It’s been one month since I kicked off my cycling training plan to prepare for this year’s Crit, or Criterium, races at the Driveway Series and I just have one question: What in the world was I thinking when I made this commitment?
As mentioned before, I’ve raced triathlons for many years and have done several adventure cycling trips. Never though have I had the gumption to toe the line with 30 to 50 other women at the same time, start at an all-out effort, and try to sustain that mental and physical energy for 30 minutes straight as I speed around corners and turns. It sounds exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time.
My first month of training was “all about that base,” and in a turn of events, I switched primarily to cycling as my training mode in order to get as much time in the saddle as possible. I went from virtually zero cycling a week up to 150 miles per week this past month in order to build my aerobic cycling fitness—necessary since cycling uses a different set of muscle groups from running or swimming. That's five days of cycling per week; definitely a new concept for a girl who is used to spreading love to her other sports. I made a commitment to train the best I can and I'm trusting Coach Chris Toriggino from Athlete Architecture to do what he does best—get athletes to the start and finish line in the best shape possible.
Because of our dreary and wet winter and my long work hours, I did most of my January rides on one of two indoor trainers. At home, I have a Computrainer that allows me to hook my own bike to this Cadillac of trainers via a trainer tire and ride various courses and elevation profiles against a powered flywheel of resistance. When the course gets harder, you feel the resistance on the flywheel and make your necessary gear changes.
At work, I have my Specialized Women Amira (specialized.com) attached to the all-new Wahoo Kickr Trainers (wahoofitness.com). These are the latest and greatest indoor trainers that allow you to remove your rear wheel and hook up to an existing 11-speed chain cassette on the trainer. No more ruining trainer tires! And it provides a more fluid and realistic feeling when you start and stop. There have been a few times when I've had to hunker down on that trainer for more than 3 hours at a time—the mind can go to some strange places when you're pedaling away and not going anywhere. In my mind, I've cycled the Pacific Coast Highway, climbed Alpe d'Huez and summited Everest all from the trainer room!
While it can be hard to stay engaged, it’s also incredibly effective and efficient. If you have to hold a certain heart rate or wattage, the trainer is superb at dialing in and being there. There are no cars, no stoplights, no traffic, and no one yelling at you to “Go buy a car like everyone else!”
It’s not “real riding.” I definitely feel my fitness level increasing daily, but I have yet to experience the practical sessions of pack riding that are imperative to crit racing. With my targeted date of racing in May quickly approaching, I plan to take part in as many skills clinics as I can. All of the pedaling in the world won’t help if I don't know the practical ins and outs of crit racing.
One of the best ways to measure real progress on a trainer bike is to take an FTP, or Functional Threshold Power Test. An FTP test is a snapshot of your fitness at any given time. According to TrainerRoad.com, it’s the power (measured in watts) that you could theoretically maintain for about an hour.
Cutting through a bunch of bike-geek speak, your FTP tells you how hard you can go for approximately an hour of all-out-effort riding. Shorter rides should be able to endure slightly higher efforts and longer rides should be done at a percentage below that magic number.
When I first started training in January, my FTP was 160 watts. Just 30 days later, my new FTP was 198 watts. To me, that number is a substantial change showing just how much my training is paying off. It’s a huge increase for me; one I thought I would never see. Now all I need is to get out on the roads and test it a little.
Another thing I did this month was get a Body Geometry Fit on my bike to make sure it fits me appropriately. Comfort is king on the bike and if I'm going to be racing at an all-out effort, I need to be as comfortable as possible in the positions I put my body through. Skot at Bicycle Sport Shop spent hours making sure my bike was in the best fit for my body geometry. We tweaked pedals, cleats, and handlebars to make sure I felt the best I could feel on two wheels.
Fortunately, the Driveway Series is open and accommodating to beginners and experts alike. They are wanting to grow the sport, especially in the Women’s division, and I hope I'm one of many people who can carry the torch for a new audience of cyclists. For those who are daring, brave, and excited enough to try something new and help grow the sport.