It's just about time for athletes all over the country to emerge from hibernation and congregate again at local training rides. Despite what anyone says about their goals for these debut performances, deep down everyone wants to be fast.
The standard methods of winter training dictate that the majority of your hours cycling in the basement or all bundled up on the roads should be spent at moderate intensities. The purpose is, of course, to accumulate a big foundation of aerobic conditioning so you can build speed and power on top of it through the spring and summer.
There's no doubt that it works, but it's boring as hell. For the pros and elite amateurs shooting for one or two major championship events a year, such a careful and deliberate build up makes sense. Speaking for the rest of us, however, I want to have some butt-kicking power right from my first early-spring race. And so do you.
Speak the truth with me: "Speed is good. I want speed. I want to ride away from everyone and blast up the hills in spring." It's okay to admit it.
So how do we break away from the go slow winter/spring training paradigm and inject some quickness and power on the bike for the early season? And more importantly, how do we do it without jeopardizing the long-range goals you have set up later in the season?
The secret lies in the nature of high-power efforts. The reason you spend so much time riding at moderate intensities is because it takes heavy volume to develop deep aerobic fitness. At the high end, however, VO2 max power responds much faster to training. In other words, it takes all winter to build a huge aerobic engine, but you can get the power you need to have fun in your local triathlons in a matter of weeks.
A Springtime Secret Weapon
The tricky part about going fast in the early season is that you don't have a lot of threshold power to build upon. Normally, VO2 max power work fits into a training schedule after you've already spent a month or two working on your lactate-threshold capacity.
But since you don't have much of a platform to work from, it's important to limit your VO2 max work to just one session a week this early in the year. It's enough to get the job done but not so much that it takes away from the ongoing development of your sustainable aerobic and lactate-threshold power.
Incorporate the following workout into your training schedule once a week, starting about four to six weeks out from your first triathlon of the season, and continue using it for four weeks after that (by that point in the spring, the season will be gaining momentum, and your high-power efforts will come naturally from group rides and races).
The Power-to-Burn Workout
Total ride time: 90 minutes (75 minutes if you're on an indoor trainer)
Average intensity (excluding intervals): 60 to 88 percent of time-trial heart rate or 60 to 80 percent of time-trial power
Warm-up: Begin with several minutes of moderate cycling to prepare your body for the work to come
- 6 minutes at max sustainable intensity (92 to 95 percent of time trial heart rate, 85 to 90 percent of time-trial power)
- 6 minutes easy spinning recovery
Then do the following set (beginners do it once, intermediate riders twice, and advanced riders three times):
- 2 minutes as fast as you can go @ 3 minutes recovery
- 2 minutes as fast as you can go @ 2 minutes recovery
- 2 minutes as fast as you can go @ 1:30 recovery
- 1 minutes as fast as you can go @ 10 minutes recovery
Cool-down: Finish with several minutes of easy spinning to flush out your legs.
The power you gain from this workout is a little like pocket money: not enough to pay the mortgage but enough to have some fun on a Saturday night. You're going to have sufficient power to get frisky on training rides and dance away from buddies on short hills, but only a handful of times during any particular training day.
Also, you'll be able power through a sprint-distance or Olympic-distance bike leg, but it will take longer than normal after the triathlon to feel fully recovered. Later in the year, when you have banked more threshold intervals and high-intensity efforts, you'll be able to repeat those efforts over and over. For right now, though, there's no harm in having a little fun.