a New Years resolution” and you will often hear “What’s your resolution this year?” in frequent passerby conversation.  Well, I have some news for you resolutionists, according to Norcross and Vangarelli (1988-89)  “Seventy-seven percent maintained their pledges for 1 week but only 19% for 2 years.” and furthermore, according to Huffpost, only 8% of people actually stick to them.  I am also confident you have experienced first hand the failure rate of people around you, and perhaps even yourself.  So, instead of repeating the same process and expecting a different result (insanity, anyone?), let’s can the old resolution mindset (I have never liked that word anyways), and instead embrace the positive “life change” mindset.  As the former tends to be restrictive and finite, the latter is meant to be incremental, flexible, and indefinite, because guess what?  A “30 day fix” doesn’t fix ANYTHING!  So, how do we go about fostering positive life changes?  I am glad you asked 🙂

Step 1: Set SMALL AND EASILY ATTAINABLE Goals Initially (incremental)

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The #1 mistake I see people make is setting ridiculously restrictive and virtually impossible goals off the bat (IMO).  “I want to cut all carbs this year”, or “I want to lose 50 pounds”, blah, blah, blah.  These goals are a mountain, when you’re not even ready to climb a mole hill yet.  So, taking the above examples:

“I want to cut all carbs this year” is better stated “I want to change 1 meal per week and make a less carbohydrate dense choice”.

And, “I want to lose 50 pounds” is better stated “I want to lose 5 pounds”.

Of course, if the end result is the original statements, you can get there, but remember goals needs to be flexible, incremental, and indefinite.  So, 1 meal per week can quickly become 4 meals per week over the course of a month, and even more thereafter.  Just as 5 pounds of weight loss extrapolated over the course of 8 months can be 50 pounds eventually.  Most importantly though, winning all of these small battles over the course of your life change will result in a positive feedback loop which will motivate you even further.  Win-win!

As you go further down the road, then your goals can become more challenging.

Step 2: Expect Failure and Resistance (flexible)

The #2 mistake I see is people expecting to make a lifestyle change practically overnight and not foreseeing the resistance and will-power challenges that it takes.

As mentioned above, setting small and attainable goals will hopefully decrease this, but you need to be flexible and expect and embrace failure and resistance.  “Everything in moderation” is another great way to think of this concept.  If you set a goal of cutting out sugar, give yourself a few times per week to satisfy that craving (be flexible), BUT incrementally reduce the amount you eat over the course of the month or even year.  I can guarantee feeding that craving initially will result in greater compliance and better results in the long terms.

Failure IS an option, as long as it’s temporary and you use it as a learning experience and not an implosion.

Step 3: Stick With It! (indefinite)

The #3 mistake is people falling for the trap of an easy solution.  The “30 day fix”, or only using certain containers for your foods (I wonder how many Swedish Fish I can cram in my sugar one… 😉 ) and other complete non-sense.  STOP FALLING FOR THE TRAPS, PEOPLE!  Anything that’s worth doing is a challenge and never easy (at least in my experience) and just like in most everything in life, the more work put in = better results.

I am not saying it’s going to be easy, I am saying it’s going to be WORTH IT!

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Make this the year to stop making resolutions and start making positive life changes!  Set goals that are incremental, flexible, and indefinite.  Start off slow, expect some bumps in the road, and understand it is going to be hard at times, but it is definitely going to be WORTH IT!

GC Coaching Virtual Training Phase II Registration is now OPEN!

GC Coaching Virtual Training is a 3 phase program consisting of 8 weeks of structured and progressive training geared towards cyclists and triathletes of all abilities to get you in the best shape possible coming into Spring. You can easily export all of the workouts to your favorite devices or software to make following your program easy. There is also a closed Facebook group where you can talk directly with your coach and other participating athletes. The best part is you can do these workouts from the comfort of your own home and at any time you want!

HOW DOES IT WORK?

-You can use a smart trainer, or a regular trainer with a power meter / heart rate monitor, and / or just a speed sensor!
-All of the workouts can be found in your personal TrainingPeaks account that you will create. You will receive an e-mail after payment with instructions on how to do this. The workouts can be easily exported to your favorite devices and/or training software from your calendar.
-If you need to shift around the days of the workouts, simply adjust them in your personal TrainingPeaks calendar by dragging and dropping them.
-We recommend connecting your TrainingPeaks account and a Zwift account for the easiest way to train. After you connect your accounts, you will find each workout of the day on Zwift under the “TrainingPeaks Custom Workouts” tab when you login.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?

-8 weeks of structured training created by a Level 2 USA Cycling power based certified coach.
-5 workouts per week.
-Access to the GC Coaching virtual training closed Facebook group. Here you will have exclusive access to ask questions to your coach and other participating athletes, learn more about nutrition, hydration, and other training topics, and get to know your fellow members. Invitation to the Facebook group will be sent to the e-mail you register with, so please be sure to use the e-mail linked to your Facebook account.
-A TrainingPeaks basic account.
-A weekly Zwift Group Workout on Sunday mornings (8 AM EST).

*The online program starts Monday, January 1st, but because it’s all “online” you have the flexibility to complete the workouts on your own schedule.*

READY TO SIGN UP, OR HAVE QUESTIONS FIRST?

Please click here

Cheers!

5 Easy Changes To Make This Off-Season Great!

December tends to start the “next” season for roadies, triathletes, mountain bikers, and basically anyone besides a cyclocross racer (because those people are weird anyways! 😉).  So, what you do now, and over the next few months, will really make a difference in how well you perform next year…and you want to surpass this season, right!? 

1) Get Structured

Nothing will make a bigger difference in your progression (aside from having a coach of course) than making your  training more structured.  Eliminating the “junk” miles and the “just riding” workouts will not only result in improved adaptations, but will get you there faster and with less training time invested.  I have also seen structured workouts keep an athlete motivated and focused over the Winter as you have a plan, know what is coming next, and if you stick with it you know you will become stronger.  Plus, Winter riding usually means trainer riding, and interval sessions go WAY faster compared to steady state stuff.

This is also the only time of year when you can “train to train”, i.e. you don’t have a race or event on the horizon and can instead focus on improving aspects that make a good athlete a great one!

1a) Structure Your Recovery

Structure doesn’t apply to training only, of course…You need to overload the body to create an adaptation, but how quickly and how well your body adapts comes down to how well you sleep and how clean you eat.  Training and recovery go hand in hand, and one side must be balanced to reap the benefits of the other side (imagine a see-saw).  So, you can also use this Winter to work on creating better sleep habits, and cleaning up your diet.  Little changes in these areas can make a massive difference in others!

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2) Get Consistent

Fitness = Consistency over Time (F = C/T) ain’t GC Coaching’s motto for nothin’, consistency is crucial to see improvements.  Without a constant and progressive training stimulus, the body has no reason to adapt and become fitter, and you just keep on repeating last year’s fitness peak (which isn’t why you’re reading this now).  So this Winter, get your butt in gear more often, become more compliant with adhering to a plan, or even better, DO BOTH!  Also, remember the body usually adapts better to multiple shorter rides per week as opposed to 1 or 2 really long rides per week (in my experience).

3) Get Together

Training with a partner or group always yields greater consistency, and therefore results!  Embarking on a common goal with people is great because there are days when you just aren’t going to want to get out of bed.  Guess what?  If you have a good training partner, they will either motivate you to get up and go, or guilt you into it!  Either way, your workout for the day is going to get done and you will be a stronger person (both mentally and physically) because of it.  So, this Winter sign up for a group training class, join a Zwift group, or simply make a pact with your friends to make next year YOUR YEAR.

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4) Get Motivated

Find some new music, read an inspiring book, watch a documentary about your big race or goal event for next year…Just do something to “wet your whistle” (so to speak) and keep your interest and focus on the goal over the long Winter doldrums.  I like to come up with, or find, a new motto at the beginning of every season and repeat it like a mantra when the going gets tough.  This year mine is:

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard! -Tim Notke

5) Get Going!

Above all else, just do it!  Yes, this is easy to say and want to do, but no one is going to get you there, except YOU.   The first 2 weeks of anything are the hardest, but after you do something consistently for 2 weeks it gets easier to keep up (I promise!).  After a little more time elapses, you are going to actually look forward to the exercise and miss it if you have to miss a day here and there (I promise that too!). 

So, this Winter, set a goal for riding and recovering in a more structured way; doing it consistently; finding someone or a group to take the journey with; keep yourself motivated by finding a motto, book, person, or movie when the fire wanes (which it will sometimes); and most importantly just get going!

What do YOU want next season to bring?

The Winter makes your Summer!  -Shayne Gaffney

Staying Fit After Kids

I have been a father for a little over a year now, and holding that little baby in my arms for the first time was the best (and also scariest) thing I have yet to experience.  Having kids doesn’t mean everything needs to be put on hold athletically, you just need to re-learn where the balance point of your life is, modify your priorities, and most importantly maximize all of your training time you have available.  Children bring a myriad of changes and new stressors to your life…Don’t get me wrong, the majority of these changes are positive and I would not want it any other way, but since this is an athlete-based blog, let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about what I needed to do in order to preserve fitness and maintain good exercise habits.

Find Time

This may seem obvious, but guess what?  That cushy 9, 10, 11 AM ride start time isn’t going to happen much anymore.  Also, those 2, 3, and 4 hour rides are going to be few and far between, so the first thing that needs to happen is finding, or creating time to train.  For me, this has been before my Son wakes up, during his nap time, or after he goes to bed.  Rarely, I will get out for a longer ride over the weekend, but this is a “when the stars align” scenario as opposed to a sure thing.  This may mean sacrificing watching your favorite television show, reading that book, taking a nap, and perhaps losing a little bit of sleep (let’s be honest though, sleeping doesn’t really happen after kids anyway!), but you need to prioritize your time for fitness as opposed to leisure even more after kids.  Your leisure time is best (and most enjoyed) with them I would argue anyways 😊.

Multitasking is also of ultra importance with finding time.  During my steady state and endurance based rides (read: when I can actually focus on something else besides the acid in my legs!), I like to listen to a podcast, read-up on some new research/studies, download a book and have it set to auto-scroll, watch a television show/movie, etc.  Essentially, if I can do it while riding, that will save me an hour somewhere else during the day and I can “kill 2 birds with 1 stone”, win-win!

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Get Structured

Finding time is important, but what you do with that time is more important than anything.  By cutting out the “junk” rides and actually getting yourself on a structured training plan (or hiring a coach 💪) you can further maximize your return on training time invested.  I am always amazed at how much improvement can be made with only 6-8 hours of training time per week when it is utilized properly, even for the super time-crunched athlete.

Adding structure to “how” you workout makes a big difference too.  Using a turbo trainer is a huge benefit for parents since all you need to do is throw your kit on, fill your bottles, and swing your leg over the top tube.  Even better, set your bike up on it on Sunday after your ride and leave it there for the week, that way if you need to squeeze in a ride during a nap time or early/late in the day, everything is ready and waiting for you.  If you are really fortunate, you can have 1 bike on the trainer at all times, and your other bike’s tires pumped up for your outdoor rides (n+1, right?).

Prioritize

This goes along with points 1 and 2, but prioritizing and really figuring out what is important to YOU is crucial after kids.  For myself, I knew I had to continue to workout (albeit for less time) because I needed that stress-relieving outlet primarily, but cycling and staying competitive is a huge part of my being.  With that being said, my young family is by far and away priority #1 (as it should be for everyone, I would argue), but if I don’t take care of myself and my needs, I won’t be able to give them my all.  However, if staying competitive really isn’t your bag, that’s okay!  You can still cycle for enjoyment, maintain a healthy stress-outlet, and even cycle as a family (which is so awesome!), just do something to keep a smile on your face and avoid burning yourself out.

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Image: Ted.com

Find Motivation

With increased stress, decreased sleep, and your world basically changed and flipped upside down (Fresh Prince, anyone?), keeping the flame burning to train can be harder than ever.  However, there are ways to keep yourself going, and I am even more motivated to train now than I ever was before!

  • Find a support system: This can be family, friends, riding acquaintances, etc.  Someone or something (social media groups) to hold you accountable and a place where you can ask for help if needed.  Raising kids is a massive undertaking and challenge, having a safe place to turn to can make all the difference for keeping your motivation up.
    • Similar to that, ride with a group (actual or virtual).  Having other cyclists who are expecting you to be there makes it a lot easier to get yourself up and out of bed, especially after those rough nights with a fussy baby!
  • Don’t let your kids down: This is something I have used a lot when the going gets tough.  I have had plenty of days when I don’t want to ride, finish the interval, etc.  But thinking about the example I want to set for my kids keeps me going.  Do you want your “campfire stories” to be about your failures, or your successes?
  • Set challenging, but attainable goals, and track your progress: This can be as simple as losing a few pounds, increasing your FTP, riding for “x” miles per week, or as specific as completing “x” event next year.  Whatever it is, setting a goal (and maybe finding others with the same goal) is a great way to keep you moving forward.

Above all else though, enjoy and maximize your time with your new family.  Fitness will come and go, but your loved ones are always there!

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Don’t Forget The Skills

Every style of athletic performance has a different set of skills involved, but today we are here to talk about cyclocross (CX) and not CX at the professional level, but at the aspiring athlete level.  To be successful at any level of CX you need to be able to pedal a bike really hard, but also temper that pure speed with some skill.  Those skills, i.e. corners, starts, barriers, logs, run-ups, descents, take time to master, and race day isn’t the time.

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Why Are CX Skills Important?

I raced this weekend and watched the course change throughout the entire day due to weather.  I did a first inspection lap before it started raining.  I did a second inspection lap just before the heaviest of the rain.  I then raced two races immediately after the rain and one after it started drying out, so I saw a lot of changing conditions from dry and fast to wet and greasy and then back to a whole mix of conditions.  Every lap was different, but the time during inspection really pointed to some critical points on the course. There were several features that invited riders to “test” their skills, but two really stood out to me; a log hop up and over a sand pile and a 3 log “run up”.  Each lap I watched riders stumble, trip, or crash as they tried in the middle of a race to master these features by trying to ride them.  They were rideable; however, as conditions changed, the skill it took to ride them also changed and risk/benefit also changed.  For the time gained “practicing” during the race, if they made it, maybe it was 1-2 seconds faster than running them, but if they missed, it was 5-10 seconds each time or worse; injury and DNF.

Now let’s look at the number of turns on the course, some were super slippery, others were still tacky and fast.  Conservatively, let’s say there were 20 turns around a single lap of the course. If I were to lose 0.5 to 1.0 second per turn, that’s 10-20 seconds per lap, which is a tough gap to make up if you consider the longest straight section of the course was only 10-15 seconds long, making it very difficult for a pure power rider to recover lost ground from cornering.  If you are losing ground to the rider in front of you in a corner, time to practice turning!

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Learning New Skills

So now, if you consider that combination of questionable decision making about features and not understanding how to corner, it’s possible that an athlete could lose 30 seconds a lap, in sections where you aren’t even pedaling at your maximum effort!   That’s a lot of “free time” left on the course that could be recovered with some skills training!  A few recommendations I always give people when it comes to learning skills:

  1. Practice with a group.  Practicing solo invites you to work on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
  2. Laps.  And laps.  And laps…  Get to a race with time to do at least one lap slowly and one lap where you can test features at race pace and if you screw up a section, try it again!  if you screw it up during a race, try it again after the race during other warm-up times.
  3. Watch everything!!!!  Become a sponge, watch and learn from every rider on the course, both good and bad.  Watch the pros, watch the beginners, watch the kids…  You can learn from everyone.
  4. Ask questions!  CX is still one of the most welcoming disciplines to new people.  If you ask a better rider than you to give you an idea of a better way through a corner or the trick to getting over an obstacle, I am almost certain that they would oblige and probably give you more info than you ever thought you could learn about a “simple” corner.
  5. Have your coach give you specific cornering drills or get them to take you out on a course and talk you through it!

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If you have a coach, chances are, they have you doing “drills” to improve everything from your bike handling to your pedaling efficiency, but beyond that take a few minutes to learn about how course degradation, changing weather conditions, course make-up, tire pressure, wind, etc, will all have an effect on your day.  Sometimes the fastest rider is the one that is the most adaptable to changing conditions.

Finally, if you take nothing else away from this post, remember the following:

  1. If you haven’t tried it during practice, don’t try it on race day.
  2. The fastest way through a feature may not be on the bike… always remember that running is a safe option!  Better to be on foot than laying on the ground!
  3. Be adaptable and plan ahead on race day.
  4. Be a sponge, absorb everything… There is a wealth of knowledge out there when it comes to CX, but knowing when to apply it is the key to success.

See you at the races!

Why Does Cadence Matter?

Cadence is an important aspect of cycling that needs to be understood better by coaches and athletes alike.  How fast or how slow your legs spin makes a massive difference in metabolic demand as well as muscle fatigue rates over the course of a race or workout.  This post will serve to educate you on what the current literature says  in regards to why utilizing different cadences for each cycling discipline is important, how metabolic and muscular demand is effected by leg speed, and what this all means to you!  First though, let’s define what cadence means to a cyclist:

Cadence is a measure of how many revolutions per minute (RPM) a cyclist is producing whilst pedaling.  This is measured by how many times the cranks turn.

What is “Normal” Cadence?

“Normal” cadence is very subjective, but for a trained athlete you can assume they will adopt a cadence of ~90 RPM over flat to rolling terrain (1).  In my experience, most beginner level cyclists will adopt a much lower cadence of ~70 RPM due to not having the neuromuscular pathways developed that allows for rapid contraction and relaxation of muscle fibers that comes with hours and hours of pedaling.  Beginner cyclists may also utilize a lower cadence due to metabolic inefficiencies (which I will get to later).

“Normal” cadence can also differ by what discipline the athlete is competing in, and especially the terrain they are riding over.  Lucia et, al. (1) found well trained cyclists will pedal ~90 RPM during a flat to rolling stage of a race, ~95 RPM during a time trial, and ~70 RPM over a high mountain pass.

Why the Differences?

Muscles have a finite ability to contract and relax, with this ability becoming less the more intense your ride is and the longer you ride for (cramps anyone?).  So, being able to delay muscle fatigue is paramount to every cyclist.  Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to improve this, but for the sake of this blog post, we will discuss how  different cadences can effect muscle fatigue rates.

~70 RPMs

This RPM has been established to be more demanding on the muscular system, but less demanding metabolically, i.e. you can save energy spinning slower, with the caveat of possibly fatiguing your muscles quicker (3).  Perceived exertion also tends to be relatively higher at this cadence (2).  Nielsen et al. (4) also found this lower cadence leading to improved endurance in well trained cyclists, at low intensities (think RAAM).

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~90 RPMs

~90 RPMs has been established as the “normal” cadence for the trained cyclist.  Think of this as the Goldilocks cadence where the level of metabolic stress and muscle fatigue are relatively equal, and perceived exertion is comfortable (2,3).  This also tends to be a good cadence whilst sitting in a peloton as it allows you to both spin and coast with relatively ease.  However, going from 60 to 90 RPM can mean a 29% metabolic demand increase, so make sure you are fueling properly.

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~100-110 RPMs

Now we are really minimizing muscle demand, but maximizing metabolic demands.  However, you really wouldn’t use this cadence level for anything other than a shorter time trial or mountain top finish where you are really trying to squeeze everything you can out of your legs.  You will also normally be working at your threshold or slightly above in these scenarios, which will cause a massive dump of lactate and subsequent muscle acidosis (burn).  Fortunately, at these higher cadences, the muscles can act as a pump and better flush out the acidosis-causing metabolites which results in being able to go hard for longer (5).

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What Does This Mean for You?

The big takeaway here is your cadence should change based on what your goals or races are, and your build/peak phases of training should reflect it.  If you are a track sprinter, don’t spend much time doing long slow cadence slogs around threshold and if you are participating in hill climbs, minimize the short and sharp high-cadence workouts accordingly.  Remember though, this isn’t true for the general preparation and base phases…Another thing to remember is:

Power = Force x Velocity (cadence)

Force takes a long time to develop whereas velocity can be improved relatively quickly.  If you are not spending time performing cadence-specific workouts, you are literally missing half of the equation!

So, do yourself a favor this Winter and incorporate some pedaling efficiency and cadence drills during your late base and early build phases that are specific to your goals;

  • Track riders / time-trialists / short hill climbers – SPIN THOSE LEGS!
  • Stage race / road racer – Goldilocks spinning mainly, but with a little bit of both high and low cadence work to replicate what you may encounter.
  • Long time-trialists (like RAAM long), long mountain climbers – Make sure you are doing a fair amount of lower cadence work to get your body used to the strength demands and especially at a relatively lower intensity to improve your body’s ability to utilize fat as a fuel source.
References
(1) Lucia, A., Hoyos, J., & Chicharro, J. L. (2001). Preferred pedalling cadence in professional cycling. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(8), 1361-1366.
(2) Marsh, A. P., & Martin, P. E. (1998). Perceived exertion and the preferred cycling cadence. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 30(6), 942-948.
(3) Peterman, James E., “Energy Expenditure During Passive Cycling: The Effects of Leg Mass, Cadence, and Adaptation” (2011). Integrative Physiology Graduate Theses & Dissertations. Paper 4.
(4) Nielsen, J. S., Hansen, E. A., & Sj Gaard, G. (2004). Pedaling rate affects endurance performance during high-intensity cycling. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 92(1-2),
(5) HAGBERG, J. M., J. P. MULLIN, M. D. GIESE, and E. SPITZNAGEL. Effect of pedalling rate on submaximal exercise responses of competitive cyclists. J. Appl. Physiol. 51:447–451,