Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Skeptical Trainer: On Riding Without Getting Anywhere

I hereby congratulate myself on yesterday fully committing to something I dread. It is something unnatural, something which, for me, is an extraordinary act of willpower...

...riding the trainer.

Pshaw, you say. What's so tough about riding the trainer? The East Germans used to ride the trainer for 12 hours a day facing a cinder block wall. And they were grateful and developed mental discipline. Maybe that's why you're such a pussy on the bike, Papps.

When I ride a trainer, I experience all the pain of riding without all the rewards: the scenery, the joy of moving fast, the connection between work and results. If riding a bike outside is a reminder of how we can accomplish amazing things with simple tools, riding a trainer is a reminder that sometimes all the sweat in the world doesn't get you anywhere.

Riding the trainer is metaphysically draining.

I've read the tips, I've done the Spinervals and Coach Carmichael's DVDs. I've tried watching movies and listening to good music.

The problem is not just motivation to ride the trainer; it's my worry that riding the trainer in the Winter may have no effect on my performance in April.

There's a ton of evidence that training yields benefits to performance over periods of 4-12 weeks. My concern is about training benefits over longer periods. There's very little research about protocals longer than 12 weeks. What research is out there is inconclusive.

My experience over the past two years has raised doubts of my own about the benefits of long hours in the saddle in Winter. Two years ago I didn't ride in the off season, except for the occasional interval workout. I was in graduate school and had little time to ride. I graduated in May and after about two months of serious racing and interval work, I set new power records.

I continued training throughout the Fall and Winter of 2011. I put in long winter hours on the bike, usually doing the dirty double on Saturdays. I averaged between 10-15 hours on the bike a week.

It was the first time I had been able to put in place the typical cyclist's training plan: base miles, gym work, build work, and lots of time on the trainer.

Despite the hard work and some moderate success in 2011, I never reached the level of fitness I'd attained in 2010.

A lot of things effect performance on the bike, but I can't disregard the possibility that all the winter work is counterproductive. It could be possible that maybe the best training plan for me is a completely sedentary winter followed by 8 weeks of intense interval training.

Physiologically, all those long rides should have increased the stroke volume of my heart and thickened my blood with red blood cells. It should have altered the makeup of my muscle fibers and increased production of mitochondria.

I can't know how I would have raced last season had I not trained as I did; maybe I trained optimally and I simply don't have the genetic makeup for progress. Maybe I'm aging and instead of getting faster, I'm simply minimzing loss.

In the end, I have to trust others. I have to trust the evidence of other riders who swear by the benefits of long training rides and of hours spent on the trainer. Still, these nagging doubts about my own n+1 experiment make it that much more difficult to suffer--is there a point to this? Doing these workouts on the trainer, which by itself is pointless enough, is even more disheartening.

Still, I didn't start racing a bike just to be fast. If I wanted to be fast, I'd just take drugs. No, I loved riding and racing a bike because I often triumphed through doubt, and often failed through faith. That's bike racing, and that's training for bike racing.

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