Today the training plan called for something I haven’t seen before: force reps. The description that came along with the plan said to find a straight-and-level surface to do them on. Then, select a gear where you can only manage 50-60 revolutions per minute (RPM) while seated and mash for up to 20 revolutions. The training plan didn’t say mash, but that’s what it would be. Repeat up to 10 times. Sounds easy, no? See my Garmin Connect activity profile.
The first step was finding a suitable flat spot in Tucson. The Rillito River park is about as flat as you can get. The path along the Santa Cruz River park may be flatter, at least it seems so to me, and it always seems to have less walkers and runners, but it’s a long way from my house and wasn’t prepared to do the commute first, then the workout. So the Rillito it was. I took Campbell over the river made a 270-degree turn westbound on the path and I was off to start my warm-up. Looking at the metrics below, you may be thinking, “where’s the warm-up?” It wasn’t a very good warm-up, but it was actually better than usual. I got the legs spinning at pre-dawn hours and the blood flowing a little. Heart rate only got up to 130 beats per minute (BPM) but I was feeling a bit warm. Not sweaty, but ready to start the reps.
After 20 minutes my watch beeps at me. I can set it to do intervals, which is basically what this training session was. It was time to do the first rep. I start changing to harder gears while simultaneously slowing my cadence. I wish I had a cadence meter so that I could show that data in the metrics. As long as I’m wishing, I wish I had a power meter too. C’est la vie. I quickly find that I’m in the 50×12 (my hardest gear) and standing. Doh! I wasn’t supposed to be standing. Even so, after a minute I started to get really tired. You see, I had set the intervals on the watch for 2 minutes. How did I come to that number? I have no idea. At the most, the intervals should have been 20 seconds. 20 revolutions divided by 60 RPM equals 1/3 of a minute or 20 seconds. I think I got confused and just put the 2 in the wrong slot in the watch. I actually didn’t realize that while riding, so these were actually about 1 minute intervals.
If you count the spikes in the heart rate in the metrics, you’ll see that there are eleven. I can’t even get that right. In my defense, the beep that starts the cool-down sounds very similar to the beep that starts an interval. It was only after that 11th one that I looked at the watch and it said I was supposed to be in cool-down mode. Jeez, I can’t get anything right with this workout.
So it turns out that 50×12 at 60 RPM isn’t that hard to do on a flat surface. As an aside, 50×12 for those that don’t know the lingo means that I had the chain in a 50 tooth front chainring and a 12 tooth rear cog. Why is the front called a chainring and the back a cog? I have no idea.
If my hardest gear wasn’t hard enough, what was I doing wrong? I had already quickly dismissed the idea that I was already at the top 1% of 1% of all athletes in this particular drill. A little searching on the web turned up this blog post by none other than Joe Friel of TrainingBible fame. It turns out that I was doing them wrong. Friel explains that they work best when done on a hill with a 5-8% grade. Hmm. Why not just call them hill repeats then? I think because the gear is specified to be such that RPM is maximized at 60 instead of sitting and spinning all the way to the top. And not standing too. But “sitting low-cadence hill repeats” would have been a clearer name for what I was supposed to be doing.
He also explains why he calls them reps and not intervals. See, his intervals always have a set time between each set. So an example would be 10 1-minute intervals with 1 minute rest. With reps, there is no set rest period between sets. So you get to rest until you feel you can complete the next rep. He also explains that this exercise is for more advanced cyclists who should ideally have several years of racing under their belt. Actually, he doesn’t say that in the blog post. I remember that from the TrainingBible. Why would I, a new cyclist with less than a year experience and no racing experience, be doing this workout? Because I don’t have a coach; or more accurately, I’m trying to self-coach myself, and I screwed up.
What I’m finding is that coaching yourself is more difficult that I ever imagined it would be. It was really nice having someone tell me what to do everyday and all I had to do was go do it. Sitting down, making a plan, and executing that plan is hard work. But I’m determined to stick with it until at least the end of the year. I have the Tucson Marathon coming up and before that a whole lot of other shorter races. After that, I will re-assess my goals and see if I need (and can afford) a coach.