To train for the Haute Route 2013 challenge, I designed a training plan through a hierarchical 3-step process working backwards from the ultimate goal. Step 1 defined the aggregate training goal as simulating a training stress score of 250/day (1700-1800 for the 7 days). Step 2 worked that mid-August goal backward in time into weekly training goals using periodization and keeping track of Chronic Training Load (CTL). This blog is about the third, and perhaps least detailed, step: given weekly training load, the last step is to design a plan for each day of each week.
Step 3: Build the training plan by day: LT and AT
Given that the Haute Route is a pure endurance event, the training plan is simple. I will not train any explosiveness needed for a criterium, cyclocross, or typical road race. (As a matter of fact, I will pretty much lose that capability.) True climbing competition has racers closely following each other and being prepared for the very infrequent attack/jump. Given that I am not athletically gifted, I know I won’t be able to keep up with the top riders so covering jumps is really of no concern to me. What matters is whether I can maintain good power levels throughout each climb, for 7 days long. In other words, it’s all about aerobic endurance.
Hence, following advice of my expert cycling buddy Paul Swinnand, I decided to focus for the first 3 months on training my aerobic threshold. Before defining that, it is useful to review my understanding (of a simple amateur) of lactate threshold.
Lactate threshold (LT) is the power or heart rate at which the body produces an equal amount of lactate as it can process/drain. Excursions above LT are by definition short-term because the lactate accumulates and eventually reduces performance below LT. LT is your maximal sustainable effort and is measured by your maximal sustainable heart rate (LTHR) or power level. Functional threshold power (FTP) is your maximal average power (watts) you can hold for one hour. The true test is a one-hour all-out time trial. Clearly, LT varies by individual and can be increased through training. (Yet, in my experience, sadly rather little.)
The lactate threshold point can be determined scientifically through a stress test. The best one, I think, is a stress test where power, heart rate, but also oxygen intake and CO2 exhaust is measured while you are on the bike. The point where your VO2 (volume of O2 you take in per unit of time) equals your VCO2 (volume of CO2 you exhale per unit of time) determines your LT. Simpler tests include a blood lactate test (never done this) where concentration of lactate in the blood is measured at various increasing quasi-equilibrium power levels. Conventionally, your LT is the level where lactate concentration equals 4mmol/liter. (This is rather arbitrary as some can sustain a much higher level of LT.) The cheapest tests are done completely by yourself done using a time trial test on the trainer or the road: do a 20min all-out effort, measure average watts and average heart rate (near the end of the interval) and set LT power at 95% of the 20min average.
Aerobic Threshold (AT) is the level where your energy production switches from oxygen to glycogen/glucose. Given that the body has finite glycogen/glucose storage (typically for 1.5 to 2 hours at your FTP), the AT is the maximal level that you can keep going at without taxing your system (much) or without refueling. (In essence, you are burning fat, not sugars.) In contrast to LT, I’m not sure how to measure AT scientifically; conventionally, AT is set where lactate concentration is 2 mmol/liter [half the LT concentration]. I have not done this test, so I took a simple guideline: AT training must always stay below LT heart rate (LTHR), which for me is around 169bpm. So, during my global training, I would set my week doing either shorter rides targeting 150bpm but never exceeding 160bpm, or longer rides targeting 130-140bpm.
During my build period, my key challenge is to “get to” my weekly TSS goal. This mostly means putting in the combination of duration (hours) and intensity. Given that maximizing both factors simultaneously is hard, I am following a simple weekly schedule: Mon & Fri rest or easy, Tu & Thur intensity (LT interval work), Wed & Sun duration (AT work), Sat intensity + duration. Whenever I can travel to hilly terrain, the sole focus would be on climbing.
While I have the established rough workout routines above, I welcome suggestions on appropriate 3hr+ workouts (aside from just “ride long”) and variations to keep it interesting. Do fill out a comment below?
This concludes my 3 steps on how I built my training plan. Future blogs will discuss other facets of preparation (bike, clothing, mind, etc.) and training updates.
Ex-post Haute Route 2013 Update: to race the Haute Route, you need to train train to ride each day: 1hr at threshold + 1/2 hr rest (descent) + 1hr threshold + ½ hr rest + 1hr threshold, and repeat 7 days. Key to success is riding steady for 1hr every time at your threshold. HARD!