Conquer the Coast 2015 is Almost Here!

For the past two months I have been training for the upcoming Conquer the Coast in Corpus Christi. I still have one more week of hard cycling then a final week of easy riding till the event on September 19th. As of now, I feel I’m ready to do my metric century but I want to be more than ready for the event. I’d rather be over prepared than under prepared.

This is the second time doing this event and I hope to finish it faster than my first time. I’m pretty sure that will happen, but you never know. I got some new tires put on so I don’t have to worry about blow outs. I just hope the weather is good. The last time I went, the 20 milers got dumped on with a ton of rain (but I think they still had a blast) and the 65 milers got some light sprinkles.

I was supposed to be training with a friend of mine but she ended up breaking a toe and ended up in a cast. The cast doesn’t come off till the day before of the event, so maybe she’ll go to give us moral support! I will miss her on the ride, but there are other events later this year that we can go to, so I’m looking forward to that!

Training for Conquer the Coast

It’s been quiet on my blog the past month or so. It has been a busy two months for me. I’ve had some health issues to take care of, super busy at work as we complete the merge of two universities into one and finally I have been busy training for the Conquer the Coast (CTC) ride. I’ll save my health issue for another time, but I did want to go over how I am training for the CTC ride.

Conquer the Coast is held every September in Corpus Christi, Texas. It’s certainly not a hilly ride but rather is flat and very windy. You do have some large bridges to cross especially near the end of the route at a point when you are really tired. The route starts and stops at Whataburger field. The first thing you do is cross the bay bridge heading over to Portland and work your way to Aransas Pass. From there you cycle to the ferry at Port Aransas. Did I say ferry? From there it’s a windy ride along Mustang Island to the other bay bridge to take you back to Whataburger field along Ocean Drive. The sun and wind really do a good job of beating down on you. Challenging! I did this ride two years ago and wanted to do it again this year with some friends that have not ridden it. To help me prepare for it, I love the structured approach to training.

For those looking for the route of the ride, here is the one straight from the Conquer the Coast website Conquer the Coast Tour – 66 miles. If you haven’t signed up, do it! It’s a Well organized fun ride to participate in.

What do I mean by structured approach? Simple, training rides that includes intervals. Most people that I know of start working up longer and longer rides until they can do the metric century. This is a favorite method chosen by many cyclists. This is a great way of training that doesn’t require a lot of equipment investment. You just need a good bike in working order, basic bike computer (or phone with bike app) and time. Lots of time. Also known as the low tech method (and there is nothing wrong with it either). Me being who I am, love using technology and in this case my power meter. There is that old saying, “Work smarter, not harder”. That’s where using my power meter and intervals come into play.

I use the power meter to measure the intensity of my ride and intervals to maximize my workout in a short amount of time. This method is great for those that are short on time and want to maximize effort in the time they do have for riding. Some people call it riding with a purpose. If you look at my Strava postings, I name the ride something like, “Endurance Pace”, Endurance w/Sweet Spot”, or “Tempo Ride”. Those names describe what it is I’m trying to accomplish for the training ride. Basically, it is the power zone that I’m riding in as described in my training plan.

Where do I get all these plans? You can Google it and find plenty of free plans on the Internet. I like using an all-in-one approach. TrainingPeaks is where I go to find, buy, implement and track my training plans. The site is great for runners, swimmers, cyclists, for those training for duathlon, triathlon and Ironman competitions. Set your goals, get a coach (optional), buy a plan (and reuse it as often as you want), upload your results, analyze the results, track nutrition and body metrics. They even have a nice app for the phone too! I love this place.

I like using TrainingPeaks because of the plans and the calendar. Once you buy a plan of your choosing, you can tell the system when you want to start following the it. It then loads up the schedule on it calendar detailing what days you workout and what days you rest. Workout days are broken down into details as to what you need to do for that work out. For my cycling the breakdown is usually a warm up, the main set and then a cool down. It gives me the overall amount of time for the ride and what zone and cadence I should be in. Here is a sample workout:

This is a typical weekend workout where you are riding at the endurance pace. It’s the pace that I will be riding at when I do the Conquer the Coast. Some things to make note of. The plan doesn’t go by miles but rather by time. In this case, the plan called for a 2:15 hr ride. Within those two hours and fifteen minutes, twenty minutes are consumed by a ten minute warm up and a ten minute cooldown. The rest of the time I should be in my Endurance zone. The goal is not to ride x amount of miles but to complete the training session. It is the combination of all the training sessions that gets you at your peak when it’s time to do the event. In essence, you don’t want to burn out from over training but puts you in a position where you have the strength and stamina to successfully complete your event. Remember, you are short on time and you want to maximize effort you are on the bike. This is the best way of doing that.

The other thing to make note of is that the plan doesn’t tell you how fast you should be going but rather the intensity (zone) you should be at. Why not speed? Simple, the weather and terrain play a big role as to how fast you can ride. If you’re trying to maintain 17 mph pace going up an incline and into a strong headwind you can end up blowing up your legs by expending all that energy trying to maintain that speed. Instead, use the intensity to determine the pace and go as fast as the intensity would allow. It could be slower but at least you will have the energy to complete the ride and finish strong.

There is a madness to the method of the intervals and the plans. Typically the plans are broken down into three phases: build, rest, sustain. The first three to four weeks is the building phase where they ramp up the intensity and duration. Phase two is the rest period. Usually one week with one or two endurance rides and that’s it. This phase is important because this is where body catches up to the overload you placed on it. Without the rest period, your body becomes over taxed and performance diminishes. The last phase is at the peak intensity but for longer and longer durations. When the plan is complete you should be at peak performance. Rest one week then tackle the ride you have signed up to do knowing that you will be at your best physically and mentally. The plans vary in length but the phases are generally the same, build, rest, sustain. Choose the one that matches your current fitness level and goals that you want to achieve and you should be fine.

I used this method when I did the Fiesta Wildflower full century in San Antonio. I knew before hand that the route would be hilly (compared to the flats here in the Valley) so I went to TrainingPeaks and found an eight week hilly training plan from Allen Hunter (a premier power based cycling coach). I followed that plan as best as I could (some intervals I could not complete due to the high intensity and duration) doing all the training rides here in the Valley utilizing the strong head winds to my advantage. The longest training ride I did was a 3:45 hour ride and I think that amounted to about 45-48 miles. Never once did I spend all day doing century rides. I saved that for the actual event. On the day of the Wildflower ride, I finished the metric century (hilliest portion of the route) with lots of energy and good stamina, so we pressed on to complete the full century.

So, with results like that, I’d like to repeat it again at Conquer the Coast in mid September. For this training regimen, I’m again doing the same “Hilly Century and finish strong” plan from Allen Hunter. I think it’ll be harder this time around simply due to the heat. It has been getting over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For the longer weekend endurance rides I have switched to 7 am start times. The same as the event so that I can be accustom to the time of day and heat level.

I do other things besides cycling to get ready. Diet is important. I’m watching what I eat by eliminating/reducing my intake of sugar, salt and carbohydrates. I’m not on any fad diet or purges. It’s rather simple, I equate those three items as poison and do what I can to avoid it. People often complain that they can’t eat their favorite foods but why would you? It is those very same foods that got you overweight! Learn to like new foods! There are over a gazillion recipes out there, surely you can find something healthier and tastier than tamales! On long rides I do eat a bowl of quality whole grain cereal for the long-lasting, slow releasing carbs for energy. I’m trying to lose as much weight as possible for the CTC event in mid September. The lighter I am the better and faster I’ll be. I’m still considered a Clydesdale but I’m getting closer and closer to dropping out of it!

Besides diet, I work on strengthening my core. You need a good strong core to help maintain your posture on the bike. A strong core will help you stay upright, improve your cycling and not let you lean on your hands. Leaning on your hands contributes to hand numbness. I really hate that. To avoid that, I do the basic core training consisting of planks, push ups, and light weights. If you were to do only one exercise, choose planks. Even if they are the beginners version (hing on your knees rather than your feet) of planks, do them and work your way up to full planks.

So there you have it. I use interval based training and TrainingPeaks to plan, track, analyze and share my results. I watch what I eat to reduce my weight and I do exercises to strengthen my core. Do I have bad days? Yes I do. Do I cheat on my Diet or forget to do the exercises? Yes I do, but that is the minority not the majority. Sometimes it’s fun to the workout and other times it’s work and I can’t wait to get it done. That’s normal! I don’t expect it to be fun and games all the time. Hopefully, by the time the Conquer the Coast is here, I’ll be at my best and have fun riding that route.

Peeking over the Edge: Training with Power

Like many cyclists, I measure my cycling progression by either one or two metrics: distance and/or speed. I remember when I used do 10 miles per day every day and shoot for 50 miles per week. Seemed like every little rolling hill was a major leg burner and the wind! Oh my gosh, the wind! Going south on 107 was a blast but turning around to face the wind made me wonder if I could ride the distant seven miles back to the car. Well, I did make it back to car and that’s how I continued to measure my progress. Distance was the way to go. Eventually, speed started to creep in my metrics but that was later.

iBike_POWERHOUSE_InsertionMy first foray into something different was with the Powerhouse system from iBike. This was an innovative system to do structured intervals while cycling. A combination of iPhone case and the Powerhouse application that, when combined together along with your bike, would guide you through a fifty-four day plan of intervals and rest days. It would start you out with a fitness test to see where you stood and establish that baseline. Once you completed the fitness test it would then create a custom schedule of intervals for you to follow throughout the week. The application paired up with cycling coach Allen Hunter that guided and encouraged you to keep at it. It’s his formulas and techniques in training that is used to create that personalized training plan for you. How cool is that!

The program was simple, Allen Hunter would pop up and tell you what to expect for that days workout. It had a structure to it: a warm up, a set of intervals and then a cool down. All you had to do was keep up a certain cadence and keep a sliding arrow between the minimum and maximum range for that segment. The intervals varied from day-to-day and they were tough! You had to learn to change gears to keep that sliding arrow where the coach wanted it. Shifting gears up or down depending on the road conditions and winds was the name of the game. It was fun and challenging to go through the entire 54-day program. Throughout the program there were rest days and fitness test days to see where you stood and to make adjustments to the training program. Fun! When you completed the program you simply start over but at a higher fitness level.

The Powerhouse was my first experience with and training with a power meter. Yes, that’s right the Powerhouse system was in fact a power meter with all the numbers stripped out and a simple graphical interface was used instead. No mention of Watts, FTP, NP, VI or some other acronym was ever uttered. Total bliss. The case held the wind port and the sensors needed to measure the forces you were overcoming to pedal. The software on the iPhone used those sensors to compute the power and display it graphically. That sliding arrow represented the power you were exerting while cycling. That fitness test you was doing was the same fitness test you do to get your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).

I did improve. It was easier to ride against the wind, those rolling hills were a lot easier and my average speed improved. I find it interesting how I fall back to the old metrics for measuring improvement, distance and speed. Those are “feel good” metrics that we can easily relate to.

iBike Newton

iBike Newton Power Meter

I now use a Newton Power Meter from iBike. It is just as accurate as any other permanent power meter but the big advantage with the Newton is the price and the fact that you can take it from one bike to another as easily as you could with a Garmin. The Newton has been on my bike for about a year now and just love it. The unit does have a few quirks such as no backlight, no bluetooth and no GPS but makes it up with having a great visible display in bright sunlight, long battery life, wind gauge, temperature and excellent power readings.

I’ve learned to do my fitness test to get my FTP and I’ve become familiar with the average power readings to expect on my rides. It does have Intervals built-in but they are not as easy to follow as the Powerhouse unit. The developers are constantly updating the firmware for the unit to improve and add new features to it. Bug fixes are free as well as minor enhancements. New major features means you will have to fork out some funds to enable it. That’s cool because you pay for what features you want. With the new enhancements I now have access to Nominal Power (NP) and actual power on the same screen. This really helps me pace myself depending on the type of ride I plan on doing. In my case it’s mostly endurance or long rides. No Time Trials for me.

kickerfeatureAs I mentioned before, I’ve set a weekly distance goal of 100 miles. I’ve started out at 50 miles and now it’s 100 but I’ve been thinking of increasing that. That is until I started using my indoor trainer to do some of my intervals. This trainer is not the usual mount bike and ride type of device but instead you can vary the resistance electronically through your PC or iOS device. The resistance is also calibrated and outputted in Watts to you electronic device. In essence I can now do structured power based intervals indoors (while watching tv of course)! Wahoo makes the trainer called Kickr and what a blessing it is. Combine that with the iOS app called iMobileIntervals I can do my rides, post them on Facebook, Strava or TrainingPeaks. Sweet!

Because of the Kickr, I have readjusted my thinking on those 100 miles per week. I used to struggle with deciding on whether I should ride on the Kickr or go cycling outside. I like doing the intervals on the trainer, but yet I’m not reaching my miles per week goal. It took me a while to get over the mindset that the miles HAS to be from cycling outside. That is just not true. Good quality miles on the trainer is just a good as being on the road. This was really hard to wrap my mind around but I’m starting to accept it.

Now my routine consists of intervals on the Kickr and longer rides outdoors where I focus on the target Nominal Power (NP) and reducing my Variability Index (VI) by pacing myself at the target power level. I don’t worry about speed or the wind. That will be taken care of as I get fitter and stronger. So far the results has been amazing. With the right pacing (even with the wind on my back) I can do the long rides without being burnt out although I do have to mindful of the 100+ F weather that we get around here in the Rio Grande Valley.

I’ve started brushing up on training with power and I got two books to help me on that aspect. Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan and the other book is The Power Meter Handbook: A User’s Guide for Cyclists and Triathletes by Joe Friel. I’ve read the Joe Friel book and I need to go back and reread it again for better absorption.  The Huner Allen book is there waiting for me to graduate to that level of understanding. Both books are great and highly recommend either one to anyone. I am definitely a beginner in this and have a lot to learn but I feel like I’m peeking over a tall fence and I can see the what’s on the other side, training with a power meter and I like it.

Share your experience with your early years of using a power meter. I’d love to hear from you.