Chapter 6How I spent my 3 Base Periods

Every racer needs base training. Period. The sticky wicket is that every rider has different abilities, different goals, and different “A” races they’re shooting for as they start their season’s training. That means the definition of what constitutes a successful base will vary greatly from rider to rider. One thing’s for sure, tho: if you have a full-time job, or kids, or a heavy load of coursework at school, you’re not going to be riding for 4–6 hours a day in your Zone 2 power.

From Base to Build

I have only one more week of Base 3 riding left in my Annual Training Plan, and I'm looking forward to transitioning from “fit” to “fast.”

Let’s review Base 1 and 2, first.

Base 1 was getting back on the bike after too long a layoff post-Switzerland adventure; Zone 2.5 rides at 2 hours long, high cadence drills, and the occasional group ride before winter started to affect daylight and temperatures. Twice a week weightlifting sessions with bike-specific movements featured three sets of 20 to 25 reps with very low weight. You may ask, How can that possibly be helpful?“ This phase of weightlifting is designed to stimulate the connection between your brain and your muscle fibers. The point is to make more of your muscle fibers responsive to brain stimulus.

Base 2 meant adding some big gear grinds at or near threshold, and the occasional Sufferfest video (To Get to the Other Side was a favorite) as well as early-gen videos from Carmichael Training Systems (classic Climbing and Sprinting were go-to’s.) Completely basic, non-sexy workouts of straightforward intervals using great big gears and cumbersome cadences.

How Big Gear Efforts Affect This Slender Rider

For someone with a climbers' physique, I likened these efforts (i.e. doing repeats up Cincinnati's Indian Hill at 60 RPMs / sub threshold) to “a sparrow attempting to lift a cinderblock.” Supposedly, one’s heart rate isn't supposed to rise much during such strength-building efforts on the bike. Huh. Tell that to my throat.

An Example: One of my regular workouts consists of 12 to 15 sprints of 12 seconds each, with 3 minutes rest in between. The sprints were in the big ring and the 12 tooth in the rear, with the trainer’s resistance set to absolute max. With everything I had, I’d launch into these sprints. 12 seconds later, my heart rate was near threshold if not above.

Weightlifting sessions for Base 2 involved transitioning from extremely heavy weights with short repetitions (i.e., bodyweight squats of 160 pounds, 6 reps, 3 sets) to a maintenance phase that blends medium heavy weights (loads that meant 16 reps were impossible; 12 or so were very challenging) for two sets, and then one very heavy set where 6 reps was the most you could muster.

This so-called maintenance phase is where I am now, and where I will stay throughout the rest of the season.

If you would like details of every exercise, load guidance, and photographs, check out my 3 x 25 training plan.

Don't start before you are ready

Throughout Base 1 and Base 2, I watched a metric called "efficiency factor."

Your efficiency factor is a ratio of heart rate to power output. Put very simply, when you are relatively untrained or, at the beginning of the season after a layoff, your heart rate continues to go up and up even though your power output might remain steady. As you become more aerobically fit, your heart rate and power start to come into sync.

The red dots and lines show how my Efficiency factor for Zone 2 rides continued to rise until the last several weeks where they plateaued in the low 1.6’s. Paydirt!

I would monitor my long weekend rides that were under tempo or at tempo, and compare the “EF” each week. In November, they were 1.2, 1.3 or so, and now, they’ve plateaued around 1.6. That plateau is what you want. It means you’re ready for tougher intervals. Your base is built.

Until you see this synchronicity occur, it is not recommended that you start the hard work required in base three. If you do you will simply experience one or more of the following:

Burn out, frustration at a lack of improvement, consistent fatigue, or even injury. And who wants that?

So now, here I am with Base 3 nearly done.

Before I tell you what my base three has been made of, let's remember what-base training is for: to prepare you for the hard work to come in your build period. And what will our build period consist of? Specific limiter-building work that mimics the needs of your “A” race.

As I mentioned in previous articles, the needs of my “A” races demand that I create:

  • breakaway ability
  • "surge" ability while climbing
  • combined with a high FTP to maintain long breakaways and success in time trials

Recipe for my third base

Increasingly long efforts at sweet spot power have been a staple. The longest consisted of 3 x 15 minutes with three minute recoveries. That’s 45 minutes of accumulated time at Zones 3.8 – 4.2

I’m now shifting to increasingly long efforts at threshold as opposed to sweet spot. I've just transitioned to 5 intervals of 5 minutes long just over threshold: 4.0 – 4.5 My first “A” race, the Ohio State Road Race Championships, will demand nearly an hour at threshold, so I can expect to ladder up to any combination of that: 6 x 10's, 4 x 15's, or 3 x 20's. That race also has significant, short, steep climbs that will demand powerful bursts or surges of 8 minutes or so. 

A recent 5 x 5 Threshold Power session with a 20-minute sub-tempo endurance kicker. Notice how my heart rate during the recovery “dips” are all even; in other words my heart is recovering evenly. That, in conjunction with solid power efforts, tell me I can do longer intervals.

Mixing and matching: Base 1 and 2 sessions were dedicated to prepping for one limiter: big gears for muscular development for climbs; short, rediculously hard sprints with the trainer resistance at max, long rides below tempo. Now in Base 3, every session mixes work on 2 limiters, while keeping the intensity at or around threshold for a maximum.

For example I might mix climbing repeats at lactate threshold with form sprints on the descent, attacking the start of the dissent while bringing my cadence over 120 in a relatively easy gear. I will then complete the 30 minute ride home at tempo at 85 to 90 RPMs. I normally spin over 95 rpm's, so staying at tempo in a larger gear helps to build muscular endurance for me.

Another example is tacking on 20 minutes just under tempo to the 5 x 5 lactate interval session I mentioned earlier.

A note on duration

If you’re training savvy, you may be wondering about how much workout stress I’m taking on per week. Stay tuned, true believers. I'll cover all of that in a future article.

The foreman is ready to build

I’ve been working steadily on climbing strength and neuromuscular power for sprinting. I’ve been building longer and longer time at sweet spot. Now, with a solid efficiency factor, I’m preparing to hit threshold intervals, threshold climbs, multiple sprint sessions with short recoveries, and Zone 5 (VO2max) intervals.

In other words — I’m ready to make the transition from fit to fast.

      Sam Lowe

      I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.