My training has been going pretty well lately. I took last week as a rest week but no early season rest week is complete without a fitness test.
Coach Henoch prescribed me a medium-long “Hard As I Can Go” time trial, using the average heart rate (HR) to calculate training zones.
In an earlier post I explained that I have been using HR as a measure of effort in my training. So, to determine my HR zones, I used an average HR from a 3 lap team time trial (TTT) I did in the last week of a super-secret, late-night track-bike/no-brakes, fixed-gear race-series in Prospect Park back in November. My average HR: 183. Then, during the rest of my rest week I did some running, an easy ride with my roommate, watched TV, and recovered.
Thursday night, I pumped up my tires, stretched my hamstrings and went out to attempt to match that 183 HR number. I came up short…big time.
My average HR for a similar length effort, with the luxury of brakes and gears was only 174. My first instinct was to write it off to the circumstances of the test: I worked 9 hours that day; I was in a public park at night; It was dark; There is a downhill section to sap HR … blah blah blah. But when I look back at the circumstances of the TTT, I see a number of similarities: The time trial took place at night in the same park, on the same day of the week, after a long work day.
After a bit of introspection, I have decided that just because my HR was higher during the team time trial, doesn’t mean I was in better shape. In fact, it sorta implies the opposite.
Looking at the months leading up to the November TTT, its easy to see I was in a completely different place, fitness-wise. The race was the last of a 6-week series that took place after cyclocross season. Cyclocross season takes place after road season. By the time the end of road season rolls around, I am usually about ready to check out for the season and doing a workout or two per week, for maintenance. Cyclocross practices start with me gung-ho about going fast in the mud, but that enthusiasm lasts only until the time change when it gets hard to find daylight to ride. By the beginning of the six-week series, I’m off the bike completely unless I’m riding to work or riding to the race. Even though I was looking to kick some butt after the gun went off, I was really just attending the series as a social function and relying on former fitness to get me to the finish line. So, the hours of easy- to medium-level training work I have been doing lately are designed to get more efficient at doing medium-intensity work.
Moving forward, I want to essentially become a more efficient pedaler at the end of an 62.2 mile race. I want to have more energy for the sprint than other, less-developed athletes. I have been doing little to no-power and force work, and as a result am not as good at pushing a big gear as I was in November. I am more efficient overall as an athlete (or at least that’s what these six workouts per week are designed to do), even if I was putting out the same wattage, my HR would be lower than it was in November when I was only riding once a week.
In short, HR tells you a lot but without a power meter it doesn’t tell the whole story. Furthermore, with or without a power-tap it takes a coach with experience to really know what some of these numbers actually mean and how to use them.
In short, I have a lot of work to do but I am working on it.
The first race is in 6 weeks!