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I've just finished the hardest 2 week block of cycling training I've ever attempted. Here is what happened...

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Earlier in the year I enrolled in the Uni SA Cycling and Recovery clinical trial looking at the recuperative benefits of certain foods in endurance training. Participants are divided into 2 groups. Group 1 is given almonds, sultanas and cranberries to snack on each day and group 2 is given oat bars instead. The study has 3 phases of cycling training for both groups:


Phase 1 - one week of light daily cycling, ranging between 30 - 60 minutes per day at easily manageable heart rates
Phase 2 - two weeks of very heavy, intense training for over 2 hours per day, for 13 days straight
Phase 3 - two weeks of tapering, with similar loads to phase 1

I've just completed the heavy training stage and the experience was very interesting. For this block my training plan was:
10 minutes warm up at below 128 bpm (heart rate) then 4 repetitions of the following zoned stages:

8.5 minutes between 128 and 152 bpm
8 minutes between 152 and 163 bpm
7.5 minutes between 164 and 173 bpm
3 minutes above 174 bpm

Then a 6 minute cool down.

The entire daily program took just over 2 hours, and this was on the menu each day for 2 weeks. I was given the choice of doing these sessions indoors at home on the trainer, or outdoors on a suitable long climb. Greenhill Road here in Adelaide turned out to be the best choice for this, and the circuit that I preferred. This is what it looked like...

HARD TRAINING
When I first saw the heart rate zones, I thought I would manage this fairly comfortably, as I am used to cycling at high intensity. I was very wrong!

There was nothing comfortable about this program. The only day I actually managed to stay within the heart rate targets was day 1. After this, fatigue kicked in and I could no longer meet the targets, I just had to do the best I could.

By the end of day 4, I was physically exhausted, my legs felt heavy like they were filled with concrete, my lungs were continuously burning, and my spirit was crushed. I thought I was fit! I contemplated throwing in the towel, as I could not see myself continuing with the program. Each day was getting harder and my ability to reach my maximum heart rate in the final 3 minutes of each climb was diminishing. To be honest the only thing that really got me back on the bike each day was pride, and the fact that my friend Dr Max Nelson had played a part in designing the program and I did not want to admit to him that I couldn't finish...

At this point I had a phone conversation with the lead researcher for the trial, and he encouraged me to continue, saying that it was normal to be suffering around day 4, and that I did not necessarily have to meet the heart rate targets, but at least try to increase my heart rate at each zone change over.

THE TURNING POINT
Then around day 9 something very interesting started to happen. I found I had a little more energy during the sessions and was coping better with each climb, and recovering more quickly on the descent between climbs. I felt like I was gaining a positive training effect, which was counteracting the extreme fatigue. I also noticed that I was shedding a little weight each day, and that got me interested in how my power to weight ratio might improve after this training block.

I was no longer feeling like I needed to lie down and rest after each training session, and my extreme cravings for carbs after each ride were starting to subside.

TRAINING LOAD SPIKE
As you can see from this Strava screen grab above, the second last week (which includes 4 days of heavy training) was a huge increase from the previous weeks, and the final week (7 straight days) of the heavy training program was a massive jump, triple my average relative effort score. If you have read my previous blog on Acute:Chronic training load, or are otherwise familiar with the subject, you might wonder how I survived this load increase? 

Well around day 6 I was feeling very run down and thought it was quite likely that I was about to get sick, but fortunately that did not happen.
By day 9 I was also starting to develop pain in my L Patella Tendon and R Achilles Tendon. Not enough to stop me riding but enough for me to start my own mini rehabilitation program. 

It really is a double edged sword. For the study, the training load needs to be a big increase in your normal load, otherwise there is no effect of fatigue, and the aims of the study would not be met. At the same time the load spike will predispose you to increased risk of illness and injury. Maybe the study should also incorporate an offer of physiotherapy for participants???

TAPER
Now I am in the taper phase, and am restricted to short rides in low heart rate zones for the next 13 days. After this I go back to Uni SA for more testing on the bike ergometer taking power readings, respiratory gas measures and other tests of performance and recovery. I've been told to expect improvements in the 6-8 percent range. I'll be even more interested to see how this translates to my times on my favourite climbs and Strava segments.

WEIGHT LOSS
A close friend of mine that I did track and field athletics with many moons ago, recently derided my involvement in cycling and my suggestion he should try it. He said "I don't want to be a skinny cyclist". ​At the time I thought he was being facetious. However I've lost 4 kg in the 3 weeks of this study so far, and right now I am the lightest I have ever been in my adult life. Now I realise he was right - I am a skinny cyclist!

MORE INFO
If you are interested in finding out more about the study, please check out the link below. They are looking for healthy males between 18 and 50 years of age. Obviously you have to be prepared for some heavy training and some minor dietary changes. Although "the struggle was real", I'm very glad I stuck with the program and am looking forward to the final testing in 2 weeks time. 

https://www.unisa.edu.au/research/research-volunteers/cyclists-wanted/ 

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Wednesday, 16 June 2021

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