Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pacing trains and training pace

Working from home occasionally is a nice perk, as it allows me to, for example, take a break in the afternoon and go ride.

Yesterday, I hopped on the P-38 for a quick (mostly) flat run; down McClure to Beaver, Blvd of Allies to Jail Trail, out to end of South Side trail and back, with an easy climb up California to replace the shorter, steeper climb up McClure. As I was passing the UPMC sports complex, a train came up behind me, so I decided to pace it if I could. As it turns out, I could, but it was harder than I thought it should be. (Don't get me wrong; it was only a couple of miles at a 25 mph pace, so I'm not trying to beat my chest over my awesome power or anything here.) No HRM or other monitoring device; I'd put the perceived effort at about 95% of maximum. It was a bit disappointing to realize how hard I was working to maintain that pace; I have this unfounded belief that I should be able to do better than that, or at least not have to work so hard to be at that level.

I've spent the last year focusing on randonneuring; the vast majority of my training (if you can call it anything so formal) has been long steady distance, well inside my anaerobic threshold. What little interval training I've done has been unstructured, in the sense of "Ooo, there's a hill short enough that I can probably power over it if I try hard." This has resulted in some good things: I can maintain a steady average pace in the mid-to-upper teens, with a decent load of gear, more-or-less indefinitely, and I can recover rapidly from sustained exertion (multi-mile hills at 5-10% jump to mind). However, I can't sprint worth a damn, hill-climbing is bloody slow, and maintaining a pace over low 20s for any length of time puts me closer to redlining than I think it should.

In hindsight, I think a lot of the problem came about when I replaced my Tuesday and Thursday evening group rides with regular cycle-commuting . I was still getting my miles, but the commuting was more of the same loaded, steady distance riding that I was already doing on weekends. With the group rides, I was actually pushing my limits, as well as getting more practice in areas in which I suck like descents and pacelines.

So, near term, I think I'll try to get more short, fast-paced rides in. I'll still plan on regular (i.e. every couple of weeks) long rides, but the focus will be short and hard. I'm sure the upcoming Dirty Dozen training series will assist in that, although using DD hills for ad-hoc interval training sounds a bit silly. Long-term, I think I'll need to rejoin the regular group rides; I got a lot better, a lot faster, when I was riding with the guys who were significantly better than me.

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