Tag Archives: Time-Crunched Cyclist

Time-Crunched Cyclist Plan is over

Now what? Saturday was my final official Time-Crunched Cyclist Plan workout. Well, the first thing for me to do is to look back on the affect the plan has had on my cycling.

The Time-Crunched Cyclist

The Time-Crunched Cyclist plan

The first obvious thing to me is that the plan rescued my cycling. This is attributed directly to the point that the plan is for the “Time-Crunched” cyclist. At a time when I felt I wouldn’t be able to ride my bicycle at the same level of years past, this plan gave me something to test. Perhaps it wouldn’t deliver. Perhaps it would. However, for at least 12 weeks, it gave me something to motivate me to go forward.

Regardless of how the plan might have improved my power, it was worth it. It got me through a time when I was thinking about hanging up the bike and got me back into the saddle. It didn’t take too long after that to have the thrill and love of the ride to return. To compound things the plan helped keep the training from becoming a burden and thus taking away what it gave.

But what about that power? Has the plan lived up to what Chris Carmichael says it can do? Well, I can share with you some initial anecdotal evidence of its success. I hope that within a week, I will be able to share more specific data that compares where I was at the start of the plan with where I am now and farther in the past.

On my last workout, I finished in shock and not sure I could really accept the data I was seeing. If it is accurate then there is no doubt that the plan has delivered, and I’ll be using it again. Here’s hoping that it is!

My plan called for an Over/Under workout. This is a part of the plan where the rider is to complete a SteadyState Interval at 254 to 266 watts (this is the Under portion). Then you do a ClimbingRepeat Interval at 288 to 296 watts (this is the Over portion). Finally, you finish things off with another SteadyState Interval.

I headed for the CVS side of Paris Mountain. This would be a challenge to keep the wattage low enough. I gingerly started the climb trying to keep the average at a manageable 270 watts. After 13 minutes, I pressed the lap button with an average of 277 watts. It is safe to say that it was pretty easy.

Returning to base of the mountain, I decided to extend the ClimbingRepeat Interval to go to the top of the mountain. If I was lucky, I might land a PR on the climb. That would put me at the top in about 15 minutes.

I decided to set 320 watts as my targeted average. No matter how I felt, I would keep it under control. Granted, that was well above the prescribed wattage target. However, I have been exceeding that direction for the entire time I’ve been using the plan.

Fifteen minutes and thirty-eight seconds later I reached the top. It was my fastest climb since I’ve made attempts on time. Not only that, it moved me up into the fourth fastest time on the Strava leader board. Beyond that? I reached the top with more left in the tank. That was after climbing for 15 minutes at 350 watts.

As I was finishing the climb, I heard Matt Jaeggli call my name on the tower road above me. I rode up and we spent a bit of time talking. It gave me an opportunity to recover farther. As we talked, I mentioned that I doubted I would make an attempt on the Furman side anytime soon.

We rode to the bottom and I turned right toward Travelers Rest and Matt turned left back toward Greenville. However, it wasn’t but a few yards from the turn that I felt the temptation to attempt another climb. I was feeling so very good, I thought I might as well go ahead and turn my final SteadyState Interval into a ClimbingRepeat.

My approach was to go up the Furman side the way I did the CVS side. I had climbed the CVS side at 350 watts. I would do the same here on the Furman side. Even at times when I felt I could push it, I would keep the wattage under control. Then, I would attack on The Wall with what I had left.

As I started spinning up the climb, I was amazed at how I was feeling. I kept glancing down and seeing the wattage staying above 300 watts. To my knowledge, it never dipped below that threshold. I can’t remember the time I’ve done that before.

I refused to look at the time. I just kept checking the power. Then I reached The Wall. I waited until my traditional starting point for the attack and then went at it. I was able to drive to the KOM line with power. Again, that is something I have not been able to do in many months.

I finished the climb in a time of 12:23 — 2 seconds slower than my PR for 2012 (which, by the way, I managed to reach on the previous Thursday). My average power was 380 watts. It was impossible to compare my wattage results this time with my PR because I did not use my power meter on the PR attempt.

Returning home, I had time to think about my experience of the day. I was left wondering if my power meter was off. I had reason to wonder because I had just had the chain rings replaced and this was the first climbing attempt since the replacement. What if the Quarq CinQo was knocked off its calibration when the chain ring it was integrated into was replaced?

The counter argument was the fact that my perceived exertion was surprisingly low for the efforts. I’m not saying the final climb was easy, but I kept looking down and feeling shocked that I was getting the wattage I was with the exertion I felt. However, a time of 12:23 was hard to argue. A Personal Record at a managed perceived exertion gave a bit of credence to numbers.

So, what to think… I think I am going to have to do a power test. That will give me something concrete to evaluate. If it is an unreasonable increase in power, then I’ll know the power meter is off. If it is a reasonable increase in power, then I’ll have reason to believe that the Time-Crunched Cyclist Plan is something I’ll be using again.

Be brave and take a rest day

Today I’m off the bike. The schedule I have set for the Time-Crunched Cyclist Plan has me typically doing a workout Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The original plan is different with workouts scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. This is something I’ve had to do to fit into my lifestyle.

I imagine there are some disadvantages to not placing the rest days in the spots designated by Chris Carmichael. The two days he typically has set back-to-back are now split in my schedule. That cuts into any buildup he is trying to make. However, I don’t believe it has really hurt me.

Looking back and evaluating my performance with the plan, I’m pretty satisfied. I’ve met or exceeded every workout condition up to this point. The schedule has had to be adjusted from time-to-time, but all the workouts have been completed — until last night.

Sometimes you just have to let the wind win

I remember Jim Cunningham telling me that you have to listen to your body. Sure, there are plenty of times when you think to yourself, “I really don’t want to go ride today.” Even as you say it you know it is just because you are feeling lazy. If you just go start the workout, you find that you are just fine and end up enjoying the ride.

There are other times when you know your body is just tired and if you push it, you could end up with a setback. That is how I felt yesterday as I rolled the bike out for the workout. There was a little warning light blinking in the back of my mind.

I had already decided not to go to Donaldson Center. The wind was atrocious and I was still hacking a bit from the ride Monday evening. That tickling sensation in my bronchial tubes had bugged me all day.

Now I was supposed to go out and complete six 2-minute power intervals. Mounting the bike, I headed out to do the work. However, even the as I was warming up I could feel the air coming into my lungs and exposing the irritated tubes. I decided to forgo anything that would bring about heavy breathing.

It turns out it is what I needed. I felt pretty much like crud for the first 45 minutes or so (that could have partly been due to the fact that I was riding into the wind), but my body finally seemed to come around. By the time I neared home, I was starting to question whether I should go ahead and extend my ride and get in the intervals.

No. I closed things down after an hour and a half. My lungs thanked me. My hope is that tomorrow night my legs will thank me when I race in my first event of the year.

Pleasantly surprised

I am halfway through the Time-Crunched Cyclist plan. While riding in Cleveland Park Monday I came upon Hank McCullough and we talked a bit about riding bikes with a busy lifestyle. My comment was that I didn’t know why I was doing the plan because I was never getting a chance to benefit from it in a race. Hank’s response was, “Yes, but you are staying in shape.”

He is right — on a foundational level. I am staying in shape. Most likely my fitness is better than most 44 year old males. However, that wasn’t my goal for the plan. I can stay in good enough shape to be healthy with a lot less pain! My desire is to be able to mix it up again in the Greenville racing scene.

Last night I had the first opportunity to put my stamina to the test. True, it wasn’t an organized race, but as I overheard someone say during the ride, “People here are going harder than they would in a race!” Yep, it was time for the Tuesday Night World Championships. April 3rd was our first of the season (take a look at the course).

When I heard the call that we were doing four laps, I knew I had better cinch my shoes. While some of us out there were riding in these group conditions for the first time of the season, others had already completed a number of races. I was figuring those later ones would light it up early and make us former ones suffer. There wouldn’t be a lot of warming up tonight.

Sure enough, we had hardly gotten halfway around the course when the pace started picking up. At least at this point I settled in about midway to see what would happen. As we finished the first lap a break had already been established.

I won’t go into the blow-by-blow details of the next two laps. My focus was to get a good solid workout. The plan called for two minute power intervals. Since I was cheating by doing a group ride, the only way to pull that off was to attack and then recover. So, my behavior during that period didn’t make a lot of tactical sense, but it was the best way to get some efforts in.

During each of those laps I moved into a chase group that cut into or eliminated the advantage of the breakaway. A break would form. Some of us would move forward to chase. The field would come together. I would fade back to recover and then the next break would be off.

That brings us to the final lap. There was a break ahead as we passed the start-finish line. A slightly disorganized pace line formed and we began to chase. David Curran pulled us for a long solid pull and then as we neared the golf course climb I was on the front.

I was pulling the group closer and closer to the break, but then I realized I was in too big a gear. My legs had that sudden feeling that they were swelling up like balloons filled with bricks and I was losing momentum. My brain was saying “Spin!” and my legs were saying “We are!”, but nothing was happening.

Shifting to an easier gear caused me to lose that much more momentum and about that time my heart rate caught up to my effort. Swooosh! I was done and the field came around me. It kept coming around me as I tried to gather myself. I knew the last rider was coming past when I heard him urge, “Get back on!” I glanced back and saw empty road.

Now, I will say (not to my credit) that there have been times when I would have just sat up. I would listen to the negative talk so my mind saying I couldn’t hang in there to the finish. On these final laps of the TNWC we’re talking speed!

This Tuesday was different. 1) I wasn’t worried about blowing up. I had no team to support or embarrass. I had nothing to prove. 2) Experience told me that riding the rest of the course alone would be worse than if I could get into the field.

First, I had to get there. I was only about 10 meters off the back of the field, but it seemed like I couldn’t close the gap. There was some acceleration on the front so I had to keep pushing a bit. I just kept telling myself, “If you can just reconnect, you’ll make it!” I gave it one last effort and made contact.

It was after this that I was pleasantly surprised. Once I rejoined the group I found myself moving with renewed power to the front of the field. Once we got over the railroad tracks, I was able to continue moving into a position at the front of the field.

I knew we had a break, but wasn’t sure if there was more than one. It was hard to know since the situation formed while I was moving up from the back. What I could see was a small group beginning the climb and a lone rider trying to bridge across as we dipped down into the depression that would start the climb to the finish.

As my group began the climb, I started to move up toward the front. I would grab the wheels of various riders who would accelerate from positions near me. We caught the lone rider and with a kilometer to go it appeared we started swallowing up some of the break.

Suddenly, I found myself sitting third wheel on the point of the field. I’m not aware if any of the break survived or not. All I know is that at that moment I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I am here!”

I realized I was in the perfect spot for the sprint if we kept the pace up. The first rider appeared unattached. The rider whose wheel I was enjoying was a VeloShine rider — I didn’t think it was Jae Bowen or Bruce Humphries. His legs definitely looked like he could handle a sprint!

Then the first rider faltered and the VeloShine rider lifted his pace as well. I was caught in a moment of indecision. I had banked so much on coming out of their draft and now the draft dissipated with about 500 meters to go. I hesitated just a moment staying on the wheel in front of me. Then we were swarmed by riders coming around us.

I could have jumped into the fray, but with 200 meters to go my favored wheel had now moved around the first rider and I had to slow to keep from running up his wheel as riders went around both sides of me. There would be other rides. No need to cause an accident on my first one back!

I finished elated! Not because I had ridden a smart “race”, but because I had whipped myself like a dog and still had something left at the end. For the very first time since my broken neck in 2010, I felt that feeling. Finally, my body is starting to feel like it belongs to me and I can make it do what my brain tells it to.

We covered just under 29 miles and averaged 25 mph. My peak wattage was 1045 watts for 2 seconds. Several times in the ride I put out two minute intervals from 320 to 470 watts. The average power for the entire event was 218 watts. Yep, it’s coming back!

Most of all, it was fun again.

Training stress without the stress

When you are training, stress is a good thing and it is a bad thing. One form of stress moves you forward and the other holds you back. What you really want to avoid is getting a bunch of the bad stuff because you’re trying to accumulate the good stuff.

Cyclists and runners who follow a training plan are all trying to earn TSS points. TSS stands for “Training Stress Score.” If you have a coach putting together your plan, you will find that many of your workouts are put together with the potential for how many TSS points you will earn in mind. Think of it is as a measurement of the effectiveness of your workout.

Managing this stress is an important part of enhancing your performance. Build up your TSS during your workouts and then recover during your rest days. If you were to chart this progression, you would see it as a jagged line going up and down. Meanwhile, if you charted a line for your potential for performance, you would see it steadily climbing.

The stress that can kill your success happens outside of the physical training process. This is the stress that is placed on you from the circumstances surrounding you. Sometimes the stress of the workout is a welcomed escape from the stress of life.  Sometimes the workout can compound the stress of life! That is a double-whammy!

There isn’t really a LSS (Life Stress Score) that you can stick in the formula that shows a quantitative effect on your performance. However, “Life Stress” can definitely affect your ability to recover and even perform during a workout. It can affect your overall health and discourage you mentally.

If you use TrainingPeaks.com, you have the option to rate your “Life Stress” on a scale of 1 – 10. This allows you or your coach to look back on a day and see how it affected your performance, or to give your coach some insight into how much push you or back you off.

It is easy during a time when Life Stress and Training Stress collides to begin looking for a way to remove one of them. At times that simply adds to the Overall Stress Score! Before you know it, you are in a stress snowball that keeps picking up more weight and speed going down the hill. If something doesn’t change, you are going to crash at the bottom.

That is one of the good things about the Time-Crunched Cyclist plan. It is made to help you amass the most good stress as possible while keeping in mind that you don’t want the good stress to add to the bad. The shorter workout times and the flexibility that brings gives you a relief valve.

It hit me this week. We are coming into that spring season when it seems like every facet of  my life starts converging into one. Family, church, work, finances, community involvement, and — did I mention work — all seem to have something due or activities planned. In the middle of this is me trying to amass my TSS points.

I have been able to fit the Time-Crunched Cyclist plan sessions into this. Plus, because I am controlling the days when I will rest or work, I have been able to put my rest days on the days I most need the time for other things. This isn’t optimal, but it is doable and in a busy life “doable” often trumps “optimal.” I’ve had a couple of times where it has put me on the trainer at an odd hour, but I have been able to get it all in.

The funny thing is, I was still stressing over it. I still have it in my mind that I am training according to the more time intensive method. Even though I am meeting all the requirements, I still find myself getting uptight about not being on the bike more.

My solution? CHILL OUT! Focus on the things you need to be doing NOW. When it comes time to get on the bike, get on it and enjoy it. Once off the bike move on to focus on the next thing you need to do at that time. With the TCCP there is no reason why the bicycle should add to your stress.

So, it is back on the bike for an hour tonight for some more PowerInterval workouts. I’ll probably do it while watching my Tar Heels play. Then I’ll have a welcomed night off with my family. Tomorrow it will be back on the bicycle for a 5 hour fundraising ride. I wonder how many TSS points that will get me?

Powering through it

Last night was my first PowerInterval workout with the Time-Crunched Cyclist plan. I was looking forward to it because it would be another revealing look at my current fitness level. This workout is also an important preparation for the type of racing we do the most of around here… the criterium.

Here is what the workout called for: I would start off spinning between 133w – 216w. Once I got warmed up, I would start the first of two sets. Each set was made up of three intervals three minutes long at over 300 watts. Between each interval, I would do an easy spin for a Rest Between Intervals. Once the first set was finished, I would complete an eight minute Rest Between Sets. Once my time was up, it was time to do it all over again for the second set. I would finish off the workout with more spinning between 133w – 216w and then go real easy for the last five minutes to cool down.

I got started with the workout with enough time to do it on the road, but I still opted for the trainer because for this first attempt I wanted a more controlled environment. After grabbing my water, eating a snack and getting my fan started up, I climbed on board to start. It took at least fifteen minutes of this to get my legs feeling loose.

Here is what happened…

  • EnduranceMiles: 15 min. @ 167w/131bpm/95rpm
  • Interval 1.1: 3 min. @ 337w/165bpm/93rpm
  • RBI: 2 min. @159bpm
  • Interval 1.2: 3 min. @ 326w/168bpm/92rpm
  • RBI: 2 min. @ 163bpm
  • Interval 1.3: 3 min. @ 318w/170bpm/92rpm
  • RBS: 8 min. @ 144bpm
  • Interval 2.1: 3 min. @ 316w/167bpm/88rpm
  • RBI: 2 min. @ 162bpm
  • Interval 2.2: 3 min. @ 312w/167bpm/92rpm
  • RBI: 2 min. @ 162bpm
  • Interval 2.3: 3 min. @ 311w/170bpm/91rpm
  • EnduranceMiles: 6 min. @ 161w/161bpm/92rpm
  • Cool Down: 5 min. @ 140bpm

You will note that this totals just around one hour of total seat time. Really, that amount of time barely allows you to get in the required intervals. However, in keeping with the approach of the Time-Crunched Cyclist plan, I was able to get home from work, get in the workout, eat dinner with my family and then make it to a performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore in the evening.

The EnduranceMiles portions of my workouts are becoming my default effort. Put me on a bike and I’ll immediately start spinning between 92 – 95 rpm at around 170 watts. For someone who was first known as “Low Cadence” because of my propensity to push a big gear, this is a big change for me.

What stuck out to me in this workout was the gradual drop off in power as I did each workout. I pretty much cross off the first one because I always seem to overdo it on my first attempt of anything. My goal was to be moderate and stay near the 300w baseline.

I do not go by average wattage when I ride. I just look at the actual wattage and try to ride within a range that I can hold with a particular cadence. So, especially on a trainer, I watch my cadence more than my wattage. This does mean that I don’t always know what my average is until I look at the file afterward.

You can notice this as you look at the cadence for each interval. It is pretty consistent except for Interval 2.1. The reason the cadence is lower there is because I was starting to go numb from sitting in the saddle! I shifted down and rode for a minute while standing. Once I gave my butt a break, I got back to the normal cadence.

Still, though I attempted to keep my efforts as consistent as possible, I dropped 15 watts from Interval 1.2 to 2.3. I would like to see that gap drop as I do this more. This is probably evidence that I don’t have many matches to burn right now.

Matches are important in criterium racing. There are a lot of accelerations and the race moves quickly with attacks and counterattacks. I think I could compete in a road race right now and if I took care of myself, I could definitely finish in the field. However, one or two attacks and I’d start burning out.

Hey, that is why we have Power Interval work outs! I’m looking forward to more of them and I am glad I got a good first attempt to use as my measuring stick for those future efforts. I’ve just got to keep getting on the bike and powering through it!

Now that is more like it

If I had any questions about whether the Time-Crunched Cyclist plan would give me adequate workouts, those questions were answered this weekend. Up until these sessions I had wondered if the plan was giving me enough training stress. By Saturday evening I was feeling the stress… and it was good!

Here are the numbers:

Friday’s OverUnder Intervals. Based on my new FTP numbers the plan called for me to average between 133 – 216 watts for the entire ride. Within this hour and half session I was to complete 3 x 9 min. OverUunder intervals. “Over” means a ClimbingRepeat interval at an average of 281 – 296 watts. “Under” means a SteadyState interval at 254 – 266 watts. The sequence was to do a SteadyState interval followed by a ClimbingRepeat and finished up with a second SteadyState interval.  Between these intervals I would take a 6 minute Rest Between Intevals.

I loaded up the trainer because it was too late to get out on the road. So, I turned on the ACC Tournament and started spinning. I got my first SteadyState interval in. I had to concentrate to keep the wattage in line. That was good. I’d rather be fighting to keep the wattage up then trying to keep it low. I finished up the interval at a 258 average wattage. My heart rate stayed a pretty steady 164 bpm.

Then it was time to ramp it up for the ClimbingRepeat interval. This would be very like one of the 8 minute efforts during the FTP test. I figured my results would be similar. Sure enough I finished up the interval with an average of 287 watts. The heart rate on this one went up to 173 bpm.

The final effort was a repeat of the first one. After doing the first two it seemed much easier. Even so, I upped the average wattage to 262 watts though my heart rate reflected the sustained effort by coming in at an average of 170 rpm.

These efforts definitely had a perceived exertion that made me feel as though I was being stretched. Knowing where I am going with the plan and that things are only going to get harder, I’m pretty confident that I’m going to see progress.

Saturday was basically the same workout. However, I was supposed to limit my Rest Between Intervals to 5 minutes. Unfortunately, I misread the instructions and basically repeated Friday’s workout… except 1) I did it on the road, 2) I had to adjust the RBI because of traffic and terrain and 3) I went a bit harder and rode for over 2 hours.

I averaged over 190 watts for the entire 2 hours. That was still within the parameters but higher than Friday’s workout. The first SteadyState was also similar at 259 watts average. The average heart rate was up a little to 169. I attribute a bit of that to the climbing involved in the course I was following. It was the ClimbingRepeat where I really exceeded things. Rather than being a ClimbingRepeat (281 – 296 watts) I turned it into a Power Interval (299+ watts).

I blame it on the fact that I was climbing Paris Mountain. It seems I only know one say to go up that road! So, I ended up with an average of 310 watts for the 9 minutes. My heart rate still held to a manageable 178 bpm with a peak at 182 bpm.

Then it was time to finish up the intervals with the final SteadyState. Once again, I found myself creating the wattage with more ease than earlier. The issue was that I was on more undulating terrain on the backside of Paris Mountain. The graph of my wattage at that point looked like an EKG. Still, I came in with an average of 271 watts and 167 bpm. That was very similar to my first effort.

The endurance miles back home started to bring a little fatigue. I’m certain a lot of that had to do with the ClimbingRepeat in the middle. However, inside I felt great. It is so much fun to feel myself being pushed to get through an interval. All the pain and effort is going to equal better fitness and speed.

You have your FTP… Now what?

After two CTS Field Test attempts over the last three weeks, I believe I’ve arrived at the correct benchmarks for really taking advantage of the Time-Crunched Cyclist training plan. Looking at the numbers I can already tell before I do a workout that the efforts are going to better match my expectations of the work load needed. I’m looking forward to getting started on the next eight weeks or so to see where it takes me.

Quarq Power Meter

My power weapon of choice, the Quarq CinQo

Here is the bottom line… According to the test, my FTP is 296 watts. You come to that number by taking the highest average wattage from one of your two eight minute efforts. My first effort was 296 watts and my second effort was 290 watts. If you are training by heart rate, you take the highest average heart rate from one of the two efforts. In my case, it was the second effort with a rate of 173 bpm.

The reason I am comfortable with that number is because it is reasonable considering my situation. At my peak training, my FTP tends to be over 300 watts. I expected my wattage to be lower when I first started training in February, but I quickly came around and could tell that the power was there. 296 watts… or, to be honest, 290 watts is right where I think I should be with room to improve. I can definitely see a 10 watt gain over the course of my training to be reasonable.

How do I do that? Well, it starts with building training zones based on my FTP. Carmichael lays out these zones in his book. Each zone is based on a particular percentage of FTP.

133 – 216 : EnduranceMiles
237 – 252 : Tempo
254 – 266 : SteadyState
281 – 296 : ClimbingRepeat
299+ : PowerInterval

If I were training with heart rate, the breakdown would be as follows.

86 – 157 : EnduranceMiles
152 – 156 : Tempo
159 – 162 : SteadyState
164 – 167 : ClimbingRepeat
173 – 196 : PowerInterval

So, each workout is a recipe using the above categories as ingredients. For instance, tonight’s workout is “90 minutes at EnduranceMiles with 3 x 9 minutes Over (ClimbingRepeat)/Under (SteadyState) (6 minutes RBI)” Using the breakdown above I know that means that for 90 minutes I hold a base wattage of 133 to 216 watts. Within that time frame, I will complete 3 intervals: 1 at 254 – 266 watts for 9 minutes followed by a recovery spin for 6 minutes / 1 at 281 – 296 watts for 9 minutes followed by a recovery spin for 6 minutes / 1 at 254 – 266 watts for 9 minutes followed by a recovery spin for 6 minutes. I then finish out the workout with the remaining time at EnduranceMiles pace. By the way, RBI stands for “Rest Between Intervals.”

This week will bring me three weeks into the program. I’m glad I have this sorted out now and am adjusting my future workouts using the new “ingredients.” I imagine that as I progress I will find the averages I put out within each range will start trending to the upper level of each range. Knowing how I am, I am going to have to work to keep the EnduranceMiles contained under the 216 watts limit. I tend to want to go harder all the time.

Actually, the greatest challenge for me over the next two weeks will be finding the time to do each workout! These are going to be some of my more busy weeks during the year. That is when a plan really comes in handy. Knowing what I need to do each day and knowing that the Time-Crunched Cyclist plan limits most workouts to 90 minutes makes it all seem doable. That is the great stress reliever that has helped me train again with a positive attitude.

A positive attitude can often do more for you than 10 more watts.

Carmichael Training Systems Field Test

I’ve blogged over the last two weeks of my experiences with the Time-Crunched Cyclist training plan from Chris Carmichael. The plan is for the cyclist who wishes to be competitive, but has limited training time to reach that goal. A key element to the plan is to know your Functional Threshold Power and you arrive at that foundational number by performing the CTS Field Test.

The Time-Crunched Cyclist

The Time-Crunched Cyclist plan

Now, I have been following the plan for two weeks now. Why am I talking about the test now? It all comes down to I never felt that first test was an “honest” one.

All during the last two weeks I have pretty much exceeded the prescriptions for each workout. The reason being, I didn’t trust that my FTP was 252 watts and I also felt much better doing it. On a workout where my perceived effort was supposed to be 7 or 8 I was feeling like it was 4 or 5 when I followed the called for wattage. I found myself working more by perceived effort than the wattage numbers.

That isn’t a good thing. In order for the plan to work I need to work really hard, but also should not over exert myself. Sometimes training to go fast means you go a little slower than you think you should. To do this, I needed to be confident that I was falling in that sweet spot.

I asked my coach, Jim Cunningham (he is advising me as I go on my own with this plan), what he thought I should do. He knows me better than anyone else. His advice was to redo the test. He felt it was possible that my FTP could have dropped and the test was accurate, but it was important that I have trust in what I was doing. A new test could help remove the big question mark.

Last night I came home from work to give it a go. I had the test in mind throughout the day as I ate and tried to be adequately hydrated. Funny, but I was feeling a little nervous as though I was getting ready for a race.

Everything was set up and I climbed on the Felt (attached to my trainer) and started spinning to warm up. I looked down and noticed there was no wattage showing on my Garmin! This was not what I needed. I tried to get it to reconnect with my power meter, but it was no go.

I ended up having to get off the bike and drive down to Walgreens to get a new battery. After switching it out and confirming the two devices were pairing, I climbed back on the bike to start spinning again. It didn’t take long to put the frustrations of the situation behind me.

After getting my legs limbered up, I turned my attention to the first phase of the test… the warm up. You can try it yourself if you like. Just follow this workout flow.

  • Fast Pedal for 1 minute (for me that means a cadence of 130 – 140 rpm)
  • Easy Spin for 1 minute
  • Fast Pedal for 2 minutes
  • Easy Spin for 1 minute
  • Power Interval for 1 minute (not a sprint, but a hard effort – for me it was around 400 watts)
  • Easy Spin for 2 minutes
  • Power Interval for 1 minute
  • Easy Spin for 4 minutes

Now it is time for the test. You do this by coming to a stop and then bringing your pedal up to get a good push when the timer starts. When I did this on the trainer my wheel slipped a bit on the roller, but that was no big deal because you are supposed to work your way up over a 45 to 90 second period to a max wattage you believe you can hold for an 8 minute duration.

The plan calls for you to settle in at a 85 to 95 rpm average cadence. I found in the first effort that I was exceeding this pedaling at times around 100 rpm while putting out 300+ watts. I tried to find the gearing that would give me the most bang per stroke, but that also wouldn’t be too big a gear causing me to fatigue.

My wattage consistently and gradually declined as I neared the end. My cadence started getting a little irregular. I was tiring. However, I pushed through over the final minute and actually increased the wattage to average 315 watts. Frankly, I didn’t think I had that in me with the way I was feeling.

Perhaps that means I wasn’t going as hard as I actually could have, but with an average wattage of 296 watts for the 8 minute effort, I was satisfied. Really, that is about what I expected — and I will note what Jim Cunningham predicted. The rest of the test would give me more insight.

The test then calls for you to take a 10 minute easy spin break. It is funny, as you finish the first 8 minute effort, you question whether you will even be able to go another 8 minutes like you did earlier. However, after spinning easy and consuming was water, I was ready for the next effort. I also remembered that in my earlier test, that effort produced the highest average wattage.

The second 8 minute effort has the same instructions as the first. This time I lowered my cadence off the line and tried to use the whole 90 seconds to get up to speed. I could sense that things weren’t going as well as the first effort. I didn’t have the same rhythm of the first one. Rather than swinging through the effort — like I felt I was in the first effort — I felt as though I was chasing the average of the first test.

Indeed, I was. My average wattage for the second effort was 290 watts. I once again gave the final minute a push, but the wattage did not swell up like before. I finished the effort feeling nauseous. I figured that was a good thing. I didn’t leave anything.

So, what is the final analysis? Well, as Jim said earlier, either 1) the first test was correct and I have improved quickly, or 2) I had a bad day with the original test. The bottom line is that now I look at the training ahead and say, “Wow, those workouts are going to be pretty tough.” That is exactly what I wanted. I was nagged by the fact that the workouts just didn’t seem to match up with Chris Carmichael’s descriptions of what they would be like in his book.

It isn’t the case anymore! More details later on what the test means to my training going forward.

Spin the night away

Bet you can tell I’m starting to get back on the bike and excited about it. How else would you explain two blog posts two days in a row? It is true. I’m starting to have fun again… even fun training.

Last night certainly was a test of that fact. The warmer weather has gotten me out on the road a bit more and that certainly helps my psyche. However, my schedule still puts me outside daylight hours sometimes and I find myself back on the trainer.

Such was the case last night. I took a deep breath before mounting the bike because I knew it was going to be a long one. Two hours riding along the roads of the Upstate flies by quickly. Two hours going nowhere in my basement… not so much.

Thankfully, I had recorded Stage 2 of Paris-Nice and it would last an hour and a half. I could make it that last thirty minutes in silence, or I could put on some tunes to help pass the time. All I knew is that I had to get it done.

I set up my trainer in the basement facing an old computer desk. I can easily reach the desk by leaning forward over the bars. There I keep my cell phone and prop up my iPad so I can watch Netflix or live programing streaming from my TV. Next to the desk I have an oscillating fan on a stand. Without it, I would fry!

The plan called for two hours at Endurance Miles pace. That means I was to ride between 115 – 185 watts the entire time. I determined that I was going to stay within the plan because I knew that Tuesday evening I was to do another CTS Field Test. I didn’t want tired legs for that effort.

Data graph for my spinning session

Orange = Cadence / Purple = Wattage / Red = Heart Rate

When I first started off I felt kind of stiff. I didn’t push it but just kept spinning and not worrying about the wattage. I knew that once I got warmed up the wattage would come easily. Sure enough, after a few minutes I was in the sweet spot. My cadence fell into a rhythm of around 90 rpm and wattage settled in around 150 watts. My heart rate was a steady and comfortable 130 bpm. Even in the warm basement, I was hardly breaking a sweat.

Meanwhile, a very interesting race was happening in front of me on the iPad. The crosswinds had wreaked havoc on the peloton and there were groups of riders split up along the course. A lead group of 21 that included Taylor Phinney, Tejay Van Garderen and Levi Leipheimer. I will admit that I was pulling for Phinney and Van Garderen. Here were two American riders at the ages of 21 and 23 making the break in a powerful field of riders. I was pretty impressed with Phinney and his willingness to bury himself to keep the break alive and protect Van Garderen. It bodes well for the future of the US in the international peloton.

Even with the cycling, it seemed to take forever to make it through the first thirty minutes. As I finally neared the end of the first hour, I started wondering if I might find a reason to cut things down to an hour and a half. Another hour seemed like it would be an eternity.

I stopped for a couple of minutes for a “natural break” at the one hour marker. When I got back on, I shifted the gearing to raise my cadence and lower the wattage. I was still within the range called for, but I figured it would be helpful for my legs and save something for Tuesday evening. You can see how that alteration changes my wattage and heart rate.

Well, during the first thirty minutes of the second hour the action in the race heated up. Before long I forgot I was spinning and caught myself at times upping my cadence as I was racing along with the guys on the screen! Once I got to thirty minutes to go, I was actually feeling very good and enjoying myself. I’d have no trouble making two hours.

During the last thirty minutes, I put on my headphones and started listening to music. Once I shifted into a harder gear so I could stand and give my seat a break. Then I stopped paying attention to the meter and just let my cadence go along with the various songs playing into my ears. You can probably see that on the graph above. The first hour is pretty consistent. The last thirty minutes jumps around.

Finally, I dropped into a very easy spin for the final five minutes or so. I have to admit, I could have kept going. What started out as a dreaded trainer ride turned into enjoyment. Yeah, I think things are starting to come around.

Do it again

The weekend turned out to be a very good one for the bicycle. I woke up to wet roads, but enjoyed watching the Strade Bianche streaming from my iPad to the widescreen TV. After the race I spent some time with my two sons running them around on errands. By the time I got home in the afternoon, the weather was perfect for a ride.

Strade Bianche is a race I really enjoy. The white sandy roads add an interesting dimension to the event. It is also more like a classic race that favors a strong overall rider.

For a good amount of the race, a Ben Hermanns with RadioShack-Nissan stayed out front. At first he had help, but then he was all alone. He fought valiantly to hold off the field knowing that Fabian Cancellara was sitting in the pack ready to pounce.

Two BMC riders were there with Fabian, but I knew they were toast. The fact is they were having to step up and do work to bring back Hermanns. Fabian was just sitting there biding his time.

Then on the last dirt section as they neared the crest of a climb, Cancellara took off. Game over. I don’t know much about his personality, but as a bike rider he is one of my favorites. Sure, he isn’t going to win a Tour de France, but you just have to love the way he takes over a classics style course.

Cancellara’s 10 k time trial to win the race was still fresh in my mind as I headed out to do my 2.5 hour Endurance Miles work out as prescribed in the Time-Crunched Cyclists training plan. The problem is the planned called for me to stay between 115 and 185 watts. The way I have been feeling, I decided to stay at the upper end of that range.

On Thursday I did Steady State intervals and on my final effort averaged over 300 watts for 10 minutes. Granted, that was done climbing Paris Mountain, but that alerted me to the fact that my FTP is probably not 250 anymore! Friday, I took it easy for 1.5 hours on the trainer. Still, I was toward the upper end at a 164 watts average. I hardly broke a sweat.

So, on this ride, I decided to see what I could do — not overdoing it, but going at what I felt would be a RPE of 7 or 8. I took it easy as I headed out to the park. I was going to ride the Swamp Rabbit Trail and then branch out once I reached Travelers Rest. Thirty minutes on the roads out there would bring me home at the required 2.5 hours.

I stopped in the Reedy River Falls Park to grab some video of the falls that were swollen with the heavy rain fall we experienced Friday night. You can see here what the red clay of our area does to the foam. It looks more like “rust caps” than “white caps.”

Once on the trail, I upped my cadence to over 100 and settled in to between 200 and 225 watts. I reached Travelers Rest and kept going until I wrapped up an hour at that pace. It put me at an average wattage of 200. I then stopped for a moment to take in the scenery. While it was a little cloudy, the weather was nice and I could see the mountains off in the distance.

Between Travelers Rest and Merrieta, SC

Anyone want to ride to the mountains?

Coming back the wattage dropped. This is partly due to the fact that the terrain is more downhill. I averaged 190 watts for that hour and ended up with an average for the 2.5 hours of 190 watts. So, once again, I was over the prescription for the session.

Later I received some feedback from Jim Cunningham. I had sent him my data since I started the plan and asked for his feedback. I really appreciate him taking the time to help me. He has been my coach for the last two years and has helped me through some hard times. Even though I am technically on my own this year, he still takes the time to provide me advice and oversee what I am doing with the Time-Crunched Cyclist.

His feedback was that it is hard to know whether one of two things is happening 1) the original test was off, or 2) it was correct and I am coming back to form very quickly. However I got here, he says it is very obvious that my body is coming around. The data says I am definitely improved from that initial field test of two weeks ago. “The power is there,” he says. “You might not have many matches to burn, but the power is there.”

His suggestion is that I replace my next Steady State interval workout with a repetition of the field test. He says that he expects the result to be +/- 300 watts. Well, I’ll know for sure tomorrow night. That is when I’m scheduled for the Steady State intervals.

Regardless of the result. I’ll be glad to put the uncertainty behind me. Personally, I’m thinking the number is going to come in more like 280 watts. If so, I’ll be happy with that and I can get back to focusing on moving forward. If it is 300 watts…. boy, I’m going to have some intense workouts over the next several weeks!