Interval Training Workshop on 3/14/11

This past Monday, I hosted a workshop in Northern Virginia at the local Tyson’s-Pimmit library.  A small but enthusiastic crowd attended.  I’m often asked questions about interval training, including how to do it, what types of intervals, and which ones will give the best benefit.

Of course, “it depends” is often applicable.  The first thing an athlete needs to determine is what it is they are trying to improve.  Naturally, greater threshold power is (or should be) one of the type priorities for any endurance cyclist.  Lots of ways to accomplish that but this time of year (early Spring), lots of tempo work, longer endurance rides, and some threshold intervals (e.g., 2 x 20) are a pretty traditional way to ramp up for the season.

I have a handout in the Resources section of my website.  Of course, the ideas were described originally (perhaps better too?) by others and I’ve hopefully credited everyone properly.  Check it out and let me know what you think.  If you have favorite intervals or questions, drop me a note and I’ll see if I can answer.

Ramping Up With Spring

Here in the mid-Atlantic over the last week or so, it’s really starting to feel like Spring is on its way.  Anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, though, the days are getting longer.  Warm days are not too far in the future.  Early season races are starting to show up on the calendar (and even being raced).  The enthusiasm for racing is building and so are the thoughts of getting out there and going for epic rides, especially when a warmer day (or not so cold day) comes through.

I want to ride until my legs falls off.  Depending on your training to date, that might be a short ride or a long one.  Remember that training load is:

Duration  x  Intensity  x  Frequency

How often you ride, how long you ride (miles or hours), and how hard you ride, all determine your “base fitness”.  Duration and frequency are the easy ones to track.  Intensity becomes somewhat harder unless you use a power meter on your bike (and then it’s relatively easy).

The rule of thumb.  Since this is a cycling blog, let’s use the rule of legs.  A pretty common training concept is to increase weekly mileage or duration no more than about 10%.  If you have a good base in your legs, that works fine to help manage fatigue and prevent injuries that might occur from ramping up too quickly.  If you’ve got nothing else to go on, then use that as a guide.

More rules.  Okay, not rules but more like guidelines.

  • Keep track of your morning weight.  Do this to track hydration status more than anything else.  Some folks are better than others at replenishing after a ride and if you’re not as good as you can be, this is something that might help you.  If you have weight loss as a goal, you can see the longer term trends by gathering more data points.
  • Use morning heart rate.  I’m not a big fan of heart rate in general because of the myriad external (non-performance) factors that influence it, but here is a good example of how heart rate can provide some insights.  An elevated morning heart rate might just indicate that you have not fully recovered from your previous workout and that you may need to go a little easy or take a day off.
  • Learn to listen better.  Get in tune with how you feel and use that as a guide for when you might need rest.  Your body is talking to you; it’s up to you to listen closely.  However, don’t let poor motivation be an excuse to skip your workout.
  • Eat better and sleep more.  You’ve heard it before.  Good nutrition can have a significant impact on your health, energy levels, and recovery.  Sleep is critical to recovery as well.  Plan these as much as you plan your workouts because you only get better with good recovery.  Don’t waste your workouts by not recovering properly.

Sometimes it’s okay to break the rules.  Just know the consequences (fatigue, soreness, etc.).  Now get out there and ride until your legs fall off!

Perseverance

Perseverance – steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.” *

What a powerful word perseverance is.  Despite difficulties or obstacles, you will continue with your course of action.  Even fighting your own discouragement, arguably one of the most difficult challenges, you will persevere and drive on.

Perseverance is one of the strongest attributes you can bring to your cycling (and the rest of your life as well).  Cycling is a hard sport.  It requires many long hours on the bike.  During this time of year those hours are often indoors on the trainer — a discouraging proposition if there ever was one.  Other challenges include learning technical skills (which can get bloody or worse), rainy or cold weather, and sometimes even just signing up for a popular race is a challenge (since they can sell out in minutes).

All the efforts of training are paid back when it’s time to race.  Racing is the easy part, right?  We get to enjoy the fruits of our labors.  If it were only so simple.  The truth is the other competitors lined up with us want to demonstrate their level of preparation as well.  Racing demands we dig deep within ourselves and put out all the strength we’ve gained through training.  We have to push ourselves to discomfort or even pain if we want to be competitive.  We may have to overcome unforseen obstacles thrown our way — mechanicals or other course elements we didn’t expect.  Folks who raced in the recent Snotcycle MTB race in Leesburg VA were confronted with a challenge — the snow was mostly un-ridable for the early racers so the choice was to run the ~9 mile lap or give up.  That’s a true test of perseverance.

Achieving your goals for the year also requires long term perseverance.  You may have specific performance goals (achieve a certain threshold watts for example) and it will take a lot of dedicated work to achieve those goals.  No one said it would be easy, but that’s partly why we like our sport.  It’s not for the weak willed.  It’s for the strong willed athlete.  Show us your perseverance in 2011.

* definition from Random House Dictionary as obtained at dictionary.reference.com