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.
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The easy answer to knowing if what your doing is actually working is if you “see” results. This is the age old “before and after” pictures that prove what you are doing has indeed made a difference. By the way, special thanks to Dr. Bob Vano, one of our best training plan advocates for his before and after pictures. However, this really only applies to weight loss. Looking like a leaner, fitter you is fantastic, unless you still can’t climb that hill or run that half marathon you’ve been wanting to.
For those who are already “OK” with how they look, and do not have a distinct weight loss goal, the results are not so easily seen, but instead felt and/or measured. As we move into the 11th week of our 16 week training program, there should already be at least 1 fitness or performance boost that can be measured and felt by everyone who has stayed on plan. That of course goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway. Just having a Cycling Fusion training plan does not an athlete make – you must follow the plan week after week.
So then, if weight loss and visual inspection is not the main goal (even though everyone typically hopes that happens anyway), then how do we know that we are not wasting our time, spinning or running our legs off with no discernable benefit. There are two basic results of a fitness improvement, and each can be objectively confirmed.
Whether running or cycling, if your training plan works, you will be able to go faster at the same effort levels. To confirm that this has happened, it is best to measure this outside. While we do a lot of before and after assessments indoors on power bikes, the bikes can vary so much that the results can always be a bit suspect. Riding or running outside on a familiar route though will always prove a reliable before and after approach. This however, assumes that you have paid attention to my “preaching” these last 8 years or so about the importance of data collection. You will want to run or ride a familiar route and see if your times are shorter. Even if you are not a data geek like me, and don’t have written records, you should be able to select one of the most common routes and “just know” about how much time it normally takes you.
The trick is however, knowing how hard you normally have ridden or ran it in the past. This again is where the heart monitor (not the power meter) comes into play. That device is your window to how hard you are truly working, without the need to look at the amount you are sweating or how good a “pain face” you’ve put on. Devoid of average heart rate figures again, you still should be able to subjectively confirm if it felt harder, easier or about the same effort. If your times are better, your training has worked.
My favorite saying since I have retired from racing has been this: “When you get more fit, you get to choose if you go faster, or suffer less”. These days I like to suffer less. So instead of trying to beat my times on familiar routes, I am more interested in climbing those hills that kick my arse and feel like I wasn’t so beat down. I want to ride more comfortably for longer periods without the lingering fatigue. I want to look forward to those climbs that used to make me anxious and feel week, and climb them with confidence and relative ease. Yes, those feelings are all possible as I get stronger – when my training has worked.
So if you’ve taken this journey with us, and you too are more than halfway through your training, why not find the next good (or at least fair) weather opportunity to confirm that all this time and effort has not been for naught. Even though you know this plan should be working, nothing is more motivating than seeing and feeling it first hand. As we continue to train these final 5 weeks, believe me, you will want all the motivation you can get.
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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!!
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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”
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The two most disrespected concepts in exercise physiology is the endurance work that must be done at low intensity levels, and the importance of recovery to any training plan. Actually, those that have a plan and understand periodized training typically know the importance of recovery, but those that are just “riding more” to get better probably do not. At Cycling Fusion we often say that the only difference between success and failure is either having a plan or not.
It stems back to the fundamentals of the training and adaptation principal of stressing the body leads to adaptation, but the pattern is actually more accurately represented by the stress and adaptation graphic we often use in our Winter Training lectures. By increasing the stress in the body over several weeks consistently, the body is poised to adapt; to be forced to respond to increasing demands. However, without the recovery that allows the body to restore itself, the consistently increasing stress can also cause over-training or fatigue beyond what the body can handle and that can easily sideline the best of athletes.
What Does Recovery Mean
Recovery simply put, is reducing the quantity and intensity of workouts enough to allow the body to feel restored and relaxed. This is not complete relaxation, sleeping all day, partying, giving up on the diet – tempting I know, but that’s not what it is. In general it amounts to reducing your workload by 50% to 70%, and all but eliminating the very intense workouts. We tend to think of training in terms of a number of weeks, so recovery is also in those terms – 1 week is the customary time frame.
When To Take Recovery
So the big question is when or how often should one take a recovery week. I believe the following are good guidelines. A frequency of no more than once every 3 weeks and no less than once every 6 weeks (some exceptions can still fall outside those guidelines – but those are rare) will work for most people.
Guidelines aside, it’s still best to take recovery only when you need it. You will want to know and feel when it is time. This will help you train so that your body will respond to the training in the best manner possible. If you are feeling good – push past week 3, then past week 4 then past week 5 and 6 if you are that much “in the zone”. If you start to not enjoy the training, and find yourself cutting corners, or experience erratic heart rates, etc. then this would be a good time to take that recovery week.
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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.
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For the last 10+ years Winter Training has helped people become more and more fit – faster, stronger and lighter than before. While this can be done in a lot of different ways, the “secret sauce” has always been just one thing – steadily increasing and managing training load. This builds on the single most fundamental principal of all training that you must stress the body to force positive adaptations.
The graph above shows not only how stress and adaptation works, but also shows why keeping track of your workouts is critical to achieving your objectives (be they performance or simple weight loss). As long as your objectives are being met, your training load is appropriate. As soon as you begin to plateau (assuming you are still healthy, and there are not extenuating circumstances), then your body has adapted to the given training load, or stress. The result at that point, is that your body will stabilize at that level. In order to continue to improve, additional training load or stress must be introduced again; and so the pattern repeats. The above graph shows a rather aggressive example, but it is for illustrative purposes only. Once stabilization occurs, additional load is introduced, and performance begins to improve again.
The challenge is in knowing how much stress is enough, how much to increase it each week, and how to keep track of it. The heart monitor and Heart Zones® is the easiest, most proven and most reliable method to do that. The concept is as simple as it is powerful. As your heart rate increases, it represents more stress (also referred to as workout intensity) on the body and therefore it can be weighted higher. By creating zones (to be covered in the next blog post) you now will have a way of quantifying how much stress each workout has produced. From here you can total how much stress your body handled in a week, and thus create a way to increase this stress each week in a measured and controlled fashion.
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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.
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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.
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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.