The difference a year makes

As regular followers of my Twitter, Facebook and blog have guessed, I have spent a lot of time the last two years training for different cycling events.  It started out as recreational fundraising events and has moved into road racing. My first year really riding was 2009, I got serious about training in 2010 and stepped it up for 2011.  I’ve been looking back over my training data and have noticed a couple of interesting things.

The method I use for measuring my training load is the TSS or Training Stress Score method.  It allows different workouts to be normalized based on the effort and duration.  This means that if you work really hard for an hour, or really easy for four hours, they are roughly equivalent.  This allows you to tune your efforts and compare them.  I can then use a moving average over a long period, chronic training load (CTL), or short period, acute training load (ATL), to determine how hard I’m working, how much I’ve improved my fitness and how much residual fatigue I have.  These can all be used to make sure that I am really fit and really rested for important events, like a big race or long ride.  All of this was to give a brief explanation for the next part.

Last year, I worked on my training.  My training was divided into periods of 4 weeks, 3 weeks of progressively harder training and 1 week of rest.  Each cycle got progressively harder.  It’s called periodization.  You stress your body, allow it to recover and can work harder the next cycle.  Over the year I had a steady increase in fitness.  When I hit my big events, they were significantly more stressful than my normal training load.  This means that I saw spikes in both my ATL and CTL.  If I showed you a graph of these two values over time you would see a stairstep increase over the year with spikes at each of my two big events for the year, one in August and one in September.  These were the highest stress levels that I had for the year, and correspond, roughly, with my highest level of fitness.

This year, based on reading that I’ve done, I switched to a three week cycle instead, 2 on and 1 off, because of differences in how your body reacts as you get older.  I think I could still manage a four week cycle instead, but I thought I’d give it a try based on what I’ve been reading.  This plan has been going since October of last year.  There were months of training, 6 days a week in the basement and as much as I could outside based on the weather.  The number of miles and hours I’ve ridden are significantly higher than last year and there has been a lot more discipline in the plan to maximize the results for the time I am spending on the bike.

What I’ve noticed is that my training load now, with steady increases, has reached the level of my peaks after my biggest events of last year and is getting ready to pass it.  I can feel that I’m faster and fitter. I have a long way to go, as my race performances have demonstrated, but it is really cool to see how a plan can work.  And the best thing is, I haven’t even reached the point where I have planned to be in peak condition for my plan. It will be interesting to see how the plan plays out over the rest of the year.

I’m already starting to think about how I can adjust it for next year based on what I’ve already learned.

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