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The Coach(ed) Corner: Finding the time

If you would like to ask Coach Neal Henderson a question please send an e-mail to CoachNealQandA@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for content and clarity.

Of all the lessons I learned during this past year of getting coached, No. 1 by a long shot is this basic tenet: More time on the bike does not necessarily translate to increased fitness.

Instead, the key is finding that critical balance between high intensity and adequate rest. Better to crush yourself a couple times a week, and then have several short truly easy days, than to noodle around whenever you can and rarely take time off.

The reason I bring this up now is that life has been pretty busy lately (read: work is getting in the way of play — and my ability to more regularly pen this column). But as my coach has frequently reminded me, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s just a matter of finding — and implementing — that aforementioned “right balance.”

“Life sometimes gets in the way of a good training plan, but you have to roll with things,” coach Neal Henderson reassured me during a recent state-of-my-training-affairs meeting. “You also have to remember that if we up the intensity, we also have to up the rest. We’ve got to make sure you survive it and don’t get over cooked.”

The Bunsen burner in this case was my request for more interval work to placate the fact that lately I’ve had a lot less training time. Last week, for instance, my Thursday session was just 60 minutes. But within that hour, I tackled a little number Coach Neal likes to call 40/20s. After a 15-minute warm-up, I rolled up to my favorite interval hill (not to steep, not too flat) and proceeded to pound out three sets of six, pedaling at about 80-percent max sprint for 20 seconds, recovering for 40 seconds, and then doing it again.

Twenty seconds may not sound like a very long time, but by the third set it might as well have been 20 years. And that’s to say nothing of the next day, when I awoke feeling like I’d gone a few rounds with Tyson. The upside, says Coach, is that this kind of work is the fast track to good form.

“Even just two to three quality days a week is workable,” he explained. “So if we’re talking three days, typically one day will be focused on threshold work, another day will be more VO2 max or sprint efforts, and the third will be mixed, usually a longer group ride or an early season race, which can yield a good training effect as long as you’re not bound by a performance outcome.”

I certainly have no illusions about performance outcomes this time of year, but I am going to pin on 2009’s first race number this weekend and do a criterium here in Boulder. The strategy, if I can convince a few of my VeloNews teammates to join me, is to get in some good training and run through a few race simulations.

“Try practicing some strategies,” suggested Coach. “Plan a scenario where one teammate is the attacker and another set ups to counter if the move keeps getting brought back. Doing things like that is great way to have a purpose for a training race instead of just dropping 20 bucks and riding around in the pack.”

No time to waste these days — and certainly no money.

Lots of questions to catch up on this go round (sorry to some for the delay):

Riding in the cold

Hey Coach Neal,
Aside from escaping to Tucson for winter training, how do you quantify riding in the cold? Is trying to ride in zone 3 or 4 heart rates at 72 degrees the same as riding in those same zones at 32 degrees? How should one adjust if they insist on riding outside no matter how cold it gets?
— Thomas

Hi Thomas,
Generally speaking time and intensity determine your training load. Just because it’s warm or cold does not change that. But temperature can effect how the body responds. When it’s cold, heart rate will typically be lower, and when it’s hot heart rate tends to be higher.

So if you are using just heart rate to train, you need to be conscious of your perceived effort to know where you are. Also when it’s really cold your body will have to work harder, so if it’s so cold that you’ll be uncomfortable for most of your ride, you really ought to think about staying inside.

Stay warm,
— Neal

Training camp

Coach Neal,
I’m headed off to a club camp in Palm Springs, California in about a month. My history is that I was a competitive cat. 3 racer 15 years ago, and have been riding all that time in between, and can still keep up with similarly skilled riders on weekend rides. I have a strong base from 28-plus years of training, and I skate ski in the winter to stay fit. My concern is that I wont have enough cycling base when I head to our week-long training camp. I’m wondering if you have any do’s and don’ts I should be aware of. My camp runs seven days, with an estimated 450 total miles for the week. Thoughts?
— Dan

The basic tenet here is that while you may have the fitness, you must be careful to not drive yourself to injury. First off make sure you are properly set up on your bike, because at the beginning of the season you are even more susceptible to things like Patellar tendonitis simply because you haven’t been riding very much.

I’d also recommend that during the week you do two long days, and then back off on the third day. Then depending on how you’re feeling, go harder or easier over the final days. The bottom line is that you need to listen to your body and not hurt yourself.

Have fun and be safe,
— Neal

Losing the gut

Hey Coach,
I’m a long time avid cyclist who rides between 10 and 15 hours per week. The problem is that I’ve not been able to lose my gut. My body is tall and thin except for the darn gut. I feel that if I can lose the weight I’d climb much better, and I just want to be able to climb with the cycling club without getting dropped. I pay close attention to what I eat, no fast food, no dairy. What do you suggest?

— Rene

For starters I’d suggest you get your body fat measured. That will allow you to find out what your current body composition is and allow you to see what is realistic. Next examine how you’re currently distributing your training. Is it all hard? All easy? Somewhere in between?

You may want to contact a cycling coach and have them look at what you are doing to make sure you are training intelligently. Ten to 15 hours a week is definitely enough training time to be lean cyclist. After that you’ve got to look at your diet. A lot of people under report what they eat. Try keeping a daily log for a week or two and then do a consultation with a dietitian.

Good luck,
— Neal

Getting back in shape

Hello Coach,
Quick question. Because of circumstances in my life, I am unable to train or race in 2009. I am hoping to start back up next season, though. Before I left for Europe, were I am living now (Poland to be exact) I was at top form and very fit. Now I am loosing all of my fitness, and just hitting up the weight room every so often.

I’m 22 and want to race collegiate when I get back to the U.S. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on getting back to form after being off the bike for so long.

— Ash

Hi Ash,
I think No. 1, you need to find options to maintain fitness. Run, find a gym to workout at, or even get hold of a town bike that you can ride around. The bottom line is do something because training is never all on or all off. Do what you can do even if it’s not ideal. Then when you get back it will be easier to get back in race shape.

Enjoy your trip,
— Neal

ACL rehab

I’m a 28-year-old mid-pack cyclist and runner. Last year I raced a fairly light schedule and did the occasional duathlon. But I recently suffered the dreaded ACL, MCL meniscus tear, and am getting surgery. That said, I’m wondering if you have come across other cyclists with such injuries, and if so, how soon did they return to racing. Is rehab any faster for cyclists than non cyclists since quad strength seems to be the first thing lost?

— AJ in Boston

Generally speaking, the more fit a person is going into surgery, the better the surgical outcome will be. So whether you’re a cyclist or a runner, it’s in your favor. On top of that cycling is typically the best exercise for this kind of rehab, so the bike will likely be your happy place after surgery. As a matter of fact, many athletes are at their fittest after surgery because all they can do is ride a bike.

Heal fast,
— Neal

Training on work weeks

Howdy Neal,
I’m currently racing as a cat. 3. I have always just ridden, but this year a friend is coaching me for free. My problem is that I work two weeks on then two off. The two off I race or train everyday, but the two weeks on I have problems with training. Any suggestions for training while on the road? I’ve been doing plyometrics twice a week and trying to do a hard threshold effort once a week. Sometimes I run stairs or run on the treadmill. Can these activities keep me competitive?

Kind regards,
— Thor

Yours is a tricky situation, but there are some things you can do to help hold the line. If you travel to the same place regularly, try to find a bike shop where you can rent a bike from, or a gym that you can visit regularly. If you are all over place then running the stairs is a viable option. But just run up then take the elevator down, as running down can really tear up your muscles. Treadmills can also help. Try running it at a higher grade. That’s a good way to reduce stress if you have problems running. And don’t run for two hours. Instead do half the time running that you typically do on the bike.

For your two weeks on, don’t go completely manic. You still need rest. Otherwise your form will just go up and down and up and down, but you’ll never really make any big gains.

Good luck,
— Neal

Post-base intervals

Hi Coach Neal,
I’m 70-plus, live in Lake Tahoe, cross-country ski in the winter, and love to do Senior Games Bike Racing in the summer. I qualified for the National Senior Games in August and would like to get a bit faster, if possible. Up to this point I do a lot of mileage (last year 3000 miles before the Huntsmen’s Games where I did four races in four days and never had that wimpy feeling in my legs).

I won Division II easily but would have been only 3rd in D-I. How should I incorporate intervals after I do base rides? And how many miles in base before incorporating harder stuff. I ride a lot by myself and every ride is unstructured. Do short hill repeats have any value? Any advice would be appreciated.

— Helga

Hi Helga,
You’ve got a lot going on here, but the main question is how to train properly. I’d start by suggesting that you look at a few books. Try Joe Friel’s “Cycling Past 50” or Gail Bernhardt’s women’s specific book. Both authors are very reputable coaches and could help you lay out practical training plan. Generally speaking you want to spend the first third of the year going easy and building base with a few quality efforts mixed in, possibly some short sprints.

But always remember to incorporate good rest. I think a day of organized training a week would yield a solid benefit. But I don’t think more is necessarily better. But a little more intensity is a good idea, just don’t go overboard and keep having fun. Also you might want to enter some more races to get a better feel for tactics before you next big event.

Good luck,
— Neal

Editor’s Note: Jason Sumner is a 38-year-old, 170-pound freelance writer and Cat. 4 bike racer who last year worked with a cycling coach — and trained with a Power Tap power meter — for the first time. Sumner underwent a full battery of lab tests at the beginning of the 2008 season, producing a 250-watt lactate threshold, a 3.2 watts per kilogram score and a VO2 max of 51.5. Sumner was retested in mid-November and produced a 275-watt LT, a 3.6 watts per kilogram, and a VO2 max of 59.6. In 2009, he’s continuing to train, hoping to up those numbers further — and maybe win a race. He is documenting his experiences for VeloNews.com is this periodical column.

His coach, Neal Henderson, is sports science manager at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine and a well-regarded elite-level coach. Henderson’s clients include 2008 Olympian and Team Livestrong rider Taylor Phinney. Henderson is also the winter triathlon coach for the U.S. national triathlon team, and was named 2008 USA Cycling National Development Coach of the Year. Henderson is working with Jason Sumner on a pro bono basis.

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