Saturday, January 31, 2009

Calendaring the season

It all begins with goals. As we all know, much of the success in endurance cycling resides in one’s head. Visualizing the entire season early in the year is a critical first step. This is followed by securing the dates of important events on the calendar, carefully planning second tier events and mapping out appropriate training. As a father of two young children (9 and 12) who works a full-time job with a wife who owns her own business, it is impossible for me to be successful without careful and deliberate planning.

In the late fall, when I'm pretty exhausted and ready for some rest, RUSA and UMCA publish their event calendars and I begin to build a structure for the season ahead. First, I add the dates of all of the events that are remotely possible for me to ride into my personal Google calendar. If you do not use this free web-based calendar system yet to organize your rides, you should check it out. After creating an account, you can add individual events or upload existing calendars to your profile. The software allows users to create and overlay multiple calendars simultaneously so I have one for brevets, one for training, one for family events, one for work commitments, etc. Using this function, it is easy to spot conflicts and made adjustments.

After entering all possible events, which in my case involves brevets and races within a 2-5 hour radius, I subtract those in conflict with birthdays and other family and work commitments and begin to look for patterns to optimize my training. As an ultracyclist, I will ride centuries and 200K permanents all throughout the year, but need to start working rides of longer distance and greater intensity into the plan starting in March.

For a successful riding season, a randonneur should:

1 Identify the main events and negotiate to get them onto the family calendar as early in the season as possible. What events do you want to build your season around?

2. Train in a progressively more challenging manner. What other events do you want (or need) to use to prepare for your main events?

3. Develop a careful training plan based on the principles of periodization. What training will you need to do on a regular basis to be in top physical and emotional condition for your big events?

For me this year is built around the London-Edinburgh-London (L-E-L) 1400K randonnee. Getting this onto the calendar was no simple matter. The cost and the time away from home was something that my (incredulous) wife and I needed to think through carefully. After she graciously gave me the green light, I registered and began identifying the other events and training volume that would allow me to be in peak form in late July.

Luckily for me, unlike for P-B-P, there is no formal qualification needed for L-E-L so while I will ride more than the equivalent of a full SR series, the particular events are mine to choose, so they will include sanctioned brevets, permanents, solo training rides and ultra races. Other important events in my calendar include the Connecticut River Double Century (April), the Saratoga 12-hour race (July), and two laps of the Adirondack 540 course (275 miles) in September in addition to various brevets and permanents along the way. I will repeat some this year, like the Westfield 600K and ride others for the first time (perhaps a brevet or two with Eastern PA Randonneurs). Living where I do in the Mid-Hudson Valley, we are blessed with several great options within a 1-3 hour drive.

I am also very excited to ride the new 600K brevet Doug and I are designing to follow Henry Hudson’s 1608 route from the Battery in Lower Manhattan to Waterford, NY just north of Albany and back sometime this spring. Sadly, I will be unable to join the Fleche-tones on the New England Fleche in May due to family obligations.

In all, I hope this will be my best year yet. I will ride longer and harder than ever before and I hope to achieve more than seems possible as I type this post in my warm January bed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My First (Indoor) Century


If you start this workout session you must finish it unless you experience SEVERE symptoms of fatigue, dizziness or nausea. Moderate levels of fatigue are expected and encouraged in order to insure the effectiveness of this training session.

If this workout is stopped prematurely and not completed as intended, Coach Troy will come to your house and let the air out of your tires.

So begins the Spinervals "Hardcore 100." I had not entered the 2009 cycling season with the goal of riding an indoor century. But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Temperatures have been solidly below 20 degrees in the Hudson Valley for the past two weeks with no end in sight. There have been several recent snow storms and the result is a patchwork of ice and snow covering all but the most major roads and all of this with a lovely salt glaze. I hoped to squeeze two endurance rides into the month of January and my options were running out. I needed a creative solution. If I was going to stay on track and ride a century this weekend, it looked like the studio was where I was going to ride it.

I queried an ultra marathon cycling forum to see if I could pick up some tips on indoor endurance rides from some pros. I mean, what would they do? Watch Spinervals DVDs? Old tapes of the Tour? The original Star Wars trilogy? Look at the walls? Set up a laptop and answer email? I wanted more than just the badge of honor (disgrace?) of saying that I had completed the task, I wanted to push my training forward. I heard back from several riders, one of whom was RAAM-qualified in 2008 and had just completed the Hardcore 100 the day before. That was all I needed to hear.

I called up Geoff at the Bicycle Depot to see if he could get me a copy within a few days. After checking in with his suppliers and thanking me for calling him first, Geoff explained that no one had it and that he’d need to get it directly from the manufacturer. So I went on-line and ordered a copy from a triathlon shop in Maine who got it to me in two days through UPS. Meanwhile, I busied myself with preparations. On Friday night, I set up the TV, the DVD player and a fan on a card table in the dance studio and assembled some CDs to play through Jessie’s sound system. Spinervals allows riders to mute the music track and hear only Coach Troy’s commands. It is an option I recommend taking. I ultimately chose the Putatmayo collections “Arabic Groove” and “Blues Lounge” as well as Byrne and Eno’s “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.”

I set the alarm yesterday for 6:15 so I could “roll out” (?!?) at 7:00. After eating a bowl of cereal, collecting half a dozen Clif bars and filling up four water bottles (two with Hammer Perpetuem), I headed next door. The thermometer read 8 degrees.

So what is the Hardcore 100? A collection of three-DVDs that chronicles a dozen riders lined up in a nondescript hotel conference room pedaling and sweating through a series of progressively more challenging interval sets with the charming sadist (er, trainer) Coach Troy barking commands and encouragement. He repeats his can’t-stop-once-you-start warning several times and is actually quite good at his work. There are also a few three-minute breaks during which the participants hobble over to a feed zone to refill their bottles and snarf down an energy bar or two.

So sweat and pedal I did. The kicker for me, though, was that after 5-1/2 hours of Coach Troy, I had 30 minutes to go to meet the requirements of an indoor century (6 hours) to satisfy the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association’s (UMCA) Year-Rounder Challenge, but more about that later. All told, it was a very good workout. Looking at the forecast, I don’t think it will be my last indoor century this season. As always, it’s good to have options.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Winter Trainer Blues

I woke up this morning at 5:30 a.m. to ride to work. The trouble was: 15 degrees, dark as coal and the bridge “walkway” connecting me to work was a sheet of ice. A randonneur is often faced with making difficult decisions. Decisions that the average person wouldn't even consider for a minute. It actually took me a fairly long time to convince myself that it would be OK to avoid riding down a busy state highway with an iced-over shoulder as tractor trailers careen through the darkness because cyclists DO actually die out there. Once the argument was over, I grabbed my water bottle and headed for the trainer.

I generally don’t mind riding on my trainer. I picked up a nice CycleOps Fluid 2 two years ago that’s quiet, responsive and sturdy. My old road bike is dedicated to winter riding and trainer work so I don’t blow through my fancy handmade-in-Germany tires quite so fast. My favorite trainer companion is a book called Workouts in a Binder by Hobson and Friel. The author, Dirk Friel is the son of Joe Friel, famed author of The Cyclist’s Training Bible, who follows the same general periodization philosophy that his father outlines in his work. The workouts are varied and keep me focused on counting the seconds and watching my heart rate so the time goes by pretty quickly.

There is a DVD in the Spinervals series called “The Hardcore 100” that also has my attention. I’ve never really found training videos appealing, but could I ride an indoor century? That seems like a challenge. Almost as difficult in some ways as an outdoor century once seemed, but for different reasons. There’s something so confining and claustrophobic about riding on the trainer. That may be what bugs so many roadies about moving indoors. On the other hand, what a feat of endurance to stay on the stationary bike for 5-1/2 hours!

I realize that part of why I don't mind the trainer so much is that my set-up is nicer than the average rider’s. My wife is a dance teacher and a mere 30 feet from my back door is a 600-sq. foot dance studio with a plush sound system, windows onto the great outdoors and an average temperature that generally hovers around 58 degrees between dance classes. In this environment, it’s easy to let my mind wander off into the greener pastures of spring. 

Things I like about the trainer:

  • ride in all weather conditions at all hours of the day and night
  • isolate training more precisely
  • build strength and endurance more quickly as there is less “resting”
  • takes less time out of a busy day
  • no cars or dogs!

Things I hate about the trainer:

  • I’m not riding on the road
Even under optimal conditions, indoor riding is a poor substitute for the real deal. I ache to get out and feel the road beneath my wheels and the wind whistling through the air holes on my helmet. I compulsively check the weather sites to determine where the thin slivers of opportunity might be. I develop complex childcare plans to take advantage of warm and/or dry spells. 

That said, I know that time on the trainer in January and February will bear fruit in May and June. It is more or less impossible for an (employed) endurance cyclist to get in enough time on the road during the Hudson Valley’s cold, dark and snowy winters to build an optimal base no matter how hard core he or she might be. The trainer provides a convenient way to build base miles when it is too dangerous or simply impossible to ride outdoors.

Finally, there is also the possibility for surprise. Last week, I worked out so hard on the trainer I flatted. Well, honestly, it may have been a sliver of glass picked up on a recent road ride that finally worked its way into my inner tube, but I like to think that maybe, just maybe, I was working so hard that my tire just couldn’t take it anymore. While changing the flat, I closed my eyes and pictured myself on the side of the road cursing the trucks zooming by and suddenly, it was June, I could almost smell the honeysuckle.