It has been a long time, over a month I think, from the last time I posted. I can tell you that I did not post because of a lack of adventure. The time since I last posted has seen me travel to multiple states and a foreign country. After my podium finish at the TN state Crit championships I decided to take some time off. I was planning on taking off one week to recoup and refocus. Removing all temptation of riding my carbon steed my wife and I hopped in the car and headed towards the Atlantic Ocean. Back in March I surprised my wife with cruise tickets, in celebration of our 3 year anniversary. We were set to ship out from the hot but beautifully preserved city of Charleston, SC.
“Welcome to Charleston” was indeed a welcoming sight. I’ve visited Charleston a handful of times, whether it be for racing or for relaxation. I always get lost in the beauty of the history and architecture that makes up downtown. My wife and I got there a day early so we could spend some time actually exploring Charleston. My wife hadn’t been to Charleston in a long time (or at all) so I wanted to show her around. Charleston hotels are expensive, especially around the summer time when vacationers flock to the city and beach. Luckily for me, there is an Air Force Base just outside of Charleston that is host to a nice hotel which we could stay at for cheap. For anyone in the military, take advantage of Space-A deals! My wife and I checked into the hotel just prior to dinner. What did we have planned for the night? Some quick research on my favorite food blogs Making Thyme for Health pointed us towards CO Charleston. A modern Asian restaurant with options for the vegetarian (me) and the meat eaters (my wife). I recommend this place to anyone in Charlotte, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Savannah, or Atlanta. After filling up on noodles and spring rolls we walked down the street to the Carolina Ale House, which is a rooftop bar overlooking historical Marion Square. We had a couple of beers, laughs, smiles, while silently participating in trivia night.
The next morning we awoke in our typical early fashion and headed back downtown to break the nightly fast. We ended up going to Kitchen 208 which ended up being somewhat disappointing, at least in the food aspect. The coffee was delicious but neither of us were happy with our food choices. Lessons learned the hard way. We couldn’t board the ship until 2pm so that gave us 5 hours to explore Charleston. We hit up the major locations like The Historic Charleston City Market, Charleston City Hall, Waterfront Park and the adjacent beautiful neighborhood. We filled the final hours by eating an amazing lunch at Carmella’s and people watching next to the US Customs building.
What I expected to be a long and painful wait to board the ship ended up being a smooth and easy process. Carnival, unlike Walmart, actually used all computers and counter space available to check in guests. The entire process took less than 30 minutes. A tip to anyone that drives down and needs to find parking; there are parking garages around King Street that charge a maximum of $35 or so for “lost tickets.” Park at one of these garages and walk to the dock. Parking at the dock will cost you $60-70. The cruise we decided on was aboard the Carnival Ecstasy, an older and smaller ship, that leaves Charleston and stops in Nassau for a total round trip of 4 days. The entire cruise experience was amazing. Choosing the smaller cruise ship for my first time was perfect. My wife and I are similar in that we enjoy smaller crowds and a slower pace during vacation. Don’t get me wrong, there was always something to do on the ship. We filled our time and never felt bored. The service was spectacular every day. The entire crew was always happy and almost felt like family at the end. We ended up getting really close to a couple of the crew members, especially the bartenders at the Alchemy Bar. We spent time really getting to know the crew members. I am always fascinated by the stories from other humans, especially foreigners (which makes up 95% of the crew). On top of the perfect service was an amazing food menu for every meal. My wife and I ate in the dining hall for breakfast and dinner every day. Every day we were astounded by the flavors, atmosphere, and selections. There was always at least one vegetarian option. We were never disappointed by the food. The only thing that we were ever disappointed by in the dining hall was the morning coffee. The coffee in the dining hall was extremely watered down. Fear not though for we purchased the drink package which allowed us to visit the specialty coffee bar. There we could get our tasty espresso and cappuccinos. Overall, I would definitely do this cruise again.
The week we returned from the cruise happened to butt up against an extended weekend for Memorial Day. I took advantage of the long weekend to put in some big rides and jump start the fitness. So, I actually had intentions to start riding immediately after returning from the cruise but a small fainting episode and a concussion prevented that plan. On the final night of the cruise I ended up fainting after standing up too quickly. I fainted hard into the closed wall closet. I definitely gave myself a concussion because for the next 3 days I could not focus and anytime I had to think my head began to ache. I took it very easy, even reducing hours at work, in order to properly recover. By Thursday I was feeling a lot better and began to train again. I ended up getting in 14.5 hours of riding into 5 days (13.5 in just 4 days). But alas the next weekend began my 2 weeks of Annual Training.
Annual Training is a 2 week period during the summer where reservists go on active duty orders to train up. This time we spend a week in the field and then a week in WW2 clam shell huts. Our objective was to practice some of our basic warrior drills but more importantly grow our unit cohesion. I believe we accomplished the mission and got some really good training. Annual Training is always a tough place to develop any bike fitness though. I ended up getting in a handful or workouts the first week but ended up getting a head and chest cold the second week. The cold was so bad it prevented me from doing any training which caused my fitness level to plummet.
Alright, so what is next for me? The peak of the mountain is the Cascade Classic. The Cascade Classic is one of, if not the top, American stage race. Just like Joe Martin, it brings the top cyclists from around the nation (and world) for 5 days of racing around Bend, OR. Currently, I have just under a month to prepare. I have used TrainingPeaks to plan out an aggressive build up but if executed perfectly will get me to where I need to be to finish in the top 10. Included in the aggressive buildup will be 3.5 race days. This weekend I am making the trip up to Cincy for the Hyde Park Blast (3/4 and P123) as well as Madeira Criterium. Once I return I will do the final Knoxie Crit (as long as I remember my shoes). The final race day in the lead-up will be Hot Doggett 100 which is a Gran Fondo that takes place just north of Asheville. Luckily, in the buildup I don’t have any weekend obligations and major stressors so all I need to do is execute and I will be ready.
Matt Bach is a storied Age Group Athlete that has a long list of victories, including Ironman Maryland. He has the experience of balancing a normal work life and setting sights on a World Championship title. Along the way though Matt started to notice signs that were not normal to endurance training. Matt couldn't shake the constant fatigue, and he struggled to find any enjoyment in racing or training. Matt, similar to me, suffered from chronic overtraining which lead to some severe low testosterone. Matt dives into his experience and his new found knowledge about low testosterone in this guest blog. You might recognize the name from his appearance on ENDURANCE PLANET podcast, TRS Radio, as well as Slowtwitch and The Wall Street Journal.
Overtraining and Low Testosterone
What it is, how to prevent it, and how to get back into balance
I may look healthy, but I’m not. I am a triathlete suffering from fatigue, low libido and osteoporosis. I have the bones of a 73 year old. I’m 29.
I write this blog so that you might be aware of the issues that can arise from too much endurance training, but also to inform you that it is preventable and reversible. Life is about balance, and I screwed up my balance and my health. You may like what you see in the mirror, but you may not be healthy either. I am a case study for what NOT TO DO, and I hope you will learn from my mistakes.
Symptoms of Low T (<300ng/dL)
It has been shown in numerous studies since the 1980’s that overtraining in endurance sports can cause reduced testosterone levels. The most common symptoms include fatigue, low libido and impaired performance, but low T can impact many aspects of life including energy levels, sleep patterns, mood, sex life, fertility, cognitive ability, frequent illness, bone health and body composition. The symptoms that each person experiences are different; for me, it was fatigue, low libido, and impaired bone health (osteoporosis at age 29), but for other people it could be any combination of the other symptoms that I listed.
Careful! Most people, including myself, write off their fatigue and lack of desire to the rigors of their training, but in many cases, it is something deeper.
If you have low T like I did, know that we are not alone. It is a very common thing for triathletes, and if you have the type A, overly-disciplined personality that so many of us triathletes have (and many take pride in), then you are at high risk for suffering from low T. If any of the below apply to you, then you might be driving yourself into a hole:
It’s not just triathletes that suffer from hormone issues, but other endurance athletes too. Many of you may be aware of Ryan Hall’s story, which has helped to bring the low testosterone issue into the limelight. Ryan ran the fastest marathon time ever by an American in the 2011 Boston Marathon, 2:04:58. He also broke the American record in the half marathon running a blistering 59:43. Last year, he retired from the sport, at the young age of 33, struggling to run just 12 easy miles per week because of the devastating effects of low testosterone.
Soon after I discovered I had low testosterone, I went on a fact-finding frenzy. I wanted to see how common low testosterone is in endurance athletes, and ask them what they’ve done to manage it. I chose to focus on elite endurance athletes, about half professional and half elite amateurs, because they typically take on higher volumes of training, which I’ve come to understand is the biggest factor leading to low T. I polled 22 elite triathletes and an astonishing 13 of them have had diagnosed hormone issues due to endurance training. Out of the remaining 9 people, 6 of them have experienced symptoms of low testosterone but have not been formally diagnosed. Just 3 out of the 22 elite triathletes I polled claim to have never experienced hormone issues! Further, at least 6 from the list have also had low bone density due to hormone imbalances, and bone stress injuries like I have.
Finally, a researcher in the area of exercise-induced low testosterone has informed me that a study will be published soon that reports low testosterone in approximately 50% of male Kona athletes.
Matt Bach, A Case StudY
Below I will describe what I’ve done over the past six years to cause such devastation to my health. I do this so that you might have a better understanding of what it took for me, and you can compare to yourself. We are all different though, and some of our bodies can sustain a lot more stress than others before they break down. Note that you may be training far less than I, and may be getting more rest, but still could experience issues. On the flip side, you might be training far more and sleeping 5 hours a night, yet haven’t experienced any problems health-wise. Lucky you!
How I Dug My Hellth Hole
Overtraining / Under-recovery
2010 – The year my wife and I began triathlon. Spinning classes, some running, practically drowning in the pool, and some killer abs classes at the gym. This was not when I began overtraining.
Weekly Average: 6 hours
2011 – Met a group of tremendously dedicated triathletes in Hoboken while I was living in Jersey City. Saw their knowledge and company as a way to get good quickly, and I was right! Upped my training and they showed me the ropes. I did 3 half Ironman events that year, along with some shorter triathlons and running events. I was self-coached and partook in “leech training” where I would join in on my training partners’ workouts, usually created by their coaches.
Weekly Average: 12 hours
2012 – My body seemed to be able to cope with more training, so I gave it more training, as I was still self-coached. I saw improvements in fitness over the past couple of years simply by increasing volume, so I, like so many others in our sport, figured improvement must be linearly correlated with volume. My attitude drifted in the direction of trying to fit in as much training as possible given my work and sleep schedule. I noticed that if I got under an average of 7:15 sleep per night, I would get sick, so determined that 7:15 was the right amount. While it was not my goal, I missed qualifying for Kona by 1 slot in my debut Ironman going 9:59 at Ironman Lake Placid.
Weekly Average: 16 hours
2013 – Seeing how close I was to qualifying for Kona, I was determined to get there. I remained self-coached, increased my training even further, and fit in as much training as possible. In fact, I stretched the limits of what was possible to put into my schedule. I rarely saw my wife during the week, and spent only a handful of hours with her each weekend. Nearly every Saturday for three months, I rode a century+ then tacked on a run afterwards. For a five week period before tapering for Placid, I had not given myself a single rest day. I ended up having a terrible race at Placid, missed Kona by 1 slot again and went 9:58. Frustrated but knowing the fitness was there, my wife allowed me to sign up to race Ironman Louisville four weeks later where I succeeded in qualifying for Kona by winning my age group. Another factor was that Jared Tootell, a training partner and friend of mine, informally coached me after Placid, and taught me the value of the trainer and quality vs. quantity. This was my first foray into “less is more” and likely saved me from digging myself even further into this hellth hole. I competed in Kona 7 weeks later to complete my 3rd Ironman in as many months. This year was the peak of my overtraining / under-recovery, and when my life balance was most out of whack.
Weekly Average: 17 hours
2015 – Having won Ironman Maryland in 2014 in a 51 minute PR of 8:51 on what felt like “light” training, the prospect of going pro became real. I felt compelled to train more this time and see how big of a ripple I could make in Kona, targeting the top amateur spot. A great result there would put me in a good position to go pro either in 2016 or 2017. My volume stretched again and I felt as though some of that extra bandwidth was gone. Then in March, I noticed two symptoms of low testosterone, unusual fatigue and low libido, for the first time, but I didn’t know that’s what my issue was until August when I was first diagnosed. I had total testosterone of 153 vs the “normal” range of 300-1000. By then it was too close to Kona to just stop training, especially when the only things I noticed were fatigue and low libido, and I was continuing to improve performance-wise. In fact, I had a number of massive breakthroughs in training last year and was top amateur at Eagleman 70.3 by over 5 minutes. I kept the testosterone issue in mind, but decided to continue training at a high level through Kona, and then I would address the issue. I placed 72nd overall in Kona, failing to execute the race I knew I was capable of, and then took time off. After 2 weeks, my testosterone levels had already risen to 256, more than a 100 point increase over my known low point, though still not in the range of “normal.” Several more weeks off would help, and learning more about what could be done to improve my levels naturally would set me up well for 2016.
Weekly Average: 16 hours
2016 – This is when I finally started doing a lot of the right things, though it turns out it was too little too late. I developed a stress reaction in my right femoral neck in May due to having low bone density, the low bone density being a result of low testosterone and underfueling. I slashed my training to near zero and after gathering tons of info from doctors, studies, google, Cody Beals, and ancient cave paintings, I decided to pursue a smattering of natural methods to improve my testosterone levels. By September, my testosterone levels had climbed to 599ng/dL, just shy of the “average” T level for 30 year old males of 625ng/dL. I gradually resumed and increased my training throughout the remainder of the year.
Weekly Average: 13 hours until injury, then 0 building to 8 hours by the end of the year
2017 – I was running ~10 miles at a time, or about 20-25 miles per week when I suffered a recurrence of the stress reaction in my right femur. While my testosterone levels were back to normal, my bone density levels were still very low (it takes a lot of time to regrow bone and bone loss is partially irreversible). I stopped training again, then resumed swimming, then had my first child on April 7th.
Weekly Average: 5 hours until injury and baby, then 1
In early 2015, one of the experiments I ran on myself was to see how low I could go before losing muscle mass or feeling like dirt. I had begun employing metabolic efficiency training in 2014, so thought that maybe with my new nutrition regimen, I could go lower than 140lbs and still feel strong. Every pound less I weigh is one pound less I have to carry for 138.2 miles (the swim doesn’t count) through the lava fields right? Right, but it’s not sustainable! My body rebelled and I couldn’t even drop below 145. I pushed and pushed and just couldn’t do it. It turns out that your body’s response to having low testosterone is to retain body fat. Also, by not giving the body enough fuel, it goes into survival mode and begins to draw from other resources in the body (i.e. your reproductive system, your bones, etc). Note that in females, this biological mechanism results in a loss of their period (amenorrhea), but it’s not so obvious for men. It all makes sense now, but I am fairly certain I did some damage during those months.
I’ve always wondered why professional triathletes are all heavier than me, even if they are shorter. I think I now understand the reason why. I think I also understand why Mark Allen said “be fat in July to race well in October.”
Time for a little side story! After Kona 2015 when I was determined to get a handle on my testosterone levels, I met with an endocrinologist. I thought I had a good idea of how the meeting would go…I’d explain that I have low testosterone, and that I thought it was because of overtraining. The doc would say, ok, we’ll slap this testosterone patch on you and you’ll be good to go. I’ll say “no, doc, I can’t do that because I’m an athlete and it’s against the anti-doping rules” and then the doc would say “ok, then let’s take natural measures to remedy this.” Doc would then list a bunch of natural ways to do it that would probably overlap quite a bit with the methods I had already learned from Cody Beals. Maybe I’d learn a thing or two, and would consider the appointment a success. NOPE! We didn’t even get past the first part. I explained that I have low testosterone due to endurance training, and the endocrinologist, someone who is an expert in hormones, wasn’t even aware that the link exists! Needless to say, I walked out and never saw that doc again.
The point I am making with this anecdote is that while hormone imbalance is prevalent, it is hardly spoken about. Barely anyone understands the problem or how to fix it, even among the medical community. In order to help the multitude of athletes dealing with this, I’ve begun offering consultations to help them get their health and performance back on track. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to request my Athlete Questionnaire, which you would fill out and send back to me in order to get started.
Performance Enhancing Drugs
I won’t take supplemental testosterone, and here’s why:
Natural Remedies for Endurance Athletes with Low T
These last couple of years have been a roller coaster emotionally. Though I typically excel at remaining rational, it’s been hard to keep my head on straight. At one point I was on the verge of turning professional in the sport, but have since been nearly driven out of the sport altogether due to health issues that I never even knew could arise because of a sport that I thought was healthy. Am I doing the right thing for me, my wife and my newborn daughter? Should I be trying to be competitive at this sport, at a pro or age group level, if it’s going to be a detriment to my health? Will I find the right balance between training and recovery? Will that equilibrium translate into enough training to compete at a high level? Or should I just throw in the towel?
While I’ve wavered periodically between the two extremes, quitting the sport and pursuing triathlon at a pro level, and everything in between, the place I seem to be settling is that I will do what I can to restore my health and to return to the sport. Whether I am able to compete again or not, though, will not impact my desire to help those suffering from low testosterone due to endurance training. Let’s all raise awareness of this problem so that others can prevent the hellth hole I’ve fallen into, and so that those who are facing the debilitating effects of low testosterone or low bone density can recover. Preserving your health and being competitive at the sport is possible.
What I Hope For You
Get blood work done. It’s either free, or nearly free (just a co-pay) and really easy to get. Simply talk to you primary care physician about your level of exercise and concern that it may be affecting your hormone levels. Routine blood work does not typically call for testosterone measurement, so be sure to have your doctor request it specifically.
If you think you have experienced symptoms of hormone imbalance, do not hesitate to email me at email@example.com and I will send you my Athlete Questionnaire.
Also, if you meet the following criteria, and want to be considered for a research study will be starting in the coming months, then email me. The study will be over the course of a year and will assess endurance training’s impact on testosterone, general health, and performance for endurance athletes.
1.) Male endurance athlete
2.) Average 10+ hours of aerobic activity per week
3.) Have either:
a.) qualified for Kona (or have come close) or 70.3 worlds, with an overall placement that would be considered "elite" (i.e. a 75 year old man who qualifies for Kona, while very respectable, would not be eligible unless he were capable of being in the top ~third of the overall field)
b.) run a marathon under 2:50
c.) raced competitively in 3+ sanctioned cycling events
d.) or have achieved something in an endurance sport that would be considered "elite"
4.) Can commit to testing once every 2 months for 1 year at either Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ), Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) or Armstrong University (Savannah, GA)
If you are interested, you can subscribe to my blog by entering your email address in the upper right hand corner of my website (www.ironmattbach.com) and you can follow me at @IronMattBach on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Keep your priorities straight. Remember what is important in life! We love endurance sports, but your health comes before training and competition, as does your family, and if you’re not healthy, you’re not going to be there for them.
There comes a time when you have to admit to yourself that you’re on the way to over-training. As most of you readers know, 2017 is my first year focusing completely on cycling. I began with a pure focus on running in 2013, moved to duathlon, added in swimming in 2016, and dropped swimming and running in 2017. I also started to completely self-coach myself. I started out the training season in November of 2016 coming off of a bout of low testosterone and chronic over-training. I vowed to myself that I would not fall back into that trap. Did I fall back into it?
To just answer the question right off the bat, physiologically speaking I don’t believe I am over-trained. Looking at the mental side, also called burn-out, I don’t believe I am at that level either. Now, I do think if I keep going on my current path I will quickly approach both of these levels within a month. There are a couple of obvious signs, besides my flat TrainingPeaks fitness level, that brought me to the conclusion.
The second point is pretty obvious. TrainingPeaks has a tool called the power curve which shows your maximum power from 5 seconds all the way to 3 hours. You can overlay two curves, which I usually choose last 90 days and last 180 days. I choose 90 days because most of the time that chart gives you a good representation of your current maximums. It allows you the ability to capture data from a wide variety of workouts and races while not being too wide of a range to capture workouts that won’t be affecting your today. 180 days out is wide enough to capture the tail end of the previous seasons end as well as this seasons build up. So how do you know if you are doing it right? If you are supposed to be peaking today and your 180 day values are still higher then you probably timed it wrong or are starting to become over-trained. Let’s look into my power curve from February and compare it to today’s. One thing that is obvious is February’s lack of power on the upper edge of the curve. This is completely normal for winter training. I was also just coming off of my triathlon training, where peak power means nothing. Looking at today’s chart, we can see it is a smoother curve, which is definitely one of the goals of training, but my bread and butter power is starting to drop. Over the past couple of weeks I have noticed a little bit more gray. I have also noticed that workouts involving 2-5 minute power have been harder to hit, almost impossible. So do these charts really show any signs of overtraining, not really. I would say I timed my peak wrong but power overall, my power levels are still close to where they should be.
Finally, another important chart to look at for clues into overtraining is the Performance management chart. This chart gives a good picture of your fitness and fatigue. You can see from my chart that I have been stagnant since pretty much November. There was a big drop in fitness at the end of October because of forced time off from a crash. After that I never seemed to have enough volume or intensity to gain any true fitness. Just prior to the crash I was doing 15-17 hours a week on the bike. I was keeping the intensity lower but volume high. Once November hit my volume dropped because the weather got rougher and I was relegated indoors. I didn’t pay a ton of attention to the chart because my power curve chart was showing good improvements. My performance chart was still being affected by the previous year where I was training 15-20 hours a week for triathlon. I had a higher daily/weekly stress score than I could match with just cycling training. The problem is that I haven’t allowed any significant time for the chart to drop and my body to recover and adapt. It is never good to keep your form level in the -10 to 10 range, which I have been stuck in for 6 months. This means you probably aren’t doing as much as you actually could (not taking into account life events and work stress). If you are building you want to be under -10 and if you are racing you want to be above 5. Staying in the one area is a recipe for overtraining because of a lack of variety and stress in training. You are going just hard enough to put some fatigue in your body but not enough to make any real changes in fitness.
What is next? Well I have one more race next weekend, the Tennessee State Criterium Championships. After that I will take just over a week off, go on a cruise with the wifey, and relax mentally and physically. Once I get back I will start a build for Cascade Classic and the second half of 2017. I will end this with my current Power Profile. This compares your maximum power to weight ratio from the past 180 days to what the average Cat 5 - World Tour rider can do. I will use this chart as a stepping off point with the goal to get 1 minute, 5 minute, and 20 minute power up to CAT 1 level by the end of the year. Always keep in mind that raw power doesn’t mean you will win races though, it just helps to be strong as well as smart.
When our mind is out of balance, our body will follow. When our body is out of balance, our mind will follow. The important aspect of life is to live in that middle area where the mind and body are working towards beautiful harmony. Falling out of balance will place undue stress on the mind or the body. This unnecessary stress in our life, especially an endurance athlete, can hinder your quality of life and performance. How does the body or mind fall out of balance? Humans are naturally suited for habitual practices, and if they make you feel good in the temporary moment then these habits will stick. We need to become aware and re-enter a state of balance.
When the body is out of balance it begins to guard itself. The end goal of our body and mind is to preserve life. This is the most basic goal but when we are unhealthy, emotionally or physically, our energy is spent repairing. In this state we are in pure survival or preservation mode. Everything in our peripheral, and sometimes in your direct line of sight, becomes blurry and out of focus. We begin to just focus on surviving and not learning or even “living.” During our stay in the preservation state our relationships begin to slowly fall apart. We become too focused on fixing our own health out of our own control. Like I said, this is out of our control. We need to focus on the things we can control though, awareness. You need to become aware of this survival state and work on returning to a healthy balanced life.
A common trap that we fall into is a negative feedback loop. Something goes wrong in our life, big or small, and we focus on this negativity. It starts with you eating a donut, which turns into you feeling bad and telling yourself you are fat. Then you tell yourself that you are fat because you are a failure. You say you are a failure because you have negative thoughts… And you can see how that can just keep looping into infinite self-destruction. Athletes are not immune to this negative feedback loop. Athletes can easily slip into the loop through doubting their training and abilities. Breaking this loop is pretty challenging but only because it is tough to recognize being in the loop. This is why beginning daily rituals to set your mind and body into a positive path is important.
What kind of rituals or habits can you begin to ensure you are setting yourself up for a positive day?
We all know about that glorious gold crown awarded to the strongest athletes in the area. The crown that draws so many amateur and professional athletes to the mountain side. Long or short, Strava segments is something that keeps athletes using Strava. The virtual race scratching that competitive itch of most humans, especially athletes. I will admit, I am one that can easily fall into the Strava KOM trap. This voice in the back of my head screaming at me to get that KOM. Prove you are worthy of racing at the higher level… But how much value should we actually put into these segments?
Alright, so as some of you know I used to live in Asheville. Asheville is a cycling Mecca and is host to many “Kings of the Mountains.” While living in Asheville my desire to get KOMs was not at the top of my list. Why? Simply put, I knew I couldn’t compete on most of the climbs. Asheville is host to many World Tour and Pro-Continental riders. These guys are strong. Dethroning one of these guys takes years of training or Segment doping. Segment doping is going to the segment with the sole intention of getting the KOM and only riding it during perfect conditions. This isn’t my style. So I just relegated myself to chasing PRs on the segments. Improving my times week after week. But last July I moved to Oak Ridge, just north of Knoxville.
Knoxville is home to some professional riders, but most living to the south. They occasionally venture north to the Cumberland Range which is immediately north of Oak Ridge. There are a couple climbs, one of them being a 15 minute 5km climb averaging 7%. This climb, named Mt. Larry, begins with straighter roads and consistent gradient. Once you hit the middle you begin to hit the switchbacks. Gradients reaching 14% make you start to doubt your legs and question if this climb will ever end. I remember the first time I rode it I was almost 3 minutes down from Stephen Bassett, a local pro-continental rider for Silber. I was astonished by his time. I couldn’t figure out how I could possibly make up 3 minutes. I went back to my thoughts in Asheville where I would never be able to match the effort to grab the crown. That was true until last week.
Last week I was doing my typical ramped interval session. I usually finished the session with 3x5minutes but this time decided to do 2 x 15 minutes at FTP, with one effort up Mt. Larry. My goal was not to get the KOM. I wasn’t even planning on attempting the segment for the crown. I cross the start line and my Wahoo Elemnt flashes orange. I immediately hit mute and turn back to my power screen. About halfway up the climb the Elemnt updates me on my time versus my PR. It said I was almost 60 seconds ahead of my PR! I began to think the device was broken. There was no way that I was climbing that fast. My legs were feeling fine and my RPE was manageable. I went back to ignoring the results and just focused on the workout. But after 15 minutes, I crossed the line at the top and saw I was only 20 seconds behind Stephen and his KOM time! I immediately began to think that I could get this segment. I was determined to come back. I was now all consumed by Strava and the segment.
Yesterday, I purposefully planned my long ride to make the Mt. Larry ascent. It is about a 45 minute ride from my apartment to the base of the climb. I kept the ride out in Z2 as to simulate some early road race pace. I then reached the bottom of the climb, pulled to the side of the road and turned on some tunes. I took a deep breath, clipped in, and was off. Yet again, the Wahoo Element flashed orange to signify the beginning of the segment. Since the segment is so long I turned off the screen and went to my power screen. I wanted to focus on holding 400 watts until the switchbacks. I pulled a Chris Froome and glared at those numbers, immediately reacting to deviation from the goal number. I reached the first switchback and turned my screen to the live segment. From this point on I did not want to know my power numbers. I was beginning to suffer and all I wanted to see was my predicted time versus the current KOM. As I turned up the first switchback section my predicted time fluttered around 14:51, the current KOM time. It was going to be close! I raced up the mountain, continuing to push hard. Sweat dripping onto my Elemnt and by bars. My breathe was labored and my legs began to ache as the lactate built. I made the last turn, which signifies only 90 more seconds of effort. I sprung out of the saddle and cranked on the pedals. My time continued to jump around the current KOM time. I sprinted across the crest. My Wahoo Elemnt changed screens and displayed the provisional KOM time… 14:41. I was the new King.
I now revisit my original question of what value should we put on these segments? The answer is actually different for all of us. I used the segment as a confidence booster. I knew that my training was spot on and there was no need to doubt myself. Going into my biggest spring race, Joe Martin, confidence is key. I am now race ready.
I wanted to provide another insight into what goes on in my life. This time we will look at a week of training. I will pull from last week as it was a good solid typical week of training for me. Last week marks 4 weeks out from my JMSR is my A race for the first half of 2017. Joe Martin Stage Race (JMSR) is a 2 day - 3 race - stage race. A stage race is a cycling event in which the overall winner on day two is determined by cumulative time of the races. You must finish every stage in order to win the overall. Note, this is different from your typical omnium because you do not have to finish every race in an omnium in order to race the next stage.
Joe Martin Stage Race, located in Fayettville, AR is one of America's oldest stage races; celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2017. Surviving 40 years in American stage racing is quite a feat! America has a tumultuous history with races popping up and disappearing in a year or two. The race's history and growth to become one of the most popular stage races in America is a direct result of the amazing leadership organizing the event. So, when it comes to training the most important question to ask is, “what aspects of fitness will I need to obtain my goal at the event?” One of the easiest ways to get a grasp of what I need to train for is by looking at the parcours.
Stage 1: A challenging 2.4 mile uphill time trail. This is all about power to weight ratio for 10 minute power. The average gradient is 5% with an elevation gain of 725 feet. All of the climbing is done in the first 80% which includes 7 switchbacks and averages 6.6%! Looking at some historical data of riders with similar weight I will need to average around 420-430w in order to win or guarantee a podium.
Stage 2: This is a 68 mile hilly road race later in the afternoon on day 1. There is a minor climb, which should be handled pretty calmly within the first three miles. After that, there is a 9 mile flat trip to the 23 mile loop, which we will do twice. The loop begins with a 1.2 mile Category 4 climb (according to Strava). There is a slight descent after the categorized climb and then back into a more gradual climb to a plateau. After completing the loop twice we head back to downtown on the same route we came out.
Stage 3: The final race of the weekend is a 40 minute technical crit with a hill top finish. The course has 8 turns and a long (for a crit) 110ft climb to the finish. This will be a crit where it is important to stay at the front and punish legs on the climb. It is a course designed for the breakaway. Here is a link to a video file from last year's CAT 3 criterium: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qi78GzPCbW0
Now it is time to break down how the race was won last year. The overall GC winner came in second overall in the TT, pack finish in the RR, and 3rd overall for the Crit (part of a breakaway). The road race stayed together for the entire race and it finished in a group sprint. With this knowledge, what kind of fitness will I need to be successful at JMSR?
Important workouts going into this will be:
Timing of these workouts is extremely important. Certain aspects of fitness will have a slower decay rate (like base training and sweet spot work) and can be focused on farther out from the race. This allows focus closer to the race being placed on threshold and above threshold intervals. Throwing in the occasional longer tough ride will maintain any fitness in endurance. Alan Couzens wrote a great article about periodization and training specificity. He also created a great illustration for decay rates. His article can be found here (https://www.alancouzens.com/blog/periodization.html) which is where I grabbed the following graph.
It is clear from the chart above that ‘sharpening’ training – the type of training designed to elicit the maximal changes in VO2max has the most positive impact ~16-70 days (2-10 weeks) before the event. Threshold training tends to have the greatest positive impact 4-16 weeks before the target event &, any time prior to that, training designed around improving aerobic economy leads the way. -Alan Couzens
Tomorrow I will post a look into what training looks like 4 weeks out from the race.
2016 Results Cat 3:
I am an endurance athlete. I am a soldier. I am a coach, mentor, engineer, husband, and friend. I am a fusion of ambition and determination. I am who I am because of values built through enduring pain and suffering. It started as an overweight bullied kid that desperately wanted to fit in. I moved around a lot as a kid which provided a lot of opportunities to change. But constantly having to adapt to new situations showed me new struggles compared to new beginnings. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school where it all snapped together. I realized that running and losing weight would be my ticket to confidence. I signed up for a race and began training. I ran every day. The weight began to melt off of me and my confidence levels rose in proportion. This simple activity taught me a valuable life lesson, nothing worth having comes easy.
I continued to grow as an athlete through my college year. At the end, I bought my first bike and began to ride with the local group. I remember showing up to my first group ride, coming straight from rugby practice, shirtless with a fanny pack for holding a water bottle. I got a ton of funny looks by the group. Besides showing up to the ride wearing something odd, I remember whipping down a hill in a pace-line. I had never gone so fast and felt so alive. That feeling was only temporary because within 3 miles I was popped off the back. A new fire was lit. Each week I came back, usually wearing the same attire as the first ride, and each week I got a little farther into the ride before popping off the back.
By the time I graduated college I had finally made it to the finish. I carried this spark past graduation and into my first job. I set ambitious goals like win Duathlon National Championships and become a professional triathlete. An auto-accident in 2014 squandered the goals of being a professional triathlete. I broke my left leg in half which ended up causing some permanent nerve damage. This accident did not stop me immediately though. My military unit was set to deploy to Afghanistan in 4 months. Through pain and hard work I was cleared for the deployment. I came out the other side a stronger human and stronger athlete. I set personal records for every race I entered. For a while, I tried to get back into triathlons. I would get the fastest bike splits at most of the races I entered but would always end up walking in the run because of excruciating nerve pain. This takes me to today. I am now focused completely on cycling. My goal is to race for the US team at the 2019 CISM Military Olympics.
In order to accomplish this goal I need to jump some ranks in the cycling world. I won’t have a chance of making the team as a Cat 3 racer. Luckily, I am now completely focused on cycling. I have been focusing all my efforts on increasing that 10 minute power and under, relying on that triathlon strength I have for the longer power. I have been able to do this through a couple of workouts.
A lot of coaches will scoff at this plan because it isn’t really periodized to the season. It doesn’t matter because I needed to focus on building the shorter duration power before the season. So I focused on the short power this winter and padding it with a lot of aerobic base work. Then, when it gets closer to the season I will get back into the short power, like a traditional build. The moral of the story is, don’t always be afraid to work on something just because it is out of season. You can do sprints in the winter so you are better prepared come spring time. Just be careful with how frequently you do it.
Injury, an endurance athlete's worst enemy. Injury starts as doubt and culminates in constant pain and eventual time off. This is a result of our effort to be the best. We push our bodies right up to the point where we are teetering on the brink of injury. Our bodies are constantly fatigued, tight, and sending those signals to the brain to stop. To be an endurance athlete, especially in today's competitive world, means pushing the body.
I started 2016 with the goal of becoming a professional triathlete. I am half way through 2016 and don't even know if I can really run again... I finished 2015 with a nagging foot problem and I started the season the same way. Every time I ran more than 30 minutes my first metatarsal joint would throb, my second toe would scream, and my left leg would fatigue. All of this is related to that gruesome accident I encountered in 2014. I pushed through most of the pain going into the 2015 season and set new PRs. Eventually it caught up to me which started with my first podiatrist visit in May 2015. Four podiatrists and over a year later I am indefinitely finished with running. Man, I can honestly say it is extremely tough to write those words. Running is what changed my life. It brought me out of depression, thoughts of suicide, and just a tough time of my life. I am attached to running. I love cycling, don't get me wrong, but it just doesn't fill that void.
Raleigh 70.3 was the last triathlon I raced. I came off the bike in 2nd place after biking the top amateur bike split. The first mile of the run felt great but then the foot pain started to creep in. I tried to fight the signals to my brain. The pain grew with every step. After 3000 impacts my left foot started to overpower my determined mind... I pulled out while I was in 2nd place in AG. I just wasn't mentally capable of suffering through another 12 miles. I decided it was time to stop messing around and just get this foot problem resolved. I am only 25 year old and there is no reason to suffer for another 50+ years. So with that, I am seeing a foot and ankle surgeon at the end of August. I am always hopeful that the next doctor will give me the answer I want... to be able to run again.
This past Wednesday I participated in a local track-like/criterium style bike race called Ring Of Fire. The evening started out well with a win in the 'C' race which is made up of Cat 4/5 riders. The 'C' race was fast right from the beginning with me setting the pace. I wanted to test everybody's legs and also input some fatigue into their legs quickly. I kept the pace high for the first 6 laps (points are scored on every 5th lap) and then let off the gas just slightly. Some damage had been done to the group and the field size shrank. Around lap 8 there was a prime, prize for the lap, up for grabs and the field went for it. I was beat to the line on this occasion by a rider visiting from Florida. Everybody looked exhausted at this point so I decided to make another strong surge to see who had anything left. I ended up breaking away from the group and ended up lapping half of the field by the last lap.
Ring of Fire is held on an abandoned automotive race track that is 500m long. There is a slight bank to the track and it is made out of pavement. Starting in April and going until August there is a weekly Point based criterium race and is always filled with action and excitement. This past Wednesday was the first race of the year which brought some big crowds and eager legs.
After completing the 'C' race I had 20 minutes until my next race which was the Cat 3/4 race. An even bigger field than the 'C' race pulled up to the line. Sadly, after 5 laps I was involved in a bad crash. The pack was finalizing their lead up coming out of the final corner when the rider in front of me began to slow down rapidly. I attempted to move to his outside but could not get my front wheel around his rear wheel. We crossed wheels and I lost control. I went pin-balling into a rider (and friend) to my right but had too much momentum to stay upright. I ended up flipping over the bars and slamming onto my back. We were going close to 30 mph at this point so when I hit the ground I slid for a couple of feet towards the track wall. When the dust settled I was laying face up and trying to catch my breath. I could feel a throbbing pain in my right side closer to the back and figured it might be a broken rib. I laid on the track for a minute or so while a local doctor checked me out. After he cleared me of any spinal damage we shuffled off the track to be checked out by the first-responders. I was in some serious shock and was having a lot of trouble talking because of the difficulty of breathing. After about 30 minutes my wife arrived and took me to the local hospital for further evaluation.
I limped my way into the Emergency Room feeling like a person on a TV show. I was in bad shape walking through the doors and caught the attention of the nurses at the front desk. Mission Hospital put me on the fast tract line due to my injuries and breathing problems. After about 3 hours of scans, imaging, and meeting with doctors I was diagnosed with a fractured rib and a small pneumothorax (collapsed lung). I was required to stay overnight for observation and possible surgery to inflate the lung. Little sleep and many hours later I was finally in the clear and released from the hospital. I am writing this three days after the accident and already feeling a lot better. Showers sting and deep breathing still sucks but is improving dramatically every day. As of right now I still plan to race at New Orleans but will not do anything to risk further injury or significantly delay the recovery process.
Thanks for reading and leave comments if you have questions or any other thoughts.
Growth is extremely important to me and that is why I am extremely excited to announce a partnership with Culprit Bikes for 2016.
"Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth." Joshua Colp, founder and CEO of Culprit Bicycles knows this quote all too well. Shaking up the bike industry has been his job. Joshua fell in love with the bike industry when he moved out to Taiwan as a missionary. While he was there he started working closely with manufacturing plants and building strong relationships with leaders in the industry. He built a solid base of experience through working with a wide variety of brands, including Token. Josh then got married and his wife pushed him to follow his dreams and to make his designs a reality. Culprit Bikes was born.
Culprit's big thing is being a little different. Look at his bikes and designs, disc brakes??? Culprit bikes created the second ever road disc bike and was the first company, even out of the big boys, to release an aerodynamic disc bike. The Culprit Croz Blade brought some big changes to the bike industry. Now you can turn on a UCI race and see at least a couple bikes with disc brakes. Another big innovation, right on the horizon of production is the Culprit Legend. This thing has been all over the big triathlon blogs and websites. Slowtwitch, TRS Triathlon, Tririg have all written a piece about the Legend. The Legend is one of the big things that got me interested in Culprit. I remember reading some posts on Slowtwitch about the Legend so I decided to send Josh an email to learn more. We sent a lot of emails back and forth talking about the Legend and Culprit bikes in general. The Legend is still waiting on some funding to be able to create the necessary molds. Joshua is an extremely passionate and determined designer and owner. I can see he really cares about creating top of the line product while still affordable and with custom options!
Another thing that makes Culprit stand out from its competitors is the awesome frame designer tool.
If you wanna be pro, you gotta look pro. What better way to look professional and stand out than having a custom painted frame. Yes, a custom painted frame and even better is that it is included in with the frame pricing. You buy a bike from Culprit and you get a custom painted frame, Culprit cycling kit, Culprit mini-tool, and a solid warranty to back it all up.
I am beyond excited to be working with Joshua and his rising brand of Culprit Bicycles. I will be riding the Croz Blade as well as the Bullet for next season. I'd say keep an eye out for me but I won't be hard to miss.
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