Wednesday, September 21, 2016

But, I called it a training camp!

As the sport of cyclocross really takes hold in the USA and in particular here in New England, the reality of athletes being able to train and focus all year long and still have the little things in life like, say a JOB and a FAMILY is often not possible.  So when Adam came to me and says he just wants to focus on cyclocross in 2016, then some sort of plan needed to be put together to help him be as fit as possible but also be around this cute little piece of heaven:
Edith.  So cute.
The good news about Adam is that he is seriously a fantastic bike rider and racer, so all that is missing after a summer of newborns and work is a little bit of fitness.  We can fix that.  Adam also lives in upstate Vermont and his favorite road race is the Green Mountain Stage Race, four days of hills and a fantastic criterium over Labor Day weekend.
We have shown in the past with Andre in Arizona and with Stef after her injuries that a sudden boost in training load can have both an increase in fatigue but more importantly a huge power and fitness gain. Although this chart shows how the sharp "rolling ramp rate" increase of Adam's Chronic Training Load (CTL), the real priority of cyclocross isn't necessarily the long duration power associated with the Modeled FTP (mFTP) but with some of the shorter high power efforts.  The chart below shows how Adam's power duration metrics for the same time period.
Metrics History showing Pmax and FRC in relation to mFTP.  Try to stay awake.
Okay, so what does all of this mean?  Well, it shows that when we "shock" an athlete into a hard short block of training, or in this case a solid month-long build capped off with a four day stage race, then we get the big picture boost that the athlete needs to start the season off well.  Although it seems like a lot of charts and numbers, the reality is when we are pressed for time, metrics and data feedback are critical to make sure that the athlete is not digging too deep of a hole but still getting all of the benefits.  BTW: this is why our premium level clients need to upload files daily!

The race ended pretty well for Adam; he won the final stage criterium in his own town of Burlington.  
Not to be outdone by this awesome picture, we should show what data comes from such a winning effort.  This chart below shows "Sprint Power Fatigue Resistance" or the amount of power maintained over a short duration from the absolute peak.  I think it is pretty cool.
The smaller the blue, the harder Adam stayed on the gas compared to pMax.  Ain't nobody catching that.
We joked online about Adam doing the race as a training camp, and since relocating FFC HQ to Vermont, I can't think of a better place to hold one.  Adam will be racing cyclocross at the Elite UCI level this season for the Apex/NBX/Trek team and we know he will make all of us and especially Edie proud of every finish.  We are huge fans of Adam, and all of you should be too.

If you want to boost your fitness and power on limited time, then first learn to corner like Adam and then ask Finish Fast Cycling to help out with your planning and training.  Thanks for reading, see you next time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It is surprisingly difficult to spell prescription.

As most of you surely already know, I have a very strong opinion about the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (and methods) in all sport but especially in Cycling.  I will spare you the long story of why, but it is mostly about the missed opportunities experienced by some of the riders under my care over the years.  So, I have really tried to be a Race Clean ambassador, work with USADA and teams about rider education and of course even been part of the detection and enforcement efforts.  Fun.

Let's assume that not every bike racer is a scum bag cheater.  We will assume that they don't all think about ways to cheat the system and those around them and win that super duper bike race.  But, maybe they can be idiots too.  If you are like me (shudder) then you like to follow the news and sanctions web page from the US Anti Doping Agency: basically the announcements of dopers getting caught and their punishments.  Let's just call it a hobby.

Over the past week or so there have been a few announcements about masters riders getting busted for having a prohibited substance in their systems that they blamed on prescription medication.  As we all know, an athlete is responsible for everything in their system whether a doctor prescribed it or not.
My second favorite stock picture.
I can hear some of you thinking: but if a doctor prescribed it then how can it be wrong?  So I thought I would mention how or why a product is prohibited in the first place.  There are three main reasons that a substance is prohibited by USADA:
  1. The Potential to Enhance Performance.  Will the product in question actually provide assistance to the athlete in that particular sport?  Some things affect different sports differently.
  2. The Potential Health Risk to the Athletes.  Will the product affect the athlete in either short term or long term use?  It really is about the riders.  Ignore the weather and road conditions risk issues here please, that is a different blog.
  3. Does it Affect the Spirit of the Sport.  This is a tricky one right?  Does the product alter the whole idea of that particular sport?  You know, cycling is about suffering right.  
It is completely possible that a prescribed medication doesn't harm the athlete but totally shatters items number one and three.  So if you are super duper sick and need a medication but still somehow have the strength to compete in cycling then you can apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) and be allowed to take both the prescription and compete.  If you listen carefully you can actually hear my eyes roll.

Let's be perfectly clear and say that a TUE is not a "get out of jail free card".  They are strictly managed by USADA and are only issued if there is no other option but the prohibited substance and not using it would cause the rider to experience significant impairment to their health.  Basically, don't hold your breath.

Two of the recent three doping sanctions were masters women who were taking prohibited substances as a prescription medication.  One had actually applied for a TUE and was denied, but thought that winning the Road National Championships would be perfectly alright.  The other one also tested positive for a steroid that she said was a medication, but also for a stimulant, you know: speed (eye roll).

There is absolutely no excuse for these positive tests.  Unless you are seriously living under a rock, in which case you would not be able to train much, then you would know that there are such things as anti doping and prohibited substances.  It is completely idiotic to think that you can take ANYTHING that actually made you feel better and not realize it would also give a performance enhancement.  Yup, I called them both idiots.  Lawyers be damned.

As a USADA Coach's Advantage member and an enthusiastic member of the anti-doping community, then I can help you apply for and submit a TUE form if needed.  More likely however, I will tell you to take up chess.  For everyone else: confirm every single medication you take with the Global Drug Reference Online system.  It is really easy to use and kinda cool too.
It is completely possible that you may need to skip a race or two while you are taking the medication.  If you are sick, get better.  Just don't race.  I mean, you ARE sick anyhow, right?  I will use smaller words: don't. do. drugs.

And since I am making numbered lists and you couldn't help but notice the high percentage of cyclists getting tested and busted (plus UFC fighters and ballroom dancers too), then here are the main reasons an athlete or sport is selected for testing:
  1. Demands of the sport.  Hard sports are likely to attract hard drugs.
  2. Benefit of doping to help performance.  I have no comment here so don't ask.
  3. History of of Doping in the Sport.  Thanks guys, you know who you are.  It's as if Lehman Brothers wore spandex.
Oh yeah, the third masters cyclist who got sanctioned this week?  Just steroids.  A normal everyday doper.  A cheat more than an idiot.  Thanks for reading, see you next time.

Dopey and dopier.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Exposure versus Ethics. Watch out for trenchcoats.

Okay, it is Wednesday and it's raining.  Which means that I am more motivated to sit in front of the keyboard than do other things.  And since the subtly reminding text messages from Julie started particularly early today, and I can actually *hear* Stef glaring at me from Colorado, I had better get started on BLOG DAY!

But first: huge congratulations to the now 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong for her time trial win today.  She pulled it out on the big day.  The track events in Rio start tomorrow and that should be amazing as well.  Wow.

Speed, dedication, technology and focus.

Exposure versus Ethics!
Not only am I am full time cycling coach but I am also a self-employed cycling coach which means I am constantly paranoid about other coaches stealing my clients.  Now, that is silly right?  Why would any of you leave me?  Right?  Hello?  But at the same time, I absolutely live for my athletes and want them above ALL ELSE to be successful.  So that means they need to have exposure to other resources of all types.  So let's chat about a topic about which most of the information covered today I have shamelessly plagiarized. 

One of the coaches down in Rio this week taught me a few years ago about something called an athlete's "Performance Enhancement Team".  As a coach, I have access to lots of cool knowledge, tons of experience and well, stuff.  But the athletes themselves are going to need help as well and those people around them and their sport are critical to their success just as much as their coach.  A few examples are:
    • Massage therapist or chiropractor - a lot of athletes need adjustment or injury management to help them train and race succesfully
    • Sport psychologist -  you don't have to be crazy to need to talk about the stress and demands placed on all athletes of all levels
    • Bike mechanic - hey, someone has to fix those brakes.  And they usually like beer.  Just saying
    • Teammates - having a trusted friend in a matching outfit can be critical to staying motivated and focused on the racing schedule
    • Family and friends - get a life will you?  The spokes of the wheel must be evenly tightened  
    • Other coaches - wait, wut?
Yeah, I said other coaches.  High performance athletes require access to high performance coaching and resources.  Sometimes, this means that the athlete will have contact with other coaches; maybe not for training plans and workout feedback, but perhaps at the local group ride someone who also lives for athletes might suggest a better hand position, or maybe there is that coach at the race who you know has a pump you can use.  Dependable people are dependable.

Now, this can be tricky.  In recent years as I have been coaching more and more women athletes, I have seen the almost obnoxious pushiness of other coaches into the lives and sport of some of these athletes.  Maybe I am being hyper sensitive to the topic, but it seems like everyone and his uncle tries to voice their opinion on how to help an athlete, especially on social media (ugh don't get me started).

I try not to give free advice to athletes, it is very bad for business and like a famous person once said: "if you are good enough at something, you don't give it away for free".

Where does he get those wonderful toys?
Likewise, when an athlete who is coached by someone else calls me up and asks for advice about their training or about the methods of their current coach, I almost always decline.  The biggest reason is that I have no idea what the coach is planning in the big picture, and can't see that from a few weeks of a written plan.  I don't have his or her notebooks in front of me and I know that the opposite is true as well.  Almost always, I suggest that the athlete write down the same questions or concerns that they just told me and ask their coach about them.  99% of the time, the client stays with their current coach.  That is also bad for business, but it is what I call "ethical".

I try to be ethical, but it can be tricky.  I like to eat, pay rent, wear clothes.  Stuff like that is important so I always want new clients.  Recently, an athlete switched over to me a few months after I had that very same conversation, and the first coach called me a lot of bad names and stopped being my friend and also stopped being friends with people in my life as well.  It was weird and completely over-reacting, but at the same time, all coaches need to think about the well-being of the athletes first and foremost.  Because please remember like I always say:

It is not about you, it is about the athletes.

One of the things I really support is how an athlete often grows their coaching needs as their skills and racing goals grow as well.  For instance, a "club level" coach might be good for an entry level athlete, but as their racing improves, their required level of coaching needs to grow as well.  I pride myself on being considered an expert or National level coach and constantly try to work on improving myself as well, but that is a different blog.  I would consider it a compliment that an athlete who I coached needed to move on to a National coach because they got so strong working with me.  There is absolutely an important and critical place in the sport for club coaches, but again, that particular person is pretty nasty as a human anyhow.
So, as a high performance coach, I try to provide high performance coaching as well and follow these 6 Characteristics:
    1. There is a reason for everything.  All that I say to an athlete has direction both in content and intent.
    2. Resources are optimized.  To be honest, I don't feel threatened anymore by other coaches.  Get every bit of information and piece of equipment out there that you need to crush.
    3. Everyone is prepared for the season.  Athletes are switched on, coach is clear, team is on board.  Planning, preparation, training.
    4. Do exactly what is needed.  Even if it is less, don't deliver inefficient mediocrity.  A lot of us could use this advice.
    5. Everyone is the best person available.  You have friends, but who is your best friend?  Well I am obviously, but who else?
    6. Decisions are performance based.  Not ego based, enough said.
By following these characteristics of high performance, I feel that can provide ethical coaching at the highest level and at the same time encourage my athletes to get the most exposure to the best resources available.  And if you have questions, then call me up and ask them.  I absolutely love to find solutions to everyone's training needs and want them to grow and perform.

Besides, it makes me look good.  If you want to look good with high performance, then maybe Finish Fast Cycling is the coach for you.  Thanks for reading, see you next blog day.

Let's see who scrolls down enough today.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Okay, I admit it. Hers is better.

The Cascade Cycling Classic
Guest blog by Stef Sydlik, cat 1 on QCW Breakaway Bikes

My very first full length road race came in a stage race: Killington Stage Race in 2013. It snowed, I crashed, I bonked, and I loved it. The idea that I could come back again the next day to try again and improve was what really hooked me.

Now, it’s my 4th year racing and my 2nd with Coach Kyle. Other than enjoying suffering, I lack all instincts that would make me a good road cyclist. However, training with Coach Kyle is sometimes like having a coach with a magic wand. Last season I got my Cat 1 upgrade, tried a few bigger races and did pretty acceptably, and around the end of the season, accidentally started dropping just about everyone on climbs. Turns out if you can pick the right time, sometimes just wanting to suffer IS enough to win! So, I got it in my head that I should try racing the NRC races this year. The National Racing Calendar stage races are the longest and most competitive women’s races in the country, contested by the domestic and UCI professional teams. I set a goal of a top 20 finish on a stage.

Unfortunately, 5 minutes into the first stage of the first NRC stage race, I crashed hard. This was doubly discouraging, as I had just had my first serious race crash a few weeks earlier. Even though I knew my arm was broken instantly, I finished the stage "just in case", but could not start the next day. I had to have surgery to install a titanium plate and 9 screws. No weight bearing on the arm for 8 weeks, and no mass start races until July. Yikes. There goes my season, right? 

I looked at the calendar and looming in July I saw that I had one more shot at an NRC race... the Cascade Cycling Classic. Cascades is the longest, if not the hilliest of the NRC races and it took place July 20- 24 in Bend, Oregon. To add to its mystique, this year it was also a UCI race. I told Coach Kyle I wanted to try. Since there was only 1 local race before Cascades in July, he crafted an ambitious and creative training plan to get me ready. Meanwhile, I overachieved in physical therapy. I got permission to start mass start races early on June 13th, so the very next day, I started racing with abandon. I won TTs, raced more crits than I had in the previous 3 years combined, and won two local Stage Races. When I arrived in Bend, I was ready.

Stage 1, 90 mile RR. This first stage is perhaps the longest women's race in the country. It was mostly flat, except for the last 10 miles where it climbed to a summit finish. I was nervous, but my legs were feeling good. 80 miles in I started working my way towards the front of the peloton to position myself for the climb. Then, my front wheel got sucked into some squishy dirt in the shoulder and in a flash I was down hard.

I couldn't believe it. I had crashed again. After 3 years of bike racing without a single crash injury, I managed to end up on the pavement for the 3rd time this season. I got up and chased back on quickly, soon realizing that blood was gushing from my knee and that I had dirt in my ear so I must have hit my head. I was confident that I had a 5 w/kg effort in me from the race prep Coach Kyle had given me, but as I tried to accelerate, I felt dizzy and my legs wouldn't respond. I dragged myself to the finish line, way off the pace I'd practiced and off the back of the peloton. I pulled over to the medical tent and realized I was worse than I thought. In addition to feeling woozy, I couldn't put weight on my left leg without pain and my right knee needed stitches. The medics told me it was too deep to treat on site, so I had to head to the ER to make sure that it did not get infected. Frick.

Well, that was that. I had crashed 3 times in the 3 pro level races that I had traveled to this year. I'm 30 years old, have a great job, and I already demonstrated that I was a world class athlete as a rower. What was I trying to prove? Any sane adult wouldn’t be putting herself through this. Aidan, my husband, called, and I told him that I had come to the only possible logical conclusion: I was going to quit bike racing. I hung up and checked into the ER. While waiting for the anesthetic to set in my phone buzzed and I found the following text waiting for me.

Ugh. Tomorrow. I had of course not yet shared that I was quitting bike racing. I did not particularly want to have that conversation, and well, I really like working with Coach Kyle so instead of jeopardizing that relationship by revealing that I was a quitter, I decided that it wouldn't hurt to wait one more day.

Stage 2, 16 mile TT. Upon waking, I found that my stitched up right knee, while bloody, somehow didn’t hurt and my left knee was letting me traverse stairs pretty well. I was also thinking pretty clearly again, so sent a text to Coach Kyle to update him on things. I tried humor...

Ugh, again with the tomorrow. I had to get through today first! My TT bike passed UCI inspection (Efficient and UCI legal TT bike fit courtesy of FFC! These are actually not that easy.) I set out on my warm up and was surprised to find that my legs actually felt pretty ok. My TT was solid. I was really hoping for a breakthrough, but a day after a crash and an afternoon in the ER, my legs only decided to match the pace I set at Nationals earlier in the summer. Ah well. I rolled to cool down. My phone rang. It was Aidan again, excitedly telling me that I had gotten 21st in the TT! Meanwhile, I get the following text…

Tomorrow again?!  But, that result seemed pretty ok, and my legs were feeling better so I decided that I would start the RR the next day. There was a team car, so if things turned south I could always wave my hand and hop in with no shame. After all, I had crashed hard.

Stage 3, 83 mile RR. This RR was actually the one I was looking forward to the most. The race opened with a long 10 mile climb, followed by a fast decent, 50ish miles of flat, and then closed with another sustained portion of climbing. Coach Kyle’s insight for me on the stage was something along the lines of, “You’re going to love it. You’ll just be climbing and look around at some point and wonder: where did everyone go?” Well, we started and before I knew it, we were climbing. Twenty-16 went to the front to set the pace, and soon I realized that people around me were struggling and falling off left and right. The air got cooler and thinner and even among the reduced peloton, I heard people breathing hard. Meanwhile, I was sitting very comfortably in the lower middle of my tempo zone. My legs felt good enough that I could have attacked! But I knew with the long flat section, it would be smarter to save it so I did.

I crested the climb feeling fresh in a breakaway of 23 riders with a 2 minute gap on the field. This breakaway included all of the race leaders and favorites. Twenty-16 had protected Kristin Armstrong (2-time Olympic gold medalist) and isolated her competition, Tara Whitten (Olympian) and Carmen Small (National Champion) from their teams. I thought there was a good chance that our breakaway would stick, but it unfortunately did not.

As the peloton grouped back together on the miles of flat, I tried to stay out of the wind and restrain myself from chasing anything down. I stayed with the GC leaders, but unfortunately, a break went just before the road turned up and it stuck.

The final climb was another 10 miles, but was more of a 4 mile climb, 2 miles flat, 4 mile climb, followed by a right hand turn into a flat sprint finish. Thanks to my crash, I was 9 minutes down on the GC so thought if I could find a good place to attack on the first portion, maybe the race leaders would let me go and I could climb to bridge up to the breakaway. So, I moved to the front. And for the first time, I attacked the pro peloton.

After the initial acceleration, I looked over my shoulder and saw that I had a gap. I continued pedaling hard until I heard someone behind me and looked again. It was freaking Tara Whitten, with the rest of the peloton strung out long, but still training behind. Seriously?! You couldn’t let a girl you were beating by 9 minutes go? You just had to chase me down yourself and bring the peloton back to me?! I pushed the pace for a bit longer, but soon the road turned down and I was stuck on the front. Free ride for everyone! Ugh. I sat up and waited for someone to come around, but had to wait a long time. I cursed myself, knowing that I couldn’t be wasting watts if I was going to push the final climb.

The road finally did turn up and I attacked again. Carmen Small countered me, with a crushing acceleration that I couldn’t match. Maybe I should have been patient and waited instead of trying earlier. Oh well. The only thing to do at this point was spin my pedals as fast as possible. I slowly caught back to the leaders and someone attacked again. This time, I was able to follow. Much sooner than I thought, there were arrows for turns (3 of them?) and all of a sudden the finishing stretch was there. I unleashed my (rather pathetic) sprint for the line, knowing that I was pretty close to my top 20 goal, so beating one more person may make a difference. I found our DS and learned that I had finished 18th! Achievement unlocked! Later the results were corrected and I found that had actually finished 17th. I had my top 20 finish! I could quit bike racing with pride now. But… Not too surprisingly, I found that I no longer wanted to quit.

Stage 4, Downtown Criterium. There’s not much to say about this stage, but by now I was racing hard enough that it was clear that my head was in the game. I finished with the peloton.

Stage 5, 49 mile Circuit Race. This was a twisty, turny 16 mile circuit, which we would traverse 3 times. With no long sustained climbs, I had no idea how this was going to go. I had some hope because the climbs were steeper than the other courses, and these short punchy climbs kept coming at you. No drafting there! It was almost like riding in Pittsburgh. We made a plan for the day…

With the GC still tight, the riding was fast and aggressive from the start. I felt out of my league and my brain was trying to disengage. I told myself that was only natural, that this was worst of the race and to just hang on. I had promised Coach Kyle that I’d try an attack after the QOM, so I had to get there and get into a position to make good on my word. People were falling off the pace and the peloton was growing smaller with every turn and every hill. I kept rocketing up the hills, moving up the peloton only to be shuffled back on every subsequent descent. Shortly before the QOM at the end of the second lap, Tara & Kristin got away. (Lesson learned: attacks before climbs sometimes stick! Maybe I’ll try it.) The peloton stalled, as they waited to see if anyone would respond. As we crested the QOM, I knew attacking would be suicide, and I would only become a ride for the desperate peloton. So, I had no choice but to save it for the finish. I had promised that I’d be aggressive.

When I saw the 3k to go sign I knew it was now or never. It was steep from there to the QOM, but then there was a fast, flat mile before the last 500m uphill to the finish. So, I attacked hard with about 500m to the QOM mark. I looked over my shoulder and had Carmen on my wheel. WTF was up with these world class athletes suddenly wanting to be on my wheel!? There were only a few people there though, so I attacked again as we crested the steepest part and went into the flat run up to the finish. No one wanted to take the wind from me so I sat up. This time, we were close enough to the finish that other people did come around quickly and vigorously, and I had to be careful not to let myself slide too far back.
Pic by CCC twitter (Thanks)
Finally we hit the turn to the uphill finish. I was about 20 people back by the time I took the corner, but I stomped out of saddle and began to accelerate around people. I knew it was only a minute from there to the finish. I’m not great at sprinting, but I’ve had a few shining moments where I could fake fast twitch for a minute. I saw the 200m to go sign and I was still passing people, but I couldn’t stay out of saddle one more second. So I sat & spun hard. Then, I saw Carmen just a few feet ahead so I couldn’t be doing too badly! I sprinted out of saddle for the line and went under it completely gassed. I had no idea how it went, so went and got some water and found my teammates. Then this…

OMG! I had gotten a top 10 finish in in not only an NRC, but a UCI race and had even earned it in a somewhat technical course with a sprint finish! How was that possible?! In reviewing my power file, my last 10 minutes were strong, and the last minute was my best minute since I had broken my arm. And it was the very last minute of a week long stage race, bonus! I guess there was a purpose behind those “Elite kJ” and “Pain Minr” workouts. Thanks, Coach.

All in all, I was happy with how I raced last week. I stayed aggressive and was able to do what I love about stage races: every day I came back a little stronger than the day before. I was very fortunate to have a coach constantly reminding me that there was tomorrow and it really wasn’t optional. Still, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t crashed on the first day. I guess instead of quitting, I’ll have to keep training so I can go back next year to find out!

Bend is really beautiful and also we raced up that.