Saturday, November 19, 2011

Training - It's Off Season Alright!

I read a very nice post the other day in Bike Forums. There's a thread on training and such, another one on miscellaneous stuff ("My Twitter Feed"), and a couple more that kind of blend in together in my head. At any rate, after some atrociously pitiful riding on the trainer, I posted something to the effect of "I could finally use something harder than the small ring 23T."

Another member replied "You must have some serious tension on that thing."

Unfortunately, I don't. And that's where this post is heading.

I've been struggling with even the lowest level of training, trying to get the legs to turn over. It feels like I'm "anti-doping" - I have close to zero energy, zero motivation. I explained earlier that I tried to set some lower expectations in 2011, and that this lack of goals led to a lack of motivation, leading to a complete lack of results.

With the help and encouragement of the Missus, I'm trying to get back on track. I've laid off a bit on the bike, fine, but I'm starting to ride it again. I even rode outside recently (it was a nice day), but my planned two hour ride lasted only a bit more than half that, my body exhausted.

It's not like I've been eating just Twinkies and Coke; I've been eating somewhat normally, some food good for me, a little bit that's not that good for me.

I admit I don't sleep enough, probably, but I'm not sleeping any less than I did a few years ago.

My training, though, feels uninspired. I'm not sure what it is, what's changed.

Sometimes I wonder, am I burnt out?

I don't think so. I love riding fast, I love diving into corners, I love the acceleration when I jump.

I think that I'm suffering from "good form withdrawal".

2010 was an absolute banner year. I had some disappointments for sure - I rarely finished a Tuesday Rent race, I had some abysmal Sunday races (especially towards the end, like Fall River), but overall I had a season to die for, at least to me. I rode well in races I normally don't finish, did well in a race with a big to me hill (New London), and did enormous amounts of work in races where I worked for teammates or, in one case, to stay out of danger.

I think I fell into a false sense of security. If nothing changed, I'd be like that for 2011, even with no goals and such. Trouble was that this, of course, isn't the case. Form comes with work, and great form is not only a function of great work, it's also a time-limited commodity - no one can maintain a peak indefinitely.

I spiraled downward in 2011, a few ill-timed illnesses really zapping me in the off season (I was fortunate in the prior 2009-2010 off season). The lower fitness meant I couldn't complete races in the spring, losing me even more training time. This led to a lot of DNFs in the late spring, making me lose even more potential fitness training.

It finished with a weak summer, DNFs all over, and even when I could finish, I had no "moments", no bits in races where I could make huge efforts and recover like it was nothing.

I never earned any form.

When I climbed back on the bike in October I wasn't thinking of doing much. Trainer rides to me consist of spinning the small ring to get started, churning the big ring once I feel warm. I so rarely use my lowest gears that I usually have to stop and adjust my derailleur when I go out to California - the first half mile climb usually forces me into my bottom gear, a 39x25, and I'd hear the derailleur pinging away at the spokes.

"Right," I think, "I haven't used that gear since... I don't remember when."

I'd climb off the bike, tighten the limit screw a bit (sometimes a lot), and it'd be good until the following year.

Well, last month I realized that the low gear (a 44x25 right now, only because the only non-worn rings I had left were a 55x44 combo meant for the tandem) was about the only gear I could turn.

I spent the whole hour turning the 44x25, and suffering doing it.

After a few rides I felt it possible to turn the 44x23.

One cog to the right.

Of course I'd clack away at the shifter, tossing the chain into a huge gear like the 19 or 17, but after 10 or 20 seconds, when my legs started to feel numb, when my breathing got uncomfortably rapid, I'd shift back into the 23.

I found myself doing mini intervals, going hard in the 17 or 19, recovering in the 23 or 25.


Yeah, it was bad. It is bad.

A few nights ago I got on the trainer. I felt pretty good and ventured into "the right range", the harder gears.

I could turn them.

I counted from the 11, incredulous.

11, 12, 13, 14, 15.... I'm in the 15? Lemme count again.

Sure enough, I could turn the 15 over, some effort, but nothing killing me like before.

I rolled along, happy with my bump in form.

I only have speed right now, my SRM harness a mess, my HR straps dead. I figure I'll fix them at some point, but right now the only thing I have is speed.

And the speed, as they say, "She is slow."

My October speeds sound like Tour mountain stage speeds, when they're climbing the early unimportant mountains.

From the middle of October:
13.6 mph
12.6 mph
13.1 mph
13.6 mph

A month later, I was a bit better:
13.8 mph

Then, Wednesday November 16th:
14.4 mph

(November 18th was 13.7 mph)

Wow. I broke 14 mph.

It's a sad triumph, truthfully. But for me it's okay. It's acceptable. I'm seeing an upward trend in speed.

I read today that Thomas Dekker will be racing with Garmin-Cervelo for 2012. He was suspended a couple years ago for blood manipulating (I can't remember if it was EPO or blood itself, but that's irrelevant). Jonathan Vaughters, a strident anti-doper, signed Dekker regardless.

Vaughters said something interesting. He said that as Dekker got stronger, his blood values shouldn't change. That's the sign of a strong racer getting fit naturally.

What Vaughters also revealed is that Garmin-Cervelo has been testing Dekker monthly for 18 months!

Now, I don't get to test my blood every month, but I know that right now I'm bad.

When I read that bit on Dekker, I realized that that's what I wanted to do:

I want to get stronger while my blood stays the same.

Vaughters was saying that good training makes the body better. It says so much in so little. It encompasses weight and FTP and power and endurance and resiliency and handling and cornering and so many things.

I know I'll never be a ProTour racer. I'm not going to earn myself a contract to earn money to race. But I'd like to be a bit more than I am now, to fulfill a bit more of my own potential.

I'm starting to think of ways to attain this goal.

I bought some more cold weather gear, in preparation for a California-less January and February. I've figured out how to recharge the headlight I bought from a local bike shop (I charged it once, used it once, then we used it when we lost power during the Halloween storm).

I even bought non-ventilated insoles, meant to help retain heat in the shoes in cold weather riding.

I have to get some work done on the bikes too. I want to send back the orange Tsunami to get the stays shortened - I still have to box the frame. I need to fix the wiring harness for the SRM, get some new batteries for the HR straps.

I have to glue some tubulars onto my Stingers.

I want to clean up my bike room a bit, maybe even paint it, do the trim (it's a very roughly finished basement room).

I want to be better than I am now.


Echelon Health Coaching said...

Love the posts, I believe in you man, put in the work and you can accomplish it! 2012 is going to be a great year!

Jeff Weaver
Holistic Health coach

Anonymous said...

Try mixing it up a bit and incorporate some different activities this winter. (Gym, swim, hike an incline, run, xc-ski, yoga...) Keeping the legs supple on the trainer and rollers is important, but just riding indoors will sap the energy out of anyone all winter. There's more to life than just playing one note.

Anonymous said...

for your trainer sessions, do you ride your race bike, or do you put on a "trainer" bike?

Aki said...

I ride my road bike as is, except I change the rear skewer to the trainer skewer. I usually leave the trainer skewer on one of my two training rear wheels so I just put that wheel on.

I don't use any particular rear tire - I use whatever I train on when I ride outside.

shovelhd said...

Do you do any structured work on the trainer? Do you have a coach, or follow a training plan? I can't stand riding the trainer without clear objectives, with a plan that has specific workouts and built-in rest weeks. On the weekends I do mostly group rides at whatever length and intensity is prescribed. I also do weight work in the gym.

We need to get you down to the CCNS base rides. You'll be able to hang with the group and work as hard as you want to. Group rides are great for the mind, especially base rides with good people.

Aki said...

No structure, other than perceived muscle tension (strain). I find that when I'm on the trainer I have a more complete pedal stroke, i.e. I focus a bit more on pulling up and forward (the "pull back" part never works well for me).

My goal is to move up the gears as I feel comfortable, mainly through riding a "comfortable" gear then playing a bit with a "harder" gear. For example, today, I rolled along at about 14 mph most of the time, with a bit of tension-inducing 17.5-18 mph.

I have to service my SRM stuff so I have power, cadence, and HR (by servicing harness/battery, harness/battery, and HR strap respectively). This will give me more data.

I agree on base rides. There are some things happening that have taken away the next few free days (Wed/Sun) but I hope to be able to do some riding outside with others soon.

Aki said...

I forgot to respond to that first anon post, about mixing it up. I tried that for many years, trying different things, but for literally decades I've been fine doing the trainer. I even ride the trainer somewhat regularly in the warmer months, due to bugs, pollen, or plain laziness.

At work I do some pretty regular labor type work. Yes, I type on the computer, but I also move stuff around manually - on the busy days I like to count poundage and tonnage. Lifting and moving 1000 lbs is kind of light, 2000 lbs is semi-normal (although a lot if it's in 5 minutes), and anything over 4000-5000 lbs is a lot. So although I may not go to the gym I am getting some "cross-training" in. I even jog outside for some regular 25 yard long trips to different parts of the workplace.