Preparing to enter seasonal training is a much-debated topic. My take on it is simple: A base implies a pinnacle or a crown. Every pinnacle is different, and therefore requires a different base. A rider in her 2nd-ever race season requires different activities to prepare for season 3 than a racer preparing for her 7th. Here's some background on the end of my 2015, and how it affected my choices for 2016.
2015 was a cycling odyssey for me. There was very little racing but an incredible amount of training.
After learning about the Haute Route Compact Dolomites, billed as one of the most difficult amateur cycling events anywhere in the world, I was captivated. On a whim I signed up and dedicated my time and resources for the next nine months to become a true mountain climber.
After numerous trips to mountainous areas within several hours drive of my home in Cincinnati Ohio, and nearly countless hours (OK, thanks to Garmin and TrainingPeaks, I know exactly how many hours) strapped to my basement trainer, I boarded the plane for Geneva, Switzerland. After two days of intense and beautiful riding, I not only learned many things about my own physical and mental abilities, but I also learned a few things about properly training for a specific event.
Here are just a few of those lessons which I have been mindfully incorporating into training since last September.
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Train specifically on your limiters
As Joe Friel eloquently and simply writes, you have to know the difference between a weakness and a limiter.
For example, sprinting is definitely a weakness of mine. However, if I enter a race that is most definitely going to be decided by who has the better climbing legs, sprinting will not be a limiter for me in that race. For me, a slender cyclist with a fairly good power to weight ratio, my limiter is the ability to powerfully surge and attack up multiple climbs. I can climb steadily and with strength. But when there are multiple attacks going up those hills, I will almost always find myself in difficulty. I must train that energy system very hard, which brings me neatly to the second big lesson:
When you are training a system, train it very hard. When you are recovering, recover very, very easily — and completely.
Last year, in preparation to climb back to back days of over 12,000 feet of ascent, I made four trips to Mount Mitchell, North Carolina, the tallest peak in the eastern United States. I became adept at climbing Mount Mitchell’s 28-mile ascent road steadily and with strength.
But this wasn't nearly enough.
As mentioned in my previous observation, what I lacked was intensity. I needed to practice climbing surges and ramping intensity over time.
I did not do this and I paid the price for it in Switzerland and France.
Conversely, on days when I should have been recovering, I would go out and do rides that were simply too difficult. Oh sure, I “felt great” on those days, but that wasn’t the point. When you dig a hole with chronic training load that is too deep, then go out and do intervals on top of that, the diminishing returns are intense — and that’s not the intensity you want.
Recovery days must be days where your body rebuilds. That is where adaptation happens. But adaptation can only happen when you have stressed the body to meet or exceed the demands of your event, first.
Base training isn't a myth, but it's not what you think it is.
Much has been written and recorded in the last year or two of the cycling press about the so-called "myth" of base training. Base training isn't a myth at all. You need to have an appropriate base. Appropriateness, however, is different for every rider depending on their ability and depending on the event for which they wish to peak.
If you have been racing for several years, then even if you take several weeks off between the end of your racing season and the beginning of training for the next season, you have a significant base built into your legs. If however you are very new to racing then you need to build that strength and muscular endurance before you can begin to build race specific abilities such as speed and an improved VO2max.
After my European adventure, I took approximately four weeks off. I learned that that was 2 weeks too much, but that’s for another article.
I had built an incredible amount (for me) of chronic training load into my legs, and very much wanted to relax and put my mind to other things. As a result, I lost an significant amount of fitness in those four weeks as evidenced by how far my FTP has dropped. However, I'm not worried. Appropriate intensity will soon be built in to my sessions now that I am nearing the end of my base building that as been piling up since October.
I have worked specifically on increasing my strength at the gym, turning extremely heavy and burdensome gears during sprint workouts, and climbing strength workouts. I have also been putting in the time to start increasing the FTP with sweet spot workouts. (Sweet spots are sub FTP efforts.)
Workouts like this will not immediately display a ramping up of my FTP. That will come when I start building in the VO2max intervals and time trial style intervals in the next several weeks. Oh, and yes…the first few races of the season which definitely count as workouts.
What I'm trying to convey is that your base must be designed to prepare you to work on your limiters. Going out for weeks and weeks of slow riding is only going to make you comfortable at going slow; that’s not base building.
Proper base building is doing whatever workouts you need to do to prepare you for the intense workouts to come; workouts that will improve what you know will hold you back from specifically being your best at your chosen key events.
As I have stated, I am seeking to become a cyclist who can surge with strength while climbing, sprint from the pack to initiate a breakaways, and then hold that power with muscular endurance. My base training been specifically arranged to prepare me for this type of hard work.