Friday, July 31, 2009

Racing - That's The Hardest This Year

"Wow, I think that was the hardest it's been here so far this year..."

I heard that just a few days ago after the races Tuesday nights at East Hartford. I forget who said it, and it wasn't even to me, it was to someone nearby, but when I heard that phrase, I realized two things really quickly.

First, I'd dropped off about 30 minutes into the race.

Second, I hadn't experienced pretty much any of the race finishes. Because if I'm off the back, I'm not around to figure out exactly how hard the race ended up.

This latter thought stopped me for a second.

See, I'd been kind of plodding along this year thinking things were going reasonably well. I mean, yeah, I have some places in races, but more importantly, I haven't gotten totally and utterly shelled in many of the summer races I've entered. The Keith Berger Crit, for example, ended up much better than I expected. Instead of getting shelled after a few laps, I managed to make it to the end.

But at Tuesdays @ The Rent, well, I only finished one race in reasonable position, i.e. not lapped.

Every other race I've been well shelled, lapped at least once, and often a spectator by the time the racers sprinted for the line. Or saw the 5 laps to go lap card.

This reminded me of something that I thought of a while back. I realized that, just like me and The Rent, Robbie McEwen, as strong a rider as he is, has never witnessed nor experienced the "hardest" part of a mountain stage in the Tour. It's simply because he's never been at the sharp end of the field when someone like, say, Lance is driving the pace 10 kilometers into a 15 kilometer climb, with just 5 kilometers left in the stage.

McEwen, for all intents and purposes, was doing what amounted to a different race altogether, one for the flat finishes, the sprints, the short and intense stuff.

Anyway, I've also realized that I haven't seen crazy heart rates for a while. Last year, at Harlem, I'd been at the limit for quite a while, into the 170s, which for me is quite high.

The primary reason I haven't seen any crazy heart rates for a while is that my SRM/Polar coded heart rate strap started to fuzz out on me this spring. I'd get spiky readings, making max heart rate kind of pointless ("Look, I hit 230 on this ride too!").

How do you fix that?

Simple, just don't use the strap.

Accordingly, I stopped wearing the strap regularly after Bethel, and after a few months of internal debating ("Do I really want to know how much I'm hurting? Cause it really hurts.."), I finally broke down and ordered another strap from SRM.

I like their service, their promptness, and I got the strap in quickly.

Of course I used it right away, downloaded the data, and looked for the telltale spikes in the red line, the ones that peak at 230 or so.

No spikes.

Ah. Much better.

Then I looked a bit closer.

The line, once I examined the red numbers along the side of the graph, seemed strangely muted, depressed, low.

It seems that in even my most difficult periods at East Hartford, at least this year, my heart rate rarely strayed from the mid-160s.

My perceived efforts were high, higher than even, say, Harlem last year, because I came off in East Hartford but not at Harlem. I mean, yeah, at Harlem I was motivated not to get shelled, but I never really drifted too far back in the field either. I patrolled the front. And my heartrate soared through the roof.

A year later, with a lower heart rate, I was exploding.

So my high effort and low heart rates were getting me nowhere.

I think things have stayed the same. Same equipment, shoes, clothing, everything.

So what's different? I don't know.

I'll have to think about this for a bit, figure out what's happening. I know I'm training less than last year (I was a "professional cyclist" last year, aka unemployed), I stopped any kind of weight lifting, and I'm using 175s instead of 170s.



Anonymous said...

Our bodies adapt to certain cadences / watts / HRs, there is an actual term for this, that I have forgotten. It can be a negative or positive. In running it is very simple to increase cadence and HR with perceived exertion going up. In cycling the cardio and muscular system can grow independent, so the limiters are not universal as in running. If your muscles are strong for middle distances, the circulation may limit training. For thinner riders, the muscles may not be strong and fail before the heart, I think this is true for sprinters but for the opposite reason and your experience may be symptomatic of this. I think the best way is to do LT work, but short 3 min with 5 min off for 5-6 sets and do it with set 4 being the point of failure, but be sure to finish the other sets after additional rest.
After a consistent 6-8 weeks, you will be stronger and the stress of LT training should allow for greater peaks in HR that you can sustain longer.

crispy said...

I've noticed my HR at a given perceived pain level will drift, too. In the weeks following hard races I will see much higher HRs for a given amount of pain, typically accompanied by higher cadences. It kinda drives me nuts.

Aki said...

I think I'll be doing some LT work then. I think the efforts described match situations where I find myself in trouble, unable to maintain an effort for a few minutes. This applies especially to the track.

One thing I want to do is to try some workouts on the track, where the environment changes little.

Finally I want to see if I can get my body to work harder than its mid 160s HR. I think a combination of spinning more and trying harder (lol) will help. We'll see Tues night.