Monday, July 13, 2009

What You Train is What You Get

This winter I committed to an extended period of low intensity training we cyclist like to call base training. I set a goal to train for 8-12 weeks without going over Zone 2 Heart Rate, for me that’s 153bpm. For those that don’t know me, this was very hard for me to do. Well here I am 7 months later and I’m still training at lower intensities. Sometimes not on purpose, I just haven’t been disciplined enough to add in intervals at higher intensities. Quiet the contrast to how I use to train. I use to be of the mindset that if you weren’t suffering to the point of vomiting, you weren’t working/training hard enough. Every ride I did was one of two intensities; hard or harder! I grew up in the school of no pain no gain. After educating myself a little, by the way some people call that ignorance; I realized that there is definitely a method to the madness. There has to be a better way than how I was doing things. It took me a year or more to finally but into the process of systematic training but I have finally drank the cool-aid. The past few years as I developed as a cyclist I was what I call a Zone 3 Hero. Last year I would go out and ride hard and hang with some of the fast guys and occasionally inflict some pain myself. However, if the pace was pushed over that a little bit, I was dropped, or if there was a push to the finish or heaven forbid a sprint that required me to go above Zone 3-4, I was toast. Now, however, I think I have developed a pretty strong base but still need to add some high intensity training (HIT Intervals) in to my work-outs to take it to the next level.

There are numerous physiological reasons for what I described in the paragraph above. In both cases my body adapted to the type training I was doing. Over time, no matter what you do, your body goes through a process called adaptation and becomes really efficient at what you tell it to do. An example is a Zone 3 Hero. That was me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is not going to win many races. Trust me, I know. I was for the most part a decent cyclist. On most recreational rides on the week-ends with the LBS and even rides with the boys, I felt like a champ. As soon as I started racing I realized that I wasn’t quite as strong as I thought. Don’t get me wrong, in the few races I competed in, I normally had top 10 finishes (out of 11-12 racing) Just kidding! I did fairly well, ok, decent. I was a little better than average. I don’t know about you but those are not words in which I want to be associated. Here I am today in a very similar situation but in my opinion, a better one. Just like last year when I raced, yesterday while on a club ride my body did exactly what I asked it to do.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m stuck in an extended base training period. I have yet to deliberately add HIT Intervals as a part of my weekly work-outs. This can be a problem if you want to push the intensity for any length of time. Notice the key words length of time. I can go out and push the pace for a short period but yesterday was proof that I need some more work at interval training and Threshold training. I was on the weekly Sunday evening ride with the boys and they were in rare form. One guy is silly strong and then another guy that coached me last year was there. There were the usual suspects that are fairly strong too. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do based on what I had eaten that day and I’m sure that did play a small part in my performance but for the purpose of this post, I’m sticking to the title, What You Train is What You Get. Here’s how the ride progressed. We were doing an old familiar loop close by that is about 32 miles in length with a few sections of rolling hills. No significant climbs, but definitely not flat either. Great course but there is one part that can sneak up on you and it did. After 18 miles and the split, we were cruising along at 21.7mph. I say split because we came to an intersection and half of us made it across and the other half had to stop for a car. That also happens to be the same place in the route where there are a series of steep, stair step climbs. This was the beginning of the end for me and one of my buddies. As soon as we crossed the road, one guy attacked and the other guy followed. The other guy, who was my coach last year, also races in the masters division and has been racing now for about 20 years. We spent the next 10 miles trying to bridge but just couldn’t close the gap. We had them in sight the whole time but just couldn’t make any gains. We actually increased our average speed from 21.5 to 22.8 while trying to get across. With that said you can imagine what my intensity level was by then. It was already high, near threshold, but by then I was suffering at around 180-185 bpm. Eric and I both were on the bubble and after not making significant progress; we sat up and cruised on in to the finish.

Lesson learned. If I expect to ride at that intensity, I need to train there. Not all the time, but it is necessary to develop that energy system. I need to add some HIT Intervals as well as some LT and Anaerobic efforts into my work outs. I have been staying way too low in my zones to ride like that. This also brings up an interesting point. What are my goals? I really haven’t been training for any particular event or race so that’s why I haven’t been motivated to push the intensity. Goals are another topic for another day but you see where I’m going with that. I have trained my body to be really efficient at lower intensities. I bet I could ride all day at a lower heart rate and a slow century would likely be no problem. But as soon as I start hammering for an extended period, forget it. My body is doing exactly what I have been asking it to do. It really didn’t like me asking it to go above and beyond that level yesterday. What did that look like? It was painful. I had a little nausea and dizziness with a few black spots in my vision. My HR was well above Lactate Threshold so I knew what was coming. My body telling me that I haven’t trained for this kind of effort and it’s going to back it off a bit, whether I wanted it to or not. The bottom line is that we really do get what we train for or What You Train is What You Get!

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