I received a lot of comments on my last post detailing my 2014 training calendar leading up to my main events: the Haute Route Dolomites and Haute Route Alps next August. The first set of questions I received had to do with the impact a large amount of training has on my personal and professional life: “What does your wife think of all this? Where do you find the time to get ready for something like this? Do you ever see your six kids? Does that leave you enough time to run your business? “What do you do if you get sick or need to travel for business?” I will address those in a subsequent post. Or better yet, maybe I will ask my wife Mary Lou to address this part of my cycling career, after all, I am a risk taker….
The second type of questions I received had more to do with the training itself: “How can you handle so much training? How do you stay on track? You live in Canada, do you actually train inside five months a year? Don’t you ever get bored? How do you stay motivated?” I will try to provide some insight into how I do it. That being said, I am sure there are many cyclists who have a lifestyle similar to mine and who do quite well getting ready for cycling goals similar to mine. But I guess most of them don’t write a blog so I will take it upon myself to share “our” experience.
In my last post I wrote about the importance of having a plan, finding a way to measure progress and being accountable to someone. One of my readers sent me a note about wanting to join me for the two weeks of riding across the Dolomites and the Alps next August but mentioned that he was already a bit psyched out as he was mainly focusing on the end goal and all he could see was the enormity of the task at hand.
I find that most of my cycling buddies who “wish they could do what I do” feel the same way my reader feels. They focus too much on the enormity of the goal and commitment required to achieve that goal as opposed to breaking down the journey into a multitude of small steps. Too many of my buddies get discouraged before starting the journey or don’t meet their goals once they embark on the journey. As someone once said: “The longest journey begins with a single step”. I took that first step myself yesterday.
Progressing as an amateur athlete in order to reach significant cycling goals requires commitment and planning. That’s no different than what is required to have a successful marriage, family life and professional career. In order to keep progressing you need to set increasingly bigger yearly goals before you start your training season and you have to come up with the right plan to acheive your goals.
If you establish your cycling goals well before you are expected to meet them and if you have a clear training plan which you know will get you ready for your main event, it is easier to determine when training gets off track and to take action to regain control. A useful training plan requires specific goals though. Without very specific goals, it is difficult to assess whether you are on track, making progress and getting any closer to achieving whatever it is you wish to achieve. I personally have very specific cycling goals twelve months a year: I have big yearly goals, monthly goals, weekly goals, daily goals and even minute by minute goals – even 30 seconds goals – during most rides. These macro and micro goals form the basis of my overall yearly plan. They are all individual steps to be taken one at a time. And each and every goal is very specific and measurable.
Here’s an example of what I mean about having specific goals. Yesterday I went to the gym and rode my bike on an Elite compu-trainer and I rode up Mont-Ventoux. (I know Mont-Ventoux is not technically part of the Alps and it certainly is not part of the Dolomites but one can never be too cautious.) Goal number 1 was to get out of bed and go to the gym: checked. Goal number two was to climb up Mont Ventoux: checked.
Most people would view these goals as noble and be happy to have achieved them. Not me. As mentioned above, I need specific training goals, not only long-term specific goals but also short-term specific goals. I need a plan, I need a long-term plan and I need lots of short-term plans. I need a way to determined if I “passed or failed’ each and everyone of my workouts. Going to the gym to ride my bike for an hour and a half going up Mont-Ventoux is not a plan (OK, maybe it is, but actually it is not a very meaningful one on its own), it will do nothing to help me measure success and it won’t do much for accountability as “getting on the bike” should never be unto itself an achievement. That’s what I’m supposed to do, remember? Getting on the bike and riding is a given. I don’t get to write “Passed the workout” in my book just because I got out of bed and rode my bike.
So what was my specific plan yesterday if not to just ride up Mont-ventoux? My specific plan yesterday was, while riding Ventoux, to do ten minute Tempo intervals at a low cadence of about 65 RPM with five minute recovery between intervals. Tempo intervals are intervals that are done at about 85% (currently about 263 watts) of my maximum 20 minute power. I designed the workout myself. What about accountability then? Yesterday I was only accountable to myself and not my coach. Why? Because it is still early in the season. I don’t need the extra mental stress of being accountable to someone else. That will come soon enough. I am still enjoying the freedom of designing my own workouts for a few more weeks. That being said, of course my coach and I talk about the types of workouts I should be doing now and he gives me a general direction. My workouts will become more specific and be designed by my coach only after the new year.
So why did I chose low cadence for yesterday’s training? To develop cycling specific strength. The high muscle tension during the intervals assists in the recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibers, which are important during intense efforts. This also helps increase pedal resistance and strengthens leg muscles. The pedal resistance and readies the connective tissues and supporting muscle groups before training heads into more intense workouts later in the season.
Why Tempo intervals? Two reasons: they are just at the right intensity for someone who wishes to resume structured training and they are the workout of choice on which all the other more intense workouts next year will sit on. Training means training the body but it also means training the mind. After having taken things easy for almost two months as I recovered from my 2013 season, it would have been unnecessarily hard on the mind (and the body) to start structured training with flat out power interval type efforts. That being said, it is now time to get back into the habit of having discomfort while training, both mentally and physically. Tempo intervals are great to remind you yourself that training is serious business but they are not too hard that you find yourself not wanting to do them.
Tempo intervals also have the following physiological benefits:
- Better fuel utilization during long races or rides.
- Increased capacity for more intense workouts.
- Better power at moderate intensities.
- Increased muscle glycogen storage capacity.
- Improved free fatty acid oxidation, which spares muscle glycogen.
- Increased mitochondrial development, structures within the muscle cells that produce energy.
- Improved aerobic efficiency.
This is what the climb up Mont-Ventoux looks like (yellow is power, green is cadence):
This is what the interval itself looks like:
Conclusion: I “passed the workout”. I met all of my specific goals of duration, power and cadence. I also met my secondary (but very key) goal which was to start strengthening my mind. The journey has begun, I have taken the first step, the recovery period is over, the partying is over. Game on. And for those who read my last post in which I wrote about the importance of being able to measure progress you will notice that I have started to build hard concrete data that I will use throughout the next training season to gauge my progress.
My ultimate goals for next year are to be competitive during the Haute Route Dolomites and to complete the Haute Route Alps with (relative) ease. Everything I do between now and then is designed to help me achieve those goals. Having set very big and specific goals which I know I can (and will) achieve (if I stay focused over the next few months) goes a long way in giving me the motivation to complete each and every workout I have planned, no matter how long and/or painful (or boring!). Fifteen minutes of VO2max effort in my basement four times a week? Bring it on, it will make make me faster on the climbs. Sixteen hours of training inside in four days? Bring it on, it will provide me with a huge aerobic engine that will carry me through every mile of that Stelvio climb.
Needless to say, sticking to the plan requires commitment. No one can tell you what is important in your life and what your priorities should be – that is your decision. But becoming a succesful amateur cyclist requires the same commitment to excellence as one makes to becoming a succesful business person, parent or spouse. There is no way to achieve a high level of excellence without a high level of commitment. The greater your commitment, the more your life will focus on achieving success. Commitment means you can’t say “I’ll just skip this one workout” or “I don’t feel like doing Power Intervals today so I will do a recovery ride instead.” Commitment means taking each and every step of the journey, one by one. Ticking them off the list, one by one.
The more specific your goals, the better they are at directing training positively. Broad, general goals are not reliable in directing training. Many times long-term, far-off goals or vague goals do not focus enough energy on the present.
Here are a couple more examples. They are from the early part of my 2012 training season when I was focusing on boosting my power back up which requires a lot of VO2max training. I had to complete six sessions of intense training in two weeks. Each session consisted of fifteen 30 seconds max effort, high cadence intervals with 30 seconds recovery between effort each effort.
This is what the first session on February 13th, 2012 looked like:
Here’s what the third session – February 17th – looked like:
The main reason for the increase of 17 watts (or 6%) in normalized power in only three days was a better focus on each interval instead of the overall session. In the second session I focused on maintaining 500 watts per 30 second interval for as many intervals as possible (I actually was not that succesful but I tried) and during each interval I focused on my coach’s recommendation: “Attack each interval like it is your last one.” So there you go, in order to get ready for my dream goal in August I needed to be able to set and focus on micro 30 seconds goals in February.
It’s important to have micro goals. They create focus for each ride or week of riding. These micro goals create a common thread that tie together daily workouts and mid-term goals. They provide a daily link to my dream goals.
Here’s another example of how I broke up my long 2012 journey into individual steps. At one point, I had to do a three and a half hour ride inside. Riding inside for such a long period of time could unto itself be a goal for most people. For me however, having done this a number of times already, “doing the workout itself” was unto itself goal for me. I needed something more specific. So I decided to break up the ride into smaller chunks each with their individual more specific goals. “Riding inside for three hours” is too vague. So for hour one, I set the goal of maintaining 215 watts + and throwing in a few five minutes efforts at 265 watts. Here is the result:
This first hour served as the foundation for the entire ride. The result was a two hour average power of 212 watts (being my sixth best performance ever for that duration at that time) and a three hour average power of 201 watts (being my fifth best performance ever for that duration at that time). Without specific micro goals it would have been easy to just have a sub-prime workout. “Just get it done” or “just turn the pedals,” ain’t gonna cut it. Once I set my goals there was no way I was going to fail, hence the high quality workout.
Dream goals, or ultimate goals are designed to push the limits of possibility. Dream goals are a great motivating factor as your body and mind begin to enter peak conditioning to achieve new heights of excellence. You need to nurture your motivation through the dream goals that you create. Dream goals are goals that are long shots, but possible if everything falls into place. These goals can help you through tough times and also serve as food for fantasy on long rides. Here’s the list of my recent yearly dream goals:
September 2006: ride 110 kilometers from my house in the city to my house in the country.
October 2007: participate in a four day CTS climbing camp in North Carolina.
November 2008: participate in a four CTS endurance camp in Tucson, Arizona and complete the 180 kilometer El Tour de Tucson bike race.
July 2009: complete the one day 172 kilometers Etape du Tour from Montelimar to the top of Mont Ventoux.
May 2010: participate in the Tour of the Gila four day stage race.
May 2011: participate in the Tour of California CTS Race Experience eight day stage event.
2012: participate in two multi-day pro-like stage races (Tour of California and USA Pro Cycling Challenge CTS Race Experience), win stage 3 of USA Pro Cycling Challenge, KOM its two climbs and complete one stage of Tour de France.
2013: participate in the Haute Route Alps.
Imagine, I started out training a whole year in 2006 just to be able to complete my first 100+ kilometer ride. Today, I regularly ride 100 kilometers in my basement on my trainer. I can do a large block of aerobic training which will include riding inside four days in a row.
So be it my 2006 to 2013 journey, my January to August 2013 journey or the five hour “in your basement training ride” journey, they all start the same way: “With a single step.” So please start dreaming BIG, set dream goals – in life, cycling, family, marriage – and take that first step.