Training to Meet the New Season, Part 2

29 01 2014

Link to Part 1

So after discussing how benchmarking helped me compare training goals vs. racing performance, I concluded by saying that I needed to choose a performance target for racing in the new season. I would appreciate having a power file as a Cat 3 on a course such as the Longbranch road race, but I do not have one yet. Dr. Coggan and Andrew Hunter in their book, categorized a table based on the known performance abilities of world champion athletes and untrained cyclists. Their suggested four index durations best describe the different energy systems measured from the vast collection of many cyclists. One division, described as “good” between “untrained” and “world-class,” represents the Cat 3 level of racers. This is the benchmark I’ve chosen. Here are the range of intensities  (w/kg):

5 seconds 1 minute 5 minutes FT
17.24 8.63 5.01 4.18
16.97 8.51 4.91 4.09
16.70 8.40 4.81 4.00
16.43 8.28 4.70 3.91
 16.15 8.17 4.60 3.82
 15.88 8.05 4.50  3.73
15.61  7.94 4.39 3.64
15.34  7.82 4.29 3.55
15.07 7.71 4.19  3.47

Now that I’ve identified my training target, I need a method to get there. I like the concept of targeted systems training as a method of periodization. In this scheme, the idea is to target and overload one intensity area, say the endurance system, before moving to the next. The first area to work on would be the endurance level, followed by sweet spot, threshold, and finally VO2 max. A strength of this method of layers as I call it is that I can maximize the build on a lower layer before using it as the foundation for the next. Other areas of riding may degrade in the meantime, but I can work on those in later efforts.

Pyramid of Power

Pyramid of Power

Each layer forms a foundation for the layer above. I thought about the “size” of the endurance layer—the wider my triangle, the higher I might peak. Having a wide endurance foundation, or base as some call it, has its roots in many older coaching regimens. Indeed, plenty of cyclists have heard the term “getting in the miles” or “base miles.” So how wide should my base be? Edmund Burke, PhD, author of Serious Cycling, says “4 to 6 hours per day for senior male amateurs.” I don’t have that kind of time each day, but I can manage 10 to 14 hours per week. Another PhD, John A. Hawley,  says that the conditioning or preparatory phase “should last as long as possible for a (state level) rider.” Apparently then, I should keep my time-in-zone continual while integrating work at higher intensities. Here’s a graph for how much time I’ve invested in the first two layers:

Stacked-bar graph depicting accrued hours in training intensity zones

Accrued hours by week in various training intensity zones

The mass of yellow bars represent the endurance-level hours since the off-season began. The wedge of light blue is the amount of time in the sweet spot (or low-tempo area.) The dark blue represents threshold, and pink-VO2 max. As I complete each level, each latter color also forms a “wedge shape” on the graph.

At the start of October I started doing longer, governed rides than my teammates were doing. By governed endurance rides I mean actually watching my HR number on my Joule GPS and ensuring I stayed within my endurance zone.  I learned that on grades such as 4% to 6%, I could pedal my lowest gear (34 x 25) at a pace only a bit faster than walking. It also meant that on the downhills, I’d have to press hard to keep my heart rate from dropping too low. The slower pace meant longer rides, sometimes around five hours. I also tried to pick smoother, flatter routes to maximize the pacing control.

After a couple of months of the routine (now November) my RPE or rated perceived exertion felt lower. It felt like the riding was getting slightly easier. Coincidentally, the general team schedule also called for adding tempo efforts, so what I did was add 6 x 10/5 235 watt minimum average intervals on the tail-end of the indoor workout. Note that I include this “sweet spot” level within the “sub-threshold level.” After all that work, I can show how my average session HR (the red connecting line between groups) has trended lower:

Time-series graph with trend line of six-interval means

Time Record of Six-interval Means after a Three-hour Z2 Session

This graph represents each time that I did an inside trainer session of three hours at endurance level followed by these six intervals in the sweet spot. There are groups that have a lesser number of completions. These were sessions where I was physically worn-out or where I just wasn’t motivated and ended-up bagging the rest of the workout.  

The quadratic method has the best accuracy measures as compared to linear, exponential, or logarithmic. Based on this plot, the best-fit curve between November 26 and Jan 28 has a decreasing slope—this should signal adaptation as I understand it. According to Allen and Cheung (2012), the defining change of improved fitness is signaled by an increase in cardiac output (bpm x stroke volume.) This means that as my system becomes more efficient, I should see a reduction in bpm because stroke volume increases. Of course, once I started tinkering with the target effort  (Jan 7 and 11.), my HR average went back up, which might have meant that my system was reacting to the increased training stress.

I think these two ratings, RPE and decreased average HR/same effort, are the at-hand metrics that will show when I am ready to move to the threshold level of work. Since Dr. Coggan’s sweet spot zone covers 88% to 94% of functional threshold power (FTP), I expect training in this area possibly until March as mid-range power is my weak point. I’ll have reached an initial goal if I can get my 60-minute/FTP greater than 272.

This minor goal relates to the Cat 3 target scheme mentioned before. My best-ever, 60-minute average was 272 watts in August of 2011. That power-to-weight ratio (w/kg) was 3.6, which at my current weight of 162 pounds calculates to about a 266 watt average—fairly reasonable I think, just on the low-end of the target scale. Basically I’m going to try to meet the new target power-to-weight ratios in each category of the target scheme, i.e. 5 second, 1 minute, 5 minute, and 60 minutes as I progress up through the pyramid toward race season.

My definition of success started with learning about training sessions, followed by understanding of when to end a training session. A common factor of my earlier regimens was that I completed a pre-determined workout for a specified time. With a targeted training systems approach however, my advancement to the next level isn’t based simply on completing a number of workouts within a time period. The progression requires adaptation to the training level’s stress. This is my definition of plan success: 

  • To perform within the Cat 3 target range specified in Dr. Coggan’s power profile during training bouts
  • The ability to finish a Cat 3 or Cat 3 Master’s race with or ahead of pack

As always, a good plan haphazardly executed is rather pointless. So to safeguard against straying off-course I’ll use the plan-do-study-act process control and improvement method. I have planned my work as mentioned before and I’ll execute as intended. I’ll track my information like I always do and compare the performance against the training targets. I’ll also make sure that I’m only comparing identical trainer sessions. In the case that a variance occurs I will try to isolate the cause of that departure and learn if I need a plan adjustment. Eventually, I should see a similar graph pattern evolve as noted above for the new training level.

I think it’s time to start working on higher level sweet spot efforts with an intent towards sub-threshold and threshold-level workouts.

Thanks for reading and best wishes on your effort. See you on the course!

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