Category Archives: Training

Trainer Blues

My homemade “work” station

The trainer is evil. Unfortunately, it is a necessary evil, especially if one has aspirations of riding all over the French Alps.

Coach Bobby has prescribed a healthy dose of riding. Given my busy schedule, the weather, sunlight, and many other factors, I simply cannot do it all on the road. The problem is, I hate the trainer. What’s worse is I’m a total wimp. As soon as I get on, I want to get right off.

On the few occasions where I’ve used the trainer, I’ve spent about half the prescribed time. My logic is that the trainer is more efficient than the road. Even though I am not riding as long, I am getting the same fitness benefit.

I asked Bobby about this. He debunked my logic. There is more consistent pedaling on the trainer, but definitely not a 2:1 ratio. He wanted me to try and use all of my training time, whether on the road or the bike trainer. His advice was to set my goal for a longer duration. That way I can bow out early if I get too tired. He also said to put in a good movie and zone out.

Bobby had prescribed 2.5-3 hours of riding for Sunday, but it was going to be a busy day. I had an idea. I would just do it all on the trainer with the proper distraction.

Sunday’s 1-4pm NFL Red Zone package is probably the most immersive, action-packed three hours of television all week. There are usually 7-8 games, which they flip between to show suspenseful situations, and they show all the touchdowns, all teams threatening to score, and more importantly, no commercials. For an NFL nut like myself, it is cannot miss television. If I was going to be distracted by something for three hours, this was it.

I gave it a go. The first hour went by swimmingly. Sure, it was tough, but the action on the screen kept me captivated. I took a 5-minute break after the first hour, then went back on for 30 minutes. After another break, I got back on for another 30 minutes, churning the pedals as I watched the gridiron action.

By this point, I was already tired, drenched in sweat, and developing some saddle soreness. Another short break, and I willed myself back on. The next 30 minutes went by with a struggle.

Phew. I was tired, but I was almost done. I took a little longer break, then jumped back on again. Fortunately, this was toward the end of the games. Even though there weren’t as many close games as usual on this Sunday, the ones remaining were pretty exciting. However tired I was, the last 30 minutes went by faster than the rest.

Test passed. I can ride three hours on a trainer. Now that I have, I never will again, but at least I know my limits.


Haute Route Training Begins

It seems only fitting that I write this post on the day the Tour de France route is announced. It is especially exciting following along, knowing that I’ll be riding many of the same roads a few weeks later. The course looks imposing, with uphill time trials, two climbs up Alpe d’Huez in the same stage, and a Ventoux stage finish. It will definitely be a race for the climbers.

Looking at these routes, I also know that I have a long ways to go. Fortunately, my formal training began this week.

After feeling a little hip irritation over the last weekend, it has been surprisingly painless ever since. It is probably at around 80-90% now. Given the slow healing process thus far, I’m not expecting overnight recovery, but I am far closer to being done with this injury.

We approached this week cautiously, careful not to work too hard on the hip and suffer a setback. Normally we would have started with strength exercises, but Coach Bobby first wanted to make sure the hip could handle an easy training load. He scheduled some light riding for everyday this week.

Monday and Tuesday started with the trainer. To be honest, I sort of hate the trainer. I can put the most mindless popcorn movie on the TV, yet still feel bored when pushing the pedals. It is always uncomfortably warm in the house, and I get saddle sore extremely quickly. I was only able to manage 30 minutes the first two nights, although that was partly because I had other projects that occupied my time.

Tonight I am going to try to hang in there longer. I’ll be pleased with an hour of work.

Tomorrow I’ll be trying out a night ride. They call it a crit actually, but I’ll be riding easy, just working on getting some base miles. Maybe later in the year I can stretch the legs and do some speed work.

Friday will be a short ride; Saturday will be an organized metric century; Sunday will be another short ride in my backyard.

Assuming I am able to get through this week without any setbacks, I’ll start with weight training next week.

Here goes nothing …


Rebooting the Machine

My new coach is a firm believer in the benefits of recovery and rest. One of the first things he asked was the last time I took a full week off the bike (it hadn’t been long because of my layoff after Colorado).

We officially began our ‘training’ together on the first of October, where the first order of business was resting my weary bones for at least two weeks. I liken this to rebooting the computer after leaving it on for awhile. Over time, everything seems to run slower; some programs make mistakes, and generally do not work as intended. After the reboot, I should be refreshed, and most most importantly, hungry to begin the long training for France. The coach will certainly push me, as he should, but it is refreshing to know that I’ll have breaks in between.

The Tragically Hip

The timing for a rest period could not be better. Before and after Six Gap, my hip was hurting. It took a few days for flexibility to return, and even then it was only limited. Some days have felt like I have made great strides, while others have felt like setbacks.

The plan was to see the doctor two days after Six Gap. The first appointment was scheduled incorrectly, and my doctor called in sick for the next two. That filled his schedule, and the earliest opening is next Thursday. At this point, I suspect this is a hip flexor strain, or something similar in the same neighborhood. Whatever the injury, it will most likely be fine. After nearly two weeks of rest, it has recovered significantly. My estimate is that I’m at 60% now, and should be closer to 100% in the next week or two. The first two weeks of rest are being extended one more week, interrupted by a long walk tomorrow (more on that later).

The last time I have taken this much time off the bike was November of last year. Even then I was spending a lot of time in the gym, doing cardio, strength training, and a little bit of running. This is probably the first time in nearly two years that I have done nothing whatsoever for this long. As nice as the couch is, it can be a little boring. I’ve consumed a lot of movies, TV shows, and even worked on the weekends. I can stand another week of this, but any longer and I’ll be ditching the couch out the window.

A week from Saturday will be my grand return to Tour de Leaves, the first organized ‘cookie’ ride I ever attended. It couldn’t come a moment sooner.


Repeat the Hill Out of It

A lot of people that read my blog mistakenly think that I live in Spartanburg, Greenville or Asheville. Makes sense given how much I am up there, but no. I live in Columbia, SC. I have also heard from people that it is difficult to train for mountain rides when one lives away from major climbs. I beg to differ in most cases.

Hill repeats have become an essential part of my training. They aren’t nearly as fun as mountains, but in my opinion they are almost as effective. All that’s needed is a comfortable, short hill. It should not be too easy or too steep. It can be as little as a 100-200 foot climb. Ideally you will find a section with a number of different hills for variety, as there is nothing more monotonous than riding the same terrain repeatedly. Training isn’t always supposed to be easy.

I’ve spent a couple years looking for the perfect spot. I found it at the intersection between Harmon Rd and Mount Elon Church Rd. I start with one side of Mount Elon, which is the longest and steepest, about 150 feet at a 8-10% grade. Then I head back down and up “Harmon Hill,” over the other side and back up. That’s about 250 feet total. Then, back at Mount Elon, I take a right on the opposite side of the street for the steep section. It is a shorter hill, but hits about 11-12%. It lets me stand up and stretch my legs. An entire circuit takes me about half an hour and yields almost 600 feet in climbing. I am willing to bet that most cities have similar spots.

The one thing I am careful to do is to ride easy. This is not the time to hammer or hill jam and try to get personal bests. I always ride up in the little ring, mostly in the easiest gear. The idea is to just find a rhythm. In the process, the workout will gradually improve my power and climbing strength.

I used this often when competing in the Strava Climbing Challenge. Despite making numerous trips to the mountains, it was my local rides where I worked in hills that allowed me to succeed. This Strava link is an example of one of my hill climbing grinds. You’ll notice that the elevation chart looks like a set of shark teeth. Mt. Elon is also a Strava segment, which shows I did six circuits in that day. In order to complete the Challenge, I had to repeat “The Wall” on Fort Jackson, which you can see on this Strava segment.

Without living near mountains, this was my only means of completing the task, and it made a substantial difference in my training for Mount Mitchell.

A lot of people have told me that they have trouble training for mountain events because of the lack of climbs where they live. From what I’ve found, most areas have at least some hills. The best place to find them is near a lake or a river. Highway overpasses or bridges work if nothing else is available. I know some people who ride in truly flat coastal regions that use bridges and headwinds for training. The terrain is out there.


The Pre-Mitchell Massage

This year I have really come to understand and appreciate the benefits of athletic massage. I started when I was having hamstring troubles, and found the perfect fit in Debbie Lipski. She has worked with cycling teams on race events and understands the pain that we put our muscles through. She alleviated the hamstring tightness immediately, allowing me to recover and continue training. Without her help, I probably would not have completed the climbing challenge.

Yesterday was my pre-Mitchell massage. It felt amazing. The more I abuse my muscles, the better the massage feels. I hurt them pretty thoroughly this past Saturday. My left side was particularly tight, both the quads and the hamstrings. That probably means I favor that side and could use work on my form. That comes later. It was painful when she put pressure on my left quad, but felt so good at the same time. All the soreness was slowly leaving my body.

I have been supplementing that massage with foam rolling. When I was doing the hard work, I would practically be on the rollers nightly. I even pulled out a rolling pin and would roll my quads as if they were pizza dough. It still hurt, but in a refreshing way and would allow me to bounce back quicker.

Now that I’m finished with the massage, I feel like a new, relaxed person. Since I’m only tapering this week, my muscles should be more than ready to tackle the big mountain.


The Taper

(Coach Peter Kay, last years’s Assault’s Director, posted a fantastic article last year about tapering. With his permission I am republishing it here. This was written 10 days before the Assault on Mount Mitchell last year, so it is appropriate to post it today, 10 days prior to this year’s Assault. Peter is a coach, a musician, and a fellow blogger. He is a good guy and has helped me a great deal.)

What does it mean to “taper?”

It’s crunch time and a lot of us are feeling the pressure of the deadline. The Assaults are 10 days away, and many are beginning to question their training.

The worst thing any cyclist can do right now is “cram.” There is simply NO way to make-up what you haven’t already accomplished this spring. The next 10 days should be “review,” and recovery – not trying to get in those last few hills and mountains or trying to lose those last few pounds.

From here on out… you work with what you have!

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Before any event that a cyclist takes seriously, there should be a period in which volume tapers off so that the body can rest, recover, and rebuild broken-down muscle tissue. Each person is different, so there is no one way to taper. That said, there are certainly a few generalizations that can be made:

1. Most cyclists do best with a 7-10 day Taper. Some people need less time, but almost no one needs more than 10 days (after that, one begins to lose a bit of fitness).

2. Taper refers to “tapering off” which does NOT mean stopping altogether. Similarly, the first few days of the taper should only be moderately easier than usual (or shorter) while the last few days of the taper may feel too easy or short.

3. Decrease volume more than intensity. Short rides with a few hard blasts will keep your body’s metabolism going, the blood flowing, and your muscles used to stress. You want to keep the engine revved up without burning much fuel. At the same time, try to avoid breaking down the muscle fibers too much. Don’t go out and do serious hill reps for an hour – but throwing in a few hills OR a few sprints during a casual spin will help keep the legs loose.

4. By the end, one should feel almost twitchy with excitement and energy – NOT sluggish, lethargic, or “soft.” These are signs that an athlete didn’t taper correctly. If you feel yourself getting tired a few days before the ride – get outside and pedal around a while. It won’t hurt you to change your taper along the way (so long as you don’t burn up your legs).

5. In the last two days, it is generally considered best to take Saturday completely off the bike, ride a short and easy ride on Sunday (45-75 minutes at a recovery pace with no real hard efforts). This is a perfect combination of rest and active recovery that primes the pumps for Monday’s hardest efforts.

If needed (schedule conflicts, etc), you can also swap these two days, riding easy on Saturday and resting on Sunday, although your legs will most likely take far longer to “wake up” on the day of the event.

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Many are headed to the mountains this Saturday, and that’s okay. So long as it’s a shorter ride – less volume – and slightly easier than usual (no need to take risks, bombing the descents… there’s no clock and there’s no prize!).

As I said earlier, a taper could be as many as 10 days, but for some it’s far fewer. The length of time isn’t based on age or experience – although, that does play some role in the process. Instead, it’s more about genetics and lifestyle. A 35 year old, Cat 2 racer with an active and stressful job may actually need longer than a retired man who simply cycles as a hobby. Trial and error is still the best way to find what works for you but within the framework of the guidelines above.

The key is to rest, eat well, and stay hydrated.

-Peter Kay


From Cashiers to Mitchell

My 2nd Assault on Mount Mitchell is less than two weeks away.

I’m glad that I had a couple struggles at Cashiers. To me, this was like the powerhouse team that loses a big game before the playoffs. It happens often in sports. The teams lose, then have to regroup, re-focus and come out on top. Kentucky’s basketball team is a great recent example.

Most of my Mitchell training is now finished. There will be a couple more rides, including one more century this weekend, but the hard stuff is behind me. Now I have to use what I learned about myself to formulate a plan for the big ride.

Cashiers reminded me not to overestimate myself or underestimate the ride. That’s exactly what I did this weekend. I have been training hard and making great progress that I forgot some of the little things.

  • The week prior to Cashiers, I didn’t ride at all. I was due for a recovery week, but could have benefited from an easy spin or two.
  • I didn’t drink a lot of water prior to Cashiers. Most of my hydration came in the form of two cups of coffee before the ride, which is not ideal.
  • The biggest mistake was in my eating the night before the ride. I made poor choices ordering from a German restaurant. I got a small side of potatoes when I should have ordered a pasta dish.
  • On top of that, I forgot to eat something just before the ride as I usually do.

No wonder I struggled out of the gates. My tank was empty!

So I have one more (relatively) flat century to use as a testing ground. That will be at this weekend’s Tour de Midlands. The plan this time is to fuel intelligently, stay on the bike without stopping (much) and ride as fast as I can.