What I am changing up …

I train on month long blocks with 3 weeks on, and 1 week off.

Each month I change things up a little, partly to remain motivated, but mostly to progressively increase the load, and volume of my training. This month, I am making 3 changes.

  • I have been training inside for several months. As the weather begins to improve, I plan to ride outside more often, at least once a week. As a rule of thumb, I do not enjoy riding outside unless it is 10+ Celsius. It’s almost there, so as long as it is not raining, I’ll venture out.
  • I usually take 1 day off each week, after 6 days of training. This has worked well, but recently I have felt more fatigued than usual. So, I plan to train for 3 days, and then rest for a day. I will still only rest 1 day in 7, but slip in a rest day every 3rd day. The idea is to do an interval workout at the start of each 3-day block when I am most rested, which will give me 3 days between each of these sessions including a day off. This way I will get a little more rest, particularly preceding the interval workouts.
  • And lastly, I plan to complete 2 of Caroline Girvan’s follow-along workouts every training day. This will mesh well with the 3 day on, 1 day off schedule. Each day I will do one of the Arms & Shoulder, Legs & Glutes, or Chest workouts, plus one of her Ab sessions. This way I complete 2 full body sessions each week with an emphasis on the core.

These are small changes that I hope will better prepare me for a century ride at the end of the month, and help develop a more thorough, varied workout routine going forward.

Do you change things up?

How I schedule rest days …

I have rambled on about STRAVA several times.

I have rambled on how I didn’t like it at first because it turned every ride into a race. I rambled on about how I gradually learned to understand, and appreciate the app; how it helps me find new routes, meet other cyclists, and inspires me to train smarter.

Last year, I noticed that athletes were recording all of their workouts, not just their rides. Triathletes recorded their rides, runs, and swims. Others, recorded their weight training sessions. Some posted yoga, or Pilates sessions. And, some logged their walks.

At first, I questioned the value of doing this. Then I discovered that STRAVA has the ability to estimate my recovery, and relative freshness by using power, and relative effort data. It’s only an estimate, but consistent. When I realized this, I began recording all of my activities; indoor and outdoor rides; weight training sessions; and my daily hikes up and over “Little Mountain”. I learned when estimated fatigue is greater then the fitness measure, I am not at my peak, and this would not be the time to schedule a cycling event, or hard training session.

The more I monitored this, the more I realized it’s accuracy.

I am recovered when Form is zero or higher. I use this to schedule rest days, rest weeks, and training sessions. I use it to plan when to do intervals, repeat hill climbs, and recovery, endurance, and tempo rides. Some days, I feel like working harder, and I do. Other days, just the opposite. I have learned to trust how I feel, and not to train because I had planned to train that day.

After years of training, I trust how I feel. And, I have STRAVA to thank for that.

They keep me going …

I’ve written frequently about STRAVA. How I use it as a motivator. How I discover new, more challenging routes. How I meet other cyclists. How my understanding of the app has evolved over the years. But since COVID, I have discovered another way it has been motivating me during these cold, wet, winter months.

There are several local cyclists that inspire me every day to get on the trainer, and hike up, and over, “Little Mountain”. I look forward to their daily posts, and establish my plans for the day accordingly. Interestingly, they are woman. This is not to say there aren’t interesting male cyclists that inspire me. There are. But four women, in particular, not only inspire me to train regularly, but have taught me a better way to train during these bleak, winter months.

None of these woman are young. By their own admission, they are in their 50’s. Not old, but not in their athletic prime. They all cycle a lot. 10,000 km / year, and in one case, much more. They all work. And, they each lead busy, complicated lives.

The first is a health worker, who regularly commutes 20 km to work on her bike all year, and during the warmer, drier months, regularly rides with her friends on their road bikes. But this is not what inspires me. A lot of people commute on their bikes, and do regular group rides. No. What inspires me about this woman is that each, and every morning she hops out of bed at 6 AM, and goes for an hour long walk at sunrise in her neighbourhood. The same walk, every day. The same walk, regardless of the weather. And, when she gets home, she hops on her trainer for 30 minutes before showering, and caring on with her day.

She has taught me the importance of regular, daily walks. They are good for the body, mind, and spirit, particularly during this COVID pandemic when we are expected to stay apart. She has inspired me to hike “Little Mountain” every day.

The second woman is an emergency room doctor. 2-3 times a week, after finishing a 12 hour shift, she hops on her Cervelo road bike, and heads out for a 100+ km ride in the dark. That’s right. In the dark. All year. In all weather conditions. It’s always the same, flat route, with stops to warm up, and photograph inspirational murals she discovers along the way. I have always been nervous to cycle at night, but she talks about how quiet, and peaceful the streets are, and how meditative the experience is.

She has taught me that cycling is more than an athletic adventure. It is also a relaxing, and meditative one. And, she has inspired me to try night time rides.

The third woman is a professional triathlete, having completed over 15 events all over the world. This past summer, she was hit by a truck while out on her bike. She broke her neck in several spots, and metal screws now stabilize her spine. Her recovery has been slow, and painful. But she perseveres. She can’t ride outside. So, she uses SWIFT to race, and train. She can’t run. Not yet. But she gets on a treadmill using a device that supports her body weight minimizing the impact. She can swim. She has a continuous pool in her yard, and uses it daily. So despite having back surgery this past summer, she continues to train. And, she trains hard. A typical day may include 4-6 hours on her smart trainer racing with SWIFT, a 3,500 metre swim, and an hour long run. I can’t imagine what her schedule will be like when she is fully recovered.

She has taught me the benefit of micro training, doing shorter, harder efforts during the day, instead of one longer trainer session. Occasionally, she will do a long session on the bike, but usually she does multiple 30-40 minute workouts.

And the fourth woman is recovering from a double hip replacement. She is a local cyclist, but is fortunate to escape south for the winter months to train. And train she does. Her rides are legendary, regularly completing 100-160 km rides that include substantial climbing, sometimes as much as 2,000 metres. The long, difficult rides are not what inspire me. They are commendable, but many cyclists do this. What inspires me is her upbeat, positive attitude. With each ride ride she posts beautiful photographs along with an inspirational, sometimes philosophical, quote.

She has taught me how to remain positive, regardless of how I may feel, or what may be happening in my life.

I have never met these woman. Not yet. I want to. I want to tell them how inspirational they are. They know it. I can tell by the number of STRAVA followers they have, and by all of the complimentary comments they receive. But I want to tell them personally. I want to ride with them. When the weather improves, and I am back out on the road regularly, I plan to make it happen.

The FTP Test ☹️

I did the FulGaz FTP Test today. As expected, there was little difference from the last test taken ~ 2 months ago.

2 watts.

I didn’t plan this test well. I was rested. That’s good. But, I went too hard during the warmup, particularly on the 2 preliminary climbs. More importantly, I started the test too soon. Apparently, FulGaz changed the visual display that counts down to the start, and I wasn’t sure when to go. So, I started going hard too early. Would it have changed the result? Maybe.

Next time I’ll pay more attention.

The test is hard. It is supposed to be. At the end, I was fully spent. My legs felt like rubber. That’s the way it is. It’s not a pleasant experience. If it is, you are not working hard enough. Next time, I’ll pace myself better. The grade isn’t consistent during the climb, ranging from 4-8%, and I didn’t react to the changes quickly enough, losing power on the easier grades. I’ll know better next time.

I may also do the test using the Wahoo computer as well to see if there is a difference. I’m curious. I understand that different platforms provide different results. I suppose it doesn’t matter what platform you use. It’s really only important to be consistent.

In any event, I have a number.

So, I can begin FulGaz’s FTP training program. Actually, I have already started, so will continue where I left off a month ago. The plan is to complete 2-3 of these interval sessions each week. Each of the sessions are ~ 60 minutes long, I have already completed 10 of the 39 workouts.

Only 29 more to go.

There is another scheduled test in 3-4 weeks, and one at the end. The plan is to make improvement. Remember? The goal is a wattage gain of 5% during February. I haven’t decided the goal for March. It will depend on how I do this month.

The work begins.

What recovery looks like …

What does a recovery week look like?

I know what it looks like. I just haven’t been doing it this past year. All cycling events were cancelled because of COVID, and without one to train for, I became less disciplined. I still cycled, and set new goals, but my training was less structured. Although COVID is still with us, and very likely events will be cancelled again, I plan to return to a more structured schedule. For me, that means monthly training blocks with 3 weeks on, and 1 week off.

This week is a recovery week, the first in a very long time.

What will it look like?

Well, the plan is to only stretch, and walk, for 3 days. Maybe longer if I am still feeling tired, or my RHR is elevated. Over the years, I have developed dynamic and static stretching flows that take approximately 45 minutes to complete. I’ll do them every morning after a cup of coffee. Also, if you have been following this blog, you know I walk for 1-2 hours every day, usually up and over “Little Mountain”. I’ll continue to do that but take the easiest route to the top, and only climb it once. I’ll try to get more sleep, eat well, and reduce as much stress as I can.

I’ll also spend time reviewing my training during this past month. You can see in the above schematic that I trained every day during January. Usually that included 1 or more sessions on the smart trainer, a targeted weight workout, and a walks over “Little Mountain”, averaging about 20 hours per week.

Was this the right amount? The right distribution? Or, was it too much? These are the questions I will explore over the next few days, with the intent to come up with a more effective plan for February.

The following STRAVA schematics show that I completed over 100 training activities over almost 90 hours, cycling almost 745 km on the trainer with an elevation gain of over 11,000 metres, representing a 21% increase in “Fitness” during this period. Whatever that means.

So, what did these training session look like?

I follow a local professional triathlete on STRAVA. She has completed over 40 triathlons all over the world. This past summer she was hit by a truck while training on her bike, and broke her neck. She can’t run, or ride on the rode yet, but she has been spending a lot of time racing on SWIFT. She has taught me how to mix trainer session up. Sometimes she will do long sessions from 2-4 hours. I find these mentally difficult. Other times, she will do a series of shorter ones for 30-45 minutes. I liked this idea, and began doing 3 shorter sessions with a modified weight workout between each trainer session. These workouts would take me 2+ hours, and I felt they were more effective than longer sessions. I would vary the 3 bike sessions. For example, I might start with a 30 minute flat tide, followed by a 30 minute climb, and finish with a short climb with a fast descent. And between each ride, I would do a 20-30 minute weight session focusing on different areas of the body.

I liked this approach. It gave me an opportunity to try a variety of virtual rides. This helped to keep me motivated, and challenged. Over the next few days, I will consider how I can improve on this approach. I’ll also refine the training mix. This time of year. I like to spend more time on strength training, and working on specific cycling skills.

I’ll also evaluate my walking sessions. I have been making them progressively longer, faster, and more difficult. Do I continue doing this, or spend more time on the bike?

That is what my recovery week looks like. A time to rest, reflect, and re-evaluate. At the end of the recovery period, I’ll do another FTP test. This will help me establish a new plan.

Training hacks …

I have to admit. I am a Juliet Elliott fan.

Juliet is not a cycling professional, although she makes her living cycling. She is a YouTuber with thousands of followers. She is also an accredited cycling coach. She has raced in all disciplines, and has some down to earth, practical training suggestions. Her latest video outlines what not to do.

I agree with all of her suggestions. Do I follow them. Unfortunately not. My biggest downfall is not resting enough. I just reviewed my “Training Log” on Strava. For the past 12 weeks, I have not taken any days off, or for that matter, a week off. I have included a few days of reduced intensity. I suppose that helps recovery, but my legs feel the consequences of over training. They feel heavy, and tired. Once I get moving, they begin to feel better, but as each days passes, I notice the fatigue building.

Generally, I follow a three week on, one week off training cycle. The week off may not be off completely, but considerably reduced intensity and duration. Shorter rides. Fewer climbs. No weight training. For some reason, I got away from this pattern. I think COVID is partly responsible. With all of the cycling events cancelled, there was nothing specific to train for. Also, despite my age, I seem to recover quickly. I sleep 7-8+ hours nightly, and my resting heart rate is consistently 32-35 bpm. If it is elevated above this, I’ll go easy for a day.

This is not good enough. I know that. Recovery weeks are as important, maybe more important, than the training itself. I have to be more disciplined about this, if I expect to make gains.

So, I’m turning over a new leaf. Beginning in February, I’m going to return to the 3 week on, 1 week off schedule, with the first week of every month as a rest week. Rest will not mean doing nothing. I’ll ride, but not for as long or as hard. I’ll walk, and stretch more. I’ll use the roller, and massage gun every day. I may even take a hot bath. I’ll rest. During the following 3 weeks, I will gradually increase the volume and intensity of the workouts. Longer, more difficult rides. More weight training volume. FulGaz has an FTP training programme lasting 8-12 weeks. In addition to exploring the Spain, Italy, and France on the trainer, I’ll complete 2-3 of these training rides each week. These workouts will provide the structure I have been missing this past year. And, when the weather permits, I’ll get outside on a bike. I haven’t done that for 2 months.

That’s the plan. There may be cycling events this season. If so, I want to be prepared. If not, I’ll arrange one myself.

My first Rouvy ride … 😃

If you have been following this blog, you know that I am evaluating different indoor training apps. I’m down to two – FulGaz and Rouvy. I have already dismissed Swift, Sufferfest , TrainerRoad, and a host of others because my primary selection criteria is to make training indoors like cycling outdoors with real video footage of epic rides.

Today I had my first Rouvy ride, and must admit, I was pleasantly surprised.

First, it was quick and easy to download, install, and setup the app. It immediately recognized, and connected all of my sensors – Wahoo KickR Core and Heart Rate Strap – and the user interface is friendly, intuitive, and feature rich. I had all of the numbers I would ever need – speed, power, cadence, grade – and the ride profile showed where I, and other riders, were positioned on the ride. The app introduces augmented reality, graphic avatars superimposed on top of the high quality video of the ride. I didn’t think I would like this feature, but as it turned out, it more than anything made the ride real. There were other cyclists on the road. Other cyclists to chase down, and race, just as I would do on the road.

I have a lot of other features to check out, but I give Rouvy a 👍 for this first ride.

If you have experience with the app, I’d like to hear from you.

The glutes are key … 🚴‍♂️

About Cori

Cori Lefkowith has helped me workout better, and more efficiently at home during Covid.

I discovered her website quite by accident. Somehow it showed up in my YouTube feed. The first video of hers that I watched outlined a number of pre-workout dynamic stretches. I wasn’t doing much stretching at the time, certainly not before training. Today, I incorporate a number of her suggestions before every workout.

After that first video, I watched many more, subscribed to her channel, and even reached out to her via email, as she suggests. I couldn’t find any cycling specific workouts, and wondered if she had done any. She responded quickly saying:

“So no. I don’t really have any specifically for cyclists. In general I focus on unilateral glute activation, ankle mobility and thoracic mobility.”

This didn’t mean much to me at first, but once I understood what she was talking about, I realized her approach is relevant to all sports, and in particular cycling.

The glutes are the largest, most powerful muscles in the body, and are key to a powerful, efficient pedalling stroke. Cori has taught me how to activate, strengthen, and stretch these muscles (there isn’t just 1 but 3 of them. I discovered mine were underdeveloped, despite years of cycling.

And if you cycle, you know that ankle and thoracic spine mobility is essential. The better your ankling technique, the more powerful your stroke. And the more flexible your lower back, the more aero position you can hold and maintain.

Imagine if I had focused on these things 25 years ago 😂

Since incorporating Cori’s stretches, and strengthening exercises, I have become notably more flexible, stronger, and confident. My posture has improved. I’m more balanced when walking. I have less right hip, and lower back discomfort. And when I ride, I’m more conscious of my glutes being engaged, resulting in a more efficient stroke, and I can get into, and hold a more aerodynamic position.

Phil Gaimon taught me how to chase local PR’s during Covid. And Cori Lefkowith taught me how to better activate my glutes, pedal more powerfully, and hold a more aerodynamic position.

I’ve learned a lot during the Covid lockdown.

This is how I do it … 🤷‍♂️

This is how I do it.

This is how I make decisions. I talk with as many knowledgeable, experienced people as possible, and I watch a lot of YouTube videos 😂

The above video did it for me.

There is no doubt in my mind that Swift is not for me. Putting Swift up beside FulGaz tells the tale. Kudos to DC Rainmaker 👍 It’s a brilliant idea to match the apps this way. It answered all of my questions.

Swift is not realistic at all. Not the scenes, and certainly not the cyclists. On the other hand, FulGaz is the real thing in every way.

My single most important criteria in selecting a smart trainer app, is to bring my rides inside. I want them to look and feel like what I experience on the road.

This morning, I rode one of my favourite local rides on FulGaz. I know this ride well. It is an iconic Vancouver road ride that I have trained on for 30 years.

Yikes. I hate to admit it has been that long ☹️

FulGaz did it right. The effort, and speed were bang on. And the video reminded me of my early morning summer rides!

If the rest of FulGaz’s rides are similar, I’m won’t be disappointed training with it.

My indoor setup … 🚴🏻

I have setup a “pain cave” as an indoor cycling studio.

I don’t like riding in the cold or wet weather. And, I don’t want to return to the gym anytime soon. As long as it was sunny and dry, I welcomed riding outside, and training in the local parks. Now that the weather is changing, and we are experiencing an uptick in Covid cases, I’m happy to stay home.

But I need more equipment. I have some dumb bells, an exercise ball, and a mat. This is enough for strength training. But what about indoor cycling?

I decided to purchase a smart trainer. You know, one of those direct drive ones where you remove the back wheel, and connect your drive train directly. I have an extra carbon road bike I can dedicate to the cause, and space in my den – a converted walk-in closet – to set it up.

Which trainer?

There are so many to choose from. I began asking around, and calling the local shops. In the end, I chose the Wahoo KICKR CORE. I’m a big Wahoo fan 😃 It gets excellent reviews for reliability, features, and noise. And, it was available locally for a good price. I had it setup in a day.

Now, what software to run on this smart baby?

Until I started researching, I didn’t realize there are so many apps to choose from.

I was familiar with Swift. Everyone seems to be using it. But I don’t like the virtual reality aspect. It’s not real enough. It’s like a video game. And, I never liked video games 😂 I know the social features are popular, but that’s not the type of cycling I enjoy.

That’s where I had to start. What kind of cyclist am I, and what do I expect from an indoor trainer?

I’m not a racer. I enjoy century events and Gran Fondos, but I do them for the experience, never expecting to win, or even compete, except maybe with myself. I prefer solo rides to group rides, and I like to train with structure. Despite my age, I still think I can improve, become more efficient, and get stronger. I want my indoor experience to be like my outdoor road rides.

This helps.

Given that, Swift is out. Sufferfest is more for racers. The videos actually put you in races. That’s not for me. TrainerRoad gives you all the stats you need, but is visually uninteresting.

I want a more realistic experience.

Two apps come strongly recommended. FulGaz and Rouvy. Over the next 1-2 weeks I’m planning to test them out – they both come with a 14 day free trial – and select one for the winter.

Stay tuned 😂

PS – If you have experience with either, let me know your thoughts.