Interval Training: Time to Regain Bike Fitness

After Ironman Australia my shoulder injury got worse, not better, so I decided to take an extended break from swimming and focus on my cycling and running. I found an excellent Triathlon group to train with—the Sydney Triathlon Group—and particularly enjoyed their group rides. There are some seriously good cyclists and it is demanding to keep up with them. After two months of training I was getting some good results with my cycling fitness when I had to go on a seven week overseas trip, sans bicycle. By the time I was back I had lost much of my hard won cycling fitness.  I had kept my running up so that was fine, but I was very unhappy with my cycling.

I monitor my cycling performance with a power meter which records the number of watts I generate when riding. The plot below is the distribution of my maximum power against duration.

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There is an excellent tool at TrainingPeaks.com which analyses the above power profile and identifies your strengths and weaknesses (called ‘Fatigue Analysis’). These are the results:

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According to Joe Friel, someone my age and weight should have an FTP of about 275 watts—not 222 watts. Last year before Ironman Kentucky it was about 250 watts so it’s definitely gone down.

I had a two week trip to Kiribati and this provided the perfect opportunity to address the situation. Desperate times called for desperate measures so I decided to do daily interval training while on my trip.

The data above suggested that I should do L4 training—which is what is the most important for triathlons. These are done as 2 x 20” intervals at 91-105% of your functional threshold power (FTP). FTP is the power you could sustain for a 60 minute time trial.

Another option was to do L5 VO2 max intervals. Very unpleasant as they are done at >106% of your FTP. VO2 max intervals are NOT fun. But as Jesper Medhus from the site www.Training4Cyclists.com notes: “For a cyclist a large aerobic engine is essential. When you go for a ride you stimulate your aerobic system, but how much stimulation depend on the intensity you ride with. Trained cyclists need a greater absolute and relative workload to keep improving the VO2 max. Thus, if you are an experienced rider, it is necessary to do hard intervals or races to make further progress.”

One advantage to VO2 max intervals is that in some respects they are easier than L4 FTP intervals—you have 5 minutes of intense suffering versus 20 minutes of only moderate suffering.  Since VO2 work would also benefit my FTP, I decided to go for the short intense suffering instead :=)

Jesper has an excellent 14 day VO2 max interval training program on his site so I downloaded it and laid out the plan. I packed my travelling road bike into its case, a stationary trainer into my suitcase and heavily laden headed off to Kiribati.

The Gear

I had some problems at the airport since I got the weight limits mixed up. Qantas were helpful as usual—what a great airline—and they let me use the remaining weights of my two colleagues to offset the excess weight. Got hit in Fiji for a charge, but it could have been worse.

At the hotel I commandeered the larger room with a tile floor and set my bike and trainer up that evening.

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Now this is my travelling bike and it comes apart to fit in the suitcase. There are two S&S titanium couplings which you can see in the photos below on the horizontal bar and the downtube below the water bottle. By far the easiest way of taking a bike with you. It’s a regular road bike—the only difference is that it comes apart. You can also see in the photo below these special connectors for the cables: you unscrew them and the cables stay with the respective halves of the bicycle frame.

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I use a Minoura magnetic trainer. As mentioned above, it fits into my suitcase and only weighs about 5 kg. Trainers chew through tyres so I use a special Continental trainer tire which has a much harder rubber compound. Even with that, you still had lots of rubber ‘dust’ after each ride spread around the bike and in neat piles under the magnetic resistance wheel!

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The other key part of doing lots of stationary training is entertainment. The interval program was a series of 1 h workouts so I decided to run through the series ‘Band of Brothers’  which I had on my computer. That plus the Australian election kept me from suffering too much boredom.

The Results

The first day was a VO2 test. You do a 20 minute incremental warmup and then a 5 minute easy pedal. Then it is flat out at the highest power you can sustain for 5 minutes. The funny thing with these workouts is that the clock always seems to slow down throughout the course of the workout. The last minute takes an hour. It was horrible.

I then followed the program for the next 12 days. The program consists of a series of different interval lengths, from 30 seconds on/30 seconds off, to 5 minutes on/3 minutes off. On Day 9 there was a 50 minute criterium but I decided to do the Spinerval ‘Suffer-o-Rama’ DVD instead.

Since I was flying out on day 14, I had to skip the last two days and do my second VO2 test on day 13—had to drop my bike off with the New Zealand High Commissioner who kindly agreed to keep it in Kiribati until my next visit. As expected, the test was horrible, but I managed to hold on.

The results are below: a 9.3% improvement in my power in 12 days, or with 10 days of actual workouts if you take away two days of testing.

 

Power (Watts)

Power-to-Weight Ratio (W/kg)

Before

291

4.48

After

318

4.89

Improvement

9.3%

 

 

According to WKO+, it pulled me up into Category 3 level, at least for 5 minute intervals.  Now I need to keep up my cycling and to work on some longer training.

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I’ll take a few days off and then back to team STG. I need a short rest as I’m one of those of whom Joel Friel says: “Athletes often train too frequently, too long and too intensely.” 

It has been a hard two weeks of intervals, but glad I did it. I feel that I am a bit more respectable now with my cycling. Thanks Jesper for the great program!

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