Friday, April 29, 2011

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Uncle Ben was right when he said that (...even if he wasn't the first).

This could be viewed as mechanical power - that which needs a power meter to see - and yeah, that's true in a lot of ways, too (as I will discuss below).  In truth however, we understand Ben to be saying that a person of great strength of character, leadership, and influence has an obligation to illustrate proper and safe behaviors while upholding his or her duties to the betterment of the group as a whole.

I am reminded of a few training rides we have done in the past year in which certain Pro riders have joined us.  The Upstate Winter Bike League had a number of top athletes in the ranks.  Sometimes our weekly rides pull in a few Cat 1 racers.  On occasion, I've visited other cities and joined in their group rides/events - finding strong riders at every level.  In each case, it became evident that there are higher expectations for those riders who have proven themselves in either the sport of racing, in events like the Assaults, or even just the weekly rides.
Note:  This is not a discussion about Ride Leaders (organizers) or about individuals appointed to a leadership role.  However, those jobs are necessarily imbued with social, ethical, and moral responsibility!

Perhaps it is easier to understand how someone earns the respect of the pack - how one goes about "proving oneself" - rather than trying to dissect the image of one who already has, and here we come to the heart of this posting:  With Great Power...

Within the last 2 weeks, I have witnessed both the strength of character and sportsmanship that should be displayed by truly strong and powerful riders.  In those same 2 weeks, I saw he exact opposite on display as well (but I will use a ride from last Fall to illustrate the point).

Bruce Humphies is a powerful cyclist, and he is an excellent example of a responsible athlete.  When he joins us for our Tuesday night ride, he could easily drop any one of us.  Even working together, our Average-Joe crowd probably couldn't chase Bruce down if he wanted to stay away (in fact, the whole Pro1/2 peloton couldn't bridge the gap when Bruce soloed to victory in the SC State Criterium Championships last week).  On Tuesdays Bruce sits on the front and pulls, and when we enter an "open zone" with a sprint sign at the end, he attacks - but only so hard as to make us all work.  He never leaves the group totally behind - and we all enjoy chasing!  After each zone, he waits until we're all together and ready to start the next bit.

Similarly, when we are "neutral" in between these zones, Bruce goes back to setting pace or sitting in, observing the "rules" set out by either the Ride Leader or the tradition of the ride.  If someone has a flat or machanical, he waits with the rest of us.

Parker Kyzer is a powerful cyclist.  Though young, he is fast becoming a top athlete in the sport, and it is clear that he understands the responsibility that comes with it.  Last week, a large group of us rode over Bills Mt and back, following the Assaults course.  Again, Parker rode on the front for much of the ride, setting a reasonable pace - and by reasonable, I mean one that allowed for everyone to participate.  It was quick, yes - but not impossible and certainly not racing speeds! 

On the way back a few riders fell in to difficulty.  Some of us were still feeling strong - including Parker - but rather than storming off into the distance, leaving our compatriots to rot in the hot sun, we worked together to come home as a group.  But! In order to make the ride a challenge and get a good workout in... Parker pushed the other cyclists who were in trouble!  (with their permission, of course)

In this way, he wasn't "wasting time" out there on the road.  Both Parker and Bruce do interval training before or after a group ride in which they will be the strongest or fastest guys (which, I surmise, is quite often).  OR they do their intervals on a different day.  They do not do their intervals during a group ride; a major faux pas!

I was on a group ride last fall, and after a long, casual warm-up, the Ride Leader (Robin Farina) turned back with some of the slower cyclists.  She rode the short loop in order to make sure everyone got home safely.  Despite the fact that she is a Cat 1, Pro athlete, she rode ~35 miles at 16mph that day.

I remained with the "fast group" on the long course, aiming for ~55 miles.  Under the "leadership" of some of the local hammer-heads, the ride quickly devolved into what Chad Andrews calls, a "DS" ride (the second word is "Swinger"... the first, I leave to your imagination).  It was fast and vicious.  At one point, there were only 2 of us left - the rest had been dropped!  Had I not asked for a regroup (and gone back myself), they may never have seen each other again.

Of course, I enjoy racing, and I enjoy the simulation of racing.  What surprised me were the dangerous and selfish actions taken by the guys on the front.  They didn't regroup (despite it being a group training ride).  They didn't stop at traffic signals.  They didn't communicate directions or call out road debris and holes.  Pushing the limits of a group ride, splintering the group, and shattering the peloton every time you go out... is pointless and unhelpful.  Read Paul's blog "the Not-so-good Ol' Days," and my own post "Why We Are Here" for more.

Some people view themselves as "Leaders" who should not.  Some people view themselves as strong and powerful riders, though they are not.  And in an attempt to illustrate their own self image, they behave poorly

Riding away from a group while the group is "neutral," rolling through stop signs or traffic lights without stopping, failing to regroup at the group's behest, "attacking" (or failing to slow/wait) when others are in difficulty, have a mechanical, are avoiding a dog in the road, or are in some way hampered by road conditions, etc... these actions are unsportsmanlike and shameful.  Doing any of these neither impresses the peloton nor proves the strength of the offender.  In fact, this kind of behavior sets very bad examples and incites dangerous reactions.  Remember, often there are new riders in the pack - and everyone must set a positive examples for the newbies so that they will ride safely and, more importantly, continue to ride.

Like lemmings in spandex, the peloton will blindly follow into self destruction, and it is the duty of those with great power to act with great responsibility!

Please consider all of these points as you ride tomorrow, in the final weeks of Assaults preparations, and in the summer months ahead.

(...and now for the double back-flip, Triple-Lindy, Soapbox Dismount...)

-Peter Kay

If you are not interested in keeping the group together, then you are not interested in riding with a group.  Don't muck-up a good ride by breaking etiquette and riding selfishly.
Fulfill your dreams and ride solo.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"I've Got the Power"

Friday night, I did my first ever install of quarq's SRAM-based crank power meter system. And then Saturday, I ventured out on the Assault re-con ride that traveled the first half of the course up and over Bill's Mountain and then back to Spartanburg.

While many of us may wish for one of those mythological Fabian Cancellara motors in our bicycles, power meters are in fact the latest evolution of precise training tools that have trickled down from the pro peloton to weekend warriors and bicycling enthusiasts who now choose to invest in training instead of a new carbon frame or that light wheelset.

Here are a few initial thoughts for anyone considering making the move to power meters:

• First, I broke a Golden Rule of cycling by heading out on a century the morning after a late-night first-time install of a major bicycle component. On the road, the only problem I encountered was my fault: The front shifting was off a bit, but I was able to adjust twice during the ride, and by the end, all was working flawlessly. Don't do it, but having broken the rule leads me to my next point. . . .

• The installation and use of the quarq system was impressively easy and manageable. What is involved? You must remove your existing crank and drive-side bottom bracket cup (to slip on a magnet beneath that cup). Once you install the quarq crank (exactly like existing crank), the brief and clear manual shows you how to sync your power meter with your Garmin device. I own the Garmin 500 (and could rave about the device if you want--highly recommended), and the initial sync and the calibration needed before each ride are quick and easy (when I first heard I needed to calibrate before each ride, I was skeptical; it isn't as complex as it sounds).

• I changed the first page of my Garmin 500 to show current speed, total miles, current power, percent grade, and heart rate. Doing just one ride revealed what people say about power readings: Power is far more accurate than speed or heart rate. Ascents, descents, drafting, and taking pulls are all revealed for what they are--climbs and taking pulls are taxing while descents and drafting save tremendous amounts of effort. The heart-rate fluctuations for the four conditions are minor compared to the power output differences. For precise and purposeful training, power is clearly the gold standard. (While talking to other riders with more experience with power meters than I have, I also learned that displaying and looking at average power output is another key indicator for training.)

• Specific to the Assault route, the power meter confirmed what I already knew from riding the event most years over the past twenty-plus years: Pea Ridge is hard and the bottom half of Bill's Mountain is steep and hard. While many people are intent on riding the Marion to the top of Mitchell as recon, most cyclists would benefit as much (if not even more) from experiencing the first half of the route; many riders can burn too many matches along this challenging section if they aren't purposeful and careful.

• One concern I had about the crank-based power meter was weight, but I found that my Colnago build-up went from about 16.5 lbs to about 17 lbs (using crude scales); if weight is a concern, this small difference can be easily addressed with other components--or a bit of care with the diet.

My next experiment is one I really am looking forward to--the recovery ride. I think this will be the best use of the power meter.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Friday, April 22, 2011

Final Phase

It is hard to believe, but my ascent up Mount Mitchell is a mere 24 days away. While the training has not been easy, it has mostly been a good time. I have thoroughly enjoyed pushing myself during rides, trying to stay with the lead pack and/or rider. This has been the case on large organized event rides and small weekly group rides. I have met some great people who have been working towards the same goals. We have exchanged a great deal of tips and encouragement throughout the last few months. The best part of the training has been the mountain rides. I have enjoyed those so much that I hardly think of them as work. There is nothing like the thrill of descending a steep mountain into a series of downhill, rolling hills.

So where to from here?

There are still a couple big training rides remaining. This weekend I will be doing the Tour de Lake century ride. It will have a few hills, but will seem relatively flat compared with the roads I have been climbing in the past few weeks.

The next weekend will be the Tour de Cashiers. Of all the rides, this will be the most Mitchellesque. I am told there are a couple massive climbs along the century route. They will undoubtedly be tougher than anything Mitchell throws at me, but the overall elevation will be a tad lower, around 10,000 feet climbed compared to the 11,000 up Mitchell. A good friend of mine did both Mitchell and Cashiers last year and he felt that Cashiers was more difficult. In fact, his ride time for Mitchell was 30 minutes shorter than his Cashiers time. To top it off, there is a time cutoff to complete the century, so there will be no easy riding next weekend.
With just a few weeks away, the major training period is pretty much over. These legs are what I have, and hopefully they will be strong enough to get me up the mountain.

A few weeks ago I talked about weight management and how I was really trying to maintain weight, while building muscle mass and properly fueling myself on rides. That will change in the next few weeks as the peak training subsides. Now I am going a bit lighter, trying to shed a few pounds to make climbing easier. I am at 149 now and would like to get around 145, if not lower. The more I lose, the easier Mitchell will be. For now I am using weekday rides to shed weight. I still fuel myself, but with lighter calorie options. With my normal eating habits, this results in about a 500-800 calorie deficit each riding day, which should translate to at least 1 lb loss per week.

Aside from the remaining rides, I am going to be taking it easy. I will still participate in weekly rides, even in the week prior to Cashiers and Mitchell, but the hammerfests are over. I will just concentrate on easy spinning and not speed. I will want my legs to be fresh when needed.

The clock is ticking, but I am ready as I can be.

-Aaron West

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gearing choices for the Assault on Mt. Mitchell

Hey all, sorry about my absence as of lately. Life can get crazy for all of us and it can impact our preparation. Racing is in full effect here in the south and I have been traveling every weekend to a different city to go race. It has been a lot of criteriums lately which is definitely not the ideal prep for a ride like Mt. Mitchell. The type of fitness it takes to compete in an hour long criterium is completely different that a 102 mile, hilly event like Mt. Mitchell.

In a criterium, there are dozens and dozens of surges (out of the saddle, sprinting, hard braking, cornering). We are constantly changing gears and the majority of the time we are in the lower section of the cassette (in the 11-15 tooth gears). With Mt. Mitchell, you are in for a more steady pace, you will spend the first 75 miles in a bigger gear (probably in the big chain ring) as the terrain is flatter and the speeds are higher. Around Bills Mt. you will get your first real taste of climbing and checking out the gears that you may need towards the end of the ride. Because of this vast range of terrain and demands, you will want to have a good range of gears on your bike.

The first thing to do is check out your cassette. Your smallest gear (hardest to push) will likely be an 11 or 12 tooth gear. You may be in this on some of the downhills or when the pace is going pretty fast. On the other side of the cassette is your easier gears, the climbing gears. The size of the gear on this side of the cassette will determine at what cadence you can spin when the road really tilts upward. The nice thing about Mitchell (yes, I did just say that) is that there is nothing overly steep about any of the climbs. . .they just go on forever.
This means that you won't need to go to out and buy a cassette with crazy amounts of teeth for the easiest gear to finish the ride. When you start getting into cassettes that have a very wide range in gearing it also means that the jump between the gears will be larger. It may be hard to find an ideal gear in this situation (one gear is too hard, the next one is too easy and you slow down). For myself I will use a standard 11-25 cassette and a standard crankset of the front. Going up route 80 towards the parkway is the steepest section of the ride and there I will probably be in the 21 or 23 whereas on the parkway the gearing will change as the terrain does.

One thing that can really help with the range in gearing is using a compact crankset. A standard crankset has 39teeth for the small chainring and 53 teeth for the large. This is great for people in flat terrain or for racers as they need the larger gears for the faster speeds. If you are on of those people who doesn't spend a lot of time in the 12 or 11 tooth cog in the back then making the switch to a compact crankset might be a good option for you. The compact will have 34 teeth for the small chainring and 50 teeth for the large. You will still have the bigger gears for going fast, but rather than needing a cassette with a wide range of gears you can keep the standard cassette. If you want to have a wider range of gears without huge jumps between the cogs then getting a compact crankset might be the best option for you.

To make a compact crankset work for your bike (if you don't already have one) you will need the crankset (obviously). You will also need to adjust your front derailleur and derailleur cable. You will probably have to take a couple links out of your chain (as with the smaller little ring your chain will now be too long). It may be a good idea to go ahead and replace the chain all together if you are getting a new crankset though.

Remember, as I started in an earlier blog post, whatever upgrades or maintenance you do perform make sure it's done in advance of the ride so that you can be sure it's going to perform on the day of the event.

Boyd Johnson
High performance cycling wheels and accessories

Monday, April 11, 2011

Assault on the Carolinas 2011, Brevard, NC

The Assault of the Carolinas is now the largest ride I have attended, eclipsing the Charleston ride last week. There were 600 pre-registered and who knows how many signed up the day of the race. There were probably just shy of a thousands riders out there. While there was a threat of some rain later in the day, the weather turned out to be great. If anything, it turned out to be on the warm side, especially later in the ride during the difficult climbs.

The city of Brevard, NC really pulled out all the stops and made this seem more like an event. They had some jammy music playing before we left and live bands as we returned. They had police directing traffic at all the major intersections, giving us two-wheeled adventurers the right of way. Best of all, they had pleasant, enthusiastic volunteers at the rest stops, letting us know what was coming up next. It was an impressive event and extremely well-organized. Hats off to Brevard and the ride coordinators for doing such a fantastic job!

My goal was to finish with my pride intact this time. The last mountain I attempted, White Oak, had put a chink in my armor. I made it up the mountain, but only after a struggle that included me walking for some small portions. I knew that Caesar’s Head would be a longer climb, just not nearly as steep. My goals were not too ambitious. I simply wanted to survive without stopping, walking or even unclipping my pedals for the entire distance between the bottom of the mountain and the state park above.

But first there was Walnut Hollow road. This little devil showed up early on, after about eight miles on the road when I had just barely warmed up. To be honest, this was the one I was worried about. There was a lot of murmuring before the ride and I had heard it was about 1.2 miles in length at a 12-15% grade. Fortunately my fears were overblown. It was steep in certain sections, especially right in the middle of the climb, but it was book-ended by more moderate climbs of about 8-10%. It was still no slouch and not easy to conquer, but not nearly as bad as I expected. I made it up to the top without too much of a struggle. If anything, it put me into a climbing frame of mind.

After Walnut Hollow there were some decent climbs. Nothing as big, but there were some prolonged 8% inclines that kept us honest and made us work. All that effort was worth it for the gorgeous descents that followed. These were not the scary, white-knuckle free falls like I experienced after White Oak Mountain. Instead they were gradual drops with long, winding turns and only a handful of corners that required slowing down. I took it easy on the descents, primarily coasting and enjoying the breathtaking scenery, not wanting to push it in unfamiliar country when I am not experienced with the terrain.

Then came Caesar’s Head, and with it came sunshine. In other words, it got hot and quick. It hit right as we were about to begin the road upward. The wicked sunshine was punishing and made for a brutal climb. I was pleased to see some cloud cover about two thirds of the way up to help cool off.

The path to the top of the mountain is seven miles, but the majority of the climbing is done in the last 5-6 miles. It was steadily an 8% grade on the way up, and then we had a little reprieve about halfway up where it leveled off and even went downhill for a short while, but that was not to continue. The last stretched seemed the toughest, and there were many sections that I pegged at a 10% grade or higher.

I was winded after mile one, wondering why in the world I had decided to try such a ride. A lot of people stopped at the side of the road; a few walked their bikes; some even went back downhill, apparently giving up. I kept chugging along, slowly but deliberately, making my way up each bend. Even though I started to feel my quads and hammies burning, they continued to spin and pull the rest of me up. The climb seemed to be endless, mile after mile, turn after turn. A number of times I looked up and saw sky, thinking I was finally about to reach the summit, only to turn the corner and find yet another set of hills. I expect these are the same types of tricks Mitchell will play on me in a few weeks. When I finally saw the sign for the top of the mountain, I felt energized. I even picked up the cadence for that last burst, so eager to complete the achievement and celebrate with cooler water.

Veni, vidi, vici. I made it up the hill and felt great. Not only had I beat Caesar’s Head, but I had not stopped. Even better, I don’t recall anyone passing me on the mountain, but I must have passed at least 50 people on the way up. While I cannot say I ‘felt great’ during this climb, I performed far above my expectations. It shows how far I have come in the past few weeks.

The remainder of the ride was mostly downhill and exhilarating. I spent most of this period solo and into a headwind. This slowed me down during the flats, but I didn’t care. This was nothing compared to what I had just undergone. Those last 17 miles until the finish line felt like a victory lap.

- Aaron West

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Keep It Clean--and Quiet

While my cycling friends may be a bit stunned at the title of this blog post, I am talking about your bicycle and bicycling equipment.

With better weather, we ride more and place a greater burden on all our cycling gear--especially when the weather turns hot and we leave a good bit of human and road nastiness building up on and in our equipment and clothing.

Here are some tips and guidelines for keeping it clean and quiet:

• Keep your cycling clothes clean and odor free by putting your shoes, helmet, HR strap, etc., somewhere in the open to dry and breathe after proper cleaning and after each ride. I wipe off my shoes after removing the insoles and rinse my helmet and HR strap under cold running water after each ride. I also wash my cycling gear in an odor-free sports wash such as this one from Penguin ( Most cycling clothing should be hung to dry--not placed in a drier as well.

• Lubricate all moving bicycle parts that require grease regularly--pedals, wheel hubs, bottom brackets. My first pair of Speedplay pedals died on me because I failed to lubricate them. Everyone should own a high quality bearing grease (see you local shop) and a basic grease gun ( Regularly spin your wheels, test the tightness of your cranks, spin your cranks and listen to the BB, turn your pedals with your hand and feel for play or grit. Once or twice a month is a good rule, but always inspect after riding in dusty or rainy conditions. (Also, the worst thing you can do for your bicycle bearings is to have a roof rack. Many top mechanics refuse to use roof racks since the high winds play havoc with your grease, so if you use a roof rack, you shoud inspect more often.)

• Check and clean your quick releases often. Take them off, wipe all the contact areas on QRs and frame, and then re-attach--especially if a new noise appears. Many squeaks can be traced to those darn QRs.

• Wipe off and lube your chain every ride. I use Armor All Orange Degreasing wipes religiously ( I wipe my chain clean and then apply White Lightning lubrication before every ride (I prefer this wax-based lubricant to the more traditional wet versions.) A clean chain increases the life of parts and reduces noise and poor shifting.

• Wash your entire bicycle regularly--using a wide spray (not a jet-stream) and simple dish detergent. A large soft brush is ideal. Place the bicycle in a stand, and after wetting, simply scrub down all of it--paying special attention to the rim where the brakes contact. The entire bicycle should be carefully and fully rinsed (especially the rims), and if brake squealing occurs, either clean the brake pads and rims with the Armor All Orange wipes or hit the pads lightly a few time with sandpaper (and wipe afterward).
A key to a good ride is clean and well maintained bicycle equipment--from your kit to your ride.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Thursday, April 7, 2011

So What's the Big Deal about Power?

Many moons ago, cyclists trained by heart rate, but in the past few years--accelerated by the Lance Armstrong era in which he made people take notice of the value of purposeful training--top-level cyclists and pros have committed to training with power meters.

Here is a unique look into the power numbers for a professional cyclist:

Michael Mørkøv's SRM data from Tirreno-Adriatico TTT

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Do the Haka!

It took a long time but I found the perfect training mix for any cyclist.  Get ready to print this page out and go on your scavenger hunt, checking off each ingredient as you go, but first visit your local apothecary and pick up a mortar and pestle for proper mixing.

1. Rubber tread off the tires from Eddy Merckx's first Paris Roubaix victory
2. Bottom bracket grease from Marshall "Major" Taylor's first World Championship
3. Five of Fausto Coppi's hairs
4. LA's missing… well… you know

Grind these ingredients up, sift into an iron cauldron with your brew of choice, and then place over a fire in the middle of the field between these two teams and have them chant a testosteroneish Haka over it.  For maximum effectiveness you should chant along.  Drink up.  Win everything.

As you can see and as you have found out through all the training you've done or are about to do, there is no magic mix or voodoo laden method that will get you to your goals.  Incremental improvements can translate to hours and hours of hard work on the bike.  There is no other way.  But really… how do you get there?  First you have to define "there."

Step one is identifying your goal.  Many people suggest writing it down.  After you've done that you can get a calendar if you have a specific event in mind and then plot out the days you can work out between starting your training and your event.  You'll begin to see how many hours it will take as well as the dedication and consistency necessary to achieve your goal.  The next step might be to refine your goal.  By that I mean to establish the style.  Blogger Boyd Johnson has an incredibly stylish goal of 5 hours for Mt. Mitchell.  That will require a LOT of hours per week.  My goal is considerably less stylish (some might even say garish instead of stylish!) so I won't require nearly as many hours.  After establishing a style you might even have to refine it as the reality of your abilities becomes apparent.  You might realize you are more capable than you thought and thereby reset your goal for 15 minutes or even an hour faster, who knows!!!  I developed the following guide to show goals and the approximate hours required to meet them:

Mitchell in a time of 5 hours = about 18 hours a week of suffering = incredibly stylish

Cruise neighborhood and enjoy the flowers blooming = go get on the bike now and do it = incredibly stylish as well

For some folks, cruising the neighborhood IS a challenge.  For others it may not be a challenge but getting out and enjoying the sunshine and the sights in a relaxed manner is what they enjoy doing and most of us identify with that on some level.  It's not up to me or anyone else to determine or judge your goal.
Once you have a goal and a time frame then it's time to get busy.  Most of us have spent a lot of the winter and early spring doing base miles as well as a smattering of some higher intensity stuff.  As the temperatures started climbing so did we, so some of us have a few weeks in the mountains under our belts as well.
What is "higher intensity stuff?"  How do you train in the mountains?  How, exactly, do you train for Mitchell???  That all depends on your goals and that line is not a cop out.  It really does.  I'll get into the training in the mountains topic next week but for now will give some examples of higher intensity stuff and the reasons I do these specific workouts.

I like to keep things simple so I use only a few basic workouts.  The first I do are mini time trials.  These are simply three mile time trials.  I do these in sets of three.  I ride three miles for time and then recover for 10 minutes and then repeat two more times.  These are completed at the absolute max effort I can sustain for three miles.  I do these because it's fast (I can warm up, work out, and cool down in less than an hour and a half), it's effective (it helps increase my speed and strength pretty rapidly if I have a good base), it's useful (it's great for simulating late race moves or the effort needed to bridge a gap), and it's very measurable so I can gauge improvements or overtraining.  It's also exhausting so plan on a real recovery ride the next day in order to reap the benefits of this.  I usually only do this once a week and might alternate weeks with the following workout.

I do the next intervals after I've done at least a couple of day's worth of the mini TT's at the beginning of the season.  The reason for this is to get my body ramped up to this level of exertion gradually as these are at a higher level of intensity and I want all connective tissue and muscles brought to this effort in stages to reduce the chance of injury.  After a good warm up that includes a couple of 15 second 90% efforts, the interval is as follows.  In the description "on" means max effort you can sustain for the time and "off" means pedaling with little resistance to recover:

60 secs on, 30 secs off, 50 secs on, 25 secs off, 40 secs on, 20 secs off, 30 secs on, 15 secs off, 20 secs on, 10 secs off, 10 second sprint    /  repeat multiple times after at least 5 min recovery in between

This may seem to contradict what I said about keeping it simple but after you do it a couple of times you'll get into a groove and not think about it too much.  I find this workout allows me to recover quickly after hard efforts.  Couple this with the previous workout and you can begin to acquire the tools to help you form your strategy for races or your local Tuesday Night World Championships or even just completing a group ride with your friends that you might not have been able to finish before.  How do these fit into a plan for Mt. Mitchell?  Here's where the goals come in.  If you want to stay with the leaders or one of the front groups, there are numerous accelerations and just plain hard hilly sections all the way to Marion.  Interval sessions such as the two I have described will give you the strength and recovery to weather the storm and keep your goals in reach.  Even if you have no interest in staying near the front, these sessions will still enable you to finish stronger.  I'll have some mountain specific workouts next week.

Steve Verdell

Monday, April 4, 2011

It's All About Time

This past weekend, I missed yet another weekend in the mountains--and thus have begun feeling a bit concerned about my climbing training for the Assaults (the count-down timer on the Assaults web page isn't helping).

Several of the local Spartanburg cyclists and I ventured to the Charleston area; a few ran the Cooper River Bridge Run, and many of us rode the After the Bridge Run Century rolling from Daniel Island. On Saturday, Rob and I rode from our hotel on Daniel Island and met a few others from Spartanburg, venturing into the Francis Marion National Forest for a 50+ mile ride.

This ride opened my eyes to the huge importance of terrain for cycling. The rides were flat compared to the upstate, and we all soon recognized the stress of constant pedaling--I mean constant. One rider said, "I'd give anything to coast downhill for a bit."

Road conditions also got our attention. In the forest, we rode for miles on chip-and-seal roads that left my hands numb and a few bicycles rattling. With the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix soon upon us, we all commented on having even more appreciation for professionals combating cobbled roads.

From the Saturday ride, I came to appreciate relentless pedaling and fighting the wind (although our friend from Charleston informed me that Saturday wasn't windy), but I couldn't truly grasp riding in Charleston until the ABR Century itself.

Sunday morning was sunny but only about 49 degrees--forcing me to face the fact of needing extra clothing for the beginning but knowing that wouldn't last long for me (fortunately, one rider from the upstate had a kind SAG tracing the course, allowing me to toss aside my vest and armwarmers). The ABR Century started right on time at 8 am, and the Spartanburg contingent, many decked out in Globalbike green kits, led the ride out from Blackbaud Stadium and under I-526.

We rotated on the front for several miles, anticipating what we had heard about the ride, and we weren't disappointed when several locals eventually came around and the hammering began. Except for a couple nature breaks and one missed turn, the ride itself was a 4-hour blur covering nearly 100 miles.

That's right, the front group of about 20-30 riders did a century in 4 hours.

Afterward, Scott Sisk, who recently had his concerns about eating enough on long rides in, was excited about finishing with the front group since he finished after the front group last year. Several of us began to talk about the time factor in rides.

Many Saturday rides in the mountains last 4-4.5 hours, but cover only about 60 miles. We thought it was likely that Scott had done well--despite struggling to eat enough with the pace so high--Sunday because, despite being a century, the 4 hours was well within his body's ability to cope with the stress.

And here is a key point for people training for the Assaults: Ride by time, and not distance. In fact, since the rise and success of Greg LeMond, I have noticed that professional cyclists always refer to time when planning and discussing their training.

For those of us who do this for fun and personal fulfillment, riding is about time--but it also about the quality and appropriateness of that time on the bicycle.

Serious and purposeful training should include a breakdown of time on the bicycle and then that time divided by what you are doing--climbing, intervals, hill jams, fast group ride with attack zones, tempo, recovery.

After the throttling I took in Charleston's flatland this Sunday, I am hoping to log some needed recovery time in the coming days.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Over the last week, I've been dealing with a few "set-backs" in my training.  We had rotten weather: dramatically varied temperatures, sporadic thunderstorms, and freezing rain, and winds that were treacherous at best.  Most of us did our best to squeeze in rides.  Whether it be during a brief sunny day or on the trainer at home - we got the time in.

However, I was unfortunate enough to have the ol' double whammy... bad weather AND a bad cold.  Though I was able to get in a few afternoon rides here and there, I was neither able to "train" (intervals) nor get some real time on the bike.  Congested and achy, I alternated between the computer and the couch most of the week.

On Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday I rode for about 1-1.5 hours at a casual 16.5 mph pace.  I threw in a few hills and a few brief hard efforts to test my legs on Friday.  My legs were fine.  They were good, in fact!  But my lungs and my nose couldn't keep up, and after a few seconds, I could feel my system slowing down... so I slowed down.  Unlike allergies, a cold can get worse if you try to push yourself, continuing to train.

Let's face it, I'm not going to make a living riding the bicycle.  There's NO reason for me to press my luck, riding in 40° temps, in the rain, while sick.  There is nothing to be gained by that.  It's better to heal - take the time off, let your body do the work, hydrate, watch what you eat, and get back on the bike when it's time.

And it will be time again.

All too often, inexperienced athletes try to push themselves through an ailment, but rather than coming out stronger, they usually cause the sickness to last longer, inevitably wrecking months rather than weeks worth of work.  The best thing for us to do is rest.  Rest, recoup, and come back ready to start training again.

The other issue that I see in so many athletes is the sense of "catching up."  Yes, a cold can make you miss time, but that time is gone.  You can NOT make up that time by adding extra miles or hours the following week.  In fact, immediately adding time/distance would be more detrimental that the week off!

So how does one "come back" from a week of nearly NO riding?

"Pacing myself, sir."
-  There is one key thing to remember when returning from an extended time off; whether due to sickness, work, travel, family, or something else:

You will not be as strong on your return as when you left:  endurance, anaerobic capacity, and aerobic base are all effected by this kind of long break (though each in different amounts).  Yes, you will have freshness, but you will not have the same fitness level.  So be very careful not to over-extend yourself in the first few days back.

It's tempting to go out and try to knock-back a 14+ hour week after having been off the bike for 10 days, but this will only lead to the dreaded "Over Training" which can destroy an entire season!  (Trust me, I've been there... don't ever pound on dead legs.)

Start slowly - 1 hour easy.  The next day add some time and a few hills, but keep conservative.  Add a little each day until, after at least a week, you are back to where you were two weeks before your time off.  Yes.  2 weeks before.  It's a set-back, but you will be riding stronger in the long run.

Your coach can give you specifics on how to go about recovering fully, but in general, it's best to be patient.

My biggest frustration this past weekend was missing out on the Rock Hill Races.  This has been one of my favorite races each year, and I was really bummed that I couldn't be there this year.  The funny thing is:  I was sick last year at this time, too!

I remember saying to myself, "Hey, there's always next year," and to my surprise - there wasn't.  But will there be a 2012?


So, I will just take a deep breath, slowly ramp up my training, focus on the next  big event on my "race calendar," and go from there.