Monday, December 15, 2014

Drafting and Fatties

This weekend Frank and I got a bit further into winter training mode. Despite the fact that we will soon be out of town for about ten days on an epic holiday journey in which the amount of riding we will get done is questionable, I still jumped right into Death March training mode after our last ‘cross race in mid-November to try to get a head start on January’s work.

Yes, my location may have changed, but my winter motivation has not. I know the Hoosier National Forest roads well enough at this point that I feel pretty confident in our ability to show up and Death March just fine, as long as our fitness is good. At the very least, we need to beat the other co-ed team from Pennsylvania, who blew past us a couple of times last year only to finish a place behind because we knew our route better. That, of course, is what I love about Death March, but every year more teams seem to figure out the solid “standard” route, and speed becomes a bit more of a factor than course knowledge. So already knowing our route for race day, our challenge for the winter is to be prepared to actually race bikes on March 14 if necessary.

 The last couple of years have been interesting for me, because rather than following a coach-prescribed workout plan that should theoretically prepare me for the type of event for which I’m training, most of my training has been focused on improving on the actual course of my goal event. I’ve been lucky in that sense, but 2015 is going to be a different beast. I won’t see the H.N.F until Death March day, and I’ve actually been giving a lot of thought towards *gasp* racing mountain bikes outside of Rothrock next spring and summer. Like, I’m strongly considering getting back together with cross country racing (no accompanying Taylor Swift parody yet, though). So in 2015 I will need to figure out the best way to prepare for my goal races without training on the actual course.

Death March prep will be especially interesting, because not only will I not be able to ride the course, I likely won’t even see that much gravel before March. So far I’ve managed to get in one long gravel ride on November 23, but since then mid-week snow has managed to leave the gravel roads an icy mess every weekend. For some reason they just don’t melt off here as well as they did in Indiana, so I’m trying to make peace with the fact that the gravel could very easily not be rideable for all of January and February.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a plan that I hope will train all of the key elements of Death March success without actual course recon. Probably my biggest weakness on a bike is maintaining speed through long flat-to-rolling road sections. A time-trialist I am not. Unfortunately, despite the back country adventure vibe of the Death March, a successful route will still include a large percentage of pavement, and going for additional time bonuses beyond the standard will not only mean more pavement, but that you will need to roll it very fast to make it worth your time.

The first pillar of the plan is to conquer my fear and loathing of the biggest missing piece in my Death March toolbox: drafting. Apparently a 6’2” ~165 pound male riding partner is good for more than just eye candy and moral support; if used correctly he can supposedly make you go faster. Being the control freak that I am, I’ve never been into letting someone else be in charge of the pace or block my line of sight, but this year I’m really going to try and get over that.

This means that one component of our 2015 training will be using the 15 mile out-and-back of gently rolling pavement just beyond the edge of town to practice drafting and maintaining the strongest tempo possible. Our Saturday workout was our first attempt at this, and I can’t say that it went particularly well. We had a strong headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back, and the way back was a little better, at least. We just need to work out our communication and getting more in sync, and then hopefully we’ll be able to rip all of the flat and rolling pavement sections in March.

The second pillar of the plan is climbing, especially climbing when I’m tired. What my winter may lack in gravel, it will certainly make up for in elevation gain. So my intent is that every Saturday from Christmas until Death March we will work on our drafting/tempo pace for the 15-mile out-and-back, and then head back out of town in the more climby direction to do my favorite climbing workout. Admittedly, this is going to be a killer, as it will include nearly as much elevation gain as the Death March in half the distance, but it will definitely hit all the necessary skills. So far we’ve only managed to do the drafting and the climbing separately, because the mountain seems a lot harder on knobby tires and strewn with sand, but after the holidays it will be time suck it up and start combining them into one workout.

Finally, the third pillar will be endurance, which I normally gain just by riding the course. As it is, we’re just going to have to shoot for as many 4+ hour Sunday rides as we can get, and I’m going to get over my distaste for pavement and let my resistance come from climbing instead of gravel. I’ll still probably be a little out of practice on climbing very loose, steep stuff by spring, but if I successfully carry out the plan, I’ll be much stronger in all of the major fitness elements than I ever have been.

Since January isn’t here quite yet, and a local bike shop was hosting a fat bike ride with free demo bikes, we opted out of a 4-hour paved sufferfest for one weekend. We still got a couple of hours of pretty hard riding in, as climbing on fat bikes is undeniably difficult, and my out-of-shape descending muscles got a workout as I let the fatty rip on the downhills. It was fun, but I’m still definitely more focused on saving up for a new carbon fiber cross bike than I am a fat bike. Frank, however, is becoming a bit more infatuated, so there may be groomed XC ski trails in my future in lieu of icy gravel.

Thanks to Freeze Thaw Cycles for hosting the event, and for this picture which shows Frank and me in the background riding in my preferred configuration: side-by-side and chatting in the most non-aero way possible.

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