Saturday, August 04, 2007

Training - Long Hot Ride and a Whopper of a Sprint

So this morning I rode with a long time friend and long time ago teammate. We did a somewhat standard route for this area, looping up and around a big resevoir, returning on the misnamed Poverty Hollow Road (replete with horse farms and such), and then a quick run down the fast Route 136. His goal is to prepare for a possible race coming up, a flat crit, and he wanted to gauge his fitness level and pinpoint any weak spots.

In preparation for the ride I degreased and washed my bike. The drivetrain was pretty messy and it irritated me to look down and not see gleaming chainrings. About 20 minutes of work with a bucket of water, citrus degreaser, and a car polishing spray, and voila, instant clean bike.

So satisfying.

I brought two small and one large bottle at the urging of the future missus - she knows how much I suffer in the heat, and with temps around 80 when we started, it wasn't going to be cool. The large bottle I took out of the freezer - one 32 ounce block of ice. Great for the first hour or so, then it quickly gets lukewarm like the other bottles.

We talked about a flat race's need for speed. It's critical to be able to go fast in those races since, to a certain extent, low weight and climbing fitness doesn't do much when you're trucking along at 35 mph on the flats.

We went out at a medium pace but on the first rises my friend went pretty hard. I simply couldn't follow and dropped back a bit. This happened on any rise over 100 meters long. In between the little climbs we chatted about the upcoming race and this need for speed.

I pointed out that going hard up the climbs doesn't really work on speed. It works on power and it makes you mentally tough but it doesn't really work on speed. Climbing and working hard is great but it doesn't simulate sitting in the field at high speeds.

My friend, whose schedule only allows him to ride on his own or with one other rider, asked the natural question, "Well then how do you work on speed?"

I told him to use terrain and wind to get that "sitting in" effect. In other words you go hard when the wind isn't in your face and the road is either flat or slight downhill.

I did a couple efforts to demonstrate. On a slight rise followed by a pretty fast descent I did a pull. It was a bit harder than I anticipated as the slight rise went for about 200 meters more than I remembered. But the downhill was good - we hit over 40 mph and my friend got a taste of "going fast without a field".

He stayed on my wheel but had to work unusually hard.

Shortly after I did the same thing on another section of road.

My friend, on this one, had problems staying on my wheel.

As he realized, once the pace hotted up over 32-33 mph, he found himself in difficulty.

We analyzed this, both of us being that sort of people. First we agreed that we both got from point A to point B in the same amount of time - after all, we were still riding together after 45 minutes or so. He pointed out that he climbs faster but that I was making up all the time on the flats and descents. He felt that being ahead on the climbs seemed preferable to chasing afterwards.

This is true, I countered. But the crit you're doing is flat. And in a flat crit, climbing well doesn't matter. Speed does.

He agreed.

My lack of fitness started to reveal itself around this time and although I managed to do a big uphill sprint, I was cooked for the next hour as I tried to recover and get my body temperature down a bit. My friend obliged and pulled us along for a while.

I decided to dig a bit more as I didn't want to hold him up too much. We were going up these annoying little climbs, one after another, short, irritating things. I shifted to keep my cadence pretty steady, held the tops, and grimly hung on. Except for one more effort, my heart rate was as high as it would get during the whole ride - I was really hurting. I had decided to ignore the PowerTap and work a lot harder than I thought prudent, see what happens. That's what training rides are for after all.

Of course that's when my friend eased up, dropped back next to me, and asked me if the PowerTap made me set limits simply based on the readings, without relying on instinct.

Good question, that. Remember when everyone learned about heart rate zones? You'd be on a ride and people would suddenly sit up - "I can't go harder, I have to stay in Zone 2." Or whatever Zone.

I never learned about Zones. I just rode, noted what my heart rate was, and decided I was good (or bad) depending on how my heart rate related to my speed.

Essentially my friend was asking if I had turned into one of these Zone riders.

I was a bit cooked after a lot of upper limit race pace effort but I tried to explain that the PowerTap was new enough that I didn't take its readings as gospel. I have to admit though that, on this day, every time I felt pressure, I was at 157-158 bpm. Every time I felt like I was going to blow I was at 163-164. And the three or four minutes before he eased to ask me that question, I was pegged at 170.

I tried to tell him that I've been learning about myself using this thing. Based on numbers I've seen (and heard), I figured my sprint would be anything over about 600-800 watts. I guessed that 300+ would be climbing short hills, 250+ would be any prolonged effort, and 100-150 easy/normal.

But in one race where I never jumped, I was over 1000 watts and I never even sprinted! This was a revelation for me - if I have any reserves, my sprint doesn't start till I'm over 1000 watts.

So I told my friend that, no, I don't allow it to limit me. I do note unusual readings or unexpected things (like that 1000 watt non-sprint).

We started rolling back down the fast Route 136 but I didn't have much left. I could do a short pull but nothing significant. My efforts, the rising temperatures, and my lack of long rides really started to tell. (As an aside I was having problems pulling at 400 watts.)

Just before we split up to head our separate ways we came to a favorite section of mine. Perversely it's a stretch of road next to a cemetery. It was a slight downhill (imperceptible but it has to be since I always feel good on it), it is a 30 or so mph road, and there's always some traffic.

On this day there was a little bonus - a police speed trailer.

You have to understand that I love these things. If I see one on a good stretch of road (i.e. sprintable road, sprintable direction), I'll actually sprint past it to try and get it to read over 40. And then turn around and try again. I remember one training ride where I got all of 20 minutes away from my house and then spent about 20 minutes killing myself to break 40 mph. I never did (unideal sprint conditions) but it was a really fun ride.

Anyway the light before the stretch had just turned green and I had a couple ideal leadout vehicles in mind. The first, an SUV, got going before I could get ready. The second, a full size pick up truck with sheets of plywood in the back angled like a big ramp (i.e. a perfect drafting vehicle), went by too. I hesitated, thinking the next car was just behind. But the car backed off, presented with two riders riding single file on the shoulder.

I looked, saw the car slow, and jumped about as hard as I could. I think I was in a 15, did a crazy hard effort to get to speed, double shifted into the 13, stomped on the pedals again, and then popped it into the 12. I tried but simply could not get to the pickup truck. As I approached the speed trailer I veered to the very edge of the road, trying to hit the radar beam as straight on as possible (if you hit it at an angle it reads low - tip for speeders).

I waited for the truck to go by, desperately trying to extract more speed out of the bike. The speedometer read 38 as the truck approached it. I waited... and waited. And finally the truck went by.


Arg. Crushing. Oh agonizing. I so wanted it to go the other way. I almost stopped pedaling but instead tried one more feeble dig. I had nothing left and sat up.

Well, I'll give myself this - I had been riding over two hours in temperatures from about 80 to perhaps 85-88 degrees. I was overheated enough to have some chills.

My friend and I split and I soft pedaled, trying to get my body to recover from what it perceived to be a totally stupid effort in the uncomfortably hot conditions. It screamed at me enough that I totally eased.

I fiddled with the PowerTap - I had to hit close to 1400 watts and wanted to see what I actually did. I had made a monster effort and my best sprint ever on the PowerTap was around 1480 watts. I scrolled through the menu, selected Max Watt.

1531 watts.

Woo-hoo. Or as my friend and colleague says, "Boo-yah!"

Another PowerTap revelation.

I struggled home, barely able to break 200 watts, my heart rate refusing to go over 160. My body was completely overheated, my legs exhausted.

I was totally cooked. Well done. Poke me with a fork.

But man was I happy.

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