I heard (belatedly) about the 26-days-of-April blog posting challenge. And it seeems like a good idea: to post every day except Sundays in April, with a theme inspired by the letters of the alphabet. I'm late to the party so I'll slink in by the back door and quick, try to catch the bartender so I can catch up. I know, it seems like three or seven martinis in a row will do the trick, but it so rarely does.
But we make announcements like this to hold ourselves to some sort of standard: to keep ourselves honest. It's one of the reasons I race: to be sure that I'm actually doing the best I can.
One of the things on my mind recently is training, and the big picture of the bike racing season. Most training plans for bicycle racing involve a period of lots of long slow distance: the mid-20th century saw a yearly arc for a road racer that consisted of long rides across the winter and early spring, and, essentially, "racing into shape" across the season, by taking part in the spring classics one-day and three-to-seven-stage races, followed by the summer tours. Cyclocross in the fall or early winter was a way to "burn off excess fitness" as I've heard it said (alas, no citation).
Starting in the 1980s, a few developments converged to change this practice. In no particular order: the invention of wearable heart rate monitors and power-measurement devices made the quantification of effort and the rationalization of training easier. Meanwhile, the economic background of the sport brought cyclists to focus harder on fewer events (world championships, Le Tour). And after the fall of the Soviet bloc, the methods of eastern European trainers (both licit and il-) were revealed to the rest of the world. All these things were distilled in a few now-seminal books, Joe Friel's The Cyclist's Training Bible and Tudor Bompa's Periodization, for example. Periodization approaches changed the racing season approach by sharpening the focus on fewer races, with a more specialized lead-up to those races, but the idea of putting in a lot of long, slow miles fairly long before the racing season was confirmed.
In essence, what you're doing with LSD (long slow distance, you hippies!) is building aerobic capacity in your muscles--capillaries, the delivery system for blood (oxygen and glycogen) to the muscles. This is a long (not just months but years) process (there's a reason why there aren't 17-year-old world champion marathoners). Additionally, higher-intensity efforts (racing as well as the higher-intensity efforts of a periodization program) actually break down--or "use up"--this aerobic base.
But that's not (exactly) what I've been up to. Based on a few different training plans, I've done a more compressed training schedule for the past couple of months, with a mix of short and medium-length efforts, intervals ranging from one minute to twenty or thirty minutes. This is the sort of program that, for example, Chris Carmichael pushes in The Time-Crunched Cyclist. The basic idea behind Carmichael's "time-crunched" approach is that it skips a certain amount of base-building in favor of improvements in top speed.
I suspect that I'm seeing both the positive and negatives of this approach--in the past two weeks I raced Barry-Roubaix, a 62-mile gravel raod race, which I finished near the bottom--it was a four-hour effort--and one day of the Gapers' Block crits, a half-hour race where I hung with the pack much better than I did a few years ago (my last racing season).
So the question I'm wrestling is what to do over the coming months, given that I've got a couple of races coming up, Leland Kermesse on the 21st, and either Monsters of the Midway or Gravel Metric in May) and then basically no racing until fall (cyclocross and 24 Hours of Moab).
Kent Peterson is one of my favorite bicyclists and bike writers; he's the one who turned me on to the Blogging-from-A-to-Z thing, and he's aiming to bike to an interesting destination daily with his acrostic focus. Today, for me, naught but a commute, and even the simplest of commutes, as I didn't have to drop kids off at school. A mile. Would love to get more riding in today but I'm sporting an awful crick in the neck, a Colossal Cervical Crick, if you will.