• I’m not a physician, nor do I play one on television.  These ideas are things I’ve found that work for me.  Your mileage may vary.
  • Always consult a physician before starting a training program.
  • If it hurts, stop and fix the underlying problem. Cyclists need to be especially careful to avoid repetitive motion problems.
  • Be sensible.  Seek out a variety of advice, and above all, find what works for you.

26 Dec., 2010 – Progress Is Not A Straight Line

Earlier in the year I started to add interval training to my weekly riding.   While I saw definite benefits from this approach, the results were not consistently positive.  In addition to the plateaus that are pretty common to most people, there were definite periods when, if not my fitness, certainly my motivation seemed to wain.  Here are some things I learned from it all:

  • Training zones based on Lactate Threshold (LT) heart rate are far better gauges of training effort that those based on maximum heart rate alone.  Although a trained physician can provide the best measure of your personal LT, you can get a good ballpark figure using the method discussed in my 1 March post.
  • Interval training is no substitute for steady base miles.
  • Interval training is a great way to peak for a major ride or race.  Starting 8 or 9 weeks out from the target event, add interval training to your rides to increase your ability to sustain high-effort riding.  You can tailor the kind of intervals to the kind of ride you are preparing for, such as hills, rolling terrain, or whatever.
  • Interval training is difficult to maintain indefinitely, and if done for too long can start producing negative results.  I’m not talking about over training without sufficient recovery, at least on a daily basis.  This appears to be a longer-term phenomenon that can be appear as a lack of desire.  I’m not a physiologist or trainer, but I can say that after about 6 months of intervals, my 3 mile times started going up and I could no longer hammer out on the road like I could earlier in the year.  So I slowed down and just focused on enjoying the ride.
  • Never underestimate the power of the chase!  Let’s face it, a lot of us don’t really like to be passed by another rider, and how many of us have ever set out to catch a rider up the road?  I fondly recall one ride in particular, back in October.  Just out for an afternoon ride, I stopped to take a drink and stretch.  Another rider passed by, and a couple minutes later I was back on the bike.  The other rider was nowhere to be seen, and peddling up hill, I was feeling really strong and doing 18+ mph.  I decided to set out and catch the other rider.  The road continued climbing, and I continued to blitz it like never before.  Still not seeing the rider, I felt like I could sense him on the road, so I took the right at the top of the hill and just kept hammering.  He came within view a few miles later, and I kicked it up another notch, putting my heart rate solidly into zone 4.  Catching him up after maybe 2 or 3 miles, I latched onto his rear wheel and caught my breath for a few minutes.  I noticed he had a nice ride, and his jersey had an ad for a bike shop in Geleen, a town nearby.  As the road rose uphill again, I attacked, passing him and motioning him to follow.  We then went up the 2-3% grade at about 20mph.  My heart rate was deep into zone 5, but I felt great.  Finally, at the top of the hill, he went left and I went right.  I brought it on home and was astounded to see I had averaged 19.9mph, mostly up hill, on a bike with fenders and a luggage rack.  I had never ridden that fast for over 20 minutes.  Never underestimate the power of the chase!

26 Sept., 2010 – Add Some Variety To Your Workouts

In simple terms, training is the intentional application of stress to your body to cause adaptive changes in physiology.  For many of us, this means getting out and riding most days, working up a sweat and breathing hard.  If you were a couch potato before, this sort of training will yield results, up to a point.  After several months, your body will adapt to the stress and reach a plateau.  In order to progress past the plateau, you will need to vary the kind of stress you are applying, and thereby cause your body to break out of its rut and adapt to the new stress.  This does not necessarily mean spending more time training.  Instead, try to make better use of the time you spend training.

The general consensus these days is to add interval training to your diet of steady miles.  One of my favorites goes something like:

  • 15 minutes warm up
  • 8 minutes steady pace that ends at or a little above LT
  • 5 minutes recovery at 85% LT
  • 3 minutes fast spin at 105-115 rpm and light resistance.  Focus on smooth pedaling.
  • repeat the set
  • 10 minutes steady pace at 80% LT
  • 5 minute cool down

Do this a couple times a week with at least one recovery day between.

Here are some more suggestions on how to mix up your training routine from the folks at Bicycling Magazine:

If you have the time and really want to kick of the new season in top gear, consider this program developed my Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s coach:

For more perspective on longer-term plateaus and their remedy, take a look at:,0

The key points to take away are:

  1. Add a two or three days of interval training to your weekly rides
  2. Mix up your training rides and don’t get stuck doing the same thing day to day or week to week

18 July, 2010 – LT Re-Test

It’s been 2 1/2 months since establishing my LT.  Time to test again and see what, if anything has changed.  Between commuting, training, and adventure rides, time on the bike has been 7 – 9 hours a week, and 120 – 150 miles.  So I expected to see improvement, but how much?

The test was a repeat of the one done back on May 1; 3 miles at as fast a steady pace as possible.  As before, testing was conducted on the Kurt Kinetic trainer to eliminate variances due to weather and traffic.  The charts below show several things.


First, the time to complete 3 miles dropped from 8:58 to 8:03.  Average speed increased from 20.2mph to 22.4mph.  The other item of note is that my LT appears to have remained steady at around 172bpm.  This is not unexpected; increasing LT heart rate is difficult, and I’m not into that kind of suffering.

The speed graph shows the difficulty of maintaining a steady speed under high load.  What the charts don’t show is how intimidating this test is, especially in the last mile.  Pushing this hard is very uncomfortable; the mind develops a natural aversion to putting in this kind of effort.  I guess that’s why we find coaches and training partners, to help us go places we can’t go on our own.

So there it is: 10% improvement in max. sustained speed after 11 weeks.  Not bad!  We’ll repeat the test again in September.  Maybe crack into the 23mph range?  Check back at the end of September to find out!

14 March, 2010 – Heart Rate Zones and LT

Okay, so you know what your lactate threshold (LT) is in terms of heart rate, but so what?  How can this information be put to use?  The key is to relate heart rate zones to your individual LT.  By doing so, you can create training zones that are specific to your specific fitness level.  Writing for Bicycling Magazine, Alex Stieda recommends the following HR zones:

Zone 1: Active recovery—less than 81% of LT HR
Zone 2: Endurance—82-88% of LT HR
Zone 3: Muscular endurance—89-93% of LT HR
Zone 4: Threshold—94-100% of LT HR
Zone 5: Anaerobic—100+% of LT HR

My personal experience is that these zones correspond more closely to discrete levels of exertion than do the commonly found zones based on max heart rate alone.  Zone 1 is easy riding; I work up a sweat, but can carry on a conversation without a problem.  Zone 2 is a bit harder; I can’t carry on a conversation, but breathing is easy and I can ride at this pace for hours.  Zone 3 is harder still; no more talking, focus is on steady breathing and relaxing.  I can ride 60-90 minutes at this level.  Level 4 is getting pretty hard;  Breathing is hard and fast but not gasping, and I can last 15 or 20 minutes in this zone.  Zone 5 is flat out, eyes bulging, gasping for air.  Not sure how long I can hang at this level ’cause I rarely ever ride that hard for more than a couple minutes at a time.

1 March, 2010 – Lactate Threshold

Do you know what Lactate Threshold (LT) is?  If you ride in street cloths, you don’t want to know.  If you think a heart rate monitor (HRM) is a waste of money, you probably don’t want to know either.  For the rest of us, LT is an important measure of your body’s capacity for work.  Unlike general rules of thumb, LT is a scientific measure of your personal level of fitness and a guide for fitness training.

Simply put, LT is the point at which your body produces more lactic acid than it can remove.  For a more detail description of LT, see Selene Yeager’s article in Bicycling Magazine.  Instead of using arbitrary heart rate zones,  you can use LT to develop a training program tailored to your specific state of fitness.  For example, check out Chris Carmichael’s article in Bicycling Magazine.  Understanding your LT is especially useful if, like me, you don’t have 10, 12, or more hours a week to spend on a bike.

Lacking access to a sports medicine facility, I did two three-mile laps separated by a ten-minute recovery.  Take the average heart rate over the two laps, and that is about what your LT is.  For me, that works out to about 168 bpm.

So, here’s what I found. Not knowing just how hard to go, I warmed up for 20 minutes, then rode steady right at 20 mph. The result is shown in Figure 1.
Lap 1
During the following 10 minute recovery, I realized that the effort was about 90% of max. and decided to go a bit harder the second lap, as shown in Figure 2.
Lap 2
On the second lap, the speed varied quite a bit more, as I was pushing hard, coming in about 23 seconds ahead of lap 1. However, the heart rate showed a more consistent curve, gradually plateauing around %95 of max.  As both a quantitative and a qualitative measure of exertion, this test provides a baseline for both training and riding.  For training, I know how hard to push in order to increase power and endurance.  For general riding, I now have a good gauge of what riding hard and riding too hard look and feel like.

I’ll repeat the test in a couple months to see if anything has changed.


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