Season in the Saddle
A post about my road cycling season and training for Cascade Classic.
I realized I’ve only blogged about running really… but my running season has ended and its time to reflect on my transition to cycling.
Let me be honest… I easily transitioned from the bike to running at the end of last summer. It was a smooth, welcomed change. I had this expectation that I would have the same joyful, energetic experience returning to cycling. Oh how wrong I was… My legs felt dead, slow, heavy when pedaling; especially climbing. It was as if running melted all my muscles away. Keeping up with the group rides was a struggle. Sure, there were strong days… but overall, it was a struggle. Road racing season starts early in Ohio. I practically went right from running a marathon to racing the bike. Showing up to try to ride as hard as my body could was daunting, but I quickly had to remember that isn’t what road racing is about. The mental aspect was more difficult than the physical struggle. With running, you just run. Training, racing, it doesn’t matter, you just run. It is your effort that matters. There is no team, you don’t work for another runner, don’t hide in the pack, block other runners from going ahead, elbow the runner next to you… You just run and try to get to the finish as fast as your own legs can get you there. Road racing on a bike is totally different; girls play dirty. You might be riding 12 mph because no one wants to work until the finish sprint. You might have someone on target you and be on your wheel 100% of the race. You might get cut off, run off the road, yelled at, blocked, chased down… etc etc… Going to a bike race was like going to a middle school playground; bullying was sure to ensue. It’s not just the girls tho. Some men think riding behind a female is degrading and will do anything to steal the wheel away. Mentally, I was breaking. On top of feeling unsupported (no teammates in most races), targeted and pushed around by other racers, I was dealing with not being very good. I had just come off such a good season of reaching (and exceeding!) all my marathon goals that it was extremely tough to enter a sport and not be winning. So yeah, legs needed to gain muscle back and I needed to grow a pair to hold my own. Things were not going well. The local races were a mix of ups and downs: a mechanical, a podium, a crash, a great result, throwing my bike, earning cash, being brought to tears… I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t peaking yet, that I was still training, that I had only been back on the bike since mid March (not including that ultra run thrown in the middle of cycling season). I had to keep my eye on the prize, my key race, Cascade Classic at the end of July.
Why Cascade? Well because I want a challenge, needed a race late in the season, like climbing, and I really want an honest shot at a real high level competitive cycling race. Of course then the race went UCI and things got crazy… but I’m still in and racing for Team Fresh Air Athena.
Here’s how my Cascade Training has gone down.
Training goals + progress:
· Train for real
o I did not use a coach but might in the future… I definitely took things up a notch, but did not train my weaknesses as much as I should have. (Just put the TT bars on today… a little late for training)…
o Do things I’m not so comfortable with, like race crits to gain experience and ride intervals.
o Ride harder. I started going to the harder group rides and making sure to pull through and earn my keep. These rides are making me work, giving me confidence and improving my power.
o Ride easier. Just like running, I thought it would be a good idea to go harder on hard days and easier on easy days. So I go out for rides by myself and try not to worry about the numbers or working hard and instead worry about something else; form, cadence, enjoyment (taking fun cycling selfies)…
· Get many miles
o My body handles volume well but this race will be 5 days of action and I need to practice loading up the miles.
o I’m doing high mileage weeks including intensity and back to back long hard efforts to prep.
o Averaged 351 miles a week for the last 7 weeks.
· Focus on the numbers
o Got a power meter. Started actually using it.
o Track how my power improves at different time periods. This has been fun and keeps me motivated. In the last week I’ve improved on my power output from 5 minutes -4 hours. Not bad.
o Look at training stress/ form/ fatigue.
· Assess and adjust
o I need to learn more about how my body rides and how I can use that to improve.
o The power meter is good, it has shown me where I excel and where I really struggle.
o I’ve learned that I ride worse after a rest day than after a moderate training day. No ‘openers’ for me. The day before a race, I need a decent ride to wake up my body and rest 2 days out.
o While I am pretty good about eating on the bike, this season I’ve really tried to fine tune it. I bring whole food (sandwiches mostly) along on rides and save the sport food for the faster, shorter efforts.
o I watch my calorie expenditure during every ride/ race and have a very good idea of when I’m burning, when I need to eat, and when I’m properly fueled.
o I am better about spacing my food out during long rides.
o In races I give myself a set time (or mile) that I must consume food by whether I want to or not.
o Water intake is still a struggle. Some days I drink enough, others I might go through less than 1 bottle on a 100 mile ride.
o Differentiate training nutrition from racing nutrition. While I eat sandwiches on training rides, I have a different plan for races. I know when to execute each eating plan and how my body will react.
o Clean up my diet for body goals and performance reasons: get rid of the junk (no more alcohol & chocolate until post Cascade!), eat more balanced salads & pay more attention to recovery intake.
· Body Goals
o I had to face the facts that I wasn’t feeling strong on the bike with my runners body. I needed to gain a little weight in the form of muscle. I really wasn’t thrilled about this… I was really enjoying my runner’s body!
o Hard to accomplish, but we all know that power to weight is uber important!
o I did my research and found that internationally competitive female road cyclists average 5’7, 130lb, ~10%bf. Basically means they are strong, not skinny! Tough standards! But for me, this meant gaining about 5 pounds of muscle.
o How do you know if that weight you’re gaining is muscle?? I consulted the Bod Pod, a very accurate method of measuring body fat by air displacement.
o My bf% was at 16.6%. Not terrible…. But not 10%!!!
o Cleaning up my diet (above) + more strength (below) will help. Finger crossed.
· Increase Power
o One of the things I lack both in running and cycling is explosive power. In running, this isn’t a big deal since I compete in the marathon and endurance is more important there… but in cycling, power matters. I need the ability to attack, and go with other’s attacks.
o Started looking at the numbers and tracking data.
o I won’t give away all my data here (although most of it is on Strava)…I can say that I’ve come a long way from the start of the season numbers wise that’s for sure!!
o Spend more time on off the bike training like weights, full body workouts, core routines, etc… I tried to do these things twice a week at least.
Seeing progress in my cycling was slow to start, but my fitness on the bike has really improved from March until today. I must say, I definitely enjoy being out on the bike more now!!
Today was my last real workout before tapering for Cascade. So am I ready? No. This is a huge leap forward from any race I've done in the past. I’m going from a field of 5-12 to 80+ way more experienced and mostly professional racers. Its scary and super daunting. I’m stressed out and really wondering WTF did I get myself into. But… I’m doing it. My name is on the roster, so I have to tell myself I have a right to be there. I’ve put in some hard training and hope that I will not finish DFL; surviving a race like this is enough of a goal.
Stay tuned as I make the journey to Oregon July 17-25 to see how all this plays out!!