As we head into cross season, the training each year about this time begins to change. We go from epic long base miles and MTB rides that fundamentally teach you how to suffer for long hours on the bike to much higher intensity workouts that stress your body to the core. Intervals, motor-pacing and Tabatas begin to take over so that the constant power-peaks in a cross can be maintained during the course of a 60 minute race…but more importantly can be handled for the entire season without getting burnt into a crispy mess.
In order to understand just exactly where I should be training at, I turned to my coach Frank Overton to essentially probe my old carcass and understand what my MLSS or Maximal Lactate Steady State is. This is another way of saying: find out just exactly where the ceiling is where my body can generate and flush lactic acid at an equal and optimal balance while doing work. From here we can then determine where I should base my training program on so I can do work at an optimal range to not burn out and provide me runway to increase loads gradually over the season for the various times I want to be going well.
How this was accomplished was basically twofold: First, I went in to FasCat Coaching during my lunch hour to do an indoor MLSS test. This is a highly controlled environment where Frank (and Frank’s other crew of professional coaches) can essentially control the efforts of their athletes more or less ‘by wire’. This was done by me putting my road bike into a CycleOps cyclometer and Frank would essentially increase wattages at controlled time increments forcing me to accommodate and keep up with the load. With each of these ‘steps’ in increased power needs, he would take blood samples to look specifically at the amount of lactic acid I was producing. This continued until that 'break point' was found...through analyzing spikes in these values that demonstrate just exactly where that ‘ceiling’ is through spikes in values.
Second, with the indoor testing done, Frank had me do a field test that took place on my normal Wednesday AM pre-work throw down…a.k.a. “The Crack.” This is a 1.5 hour hard-man’s ride but alas is with my best friends, done super early and is kept to a small, tight, safe crew that knows each other well (yet all are determined to tear legs off and take the sprint finish at the end each week.) Perfect for gauging an hour long field trial. This we predicted would show higher ‘ceilings’ than the indoor test (real live fire exercises always do) to basically give me a mean range between the indoor testing and this outdoor field test.
What all the indoor and outdoor testing amounted too was finding a ‘sweet spot’ zone for my training plan. Frank assembled an amazing set of data tools (some of which is seen above as he walks me through my values and results). For me, this sweet spot amounts to about a zone of about 300 watts at this time of the pre-season that is the prescribed for me in doses…intervals to be specific. We work in these ranges for time periods and ratchet up or down as needed…increasing loads as the season progresses so I can ensure I am not doing “too much too quick” and thus I can gradually advance once my body has acclimatized to the work. Frank has some great articles on the concept of training in your sweet spot here.
Sound all scientific-y? Where’s the ‘soul riding’? Honestly, it’s still all there but I am the type of person who enjoys learning about all this…what my body is capable of and methods used to improve it. As a Master’s athlete, it’s still important for me to listen to my body…e.g. if the plan says a 4 hour ride and I feel like horse-cocky, then for sure you’ll see me in the pool with my kids. Like anything, training should be well balanced and have fun at its core. For me, data lets me have fun through my geeky software side. I love numbers and managing data...but again, that's the nerd in me. You ultimately need to choose what’s best for you. A coach like Frank who can understand your needs, your life ‘balance' and your season goals is a great place to explore these approaches and see if they are for you.