Tag Archives: Jim Cunningham

Thanks, Coach. Thanks, Friend.

Over the last several years I’ve had the privilege to be coached by Jim Cunningham. As I look back at any success I have had, I can attribute a lot of that to Jim. Where I haven’t done so well, I can attribute that to me not listening to Jim! Now in 2012, I’m moving in a different direction. As I do so, one of the things I’ll miss is having Jim covering my back.

I couldn’t believe that in all the photos I have of me cycling, I don’t have one with Jim! Here is the closest I have to it — this is a photo of Chris Hartzler wearing a Low Cadence kit standing next to Jim. Chris had just attended a hill climbing clinic that Jim was holding on Paris Mountain.

The coach

Jim Cunningham and Chris Hartzler

This is the one thing that brings a little pang of regret. Not having Jim pushing me along means that the official coach/athlete relationship comes to an end. I’ll have to admit, I’m not so much going to miss the coach structured training as I will Jim the coach.

The same thing goes with the decision not to race on a team this year. I definitely know it is for the best, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t miss that feeling of “belonging” that comes with having mates in the peloton. Sure, it isn’t like I’ve been disowned, but it just isn’t the same.

It is going to be interesting finding my spot in the cycling world. The bicycle was the primary connection that I had with most folks in the community. My “other life” moves in a different sphere than most other two-wheeled junkies.

Now I’m going at it a little bit alone. I’m hoping that Jim will still be willing to give me some pointers and kick me in the seat on occasion. He definitely has the knowledge and desire to see those he helps succeed. Take a look at his recent article over at CarolinaCyclingNews.com.

I highly recommend his services. If you want to improve as a cyclist, one of the best ways is to get yourself a coach. The knowledge and accountability it brings will definitely move you to a different level. If you can’t get Jim, then let him point you to someone he knows can help improve you.

Thanks, Coach! Thank you, my friend!

Hope springs eternal

Jim Cunningham is a great coach and he has helped me out a lot. However, he doesn’t know me nearly as well as my “bicycle psychiatrist” John James. I know I’m going to get some good post-race advice from the guy I’ve chased around northern Greenville County for years. So, I head over to Sunshine Cycle Shop to hear that famous post-race question, “Well, do you know what you did wrong?”

It is funny how your brain takes snapshots and sometimes those images don’t match up with reality. This was the case when I came upon the following photo from fellow racer Edward Couvillion’s Facebook profile. I could have sworn I was closer to Clark as we neared the line. Perhaps it is that Clark slowed going across and I closed quickly to his wheel just after this photo was snapped.

SC State Criterium Championship Category 4 finish

Photo thanks to Edward Couvillion

This time John didn’t get a chance to ask the question when I walked into the shop. I popped out with the answer before he could ask. “I went too soon,” I said as I saw him begin to form his first word. “Who told you that?” he asked. “No one,” I replied. “Well, that is what you did wrong,” he continued. “When you came up out of the saddle the other guys were just sitting there and you gave them a free pull closer to the line.”

Then John pointed out something I didn’t realize I did. He told me that as Clark and Benjamin came into my vision I hesitated just slightly. Bottom line is that I never truly committed to the sprint.

This was borne out as I talked with Jim about my power file from the race. In the final sprint, my max power was only 840 watts. That is nearly 300 to 400 watts what I typically hit in a final attack to the line. I may have felt that I was giving all I had, but the bottom line is I never fully committed 110% — and you basically have to commit 120% to win!

Talking through it with Jim and John I came to this conclusion as to what happened. 1) It was the first time I had a lead out. I was hesitant not knowing how to play off my lead out man. When Matt slowed, I attacked, and then he came up to sprint with me; I questioned whether I was going at the right time (Hesitation No. 1). 2) When the other sprinters came off my wheel and entered my vision, I further questioned my decision and let up on the sprint ever so slightly (Hesitation No. 2). That led me to start playing catch up and I was unable to put out the “pop” with which I typically start my attack.

So, does this discourage me? Nope! It gives me renewed hope that I can do this. It isn’t physiological. It is tactical and mental. I CAN beat guys like Clark and Benjamin. The tools are there, I just need to learn better how to use them.

Last race I lost in a field sprint, I determined that I would not quit and lose a spot at the line. I feel that I carried that through in the State Championships. Now, I’ve just got to START correctly.

It is a learning process. Sometimes I think I learn a lot slower than some other people. However, I am learning and even though I may not get an A+ on every exam, I’m always close. Maybe next time… hope springs eternal.

I hate my coach

He calls it the “3 & 2 Minute VO2 intervals and 30-30’s.” It was the workout I did last night. It left me clawing for my next breath!

I don’t know about you, but I was somewhat of a stubborn, rebellious son. For the most part I kept just enough out of trouble to be thought of as a relatively good child. However, I definitely had my issues and looking back, I cringe as I think of what I put my parents through!

My parents loved me very much. They loved me enough to set boundaries and expected proper behavior from me. In an odd sort of way, it gave me an amount of security to push against the walls. Deep down inside I knew that the love would always be there.

Of course, that didn’t always show on the surface! In my immaturity there were often times when on the inside I would yell, “I hate you!” Probably, I may have done the same out loud. They were causing me to feel uncomfortable. I wasn’t getting my way. I didn’t like it!

Looking back I know that even then I knew I was wrong. I knew that what my parents did was because they loved me and they were teaching me discipline and self-control. The easy way out for them was to just let me have my own way. They loved me too much to do that. So, they took my verbal and emotional slaps and kept loving me… but not giving in.

You probably know where I am headed. Now, I’m not saying that my coach, Jim Cunningham, loves me! I am saying that he has an end goal in mind. He knows what type of discipline and suffering I need to experience to succeed.

So, as I was finishing my final set of 30-30’s after a hard hour on the bike, I may have been spitting out between gritted teeth, “I hate you, Jim Cunningham!” I didn’t really mean it. Sometimes the suffering just calls for an object at which to direct the overflow of pain.

I’m far from perfect today, but I can say that much of what character I have was nurtured in me by my parents. The times of pain and discipline helped make me. Now that I am more mature (at least a little bit) I recognize the love of my parents more and more… and I am amazed that they kept me!

No doubt as I look back over this season, I’ll be thanking Jim. Not only has he laid out the plan that has brought me this far, he has also held me accountable and made me do hard things. I can say without hesitation that I would not put myself through what I have gone through since November if I didn’t know I had to tell Jim whether I did it or not.

It isn’t really Jim that I hate. It is the suffering. However, someday when I feel that rush of crossing the finish line first… I’ll love it!

Pay off?

Friday night my coach gave me a call to discuss Saturday’s race. It would be the first since I started training with Jim Cunningham. He started out asking me if I felt ready to go. My answer was that I just didn’t know.

What I meant was that I was neither overly positive or negative — I was feeling pretty neutral. The point is that physically I feel like I have the ability and power to finish strong. On the other hand, my weakness is my technical and tactical abilities. “I can see myself riding as strong or stronger than all the other riders out there, but work so hard that I don’t have what it takes at the end.”

Jim gave me some good advice. Basically, he said you have to consider the mathematics. The math tells you that statistically the early breaks aren’t going to survive. On the other hand, the math tells you that the more riders in a break the greater the probability of success — unless there is infighting. So, success could come down to simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Another important piece of advice was to make sure I understand the course. That means knowing where the pot holes and train tracks are. It also is important to notice the wind and positioning yourself to stay out of it. You’ve got to have an understanding of these things before you start to race. You don’t want to be trying to figure that stuff out during the race.

My coach’s confidence was a big boost to me. Obviously, circumstances and situations play a role in a high finish. However, Jim expressed a confidence that was infectious. I won’t talk about the rest of our conversation just in case the competition reads this before we get out there! 🙂 I’ll talk about it afterward — especially if things work out!

If you follow me on Twitter and you have it notify you when I post, you might want to turn it off. I’m going to be tweeting a bit during the day. If you aren’t following @LowCadence, then follow and keep up with what’s happening during the first day of racing in the Upstate — at the Greenville Spring Training Series.

Trust the plan

As the new season comes upon us (the Greenville Spring Series is only a bit more than a week away), I find myself encouraged with where I am.  Sure, race day performance will really tell the tale, but at least I’m excited with the possibilities. There is one thing to which I have to attribute this new confidence.


There is no way I would be at the fitness I am without the employment of a coach. It isn’t that I have learned something earth shattering. I could most likely have found a training plan online, learned more about the TrainingPeaks software, and gained the knowledge to see progression. It still wouldn’t have made the difference that I am seeing now.

Why? Accountability. All of that stuff has no human interaction. How many times have I climbed on that trainer and completed my drill when I would have rather been somewhere else? How often when in a drill did I feel like cutting a corner here or there to avoid the pain? The powermeter doesn’t lie. I knew my coach was going to see the data and he would know I wasn’t giving my best.

Encouragement. I’m not saying my coach is a slave driver. There have been times when he has sensed a struggle and has adjusted my training to help me over the hump. More than that he has simply been a cheerleader to keep me “trusting in the plan.” When I’m lost in the data, he comes along to explain it in ways that keeps me seeking to improve it. When recently I struggled with team dynamics and frustration with my lack of riding skills, he came along side to teach proper tactics and pull me out of the funk.

Experience. It is one thing to have knowledge. I’m learning quite a bit about the science and equations of training with power. Sometimes I can anticipate what my coach is going to say as he assesses my power data. However, it has been said that wisdom is knowledge with experience. My coach has been there and done that. How does all that information translate into real life? Coach knows.

I’m sure that if you have a coach you think I’m describing yours! These points are not exclusive to just mine. Where ever you are, if you want to move your game up several levels, I encourage you to consider a coach. If you are in the Upstate then you’ve got to consider Jim Cunningham at the Greenville Cycling Center. Even if you aren’t in Greenville, he can coach you — whether you are a beginner or a professional.

Was this a commercial? I’m sure it comes across that way, but it is a sincere testimonial. I was skeptical as I entered the relationship. I knew having a coach could help, but I figured I could probably do nearly as well on my own. Looking back over the last three months, I realize now how naive I was. Wow! Has it only been three months? How much farther can I go in nine more? Jim has me believing! All I have to do is “trust the plan.”

The function of form

I’ve gotten to where I don’t really analyze my ride data until I get the file with mark ups from my coach, Jim Cunningham, of the Greenville Cycling Center. He ends up doing a much better job of finding the various efforts. Plus, I like the anticipation of finding out what he is going to say about my execution and progress.

After Saturday’s ride he commented in the report: “Wow, MEGA epic TSS points at 345.5!” This is something he comments on regularly. It took me forever just to figure out what it meant! Time Sweating in Saddle? Actually, it means Training Stress Score. It is a fancy way of saying, “This is how hard you trained today.”

Let’s say you rode for 1 hour at your functional threshold – as fast as you could for that period – you would get 100 points. Or as Joe Friel puts it: TSS = (sec x NP x IF)/(FTP x 3600) x 100. In other words, to get your TSS for a given ride you multiply the amount of time you rode in seconds by your normalized power and the percentage of your FTP. You then divide that by the number arrived at during your FTP test times the number of seconds in an hour. Finally multiply it all by 100.

Got it?

That is why I use TrainingPeaks.com and WKO+ – not to mention a coach to explain it all! It is enough for me to know whether I have reached the desired TSS for that day. There have been several times where I haven’t, so to hear that I’ve exceeded the desired amount is good news.

Ultimately, TSS leads us to CTL and ATL. Your Chronic Training Load is the accumulated effects of the TSS over a given period. For me that period is 42 days. Your Acute Training Load is the shorter term effects of the TSS. For me I consider the last 7 days.

The balance of your fitness and rest during those times is your TSB – Training Stress Balance. That is what a racer is talking about when he says he is in “good form.” Hunter Allen gives this simple equation: Form = Fitness + Freshness. The goal of every racer is to reach their A race with the best combination of Fitness and Freshness.

According to Jim, my CTL is doing great. However, just because my body may be strong and able to put out power doesn’t mean I’m ready to go race. I’ve been exerting a lot to get that fitness and that has led to some tiredness. You could say the tools are there, but I’m too tired to use them. So, I am not on best form because Form does not equal Fitness + Tiredness.

I could take some time off and that would bring the Freshness back into the equation, but if I don’t keep training at a certain level I will lose my Fitness. Form does not equal Unfit + Fresh. It truly is a balancing act and the goal is to combine the stress of exertion with the healing effects of rest. If you time these things correctly, you can arrive at your A race with proper form — Form = Fitness + Freshness.

Thankfully, it is all science. With my Quarq CinQo powermeter, WKO+, and a knowledgable coach, I have all the tools to make this work. It is cool to watch the little blue line move across the Power Management Chart in WKO+. I watch it graph upward as Jim puts the hurt on me and then it drops – like this week when I am not on the bike as much. However, I know that next week it will start climbing up again. I also know that it will climb higher than last week. So the CTL continues to climb until my A race.

I’m still waiting to sight that mythical animal called the Taper. The Taper is the final combination of Exertion and Rest before the A race. Jim speaks of this time with great reverence (okay, I’m exagerating) because the plan says that after the Taper I will truly begin to experience the results of the work I have done since November. I feel like Jim is the scientist and I am the beaker. He keeps putting in a combination of efforts, rest, time, and instruction. The beaker is starting to put off smoke, but we won’t know for sure if the experiment is a success until we pour it out for the A race.

To be honest, I don’t know what to expect. For now I’m just having fun watching that little blue line continue to make its steady way up the chart. The function of form is to give the best opportunity for success possible. Then it is just up to me and the bike.

There is a dent in my sprint

Had an opportunity to ride with my coach yesterday. He was along to help evaluate my sprint. I really appreciated him coming out especially since he was a bit under the weather.

Speaking of weather, it was beautiful! The temperature was in the upper 50s and the sun was shining warmly. It was a bit breezy, but nothing like Monday!

I really wanted to impress him. He has said that since we have started this relationship he has been surprised by two things – 1) my leg speed, and 2) my potential to be an adequate sprinter. What I mean by adequate is that it certainly will never be my strength, but that I might surprise a few people if the situation was right. In our session, I wanted to give him more reasons to believe!

My first mistake was that before leaving the office I stopped by the coffee shop and got a rather strong brew of Pumpkin Spice coffee. I was nursing it as I rushed home to change and then headed to Cleveland Park. I took one more swig before hopping on the bike.

During the warm up I felt just fine. Then it was time for me to do 6 x 8 second all out sprints with a 4 to 5 minute recovery between each. We came into the straight where I was to launch and then I attacked.

Right off the bat I felt very sluggish. Jim had told me to start out at a higher cadence than normal and then shift into the harder gears as I got my leg speed up. There were a lot of things to think about with my form, cadence, and time. I didn’t feel focused at all and when I looked down at my meter near the end of the sprint I saw the low number of 888 for my power. Yuck!

Turns out I didn’t impress Jim at all! First, I had gone the entire time with my hands on the hoods. Second, I was leaning too far forward. Third, I started in too easy of a gear. Fourth, I shifted too soon. I’m sure there were more problems, but I can’t recall them at the moment.

Here’s the deal – other than the starting out in too easy of a gear, this is how I have always sprinted. Typically, I put it in the hardest gear I can and spin it out. What I learned in my session is that my typical way of sprinting might produce a peak of 1300+ watts, but it also means I can’t hold it and I begin to bog down.

So, it was back to the drawing board for the following sprints. I tried varying cadences and positions on the bike. Finally, I was in the drops, learning to have a neutral spine, keeping my rear near the seat, and shifting properly. I might not have been going very fast, but at least I was starting to look more like a sprinter!

About the third attempt it hit me. I started to feel very sick to my stomach. I knew my heart rate was no where near maxing and the efforts, though intense, were very short. Why was this happening? I even started to get stitches — which I haven’t had in a year or so.

All this — the stomach, the numerous things to consider as I sprinted, and the seeming low output on the wattage — had me reeling and I was pretty frustrated. Jim then had to go and I was left to do the remaining 45 minutes or so by myself. As I continued the cool down I got slower and slower as my stomach felt worse and worse. I kept drinking water hoping it would help clear things up.

Finally, toward the end I started to feel better. Looking back, I’m certain it was the coffee. Besides being strong I don’t typically drink coffee that soon before I ride like that. Another lesson learned!

Toward the end of the ride I was stopped by a LowCadence.com reader. He talked of how he had started out climbing Paris Mountain in a triple in 18 minutes and now he has graduated to a compact gear and is down to 14+ minutes! The thing I needed to hear at that point was that this blog had been an encouragement to him. Suddenly, my stomach was feeling really good!

At home I took a look at the data and it actually wasn’t as bad as I was feeling. My max wattage for the session was 1374 watts. That is just short of my desired 1400. None of the attempts registered a max below 1000 with most being between 1200 and 1300.

So, the bad news is that I have dent in my sprint. I’m technically a mess with form and technique. I am not comfortable doing things right because I have had bad habits for some time.

The good news is that with Jim Cunningham as my dent remover, I have potential to see some good improvement in this area of my riding. When I finally train myself to sprint like I am supposed to, I think I’ll feel much more confident in the races this year where we’re all putting the hammer down for the line.  Wow… me as a sprinter! I’m starting to feel more sexy already!

Funk does not equal flunk

Saw a Twitter entry from my friend Bryant Young. He has been training hard over the winter in preparation for the upcoming season. He has some lofty goals and has been working hard to meet them. Like me, he is a busy man – actually busier! Trying to stay on the bike and still perform in all the other areas of our lives can be a challenge.

Anyone out there ever fell into the “funk” relating to getting ready for a new season? I would be interested in knowing how you handle it?

Well, Bryant, I was hoping you could tell me! It seems like as soon as the 2010 race calendar landed on my desk I started to feel the funk. Ironically, it is that feeling that the season will never get here that seems to cause the lethargy — even though it is as close as it has ever been.

Of course, Bryant (like myself) has recently battled a sickness. I think that always has the potential to mess with your mind as I mentioned earlier this week. I think part of starting to get out of the funk in our cases is working to get back as healthy as possible. It is amazing what the feeling of strength can do to help you back to a positive attitude. You just have to recall to mind how you know you can feel and focus on that positive expectation.

How do I plan to battle the funk? Other than working to get back to full health, I plan to focus on today. For me the funk comes because I am thinking too much about the future. I start wondering how I’m going to make it all happen! In a moment’s thought the entire rest of my training season and the race schedule piles on my head. Of course, that all happens in the context of all the other facets of my life. It can be overwhelming!

I am told over and over — “Trust in the plan.” Bryant and I share the same coach and he keeps reminding me that his job is to worry about the schedule and making sure I’m where I need to be. Let him do his job and I just need to find the time TODAY to follow the plan. When I get on the bike TODAY, I need to do it with the joy that I know it can bring. I’ll do what I need to do tomorrow when it gets here.

Before I know it, the season will be here and I’ll be exactly where Jim said I would be. If I’m there, then I know it is going to be a great year! Remind yourself, Bryant, that all this will be worth it then.

Beat the funk?  Don’t worry about tomorrow. Focus on today – there is enough to think about right now!

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Good luck, Bryant!

Better understanding my recovery rides

Last week I mentioned how hard it is for me to properly execute the recovery rides that I am assigned by my coach. You can read about my thoughts here. I asked my coach, Jim Cunningham, with the Greenville Cycling Center to explain his approach to these efforts.

Pedaling a ‘high’ cadence (i.e. 90-100 rpms) increases HR, ventilation, dilation, etc. more-so than low/lower cadence.  I often refer to this as ‘speeding up time’ as an athlete will recover more quickly (there are times when complete rest is called for) with this greater blood flow.

Think of it this way – one can circulate his/her blood:

1000 times in 1 hour lying on couch  OR
3000 times in 1 hour riding easy.

Further, torque is lower at higher cadence thus putting greater emphasis on the lungs/heart and less on the working muscles.  More, power can be low in the recovery ride (in your case, sub-180) as leg speed on it’s own causes some of the physiological response (note, spin-ups in very easy gear will often push HR in zones 3 & even 4).

Had you pedaled at an average of say 85 rpm’s would you still have a ‘recovery ride’?  I suspect so but not as much of one.

Jim said he was going to ask some of his coaching friends for their takes on the question. I can see what he is saying. The only thing that was throwing me was that the Quadrant Analysis seemed to indicate that this was not a recovery style ride.

The bottom line is found in the answer to the question Jim asked me at the conclusion of his explanation, “Do you feel your recovery ride was easy and refreshed you?” I have to answer yes to that. Even though I felt as though I was working during the ride, afterward I felt very relaxed, loose, and refreshed.

Can you fail an FTP test?

Saturday after my functional threshold power test, I sent the data to my coach, Jim Cunningham. He was traveling in California and was unable to give me his analysis that day. However, on Sunday afternoon just before I sat down for a meal with family, the phone rang. It was Jim.

After the normal exchange of pleasantries — it was raining in Greenville and sunny in California — Jim got down to business, “I looked at your data and thought it would be best to give you a call to get your thought process during the test.” Somehow I figured that would be the case. My approach was probably a little unorthodox.

“I noticed that you had a higher cadence in the beginning with an average wattage around 260 watts,” he continued, “but then your cadence drops significantly three different times and at those points your wattage is over 300 watts.” Yep, the graphs don’t lie.  That is exactly what happened.

I explained to him that I was fearful of starting out too strong and that I took it easy in the beginning but measured my effort to keep myself close to my known FTP average. The bursts were times when I stood and dropped the cadence in order to increase the wattage to bring the average up. The times between the bursts were me attempting not to red zone too early from the harder efforts.

“I understand,” he replied. “However, typically in a TT effort you try to maintain a steady effort.” Somehow I knew he was going to say that. “I think at some point in the future we need to have you do another TT effort, but this time keep you in the 80s for your cadence. It could be that for TT efforts you will do better with a lower cadence.”

I explained to him that when I ride at a higher cadence it gives me a very good cardio workout, but I cannot sustain high wattage for very long doing so. I get much more fatigued when I am spinning at 95 to 100 rpm in order to hold a 270+ power level. Bigger gear in the 80s and I can hold that power level much longer.

On Sunday night my workout was supposed to be an hour ride with a large portion of that in a 190 to 220 watts zone. I determined I wasn’t going to look at the cadence readout on my Garmin Edge 500. I was just going to find a gear that allowed me to hold that wattage and felt comfortable to me.

At the end of the workout, I felt great! I then looked at my power file. Every interval was nearly dead on between 82 and 84 rpm. I was also better able to sustain a steady rhythm. Even when I felt as though I was spinning faster during the warm-up and cool-down, I was still only at around 86 rpm.

I realize that I need to learn to ride at a higher cadence.  However, I also think cadence is somewhat of a personal thing. There is an amount of finding what works best for you. I can see myself settling in somewhere between 85 and 90 rpm. Time will tell.

And, yes, I realize now that when it comes to a TT effort FTP test, I need to measure my effort out across the entire period instead of dipping and spiking.  As Jim said near the end of the conversation, “You shouldn’t have had that much left in the tank at the end.”

The bad news? I didn’t really do my FTP test correctly. The good news? Most likely had I done it correctly, I would have had better results. On top of that, I still increased my FTP by 10 watts. I’ll go with the good news!