This is probably a duh to most people. Put work in = get more out. Yet a few months ago I was very hesitant on how much structured training could help me, and if I could stay motivated (I lose interest in things quickly sometimes) and if I would see a lot of improvement.
Back in November I took the plunge and did a preliminary Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test and started the CritFit 18 week pre-season training plan. I had a good initial two weeks, and then life got crazy. I started working night shift and bought/closed/moved into my house, which ate up a lot of time. Training plan went out the window, but I knew I would refocus around the time of the Colorado state cyclocross championships in mid-December. And that I did!
Suddenly I went from being the girl who treated the trainer as a torture device not to be ridden more than 30 minutes to a girl that appreciated what it would do for me and a device meant to be ridden for at least an hour or more. Every week I met my CritFit Score goals with my threshold intervals, even if it meant sacrificing an extra hour of sleep before work. Finally giving TrainerRoad a shot, I fell in love with training with power, and finally felt myself getting a bit stronger week by week. TrainerRoad also provided a good format for me to create custom workouts around my CritFit Workouts of the Day, and also provided me structured workouts for recovery and endurance days, AND even better, a nice structured way to do Sufferfest videos around my power levels. Whew. So much good in a mere 6 weeks!
The #1 best thing I did for my 2014 season was start a training plan in general. But nearly #1 as well was making the switch to power-based training. I’m a number nerd, and once I actually figured out power (which really isn’t bad), I was just flat out in love. I struggled with my 2-3 weeks of heart rate training, as I figured out I could control my heart rate in a myriad of ways and I struggled with my threshold heart rate being 165, which feels like nothing to me on a bike, especially after a season of racing cyclocross at 190+ bpm for 40 minutes at a time. It just didn’t feel like I was working out. Better than nothing? Sure! But with the awesome tools provided by TrainerRoad, which uses trainer type, an ANT+ stick, and my Garmin speed/cadence sensor to determine power, I could easily revamp my training to make myself think I was doing something in a manner than isn’t as easily controlled as heart rate.
Ways in which I realized heart rate based training wasn’t for me:
1. If I sit up on the bike or drink water, heart rate jumps. And my heart rates are naturally lower while in the TT position than on the road bike.
2. I often mentally picture races in my mind during intervals, coming across the finish line in a good sprint and taking the win. This won’t change my power output, but it makes my heart rate get all crazy out of excitement. Luke Bryan songs on Pandora also has this effect.
3. I can control my heart rate through breathing scary well. I discovered this while being hooked up to a telemetry (aka heart) monitor at work one day and focusing on the screen. I can will myself into a 40 bpm resting heart rate as well as will myself to make it higher through breathing.
Anyways, I digress. Enough with that tangent….
So my 6 weeks of Phase 1 Threshold training seemingly flew by, and my last 3 cyclocross races actually fit in well with the plan, with a lower CritFit score week falling on the week of Nationals so I could “take it easier.” Last week was the final week, and I was feeling like an utter beast – so much so I found myself riding my 12-minute length threshold intervals in the bottom of my VO2Max power range with a smile on my face. Who smiles on a trainer?! Fast forward to this week, which was a recovery week. Something mentally challenging as I got so use to a routine of two days a week doing CritFit WODs, and fitting in rides in between for endurance. And… it also meant my FTP re-test to check in on how training has been going.
I was nervous going into last night. I had a fear I would put out less power, or the same. Irrational, perhaps. But it was nerve-wracking. This time I chose the road bike, which I had been doing all my training on (instead of the TT bike), and Coach T decided we should use my trainer as well instead of his. Painful as always, but yet the first 8-minute block immediately showed an increase in power. I had a slight slip of will-power/shut up legs moment around 6 minutes in, but finished strongly. The second 8 minute block didn’t go so well. Legs were dead, though I did keep it above the power put out in my original FTP test in November. Once again 6 minutes in I faltered, and came close to not pedaling a few times as Coach T urged me to stop doing that. It was painful. Was it more mental than physical I do not know. I had the strangest feeling of claustrophobia come over me for some reason, and Coach T’s coaching was actually really distracting me. Weird, I know. But because I was so cooked, I couldn’t form words to tell him and my legs to shut up, so I took to waving my right hand all weirdly at him every time he tried to get me to up my power. Spastic, I am. I’m sure he had no idea what the hell I was doing (sorry, Coach T, haha). Not that I didn’t appreciate it, as it’s helpful, I was just in odd place mentally. I mean, there’s nothing weirder than grunting awkwardly on a bike for 8 minutes way into your VO2Max power levels in a middle of a busy bike shop.
All animal grunting noises and awkward right hand waving aside, I upped my FTP by 10 watts!!!!! HOLY CRAP TRAINING ACTUALLY WORKS, and even better, CritFit coaching is the best! Just six weeks of focused training, and I accomplished that increase, woohoo! Coach T remarked that I probably did not increase my FTP over the entire course of 2013, so to pull off that increase this early in the game is awesome. My threshold heart rate also went from 165 to 170bpm, showing a gain in fitness.
So what’s coming up next… Phase 2. Another 6 week long block, but this time focusing on VO2Max training and more pain. I’m a bit of a guinea pig for a mixed phase of CritFit Billats for VO2Max, and threshold intervals workouts my other WOD day. (The PSP 18 week plan is billats + VO2Max intervals.) I’ll retest at the end of Phase 2, and then head into the final Phase 3, which is focused workouts based on my primary discipline (Cat 2 XC).