Over the past 17 years, I’ve trained with no plan, plans designed by internet coaches, and even plans copied from the pages of BICYCLING magazine. None of these training plans were designed for a time trial specialist. For a time trial-specific training program, I turned to Michael Cooper’s website, Training for Cycling Time Trials: Structured, Systematic, and Progressive, which provided a year-round approach that was exactly what I was looking for.
This table shows my training broken down into five major phases. Within each four-week period, the workload builds up to a peak (overload) in the third week, with an easier fourth (recovery) week following.
PHASE 1: AEROBIC BASE
This phase lasts for up to 16 weeks (four 4-week periods). The phase starts with 70% stamina work. High pedaling cadences are used to encourage the development of good technique. The remaining 30% is largely endurance work, but some time is spent developing strength. At this stage, the strength sessions are performed off the bike (i.e., Bowflex, free weights). Over the 16 weeks, the intensity and time is gradually increased. Endurance effort is extended and some strength sessions are transferred to the bike. Towards the end of the phase, race pace efforts and higher intensity intervals are introduced.
PHASE 2: INTENSITY
During this phase (12 weeks), there is an increase in stress both in time and intensity. Stamina and endurance work occupy 50% to 60% of the time, while race pace, power intervals, and lactate tolerance sessions are introduced and gradually increased in intensity. Towards the end of the period, some early races may be entered (and used as high intensity training). The aim is to increase the ability to sustain high intensity effort (as in competition) for longer periods.
PHASE 3: PEAK/TAPERING
This phase lasts between four and eight weeks. Although there is some reduction in training time, the intensity is very high, particularly lactate tolerance and speed sessions. The aim is to refine technique and energy systems at high speed.
PHASE 4: RACING
This phase (the one it’s all about) lasts from 12 to 16 weeks. The aim is to maintain optimum racing ability. 50% of the work will be based on stamina to retain the aerobic base but active recovery routines are essential.
PHASE 5: RECOVERY
This period, usually four weeks, is low intensity with reduced time. Alternative physical activities may be incorporated. The aim is to allow the body (and mind) to recover from the racing season.
WHAT ABOUT SPEED?
I train by cadence, power level, and time. Speed is the result of these other three factors. Recently, for example, in the last of seven all-out 15-second sprint intervals on my trainer, in the biggest gear on my bike, I recorded a speed of 46 mph. There is no humanly way possible to complete a 25 mile time trial at that speed. In a 20 kilometer (km) or 40 km time trial, the winner is the one who can maintain the fastest speed from the start line to the finish line. Stamina and endurance are more important than short bursts of blazing speed.
HOW FAST DO I HAVE TO GO TO WIN?
At the end of the 2013 season, based on my average race speed, I predicted I would finish with 10 podium finishes at the end of the 2014 season. I was pretty close. My 2014 results are displayed in red in the table below. I finished with 12 consecutive podium finishes: six 1st places (plus 1st place in the regional time trial series), four 2nd places, and two 3rd places.
In 2015, I faced a new competitor, who can average 26 mph, in my age group. Over the course of four head-to-head races, while he won each one, I was able to reduce the time gap from 2:52 to 0:22, a reduction of 2:30. As predicted, I had to increase my average speed to 25 mph to finish on the podium. In 2016, I will aim to increase my average speed to over 26 mph to win the head-to-head races against him.
IS 26 MPH ACHIEVABLE?
The following table shows the speed that results from pedaling at 90, 95, and 100 RPM (revolutions per minute) cadence in the specific gears on my time trial bike.
I can achieve 26 mph in the 53 x 15 gear at over 95 RPM cadence or in the 53 x 14 gear pedaling at 90 RPM cadence. One of the goals of Coach’s training program is to develop an efficient pedaling technique. The fastest time trialists all tend to operate at pedal cadences over 90-95 RPM. All of the world hour records have been achieved at these cadences.
NEW HEART RATE LEVELS
When Coach’s training plan calls for stamina and endurance efforts, for example, the chart below shows me how high I have to lift and sustain my heart rate for the prescribed interval duration. (There is no change for 2017.)
NEW POWER-BASED TRAINING LEVELS
With the switch to a power trainer in January 2014, I have the ability to precisely focus my training on the level of effort required to sustain 26 mph in a 30-minute time trial. The chart below is based on a formula for estimating an individual’s functional threshold power (FTP). I, then, calculated the various levels, which are more precise than depending on the heart rate levels discussed above.
However, the problem with estimating FTP with a formula is that it is generic and violates the spirit of “an experiment of one.” The more accurate method is to conduct a 20-minute time trial effort on the trainer at the fastest average speed possible. I conducted such a test in early November 2015 and sent the results to Coach. He developed the power-based training levels in the chart below. As can be seen, the new power levels are, on average, 50-70 watts lower than the estimated levels. This means that they more accurately reflect my actual capability, which reduces the very real possibility of over-training and injury.
After the final race of 2015, Coach adjusted the power levels again for my off-season training heading into the 2016 race season.
At the end of the 2016 season, Coach readjusted the power levels for a third time. He reduced the number of zones to five, consolidating my wattage at Lactate Threshold and VO2Max into a single zone.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The bottom line is that I will be training at more personalized power levels, which should increase my sustainable speed. A 26 mph average speed begins to look achievable when my new power levels and increased weight loss are factored together.