There is strange thing that sometimes happens when you are forced off the bike for a couple of weeks. You come back stronger for the time off.
In mid-March 2008, just as I was in the middle of my base training, I crashed and got substantial road rash on my left side. It slowed down my training schedule, but I ended up riding very strongly in August and September, setting a five-minute wattage figure of 339 that is still my best and posting my best time (6 hours 33 minutes) and average wattage figure (172) for the Hillier Than Thou time trial.
This year bouts of bronchitis in February and June have probably set me back about three weeks each, in terms of training, including having to miss the Whiteface Uphill Bike Race for the first time since 2004. But over the last week or so, there are signs that I am coming back strongly. Last week I rode well on a 76-mile tempo ride with Neil C., Mark H. and Gina. This week was supposed to be a rest week, in preparation for next week’s PA 200k. I decided to do some wattage testing, just to see if the numbers backed up my good feelings.
I have two favorite roads for testing wattage, both of them uphill. I find I generate more watts on uphill courses than flat ones. For one-minute wattage tests I like White Pine-Beekman Road, which is about four miles away. For five-minute tests, I prefer Dutchtown-Zion road, which is a 30-minute car drive and about a 75-minute bike ride away.
This past Wednesday was the Fourth of July holiday, so I decided to try the Dutchtown route to see how my training was progressing. I’d just ridden the hill in 313 watts a week or two before. With its steepest pitches in the final half, it is a good testing hill, as the steeper slopes counteract the natural tendency to lose power during the test.
I rode the climb consistently and was pleasantly surprised to find that my wattage average was 323. That’s about 15 percent off my all-time high in 2008 (339) but equivalent to my bests for the years 2011 (323) and 2010 (324) and much better than anything so far this year. It is not the only indicator of strength on the bike, but it’s a good one.
After riding a hilly 48 miles with the Princeton Freewheelers on a club ride yesterday in 99-degree heat, I at first thought about simply taking today off and resting. Then I thought a recovery ride was a good idea. Then again I thought, what the heck, I’ll just do my leisurely eight-mile out and back and throw in an intense one-minute wattage test on White Pine. I was back in 35 minutes.
Since I started keeping track of wattage in February 2006, I have attempted wattage tests on White Pine Road more than 50 times, with results ranging from 369 watts to 512 watts. Most of the time the figure ranges from 400-450 watts. One-minute wattage tests your ability to sustain short spikes of power, especially useful when you are trying to close a gap to another rider. But it also seems to roughly measure your overall climbing strength, though not quite as effectively as a five-minute test does. But the one-minute test is much more convenient to do.
White Pine is not the perfect course. Unfortunately, it tends to flatten out toward the top, making it hard to keep your wattage from falling. I got a good head of steam at the bottom, standing for the first 20 seconds or so, then sitting down, mashing the pedals in my highest 52-11 gear, and trying to compensate for the steadily flattening terrain. As usual, I was gasping for breath.
When I finished, I felt like I’d made a good effort. I wasn’t thinking in terms of surpassing my personal best set two years ago of 512 watts, but thought that I should easily better my best so far this year of 419 watts, set in late May, just before I got ill again. Maybe even 450 was possible.
When I got home and ran the data through the Training Peaks software, I found to my surprise that I’d averaged 499 watts, my second best performance ever. In fact, the best figure I’d managed in the two previous years was 467.
I have no magic secret to explain this. I haven’t trained unusually hard and have no major goals for this summer to provide extra motivation. I intend to ride some centuries and 200ks. I’m thinking about trying to get a group to attempt averaging 20 mph for one of those centuries.
Getting sick is no fun. But it’s nice to know that some forced time off the bike doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.