Already into the 3rd week of 2014, and with two races in the books (Southridge & 12 Hours of Temecula), I’m trying to finalize my racing goals and training plans for this year. In doing so, reviewing my 2013 training & racing log has been insightful. I ended 2013 with several endurance races and found myself really enjoying the challenges they present.
For 2014, I plan to incorporate more endurance races (I’ve already signed up for the Whiskey 50, along with some of my Kasel Cycling teammates!) while being more selective and smart about choosing shorter XC (cross-country) races to avoid burnout. The intrigue and “newness” of endurance races is certainly a big reason behind wanting to explore these races more, but it’s also borne out of desire to participate in races that are not affiliated with USA Cycling (note to self for future blog topic: USA Cycling lameness), like the US Cup series here on the west coast.
A warning for you, the reader: I can geek out on numbers. You can’t manage what isn’t measured. I use several tools to keep track of my training: Garmin 500 GPS, a heart rate monitor, Strava, Garmin Connect, and my own Google spreadsheets. Occasionally, I forget the Garmin or the heart rate monitor (HRM), and that’s where a smart phone comes in handy to track rides, but 95% of my rides are with both a GPS and HRM so that I can track my cumulative workload. More on that in a bit.
Ask a cyclist how their weekend was and they’ll come back with some sort of answer, such as, “great! I latched onto a group ride and did 50 miles.” Or, “I bagged a century!” Perhaps, “I got 3 hours in. Felt good/crappy.” You can begin to tune out once they invariably start whining about flats, bonking, chain drops, or that damn headwind. The miles and hours they boast about are quantifiable metrics which describe how long they were on a bike, and are useful. But it doesn’t provide a way to measure how such efforts contributed to fitness. The body is dynamic and responds to stresses by adapting and becoming fitter. Out with the old wussy cells in and in with the T-2000 Terminator cells (or something like that)!
So it’s how a series of rides (or efforts) accumulate over time into a Workload which makes or breaks a cyclist. But how to measure Workload? Three things to track: Frequency, Duration, & Intensity.
Frequency – how often do you ride? Duration – how long are your rides? This can be expressed in either miles or time. For somebody like me who rides both mountain and road, time is a more meaningful measurement. In an hour, I may cover 20 miles on the road, but I’ll consider it a good effort if I get 10 miles out on the San Clemente singletracks! Intensity – how much effort goes into each ride. This is harder to measure, but you can approximate it with perceived effort scores, measure it better with HRM’s, or use power meters (best but most expensive way). One way to think about intensity is that a slow-paced three hour group road ride may just require as much effort as a hard 45 minute interval session on the trainer in the garage.
Workload = Frequency x Duration x Intensity
I track my workload to help me prepare for and recover from races. Sometimes I do this effectively. Sometimes I don’t (as you’ll see in part 2)! My post from July 2012 details how I used to measure the intensity of my rides. I no longer manually calculate my intensity scores. I now use Strava “Suffer Score” (a paid feature) to do this. Strava uses time spent in certain heart rate zones to calculate a “suffer score” which is a measure of intensity that was inspired by the concept of TRIMP (TRaining IMPulse) coined by Dr. Eric Bannister. To use the “suffer score” accurately, you need to set up your own specific heart rate zones, which should be based off a lactate threshold test (how to do that here).
In essence, a Strava “suffer score” of 100 means that for 1 hour you were riding at your lactate threshold (essentially all out for an hour). It’s a big effort that hurts. Like Over the Hump racing kind of pain cave.
The graph above shows my Strava “Suffer Score” for an Over The Hump mountain bike race from June, 2013. A score of 100 for an all-out effort that lasted 1 hour & 2 minutes, based on my heart rate zones and lactate threshold (~168). It’s raced at the limit of my aerobic ability with some serious anaerobic efforts throughout. Contrast that with the graph below which is a from a 4 hour group road ride in November that resulted in a “Suffer Score” of 108. 90% of the ride was in my heart rate zones 1-3. This shows how the “suffer score” escalates non-linearly – that is, time spent in zone 4 & 5 is weighted heavier when calculating the suffer (or intensity) score.
Both types of rides are important to incorporate into my training regime since they’re training different metabolic systems (anaerobic & aerobic). How and when to train these systems is a whole other blog post. As I shift into more off-road endurance races, both metabolic systems are stressed. For example, my effort from this past weekend’s 12 Hours of Temecula race in which my teammate and I were able to come in 2nd place with 16 cumulative laps is shown below.
I achieved a suffer score of 323 after riding for 5 hours and 21 minutes with the bulk of my time (75%) spent in zone 3-5. Compared to the hour all-out OTH race, there is considerable time spent in zone 3 (“Tempo”). The time spent in the lower heart rate zones occurred on the longer downhills and in the latter laps. As the day advances, my body’s ability to continually put out high level (near anaerobic) efforts diminishes and you can see how my heart heart drops with each lap in the graph below. Over the entire 5+ hour race duration, my average heart rate was 152. My average heart rate for the first and second lap was 163 and 164, respectively. It was 140 for the last (7th) lap.
Tracking the intensity value for each ride allows me to track my workload for a given time period (e.g. weekly, monthly, annually) and helps me build up to a race (or recover from them). In part 2, I’ll go over my 2013 training log, picking out some unique time periods to show when and why my body broke down, along with some annual stats. Hopefully, I can plan my 2014 smarter because of this… and you can too!