Category Archives: Training

Mitchell or Bust?

mitchell highest peak

My singular goal for this early spring season was to conquer the Assault on Mount Mitchell. My hope was to reach a time goal of 6:30, which would beat my personal best from last year by 37 minutes. The way I was training, this sort of goal was not out of the question.

Then it happened. The injury.

Recovery has been slower than anyone expected. The doctors thought it could be close to 6 weeks. 12 weeks later and I was still on the couch.

It has now been 15 weeks, and I was just recently given the green light to start riding again, albeit slowly. To my surprise, I found that I still have a little bit of fitness. The good news is that the hip has improved somewhat, although I have to deal with occasional soreness and cannot ramp up the mileage and intensity just yet. There could be lingering issues, and surgery at some point is not outside the realm of possibility.

What about The Assault on Mount Mitchell? Even when I was first diagnosed, I planned to continue with my registration. That said, I expected a month or two more to train. Now, with 9 weeks to go, the clock is ticking.

I’ve warned many cyclists not to take Mitchell lightly. In my opinion, it is the most difficult road ride in the southeast. I would recommend most people plan their training carefully over the offseason, and do as much riding and climbing as possible in the late winter and early spring before tapering for the main event.

I don’t have that luxury, but as of today, I am still planning to do Mitchell.

Some people will think this is a crazy decision. John Bryan made the decision long ago to ride from Spartanburg to the top of Mitchell. That was pretty crazy, yet he was successful.

After testing myself, I can tell that I have a chance at completing the event. The time goal is out the window. This year I won’t think about a finish time. I’ll stop and go as needed, and make sure I reach the top of the mountain with my body intact, however long it takes.

Because of the injury, my training plan will be drastically different from previous years. In the next several weeks, I’ll work on increasing the mileage while minimizing intensity. This is my base mileage. After that, assuming the hip remains healthy, I’ll get in some easy climbing. Again, not too much.

I plan to work up to a plain ol’ century ride, which will be the Tour de Cure on May 4th, just a few weeks before Mitchell. That will be the main test. I feel that with my carryover fitness and experience with climbing, that I can complete Mitchell if I can ride a century. It will most likely be the toughest challenge I’ve had to face, but it can be done. It is really up to my body and the progress of my recovery, but I am going to try.


The Strength Cycle, Phase One

I’ve been following a thread on a mailing list regarding whether or not a strength program benefits a cyclist. There have been many well-reasoned, passionate arguments from both sides, but it seems the consensus is either it depends on the person, or we simply don’t know. Some rider friends have told me that weights can actually hurt rather than help, while others say the opposite.

Last year I put together a rudimentary program inspired by Joe Friel that I think worked for me. There was an initial setback on the bike, which probably had more to do sore legs than anything else. Once I was back into riding shape, I found myself stronger than ever. However, a lot of my results probably had to do with the weakened state of my muscles. I simply hadn’t experienced enough in the sport, so any program would have made a difference.

Things are different now. This last year was phenomenal, and I’m now in significantly better shape than ever in my life. That may mean that my gains will be less drastic, but I am trusting that my coach knows what he’s doing. Even if it doesn’t help, I doubt it will hurt.

That’s Bobby’s visual example of how to leg press.

The first phase is a lot of easy leg and core exercises. To my surprise, he does not have me doing squats, at least not yet. The workout now is more well-rounded, not just working the quadriceps, but also the calf, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and other neglected muscles.

I found that my quads were in pretty good shape going in. That was a pleasant surprise, given that the only maintenance I had done was hill climbing. That bodes well for next year.

The other muscles, eh … not so much. The hamstrings weren’t so bad. Calves were rough; lower back was painful. I still have not been able to complete the prescribed back exercises.

Speaking of neglected muscles, my abdominals have not been worked out in about a year. That’s the muscle group I always mean to work out, but the most I get done is a crunch or two.

Bobby’s core workout rocked my world. He has me on a series of complex exercises, some of which make me feel like I want to throw up. After the first two routines, my abs were killing me. What’s worse is they seemed to feel worse every day afterward. After a couple weeks, the soreness has finally abated, but the workouts are still tough. I have made progress, and that’s all I can ask for.

Will this routine work for me? I think so. The power gains may not be substantial, but the peripheral gains should be noteworthy. A stronger core and lower back should give me a better pedal stroke. Even if I gain nothing, this should reduce the chance of injury, which is worth all the suffering.

I also know that eventually a rest week will be coming. Soon?


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.