The Daily Grind: Power Testing and Zone Setting
The Daily Grind has been a bit cyclocross heavy lately. But with one last CX weekend on tap and Grant’s Tomb Criterium sitting 100-odd days over the horizon it is getting to be time to turn an eye toward the 2019 road season. Most of us won’t kick off full base training for another week or two (possibly longer for those coming in hot off CX season) but working, as always, with Jacob from Cycle-Smart most the team (at least those of us missing NBX) spent the weekend doing some early 5-minute and 12-minute power testing.
These early season tests serve an important purpose: setting the zones that we’ll use for the first weeks of base training. It won’t take long to move these zones higher as fitness starts building (some of us may also do a bit of lactate blood testing). But for the early base weeks it’s vital to have accurate zones to be most efficient with training duration and insure that we’re not overworking in the first phase of training and digging a fitness hole that will leave us fatigued when racing comes in early March.
Which brings us back to another benefit of working with a coach - having someone to not just do the calculations to convert these tests into accurate and useable zones but also to walk through the nuanced elements of these tests. Specifically Jacob wanted us to overpace at the gun with the goal of scrubbing some anaerobic energy out of the gate. This allows him to set more accurate zones that aren’t overtaxing our off-season energy systems. And since structured training is half physical and half mental Jacob also emphasized that these early season tests in particular are not pass/fail and there isn’t much sense in getting too caught up in the (possibly disappointing) results. Indeed we’re coming off the off-season and proper rest and recovery is essential to preventing burnout and physical breakdown midway through the 2019 season. With a decade of racing in NYC I am pretty used to this training cycle by now but it’s important to keep in mind all the same, especially for newer riders.
With those instructions in hand a half dozen of us rolled out from Manhattan on Saturday morning with a 5-minute power test on the calendar. Though for all of the talk of testing on our calls with Jacob, I wasn’t planning on actually completing a test since a bad back and real world complications combined to limit my training in recent weeks. Instead I was going to do an easy stroll on a beautiful winter day in New York City while the other guys suffered through five minutes of hell in the middle of the ride. But as we hit the base of Alpine (the short ~6 minute climb that is perfect for the five minute test duration) and the rest of the squad prepared to test I figured what the hell - might as well join in the ‘fun’ and give it a go.
So how did it go? Well I paced completely wrong. Jacob’s assignment was to come out hot and aim to hold it. Instead I (unintentionally) did the opposite. What I thought was going to be a reasonable starting point reflective of my limited training in recent weeks instead proved to be super conservative - I felt perfectly fine during the initial stretch. As Alvaro came past me breathing heavily two minutes in I realized that I still wasn’t close to pushing my limits. So I ramped things up for the next minute and repassed Alvaro. But I still felt ok as I finished the fourth of the assigned five minutes. So I ramped it again to 600w and just kept going past the assigned five minutes until I ran out of road. Not exactly the perfect test (sorry Jacob!) since I paced it basically the opposite of the assignment. But thankfully since we’re working with a pro like Jacob he’ll still be able to translate it into an early marker of where my fitness stands.
On Sunday it was part two of Jacob’s testing procedures: a 12-minute power test. Unfortunately Sunday also brought miserable weather so the squad largely resorted to testing indoors. I find indoor testing to be a fairly miserable experience, but headed off the Zwift island all the same (with three fans blowing to try to cut down on some of the wattage losses that are natural indoors). With some additional preparation of my existing power curve I managed to pace this one closer to Jacob’s instructions: decent power out of the gate that faded slightly in the second half. I hit exhaustion (mental and physical) at the 12 minute mark and while the power output isn’t anything to write home about, given its December and the test was completed indoors I’ll certainly take it.
With the tests done The Daily Grind will move to a call with Jacob to translate this data into updated zones. From there we will start to map out our race goals for the first half of the season. Those race targets will dictate periodization for the opening months of 2019. Racing is a long way off and peaking for A-races is even more distant but it feels good to start thinking about the season ahead.
We wholeheartedly endorse our experience working with Jacob and Cycle-Smart. For more information on their programs and coaches pay a visit to https://www.cycle-smart.com/