PhD Biomedical Science
2005 CT State Criterium Champ
2009 CT State Cyclocross Champ
NCAA Div 1 All American Alpine Skiing
former U.S. Ski Team member
local knucklehead who like the dremel and bench grinder
There a many ways to skin a cat…and likewise there seem to be many ways to get fit for the road season. Central Wheel/Greater Hartford Cycling Club members Matt Stuart and Dennis Johnston have shown us that solid winter training pays off and the two have been lighting up the masters racing seen in 2011, with solid results in the local training series races and the early season USA cycling road races after putting in solid efforts during the winter. Unfortunately, some of us are still searching for the level of fitness that is a necessary prerequisite for those kinds of results. This is where the race to fitness comes in: trying to acquire the top end speed required to be competitive in the spring road races before the road season passes us by.
Local hard man, Sean Cahill has shown us the most practiced method of “cat skinning” (in this case getting race fit by just racing) still works by racing in the local MTB race 2 weeks ago and racing last Saturday in Quabbin reservoir road race, enduring pouring rain and hypothermia in the process. But his proof is in the pudding as he placed an impressive 5th just 2 days ago in the challenging Quabbin Road Race – Congrats Sean!!! It should be mentioned that Sean is not alone in this tried and true approach to getting race fit, 50 year old Veteran pro cyclist Alexi Grewal is employing a similar tactic in his ambitious return to the top ranks of the sport: http://velonews.competitor.com/2011/03/news/a-conversation-with-alexi-grewal-off-and-running_162280
However, there are those of us who lack the ability to suffer through the cold rainy spring road races like Sean and Alexi are currently doing, so we must find other ways to get racing fitness. This is where visonaries are born, last evening Jeff Gelt showed up at the Central Wheel Monday night ride on a tandem bicycle with his son Zack on the back. The pace of the ride was moderate, certainly well below the intensity of any race but certainly not for Jeff riding his 60lb tandem. Jeff was forced to put out massive efforts just to stay with the Monday night group, at one point it looked like he was well on his way to reaching “vomit intensity”, however it seemed like the thought of having to clean his son off after doing so kept Jeff from turning the intensity dial all the way to eleven. None the less Jeff put in efforts of the kind that are very hard to duplicate out of a race situation. And that seems to be the way to be the only way to truly get race fit, by doing some training at race intensity level. Only time will tell if Jeff’s Monday night tandem bike sufferfest will pay off, but it may just be that we have seen yet another way to race to fitness.
December is always a great month to think about the upcoming cycling season. The road season is long gone and cyclocross season, for better or for worse, is over (well ,maybe not in in Belgium). The bottom line is that there is very little to distract us competitive cyclists from contemplating the upcoming season (other than holiday shopping, meeting up with relatives and watching the ball drop). Yes, December is the month to dream big about the coming season, what races we want to do and what results we’d like to achieve in cycling as individuals and as teams. When race registration opens for some events in the 2011 season, i.e. Battenkill (a Paris-Roubaix style road race in NY state) it’s hard not to let the dreaming begin for the upcoming cycling season and there’s really nothing wrong with dreaming big for the upcoming season….but the problem occurs when the dreams completely overshadow the immense amount of work time and dedication it takes to realize them.
Let me try to explain with an antidote: My freshmen year of college I made plans with friends to see a big rock concert at a neighboring university. A group of us were so excited about the concert we couldn’t stop talking about how we were going to make our way through the mosh pit and get right up to the bottom of the stage and then go crowd surfing one after another. Every day there was chatter about the concert and how much fun we were going to have when we got there. Finally the day came and I showed up for the concert and went to purchase a ticket…but unfortunately I didn’t bring or save enough money to cover it, it was $50 bucks!! (it doesn’t sound like a lot now, it’s less than a single tubular tire, but to a college student that’s a lot for admission). Anyway, to make a long story short I didn’t bring enough money to cover the price of admission because I didn’t consider the price of admission, I had gone to other (albeit much smaller) college concerts and they were always $20 so I just assumed this would be about $20. All my talk with my friends about how much fun were going to have was for nothing because I didn’t bring/save enough on me to cover the cost of admission to the event, and I couldn’t rely on my friends because most of them had made the same mistake I did (and only brought $30 with us). Ultimately, 10 of us showed up to the concert and most of us couldn’t attend the concert we had talked so much about because we overlooked the price of admission and we had in essence put the cart before the horse.
When it comes to dreaming big about the upcoming cycling season and talking with each other about how much fun we are going to have playing with our friends /teammates at the spring races we sometimes overlook what it really takes to do the things we are contemplating. In otherwords, we can register for the events without considering if we can transmit enough power to the pedals to be a factor in the race (what I would call “the price of admission), and that in essence is also putting the cart before the horse. In precise terms we need to consider what efforts (in watts per kilo) it takes to finish with the leaders in the races we are going to participate in during the upcoming season? In otherwords, if we dream about what we are going to do in the upcoming racing season before we seriously consider the physical effort it takes to stay with the leaders in our respective race we have already made the mistake of putting the cart before the horse.
Here are some examples of the “price of admission” in cycling specific terms:
1) It takes an effort of about 4 watts per kilo for 5 minutes to be a factor (either as leadout man or sprinter) in the finish of a men’s category 4 criterium. So, for example if you weigh 160 pounds you will have to put out and average of about 295 watts for 5 minutes to have a chance of doing anything other than hanging on for dear life at the finish of category 4 criterium. As a side note, you will be racing for about an hour at around 2.8 watts per kilo before you get to the decisive portion of the race (that’s an effort of 205 avg watts for a 160 pound cyclist).
2) It takes an effort of about 4.4 to 4.5 watts per kilo for 5 minutes to be a factor (again as a leadout man or as a sprinter) in the finish of a men’s 30 plus or a men’s category 3 criterium So, for example if you weigh 160 pounds you will have to put out and average of about 325-330 watts for 5 minutes to have a chance of doing anything other than hanging on for dear life at the finish of men’s 30 plus or a men’s category 3 criterium. As a side note you will be racing for about an hour at about 3 watts per kilo before you get to the decisive portion of the race (that’s an effort of about 220 avg watts for a 160 pound cyclist).
3) It takes similar but longer efforts to be a factor in longer road races: a 160 rider in a masters 30 plus field will not only have to average at least 220 watts for many hours, they will also have to produce multiple 4.4 to 4.5 watts per kilo 5- 10 minute efforts to stay with the leaders throughout the race and then have enough for a sprint/leadout at the end!
The bottom line in competitive cycling is that it’s important to assess one’s ability objectively ( i.e. ability to match specific watts/kilo efforts) before spending too much time thinking about individual or team goals for the next season’s events. Competitive cycling in New England is a challenging sport and it takes a lot to prepare for the types of efforts it requires to be competitive in New England races. Fortunately, if your train or test yourself with an accurate powermeter every once in a while, you’ll know whether your legs will be able to cover “the cost of admission” and whether it’s time to dream big about all the fun you’re going to have racing with your friends/teammates in the spring.
This is a cautionary note to every cyclist who endures a heavy work schedule and races every weekend. One of the mottos in our society is “more is better”, and any anyone trying to juggle a professional career (one that pays more than $26 in weekend prize money) knows the temptation to turn the training intensity dial up to “eleven” during the week. Truth is that this temptation can often lead to burnout, illness, injury or all of the above. The human body adapts to physical stress when it has a chance to recover but recovery from massive racing efforts on the weekends can take more time than we think.
Recovery during the early racing season is at a premium – if work is hectic and you are on your feet all day hard weekday training races and training rides can prevent adequate recovery. The hardest thing for a competitive cyclist to do is listen to their body because in races you are forced to just the opposite – ignore the pain. However, during the early racing season it’s important to do pay attention to the pain during the week. If you raced flat out on Sunday you might no be fully recovered until Thursday. If you are off your feet, sleeping 9 hours a night and getting a daily massage you’d expect to recover much faster from a big effort, but for those of us with professional careers and/or families, 9 hours of sleep a night can sound laughable. Who is able to get that much sleep? Is there some conversion factor I missed? 6 hours of sleep maybe who gets 9, is that a typo?
As and antidote: I once watched an incredibly accomplished cycling coach struggle coaching a group of aspiring pro cyclists (ones with full time jobs on the side) – he thought of the team of “pro cyclists” he was coaching as “true professional athletes” (thinking we were just lying around when we were off the bike), but he didn’t realize that we were really a group of amatures trying to race a pro schedule (3-4 races per week). Almost all us had demanding jobs and were therefore not able to recover at the same rate as salaried pros (who just race their bikes). Ultimately the team was plagued with burnout, illness and injury because the intensity dial was turned up to eleven too frequently given our slower recovery time. During that season the team lost it’s title sponsor due to lack of results and by the seasons end many of the disillusioned and frustrated team members left the sport of cycling.
The point is: it’s not worth making this type of mistake at any level: if you have what appears to be a hectic work schedule and/or family life, recovery from huge weekend racing efforts is going to take more time (if you spent the afternoon after a race walking around with your family or working on your feet your legs are not recovering). If you are on your feet a lot during the weekdays recovery is slowed. If you are getting less than 9 hours of sleep a night you are not getting optimal recovery. If your meal schedule is haphazard you body can be starved of nutrients that aid in recovery etc… The bottom line is that recovery is a huge variable during the early race season, and for those of us that do not get enough of it before turning the intensity dial back up to eleven we may inadvertently face burnout, illness, injury or all of the above. The bottom line is that you must learn listen to your body during the week (while you ignore it during the weekends). Weekday training races are fun and productive, but only if you are adequately recovered from your weekend exploits.