Elaine: All Things Tri

Let's Go to the Midway

posted Feb 23, 2014, 3:07 PM by Elaine Vescio

Today my family and I attended a mass for my father who died four years ago. When I got home, I dug out this essay that I had written a few months after his death. It's called "Let's Go to the Midway". 

Most of the time, triathlon plays a positive role in our lives—feelings of accomplishment, improved health and wellbeing, and the sheer fun of swimming, biking, and running. However, there are times when triathlon brings frustration, disappointment, and even physical pain--bad races, equipment problems, and injuries. Learning to deal with the downtimes can help our overall experiences with the sport and with life.

Through example, my father taught me how to deal with the sport’s letdowns even though he had never trained for or competed in a triathlon. I’ll dust off the old cliché for this article, because when life gave him lemons, he made lemonade. And he did this through his final days.

A situation that clearly illustrates my father’s determination to enjoy life occurred this past January. My father had been battling mylodysplasia for years, and the disease was progressing. My sister brought my father to a doctor’s appointment and the prognosis was not good. When my father and sister came out of the examination room, my mother asked my father how it had went.  My father responded, “I’m fine. Let’s go to the Midway”. (The Midway was one of my father’s favorite restaurants). Shocked, my sister asked, “Dad, Did you understand what the doctor had said to you?” My father replied, “I understood what he said; now let’s go out to lunch”.

My father had understood; his prognosis was dire. There would be no more holidays, no more birthdays, and no more anniversaries. He would not live to see his youngest grandchildren grow to adulthood. My father only had weeks left to live. But at that moment, he was feeling ok. He was with his wife and his daughter, and he was a little bit hungry. So rather than wallow at his failing health, he decided that the best thing to do at that time was to enjoy lunch at his favorite restaurant with his family. He wanted to go to the Midway.

There were plenty of times during his final years that my father felt sadness and anger and fear as he battled mylodysplasia. He acknowledged and dealt with those feelings.  Yet, he knew instinctively to make the most of the moments given to him, to embrace the simple pleasures that life has to offer. And we should do the same. So when faced with feelings of frustration or disappointment about training and racing, let’s acknowledge and accept those feelings. Then as soon as possible, we can make the most of the time that has been given to us and let’s go to our “Midway”.

Oh No! A Weight Loss Plateau

posted Feb 18, 2014, 12:30 PM by Elaine Vescio   [ updated Feb 18, 2014, 12:55 PM ]

Usually all goes well when a person makes up their mind to lose weight. The positive reinforcement from the number on the scale dropping each week and clothes fitting better help to keep motivation high...at least initially. Then it hits. The scale won't budge or edges a bit in the wrong direction. Oh no! A weight loss plateau. When this happens (and it does for almost all people who try to lose weight), take a deep breathe and say, "I can do this!'. Because you can. You just need an approach for tackling this. 

Here are four tips for breaking through the dreaded plateau:
1. Think through the food choices you have been making around the time that the plateau hit. Look for calorie creep: slightly larger portion sizes; more meals outside the home; mindless grazing on junk food; more alcoholic drinks, etc.  It takes a caloric deficit of 3500 calories to lose one pound. Calories multiply quickly when your guard is down, making that 3500 calorie deficit a thing of the past.
2. Recognize that if you have lost a few percentages of your body weight, your daily caloric needs have probably dropped. If you weigh less, your Resting Metabolic Rate (energy cost of doing nothing) decreases. This is exacerbated if you lost some muscle during those early weeks. Muscle is metabolically active, burning more calories than plain old body fat. You may need to take in fewer calories than before in order to continue to lose weight. Don't get drastic. Just dropping by about 200 calories a day (or exercising to burn an extra 200 calories) from the point you were before the plateau should do the trick. 
3. Track your daily food/drink intake and exercise amount using a food/exercise log. This holds you accountable (goodbye calorie creep), and gives you a clear indication of the calorie intake/exercise amount that you need to achieve to lose weight. MyFitnessPlan.com and fitbit.com are two of the easier logs to use. 
4. Boost your activity outside your workouts. You know what I mean. Triathletes will pop off a two hour run, but will circle the parking lot at Target until a spot opens near the door, or will wait for the elevator at work instead of using the stairs. Wear a Fitbit or a pedometer to track your steps and then set a goal to boost them. 

Hang in there. You are an endurance athlete. You don't quit when a workout or a race gets hard because you expect it to be challenging. That's what draws you to the sport. Use that same mindset as you work towards your weight loss goals.  

Two Running Drills to Improve Footstrike Mechanics

posted Feb 17, 2014, 7:14 AM by Elaine Vescio   [ updated Feb 17, 2014, 7:20 AM ]

Runners are bombarded with information on the importance of proper footstrike, and with advertisements about running shoes that help promote proper footstrike. Here are two simple running drills that accentuate correct footstrike. The repetitive motions of these drills train your body to do these specific movements during your run. 

Jog easy for about ten minutes before doing these drills to increase your body's core temperature. Then spend about one to two minutes on each drill. 

Drill #1--Tapping on Hot Coals
Use a very short, quick stride. Strike the ground with your forefoot, allow your foot to roll down to the heel, then immediately pop to your next stride. Take tiny steps with almost no knee lift, and minimal time with your foot on the ground--like you are touching hot coals with your feet. 

Drill #2--A Spring in your Step
Jog forward with a very short stride, and a light, bouncy movement. Emphasize landing near the ball of your foot with a level footstrike under your center of mass, then quickly lift your foot up. It's a light, bouncy feeling, not a forceful, pushing off feeling. 

Try to experience the feeling from each drill during various parts of your run workout. 

Sleep: Measure It and Manage It for Better Triathlon Performance

posted Jan 30, 2014, 2:01 PM by Elaine Vescio

Triathletes tend to sacrifice sleep in their quest to squeeze more and more into over scheduled lives. Are you guilty of this? Well, then you are probably undermining your training if you are not getting the 7 to 9 hours of sleep needed by most healthy, active adults each night. Research has shown many impediments to athletic performance caused by inadequate sleep including impaired ability to use glucose, delayed and/or inadequate post exercise tissue repair, and weight gainFortunately, now technology is available to allow you to conveniently measure and track the quantity and quality of your sleep, an important step in your pursuit of adequate zzzz's for your training and racing. 

Fitbit is a wireless-enabled, wearable activity tracker that makes it easy for the user to track and see trends in various aspects of a healthy lifestyle including physical activity, food, weight, mood, and sleep. While each of these components are important, the novelty is in Fitbit's ability to allow you to track and see trends in your sleep quantity and quality.

sleep info

The data displayed above shows that on this given night, the user only slept for 3 hours and 34 minutes out of the 6 hours and 20 minutes that he was in bed, a sleep efficiency of 57%. Plus he woke up 13 times during the night. For years, he had known that he didn't sleep well, but it wasn't until he started tracking his sleep that he realized the extent of his sleep inefficiencies. 

So what's a triathlete to do when he or she gets data that signifies big sleep inefficiencies? Fix it. The same way you would attack a lousy swim stroke, bad bike fit, or heel first foot strike. You find out what you should be doing differently, speak to experts if necessary, and work at it. 

There are a lot of tips out there on how to sleep better. With the Fitbit, you can track your sleep trends to figure out which changes improve your sleep. Some areas to explore include:
  • Go to bed earlier. Say 'no' to your favorite television show. Shut down the computer. Put away the smartphone. Just go to bed. 
  • Practice relaxation techniques to help quiet your mind. Deep breathing. Progressive relaxation. Count sheep. 
  • Don't think through the day's problems while you are in bed. There's plenty of time to stress about that stuff during the day. 
  • Try a more relaxing bedtime routine--warm bath, gentle stretching, yoga, reading, etc. 
  • Minimize caffeine intake after late morning as it can take up to 10 hours for it to leave your system. (Coffee, tea, sodas, and chocolate contain caffeine). 
  • Avoid alcohol late at night. It may seem to relax you, but alcohol actually causes people to sleep less deeply. 
  • Avoid exercising close to bedtime. That workout will do more harm than good if it interferes with your getting adequate sleep. 
  • Keep electronics out of your bedroom. Let this be the one room in your house dedicated to rest and rejuvenation. Keep the noise from the outside world out. 
Set realistic goals for improving your sleep. If the person in the example above sets a goal of in a week improving his nightly sleep by just 30 minutes, after 4 weeks he will have increased his sleep to 5 1/2 hours a night which is a lot better than 3 1/2 hours a night. 

So as you work through your training plan for 2014, be sure to consider how improving your sleep can do more to improve your triathlon training and performance than most of the gizmos, supplements, and triathlon training tips combined. 

Veggies...Just Do It!

posted Jan 22, 2014, 9:40 AM by Elaine Vescio   [ updated Jan 22, 2014, 1:29 PM ]

It is a bit befuddling that triathletes who regularly get up before the roosters to complete a swim workout with buddies, bang off intensive bike intervals alone on an indoor trainer after a 12 hour work day, and endure two hour runs on a treadmill to avoid missing a workout because of a freak snowstorm, cannot figure out a way to consume a few veggies each day. The benefits for athletes to consume veggies each day are well known so there is no need for me to list the "why eat your veggies". Instead this article will focus on the "how" to eat your veggies. 

1. Consider eating veggies each day as an integral part of your training. Put it right up there with getting in your specific workout(s) and foam rolling, because that's how important it is. 
2. Have a weekly plan for how you will get those servings of veggies in. Each week, you know which workouts you are doing each day, and then you plan your life around getting those workouts in. Do the same with the veggies because winging it doesn't work just like it wouldn't work with your workouts. 
3. Start slowly. You wouldn't expect a person new to exercising to be successful long term if right out of the gate he/she tried to workout for 60 minutes a day, seven days a week. If you haven't been regularly consuming veggies for years, then schedule in one serving per day for the first few weeks. You are more likely to be successful achieving that than immediately trying to get in four or five servings in a day. Slowly increase your target number of daily servings over the course of a few months until you take in four to five servings each day regularly. 
4. Go with the familiar. Just because you can't read a triathlon article without someone hailing kale or beets as the must have vegetable for epic performances, doesn't mean that's a good place to start. Eat a tossed salad with dinner, a bowl of vegetable soup with lunch, or a glass of good ole V8 as part of a mid morning snack. These are simple and familiar items to add in. 
5. Frozen vegetables are fine, and often times retain more of the nutrients than fresh. Stock up in your freezer. Cook a bag in your microwave at dinner, and then bring the leftovers with a sandwich for lunch. 
6. Don't love vegetables? That's ok. Eat them first at meals when you are really hungry, and you'll be amazed at how much yummier they taste than after you have wolfed down a complete meal. 
7. I mentioned vegetable soup earlier. This is a wonderful approach especially this time of year. Make a big batch of a vegetable soup on the weekend, and freeze some for handy lunches, dinners, or post workout fueling. 
8. No more excuses. When it comes to your veggies....just do it. 

Three Steps to Lessen the Thanksgiving Calorie Damage

posted Nov 27, 2013, 1:22 PM by Elaine Vescio

According to the Calorie Control Council, the typical American consumes more than 4500 calories during Thanksgiving Day festivities--about 3000 from the dinner alone plus another 1500 nibbling on appetizers and drinks before and after the holiday meal. Add in another 1000 calories to cover breakfast and other pre and post Thanksgiving festivities' consumables, and you are looking at a 5500 calorie day. While I am a big proponent of enjoying the holidays and loosening up one's dedication to training and racing on the holidays, the numbers shouldn't be ignored--a 5500+ calorie day can set back any athlete's weight management efforts. 

Let's look at the Thanksgiving math for a person who's daily caloric need is about 2000 calories. 5500 calories consumed minus 2000 calories needed equals an excess of 3500 calories which is equal to a gain of one pound in body weight. Yes--One day. Plus one pound. So what's a person to do? A quick Google search will give you a whole bunch of strategies for dealing with the holiday meal. I think anything more than three steps becomes info overload. So here are three steps to lessen the Thanksgiving calorie damage. 

1. Portion control. Yup....decrease by 1/4 to 1/2 your portion sizes. I know this can be tough with a heavy handed grandmother doling out the servings, but use your speed and dexterity to take control of that serving spoon and manage your portion sizes. 
2. Choose wisely when it comes to the nibbling on appetizers. Pick one or two of the higher calories appetizers to sample, and then go for the lower calorie choices like the selections on the veggie or fruit platters. 
3. Burn some calories. Squeeze in a workout that morning or convince a few relatives to join you for a post feast walk or hike. 

Thanksgiving is just one day, but there is no reason you need to let one day damage your hard fought weight management efforts. Here's to a happy, no regrets Thanksgiving. 

It's Ok to Feel Hungry

posted Nov 19, 2013, 8:55 AM by Elaine Vescio

Losing weight requires putting your body into a caloric deficit. Your body, being more intent on surviving versus your interest in being at a better race weight, is going to send you signals to eat--growling stomach, light headedness, obsessive thoughts about giant slices of pepperoni pizza. These signals are meant to make you uncomfortable so that you stop what you are doing and go eat something. This was a very useful survival mechanism in the times when food wasn't readily available lest a caveman get so intent on his cave drawings that he forget to slay something for dinner. 

Unfortunately, the abundance of food in our society and the habit of grazing has made it so that many of us are not used to feeling hungry. Hunger in the times of food insecurity is never a good thing. However, for an athlete looking to reach a more optimal body composition for racing, feelings of hunger are ok and might as well be embraced. So first, accept feelings of hunger as a normal part of weight loss. Then at mealtimes enjoy how good food really does taste when you sit down for a meal feeling a bit hungry. Finally, do some things to mitigate the hunger feelings a bit especially when just starting down a weight loss path. Drink lots of water each day or water with Nuun All Day for variety. The fluids provide a feeling of fullness. Also, eat more veggies as they fill up your stomach without adding lots of calories to your daily tally. 

When thinking about giving up or giving in, remind yourself that once you reach your desired body composition, the need to be in calorie deficit is gone. By that time, you may have found that you like sitting down for meals feeling a little bit hungry and that new outlook may just make it easier to stay at your new weight. 

Tarzan, A Swim Drill that Trains Two Fundamentals

posted Nov 15, 2013, 8:15 AM by Elaine Vescio   [ updated Nov 15, 2013, 8:24 AM ]

In a post earlier this week, I identified three fitness fundamentals that triathletes should work on many months out from their race season-- strength, speed/economy skills, and endurance. This post introduces the Tarzan drill, a swim drill that trains two of the fundamentals: strength, and speed/economy skills. The Tarzan drill develops swimming-specific strength in the trapezius muscles on the back and the back of the neck; it enables the swimmer to work on proper hand entry with the fingers first, not the thumb; and encourages a quick stroke turnover.

How to Do the Tarzan Drill

Swim freestyle with your head and face completely out of the water. Focus your eyes on a spot at the end of the pool to keep your head pointing forward, shoulders square, and don't rotate your neck to breathe to the side.  Arch your back to keep your legs and feet near the surface of the water and engage a strong, fast kick to keep your lower body from sinking.

Suggested Use

Beginner swimmers and people new to the Tarzan drill should keep it to no more than 25 yards at a time; intermediate and advanced swimmers can up it to 50 yards. 

Sample swim sets

Beginners: 4x50 as 25 Tarzan Drill/25 Swim (rest :15 after each 25); after the rest is complete for the last interval go right into a 200 steady swim where every 4th 25 is fast-pace Tarzan Drill.

Intermediate/Advanced: 8x50 done as 25 Tarzan Drill/25 Swim (rest :20 after each 50), alternate the pacing for the Tarzan drill with the even ones building in speed, and the odd ones including a few slower strokes of freestyle halfway through the lap; after the rest is complete from the last interval go right into a 400 steady swim where every 4th 25 is fast-pace Tarzan Drill.

Q&A with New Ironman Laura Backus

posted Nov 13, 2013, 8:16 AM by Elaine Vescio   [ updated Nov 14, 2013, 6:31 AM ]

Nothing like a little Q&A with Laura Backus to motivate you and make you smile. Laura is a Vmps tri team member and the blogger for "A Fat Girl's Ironman Journey". This Q&A took place shortly after she completed her first Ironman at Ironman Florida. 

1. When did you start in triathlon and why?

In 2007, a friend said "hey there's a tri in your yard, you should do the Danskin with me".. I told her to go to hell.  Then 2 days later I signed up, because why not?  I trained then fell off my bike 3 weeks before the race and broke my elbow.  I had to wait another year to complete my first tri then I was hooked.   

2. What do you like most about the sport?

Something to do, staying active, and the friends!  I just love it!   I also have had the most awesome time  with my blog.  Everytime someone tells me they read my info and decided to go 'do' something, it inspires me to keep going.

3. How do you stay motivated?

I have a Type A personality (what triathlete doesn't?) .  Iset goals and HAVE To achieve them.  There are days where I just want to give up, but I read my blog comments and it keeps me going. I am slow, overweight, and have a genetic disorder where I shouldn't be able to do this, but I keep it going. I like to do things that others don't do!

4. Why did you choose to do an Ironman?

It was 'next'.  I recall telling a friend that was doing a marathon that she was crazy and I would "never do that unless chased"-- careful what you say!   I finished Providence 70.3 in 2012 and was inspired, so I signed up for Chesapeakeman aquabike.  I not only finished the 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike in a time that would allow me to WALK a marathon, I also won the Athena category. *note I'm always DFL, so this was surprising**.    I knew when I had that time that I had to go sign up for Florida!  

5. How long did you train for it?

Since 2007 :).  I've had a coach for the last 2 years and it makes all the difference in the world.  I am a 'special' case, my run is pathetic, but I could do the volume on the bike and swim. No 'out of the box' training plan' would accommodate that!

6. What were some obstacles you overcame to complete it?

I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.  It is a connective tissue disorder that affects each one of us differently. My issues are chronic migraines and multiple subluxations or dislocations.  The weather affects me beyond belief.  I could go for a ride and manage 11 mph one day with LOTS of effort, then the next day do a century at 16 mph with ease.  It is like "any given Sunday" for my body! 

Another issue that was pretty difficult for me is finding training partners.  I do long distances, but I'm molasses slow!  I have just a handful of friends who are willing to go for a long ride or run and deal with my slowness.  Those that are as slow as I am, tend to only do 15 miles at a time.  I've done 8 centuries this year (including IM in that), a few of them alone.

7. What were the final miles like?

I made a mistake early on, I got off the bike in an adequate time to complete the run if I followed my plan 'run 2 min walk 3 min'.  It was hot, and I decided to 'rest' for a bit (walking first 38 minutes of the run).   Then I proceeded with my plan.  About 6 miles out I had a revelation that I needed to go hard to make it.   About 2 miles out a volunteer yelled to me "you can make it if you hurry."  - then I rounded the bend where you could see the lights and another volunteer 'Glenn' came up to me and said I'm running you in, you CANNOT stop, you are so close - you have 4 minutes" -- I run a 15 min mile... I knew I was about .3 or .4 out!  So, I ran / sprinted as fast as I could - I am told I made up 4 minutes in that last mile.  I came down the chute and there is nothing like the roar of the crowd especially when you are seconds away from the cutoff.  14 to be exact.  People were 10 deep along the whole chute, hands out, banging, screaming, it was surreal.  I wish I had an extra second to take it in, but KNEW I had to get to that line.  - And I did!

8. What went through your mind the morning of the race?

"Screw you Ironman!" -- I'm very short, and Friday had 25MPH winds. They FORCED us to rack with the seat, which makes my bike dangle about 3" off the ground. I BEGGED them to let me rack with the handlebars, one official said he'd watch it.  As soon as I left, they switched my bike, it banged into the bikes next to it for 12 hours, un-trued my race wheel and ruined my brakes.  I had to have my brakes released and basically ride without rear brakes all day.  Thank god the WHEEL worked.   Other than that I was pretty calm despite the giant breakers in the water.  I never had race jitters, I was ready.

9. What are the most memorable moments from your time in Florida?

I actually loved the whole race, I didn't panic, I knew what I had to do. I really enjoyed the swim.  As each roller came by a few hundred athletes would yell 'WEEEEEE'.   I trusted my training and just went with it.  I knew when I got off the bike that I had it, I just didn't anticipate the heart attack I would give everyone. But hey, if you're going to be after 11, might as well be in the final seconds right?

10. What would you like to say to people who want to do an Ironman but think it is beyond their abilities?

Nothing is impossible and I am proof.    I have too many friends who think they need to "RACE" and ironman, that they "NEED" to get their run down to xyz pace. You do NOT go your sprint distance pace in an ironman. It is an Endurance event. Put the hours into your training and you can do it. There is NOTHING wrong with slower times, or LAST.  LAST is my home :). 

11. Personal info---family, dogs : ), home, work

I work for Monster.com, finance technology, been there 17 years so it gives me enough vacation time to do this sport!    I have An incredibly supportive husband, John.  Actually that's another point for doing an IM, don't do it if  your spouse isn't on board, not if you like being married anyway!  I have 2 Bernese Mountain dogs, Apollo and Athena. Athena was named for triathlon!  And Apollo is almost 13 years old in a breed that lives 6-9.  I swear he wanted to see me finish (and yes they were in FL with us).

12. Did you want to share with readers the condition that you have that makes you, as Don said, 'oddly flexible' and the added challenges it presents to being a triathlete? 

Mentioned much of it above, but EDS is tough. A very hard thing for me is I knew that IMFL was my last run. I've figured out how to swim and bike with ease, but running is tearing up my joints, especially my hip. I like walking, and I know if I continue, that in 5-10 years I wouldn't be able to walk anymore without assistance.  I probably would have signed up for another one if I could run without injury.   You have to know when too much is too much.  I have quite the contingent of supporters, and have given hope to EDS athletes out there.  I hope to continue to raise awareness of this rare disorder.

13. What's next on your big goals list?

All Aquabikes for me, definitely Chesapeakeman again, Patriot and Mass State.  I might try to swim a marathon this summer (kind of cheating though).  The St. Lawrence river has a 4 mph current.  Downstream 26.2.. because.. why not??   

****Follow Laura's blog, A Fat Girl's Ironman Journey

The Fundamentals--The Time is Now (Part 1)

posted Nov 8, 2013, 7:41 AM by Elaine Vescio   [ updated Nov 9, 2013, 2:15 PM ]

So often in the midst of race season a triathlete will declare that he/she needs to improve leg strength for cycling. Unfortunately this declaration comes about 6 months too late. The ideal time to heavily focus on leg strength for cycling as well as two other elements that are fundamental to triathlon fitness is about four to six months out from the start of your race season, not during it. This article will focus on defining the fundamentals, and will explore the fundamentals with regards to cycling. Future articles and Facebook postings will cover the fundamentals with regards to swimming and running. 

So what are the fundamentals? The fundamentals are the three most basic building blocks for your race fitness--strength, speed skills/economy skills, and endurance. 

1. Strength is force, the ability to overcome resistance. 
2. Speed skills/economy skills is the ability to do the physical motions required by the sport in a relatively brisk and efficient manner. (Note this is not the same as speedwork). 
3. Endurance is the ability to delay fatigue while doing the physical motions required by the sport. 

During a foundation or base period, these fundamentals are trained individually and in an exaggerated manner to promote the optimal physiological changes to the athlete's body. As race season approaches, the fundamentals are combined in individual training efforts to get more specific to the actual demands of the race. Let's look at each fundamental with regards to cycling. 

Cycling Specific Strength
Strength is the toughest fundamental to build and maintain, and is critical to the development of an athlete. That is why Vmps puts a signficiant emphasis on making sure our athletes develop this fundamental building block. 

Building cycling specific strength requires emphasizing two areas: (1) force or the push on the pedals especially during the 12 o'clock to 2 o'clock position in the pedal stroke, and (2) torque which rotates the crank around. Research has shown that the most effective way to build this cycling specific strength is big gear, lower cadence intervals. 

Most Vmps athletes start their big gear work in early November, and it consists of two bike interval workouts each week. The first interval workout of the week consists of shorter intervals (5 minutes to 7 minutes in length) with a cadence of 55 to 60 RPMs, and a rest interval that last about 60% of the interval time.  As the training progresses, the workload is typically increased by adding more intervals to the workout, not necessarily by upping the wattage or the duration of the interval. The second interval workout of the week consists of fewer, but longer intervals (week one about 12 minutes in length) with a cadence of 60 to 65 RPMs. As training progresses, the workload is increased by extending the duration of the interval while the rest interval remains at about 5 minutes. The amount of resistance on the bike for both types of workouts is heavy--close to as much resistance as the athlete can handle for the duration of all the intervals in the workout. For athletes who train with power, the amount of watts used for the interval is about 5% to 10% less than their functional training power (FTP) with the lower wattage necessitated by the slower cadence. 

Here is an example of the first two weeks of big gear workouts for an athlete: 

Week One
Tuesday 3 x 7:00 at about 90% FTP with a cadence of 55 to 60 RPM; recover 4:00 at about 50% FTP with a cadence of 90 to 95 RPM
Thursday 1 x 12:00 at about 90% FTP with a cadence of 65 to 70 RPM; recover 5:00 at about 50% FTP with a cadence of 90 to 95 RPM

Week Two
Tuesday 4 x 7:00 at about 90% FTP with a cadence of 55 to 60 RPM; recover 4:00 at about 50% FTP with a cadence of 90 to 95 RPM
Thursday 1 x 14:00 at about 90% FTP with a cadence of 65 to 70 RPM; recover 5:00 at about 50% FTP with a cadence of 90 to 95 RPM

Note that the intervals are not done on consecutive days. Microtears of the muscle fibers and soreness are common, similar to what would be experienced with weight training; the body needs to heal before more stress is applied. Two common errors in these big gear workouts are using too much resistance in early intervals resulting in failure to sustain the effort, and unconsciously increasing cadence above the recommended range which reduces the torque and the sought after training effect. 

Cycling--Speed Skills/Economy Skills
Training speed skills/economy skills in cycling includes
1. Improving the upper and lower ranges of cadence for an athlete
2. Stomping and unweighting pedalling mechanics
3. Teaching an athlete how to get micro rests while cycling

Improving cadence range requires spending time in the upper and lower ranges of cadence. The big gear efforts described in the strength section of this article naturally work on improving an athlete's ability to pedal at slower cadences. Improving cadence at the higher range is developed by including several aerobic spin intervals in workouts where an athlete maintains a cadence of 100 to 110 RPMs for 5:00 followed by a 5:00 recovery at a cadence of 90. It's not a complete recovery, but feels a heck of a lot easier than the 110 cadence. 

'Stomp and unweight' is a simplified mantra to change the misconception that cyclists should pedal in circles. Studies have shown that the fastest cyclists do not pedal in circles. The fastest cyclists are able to put a tremendous amount of force into the 12 o'clock to 2 o clock phase of their pedal strokes and then quickly unweight their foot at the bottom of their pedal stroke to decrease the time it takes to get back to 12 o'clock, the point in the pedal stroke where the most force can be exerted. Emphasizing 'stomp and unweight' during big gear intervals and aerobic spin intervals helps to imprint this more effective pedal stroke into our riding. Also doing one legged drills where you unweight one foot from the pedal, and focus on pedaling with the other for one minute intervals emphasizes the 'stomp and unweight' rhythm needed to move the crank arm with one leg. 

The final speed skill/economy skill helps a cyclist to get micro rests while working on the bike. Slight changes in where a cyclist is sitting on the saddle during work intervals promotes micro recoveries for the working muscles. Shifting back on the saddle engages the rider's glutes more, while moving forward towards the nose of the saddle favors the quadriceps. Practicing these slight body position shifts during the foundation training helps to make them become second nature during the race season. 

Endurance is the easiest fundamental to establish or get back. Furthermore, each year of endurance training is added into your endurance bank, and is already there when you go to establish your endurance base for a new race season. In short, with each additional year of training, it takes less work to establish an endurance base. 

At Vmps during the foundation phase for cycling, our athletes work on endurance during longer, conversation paced rides on the weekends. We emphasize keeping these rides on the lower end of a perceived exertion scale so that the rides don't hinder the athletes' recovery from the week day interval sessions. A common mistake, especially if these rides are done with others, is to go at a tempo pace. The problem with a tempo pace during endurance rides this time of year is that the tempo pace is not the most effective pace for promoting the enzymatic, cellular, and metabolic changes that improve aerobic endurance, and it creates fatigue which then detracts from the harder mid week interval sessions. 

The fundamentals--strength, speed skills/economy skills, and endurance--should be trained individually during the foundation or base phase of training, and then about 12 to 16 weeks out from race season, two of the fundamentals should be combined in workouts to mimic the actual physiological demands that are more specific to race performance. That will be covered in future articles when it's a lot closer to race season.  

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