I stepped off my crazy training plan on Friday to drive out to Ohio to visit The Million Mile Man, Danny Chew. Ever since I met Danny about 6 years ago as Cycling Fusion asked permission to film The Dirty Dozen, I have been inspired by him. From winning RAAM twice, to his goal of riding a million miles in his lifetime, to the crazy 24 hour Cathedral of Learning step climbing, I just couldn’t imagine having goals that big. In fact, after I finished riding the dirty dozen in our camera car the first year we filmed it, I was even more convinced that I could not handle those hills.
One year later, it was the very fact that I did not think I could do it that made it feel like a “Danny goal”. I had to train for 3 of the hardest months in my life so that I could be the first double hip replacement to finish. That all happened, because Danny’s goals showed me that mine were always within my comfort zone, and I would never know what I am capable of until I start picking goals outside of it.
Fast forward to last September, and Danny’s world is turned upside down. From the man with arguably the strongest legs in Pittsburgh and beyond, to a man who can no longer feel his body from his chest down. As Danny put it to me on Friday, he went “From the ceiling to the floor in the blink of an eye”. Now Danny’s mission is to build his upper body to be as strong as his lower body, and this challenge alone doesn’t even touch the magnitude of what is before him. He is learning life all over again. He is starting his “second half” by starting over from head to toe. The enormity of just learning to live day to day without the bottom half of your body would put most of us in a hopeless tail spin…. But not Danny.
On Friday I watched him work out harder with a personal trainer (Jerry Guerriero, from Central Wellness) than I have ever done when I had my trainer a few years ago. I watched him follow that up with a 3 mile wheelchair run (timed with my stop watch of course) as he tried to beat his best time even after that excruciating workout. I watched him look at his life, and how “upside down” it is right now, and find one good thing after another that can provide hope and motivation for his day to day struggles.
Believe me, Danny is not feeling like life is butterflies and rainbows right now. He is painfully aware of both how much his life has changed, as well as how hard each day is now and going forward. The “good news” is though, he chooses not to make that his focus. He knows that he can not only create goals for himself to crush (something he continues to excel at), but he can continue to inspire others and in many cases more than he has done in the past. It has already happened multiple times since his accident. His sphere of influence now is wider than ever.
I left my visit feeling like my life doesn’t shine a candle to Danny Chew… a familiar feeling from all the years I’ve known him. Yet, just like in years past, I left feeling inspired to become the best version of myself I can be. Whatever I think is that “best version” is, there is probably one level better if I can never give up and remember to think like Danny Chew. Thanks Danny… you’ve done it again.
I’m not going to make excuses, but I am determined to learn from my mistakes. At first I thought I just had my worst training plan for the week ever. Due to travel over the weekend, I had to get 1500 training load points in 4 days. That translated to just a little less than 10 hours of riding indoors (or a combination indoors and out) in 4 days – of which none were weekend days.
To add to the “fun” 40 minutes of that needed to be in Zone 5; a particularly hard place to be indoors at this point in the training. In writing this it sounds so ridiculous – not smart to try and cram all that in on 4 weekdays. I was lucky enough to have the first 2 days outdoors, where I purposely selected some of the steepest hills near my house (not hard to find in Pittsburgh) and proceeded to climb them in the big ring to push my power, speed and heart rate to those max levels.
Perhaps though, that was my undoing, because the hurt that put on my legs never left for the rest of the week. I got only 75 minutes of riding in on the first of 4 days, which is normally a day off the bike for me, because my “long day” I get 4 hours on the bike came next. I went into day 3 with 5.25 hrs under my belt and screaming legs. I rode another two and a half hours on day 3 and crawled into bed.
My final day I needed just 2 more hours, but 20 minutes were still needed in Zone 5 with legs that have been aching for 3 straight days now. I was determined to do it, so much though that I foolishly took 4 Advils along with my customary electrolytes to make sure I could push through it. It didn’t matter. I could not get past the middle of Zone 2. My legs were in pain even if my heart and lungs were ready to fight. After an hour of physical and psychological torture, I threw in the towel and accepted defeat. I know… not the triumphant ending I wanted either.
So, I thought it was just such a bad idea – the whole 1500 points in 4 days until I saw that my girlfriend (who is the same age and following the same plan, and yet with less riding experience) actually completed it with 4 minutes to spare! Not only did she do it, but she got all her Zone 5 time and had a much more demanding work schedule than I did. She had to get up a 4:00am every morning to get 2 hrs in before work, and on two of the days also spin after work!
Clearly this Cycling Fusion training plan was hard but not impossible. Did I just wimp out? Do I just not have the fire in the belly? I’ve raced and competed in sports for most of my life. I know the difference between motivation and ability, and in this case it was clearly ability. My legs would simply not let me finish despite how much I wanted to. Were her legs sore too? Yes of course, but she did not have the continuous pain nor did she start each workout with legs that felt like they just rode 50 miles. Something about my legs and perhaps my 2 hip replacements were complicating my story – but she has had other leg injuries also that she has recovered from, so we might not be able to pin point it on that.
As I try to analyze what happened, I’m left with the feeling that I did not let my legs recover enough between hard efforts, and I might have worked on too much muscular endurance when I should have focused on aerobic conditioning. I will hopefully not be putting myself in a position to get a week’s worth of hard (anything over 1000 points is considered hard) training load points in less than 7 days anytime soon. While I try to better manage my body and my limitations though, I must give massive kudos to The Amazing Cathy Britsch – she kicked my _ _ _ last week and I’m so proud of her for it!!
In my last blog post we talked about the importance of recovery. This week we show it’s related topic; Cumulative Fatigue. Even with the intensity of this Cycling Fusion mega-endurance training plan being predominantly in zone 2, if enough recovery is not introduced, fatigue will build up and some sort of workout failure will occur. Here is a case in point where this very thing has happened to me just last week.
I teach Wednesday morning, Wednesday night and Thursday morning. On Wednesday morning I was able to ride to work outside – a rare treat in the middle of winter for me so I did not squander the opportunity. I also just came off of a recovery week and did not work out on Tuesday. So my class on Wed morning was titled “No Black Holes” where we spent 35 min doing muscular endurance followed by 13 zone 5 intervals. I hit zone 5 for all 13 intervals. It was extremely hard but very rewarding.
Wed night I did more zone 2 and some zone 3 work for another 2 hrs. Thursday morning came and of course I had to teach in the morning. On Thursdays, I always repeat the same class as Wed because the students are 85% different, and I don’t have time to make 2 new classes each week. However, it is now Thursday and my training week comes to a close on Friday. I have only 2 days to get the rest of my training load points, and I’m over 500 points short!
Consequently, I make the first half of class a higher level of Muscular Endurance in zone 3 and zone 4. After 2:30 worth of recovery we start those 13 intervals again. Even trying as hard as I could, I could not get myself up to zone 5. I only hit zone 5 a total of 3 times for just a few seconds each. Just 1 day ago, I had a “perfect’ performance of hitting 13 for 13.
Very simply I had so much fatigue built into the legs that I could not get them to produce the same level of power that would throw my heart rate response into Zone 5. I was pushing as hard as I could but I was limited by my legs – they had reached a “point of failure” as it relates to cycling given how much riding I had been doing (4.5 hrs over the last 24 hrs).
Implications for Training and Performance
First of all, this overtly demonstrates why “tapering” before a race or a big event is essential. You must neutralize whatever fatigue has built up so you can enter the event with “fresh legs”. Secondly we need to give some easy workouts or a day off between days when we plan to do the high end zone 5 type work, or we will be disappointing ourselves and our coach. In my specific training plan for the Haleakala climb,
I looked back and saw that I have been short in zone 5 more than any other zone throughout the first 6 weeks of training. This is likely due to getting so many points back to back on Wed and Thur of each week. I will now be much more careful as to when I plan on getting those zone 5 minutes so that I can fulfill my mandate for training. I will spread out the zone 5 efforts so that I have a much fresher set of legs and body on days where I plan on traveling to “the promised land”
Last blog post we showed how to calculate training load, as a simple calculation of how much time you spend in each heart zone. Heart Zones® was created by triathlete and ultra endurance racer Sally Edwards as she was in the heart of her career doing iron man events. This work was done with Dr. Carl Foster, department head of The Sports Science Performance Lab at the University of Wisconsin. Each zone represents increasing intensity of effort, and each zone can deliver different benefits for your physiology. Everything from improved blood chemistry in Zone 1 to increasing the ceiling of your hardest efforts in Zone 5.
At first the zones were anchored as a % of maximum heart rate (which can not be accurately determined by any formula related to age). A "sub-max" heart rate field test was administered and ones actual max heart rate was estimated and all the zones became a function of that number. Since then the science has come a long way, with the Foster threshold field test most notably taking the place of the sub-max test, allowing for a less intense yet more accurate assessment of ones heart zones. This time they were also anchored in breathing and/or blood lactate levels at specific bio-markers where ones breathing and/or lactate make demonstrable jumps or inflections.
This is why our Cycling Fusion training plans call for spending specific amounts of time in each heart zone because along with the advancements in determining ones own personal heart zone levels has come more research showing how the benefits are different within the body when you spend time in these different intensity levels. This is also why we are so high on training indoors in the winter. To control what heart zone you train in is not easy, and almost impossible outside with all the changes in terrain and reactions to traffic, other riders, climbs, descents, etc. When you train indoors, you eliminate all the uncontrollable variables and you can simply get as much time in each zone that your plan calls for. This has been why we have had so much success in our Winter Training programs.
Last week however, the weather was too nice to stay indoors, and for only the 2nd time in 9 years, I took our Winter Training class outside for our weekly ride. Everyone also got reminded of how good it is to ride inside as it relates to controlling the workout. In order for everyone to stay together, we had some riders riding in zone 1, while some were in 2 and a few were in 3 – yet we were all riding at the same speed going up a very mild climb. Even in the flats we would have as much as a 3 zone swing between riders. Why is that you ask?
It’s very simple – each person has different ability, or strength even at the start of any training program. It might be the size of their cardiovascular engine or leg strength or both that produce stronger results (which also get even stronger with training). Those that are stronger and/or more efficient can climb or go faster in lower zones. The ones who are not as strong must work harder, and that puts them in a higher zone. This is only if they all want to stay together. If everyone stayed in the same zone, some would be far ahead with others far behind. This is not a problem indoors as the bikes don’t move and those differences are only experienced in our bodies as speed is taking out of the equation.
When we finished, this was confirmed with some riders spending their time between zones 1 thru 3, others 2 thru 4 and still others 3 thru 5. The graphic here is my screen shot from Ride Buddy Buckets showing my zone coverage where each bucket represents the time we spent in each zone. Hence, I always advise students to make sure to ride sometimes on their own (indoors or out) when they need to follow a specific plan by their coaches or they will never be able to stay on plan.
We are less than 6 days away from starting the 16 mega base building training plan referred to in the last blog post. The problem is that looks like just a bunch of numbers – as the famous Wendy’s commercial used to say “Where’s the beef?”. Well, as self serving as it might be, I can not keep the simple truth out of this equation. The “beef” has been offered up on a silver platter so to speak. That is a hard drive silver platter that is.
According to a recent press release, Cycling Fusion, for the first time since creating this internationally recognized program, is selling their Winter Training program outright to both individuals as well as commercial facilities. The 250 GB external hard drive contains 42 hrs of instruction with 12 hrs of lectures by industry experts, 18 hrs of instructor led rides and 12 hrs of cycling specific cross training. Testing forms and supporting documents are also included. The program is not geared towards the racing cyclist, but instead to the "average" rider who wants to climb better, go further or suffer less on the bike.
In the past, individuals and cycling studios from across the country would stream the program via the internet or go to a host location to train. Now the program can be run without an internet connection, in your favorite "pain cave" :-)
It’s one thing to have a goal, and even then to find a well structured training plan to achieve the objectives of that goal, but it’s another thing all together to know exactly how that is done. On a day to day basis, how does that translate into workouts. How many workouts, how long, how hard, what equipment, etc, etc, etc. Not only does the Winter Training do this, but the lectures explain the why of it all.
With 42 hours of content, it stands to reason that it is an investment, as this amount of training can be used over and over again; year in and year out for at least 3 to 5 years for incremental gains each year. Check it out and if it holds muster/makes sense to you, then get on board, and you can join us in the fitness experiences of the next 16 weeks.
The beauty of Heart Zones® training is how specific you can be to improve certain aspects of your fitness or performance. While power training has become the norm in the world of competitive cycling, coaches will still use a Heart Zone focus during the base building phase of training. This is because at the start of every season, a true periodized training plan will begin with base building to establish a firm foundation for everything else that is to come. In fact, entire books have been written and dedicated to the importance of base building (Base Building for Cyclists: A New Foundation for Endurance and Performance)
While this phase of training typically will last just 2 to 3 months, the nature of the climb we are preparing for in Hawaii is such that our specific type of riding will be done predominantly in the base building endurance zone. We will be climbing continuously for 36 miles to ultimately cover 10,000 feet up the mountain. If we do not stay in the endurance zone for the bulk of this ride, we will either exceed our limit of cumulative fatigue, or risk cramping to the put a premature end to the climb.
This is why we will be maximizing our base building to prepare for this ride. The 16 week training plan shown here (compliments of Cycling Fusion) keeps us in the endurance zone for approximately 60% of our training, with a start at 75% of our time and finishing with 55%. The principle objective is to become more and more efficient; to be able to generate more power with a lower heart rate. The power does not need to be a lot, since the average grade is only 5% to 6%, but even with a mild grade, the legs and mind can get fatigued with how constant it will be. There is less than 1 mile of flat to slightly down hill from start to finish. In a word, this climb will be relentless, and we have to become so efficient that we can keep on keeping on.
For anyone wanting to join us on this training plan during the winter, I encourage you to check out our winter training website where you can secure 12 full weeks of training and education via video.
I’ve told myself enough times that I don’t think I can make the climb from the Ocean to the top of Mt. Haleakala, on Maui that I now feel compelled to do it. It’s a sick kind of obsession I have with needing to push myself outside of my comfort zone. The Dirty Dozen was the same thing for me. After filming it for the first time I was convinced I could not do it, so sure enough, I found myself training for it 9 months later.
Haleakala is a dormant volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui. It is 10,000 feet from ocean to it’s highest parking lot looking down into its huge & beautiful crater (shown in the first pic of this post). While I believe I have climbed 10,000 feet before, I have never done so in one continuous climb, with less than 10 minutes of flat or descending terrain. My potential for muscle cramping with be extremely high, and then there will be the whole reduction of oxygen after we reach 6,000 feet. This is not to even mention the fact that the temperature swing could be as much as 15 to 20 degrees from the bottom to the top.
I have the advantage of driving it recently about 3 years ago when Cycling Fusion filmed it for our 3rd Maui virtual cycling DVD. Out of 7 riders, the five who finished were all stronger riders than me, but of the two that didn’t I believe I am stronger than they were at that time. So while I don’t know if I have enough to get me there, I know that I can train for this climb and help insure my success.
I will therefore be using this blog to catalog my training and as a way of encouraging others to train along with me – even if just virtually. I will post the training plan and a lot of training videos online so we can all make this Winter the best off-season training we have ever done. Just as a teaser to next week’s blog, I have already created a training plan that starts at 1200 training load points, and finishes at 2000. If you have a big event coming up in May or June, this could be your best opportunity ever to prepare for it.
In my last post I was super psyched to share the link to all the outdoor MTB single track trails in the Pittsburgh area. Then, just as I was getting ready to do a “tour de trails”, the rains came. Argh *%#!! Undaunted, I found another way to keep my MTB focus going.
I headed over to the Sweetwater Bike Shop (Formerly Ambridge Bike Shop) in Ambridge, and picked up a new Jamus MTB. The trend to larger tires are well represented there both with 27.5 and 29 inch wheels as well as the wider tires. The superb service and knowledge of the staff there had me setup with this beauty in no time:
I had been thinking about taking some of my new recruits to the Wheel Mill in Pittsburgh to get familiar with the MTB anyway, but I was just trying to wait till the winter. However, with the strangeness of the recent weather, it was time to move that forward in the schedule. This was my first time using a larger wheel set and my new bike felt like I was riding a dream. I happily spent an hour in the fundamentals room checking out all the great little “skills development” sections. This will be the perfect place to introduce anyone who wants to start mountain biking but wants to get more comfortable with the bike and handling going over small obstacles. A few weeks of riding at the Wheelmill will be a perfect way to build confidence in some new riders.
There were three of us checking out this indoor MTB park that day, and we all agreed that we could easily pack a lunch and spend hours there just having a blast in all their varied rooms with all the different types of riding we could do. Check out the Wheelmill website, then try it for yourself!
Our first two week training pattern is established here and will complete this initial, very easy training that while not containing a lot of "intensity" or suffering, will prepare anyone to begin being active again at any aerobic sport. It’s time to get into a two week cycle of training where little to nothing changes for 2 weeks, and then new objectives or riding areas will be introduced. This is based on the fact that a lot of training in cycling must be repetitive for both physiological training reasons as well as the mental discipline of staying focused for long periods of time; a skill all good cyclists eventually develop. There are more resources available from Cycling Fusion if you wish to continue riding or especially if you want to begin teaching Indoor Cycling.
Note that this week's spreadsheet, as with the others, has all of the instructions and details on what to do right there for each day that training is called for. This can be printed out and used as a guide for these final two weeks. If you'd like to have the entire 8 week training plan emailed to you, just send me an email and I will provide it for free of course.
Don't forget also that there is still time to join us in the upcoming Tour de Cure in Pittsburgh. We love riding all different lengths - including the 10 mile option - so no matter what length you choose, you will have some team members to ride with.
With these next three weeks of training, we are moving out of the "Prepare To Train" phase, and beginning our real start of cycling training. We slowly extend our time on the bike; indoors and out, and we introduce the most important training tool for any aerobic sport - the heart monitor. We have free on-line resources to help you get started as well. They are located on our Training Center from Cycling Fusion.
Explanations for what is being done on each day of each of these 3 weeks is on this plan itself under the "Instructions" column. Click on the image here and download the PDF - print it out and take it with you. It should be like haveing your coach in your back pocket.
Continue with this plan, and you will be able to to ride at least the 10 mile leg in the upcoming Tour de Cure in Pittsburgh.