Training Notes: December 2019-January 2020
This covers the Post- and Off-Season period, from right after my five consecutive centuries to the present, a Recovery week going into the start of the Pre-Season.
The last couple of months have gone very well: I'm feeling good and have been building my workload up to something resembling what I'm used to. I took a lot of rest and recovery time over the entire holiday period, before transitioning into a 3-week endurance block which consisted mostly of base/endurance training but also reintroduced a little higher-intensity riding.
I haven't really tested myself so far in the new season (that will happen on Saturday), but I don't think I've lost all that much fitness despite having regained a lot of badly-needed freshness. I did my first proper group ride last Saturday and held my own quite nicely. In any case, I'm very happy about where I am considering it's only late January.
As ever, my training plan has undergone more revision, most of which has been based on a few observations after using some of the extra down time to reflect on my cycling experience up to this point.
This is very similar to what I posted last time; there's still a nice rest block followed by a transition back into full training. The most notable change is there's now a more gentle ramp up to a lower peak.
There's not as much volume here, either. These changes are based on a realization I had that 'epic rides' don't seem like such a great value proposition when performed at any greater frequency than occasionally (i.e. at the end of a block going into a recovery week): every extra hour seems to offer diminishing returns in exchange for greatly increased fatigue. I now think that doing consistent, regular base rides supplemented with less frequent over-distance rides is the way to go.
There are a couple of modifications here: Sundays are easier and the choice of intervals rides has changed.
The first point has already been addressed, but the second is based on a change in my goals. Whereas last year I was quite strongly in the endurance camp, this year I've realized that I want to move back towards the speed side of things. By the end of my first Summer of group riding (2018), I was showing quite a bit of promise at intermediate durations, let's say 30 seconds to about 5 minutes. And that (especially the lower end of the range) is what I feel like I have most potential to improve. It's also the kind of duration at which I most enjoy riding hard.
While I'm certainly not a true power sprinter, I have a pretty decent diesel which with appropriate training I might be able to fit with a turbo. The 30 seconds to 2 minutes range has also been the most neglected by me in recent months, so in any case I want to address and remove this weakness.
That naturally means doing lots of anaerobic work, and I have multiple workouts that accomplish this. First of all are VO2 intervals to lead into the main stuff. These are in the form of 40/20s, rather than continuous 4- or 5-minute reps. I've heard the former approach is more effective; we shall see.
Note that I'm sticking with two-week builds with three hard rides per week, then an easy recovery week before starting again.
The second block has neuromuscular intervals: 20 second reps with full recovery in between. These are purely about generating as much power as I can, and they lead nicely into the final block, which is anaerobic intervals. These are 30- to 60-second intervals, with the goal of holding as much of my maximal power as I can for as long as I can. Again, these reps are separated by full recovery.
When I get to the top of the range (50-60 seconds), I'll also experiment with backing off slightly in the middle for a final kick near the end, and compare this with the traditional approach of 'max effort, hold on and try not to cry'.
This should get me in decent shape for the main season.
The biggest change here is the switch from a three- to a two-week build by default, the reasoning behind this being that it's harder to get into too much overtraining trouble using this format.
But having revealed my new approach, the first thing to note is that I'm now even less wedded to the specifics of the plan than ever; from this point on I'm going to be using my training status (form and fatigue) to determine my actions. I'll of course still plan ahead, based around upcoming events, but I won't stick rigidly to the plan if it's not working for me. Build weeks can be added, removed and modified as necessary. Individual workouts can be cancelled, replaced or abandoned. I think this general structure should work well.
Recovery weeks are flexible regarding volume (although they only ever have one non-easy day), and I've moved to a 'recovery on demand' approach; by now, I should have more than enough experience to know when I need a break. 2-, 3- or even 4-week builds are all viable; I'll decide on which is appropriate at the time and reserve the right to change my mind. This is pretty obvious, really. It's a shame that it took me so long to figure it out.
Overall, I think I now have a much better-balanced approach. The old favourite Sprint Repeats workout still features heavily. Endurance remains central, but mostly in the form of frequent 2-3 hour base rides rather than lots of 4-6 hour endurance work. Strength and plyometric training come back to the fore. Leg Speed has returned.
Speaking of which, I've noticed from going over my rides from the last few months and comparing my recent experiences with those of last Summer several factors involving cadence that I think reveal chronic fatigue: when I was tired my average cadence was a lot lower than normal, partly due to a lower self-selected pedalling rate, and partly due to frequent coasting; another thing was that the greater my fatigue, the harder it was for me to get through the high cadence blocks on a Leg Speed ride. I started the summer doing 2 x 10 minutes between 130-140 rpm, but this steadily declined over a couple of months; first by reducing the duration to 2 x 5 minutes, then reducing the cadence into the 120s, then reducing the duration even further. Eventually, when even that became too much, I just stopped doing the workouts altogether.
I feel sure it must have been central nervous system fatigue from chronic overreaching that caused it; another thing to look out for in future. Now that I'm fresh again all those cadence-related issues have disappeared. The leg speed blocks are back, and my endurance cadence is back up to around 90 rpm.
Today I experimented with continuous pedalling on a 2-hour base ride, ending up with 99.96% 'pedalling while moving'. I was actually even pedalling under braking, which obviously I won't make a habit of, but it was a proof of concept so was done in the name of science. The idea is to keep your muscles under constant load to maximize the adaptive response. They certainly add a lot of focus to otherwise easy base/endurance rides, so I'll keep doing it for that reason alone. A lot of old rides have numbers around 90% or even lower, but from now on I'll aim for higher than 95%.
To summarize, there will be far fewer epic rides or epic weeks; I'll instead be focusing on making steady progress, and continuing to tweak my program and adapt on the fly.
I've also decided to do more of what I like. Ultimately, this is all supposed to be fun, so on that basis I've thrown out the threshold and super-threshold intervals rides. I don't enjoy them and I'm not sure they even do all that much for me. Now my intervals are VO2 capacity and above, and most of my other rides are endurance pace. The only medium-intensity riding I do is on the Saturday group rides, which in any case give me plenty.
The Pre-Season starts next week. I can't wait!