After the commitment, the start of my journey towards my greatest physical challenge was to design a training plan. While the Haute Route challenge is daunting, its great benefit is singular clarity of the goal.
When I started competitive cycling, a coach taught me the basics of structured training. After a year and a half, I went “self-coached” and designed my own training routines. My big problem, however, was the absence of a true goal beyond just “getting better:” I didn’t really have “A” races and nothing truly specific to target or train for. This year is very different: Starting from January 1, 2013, I have 33 weeks to train for a 7 day stage race, focused completely on climbing, during August 18-24.
Knowing the goal, I designed my training plan through a hierarchical 3-step process working backwards from the ultimate goal. Today is about step 1.
(One caveat: I am no training expert so my plan just reflects my best amateur attempts. But I do adhere to one guiding principle: Do only that what you understand and can rationally explain. Below I explain what I believe I understand but do comment/email me with corrections.)
Step 1: Quantify the aggregate training goal: Training Stress Score TSS
Training should be specific to the goal. This means that training should simulate the target goal/event as close as possible. I also believe that if the goal and training can be quantified, it is easier to execute, track and modify if needed.
There are various simple ways of quantifying my HR goal via aggregate demands and workload for the 7day race:
- 21,360 vertical meters, about 3000m per day.
- 25 to 27 hours in the saddle, about 4 to 5 per day.
- 866km, about 125km per day.
While informative, these simple metrics are insufficient to design a training plan. Distance is the least informative training metric as a flat km is very different from climbing one km at 10%. Time is a better gauge of workload but are these easy or hard hours?
I found it useful to break out the 25-27 hours into 17 – 18 hours on individually timed climbs (cols) and the remaining on connecting descents, flats, and rolling hills. (I broke out the true timed climbs using the data on the HR website of each climb by each rider last year. I also estimated, using a simple linear model based on my past climbing performance of power and velocity versus % incline, what my best climbing times would be.)
To make this more specific and measurable, my best estimated times assume a close-to-threshold (more on that in the next blog) power level. This is clearly an upper bound as it is unlikely that I can maintain that performance over 7 days. But this gives me a good estimate of my Training Stress Score (TSS), which is a relative metric of workload customized by person: riding 1 hour at your maximum power (= your Functional Threshold Power FTP) equals a TSS of 100. Training Peaks further explains:
By using TrainingPeaks’ Training Stress Score (TSS) system you can gain points for virtually any sport or activity. This allows any endurance athlete the ability to quantify their workouts based on their relative intensity, duration and frequency of workouts. One single value can now represent how hard, and how long you worked out. 100 points earned by a pro is relatively the same as 100 points earned for a beginner because TSS is relative to each person’s threshold.
Now my training goal becomes very clear and measurable:
Train to achieve a weekly TSS of at least 1700-1800 = about 250 TSS/day.
On the one hand, this is a lower bound because I only count true climbing time. On the other hand, it is an upper bound because I assume the true climbing time is at my max FTP. It will just have to do!
The TSS goal is clear and measurable. Herein lies the great benefit of training with power: my power meter tracks exactly my TSS, adjusting automatically for the mix between intensity and duration. (For finance affectionados: intensity is measured as a mean-variance utility: average power relative to your threshold as well as a boost for power variance. Perhaps more on this in future blogs.) And, as one gets stronger, one should adjust one’s maximal sustainable power level (FTP) so the training adjusts to your improvement.
(Next blog: Step 2: Building the training plan by week: Periodization)
Ex-post Haute Route Alps 2013 Update: It is harder than 250TSS/day: My first day was 470TSS, 2nd day 402 TSS…