Building Back - Cycling
I wanted to share with you some notes on gaining back my strength on the bike. If some of you are unfamiliar with my journey, I’ll give you the short version of the history. I raced
professionally from 2004 to 2012, (started riding in 1999). Cycling was my strength. I was a high mileage rider.
I took 2012-2016 off the bike completely. Through this time off, I did strength sports. During
this period of time away from riding, I did minimal/no conditioning, and went from 125lbs to 150lbs bodyweight. I could no longer complete rides that I used to do daily. I could not get up a hill, and I could not ride over 60 minutes.
When I made the decision to get back on the bike in 2017, I started with a 25-minute easy spin on the trainer. That was a workout, and it felt like more than enough.
I picked a target to be “in shape” enough to be able to ride with the athletes at my annual Tucson camp. Just to be able to complete the rides with the easiest group. I had about four months to get into good enough condition to do this. I did not put any kind of device, clock, or computer on my bike through this period. I just built up to being able to ride 3 days/week and gradually be able to ride four hours slowly. Most rides were 30-60 minutes, with exactly three 3-4 hour rides through this time. No intervals, no specifics, just moving enough on my bike to be able to complete camp. I did do Mount Lemmon one time to make sure I could get up it before doing it with camp athletes. It took me almost an hour longer than it used to. My back was on fire and I found climbing at 150lbs extremely difficult. I had to stop almost every 3 miles all the way to the top.
I made it through camp, barely!! The athletes didn’t know, but every night I laid in my bed crippled from soreness and fatigue. Still, each day I woke up for camp and headed out with them on the bikes with a smile.
After camp, I took another five months off the bike. I stopped riding again and went back to powerlifting. I trained for the Arizona State Championships in powerlifting and won my division that year. I squatted 225lbs, deadlifted 275lbs and bench pressed 148lbs.
After this meet, I climbed back on the bike. I wanted to be fit enough for camp again in 2018 with a little more time to be in slightly better shape for this one. The process was slow. I even had to cut the sleeves off my jerseys at first because my arms were too big to get into my old jerseys. I also decided I wanted to do another Ironman. I signed up for Ironman Texas. In this time period, I also learned I’d need to build my coaching business, MCC. I was looking at going from almost zero into Ironman shape, while building a new business, in a six-month time frame.
My only goal was to be fit enough to finish the race and not get injured. I rode the trainer 2-3x/week for 45-90min and one long ride on the weekends. My trainer rides had some intensity, by feel/P.E. or HR. My long rides were by feel and just to complete them. Total ride volume average per week was about 5-10hrs per week, depending on if I got a long ride in on Saturday. I completed Ironman Texas, and then I continued to ride and race triathlons through the summer of 2018. My weekly riding volume and intensity remained low. I could not climb well, and I got dropped on a lot of group rides that would never have happened before. I felt clunky and weak on the bike. I would bonk quickly, even with 300 cal/hour at low intensity.
At the end of 2018 and into 2019, I decided I wanted to do some bike races again. I started racing the AZ crits. I could only handle racing a few in the series and only the 30-minute races. A few times, I signed up for two races on the same day (the masters race, and then the open race) but did not have enough gas to do both, so I’d often have to do just one and then go home. I could not race every weekend like the series offered. I had to choose a select few.I signed up for a stage race called Valley of the Sun. I raced well for the first two stages, finishing mid-pack, and then completely ran out of gas on day three. I was still riding 5-7 hours/week, now doing very high intensity on the trainer, 45-60 minutes 2-3 times/week (or a short group ride sometimes) and then one longer three-hour ride on the weekend. I still did not have the gas to ride well.
In 2019, I signed up for my first gravel race: the 115-mile Chino Grinder. I started increasing miles. I made a commitment to ride on the road whenever possible. I did a couple of weekends where I did three back-to-back long rides: Friday 4 hours, Saturday 5 hours, Sunday 5 hours. As much climbing as possible, all at easy-steady effort. Just doing the time. Mileage started to increase. Riding started to improve. Bonking started to be less. Recovery started to improve,although I still got dropped on any hard group rides. I completed Chino in 8 hours 30 minutes,and I never hurt so badly in my life after a ride! OUCH!
I decided I had enough of feeling awful on the bike! I then did four months of 20-25hrs/week of cycling. No specific intensity. I climbed as much as I could. I got a power meter again for the first time since 2009. I finally felt ready to see some numbers. It was time! I just rode A LOT, mostly with either a couple of good friends or alone. I did one group ride a week until I could finally hang on for the entire duration.Then I did an aggressive six-week block of very hard bike race-style training, keeping the hours at 18-22hrs/week.
I did some tests. When I tested as a professional, my FTP was 230 watts at 120lbs bodyweight. Now I was 130lbs body weight, and 225watts FTP. I no longer get dropped on most hard group rides. I find climbing is starting to come around (still lots of work to do). I did the Arizona State Time Trial and did almost an identical time to when I did it in 2011 in my last professional year: 1:00:16 for 40km.
My thoughts so far… I respond well to high-volume cycling. What you can handle is a matter of training, how you think, and what you are willing to do. If you want to be good, you have to work REALLY HARD, no matter how long you’ve been doing something. It took almost three years to go from 25-minute trainer spins to 20hrs/week. Damn, that’s a long time!
There’s no easy way! Never die wondering!