Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 8
On Wednesday in Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 7, I talked about another near brush with cratering along with what I did and what pattern I had sussed out regarding my training. With that little situation out of the way I had about 5 weeks to finish preparation for the Texas Road Rash, one of my primary races on this year’s schedule.
But I had a couple of problems in returning to my training prep for that race. On the one hand I was still dealing with trying to juggle training on both skates and the bike without much resolution on how best to handle things. Going forwards I had decided on only 4 days of training, three doubled up days and the longer Sunday ride (either as a group or by myself). I hoped that the extra day of recovery would at least solve part of the problem.
Babbling about the Slideboard
During my short break I had also inserted a slideboard workout instead of my normal inline workout. I noticed two things. The first was that switching back and forth did NOT in fact cause the soreness that I had been worried about. To be honest, this wasn’t something I had ever tested, my coach had simply noted that returning to the slideboard (which is different than actual skating because of how you glide on the thing) after long periods off tended to cause soreness and I had taken him at his word and avoided switching back and forth.
The second was that I could easily slideboard at a much lower heart rate than outdoors, I could get into the 130′s as opposed to the 150′s outdoors. It still took something out of my legs, just as a function of being weight bearing but the overall stress was definitely lower compared to being outdoors. It also just didn’t require the same level of concentration as skating outdoors. The movement patterns are automated and I don’t have to think about traffic or road conditions or the other endless stuff I deal with outdoors. I can just listen to music or watch tv and zone out.
And if you’re wondering why not just skate at 130′s heart rate well…it’s basically impossible to do. This is hard to explain without writing another series about the peculiarities of speed skating but it’s basically impossible to do low heart rate (or low lactate) speed skating without doing everything wrong. Somehow, the slideboard gets around this.
This gave me another training option in at least two ways. First, when Austin weather goes south (we’re still in the occasionally cold and/or rainy period) I can simply slideboard. Sure it’s boring but it’s better than not training. Perhaps more importantly, it gave me the idea of possibly combining outdoor skating and the slideboard during the remainder of the 2011 season.
Again, yes boring comparatively speaking but it would allow me to control or at least modify the intensity of my training going forwards until I got the balance of skate and bike training correct. This was especially important since, looking at my skating calendar…well, let’s just say that bike racing would have to be a big part of my competition/training and such.
The Ronde Von Manda
Which brings me in a roundabout way to the Ronde Von Manda. It was the last bike race I had pencilled in and, having missed the two other road races while I rested, I was intent on going. It was three weeks before the Road Rash and if nothing else, it would get me in a pack, get me introduced to road racing and give me some idea of where my conditioning was. I signed up for the Cat 5 (Category 5: the newbiest of noob cycling levels) although they’d actually race the Cat 4/5 together. The race was a 38 mile 3 lap race around a more or less square course out in the Manor area of Texas.
Since that was at least a short-term goal (I wanted to get an honest evaluation of my training) I put the Vo2/threshold block I had planned on hold to keep my legs from being totally dead. I just kept skating and riding trying to balance my need to prepare for the Texas Road Rash with the bike race.
I even inserted a short 5-day taper (giving me more rest) going into the race with my last hard bike workout the Tuesday night before the Sunday morning race. I skipped my skate the day before and did a short bike ride. I woke up that Sunday to a cold and windy day; the weather report had not called for this at all. Drove out to the course, got my race stuff (numbers, safety pins) warmed up, lined up and then…..got completely and utterly shellacked.
Actually, to say that I got shellacked is disingenuous; it suggests I was actually in the race which couldn’t be further from the truth. We rolled off the start (I was nearer the back since I’m still not super comfortable in a pack), I got dropped up the first climb and that was the end of that. Once I was out of the pack and out of wind shelter, I had no way to catch up. I watched the pack pull away and there was nothing I could do about it.
And what was meant to be a race turned into a rather unpleasant 2 hour ride/workout (average heart rate around 160 as I recall) around the bland Manda countryside by myself. It did tell me that my aerobic conditioning was good (as I’d expect) my lap times were remarkably consistent across the length of the event which is something I suppose. I eventually caught one or two other cyclists but that was it.
Honestly, I wanted to stop the whole time but ground my way through it. I was having a shitty time in the cold and wind but quitting would have made me feel worse. I’d only DNF’ed one race in 20 years (I actually never started) and I wasn’t about to set a precedent now.
It was exhausting and demoralizing and I didn’t have any fun at all. Not that competition is meant to be ‘fun’ necessarily but this was just an awful experience from start to finish. It reminded me of the years in SLC where I’d wake up in the dark and cold to go have a miserable racing experience and question why I was putting myself through all of this. At least the races in SLC were short. This was just two hours of suck.
As noted I was not only flat out exhausted but completely demoralized by the experience. I spent the rest of that day and the following Monday recovering and wallowing. I couldn’t figure it out. My ‘on-paper’ power to weight numbers suggested far more potential than I had shown and my experiences doing inline the previous year really had me questioning what in the hell had happened. I mean here I was about to sign up for the pro/elite division in an inline race and I’d just gotten flat out dropped in a noob cycling race. WTF?
Some ideas that crossed my mind as to the discrepancy:
- The level of competition in inline just isn’t as high. (likely)
- I make up for a lack of real fitness on inlines with my technique. (possibly)
- My power meter is broken. (I doubt it)
- A lack of outdoor on-bike time means that I just don’t have the skills. (also likely)
- The presence of Cat 4 riders raised the level of competition too high. (maybe)
- I just suck. (sometimes you gotta face reality)
- A bunch of other lame-ass excuses I’m too embarrassed to even verbalize.
A close friend, who’s raced bikes for over 2 decades had warned me that bike races often go out FAST for the first few miles to shake people off (it worked in my case) and then settle down. He also told me that it would take me a few races to get used to the start dynamics of bike racing. At the very least I had gone in assuming that it would similar to my previous skate races where I had no problems going out fast with the pack. Shows you how far assuming will get you.
And it still didn’t explain how my aerobic steady state power numbers predicted one thing and my actual race performance was nowhere close. Certainly I don’t expect estimations to be perfect (try them in the weight room sometime to see how wrong rep estimations can be) but this was absurd.
It had me questioning everything including racing in the pro full marathon in 3 weeks time. Was I as prepared as I needed to be or thought I was, did I have any business there? Not that racing the half-marathon would have made me feel very good. Not only had I planned to race the full marathon the entire time, it’s clearly where I belonged. I didn’t want to sandbag but coming out of the bike race, it was tough to face things very optimistically. Then again, my skate speeds and times were, if nothing else, better than they had been going into the Road Rash in 2010. Maybe cycling was just that much different.
But I’m nothing if not obsessively analytical. I broke out my well read copy of Training and Racing with a Power Meter and looked at my power numbers (there’s a handy chart showing power to weight numbers for different durations and different levels of cycling performance). And another potential problem became evident almost immediately. What I noticed was this: while my power to weight numbers for 20 and 5 minutes were in proper relationship (somewhere in the middle of Category 3) my top end numbers (1 minute, 5 second) were freaking pathetic.
Make no mistake, I’m not saying the numbers are everything but without any better metric go by at this point it was a starting place. And they certainly gave some indication to the problem and it was simple: I had no top end.
Specificity of Training
So there is this concept in training called specificity, in essence you get better at what you train for. Some technify it up and call it Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands or SAID because acronyms are cool or something. At some point in the future I intend to write an overbearingly long series on Specificity vs. Variety in Training but here is not the place to address it.
Simply: you get better at what you practice and while there is overlap between systems (for example medium repetition weight training can impact on both higher and lower repetition weight training in) at some point you have to train for what you want to improve. Training outside of what you need to improve can certainly increase your potential performance in different places (e.g. training for hypertrophy can increase your potential maximal strength when you tack on the neural work to take advantage of it) but, again, you still have to do the specific work.
And I just hadn’t done it. In the Methods of Endurance Training Series, I talked about one fallacy of interpretation where coaches think that endurance athletes do nothing but long duration endurance work and that that doesn’t prepare athletes who need higher intensity output for performance. But that’s exactly what I had done myself.
I had basically overgeared my training to one kind of training to the exclusion of others. In a sense, I had fallen into a trap of specificity. To explain what I’m on about, let me back up a bit. In SLC we had done an unbearable amount of interval training. Ice speed skating is insanely anaerobic even at the ‘distances’. It’s a function of the skating posture and the corners and everything else about that sport. Skate training is all interval in nature and much of the on-bike conditioning we did was interval in nature.
Sure, we did some base aerobic work, usually at the beginning of the season or for recovery but my coach used the bike to build anaerobic capacities and powers on the bike since it was a way to get the conditioning without learning bad skating technique. I had done sets ranging from 5X1′/1′ (anaerobic capacity) to 10X1′/3′ (anaerobic power) up to 8 minute all out time trials on the bike with everything in-between to prepare for the absurdly varying distances on the ice.
And as I’d moved to outdoor inline and adopted a far more aerobic based training approach, I’d not only gotten away from high-intensity training, it had been over a year since I’d done any formal interval training. My last block of true interval training was a 6 week VO2 max block in SLC in the winter of 2010. Since that time, outside of some short sprints on my skates or anything I had gotten accidentally during outdoor workouts, I had done no anaerobic work.
I had had some planned last summer, mind you, but that had gotten derailed by the overtraining and depression. I had done endless aerobic work, taken 4 months ‘off’ while my brain fell out of my head’ and finished with 3 more weeks of aerobic work before starting this year’s preparation. Which was all aerobically based. And this year’s planned interval block had gotten derailed by another brush with overtraining. So somewhat by choice and somewhat by circumstance, I just hadn’t worked on my top end in something like 14 months.
And comparing my power numbers between SLC and now, it was clear that yes specificity was real (I give myself congratulations for proving a 50 year old concept and reinventing the wheel). In SLC I’d had far better top end power numbers (inasmuch as they were any good at all) but far worse functional threshold (20-60 minute sustainable) numbers.
Now I had reversed that, my FTP (a concept discussed in detail in the Methods of Endurance Training series) was insanely better than it had been in SLC but I had lost all of my top end ability. In fact as I’d realize shortly, I’d almost exchanged one end for the other. As I’ll detail in the next part of the series, the 60-70 watts I’d gained in my sustainable aerobic power (while lowering my bodyweight significantly) had been lost off the top end where I was significantly weaker anerobically. Again, in hindsight, this is no real surprise given the focus of my training.
I had seen this last year during inline races to a limited degree. For example, in Napa while I had been pacing the entire line from the front, I was unable to cover a sprint break that occurred right before I crashed. The same was occurring in the group rides I’d done on my bike here in Austin; I could stay in the group at aerobic steady state paces fairly comfortably but as soon as it went above a certain level (got too fast or went up a hill) I’d get dropped. I had the long duration sustainable motor but no top end to speak of.
And it had shown up in spades at the bike race. Mind you, as annoyed and frustrated as I was, this was part of the reason to do the bike race in the first place. Not only to get my feet wet in a related but different sport but also to identify any glaring weaknesses in my preparation for the race that really mattered. Training is great and all but nothing will expose a weakness better than competition.
Having gotten over my wallowing and analyzed what had happened I had identified the problem: my training had been skewed too far towards one end to too great a degree and I’d lost my top end. And that pointed to the solution. The question was then whether, in the 21 days I had remaining until the Texas Road Rash I’d be able to fix it or not.