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Bike Haiku #1

Winter suffering
Fills my legs, heart with lactate -
Begin soon, Season.

(Format from http://www.toyomasu.com/haiku/)

3 Reasons to train and race with Power that maybe you haven't thought of yet

Power is the new yoga. It's trendy going on immensely popular; yields significant training benefits when used correctly; and makes people think you're cool if they know you're doing it. I started training with a PowerTap at the end of last season, and to now go without it would feel as backwards as switching back to downtube shifters.

No doubt you've heard a dozen reasons why you should consider training and racing with power, but for what it's worth, here's a few you maybe haven't come across yet:

  1. Power keeps you honest. When you set out to do a 3 hour endurance ride with 3x15 threshold intervals in the middle, knowing that you're going to have a physical record of that effort helps ensure that you stick to the plan. This is especially true when you're working with a coach, and he prescribes the workout and then expects to see the power file. And conversely, power keeps you from working too hard. Maybe you feel good enough for a couple more V02 Max bursts after you've finished the workout assigned to you. But if your coach has you stopping at 6 instead of 8 because he's aiming to peak your form for a big race, the fatigue from the extra bursts might outweigh the fitness benefits. Anticipation of the lip whipping you're about to get from him might just be enough to cool your jets, and let him do his job.
  2. There is no longer a weight penalty from training with Power. This is technically less of a reason to ride with power than it is a reason not to not ride with power. I don't mean to say that the equipment itself is negligible in weight, but everything else on the bike has become so feathery that a 15-lb race bike is well within reach even with a beefier hub or crankset. Pros, in fact, are moving to power on their race bikes for that very reason, since many of them have to add some weight anyway to hit the 6.8kg / 15lb UCI limit. And whether you care about the UCI limit or not, the fact is that racing with power and enjoying a gossamer ride up the big climbs are no longer mutually exclusive.
  3. Power allows you to race Proactively, not reactively. This is really more about the self-awareness that measuring power provides. On Stage 17, Floyd Landis attacked confidently and within himself, knowing he could throw down 544 watts for the first 30 seconds to get away, and then hang onto 401 watts for 30 minutes. He forced the race to react to him, instead of holding back not knowing if he had the juice, or going too hard, and blowing up. Riding within yourself allows you to be an active participant in the whole race, and riding the race that's best suited to your ability. You'll know going into it if you've got great 1-minute power but a modest sprint, and be sure to try for a gap well before the 200M mark. Or if you can push more watts for 5 minutes than others in your category, making a good case to try and solo off the front and hang on. And sure, some of it is about winning. But more if it is about being a part of the race - a factor in it, and not feeling like you're just being pulled along by it. This is why we train and race in the first place - to take charge and assert ourselves in an effort to separate ourselves from - not just from the pack, but from whatever mediocrity we're aware of elsewhere in our lives. We race, I think, to build our identity. And nobody's true identity is tucked safely in the peloton for the entire race, every race.

BRILFdom is a Two-Legged Stool

The BRILF philosophy is embarassingly simple. Cyclists are most attractive when we:

1. Win Races
2. Look Good

That's it, really. Pursuit of one or the other is common, but the simultaneous achievement of both is kind of what I mean by 'BRILF'. And it's no easy accomplishment, being fast and looking good. Sure, we all think we look better at the front, but reaching the level of fitness necessary to get there is what Alexander Pope would call a "Ruling Passion", often coming at the expense of style, social graces, even personal hygeine. I heard someone say not long ago that "Cycling is the only sport where you have to be incredibly fit, just to not be in contention." Truer than a pair of hand-built Mavics.

So too with looking good. No sport I know of is a bigger hotbed of vanity than cycling. Face the fact: we shave our legs because it makes them look better. Road rash blah-blah facilitating massage yadda-yadda aerodynamics do-you-think-i'm-stupid long-standing tradition - ok, I'll give you that one, but it only proves my point. Cyclists 60 years ago were just as concerned about showing off their sculpted gams as we are.

For me, anyway, that's the appeal - finding the balance between racing well and indulging my vanity. Because both contribute in some way to self-confidence, a sense of achievement, some aspect of self-identity. "I'm a bike racer." At least, that's how I want to be able to define myself. And to say it convincingly I need visible evidence - actual ability, and an appearance that backs up my claim.

And that's why I call it a two-legged stool - because it is a balancing act, and it's a lot easier to topple over than remain upright. There is no point of relaxed stability in bike racing, no way to win if you don't bring your A-game. One lazy week of training, a single lapse of concentration at any point in the last 5 minutes of a race, a missed shift, a tiny tactical error - any of these is the difference between sprinting for the podium and an ignominious pack finish.

And when that happens, we can always fall back on knowing we at least look like bike racers - at the gym, in the office, the coffee shop, picking our kids up from school, in the ball pit at Ikea - anyplace but on the course. The lure to scale back on the performance and become an accomplished poseur is great.

So most of the stuff I'll write about - and link to - here will have to do with one of the two attributes of BRILF - winning races and looking good, though always with the balance between the two in mind.

The road to BRILFdom is paved with... Pain

Sorry to have to break it to you, but there's just no way around it.

You wanna provoke the smiles, you've gotta put in the miles.
Wanna make them think you're great? Hang with your threshold of lactate.
No one's gonna think you're hots if you haven't done 12 weeks of squats.

Or something.

I started training with power at the end of last season, and not long ago came across this excellent blog where the author is a power training coach who has put a bunch of riders on a power training program. He's transparent about all their power data and workouts, and does a great job fielding questions in the comments. He calls it the Power Meter Project, and it's definitely worth a look.

As for me, my coach has me on the bike 3x per week and at the gym 2x per week. The gym workouts are such a welcome respite from saddle time for me. I'm going to miss them when the season starts, I think. He' has me on a 3 phase plan, which looks a little like this:

Phase 1: Building muscle endurance. 3-5 sets of 30-50 reps at low weight. Squats/Leg Press, Hammy curls, Leg Extensions, Calf Raises, and some upper body stuff so I don't end up looking like this guy:


Phase 2: Raw brute strength. 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps of as much friggin weight as I can push. Lower body stuff as above. For the upper body work I stay in Phase 1 - no need to put on an extra 5 lbs of biceps and pecs.

Phase 3: Converting strength to power. 3-5 sets of 15 or so reps, as much weight as I can do for 15 or so reps. A set takes almost a minute to complete, so this phase is designed to increase my 1-minute power, or what I'll need for holding my position coming into the sprint, chasing down a break or - more likely for me - closing a gap after I've fallen off the back. I begin this phase next week. In my power tests and riding so far this season, we've found that I have 5-second (sprint) power on par with Cat 2 cyclists (I'm a Cat 4), but that my 1-minute power is officially classified as "toddler on tricycle." So if the finishing sprint is within the first 30 seconds of a race, I'm golden. Otherwise, I'll never get a chance to use it.