I wrote a previous blog about perseverance that focused very much on the need to keep going despite setbacks that all of us have had to overcome: back pain, broken bones, confidence, fear, or just a general lack of fitness.
I recently had an experience that was more about the training adaptation side of things I thought was worth sharing: perseverance and time can lead to real change.
When I finished my racing career 10 years ago riding became a real struggle. I was mentally and physically in the hole. For some this might lead to them quitting riding.
I still loved riding my bike though - in part because of the experiences with my clients. My training was very much done in a way that I could manage despite this mental and physical fatigue. For years I was training not to improve or push my limits, but very much to maintain and enjoy my riding.
I think this speaks to the longevity side of the Sans Chaine training philosophy. It isn’t always about improving. Cycling is part of our lives, and our lives will go through cycles where we can train well and sometimes just maintain. This doesn’t mean we should quit something we love so much.
Then the pandemic hit and life changed. Over the last year and a bit the consistency of my training has been the best since I retired from racing full-time 10 years ago. For my mental well-being I decided that I needed to ride, even if I didn’t feel like getting on the bike, even if it was just an easy spin. And suddenly this year I found that mentally and physically I could go hard again.
This change became obvious in the last week when I did a VO2 workout and sort of enjoyed it - both mentally and physically. And then followed that up with a great ride at a local gravel event.
The first shock was to compare an Ultimate lots of 20s workout that I did in 2018 against one I did last week. Notice the difference in the dFRC numbers in the red box (the dFRC is a measure of how much we are using our anaerobic system, a lower number indicating more anaerobic work).
In 2018 I was barely using my anaerobic system, dying both physically and mentally trying to do this workout.
This last week the workout, while challenging, was on the very do-able side of things. Notice how much I am using my anaerobic system with the dFRC number way lower.
You can also clearly see in the data that the amount of work I can handle has improved. These are a comparison of the second sets in the two workouts. 2021 is 14% more normalized power (NP) with a PW:HR ratio that is significantly lower. They say that <5% indicates that you are adapted to do the work:
Suddenly this year my anaerobic system has turned on.
Then the other big shock was my ride at the Scrappy Badger, an 80km gravel event. We ended up in a small group, taking turns rolling through in a paceline. Coming into one of the bigger climbs with 20km to go I looked down at my Garmin. My heart rate was high and my thought at that moment was "oh, oh, I am about to get dropped". Then it was my turn on the front up the climb. I didn’t surge, held things steady, and at the top no one was on my wheel. From there I soloed the final 20km. While it wasn't about winning, doing a good ride was fun. Here is a comparison between my 2019 and 2021 numbers on that same climb.
All of this to say that we can’t always be at our best. Cycling is a part of our lives and that means that our abilities, training, focus and mentality will go through cycles.
Just because you happen to not be firing on all cylinders at some point doesn’t mean you suck and should give up. Keep plugging away. Train in a way that is appropriate for where you are in your life. Consistency and working towards longevity in the sport will be the keys to performing one day and having that amazing ride.