Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Building Endurance and Economy By Gordo Byrn

Building Endurance and Economy
By Gordo Byrn

Over the last few months, I have been sharing ideas with Robbie Ventura of Vision Quest Coaching. Together we are working on "Project Ironman". This involves getting Robbie ready to tackle Ironman Canada and seeing if we can squeeze another speedy Ironman out of me before I turn 40 (December 26, 2008 -- mark your calendars!). I think that my job is a lot easier than Robbie's assignment -- so long as he makes it out of the water sub-2... he's set.

In December and January, there will be a number of internal and external influences that try to convince you that the way to endurance success is a ton of hard training. The logic goes that if you can't go long then you might as well go hard. Or, perhaps, you are advised to raise your "roof" so that you can "pull up" your aerobic fitness when the weather improves. While hitting it hard through the winter will achieve measurable results in short duration fitness, it is not the best way to prepare for long course success.

This year has seen a SLOW start for me -- with each year, I find that my transition period needs to last a little longer. With an outstanding year of training behind me, it will probably take me four months to get back to 'normal' training -- if I get there at all.

Robbie is a super positive guy and it is a pleasure to have him sharing his knowledge with me. While his knowledge of Ironman is limited, he has a wealth of time trialling experience. The protocol that I will share put my mind at ease. Having a guy that works with Tour riders sharing his approach is valuable. I will run through the protocol; then explain the terminology; and finish with common questions/concerns.


Building Overall Endurance

The bike is the safest place for us to build overall endurance. If we are humble with route/gearing selection then it is also the easiest for us to manage intensity. Each year, the most common mistake that I make when I come back is starting out too hard. I base my training efforts on my best performances from last summer. This leaves me flat, prone to illness and grumpy. There is another way! Here's Robbie's protocol for building endurance and economy.


For your endurance rides split the ride into thirds. Your goal effort is based off Aerobic Threshold (AeT, explained below). For the first third of the ride, aim for 95% of AeT wattage; for the middle third, aim for AeT wattage; and for the final third aim for 105% of AeT wattage. While trying to hit those average efforts, try to stay within 25% of the target. For example, my AeT watts are currently 200 -- so in the middle section of the ride, I am aiming for 200 watts (+/- 50 watts).

Sounds a little boring? Well, there are some wrinkles that spice it up!

***At the 15 min mark of each hour do 6 minutes where you alternate, single leg drill at one minutes per leg
***At the 30 min mark of each hour do 1 minute, 50rpm at wVO2 (defined below)
***At the 45 min mark of each hour repeat the single leg drill set
***At the top of each hour repeat the 1 minute VO2 set

I just finished a three hour ride using this protocol and feel far better than my previous grind-it-out sort of endurance rides. Time goes by pretty quick.


This type of training works best in conjunction with a powermeter and following baseline physiological testing. So we will start with those definitions. The testing protocol that we find most effective follows a 30 to 40 minute warm-up. The athlete must have a baseline lactate <=1.5 mmol for us to start the test. The athlete starts at no more than 50% of functional threshold power (FTP) and uses 5 minute steps of 20 watts per step. We collect lactate at the four minute mark and record HR/RPE at one minute intervals. We run a simultaneous Fuel/VO2 test on our met cart but this isn't a requirement for valid data. Athletes with VO2max power greater than 300w will use 25w steps. Athletes with VO2max power less than 200w will use 15w steps.

AeT Wattage -- the last complete step before a material increase in lactate. For those of you familiar with Friel zones, we define this point as the bottom of Zone 2. As a percentage of FTP this point is highly variable across the population. We don't use maximal testing to back-fit an estimate. Early season training requires an early season baseline. As an example, my AeT wattage will decline by up to 25% in my transition period.

wVO2 -- VO2max wattage -- When testing, this is the last complete step before failure. This may underestimate your true VO2max wattage but gives the 'right' number for your training.

If you don't have access to physiological testing then use subjective perception and define it this way:

AeT -- the maximum effort that you can sustain breathing through your nose
VO2 -- a strong effort that requires a bit of focus to hold beyond 30 seconds (under maximal)

If you make a mistake then go "too easy" -- nearly everyone goes too hard at this sort of training. While you will be physically able to ride more intensely than these guidelines, you do not need to.


Which bike to use?

Use the bike that will result in the greatest weekly time in the saddle.

What cadence to use?

Aim for 92 rpm.

Do I really go this easy? I can handle more intensity. I need to go hard. I am different.

Leave the workout as directed. If you want to increase the difficulty of your week then: increase the quality of your nutrition; train more often; then train longer on your key endurance day (in that order).

How should I progress the workout?

Work your endurance ride up to 5-6 hours. Then try back-to-back moderate duration rides (3 hours then 4 hours the next day). Build those to the point that you can handle a 4/5 or a 5/6. Advanced athletes can build towards triples (3 hours, then 4 hours the next day, then 5 hours the next day). Robbie has me working towards 4/5/6 then two days off then 4/5/6. Could take me a while to get there.

How much should I eat?

I recommend that you replace 50% of what you burn while training. A reasonable estimate can be arrived at using 50% of average workout watts * 3.6. My average (not normalized) watts from a 3 hour ride (AeT 200w) were 170. So... 50% of 170 * 3.6 = 306. So I eat 306 calories per hour and replace the rest post-workout. Note that my average was well under AeT watts. This is because 20% of each hour is single leg drills as well as the impact of downhills, turns, and stoplights.

What about heart rate targets?

Keep your heart rate 20 to 35 bpm below Functional Threshold (FT) heart rate. Even when you are doing the low cadence, high power work, never come within 15 bpm of FT heart rate. If you use Friel Zones then stay mainly in Zones 1 and 2 -- capped at the top of Zone 3. If you use Mark Allen's method then stay under Max Aerobic heart rate. I could say another six methods but hopefully this is enough for you to get the drift!

Good luck with it. I will be using this protocol alongside you.