Tag Archives: Intervals

Are you willing to do what it takes?

The title of my Strava activity for Tuesday’s World Championships was, “I don’t want to talk about it.” I’m not getting ready to go back on that by discussing it here. However, its time to use the blog as a catharsis to get rid of some bad mojo. So, bear with me!


Here is the deal. I’m riding pretty well for early in this year. I’m seeing my functional threshold power increase and I’m sure I’m ready to take it to some long charity rides. However, I have an Achilles heel.

When it comes to racing (whether on the real road TNWC or Zwift’s virtual one), my FTP isn’t helping me much. Why? Well, you see, in racing no one just gets in a rhythm and rides that way to the end. Racing really is all about surges.

So, here I am trying to stay protected from the wind, but still stay up front in a race. The field begins to thin into a long line as the pace picks up. A break of three goes off the front. I wait. One by one the riders ahead of me move off like we are on a rotating pace line. Now I am on the front.

Suddenly, there is an attack of one rider, then two, and a third joins in an attempt to bridge over to the three already up the road. I have a choice to make. Do I rotate off the front and let the field pull me up to the forming break, or do I take matters into my own hands and follow?

For the sake of illustration, lets say I decide to jump on the wheel of the third rider and allow those attackers to help bring me up to the riders ahead. Well, two things are going to happen… 1) we are going to make it up to the break and then another scenario presents itself, or 2) as I grab the wheel going past me the field recognizes the threat and accelerates to neutralize the attack.

Either way, none of this takes place at a constant power output. Now, suppose I make it up to the break, but it becomes disorganized. After being away for a few minutes, the field behind gets organized to bring us back, or a new batch of riders attacks from the field to bridge up to us.

I’ve put out an effort to get up in the break. Just as I’m starting to get my heart rate under control, I’m faced with a new threat and a new need to ratchet up the power. This happens multiple times within the race.

Even if you make the decision to sit in the field (which I find it very hard to do), you can’t totally escape these surges. Often the field is like a rubber band. A movement starts at the front and everyone surges to release the tension being created as the front stretches away from the back. Then the front slows as the threat is neutralized or allowed to break away. The rear then collapses into the center. Only to have this happen again and again until a result is determined.

So, how do you prepare for this? Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen by just going out and riding your bike for hours and hours on end. It doesn’t happen by going out and doing 20 minute time trials at your functional threshold power.

PowerInterval Chart

90 min. 2 x [3 x 3 min. @ PI (3 min. RBI)(5 min RBS)] with chain falling off

How do you prepare? Intervals. You go out and do short bursts of power for one to five minutes. You rest for a minute or two and then engage in the next burst of pain. You do this until you are sick of them.

That is my problem. I’m loving riding my bicycle right now. I’m feeling strong. I could go out and do a time trial and possibly get a personal best. However, put me in a criterium, or even a road race, and I am toast.

However, I have not done a single interval training session. The result is that early in a race I can ride like I’m going to rule the field, but when the surges begin and I have to react to one or two attacks… I get ruled by the field!

Yes, a little bit of patience and correct reading of the tactics around me would definitely allow me to last longer, but I would only end up being field fodder when it really mattered. Yes, I need those things, but ultimately I’m going to have to face the training demons — intervals.

But here is the question… Do I care? Do I care enough about finishing well in what amounts to be a glorified shop ride that I am willing to put myself through that discomfort? Why can’t I just gain that ability by participating? Why can’t I just ride laps on Watopia going for jersey’s every now and again?

Oh, you’re still reading? I told you that this was a catharsis for me. This blog is more me talking to myself than to you. However, if you are new to cycling — especially competitive amateur cycling — I hope you will understand the truth of my words.

Intervals aren’t sexy. They are only fun for the cross fit riders of bicycles. However, if you want to be competitive and not just be field fodder, you are going to have to do intervals.

The question remains, “Are you willing to do what it takes?”

Confused with this OverUnder Interval

My day started at 6 AM yesterday and went at break-neck speed until 9:30 last night. That is when I finally got on the trainer to complete my workout for the day. This is when the rubber meets the road for training. It is when you make the choice to climb on the bike even when everything else about you says no.

To make matters worse for me, it was the dreaded OverUnder Interval. I don’t dread it because it is really really hard. I dread it because I never know if I am doing it correctly. Well, I plan to nip this in the bud. I’m asking you, the reader, to help me understand this workout that confuses me so much.

In the Time-Crunched Cyclist Plan the OverUnder Interval workout is described this way…

OverUnder Intervals are a more advanced form of SS Intervals. The “Under” intensity of is your SS [224 – 234 watts] range, and the “Over” intensity is your CR [249 – 260 watts] range. By alternating between these two intensity levels during a sustained interval, you develop the “agility” to handle changes in pace during hard, sustained efforts. More specifically, the harder surges within the interval generate more lactate in your muscles, and then you force your body to process this lactate while you’re still riding at a relatively high intensity.

The book goes on to read…

To complete the interval, bring your intensity up to your SS range during the first 45 to 60 seconds. Maintain this heart rate intensity for the prescribed Under time and then increase your intensity to your Over intensity for the prescribed time. At the end of the Over time, return to your Under intensity range and continue riding a this level of effort until it’s once again time to return to your Over intensity. Continue alternating this way until the end of the interval.

I get further confused because the instructions then say…

OverUnder Intervals always end with a period at Over intensity. Recovery periods between intervals are typically about half the length of the work interval.

Okay, so last night my plan called for me to do 90 minutes averaging 117 – 190 watts including 4 x 6 minute OverUnder intervals with 5 minute rests between intervals. I will admit that due to my desire to get in bed before midnight, I cut the overall length to 60 minutes. However, I did the OverUnder intervals… at least I think I did.

4 x 6 min. Over/Under (2U,1O) with 5 min. RBI

4 x 6 min. Over/Under (2U,1O) with 5 min. RBI

Here is what my session looked like…

  1. 10 minute warmup (134 watts average)
  2. 6 minute interval
    1. 2 minute Under (237 watts)
    2. 2 minute Over (275 watts)
    3. 2 minute Under (240 watts)
  3. 5 minute RBI
  4. 6 minute interval
    1. 2 minute Under (238 watts)
    2. 2 minute Over (274 watts)
    3. 2 minute Under (239 watts)
  5. 5 minute RBI
  6. 6 minute interval
    1. 2 minute Under (237 watts)
    2. 2 minute Over (277 watts)
    3. 2 minute Under (240 watts)
  7. 5 minute RBI
  8. 6 minute interval
    1. 2 minute Under (241 watts)
    2. 2 minute Over (268 watts)
    3. 2 minute Under (240 watts)
  9. 10 minute cool down (174 watts)

“So,” you ask, “What is the problem?” Well, the problem is that I don’t know if I am doing this correctly. Basically, my thought is that each interval is 6 minutes long. It is supposed to have alternate between 2 Under and 1 Over. However, it is also supposed to end with an Over. So…. how do you alternate?

Then there is the time question. Are these intervals supposed to be 2 minutes for each or 6 minutes for each? In other words, am I supposed to do 6 minutes at SS / 6 minutes at CR / 6 minutes at SS with a 5 minute RBI? So, instead of the total time being 6 minutes before the rest it would be 18 minutes.

That would put my workout — with just intervals — at about 82 minutes. My reason tells me that there is no way to warm up and cool down and do this longer approach within 90 minutes. So, I assume that I am doing things correctly.

Then again, the workout (at least at this intensity) doesn’t seem to be pushing me that hard. It makes me wonder if I am actually “develop[ing] the ‘agility’ to handle changes in pace during hard, sustained efforts.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not that excited about the longer session. I hope I am doing these correctly!

Oh, and then there is that question of how do you end up with an Over when you are supposed to alternate and you have only 1 Over to work with? I just didn’t let that confuse my brain and ended on an Under each time.

I have this workout again on Saturday — only it is supposed to include 120 minutes at EnduranceMile average. I would actually have time to complete the “longer” OverUnder during that session. Can someone help me make up my mind before then?

I am beat

Maybe it is the wind. Maybe it is the pollen. All I know is that the workouts over the last four days have done a number on me.

Friday, I thought I would be doing the race up in Rock Hill. Jim had me doing some “day before race day” workouts. Nothing to hard, but a good little workout. However, I ended up not making the trip.

Earlier that week I had a rather large unexpected expense. My discretionary spending went “poof!” It was already going to be the most expensive race of my year. Add to that the severe weather warnings of lake wind advisories in an area where we would be racing around a lake. It just didn’t seem to be much value per my dollar.

So, I decided to “race” here at home. Since Saturday’s race was a criterium, I decided to duplicate the scenario on the Batesview course. This also allowed me to take some pressure off the Beautiful Redhead by keeping me close to home with Things Two and Three while she went shopping with Thing One.

I went out for an hour full tilt. For the majority of that hour I was able to maintain a 21 mph average. That might not seem like much, but consider that I did 33 laps and on each lap I had a hill to climb a quarter of a mile long with an average grade of 4%. A portion of that kicked up at 10%. On top of that, I had a headwind hitting me full on as I climbed.

Needless to say, I felt like I had raced! My numbers didn’t look the same. The computer said I didn’t work as hard — my max heart rate was only 178. Tell that to my legs! Computer be hanged!

Water fall along the water shed

If only I could have stuck my head in it!

Sunday I went out again. This time I put in three hours in the saddle. I left Greer and headed up to the Watershed. It was a beautiful day, but once again I was focused on pushing myself. The first hour I was moving! My goal was to get up as far as I could before I hit one hour and thirty minutes. I would then turn around and head home for around a three hour ride. I figured I could climb a little longer because I typically get home faster due to coming down faster than climbing


I went past the turn to Saluda and kept going. Finally, I turned and started back down. Immediately upon turning I realized it was going to be a longer day. Even going downhill I could feel the headwind I would be going into.

It was with me pretty much all the way home. Plus for certain sections you are in an exposed area and the wind really fights you. I kept plugging and two hours and forty minutes into the ride I had emptied my water bottles and was starting to feel pretty empty myself.

I made it onto State Park Road and knew I was less than thirty minutes from home. However, it was at that point I got hit with a huge cramp in my left leg. That is odd because it is typically my right leg that will cramp up. This was one of those killer cramps. I can’t even tell you which muscles because it seemed to be every muscle from my knee up to my hip! It was one of those where when you try to relax it only seizes up more and if you push down you just feel like you are being stabbed!

Since it didn’t seem to matter if I stopped or kept going, I tried to get spinning again. Finally, the knotted rubber bands began to flex and it went away. I stopped at a store and pounded down a sports drink and then made it home.

Monday I was back out there. This time I was doing three sets of five 400+ one minute intervals. As I rolled off to begin the workout, I wasn’t sure I would make it. However, after a twenty minute warm up and a five minute FTP blowout, I was feeling much better. I was able to average over 400+ for most of the efforts. The ones I missed were only due to traffic conditions. Most of them were 440 watts plus.

It wasn’t until I finished my final ten minute push at over 250 watts that I started to feel all the work of the last several days start to catch up to me. I spun easily home and then crashed on the floor with a cold towel over my head. I felt good about the efforts I had given, but I was tired.

Monday night I could not sleep. I climbed out of bed in the morning feeling like I needed to go somewhere and get some rest. I’ve been fighting that brain dead feeling all day and I’m pretty grumpy. Just ask my wife and co-workers.

Jim had me going out to Donaldson tonight and “racing for a win.” I had to text him and tell him it wasn’t happening. My body needs a break. I’ll take an easy spin for an hour or so and go to bed early.

I’m not complaining. I feel that I have made some good progress over the last week. I can tell when I am making headway when I am able to still produce power even when I feel that I’m on the edge. It is as though your legs are operating separately from your mind. You end up with that alkaline taste in your mouth — like the taste of blood — and you push out power to the point where you feel you could puke.

Odd how we cyclists can enjoy that. Actually, it isn’t the process we enjoy. It is the result of that process. When I do get some rest and find my way into a race, all of that work and discomfort is going to pay off.

But right now, I’m just beat!

Speed bumps in my training

George Hincapie was recently interviewed by Neil Brown for CarolinaCyclingNews.com. He’s feeling fit and fresh at the start of his new season. He gave insight into his training over the last few weeks. I had to laugh when I compared it to my training on Tuesday.

“I’ve been at home (in Greenville, South Carolina) motorpacing four or five days a week, trying to train as hard as possible,” he told Neil. “I’ve had good weather, daily massages and am eating well. I feel strong – definitely a lot better than I did at this time last year.” Now, less you think that is “the life.” George spends hours on his bike. If you think the description above is a piece of cake, you haven’t motorpaced.

The thing is… that’s his job. Sure, it is a job he loves, but he is being paid to be out there training and preparing for the season. It is hard work. However, that singular focus is one thing that lessens the issues that we amateur racers must face.

Consider my Tuesday workout…

I rushed out of my last meeting of the day so I could get home and possibly get my 2 hour training block done before it got too dark to ride. When I rushed in the door at home, I was faced with a fifth-grader with tears in his eyes over adding fractions. No way could I just walk past him and say, “Sorry, I have to ride my bike.”

Once I got him settled down and back to finding the least common denominator, I rushed into the bedroom to change. I looked at the clock and it was now a race against time. I grabbed my LowCadence.com bibs and started to pull them on. I couldn’t get them over my knees! Oh, these belonged to my fifth-grader. After disentangling from those, I grabbed my POA kit off the drying rack and finally got ready.

So, now I had 30 minutes to ride before leaving to go pick up my daughter from play practice. Beautiful Redhead was leaving for her aerobics session. Thankfully, I have the Batesview Criterium. By tacking a little bit to my warm-up, I was able to get the first part of my training session (including a 5 minute blow-out of 320 watts) wrapped up before leaving for my daughter.

Thankfully, practice wasn’t far away. After about 20 minutes, I was back on the bike. However, the type of workouts I needed to do wouldn’t work on the personal, but very hilly criterium course. I headed for Cleveland Park.

I was supposed to do 6 x 3 minute efforts at 320 watts. I would rest 3 minutes between each. Then I would ride easy for 10 minutes before doing 4 x 2 minutes at 320 watts with 4 minutes easy spinning between each. Once I got done, I would ride easy for the 15 minutes back home. Adding up all those minutes as I headed down East North Street toward the park, I realized that I was going to be in a race against the sun.

Once in the park, I ran into a new frustration. It used to be that I could start at the intersection of Ridgeland Drive and Cleveland Park Drive and put the hammer down along Cleveland Park Drive onto Lakehurst Drive all the way to Cleveirvine Avenue. At 350 watts that takes about 1 minute and 40 seconds. Then I would turn right on Cleveirvine Avenue followed by a second right onto Woodland Way. I would then crest the hill above the park right about the 3 minute mark.

Things could be worse!

Things could be worse!

Enter the speed bumps. I don’t begrudge the bumps they put in where the Swamp Rabbit Trail intersects Cleveland Park Drive. It does slow that traffic in an area with a lot of pedestrian traffic. When I’m riding my bike, I don’t normally notice it because there is enough space around the bumps for a bike to pass easily.

During my workout they were a nuisance. It seemed that every time I got close to the bumps, a car would pull out of the nearby parking lot and then come to a complete stop as they slowly traversed the 10 inch mounds. On a couple of my efforts I had to come to a rolling stop. This meant to get my average above 320 watts, I had to punch it up Woodland Way.

Just as I was starting my second 2 minute effort the sun disappeared. Things started getting scary. Still, I hoped that I could get the final two before going home.

On the third effort I got to the bumps and the car not only went slowly over the obstacles, but I also could see two ladies in the car talking away. They continued at a very slow pace. My average was blown. I decided it was time to go home.

Thankfully, I made it to the bicycle lanes on East North Street with no mishaps. I pushed my lap button and decided to get one more two minute effort on my way home. Not bad… at the end of the session I was still able to turn out a 385 watt 2 minute effort. Of course, that meant I only got a 3 minute cool down.

Yes, it was a frustrating evening, but looking back over the ride data I have to be pretty happy. I nailed every one of the efforts (except one at 310 watts due to traffic) at 320 watts or above. This is showing me that I’m beginning to add some matches to my matchbook. I’m still not where I was last year before the wreck, but I’m starting to believe again that I can get there — even with speed bumps in my way.

Training: A plateau or no?

Up until this point, I’ve been pretty pumped about my training. It has been hard, but until now I have been able to succeed — and exceed — in every workout I have attempted. I’ve gotten used to my coach saying, “Good job! You nailed that one!” Now, I’m having to get used to hearing, “Hmmmmm, that one wasn’t so good.” Have I reached a plateau?

At the center of this question is the workout I have been doing recently. I’ve talked about the 30/30’s before. Now, I have graduated to the 60/60’s. I did these for the first time last Saturday. It goes like this:

  1. Warmup – 30 minutes
  2. Blow-out – 305 watts
  3. Spin – 5 minutes
  4. 1 minute at 425 – 465 watts
  5. Spin – 1 minute
  6. Repeat 4 and 5 four more times
  7. Spin – 5 minutes
  8. Repeat 4 – 7 four more times
  9. Spin – 20 minutes
  10. Complete 6 10 second all out sprints with five minutes spinning between each
  11. Ride home for the duration of the designated workout time

For 30 seconds I have been able to crank out more than enough wattage to meet my goals. However, when it comes to the 60 second workout, that is another matter. For the first two sets I manage just fine. However, in the third set things start to go down hill. By the fifth set, I’m averaging down in the 380 watts range.

What’s up with this? I’ll be around 450 watts for 30 seconds. Then I will see the wattage drop below 400 watts. I react trying to build the wattage back up, but when I do my legs go to jello and though my brain is yelling, “Spin! Spin!” my legs don’t obey. By 40 seconds in, I’m toast. To make matters worse, my heart rate isn’t even hitting 180 bpm.

Maybe I have just reached a plateau. Up to this point, I have been working under the level of my peak ability. It has allowed me to exceed. Now, I’m breaking out of that and am discovering for the first time what it means to have to work to build up to success.

I asked my coach about it. He says he does not think I have reached a plateau. He thinks that I am simply not doing the intervals correctly. Looking at the graphs of my workout seems to give his argument credence. Below is a graph of one of my failing intervals. You can click on it to enlarge.

Failing interval

The yellow dotted lines going straight across designate my targeted wattage range. The yellow line going below it and within it is my wattage. This was the fourth interval in my second set on Tuesday’s workout. It is a great example of what I feel. Notice that I’m hanging in there for the first 40 seconds or so. Then I start to drop. You see my legs like a drowning man gasping for air trying to produce the necessary watts. Then they sink beneath the waves.

Jim tells me the reason this is happening started back on Saturday and just came to a head on Tuesday. I have been doing the intervals incorrectly and that has caused me to be more tired than I should be. My way of approaching the intervals does not give me the opportunity to recover between and so I sink further and further. Looking at an earlier interval explains this.

Incorrect interval

Notice the first 20 seconds or so of this interval. This is the third interval in the first set. Basically, the other four look like this as well. My tendency is to start off really hard and then fade toward the end. That works out initially because it gives me the necessary average wattage. However, after that first set, the initial output in succeeding intervals is much lower and still continues to drop off.

Next time I do these things, I’m going to take a different approach. I’m going to try to make that graph look like… well… a plateau. Starting off slightly easier — 380 watts or so and then building up to the needed wattage. I’ll then taper down toward the end to near the 420 watts range.

Bottom line is on a micro level, I was just wearing myself out. Add to that a hard workout Saturday and then another on Tuesday with days of riding between and you can see why my body was just letting me know it was tired. Ah, but I have today off and a couple of easier days before racing in Rock Hill this Saturday. All I can say is that I sure am glad it isn’t one of my “A” races!

After the intervals, I sent a text to Jim saying, “These things are sucking all the joy out of riding my bike!” Really, I don’t like failing — even training intervals. The joy came back pretty fast as I enjoyed the beautiful day on the 20 minute cool down before the sprints. Then I uncorked this one…

Sprint time, baby!

For 10 seconds of the sprint I averaged 1000+ watts and maxed at 1200+ watts. For someone like Eric Christophersen or Rodney Dender, that is chicken scratch, but for me that ain’t so bad. Better than the numbers was the feeling.

Good things are ahead. I might or might not be on a plateau. Even if I am, a plateau isn’t the highest thing around. I’ve just got to keep working and learning and before long I’ll experience a mountain top.

Let me repeat… and repeat

Looking at the stats from the last several months of training and comparing it to my riding before that time, there is one aspect that is similar – the distances. Really, the time is only slightly more. However, the biggest difference is in what I do within that time and distance.

I rarely look at the distance anymore. My computer shows power and time. Distance and speed is irrelevant to me right now. I just know I am supposed to do this much power for that much time. In group rides I’ve been asked, “How far have we gone?” or “What was our average speed?” I fumble with the Garmin to bring up the requisite screen to answer their questions.

Uploading the data afterward, I can’t help but notice how far I’ve gone. For instance, I rode 21 miles last night. I did so in 1.5 hours. It struck me that was about the exact distance and time for when I do my favorite short ride – an over-and-back of Paris Mountain from my home. I even rode on Paris Mountain for the bulk of that time – only I never made it over.

That leads me to the big change in my riding. Before I would have spent that 21 miles going as hard as I could up one side, down the other, and back again.  This year I am engaged in repeats – or intervals.

We’ll use last night as an example. Jim sent me to the base of Paris Mountain. The 15 minutes or so it took me to get there at an easy spin was my warm-up. Once I got there I started up Altamont Road holding 280 watts for 5 minutes. Then it was time to get down to business.

What followed was five 3 minute climbs up the first portion of the road starting near the CVS. After pushing it up for 3 minutes between 300 and 350 watts at VO2 levels, I would turn around and spin easily back to the bottom and through the CVS parking lot so that I could push it up once again.

Then I pedaled down State Park Road for around 10 minutes before returning to the base to do three more repeats on Altamont Road. This time I was to do 2 minute intervals 300 – 350 watts with 4 minute rests between. So, I managed to ride for 15 miles or so and never even reached The Wall at Audubon Road.

Why? There aren’t any hills like that in the race Saturday. True. However, I’m not doing this hill work in preparation for that race. I’m planning ahead for a future A race I have set on my calendar. Still, these hill repeats also help me in any situation.

Hill Repeats help strengthen your legs. Yes, you can do work in the gym with weights, but that does not directly translate to cycling power. Weights can help give you a foundation of strength, but then you have to fire those legs in a cycling motion.

Repeats allow you to push hard for a period of time and then recover so you don’t blow up. You quickly notice that your cardiovascular muscles are not being stressed as much while your legs get more tired with each new effort. Like lifting weights, you take your muscles to the limit and then allow them to build back in recovery. This is what leads to new strength.

Also, the best way to prepare for climbing is to climb. I’ll admit I would prefer to just find a mountain somewhere and climb to the top of it. I’m sure Jim will be including some stuff like that as we prepare for French Broad River!

What is bad about this? It is boring. Basically, you go over the same ground over and over with your eye on the wattage. The only way I make it through is to rejoice as I count down the remaining repeats I have left and trying to compete with myself to hold a steady wattage through all the repeats.

Last night was another issue. It was COLD! I left the house and it was in the upper 30s. The wind was picking up and then the sun started to set. By the time I was done the temp was in the lower 30s with a “feels like” temperature in the 20s.

At first I would warm up while I was climbing and then my fingers would freeze as I descended to start the next repeat. By the last one, it didn’t matter. My fingers were numb as I made my way to the finish. Then it was home in the near darkness.

At home it was slightly warmer because I was off the mountain and I was shielded from the wind. This caused my hands to begin to warm and the blood to start pumping through the numb finger tips. I’m not kidding… the pain was excruciating! It reminded me of the time as a kid when I was out sliding on a pond and then ran into the house to warm my hands in hot water. OUCH!

Back to the idea of repeats – or intervals. It isn’t just hill repeats that have been different this year. Almost all of my rides involve efforts followed by rests. I can tell a difference in my normal riding because of this.

If you just go out and ride for a certain time, you end up slowing down. Your body normalizes. The intervals shock the body repeatedly allowing you to exert more effort and pushing you “above normal.”

Ultimately, that is my goal… to ride “above normal.”