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Fear is a great motivator. If a bear is chasing you, you are more likely to run your best 100 meter dash compared to the annoyance that advances made by a squirrel might engender. Fear, or at least anxiety, animated my early season training in 2011. To channel that fear into something useful, I followed a few simple steps during the gloomy months of winter and early spring.

I had read as much as I could from 2010 on about the ride. The one clear message, apart from the glories of the ride and the food, was that the course, no matter the length, would be a challenge. Chianti is a hilly place. Roads are built right over the hills. The old roads especially were steep and often eroded.

I had been to the area in 1997, the first year of the ride, but about a month after it was concluded. I remembered only the great food and wine, but nothing of the roads even though we had traveled over many of them.

I knew from the turn of the new year in 2011, I would need to achieve a pretty high level of riding fitness as well as the endurance to simply ride a long distance. I got there by doing the following.

Stationary Bicycle: Whether you have rollers, a wind trainer or belong to a club, a stationary bicycle is unbeatable in the early season. But, the way to make it really work for you is by riding intervals. If you’re simply giving it a good spin for an hour, you’re missing the multiplier effect of interval training. Last year, I did it this way:

Intervals: 15 minute warm-up at a steady state that was taxing, but not a killer

10 minutes of intervals where I was at or above 80% maximum heart rate in this sequence, 2 minutes on, 2 minutes rest; 1.5 minutes on, 1.5 minutes rest and so on. In the 1/2 minute on segment, I switched into a nearly impossible gear, stood up and pumped until I nearly failed.

I repeated the above after a five minute “rest” at the steady state. I finished the 45 minute workout with five minutes of cool down at the steady state.

Strength training: With some dumb luck, experimentation and a guidebook, “Weight Training for Cyclists,” I did my best to achieve a sort of all over workout. The stationary bike riding I did three days per week. The strength training took the other two days. Weekends would find me on my single bike if weather permitted or on the tandem with my wife.

Stretching: I realized after a month and especially after I read the guidebook, that I needed to gain flexbility. Bicycling is a killer in that regard with limited range of motion. Before every session whether stationary bike or strength training, I added a set of stretches for the whole body. I’ve come to believe that this effort made it possible for me accelerate my training.

On the road: Once the weather improved, I skipped the stationary bike and hit the road. I put together early morning rides that incorporated steady spins and steep climbs. Since I only had an hour, I had to make the most of it. Weekends would now be focused on longer rides over more demanding terrain and the introduction of gravel.

By the numbers: I don’t have a heart monitor, but the training bike at the club provided RPM and watts averages along with calories burned. Though there is no way to validate the last two numbers, they would be consistent. I used them as measures of progress. On the road, it was a simple measure of distance and time. In every case, all of the information was recorded by writing it down or posting it to mapmyride.com.

What about Beethoven? The 3rd Symphony. Eroica. I tried The Clash and Billy Idol. Pandora served up what amounted to opera’s greatest hits. But, the one piece of music that provided the most inspiration and distraction was “lovely, lovely Ludwig Van.”

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