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:
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.

Wahoo Kickr: How I setup mine

Old man winter has visited the lower Rio Grande Valley and while it’s nothing like those in the Northern states it does affect me. Cold, windy and rainy days has kept me indoors for the past several months. I have managed hop out on the those 60+ degree days and put in some relaxing miles but otherwise, I’m indoors on my trainer. Oh no, the dreaded trainer you say. Not for me, I actually like riding my trainer and I’ve seen the improvements already on a couple of rides. Today, I’m going to describe my setup and what I do with my Wahoo Kickr.

What is a Kickr? Sounds like some car speakers or something but it’s not. It’s an indoor trainer for your bike from Wahoo. When I first saw this I knew I had to get one. It was a little pricey but I saved up for it and purchased one and it has been worth it. What makes it so great?  There are several reasons:

  • Sturdy
  • Power Based
    • ERG Mode
    • Manual Mode
  • Quiet
  • ANT+ and Bluetooth support
  • Incredible apps to control it

There are many ways to use it and any other trainer but this how I settled on taking advantage of it.

EQUIPMENT

Wahoo Kickr Setup

Wahoo Kickr Setup

Wahoo Kickr Setup

Wahoo Kickr Setup

There is more to it than just having the Kickr and a bike. You need a plan and support tools to go with it and or any trainer to be successful. Here is a rundown of the software and other equipment that I use to get my business done:

  • Kickr
  • Bike
  • Music Stand
  • Fan
  • iPad
  • ANT+ Dongle
  • cable for ANT+ dongle (depends on what iPad you have)
  • iMobileIntervals iPhone app (no iPad version)
  • TV
  • Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime (all optional of course)
  • Headband / Water bottle
  • Training Plan of some sort

The last item is real important. You need a training plan to follow. It keeps you focused and it’s part of the motivation to continue. Without it what are you going to do? Hop on and start pedaling? How long can you do that before you get bored and quit? My guess in less than a week you will stop because it’s boring. That’s why you need a structured plan for you to follow. They tell you what it is you are going to do that day, how fast/slow your cadence will be, what your power level/heart rate should at each step of the workout. You will learn to warm up, do your workout and then cool down. Structure! For beginners that is very important.

Training plans are based on one of three measurements, power, hear rate or perceived exertion (how hard you felt the work out was). Depending on the equipment you have you choose which method you want to train with. Since the Wahoo Kickr has a built-in power meter, I chose to have my workouts based on power. I’m not going to go into the details of training, but basically, the intensities are broken up into zones and you are to workout in the zone for the prescribed time. The higher up the zone you are in the harder the workout. For an understanding on how to train in either of these methods I suggest to checkout these books:

As for the plan its self, it doesn’t matter where you get it as long as you have one. I chose a plan from TrainingPeaks and from that I use iMobileIntervals to create the workout on their website. Then I use the app version to download it to the iPad and run it to control the Kickr and tell me what I need to do on the current interval step. I need the ANT+ dongle and cable because my speed and cadence sensors are of the ANT+ type. If you have Bluetooth type Speed/Cadence then you can do away with the dongle.Once the workout is complete, I uploaded the workout to both Strava and TrainingPeaks for review and record keeping.

The music stand is used to hold the iPad and TV remotes. I like using Netflix because it automatically loads the next episode and plays it. No Netflix? Anything else will do. Music, talk radio will work too. I use the TV to catch up on my programs. Be careful not to forget about your workout! I sometimes catch myself glued to the TV more than the workout. Great thing about iMobileIntervals is that it announces the next step or every minute countdown so it snaps me out of the TV trance. Agent Carter anyone? How about The Flash or The Arrow? Now that The 100 is back on, I have even more choices.

The fan and head band are a must. You will be sweating a lot and you will need to control it some how. Some use a sweat catcher for the bike. I will probably end up getting one of those. Let’s not forget about a water bottle. I have a full water bottle within reach and drink regularly during the work out.

To me I like doing intervals. It’s the best way to pack in a great workout in a short amount of time. My workouts have been around the 1 hr mark.Sometimes they extend to 1.5 hours but not often. To facilitate this, I need software that does three things. One, keep track of my intervals. Two, control the Kickr by setting up the correct power levels, and three, send the work out to my favorite sites (Strava, Facebook and Training Peaks). iMobileIntervals fit my requirements nicely.

I really like iMobileIntervals because of its flexibility in controlling the Kickr, the way it announces the interval, the ease of creating workouts, the ability to share workouts with others, and the ability to send the results of the workout to multiple locations such as Strava, Facebook, TrainingPeaks or an email with the TCX file. One of the special predefined workout is a fitness test to get your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) number and record it in your account. Your FTP is very important because all the training zones are based on a percentage it. That is the first workout you should do. It should also be repeated every month or so as you progress and get stronger. This ensures that the workouts don’t become too easy.

Being that I run it on my iPad and I have an Apple TV, I can put up the display on my TV and use it that way. I’ve done it several times but I lose the ability to watch something. They have released an update to use ChromeCast and overlay the workout over YouTube. Looks interesting but I don’t have ChromeCast.

There are other applications such as TrainerRoad that does all the above except the direct export of the workout to other sites. It does send you the email but it’s up to you to manually upload it to your favorite site. It too has a website to pick a workout (even more than iMobileIntervals) or create your own. They also have training plans depending on your goal. Either program will work for you.

Wahoo also has their app for the Kickr called Fitness, but it doesn’t support intervals. They may in the future but why wait when you have others ready to go. You do need the app to check for and upload firmware updates to the Kickr and other of their products. It’s worth having in your toolbox of bike apps.

In case you haven’t noticed, all the software mentioned here runs on iOS or on the web. I don’t have an Android phone so I can comment on software for that OS. Although, I do think Wahoo Fitness app is also on Android. I’m sure that there are apps for the Android phones. If there isn’t any, there should be.

RESULTS

So far the results has been positive. There is a ride that I do that is about 27-28 miles called the Penitas Loop (check my Routes page) that I used as a benchmark. The ride is out in the country with very little cars. It’s mostly flat but it does have a small steady climb (remember that the Valley is pretty much flat so anything that resembles a climb besides a strong headwind is a big deal for us) and some rolling hills at the twenty-mile mark. The last time I did the ride was in late December. On the twenty-mile mark I really had to push it hard the rest of the way to raise my average mph to 15.4. By that point my posture was bad as I was leaning heavily on the handlebars resulting in sore triceps.

After nearly a month of more indoor intervals and incorporating planks into the regimen, I decided to do that same ride again. I had done a 30-mile ride the week before and felt a lot stronger and faster but I wanted to compare it to a known ride, in this case the Penitas Loop. Halfway through the route I was already at the average speed from when I finished it back in December! I could have gone faster but didn’t and worked on steady power pace. By the end of the ride I was at nearly the same average speed with no issues with posture or soreness in my triceps.and I had a lot of energy left. Wahoo! I couldn’t be happier with the results. I checked on the variability index (VI) and it came out to 1.05. More good news!

I completed one week on the new training plan from TrainingPeaks and they are rough but doable. My plan is to use the trainer on weekdays and on the road for the weekends. Let’s see how that works out.

Well, there you have it. Using the Wahoo Kickr has been fun and hard but well worth the price. Check their website for refurbished units that they have on sale, you might be able to pick one up at a discount price. I’ve had no issue with sturdiness or being excessively loud. Definitely not as loud as the turbo fan types. I do have it in my room and I can fold it up and put it aside when not in use. I do have to unplug it when I need to repair my bike sensors to the bike computer (Magellen Cyclco 505). That is how I use the Kickr in my training. If you can afford it, get it. If not, you can still have a structured workout plan with what you have.

If you have a Kickr, let’s hear from you and share your experience with it. Drop a comment about it.