In the effort to improve race-level cycling fitness with limited time, I am experimenting with my workouts.
Back in the day, as part of the transition from base miles to race miles, I would add intensity sessions to the end of long-distance rides. I did many of these types of rides when I lived in Albuquerque and trained with Bart Bowen and a group of local riders and wintering elites. A group of 10 or 12 of us would ride for 4-5 hours at steady pace, double-paceline, taking 15-20 minute long turns at the front, keeping the heart rate well below threshold.
The final 1 1/2 to 2 hrs would be done at race pace. We would maintain the double-paceline, but tighten it up. The pulls would become shorter and crisper. Now we were running above threshold for the on-portion, and trying to recover while the next two riders went to the front and took their turns.
Returning from the long march out to the Jemez or Santa Fe, I can still remember our little group flying at 50 kph through the twisting back roads of the Rio Grande valley. Sometimes we passed cars. There were no pardons offered nor granted. You were expected to keep up and if you were dropped, you were on your own, possibly not to be invited back next time. It was extremely effective motivation.
I’ve modified this approach for this current cycling workout:
My distances are much shorter now. I’m no longer training for 200 km plus races. Now I train alone, instead of in a group. The intensity levels are much lower and I don’t have the full benefit of thousands and thousands of kilometers in my legs to ride the same kind of tempo as we did in New Mexico.
I’ll ride the first two hours at a comfortable pace. The next hour, I’ll ride at the onset of lactate production level (about 155-160 bpm these days), flirting with the point at which my legs go from a comfortable warmth to full burn. I think about it like a bucket with a small hole in the bottom. The bucket represents my total aerobic capacity. Effort is filling the bucket with water. The hole, and the speed at which the water drains out, is how quickly I can process the lactate out of my muscles.
The goal of the workout is to keep the bucket as full as possible, without spilling anything over the top. This is done by modulating effort (measured by heart rate) and power (I don’t use a power meter so it’s an on-the-fly calculation of speed, gear selection and cadence). It’s daunting when, 5 minutes in, the bucket is mostly full and heavy and there’s still another 55 minutes to go. Sometimes the bucket is precariously close to overflowing and I have to ease up a bit and let the water drain out the bottom and permit, howerver briefly, a wave of relief sweep through my legs. Sometimes the terrain doesn’t accommodate and I have to hammer on a downhill or sprint up to speed coming out of an intersection to keep the bucket full enough. With five minutes to go, my legs are turning to wood and it feels an awful lot like the last lap of a race.
Ultimately, I’d like a bigger bucket and a wider hole in the bottom. Those days may be over for me. But I’ve seen improvement in just a few sessions of this. I can ride higher and closer to my LT. I can turn a bigger gear. I can recover more quickly. I’ll be racing the Boston Mayor’s Cup in a few weeks — the pro-am race, not the masters. Only then will I really know the results of this experiment.