The path to enlightenment: manic or nibbling away?

Ah, holiday time.  I always get a bit retrospective this time of year...

Using all sorts of resources I've been trying to piece together that optimal picture of the perfect training and racing year.  No matter how many studies, theories, or blogs I read, it always comes back to my own training data.  There just isn't anything more convincing, powerful, enlightening that my own store of power file data over 3 years of ultra endurance training and racing.

Hopefully I can say CTL without causing too much forehead wrinkling amongst y'all (got that, Rick?).  CTL = chronic training load, an analytical measure based on the daily TSS (training stress scores) calculated from power meter data.  I've actually got 7 years of the stuff, but the last 3 have been the enduro focus.  Here's how they've progressed.  Click for the big'n.

It's hard to make sense of this picture for a few reasons, but there are some things that jump right out.  Such as:

  • a CTL of 120-130 seems to be the comfy zone for racing and training.
  • coupled with power meter data I know that the fastest power gains occurred with the slowest CTL ramp rate - early '05
  • in the fall of '06 I apparently developed the ability to dig enormous holes from a training stress standpoint
  • the only 2 major cycling injuries in this lifetime have both come on the heels of PB CTL peaks, both in terms of absolute volume and ramp rates.

The observations above that are most affecting my thoughts for '08 are the 2nd and 4th...

There's been some talk on wattage about what sort of programs lead to better power gains - and would you know it?  The Cog presented a lot of data showing similar stuff as above for his wife who is a national champ pursuitist.  I've come to realize I have the ability to do massive training and get away with it most of the time (except when I don't) but that doesn't lead to power gains per does lead to enormous endurance.  It was perfect for Grand Loop.  For anything shorter and more technical though, not the optimal plan by any standard.  So this year the plan is to "nibble away" and avoid huge training stress spikes for the most part, and spend more time doing quality work.  That pic above is proof positive of a massive 3 year base that is pretty much unshakable - no need for more.

The corollary to the above point is what I refer to as "headroom."  You only have so much capacity for training adaptation, and if your CTL is too high there just isn't any room to do the quality work that increases power and improve from it.  To put the above values in perspective, it's been estimated that Le Tour cyclists hit a CTL in the 150s by the end of the race.  My peak this year was 173.  That's friggin manic!

That 4th point...yep, no question, long deep builds are expensive.  They are now so alluring because I can get stronger as they progress, seemingly adapting just fine.  At some point the bottom drops out - but not until I rest.  I never know during the build how much is too much cause the body (or ma head?) says "more please." 

What does it all mean?  Slower ramp rates (or even flat ramp rates) for '08.  More quality.  More SS.  More power.  More fun.  Save the big manic builds for the end of the season - which in StG means June and Nov.  It's all coming together.

Published Friday, December 14, 2007 6:46 AM by Dave


# @ Friday, December 14, 2007 8:16 AM

I'm like that dog in the cartoon - I read blah blah blah - Rick - blah blah blah - fun. As my team mate Vic says " I don't train, I just go out and play" - and he can kick all of our asses!
You know, I have coached and raced for over 30 years, and I've studied human performance at every level(degree in exercise phys.), and I've discovered that the key to human performance is just that - don't train, play! We are all limited by our genetics, and we can maximize our performance simply by just getting out there day after day for many years. It's that simple. FUN!


# @ Friday, December 14, 2007 8:39 AM

I hear you Rick and sometimes think the same. But when I think about it and look at my data it says otherwise - convincingly so actually.

Specificity always rises to the top.

If I did what was fun all the time I'd get myself into trouble, cause riding for 10 hours a day is damn fun!


# @ Friday, December 14, 2007 3:13 PM

Ahh, the key to it all is forgetting about "winning" in the traditional sense - he who has the most fun in life wins! I had a great year - fun - and won the races I wanted to win - all without one singe training day - no intervals, no power meter, no data - I don't even use a hr monitor or bike computer. I do kill myself in spin class - but that's cause it's fun (in a sick twisted Dave and Lynda sorta way). In the end, who cares who won Grand Traverse or Kokepelli's? In the end, all we care about is how much fun you had! Might be different if we were still young and improving - and seeking a Gold Medal...


# @ Saturday, December 15, 2007 7:25 PM

Hummm I think I'm gonna have to start calling you Dr. Dave or professor Dave


# @ Saturday, December 15, 2007 8:30 PM

I only measure my CTL in # of beers required to bring about pain free recovery. Did I ahppen to mention that I downed a case of Santa Fe's finest in the days after VTR125? Jeni was on travel and well, I couldn't really fix dinner myself, so peanut butter, beer, and banannas pretty much did the trick.


# @ Sunday, December 16, 2007 12:08 PM

I did wonder at you during June; good to see it wasn't unfounded.

To make this all more concrete: did the spike the GLR and KMC represent bring greater fitness, but in an unsustainable (at least in the short-middle term) way? What does a 120-130 week or month look like? Is CTL an objective or subjective data?

The training speak is really interesting. Like reading some Plato, or Camus in the original when my French was good but not great: I see the outlines of the picture but not in ideal clarity.

Keep it up, and see ya next month!


# @ Sunday, December 16, 2007 9:24 PM

What strikes me is the total abandonment of any off-season (except your collarbone).


# @ Monday, December 17, 2007 6:33 AM

Rick - who said anything about winning? Form affects fun, results take care of themselves...

MTBallday - I gave up "off-seasons" in the traditional sense long ago. Not only do I not need them, but they take forever to come back from - maybe cause I'm in my 40's? I do take 1 or 2 weeks off the bike at a time tho and that can happen most anytime of year. The 2 week off the bike periods have typically been in the fall and spring. Good form is never that far away - I definitely do not subscribe the the theory you have to become unfit to become fit!

Dave - where to begin...I could do a dozen blog posts or more on your questions...for starters, KMC but was a small blip on my CTL radar at the time. The two big bumps in mid-may-early june are from *2* Grand Loop rides separated by two weeks. The first GL solo TT provided a massive bonus fitness surge. GLR took it all back, and by KMC I was feeling sharp between the ears but not the legs anymore...some believe that there is some durational breakpoint beyond which rides will take away from fitness. For example, riding more than 8 hours make take away from your fitness rather than build it up. This is probably because that 8 hour ride produces deep enough fatigue as to warrent long recovery over which time fitness slips a bit. Personally I don't see that. I can do big events every other week (12-24 hour events, even GLR type events) and thrive on it - for awhile. There always comes a point where more is just making deeper fatigue, thats when the week off the bike comes in. So to get to your sustainability question, the form pre-GLR was sustainable for a long time - but GLR sent me pretty deep into the coffin and KMC drove that final nail in. If there was no GLR#2 I'd have likely kept up similar levels through August...

CTL is an objective measure where the units are TSS/day. TSS is calculated from power meter data and normalized such that 1 hour as hard as you can go = 100 points. Rides under 100 TSS are pretty easy and/or short, 100-200 is a good amount for most power building rides, 200-300 you're going a bit longer (3-5 hours), and 300+ is the stuff we like. A 24 hour race done right is about 1100 TSS, KMC was roughly 650. GLR about the same as a 7 day stage race (but in 2.5 days - ouch!) at ~2000. Got perspective?

A typical week at 130 CTL would be something like this. This is close to what I'd be doing in early race season with the next race being < 12 hours. Actual weekly composition changes a lot depending on what the next goal event is. Pre-GLR for example was all about 2 day 200 mile forays into the desert with overnight gear ;)

Mon - nada
Tues- 2 hour MTB skilz focus, unforced/relaxed pace (100 TSS)
Wed - 2.5 hours L5 intervals. Nosebleed intervals of 3-4 minutes...150 TSS
Thur - 3 x 20 minute intervals at threshold power 180 TSS
Fri - off bike stuff
Sat - Rolling route MTB or road, L3 pace in general but variable in nature. Great for group rides. 3 hours, 180 TSS
Sun - 5-8 hours MTB, 300 TSS

Whew - shoulda made that a blog post anyway!


# @ Monday, December 17, 2007 8:53 AM

I think the 'take a break from riding' theory is more for the mental aspect of training. Some people get burned out. If you're enthusiastic and rarin' to go, jittery crackhead style, go ride. Physically a disciplined training program will keep you fresh. I agree with Dave that as I age it gets harder to regain fitness so losing it creates a painful and frustrating journey back.

I personally take a good break from riding in the winter but I don't do nothing. Lately it's been long, long hikes in the snowy mountains, preparing for those long back country ski days. The bike is never far away and will get sporadic use but it feels good to exercise different muscles not only in the body but in the mind.

Come February, the wheels will start rolling regularly again. Oh, the Moab RtoR could be painful :-)

Do what works for you!



# @ Monday, December 17, 2007 11:30 AM

That makes things much more clear, especially so I can think of the numbers in non-PMeter speak. "300+ is the stuff we like." Classic!

And 2.5 hours of intervals?! Uh, ouch!!!


# @ Monday, December 17, 2007 1:17 PM

Dave, in that example week above, how much of those TSS points might be manually entered versus how much come from a wattage-measuring device? I'm still trying to figure out how to get / calculate TSS in a disc-brake world.



# @ Monday, December 17, 2007 2:06 PM

Hi Morgan - that'd all be measured TSS. I've got PMs on all my training rigs these days. For races the PM gets the boot in favor of the rear disc.

Word on the street is PT has got a disc compatible hub design that should be released in '08 sometime. Hang tight. There's not another PM I'd recommend for the MTB, discs or not...