The Sufferfest

Our Endurance Nation coach posted a link to The Sufferfest, a new cycling app which uses the full spectrum of a rider’s power profile to design personalized workouts. He asked for thoughts, and I provided mine:

In recent years, we haven’t talked much if at all about attics and ceilings and roofs. To refresh for new members…think of your bike fitness as a single story house with a peaked roof. Your one hour functional power (FTP) is the ceiling of that first floor. As you grow in your cycling strength – as your FTP increases – you are raising that first floor ceiling. Eventually, you find that you have used up most of the available vertical space in the attic, and you need a higher roof to accommodate your improving FTP. How do you raise that roof/make a bigger attic? By working on energy systems which enable more work at higher wattages, things like 5 minute and 1 minute power. To add the 5 second power to the analogy, well, maybe that’s the steeple?

Anyway, looking back at my triathlon career I had built a multi-year “base” of long distance cycling (multi-day tours, including one summer crossing the USA), and bike commuting to work 20 miles daily. Then, I got involved in triathlons, including off-road Xterra, and increased my mountain biking, which involved a bursts of sheer anaerobic terror trying to get up gnarly short steep climbs. I had my best Ironman cycling when I was mixing a lot of mountain biking into my training.

Point being, I think that building strength for explosive climbing or sprinting – which is what the 5 second and 1 minute (and all the spots in between) stuff is all about – will have a benefit even for 112 mile time trialists. We need look no further than the Tour de France, Giro, and Vuelta for confirmation. The winner of those events will almost always be the cyclist who can not only keep up with the strongest climbers, and even win summit finishes, but also translate that high end power into prolonged steady state effort.

After a seven year absence, I’ve gotten back into mountain biking this Fall, in Colorado and Washington. After discounting strength loss due to aging, I’ve found I still have some explosive pop in the legs after a year of mostly long (2+ hours) steady rides @ 0.72-0.82 IF. But I also sense that continuing to add that sort of work will pay dividends on the half and full Ironman race courses. It’s not about becoming able to simply go up hills harder. I believe in the rigid rule that “For every minute you go anaerobic on the bike (i.e., exceed about 0.9/0.95IF), you lose three minutes on the run”. The ability to succeed at shorter, harder efforts is still adding to sustained efforts.

My conclusion: Our energy systems are not compartmentalized; every one of those zones from 5 seconds to 5 hours uses ALL of our neuromuscular energy systems, just to varying degrees at each gradation. Ignoring any of them will result in less overall speed at any step along that progression. The trick is to find a way to incorporate them into a training plan. Frequency, amount, timing, all relative to the ultimate race goal, are the variables which need to be fine-tuned.

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