And so the trip has begun. Mary Lou drove me to the airport on Thursday morning. I took Air Canada flight 111 and headed over to Vancouver for a full day of meetings. I stayed at the Fairmount hotel in the Vancouver airport on Thursday night and got on an rly flight down to San Francisco on Friday morning. I arrived in Santa Rosa at around 3:00 pm, which gave me enough time to go out for a one hour ride before dinner.

I spoke with CTS coach (and overall great guy) Jim Lehman on Wednesday night and he mentioned we are planning a two hour group ride this afternoon. Having spent the better part of the last two weeks resting I want to ensure I have at least a couple of solid days of riding before the start of Tour of California on Sunday.

What my CTS coach Jason and I have discovered over the years is that I have “flat legs” after a tapering period prior to a big event. I don’t perform as well in the first few days when I ramp things back up. Being well rested also means that I can elevate my heart rate more which results in a feeling of being slightly more out of breath than usual when I ride. That sensation plays with my mind every time. I need to get this feeling out of the way before the competition starts.

But how do I know if I am fit enough and rested enough to undertake such a gruelling event as Tour of California? I leave nothing to chance: I have a great coach, I do the work and I have access all the tools I need to track my fitness. I have written a lot about the Performance Management Chart (“PMC”), a useful tool developed by Training Peaks. The PMC allows me to track my long term (42 days) training load and resulting increase in fitness (Chronic Training Load or CTL), my short term (seven days) training load (Acute Training Load or ATL) as well as how well rested I am (Training Stress Balance or TSB).

The way to get more fit is to progressively and slowly increase training load over a long period of time while making sure we have enough rest periods to allow the body to recover and adapt from the training. With Training Peaks and the PMC, we determine the training load using a power meter which calculates in watts the effort we make on the bike. Training Peaks will then attribute a score to the ride (called Training Stress Score or TSS). The TSS is a function of the average power maintained during the ride compared to the tested one hour maximum average power that I can sustain, adjusted for time. Let’s assume I can maintain 300 watts average for an hour. If I go out for an hour ride and I average 150 watts, I would get a Training Stress Score of 50 (150/300 times 1 equals 50% or 50 TSS). If I go for a three hour ride at an average of 150 watts I would get a Training Stress Score of 150 (150/300 times 3 equals 150% or 150 TSS). A two hour ride at 180 watts average would give a 120 TSS of (180/300 times 2 equals 120% or 120 TSS). Longer is not always better. A two hour ride at an average of 100 watts would be less stressful (66 TSS) than a one hour ride at an average of 240 watts (80 TSS).

The blue CTL line is a 42 day moving average of all the daily Training Stress Scores during that period. The pink ATL line is a seven day moving average of all the daily Training Stress Scores during that period. The yellow TSB bars are the ATL minus the CTL.

The PMC is a fascinating tool. It truly helps ensure a smooth increase in training load while avoiding over training. It also clearly illustrate that all rides are not created equal. As an example, although one could argue that a ride with a Training Stress Score of 50 in January was less stressful (less training load) than a ride of 65 TSS in May, the truth is that with a CTL of 37 in January that ride was more stressful than with a CTL of 73 in May. Training load is relative.

The PMC chart below shows my CTL (blue line), ATL (pink line) and TSB (yellow bars) from January 2011 to today. I have circled the 2012 training period which was my preparation for Tour of California. The pink line demonstrates that in January I started out with a seven average training load of 50.8 TSS/day. More recently, my seven day average training load was 110.1 TSS/day. In other words, I took four months to double my average weekly training load.

 Getting ready for the big event

The net impact of this training on my long term training load (blue CTL line) was an increase from about 37 TSS/day to a peak of 73.7 TSS/day. I was pretty happy to attain that peak as it is almost the same as my 2011 peak which I reached “during” the Tour of California and well above my pre 2011 Tour of California CTL peak of 62.3 TSS/day. My preparation this year has been more consistent and I was able to train harder and have a bigger training load.

That was then, this is now.

Here’s another way to view my 2012 preparation for Tour of California compared to last year’s:

Pre Tour of California Training Stats

As you can tell, this year I was able to increase my training load in TSS by 22.76% between mid January and today compared to the same period last year while only increasing training duration by 13.01%. If I would have trained at the same intensity as last year I would have needed an additional 14 hours of training to achieve 7,251 TSS. With an average of ten hours of training per week, it means I would have needed a full week and a half more to achieve the same training load. And before I forget, the table above clearly demonstrates that most cyclists’ focus on “miles or kilometers ridden” is not the right way to approach training. Although I only rode 4.6% more kilometers this year compared to last year, the increase in kJ and TSS was disproportionally higher. So there, Don’t Just Train, Train Right.

But let’s get back to being rested. As mentioned earlier, in order to gain fitness we need to increase the training load on the body. It can be said that by increasing the training load we become more fatigued. You can’t get fitter unless you start by becoming more fatigued. Although fatigue is an integral part of training, so is rest. So how do you know you are rested?

There are many physiological signs you are rested such as the ability to get a higher heart rate while training. Determining if one has recovered well from a long block of training is also when TSB comes in to play. Over a seven day period at the end of April (ATL) I averaged 104.4 TSS/day and my 42 day average was 73.7 TSS/day (CTL). I was clearly in a “fatigued period” which is highlighted by a negative TSB number of 30.7 (73.7 – 104.4 = -30.7). I was training harder then compared to the previous six week average, stressing my body and causing fatigue. Once I started my taper, my ATL fell to 53.4 TSS/day and my CTL fell to 66.5 TSS/day. My TSB went up to a positive 13.1 (66.5 – 53.4 = 13.1). In other words, over the last ten days I have, on average, trained with a lower load than over the preceding six weeks. That means I am recovery and not adding additional training load.

So I guess I should show up on the start line on Sunday being fit (high CTL) and rested (positive TSB). Stay tuned.

All that is left now is to stay hydrated, eat well and sleep. I can take that. Especially before I embark on an eight day pain fest. But just like training load is relative so is pain.