Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Importance of the Long Ride

Like most… my training time is scarce. On the face of things, long low-intensity rides seem to be poor use of valuable training time. One has to put in hard efforts to become a stronger rider, right?

Not exactly.

My season’s training plan started quite simple: two bouts of threshold-intensity intervals during the week, starting with 40’minutes of total time in Level 4 effort building to 90’minutes. On Tuesdays I split the total time goal into four to six intervals (4x 10’min progressing to 6x 15’min). On Thursdays, I split the total time goal into two or three intervals (2x 20’min progressing to 3x 30’min). Days between I do some easy spinning, short VO2 focused intervals, or nothing if I’m feeling tired. On the weekend comes a long ride starting at 2-hours increasing to 5-hours. At the end of that cycle, I ratchet the power up just a bit and start over at the 40’minutes level. It’s a striking simple and boring plan.

For the first part of the season the results were spectacular. I was cycling through the progression and threshold power was increasing well. Then I tried to turn the wick up, and add intensity to the weekend rides, and reducing the duration.

And the results… progress ground to a halt.

Despite continually building time on the Tuesday/Thursday intervals, when it came time to bump up the power…it wasn’t there. I could step up power over short duration, but for anything that would be useful in an actual race… I couldn’t maintain it. I stopped gaining functional (ie. useable) power -despite adding more intensity to my training.

The mechanism is clear. Long sub-threshold rides build and maintain aerobic fitness. Short-duration intensity may make your leg muscles stronger… but if you don’t have the lungs and heart capacity to support them, any added strength is inaccessible.

This shouldn’t have been an eye opener. Extensive research exposes the benefits of sub-threshold riding for building *functional* threshold power. Andy Coggin continually emphases “It’s an aerobic sport, dammit!” Yet somehow the message didn’t sink in. Ride easier to get stronger seems quite counter to the entre “no pain = no gain” concept.

…but it’s hard to argue with the results.

I flop every time I transition from base/build into peak. I gained some insight into why with this ‘mistake’. Much to learn about physiology, my body and what works for me. That’s the benefit, and consequence, of being self-coached.


Jane said...

Long rides - yay! Pancakes afterwards