Like any endeavor worth pursuing in life, the first step towards improving cycling performance is to establish a measurable goal.
In his new book, Your Best Triathlon, Joe Friel writes, “You must have well-defined and measurable goals if you want to excel at anything in life… The higher your goal is relative to what you have achieved in the past, the more important it is that you be precise about that goal and have a plan for achieving it.”
So, to improve cycling performance, you have to begin by setting concrete and attainable goals. Assuming most of your priority races are in the summer months, early winter is often a good time to begin the planning process for the year ahead.
Last year at this time, for example, I sat down and looked at my racing and cycling performance for the previous year. Based upon my results, I came up with the following goals for 2010:
- Complete the Pumpkinman Half Ironman Aquabike under 3 hours
- Average 23+ mph on the “Hank” – an 18.6 mile TT course that must be completed on the road bike without aero equipment)
- Faster on benchmark time trials
Once I established concrete goals, I then devised a series of training goals or strategies designed to reach my race goals and improve cycling performance.
- Achieve a race weight of 168 lbs or less
- Work with my cycling coach to increase FTP (functional threshold power) to 280 watts
- Optimize position of the TT bike (watts relative to aero position)
- Refine the Open Water swim technique
As an aging athlete (47), I knew that the days of increases in sheer power were behind me. In fact, I figured I would be lucky if I could hang onto my FTP from last year, which I calculated around 273 watts based upon my best “Hank” results. (The Hank requires a 50 minute +/- all out effort on the road bike). I knew that my real key to improving cycling performance was to shed some of my body weight. The excess weight was clearly a performance limiter, and unlike VO2 max and lactate threshold, I had control over my weight, at least in theory.
During the 2009 training year, I had dropped 13 lbs from 188 to 175. By November 2009, I was nearing 180 again. About that time, Kurt Perham suggested that I attend a Bob Seebohar presentation at Apothecary by Design. Bob was promoting his soon-to-be-released book, Metabolic Efficiency Training targeted to endurance athletes. The book got me thinking about training efficiency and diet and primarily reinforced what I already knew about achieving race weight: ditch the starchy foods and focus on fruits, vegetables, lean meets and proteins. Shortly thereafter, I read another book called Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald. Great book and a terrific read. My takeaway was that if I was going to shed the pounds and improve body composition, then I was going to have to track my progress. Fortunately, the annual Chubby Challenge at the office and Training Peaks’ meal tracker gave me just what I needed – a competition and the tools to track progress towards lowering my weight and improving cycling performance.
As the graph below shows, I began the training year at 176 lbs with body comp consistently in the 11-12% range, per the morning Tanita metrics. (You have to understand that I am a total data geek, so I track weight, body comp, resting heart rate, sleep hours, fatigue, etc. Training Peaks gives you the tools, so why not do it?) By tracking my calories in and calories out each day and managing for 2,500 – 3,500 calories per day, depending upon workload, I was able to achieve 166-168lbs with body comp readings of 9-10% consistently within three months of tracking my diet.
Tracking my diet forces me to evaluate everything I put into my mouth, so I tend to make wise choices and eat mostly fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low fat yogurt and yes, nightly pieces of 85% chocolate. So, not a ton of sacrifice, but amazing results once it came time to race!
- Pumkinman Half Ironman Aquabike – 3:07:00, 22mph on the bike, 2nd Place Overall
- 23.2mph average on the Hank, 1st Overall
- Faster on the Crank the Kanc by 02:35 over 2009; Faster on the L.L.Bean Time Trial by 1:00 over 2009.
By beginning with measurable goals and then taking action to reach those goals, I was able to improve cycling performance significantly from one year to the next.