Friday, May 14, 2010

the first number's a "1"

Got fat again this winter. Well, fat by cyclists' standards. Well, by cyclists' standards, I'll always be fat.

I've whined plenty about the cold on this blog--but I had a trainer!

Whined plenty about the back on this blog, too--but I had a gym membership!

Here's the excuse: I couldn't pedal a bike without re-aggravating my lumbar spine, S/I joint, and hip bursae, so I hefted iron as much as my back would allow, spent some hellishly boring time on the elliptical at the YMCA, and tried to keep up with the yoga.

But my metabolism only lets me drop weight when I'm doing longish, easy cardio work. It's gotta be long enough to burn into some fat stores, and it's gotta be easy enough so I don't eat the doors off the fridge for two recovery days afterward. 90-180 minutes at zone 2 with some zone 3 intervals on the hills thrown in for flavor. That's the recipe that took me from 221 to 205 my first year of real racing, and that's what got me from 205 to 195 during the season the last three years. If I train much harder, I can recover only by eating almost exactly as much as I burn. If I train shorter amounts of time, I don't really burn fat.

I had the time this year to train long base miles; I had no teaching to occupy my time, just a book to research and write. But this winter, I couldn't sit on the bike without pretty acute pain. And I couldn't endure the mental torpor of indoor cardio for more than an hour. So I just kind of bloated a bit.

But thanks to a new stem and seatpost, I've finally been able to replicate the good fit from my old Fuji on my new warranty replacement frame. I've gotten my hamstrings flexible and my core strong, so I'm riding without any sharp pain. I still get residual tightness and stiffness, but that's slowly fading as the weeks pass. 

So I was pretty excited to see a number this morning: 199.4. That's the first time I've weighed less than 200 pounds since November, when I really re-injured my back. 

During my best day of testing with Judd Van Sickle, MS, Bio-mechanical Engineer and Cycling Coach at the UC Davis Sports performance Laboratory, I underwent a "Conconi" analysis, a graduated stress test performed on a Computrainer.  After a 20-minute warmup, I pedaled 125 watts for one minute while Judd recorded my heart rate. He increased the difficulty in 25-watt increments every minute until I literally blew up and couldn't pedal any longer.

The goal of this test is to determine one's anaerobic threshold by finding a deflection point on a graph plotting the HR on the vertical and the power on the horizontal:

I'm told that my Conconi results are notoriously difficult to interpret. The goal is to find the deflection point at which the vertical increase in HR starts to level off; in this test, it's at 177 bpm. We use this number to determine heart rate-based training zones out on the road. The system's a bit more foolproof when training with a powermeter, but since I was a Collegiate "B" / Elite category 3 racer on a graduate student teaching stipend, I contented myself with a heart rate monitor. All of the "A" guys had power meters, but several of them are now on pro or elite amateur teams and winning races up and down the left coast. I never had that kind of ability.

The other helpful number this test provides is the magical power-to-weight ratio. I weighed 200 pounds that day, or 90.0 kg. By pushing 450 watts in a graduated Conconi test, I set a new Aggie record. It was tied later that day by Paul Mach, who's about to race the Tour of California with Bissell, and Tyler Dibble, a leg-breaker who is now racing on the Yahoo! team. But while I weigh 200 pounds, Paul is 140 and Tyler 160. See the difference? Paul also has a Vo2 max that's off the charts, while mine is pretty average.

My power output at threshold was 370 watts, or 4.07 Watt/Kg. To win the Tour, you need a 6 or higher. To race in the master's 1/2/3 peleton in Northern California (against Kevin Metcalfe, Mike Sayers, Chad Gerlach, Larry Nolan, etc--lots of national and world champion's stripes on the sleeves of those riders), 4.5 to 5 will usually suffice. To keep up with the fast guys around Omaha, I think I'll need at least a 4.5.

This year, my brute power is pretty good--I can still lift a ton of weight with my legs, and I can accelerate on a flat road from 25 to 35 mph at a pretty good clip. But my limiter has always been body mass. I've never gotten below 195 without feeling like crap by May. But this year, I'm not racing 6 times a month from March to June, so I can afford to spend more time on my aerobic base and weight loss goals.

The back injury and crappy weather robbed me of the chance to be big and fast in March. But maybe I can still be lean and weak in June and then grow lean and fast by August? The weight loss is harder to attain, but adding power is pretty easy for me, as is increasing my threshold. The max power's there. If I broaden my aerobic base and reduce my bodyfat, I can then bump up the anaerobic threshold with interval work, gradually increasing my power at threshold. If I can push 400 watts at threshold--and hold it for 30 minutes--while weighing 185, I might just be a wee bit better in a road race.

We'll see. I'm going long and slow this weekend. Wish me and my back good luck.

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