Winter Training on a Time Budget

Posted on in by Reno Cycling Team

Me - I'm a 42 year old father of two young children with a demanding job and I enjoy criterium racing for the Reno Cycling Team Sponsored by Nature’s Bakery. My work requires me to travel about once per month for a few days so this can also interfere with my training schedule. I wanted to find a way to effectively train for this summer's criterium races on a very time crunched schedule and still be competitive as a category 5 racer. When I began to think about a training plan for the race year, initially I wanted my fitness to peak around the time of the Tour De Nez. The Tour De Nez is a local USAC race that takes place in Reno during the summer. It's a really nice event and one of the Reno Cycling Team’s priority races so I want to help our team and sponsors by performing as well as possible during that race. Last year's race took place in early August and I assumed that this year’s race would also occur in August (after I later learned that it would be held in early June). In addition to the Tour De Nez, my goal is to be competitive at the local club sponsored races that run from April through August. So initially, I wanted my fitness to peak in April and then again in early August.

The combination of factors specific to my situation naturally led me to Chris Carmichael's book called the “Time-Crunched Cyclist”. Chris Carmichael was Lance Armstrong's coach throughout his cycling career. He developed a training schedule that is very effective for those of us who have day jobs, kids and other responsibilities that limit our training time. I skimmed through the book in December and became convinced that this was the proper approach for me. I did not read the book word for word, just enough to understand the science behind the time crunched cyclist training program and how I could implement it. The program generally requires about 5 to 7 hours per week and lasts for 11 weeks. After the 11th week, according to Carmichael, you must rest your anaerobic system or your will become overtrained and performance will start to decline. During the rest period, you can still ride, just not at a high intensity as the point of resting is probably to rest your adrenal glands and similar functions within the body. I know from experience with weight lifting that this is necessary. My basic understanding of the program is that if we don't have the appropriate amount of time to build a large base of aerobic miles, we should instead build a strong anaerobic system which will maximize performance, especially for shorter duration races or high intensity club rides, but by building your anaerobic system, you will also build aerobic capacity, whereas if you only concentrate on aerobic capacity, you won't do much to build your anaerobic system. As I stated above, the downside to this training is that continually taxing your anaerobic system through high intensity interval training without having built a strong aerobic system will eventually over-stress your anaerobic system causing performance to fall off significantly after 11 weeks or so. The training is very detailed and includes very difficult interval training sessions twice per week and two longer aerobic rides on the weekends which may contain a few small intervals. The intense interval training workouts are between 1 to 1.5 hours long and the weekend aerobic rides are about 1.5 to 2 hours each.

Winter training in Reno can be somewhat difficult as it is sometimes too cold to train outside and during the work week it is usually too dark outside to ride after work, so it is necessary to train indoors during the week and on the weekends when the weather does not permit outdoor training. I find it to be very difficult to train on a stationary bike, the stationary position can painful and it's difficult for me to maintain enough motivation to log long hours on the trainer. Therefore, I generally limit my indoor training to at the very most 3 hours per week, so if the weekend weather isn't sufficient for riding, I generally will only log 3 hours of training.

I use trainerroad to provide and track indoor training sessions. I searched trainerroad for workouts that are equivalent to the time crunched cycling program workouts, this would make it very easy to follow the program without much planning. I was fortunate to find 2 training plans that had already been created with the Time Crunched training in mind. Within the trainerroad Plan Archives, there are "Advanced Competitor Low Volume" and Advanced Competitor High Volume" plans; these plans are very similar to the Carmichael program. The Low Volume program requires about 5 hours per week and the high volume plan calls for about 7 hours per week. I began the program on January 1, 2015 with the 8 minute Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test provided by trainerroad and measured my power with the virtual power feature and my kurt kinetic trainer. The purpose of the FTP test is to determine how much power (measured in watts) that you can theoretically output for about an hour and is used to calculate training wattage loads by the trainerroad software. The results of my test indicated that my FTP was 224 watts. I hadn't been riding much during November and December so this number wasn't too surprising but my last test several months earlier resulted in a score of 270 watts, so a score of 224 was a little disappointing. My goal is to reach a test score of 300 watts prior to the Tour De Nez.

I followed the program as much as possible over the course of the next 9 weeks and cut the program short by a couple of weeks so that I could recover before starting another training cycle which would allow me to peak around the Tour De Nez in early June. During the training cycle I skipped an entire week due to the flu, missed some weekend workouts due to poor weather and scheduled workouts out of sequence or on back to back days to accommodate travel but I trained consistently and averaged about 3.5 hours per week. I purposely avoided team rides and club rides so that I wouldn't stray too far from the training plan.

Results and observations: I retested my FTP on March 11 after ending the first cycle of training so that I could judge the effectiveness of the training; my ftp score improved to 264 watts which is about a 20% increase in FTP. Considering the amount of training that I logged, I am happy with the outcome but I was hoping for 270. I only need a 36 watt improvement to reach my goal of 300 which is almost what I gained over the first training cycle; however, I suspect that I will need to double my effort to get the same kind of results experienced during the first cycle. As with any kind of exercise, the initial improvements come fast and easy but as we get closer to our ceiling of genetic potential, the results are harder to come by. Until I begin my next training cycle in early April, I will log mostly aerobic miles and not more than 5 hours per week. This will allow my anaerobic system to recover so that I can begin another build phase. During this next phase, I will follow the same principals from the Carmichael plan but also incorporate races, team training and club rides into the training plan. I will also try to get the full 7 hours of training which is the maximum amount for the Carmichael plan. If I can reach an FTP of 300 by early June with the limited time that I have available to train, I would consider this training style to be very effective for short duration races (less than an hour).

Below I have included the trainerroad workout summaries for the FTP tests that I took when I started the training on Jan 1 and when I finished the first cycle of training on March 11. FTP is calculated by taking the average watts of the two 8 minute efforts at VO2 Max and multiplying that number by .9. You can see the improvement graphically by following the yellow line on the graph over the 8 minute interval blocks. I consistently produced about 40 watts more over the 8 minute intervals on March 11 compared to January 1.

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Reno Cycling Team

Established in 2013 our primary goal is to provide local cyclists a program, which at its core, is grounded in the principles of education, camaraderie, community involvement, and FUN!.


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