Thursday, October 06, 2011

Training - What To Do In The Winter?

So with the 2011 over for me, what can I do about 2012?

Well, there's a lot.

Now, if I were a relatively inexperienced racer, I'd really focus on getting into the whole scene. I learned the most from a select few individuals, hanging out with them after work, talking about bikes (this long before internet or chats - if you wanted to talk to someone, you either grabbed a landline phone or you met with them in person).

The biggest shortfall I had in the first five or six years as a racer was my inability to ride comfortably in a group. That may surprise a few folks out there because nowadays I feel at home in a group pretty much instantly. Back then, though, it took literally weeks or months of riding and racing before I felt like I was "in the groove".

The first couple years it never did, but by the third year I'd gotten that feeling of "wow, I know how to dive into that turn in the middle of the group!" by the time July or August rolled around.

The next year I had that epiphany again, and the following year I started looking for it.

A few years later it showed up in May, perhaps the year after in April.

Then one miraculous year I threw my leg over my bike in February, rolled out with the group, and immediately started playing chicken with the rear wheel in front of me, diving into the turns marking the start of the Shartkozawa Classic.

I'd arrived.

So if I were a new rider, what would I do?

If there's any way you can hang out with other racers that would really help. Group rides are key, not just for learning how to ride in a group but for the wisdom the veterans unknowingly pass on to their less experienced peers.

Okay, sometimes they know they're handing out a trick or tip ("Try a higher gear and reduce your cadence a bit, it'll allow you to respond to attacks better"), sometimes they jam it down your throat ("Dude, shift up or you'll get shelled when everyone goes for the town line!"), but sometimes it's just casual or accidental ("Try the 53x15 instead of the 21").

A lot of winter group rides are mellow, slower, more double-paceline-and-talk kind of rides, with a couple jumps thrown in for good measure. Even harder group rides will start and finish with a chat-time kind of thing, where guys catch up with the latest gossip, check out whatever new carbon part someone has on their bike, etc.

These kind of non-competitive periods can unearth a lot of gems, produce motivation, and foster friendships that can last decades.

Friendship and camaraderie can help direct your next season. It makes it much easier to go to a race if you have a car pool friend, a friendly face in the pack. Training with such a rider can motivate you to work on stuff you don't work on, or push you to new limits.

I know that training with John prior to our brief trip to Belgium was really eye opening for me. I learned I could ride for 5 or 6 hours and actually go really hard at the end of the ride. I also learned I could withstand some serious hours on the bike without collapsing.

Friendships or just allies, your winter training partner/s may be able to act as a buffer in your forgetful moments, like when you're at your first race in 2012 and you realize you forgot your pump or helmet or front wheel or something.

It also helps in that you can integrate with others formally, maybe join a club. You can ride tactically with a friend in a race, even if you have different jerseys on, but it's much more fun to race together on the same team. I know I've offered and received help from friendly non-teammates over the years, sometimes quite substantial efforts. As rewarding as those moments might have been, they're much more satisfying when it's all teammates working together.

The worst thing you can do is to train solo over the winter, at least as a new racer. You'll be very strong but you won't know how to direct that strength in an actual race.

For more experienced racers, the winter is a bit different.

I count myself as one of those more experienced riders (I think I can, with 2012 being my... get this ... 30th season of racing!!). For those with a few less years of racing, the acid test is if you can dive confidently into a turn in a packed crit within 30 seconds of the first race of the season... if the answer is yes, you're experienced.

If that's the case, riding solo can actually help quite a bit, especially for those of you fortunate enough to be strong on the bike. I know my best years came after a long winter of discontent, of pushing, of worrying, of thinking I wasn't doing enough. I came out of those winters with a huge base, a huge foundation - I could race and train and race and train and I just kept building and building.

For me it was like eating a great diet. By itself it didn't do much, no bursts of energy, no super quick muscle recovery, just good solid nutrition.

Then, when I started demanding more from my body, it had the reserves, the supplies, the foundation to respond.

Not really scientific, my training, not by any means, but it worked. Would it have been better if I'd trained scientifically?

I don't think so, at least not for me.

I can't push hard, not in training, not for long, so the pressure of having to go harder because the computer is telling me to go harder... that's not good for me.

My worst winter was one where I spent endless time on the wind trainer, doing intervals, pushing as hard as I could. I learned to hate 20 minute efforts, completing only a handful I ever started. I hated 60 second intervals almost as much, giving up after getting just a few done.

I tried to jam more training into less time; what I got was a weak foundation, lots of sugary power, but nothing of substance. When I needed more it never happened. My body, build on Cracker Jacks and chocolate, collapsed when I tried to push up a level.

No matter how you train over the winter, you can always work on a few things - technical stuff, stuff that is 100% technique and 0% training.

For me, that's always fun (and sometimes a bit adventurous).

I want to learn how to bunny hop higher. I watched my first cross race since about 1990 or so - amazing bunny hops, they really impressed me. On a related but separate note I'd like to learn how to do a wheelie on a road bike. I haven't managed either in all the winters I've tried these, partially due to fear, partially due to not knowing how to do it.

I also want to work on a few more basic things. One is cornering better - cornering is the key to safe riding as well as fast descending.

People think I descend well, but I really don't - I descend well because I'm cornering better than they corner. Yet I figure I'm cornering at about 70% of what I should be able to do; this means I lose a LOT of distance in turns and such. Descents with turns really emphasize cornering skills; most crits really let you get away with poor to mediocre cornering. Like I said before, I consider myself decent at cornering but not good. I want to fix that.

I also want to learn to optimize my braking - my new-to-me driveway isn't flat so I haven't been doing "stoppies", where I come to a stop with back wheel in the air.

In the old house I had a short downhill leading to a flat driveway, meaning I'd arrive in the driveway going 20-25 mph. I'd hit the brakes hard, intentionally focusing more on the front one (because that's the one that stops you most).

At some point I'd lift the rear wheel off the ground, making the front brake (and the front wheel) my only connection to controlling the bike. By using the front brake and weight transfer I'd life the rear wheel about 10-15 feet from the garage door - then try and stop an inch or so from the door, or tap it lightly if I felt adventurous.

I did that at the end of pretty much every ride I did for about 15 years, until about 2005. Now, with no "built in" practice like that, I feel a bit uncomfortable doing stoppies the few times I've done them this summer. this lack of practice/drills/etc hurt my confidence on the bike. To fix it I need to ramp up my skill drills.

Of course there's also the bicycle aspect of racing. Every year my equipment starts fresh, clean, well adjusted, everything just so. As the summer wears on the bike also deteriorates. Bearing start to wear, drive train stuff, things get dirty.

Over the past few years I've let a lot of stuff go. My orange Tsunami is waiting patiently to go back to its creator, an appointment to shorten up the chainstays outstanding. I never rebuilt that Tsunami after building up the black one. In 2012 I'd like to have two operating bikes, a primary and a spare.

My SRM situation is a bit lean too. I have one working spider (cranks or the PowerMeter), one working head (PowerControl V, or PCV); I own another spider and another head, both with dead batteries. Ideally the second set would be working and installed in the second Tsunami. I have to make this happen.

For this winter my main equipment experiment will be with bars - I really want to try the FSA Compacts, see how they match up with my sprinting style. If they work it'll be great, it'll really open up bar options to me. I think they have slightly shorter reach too, so I can play a bit with more or less weight on the front wheel (based on having my weight more or less forward).

I also need to glue new tires onto my trusty HED Stinger6 race wheels. I finally wore through the rear tire, flatting it at the last race of the year. The front is okay but showing some age. I figure that it'll be a good track tire, if I ever return to the track, so I'll remove and save it. I have some new, slightly wider 23mm Bontrager tubular tires (6 of them actually) waiting for the Stingers, so I'll be gluing up some tires over this winter. I have no idea how these tires will work so it should be interesting.

Finally, with a team that's close by, I want to see if I can get in some fun group rides. Although not as much a fan of night riding as before (at least not in this area), Expo does some evening (and rapidly becoming night) rides on the rail trails. I hope to catch some of them, to glean knowledge from others and to share what I can with them. It helps, too, to build camaraderie, as I mentioned before.

And, of course, it'll help me build a solid base, one that stays solid even when I start piling on stress, miles, and ask it to do even more than ever. That kind of steady state, all winter riding really put me into the best shape of my life. Even if I don't reach that peak again, I'd like to do better than I did in 2011.

Therefore it's what I have to do.


Mike said...

Thanks for the great post. As a new rider I purchased some rollers as I have read that they do more for your riding than a trainer. I'll also try to get out this winter to do some group rides, I typically ride by myself.

Anonymous said...

Aki, you know about this trainer?

Aki said...

I do. I think the pivot point for the bike, when standing, is higher than the tires or even where the resistance unit is located; it's up closer to the BB, maybe just below it.

I understand that the tire can only pivot on the tires, since the tires are on the ground, but since the tires steer side to side, the effective pivot point of the rider/bike unit is not the tire contact points, not when you look at a movie where the rider's body is still but the bike is moving around under.

On a trainer it's better to keep the body more stationary.

This is why the tires actually steer on the road - check out the guy when he's climbing, he's steering left and right a touch. Tire tracks also reveal this - no one climbs out of the saddle and leaves a straight tire track.

I'd like to try and make something that replicates that "BB-pivot" concept.