Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How To - why the long base miles?

For those of you who know me and the type of racing I do, it would seem incongruous for me to go do my long "training camps" in January and February. For the last few years, I've done just that though. In January I fly down to Gainesville, FL, and in February I fly over to San Diego, CA. I typically do a bunch of shorter 3 hour rides and sprinkle in some longer rides, say 5 or 6 hours long. All this for a not-so-serious, way past his prime, ultra low VO2 max, Category 3 bike racer.

So why do these camps with the long, drawn out days?

Well one part is simply having some fun. To wit: I went to the free Mazda Rev-it-up autocross day. One year they let you drive with a driving instructor in the then-new RX-8. My instructor was some kind of pro-driver. It's sort of like going on a ride with, say, Christian Vandevelde. Maybe not the best in the world but certainly able to ride with the big boys. When I got in the RX-8, I politely (probably with a big sh-eating grin plastered on my face) asked how he was doing.

"Livin' the motorsport dream."

Hard to top that.

So when I'm in Florida or California, that's part of it. Living the bike racing dream. It's nice to ride without having to worry about work, commuting, things like that. Life becomes quite elemental. Wake up. See how fatigued one's legs feel. Eat. See if eating helps the system. Flush out said system. Figure out route and ride goals. Ride. Shower. Eat. Relax a bit. Eat more. Maybe do laundry (bike gear) in that eat/relax time.

Florida is like that but the eating is mainly done out since I stay in a hotel. Also I go with someone so my schedule is somewhat determined by the fact that he rents the car! In California I have some deadlines - I need to be back by about 5-ish so I try and get out by 11. And I try to do things like cook or do dishes or something since I stay at friends'.

So that's one part of doing these training camps.

Another part is, well, training. Lemond had a few ideas on training which I can recall. I thought his ideas were pretty radical at the time but they agreed with what I believed and did so it was easy to accept them.

1. He pointed out that LSD riding didn't mean riding in a small gear. Back then, LSD was the "winter" type of riding everyone did. Francesco Moser came to Florida to train and twiddled around in a 42x18 for hundreds of miles. Lemond didn't agree with that. Most articles on "what LSD really means" correctly stated that the "S" emphasized "Steady" instead of "Slow". So LSD was "Long, Steady Distance". Lemond went a step further. He said that "Steady" could mean "Pretty Fast" if you're fit. For Lemond, an easy ride was rolling around in a 53x15. When he stated this, that was my Junior gear limit (my biggest gear!).

2. Lemond also pointed out that short burst efforts can be done at any time as long as the legs were warm (warm to reduce risk of injury to tendons). He specifically said doing sprint type workouts all year should be fine. He recommended doing this twice a week max. I think his definition of a sprint was a jump to speed in a big gear or up to 60 seconds of all out effort.

3. I believe he did not endorse doing longer efforts in the off season. For example he didn't say you should go and climb super hard in the off season. In fact the article was written in conjunction with a "sidebar" covering a LeMond training camp. In that particular camp there were riders who just couldn't restrain themselves and attacked everyone, Lemond included. There was one big climb where one guy managed to distance even Lemond. As the article pointed out, we didn't read much about that February champion, but Lemond, well we read all about him in July.

4. The final thing Lemond pointed out is that he has plenty of base miles - at that time it must have been 10 or 15 years of base miles. So he didn't feel the need to do the long rides which most people do during the winter.

I've been criticized for riding too far for my 20 or 30 mile races. I agree that riding too much doesn't do you any good - I spent my first year as a Senior doing insane miles - sometimes 500 or 600 miles a week. My results - I finished only one of about fifty races and struggled with burnout the whole season. So, yes, long miles all the time are not necessarily productive.

Finally, there's the skill part. Long rides accomplish things even for those who don't, say, race 200 km at a time, and there are substantial benefits in doing those long rides and they have nothing to do with fitness.

1. After 3-4-5+ hours on the bike, you learn to be super efficient, smooth, how to sit on the bike in different ways, etc. Short rides let you get away with all sorts of inefficiencies, but after a few hours, you learn you really shouldn't churn a gear at 40 rpm or that standing and spinning at 110 rpm up hills doesn't work that well. This translates to more efficient riding for, say, 25 miles.

2. You learn which gear works best - shorts, gloves, bars, tape, shoes, pedals, etc. Shorts that seem fine for 30 minutes might rub you raw in two hours. That beautiful shoe might rub a hole in your Achilles after a few hours. And those really cool gloves... not so cool when you can't feel your fingers anymore.

3. You learn how your body's energy and hydration levels go down and up when you eat (sugar or protein), drink (sugar or plain water, caffeine or no caffeine), or don't eat or drink. When you consume some sugar product, your energy drops for a few minutes, returns to "normal" for a while, then starts to wane. More substantial food may take longer to kick in but offer a steadier energy level.

4. When you exhaust your preferred way of approaching "ride features" (wind, hills, pothole, etc) due to being really tired, you learn other ways of approaching the same thing. I used to climb seated most of the time after experimenting and finding I could hang on longer seated rather than standing. Towards the end of a grueling many-hour ride and desperately trying to hang on to my riding partner, I started standing and flicking the bike a bit side to side. I ended up waiting for my riding partner on the hills by the end of the ride.

5. You start doing things on autopilot when fatigued and it becomes second nature. Some are performance oriented (shifting smoothly, pedaling smoothly) and some are technically oriented (efficiently bunny hopping a pothole without cramping your legs doing it, recovering without thinking when front tire washes out on sand, avoiding that car swerving across your path, doing a trackstand at a light).

6. You notice the most minor position changes and how it affects your riding. Your newly found "great seat position" actually causes your crotch to go numb. Or that tilted down saddle (have you *ever* seen a pro with a tilted down saddle? Well there's a reason you haven't)... you wonder why your hands are so uncomfortable?

7. Eventually, if you allow yourself to learn from both your long rides as well as watching those more experienced than yourself, you develop a fluency on the bike unobtainable any other way. Other riders describe you as "smooth" or "fluent". Or simply "He's a good wheel to follow."

8. This learning ultimately has to be done outside on the road. Super efficient trainer (or roller) workouts only mean you are optimizing yourself for trainer or roller competition. Riding the mountain bike, while offering certain skill training, does not arm a rider for optimal road riding. Look at former World Champion mountain biker Michael Rasmussen. Have you ever seen a worse descender?

Riding outside is important since I spend most of my riding time indoors, even during the season. As soon as I go outside I experience all sorts of sore muscles as my bike becomes free to move around, I can do downhill tucks, throw the bike for imaginary lines, and corner like a madman.

Most experienced riders think of the above mentioned habits as second nature but for new riders, long rides go a long way towards forcing the rider to become smoother and more efficient. The winter is a great time to get riders used to new gear and work on this type of riding for all levels of riders.

So, although my longest race is probably 25 miles long (I normally don't do road races), my training rides in Jan and Feb sometimes extend to 4-5-6+ hours and many of them are at least 3 hours long. I seem to relearn a lot about cycling on those rides.

And in the middle of those rides, yes, I do sprint after the occasional car or truck.

1 comment:

Gargamel said...

forgot my favorite benefit from long miles, all the weight you can potentially lose. Good write up.