Monday, April 17, 2017

How to get faster on a bike: Suffer (Part I)

Most people, nowadays, rely on technology and data to improve their cycling performance. There is an electronic gadget for everything: Speed, RPMs (cadence), heart rate, and power. They even have indoor simulators which make boring rides more exciting. Of all these parameters, most people rely on power training data to improve performance. However, I am getting better and I do not rely on any of these things in my training. The one place I rely on technology is for equipment. Since the key to time trial racing is to be aerodynamic, it is important to have a good time trial bike, aero helmet, and low drag skin suit and shoe covers. Time trial racers look silly in what my wife calls our costumes, but the equipment does matter. Due to cost, I added one item at a time and saw significant time savings. The other place technology is important is to get professionally fitted on your bike every season. In time trials positioning on the bike is the most important aspect. However, some believe that being in the most aerodynamic position will improve race times, but that is not necessarily true. The most aerodynamic position will be very uncomfortable and it can make it harder to breathe and to maximize power and therefore, most riders slowly work their way into more aero positions each season as their body adjusts biomechanically.

I am new to the sport so I have a great opportunity to improve whereas other riders who have been competitive for decades do not have as much room to grow (especially with age). But I have found training using a heart rate monitor, power meter, or cadence monitor does not really work for me, it tends to be analysis paralysis (I am an engineer, and have always found too much data can be detrimental). Knowledgeable people have said a high cadence is needed to go fast (the body saves energy by pushing an easier gear at a higher cadence than a harder gear at a lower cadence). My cadence is 5 RPM’s slower than last year (about 75), and I am going faster. Experts say riders should have a minimum cadence of 90. Experts also say older riders need more rest days to recover. However, I sleep worse on days off and my morning heart rate the day after a day off is much higher than if I exercised hard the day before. I take time off, but not as much as experts suggest. Experts claim a power meter and HR monitor are essential for training. I understand my heart very well and use average speed to understand how hard I am working instead of power meter. When I go to a race I do not have a threshold power to maintain, I have an average speed to maintain. After all, speed and placement are the two most important factors. Yes, I use technology, but only average speed as a training mechanism. Despite what experts say, my methods have worked for me. I find the most important thing to do to get better is to train hard by preparing the body through suffering to endure massive amounts of pain for races. I am in competition with myself each day of training or racing. If I can improve my times, I will get better. Yes, this is an old school training philosophy – it is as simple as that.

Every study on pain indicates that highly competitive runners and cyclists can endure massive amounts of pain when compared to noncompetitive athletes. In fact, studies indicate athletes taking pain medication can improve their performance. Many Tour de France riders take pain medication. I do not recommend this for amateur cyclists riding much shorter distances. I take Ibuprofen most nights, but that is to deal with pain for a neurological disorder. I do not take it during the day because it has bad side effects such as making the user drowsy and tired and it can therefore, have a negative effect on your riding. The bottom line is these studies prove that dealing with pain is the key to performance. People may have a low metabolic age or a very high VO2 max, but that does not mean they will be top performers. If you cannot endure pain and suffering while training, you cannot succeed especially in time trials. In a time trial racers start in 30 second intervals and therefore, riders do not know how fast other riders are going. This means there is no time to relax. A time trial is a maximum effort of speed and or power which riders can endure for the entire distance of the race. Time trials are short (5K to 40K or about 6:30 to 55:00 minutes depending on conditions), but riding for nearly an hour at maximum power and a heart rate at 95+% of its maximum is pure torture. One reason I do not need technology when I race is because I automatically get my heart rate up to 95% of maximum. Several years of data proved this fact, and hence I do not rely on my heart rate monitor anymore.

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