Keeping A Little Intensity In The Off-Season

I walked into the gym this morning feeling anxious and a bit doubtful.  The Cyclepaths had a two-hour ride but I didn’t have time for that today, with work commitments.  I decided I would do my 20-20 intense indoor spin bike ride.  This actually means 5 minutes of warmup, followed by 20 minutes of threshold/red zone time trialing (the kind that makes  you stare cross-eyed when you finally stumble off the bike), followed by 15 minutes of steady riding in my comfort/aerobic heartrate zone.

Now that I keep track of power, both indoors and out, I can get some idea indoors of how much of an effort I’m making.  The best outdoor 20-minute course I ride in a given year is the first three miles (up from Wilmington, NY to the toll booths) of Whiteface Mountain.  This is a steady 7-9 percent grade where you can get a nice rhythm.  My best this year on that part of Whiteface was 266 watts.  The best I’ve ever done for 20 minutes anywhere is 281 watts in 2009 during the first two miles of Mount Ascutney in southeastern Vermont.  There are long 19-percent sections there.

To give you some idea of how other long area climbs compare (though there aren’t many serious 20-minute climbs in New Jersey), I have topped 250 watts the last three years on Fox Gap in PA, including a 253-watt reading in October.  That was in the middle of a 200k, so it’s in some ways more impressive than grinding it out on the spinner. But then again, there is no fan on this spinner and you sweat profusely.

I warmed up fairly easily and soon it was time to adjust my iPod and get serious.  Losing your tunes in mid-pedal stroke is not good.  As always, I set the bike to level 12, which generates about 250 watts if I pedal at 90 rpm.  The bike says that I’m going 23-24 mph, for what it’s worth.  I set the readout to rpm and try to keep my cadence about 90.  As always in the beginning, my legs don’t want to bear the strain, and complain loudly.

My anxiety today seems to work to my advantage though; my nervous energy seems to propel me harder.  The first 10 minutes are always the toughest.  But by the second half, I have settled into whatever groove I’m going to be in.  It’s the first half where I struggle for rhythm and want to drop out every 30 seconds or so.  As I pass the halfway mark today, I check my calories burned.  It was 148 calories, just under the 150 pace I would need for a 250watt ride.

My best ever on the 20-minute spin is September 15th, four days before Hillier, when I finished at 302 calories, which translates into 252 watts.  That’s about the same wattage as the Fox Gap climb in October.  For years, I had trouble generating as many watts on the spin bike as I did outdoors, especially on hills.  But then I learned to pace myself, try to do negative time splits, and learn to crouch forward on the grips in a low position.  It seems to give my legs more leverage and power.  Now some of my highest power readings each month are on the spinner.

I continued through the 15-minute mark at a reading of about 225 calories.  That was just below my record pace.  I glanced at my heartrate monitor over the last minute, 176 beats per minute, 177, 178.  As I count down the seconds to zero, the readout says 302 calories.  That ties the record of 252 watts, which is good for late fall, when my 1000-mile July turns into a 305-mile November.  The heart rate monitor tops out at 179 bpm, just a beat behind my highest reading of the year and probably no more than three or four beats off my maximum.

So my experiment continues and seems to be working.  In the past, I have followed the advice of Joe Friel and others to do mostly middle-paced rides in the off-season.  But I had such a good summer on the spinner that I have decided to keep a 20-minute time trial in my schedule each week, to be done at threshold/red zone pace.  So far, I haven’t seen any loss in power from October, when my heavy riding schedule starts a steep decline.

Am I as fit as I was two months ago?  No, I’m working out only about an hour a day and I seldom go more than 50 miles even on a long day.  But I’ve noticed in the B-plus Princeton Freewheeler rides, like the one last Saturday, that I can keep up fairly well with the hammerheads, as long as they don’t do a lot of sprinting.  As a rando, you see, I have developed, for better or for worse, a steady pace style of riding.  Besides, I’ve never been much of a sprinter,


This week so far I have done a 45-minute run-lift workout and a 40-minute spin that included a 20-minute time trial.  I plan at least one more run-lift and two outdoor rides on the bike of about 1-2 hours each.  The off-season continues until the late winter.  Soon it’ll be time to start thinking about goals for 2011.

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