Tour Divide Training January 2018

What?!  Tour Divide training?  Official Letter of Intent coming in the future, but yes, I am committed to racing the Tour Divide this year.  I even added myself to the official unofficial start list.  I’m going to start recording my training (physical and otherwise) to help organize my thoughts and keep myself accountable to making it to the start line.

Training Plan

When I trained for the TD in 2015 (but didn’t get to the start line) I just rode my bike a lot.  Long days in the mountains, hill repeats, etc all with my bikepacking gear.  I think what I did would have adequately prepared me to complete the race, had I shown up.  It wasn’t very efficient, though, and I have no idea how strong I was at the end of training compared to the beginning.

That is going to change this year.  I like plans, numbers, and measurable results.  I finally bought a power meter and dedicated trainer wheel for my Cutthroat – it was long overdue.  Armed with power data and a TrainerRoad subscription, I have one goal for now: increase my FTP as much as possible until Spring.  I would be very happy to be in the 275 to 300 watt range prior to the Grand Depart.

Here’s the high-level physical training plan:

  • Sweet Spot Base I (complete)
  • Jan 22 – Mar 3: Sweet Spot Base Phase II Mid Volume (in progress)
  • Mar 5 – April 28: Sustained Power Build Phase (doing increasingly many rides outdoors with gear)
  • May: More logistical rides (multi-day rides, set up/break camp in rain, specific elevation/mileage goals, night riding, etc.)

Progress So Far

Last November when I started training I took my first 20 minute FTP test and achieved a result of 220.  At 145 lbs that put me at 3.34 W/kg.  Pretty solid, I think, for having never trained with any structure beyond “I feel like riding today.  I’ll go…there!”

I started with TrainerRoad’ Sweet Spot Base Low Volume I, but found myself wanting a bit more work during the week.  Halfway through I switched to Mid Volume I to add an extra hard workout to weekends and a mid week low intensity endurance ride (this one I often skip, because BORING).

Near the of January I started Sweet Spot Base Phase II and took my second FTP test: 232 and 3.53 W/Kg.  Immediately after I finished I realized I could have gone bit harder.  My 5 minute splits were 237, 245, 245, 254.  I certainly suffered, but not nearly as much as during the first test.  I think upping my cadence from low 80s to mid-90s helped a ton as well – gotta burn fat and save that sugar!

As of the end of January I am in the middle of the second week of Sweet Spot Base Phase II.  It’s certainly type II fun, but I really enjoy being able to feel worked after 1-2 hours.  If I were doing 1-2 hour rides outside I wouldn’t get nearly the same quality of workout.

I really looked forward to my second FTP test and still feel the same way about my upcoming third test.  Being able to measure improvement is so motivating!  I hope to see even more improvement in my next FTP test than my second.  High 240’s would be great.  250+ would be a nice milestone to break, too.

What I’ve Learned

Learning about FTP, power zones, and pacing has been eye-opening.  Same with the instructions that display with TrainerRoad workouts.

I’ve been pedaling incorrectly this whole time!  Prior to TrainerRoad my natural cadence typically fell in the 80-85 range, probably lower on climbs.  What I didn’t know is that puts my fuel consumption further into the sugar side of the spectrum than ideal.  Spinning faster allows the body to burn more fats instead.  Spinning a cadence of 90+ now seems very natural.

In the past I thought there was value to doing long or hard rides with minimal food to train your body to do without it.  I now realize that improper nutrition gets in the way of training effectively.  I still think there is value to pushing through those discomforts on purpose occasionally, I see them as destructive session rather than constructive.  Rides like that might make you mentally tougher and unlock some “I made it through that, so I can get through this” attitude, but might not contribute to physical fitness effectively.

I also now understand the concept of power zones and their physiological tolls.  Most importantly right now: an all-day pace that an endurance rider can sustain is in the range of 60-75% of their FTP.  Obviously a person with a higher FTP can put out more power all day than another rider with a lower FTP.  Additionally, higher FTP means you can stay in your efficient zones for more time.  Take two riders with FTPs of 200 and 250.  Both can sustain 175 watts for a time, but it will be far more taxing on rider one.  175 watts falls on the high end of tempo whereas it is solid endurance zone for the stronger rider.  Short bursts into the 225 watt range would put rider one into anaerobic zones whereas rider two stays aerobic.

When I look back on the Great Divide, I realize how much fitness I lacked.  I was constantly miles behind the other guys and had to work hard to not be too slow.  I was likely riding well above my endurance pace, taxing my body more than if I rode consistently at my all-day pace.  I imagine that my fitness was in a state that so many of the climbs put me far into the red and robbed my of any semblance of sustainability.  Oh how I wish I had a power meter back then, so I could compare myself then and now and “forecast” future results.

Well, that’s it for now.  I gotta hop on the trainer and knock out a 3×16-minute over-under interval workout.

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