Sunday, January 06, 2008

Continuing Discussion...

Alright, so the following comments from TnA and Aram on my post of January 4th make me think I wasn't as clear as I need to be about my thoughts on developing as a bike racer...

TnA said:

BTW, I'm thinking you may be somewhat downplaying the relative "help" that increasing your "aerobic power" (as you call it) adds to basically every one of the other categories. To borrow an economics quote, "A rising tide lifts all boats."

Pretty much any effort longer than 20s or so has a pretty significant aerobic content. That basically means that most of the axes of the spider plot are somewhat tied to that one leg. To quote Dr. C, "It's an aerobic sport, dammit!" :-)

...and Aram said:

Hm. I've always said "i'd sacrifice some of my sprint for some extra juice on the climbs.." and that's right in line with your proposed suggestion of focusing on weaknesses. But I don't subscribe to what you're saying.

Take C-Walk:
Go back two decades, and try to turn him into a sprint machine. Sure, he'd be better than he is now, but there is a terminal limitation just based on a rider's physical (fiber orientation, tissue size, etc) build.

For me, all bike racing comes down to threshold power in relation to your weight. Improve that, be a better bike racer.

OK boys, nowhere did I suggest (or mean to suggest) that building your threshold power was not important. Quite the contrary, my entire cycling life I've always felt that it was priority #1. (Well, at least after a person has lost as much fat as possible's remarkable to me how many people focus on the details when they're still carrying around 5-10 pounds of excess fat, but people don't want to hear about that!) So yeah, aerobic power is key.

However, I firmly believe you are not going to reach your potential as a bike racer if you focus exclusively on threshold power. You are cheating yourself if you don't also work on a sprint and occasionally do short-duration intervals. Further, for anyone doing long road races, you need to develop endurance beyond what you get simply from a good aerobic system. Nobody will perform well in a 100-mile road race by doing nothing but 2-x-20's. I'm shocked anybody wouldn't agree with these things (except perhaps for a person with very limited training time or someone who only races time trials).

Aram: most definitely you could never turn C-Walk into a big brute like Marty Nothstein, or for that matter even a little speedster like Hilton Clarke. But, you could certainly improve his sprint enough so that people didn't think of him as "the-world's-best-break-mate-because-he'll-never-beat-you-in-the-sprint" which is how a lot of people correctly think of him now. I'm reluctant to critique Chris because, as everyone knows, I've always been one of his biggest fans ...BUT, I think he'd be better if he took just two hours out of his 25-hour training week to work on a sprint.

TnA: I know you are quite fond of Coggan's "it's an aerobic sport, dammit!" quote as well as the rising-tide comment. I also know that all three energy systems play in a bike race (ATP-CP, glycolysis or anaerobic, and aerobic). Sure the majority of time is spent using your aerobic system, but very often the placings in a race are determined by a sprint or by making your way into a break that demanded a substantial amount of anaerobically-generated power. So yeah, it helps if your aerobic system is well developed but it's still foolish not to also develop the other two. Remember your second favorite Coggan'ism: "specificity, specificity, specificity", which it seems to me applies to all the energy systems you use in a bike race.

Back to the fighter-aircraft analogy: the USAF had a finite budget, and they wanted to know the optimal mix of attributes their money could buy. Stealth was the biggie of course, kind of like a very good aerobic system is the key for a bike racer. But stealth is not enough, just as focusing exclusively on your aerobic system is not enough. So the issue is how to allocate the resources for the USAF ...and training time and effort for the bike racer.

Here's how I'd prioritize, and generally in alignment with increasing amount of training time:

1. Lose weight to a reasonable level, let's say for argument sake, to 5%-7% body fat (for men).

2. Focus on aerobically-generated power with lots of training sessions of VO2Max durations (say, five minutes) up to climbs of an hour or more. Why climbing? Because where we live it's nearly impossible to get those longer durations without a lot of interruptions on the flats.

3. Develop your endgame by doing a wide variety of sprint-specific workouts like stomps, high-speed sprints, low-gear sprints, uphill, downhill, short, long, etc. In my opinion, you have to be able to sprint in a variety of circumstances... fortunately sprint workouts don't take too much time.

4. When getting closer to key events, add the short-but-intense intervals (30 sec to 2 min.) once a week. I don't know about you, but these wreck me more than anything else and I have to be careful not to over do it. I was lazy on this front last year and paid the price for it.

5. Long rides, as in 5 hours, if you'll be doing long road races.

Of course the art in all of this is figuring out how much of each is appropriate, and that of course depends on the kind of racing a person wants to do, how fit he/she is already, how much time is available, and when the goal races are.

Feel free to comment and criticize, but only if you offer up your own ideas with some details!


TnA said...

Are you calling me fat???

Anonymous said...

"Lose weight to a reasonable level, let's say for argument sake, to 5%-7% body fat (for men)."

How do you accurately measure body fat to within 5-7%?

Marco Fanelli said...

TnA said:
> Are you calling me fat???

Since you didn't use one of your typical smiley-face emoticons, I must entertain the possibility that you're asking a serious question. So I will give a serious answer... Relative to the general population, definitely no. For a bike racer, yes. But in that sense, I too am fat, as are 99% of the recreational bike racers. This is just semantics. Almost all of us are carrying around some fat that is totally unnecessary for bike racing, and is in fact counter productive. We have not truly optimized our weight for bike racing, same way we don't truly optimize our aerobic performance, or our sprint, or...

But also, I sloppily use the words "you" and "we", in the general sense, to mean "a typical bike racer" or whatever. Just lazy writing I suppose...

Anonymous said:
> How do you accurately measure
> body fat to within 5-7%?

Just to be clear, I wasn't meaning to measure to within an accuracy of 5%-7%, but rather that was just a ballpark total bodyfat level that seems reasonable to shoot for if a person really wanted to optimize. And the good ol' dunk tank will give you a very good assessment. It's a bit of a scary process to blow out all your air while submerged, but it's pretty accurate I understand. I did it once and don't really want to repeat it.

...especially because, personally, I'm ok with not being at the truly optimal body-fat percentage for bike racing. It's just a hobby, and I enjoy eating too much to make all the sacrifices necessary. But I'm also not kidding myself and saying there is nothing I could do about it if I had the desire and the will power.

cwbrown said...

Mark you sound like the 15 year old girl who thinks shes fat when in actuality she is anorexia and wasting away. You my friend are not over weight. Be for what you ask for there are a few side effect to being so thin that are not good for the racer.

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

One more comment...I know you specified 5-7% body fat for MEN...but I did want to point out that for women there are serious health consequences to having extremely low body fat. Reproductive function essentially ceases, as the body does not produce enough estrogen. Low estrogen also contributes to bone density loss as well, which leads to osteoporosis in later life (well known in post-menopausal women). Knowing these health risks (which can seriously affect quality of life), I, for one, will never probably reach the "bike racer" optimum for body fat. But I will try to maintain a healthy body weight, and train to the best of my abilities within my time constraints!

This certainly is an interesting discussion.

Marco Fanelli said...

Hey Chris- Gina accuses me of being too extreme when trying to make a point, and of course she is right. No, I don't think I'm overweight at all, and per Kimberly's comment, the opposite is probably true... e.g., it would be better to put on more muscle mass for sure. However, if I look in the single dimension of bike racing, I could still lose some! But like I said, to me it's not worth it.

Kim- Your comment is right on! Reaching the bike-racer optimum isn't worth the sacrifice and cost (in terms of general health and happiness). And yeah, I deliberately did not mention women for the reasons you listed. Well, that and also self-preservation if you know what I mean!!

I guess my only point with all of this is that we do have a large degree of control in how we shape ourselves into bike racers. More than I think a lot of people admit or accept. Some push to the certain limits and others don't, for a wide variety of reasons. I hope none of my words came across as judgemental because I really don't mean them to be.

jen said...


Dood, that's just silly. Maybe a Tour rider gets that low for a week or two in July. But nobody actually tries to sustain that over any length of time. Pretty much a fast trip to somewhere slow.

Not a good idea, in other words.

In my former sport, a bit of a scandal arose when a prominent division 1 coach weighed his womens' team weekly. If they were over their target weight, they couldn't race. Holy anorexia, batman. Stupidest thing any of us had ever heard of, and he was totally railed on for it and forced to stop doing it.

Point is, obsessing about weight as an endurance athlete is really counterproductive. Do the training, and your body will find its correct balance, a balance that allows for performance without completely compromising long-term health.

Dunno, maybe only women athletes are taught these things.

Anonymous said...

Blowing out all air while submerged, I've done that more times than I can count. Everytime I get cleaned up by a set surfing, I am underwater with no air in my lungs for an extended time. Since I don't float so well, I need all the body fat I can store :-)

John P.

Marco Fanelli said...

Jen & John- OK, ok... I take it back!

clyda said...

You're catching a lot of flack for what I think are a couple of really thought provoking posts. I think a lot of us, myself included, misinterpreted the 5% comment, but I hope the reaction you're getting doesn't persuade you to stop writing posts like this. Insightful, reasoned, and apparently provocative stuff.

Keep it up.

Marco Fanelli said...

Thanks clyda. No amount of comments will stop be from: (A) putting my foot in my mouth occasionally; and/or (B) calling 'em like I see 'em.

For what it's worth, I received a few supportive emails, including one from a current professional rider who suggested prefacing these kinds of posts with: "Bike racing is not healthy. But if you want to go fast, here's what to do." That sums it up quite nicely I think!

BTW, re your other comment: fresh Mozzarella is only one of many obstacles... As I type this, a huge chunk of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate is melting in my mouth. 5%-7% can wait 'til another day!

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

trader joe's has good chocolate :-)