Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An Ode to 2x20

Winter Bike Training...  It's a love/hate thing for me. 

Riding the trainer sucks.  It's boring beyond words and more painful than that.  At least the way I do it.  

That said, the winter is when I get fast.  While most folks are base building, or recovering, or doing some candy ass group bike workout or whatever...I'm getting faster. 

But getting faster hurts.  Sometimes it hurts alot.  My winter bike training sessions rarely go over 75 minutes.  That's my trainer insanity threshold.  But every time I ride it's all about racking up as many minutes as possible at threshold power.  It starts slow, 8ish minute repeats in zone 4, but by the end of the winter I'll be doing the equivilent to 3 20K TTs a week of zone 4 work, mixed in with LOTS of zone 3. Riding at zone 2 doesn't exist in my winter bike training.  I have all summer to put endurance on top of my threshold training, and in reality it takes about 6 weeks to get it back.

This is my second year of training this way.  I'm a big fan of the results.  The trick is in the doing.  The worst part of the entire process is power testing.  My preferred power test is 2x20@100% on 2'.  I go all out, and then use the normalized power of the 42 minute range as my new 100%.  I test every 6 weeks. 

For me, that 2x20 workout starts about a week before my butt hits the saddle.  I start dreading it.  I know it's coming.  I'll start loading with my normal suppliments, and stop eating with any calorie deficit.  The worrying starts.  "What if I lost a bunch of fitness in those few months of rest I took?"  "Will my FTP bounce back?"  "How much work am I going to have to do, to improve again this year?"  I try to start rationalizing with myself.  It doesn't hurt that bad really...and it's only 40 minutes. 

Then there is acceptance.  The day comes. I resign myself to the pain.  One last shot of caffeine, a few puffs from the inhaler, a long warm up, and then the test. 

The first 10 minutes aren't so bad.  I target what I think my FTP is.  By then I've totally burnt out my anerobic ability to create power.  The second 10 creep by. 

Making it past the first 20 is the easy part.  Two minutes easy, I try to catch my breath, and brace myself for the second 20 minute interval. 

The second 20 minutes isn't targeted.  I don't have a magic number to shoot for.  I pedal as hard as I can.  That's it.  It's just all out, 100%.  The litmus test is "can I pedal any harder?"  If the answer is yes, I do.  My breathing is completely ragged.  I'm probably struggling not to vomit, and my pain compensation strategies are all in play.  I'm probably thinking "This is the most painful thing I can imagine, but hey, at least I'm not running..." 

By the last 5 minutes, if I paced well I'm ready to really drive myself to the edge and leave everything out there.  If I didn't pace well, it's even harder to push because my power output is dropping and the suffering is worse. 

And then it's over.  I can stop.  I try to walk, and usually can't, so I sit down on the bottom step to my basement and take a few minutes to recover. I immediately feel it in my legs, I'll be trashed for a few days. 

It's an impossibly hard workout.  The gains are also as impossible to describe.  Last year I gained almost 40W of FTP, which worked out to about 1.5 mph.  But there's more than that.  Acquiring the mental toughness needed to really suffer, put your head down, and then reach down inside yourself and suffer just a little more is invaluable.  Learning how to "disengage the safety mechanisms" the mind puts on the body has been a real key to my improvement as an athlete, and firmly confirms (for me) Dr. Noakes central governor theory, that says fitness is as much in the head as the legs. 

So, I'm a fan of the results...but 2x20 all out is still a workout that scares me.  I have a healthy respect for the demands it places on me, and I certainly don't look forward to it.

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