In the interest of transparency (and the fact I have nothing else to blog..), I thought it might be an idea to present some details of my Etape training so far.
First, if you remember way back in November when I started this little project by blindly signing up for the Etape du Tour, I was overweight, at least for a cyclist. It didn’t happen overnight, to be sure, but I am happy to report that I am losing an impressive amount of flab. I say ‘impressive’ not because I am surprised how much I lost, but because I am shocked how much I had! I can definitely still pinch an inch, but my core volume has reduced a lot. How much? No idea since I still don’t own scales, but I’ve gone from 34 inch jeans that fit down to 32s that are too big. Still, I’m far from where I need to be, but it’s a start.
And it isn’t just the cycling that has taken away my double chin. I have not bought a bottle of wine since before the New Year, I think, and have only let myself have a handfull of beers in that time as well. If you know me well, you will be impressed. I almost never went a day without a beer or glass of wine before this year. I agree, this is extreme. It won’t last either, especially now that the summer is here. I’ll try to hang on till after the Etape in July though – plenty of summer left after that, thankfully!
Other vices I’ve cut down on are chips (a long-time love affair with this one), sugar (e.g. the afternoon pain au raisin), and…sort of…butter on my bread. Well, at least now I have either butter OR peanut butter, instead of slapping on both. Some things are just too sacred.
I’ve gone through a quick evolution with training, basically because I started out with no idea what I should be doing. My first blog entry about training last year was simply to ‘go faster’, which, after all is said and done, turned out not to be too far off, but perhaps a bit premature.
Base – I’m very glad I did some reading before just ‘going fast’ for 6 months or so. Early on I learned that cyclists, whether newbies or pros starting a new season, need base training. From what I gather, this involves long hours in the saddle at – and here is the important part – only around 50% – 70% of your Anaerobic Threshold. How do find your AT? At the bottom I’ve pasted part of an email I got from Rob when I started questioning him about training a few months ago. Anyway, I did this sort of riding from January to March, with some hills, sprints, races, etc. thrown into the mix. I am convinced that this stage is essential. I do still have aches and pains, but nothing like I did when I used to go hard in the beginning. This resilience is due to the base training, I am sure. I should also mention the cardio benefits, since they are possibly even more important. This took a while for me, but I can push pretty hard now without running out of oxygen, and my heart rate has lowered noticeably – around 50 bpm…on a good day.
Building – This took a while, but I think I’ve worked out a schedule that works for me, at least for the moment. Here it is:
First, I ride 4 or 5 times a week, but I think in terms of ‘blocks’ instead of weeks. I categorize my training into 3 types:
- Short. This could be sets of sprints of various lengths, near, at or even over my AT, depending on length. It might be power training, like hill climbing in a big gear at 30-40 rpm or so. Or, using the the same hill, I might do a few sets of hammering up the hill at near AT. I’m sure there are many more types of exercises I could add, but so far these are what I do.
- Medium. Up to now, for me this has been 2 sets of 20 minutes at or near AT. This one is a killer and I usually find it hard to ride the next day. This is one thing I still don’t get, actually. Most serious cyclists ride nearly every day, following a very hard session one day with something different the next. The thinking seems to be that, since you are working differently each day, the body can recover from one day while you are killing it (in a different manner) the next. This works for me after my short days, but hardly ever after my mediums. Maybe it will come with practice. Anyhow, from what I gather, this type of training (relatively long times at near/at AT) is the best. Rob suggested doing this for an entire hour (on a flat road) even. I’m not quite there yet…
- Long. This one is simple. 3-6 hours on the bike at anywhere between 50% and 70% of AT. Coming from a touring background, I have to admit that this one is hands down my favorite. I can go far and I can enjoy the ride, not having to stress about that next 20-minute pain-fest that I dread from my mediums. It is also a good chance to work on technique, if I so wish.
Depending on how I feel I mix up these 3 training types into ‘blocks’ of two or three days. So, a 10-day period might look like this:
Day 1: Short (short sprints)
Day 2: Medium
Day 3: Rest or recovery ride
Day 4: Short (hills)
Day 5: Medium
Day 6: Long
Day 7: Rest
Day 8: Rest
Day 9: Short (long sprints)
Day 10: Medium
1. Give yourself a good 10 – 15 minute warm-up, whereby you gradually pick up your pace to near “race-pace” (i.e. hard as you can go without going into oxygen debt)
2. After you’re good and warmed up, ride a flat section of road that you can maintain a pace that’s as hard as you can sustain for 20 minutes
3. Monitor your heart rate throughout the 20 minutes and the average rate over this maximum, but sustained effort is your heart-rate at your Anaerobic Threshold.
4. Since this will be an all-out effort, give yourself a good 15-20 minutes to cool down. You’ll want a rest day after this all out effort.
Since January, when training really started, I’ve ridden nearly 4000 km (one full week – 158 hours – in the saddle), building up in distance over the months. This looks pretty good to me, but putting it into perspective, 4000 km is not too much more than the pros do in a 3-week tour, like the Giro (which is on happening now, incidentally)! All is relative.
So, there you have it, my progress thus far. Although I am still unsure about my performance in the Etape, I now think I have the legs to…dare I say it…finish! We shall see in 9 short weeks.