Over the last couple of weeks I’ve changed up my training in order to prepare for my first time trial, the Wisconsin State TT at the Richard Bong State Recreation Area. Prior to this, I had been doing mostly sprint, VO2 max, and shorter, more intense efforts to help with road and crit racing. Training for a TT is a whole ‘nother ballgame, and honestly it’s not something that I ever expected I would enjoy. Turns out that it really wasn’t too bad, and I really found myself digging into the training and enjoying the everlasting burn of sustained efforts.
To prepare for the TT, my training regimen started with a day of Sweet Spot intervals, which are in the range of 88-92%. I did a 2×20 of these, which helped my legs get used to the longer efforts. My next big training day included another 2×20, this time at threshold. This was a super tough day, especially since I was having some issues with my fit. I remember my legs felt completely unbalanced and it was very difficult to push through that. I managed to get through it, but now I’m in the midst of another fit crisis (damn my crazy shaped feet!), which I think I’ll be writing about soon. I think I’ve got it very close to being worked out, so hopefully I can get back to my old rhythm. Anyways, after the threshold day, I did another day of Sweet Spot intervals, this time a 3×20. It was on this day that I felt absolutely incredible, and probably had my best training day all year. My numbers were outstanding and I just felt like an absolute monster out there. It was very inspiring and I tried to maintain that energy throughout the rest of the week.
For a quick tune up before the State TT, I did a tempo ride and then my usual leg opener. Sunday was the day of the race, and I have to say that I was very excited for it! I felt like I was entering a whole new realm of cycling, this one faction where science plays such a big part of the race. Aerodynamics, heart rate, power, pacing, and pain all come together to make the race of truth. Being that it was my first time, I was a little unsure about how it would play out, but I knew that I’d be a better rider no matter what happened.
My start time was bright and early at 9:00, and since the race was 2 hours away, I had to get up at the lovely hour of 4 in the morning to make it there on time. I like to get to races at least 2 hours early to get myself acquainted and leave room for any potential errors or mishaps. Funny side note: when I set my alarm the night before I accidentally changed the regular time as well, so I ended up getting up at 3 instead of 4. I didn’t realize the error until I pulled my oatmeal out of the microwave and saw the real time on there. With my food already made, I grumbled and ate it regardless.
After driving to the race, I got all my stuff ready and began my warm up, which was supposed to be a little longer than normal. With a TT you want to be rip roaring and ready to go once you get to the line, so it’s imperative that your warm up is sufficient. Unfortunately I had to take a nature break right in the middle of my warm up (read: too much fiber!) so it probably wasn’t as good as it could have been. Nonetheless, I finished it on time and made my way to the start line.
Getting to the start line was actually a ton of fun for me, because it was the first time that I got to have my saddle held while I clipped in and got ready to go, just like they do for the PROs on TV. This made me super happy for some reason. It just felt cool! Anyways, once I started, I made an effort to pace myself correctly by not going off too hot. I was surprised at how well I was able to do this, and I think for the first lap I was exactly one bpm below my lactate threshold, which was exactly the plan. Doing this allows you to give it even more during the last part of the race without burning up too quick. Despite this, I was caught by the rider behind me, which actually happened to be my coach. I had kind of expected this, since he won the State TT last year for his category, and he was riding a TT bike with a disc. Interestingly though, once he caught me I was able to stick with him. I intentionally avoided his draft to make sure I wasn’t doing anything illegal (I stayed to his left most of the way), and on the slight rollers I would pass him and then on the flats he would pass me again. This is actually a great example of the types of riders we are: I’m a good climber with an excellent power/weight ratio, whereas he’s a very good time trialist and steady state rider. I think that mentally what I needed was someone to pace me as I had never done this before, and just trying to chase someone the whole time (or be chased) really pushed me to my limit. On the last lap, I overtook him right before the last corner, and started to burn that very last match that I had. Looking at my race file, for the last ten minutes or so I averaged 191 bpm which is right on that boundary of aerobic capacity or VO2 max. You can see on my chart where I made that last turn and really went for it. On the last leg of the course I gained about ten seconds on him (which still means that he had about a minute or 50 seconds on my time total), and I really made that last dig count. I probably went deeper into the red than I’ve ever gone before, and I remember being very close to completely losing capacity to ride. Turns out that I timed thing pretty well and came out with a time of 56:31, which was good enough for 4th. I’m very happy with the performance since it was my first TT and I wasn’t riding a TT bike or disc wheel. My goal was really to make it under and hour, and doing so by 3:29 really makes me happy!
Time trialing in itself is really an art. It’s a specialist’s game but it’s also something that can be learned by anyone (maybe except for Andy Schleck). Pacing is key: you need to make sure that you don’t burn too many matches too early or else you risk burning up before the end. Afterwards, my coach told me that he probably went out too hot and that’s why he caught me so fast. Still though, he was able to gain at least a minute on me because he made sure to pace his effort–he didn’t continue at that level for the rest of the race. It might also have been why I was able to overtake him in the end to gain back some of the time that I had lost. To that point though, it’s good to note that he was on a time trial bike and I was on my regular Cervélo R3, albeit equipped with clip-on aero bars that were loaned to me. I was also loaned a TT helmet for the event, which, plus a loaned skinsuit, probably helped me a bit. However, a rider with a full TT bike with proper fit, as well as a disc wheel on the rear is surely going to be faster, given similar fitness. This is why I say time trialing is an art. There is so much that goes into play with the discpline, from choosing the right components, to making sure that you’re fit and fitness is right, to staying hydrated and not overdoing it! There were a few decisions that I made to make sure that I was as aero as I could be: one bottle cage on the downtube, shoe covers, no gloves as I didn’t have “aero” gloves (I figured no gloves would be faster than non-aero gloves, even though technically skin supposedly isn’t as fast as fabric), aero helmet, aero wheels, and those danged aero bars. I don’t mind riding the aero bars when riding in them, but I have to say that they make me feel totally claustrophobic when training. I felt like I just had too much stuff in my face! Plus, I’d hit my knees on them ever once in a while when standing up and riding in the hoods. I’m glad to have removed them and can’t wait to ride without them!
Now that the State TT is done with, I’ll be doing a lot of easier training to keep my fitness good, but I don’t think I’ll be aiming to peak again. I’ve had three big events and I think that I’ll just be training and racing at a cooler pace than I was before. Of course that doesn’t mean I won’t be competitive (that’s almost impossible for me!) but my training load won’t be as intense. I’m just going to try to really nail my fit in the next couple of weeks and stick with it so that I can ride all fall and winter comfortably, and get my muscles used to one position again. Hopefully I can bring it all together and make the most of the rest of the season!