Bike training: At home and with fancy classes

Hello everyone, this is Jeff, and I’ll be your guest-blogger for today! Our training has been proceeding apace, and we’re getting closer to race season, which starts with a couple smaller races before culminating in the Ironman. Before we switch our focus over to race coverage though, we have one other aspect of the past couple months that we wanted to discuss….Bike training (and specifically the classes at Element Cycles)!

For our bike training, we primarily ride on our trainers at home while we watch TV or movies. We store them, with our bikes, in the corner of our living room. The trainer is the green thing attached to the rear wheel in the picture, and we pull them out to the center of the room so we can see the TV when we’re actually using them, though occasionally I will do a short ride without bothering, which Danielle finds funny/weird.

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Up close look at our trainers in our living room, so many hours spent spinning together…

Now that the weather is improving again, we’ll shift some of that riding to outside, for variety, to be out in the beautiful Seattle summer, and because there are slightly different muscle-groups and skill-sets that you use on outdoor rides than on a stationary bike. We’re currently up to 4 hrs for our long, weekend bike, which means that I’m at 5 bottles of Gatorade and 3 Clif bars per ride (Danielle is at a little lower nutritional intake since she’s smaller, but still quite high).

We’ve also done two riding classes at Element Cycles in Redmond, which was an interesting and enjoyable experience! We sadly neglected to take any pictures during either of them, so you’re stuck with only my words (disappointing, I know), but I’ll try to use some esoteric and stupefying ones to make up for it 😉

The “classroom” at Element is basically a large, open room with 12 bike stations set up in front of a projector screen. You bring your own bike, and they attach it to a trainer, but instead of just putting pressure against the back wheel, the way our trainers do, you take your back wheel off, and attach your bike chain to the gears on a little machine instead (this becomes important in a moment).

The projector screen displays statistics for each rider, and these vary slightly with the type of class, but always include wattage (measure of power), speed, and a couple others. If one happened to be a competitive person (which clearly my wife and I are not), one might spend significant portions of the class attempting to out-perform the other riders…

Our first class (and the one I slightly preferred) was a leg from an actual bike race. It had a “course map” showing the entire course (complete with climbs and descents), and it had a line showing the position of each rider. Based on your weight (including the weight of your bike) and wattage output, as well as the grade of the hill, it kept track of your speed and it moved your line along at that speed. Just like a real, professional race (and unlike any race we’re likely to be in), it also tracked the time gaps between riders, so you could see how close you were to catching the next person (or to being caught). One particularly realistic feature is that when you get to an uphill or downhill stretch, the machine attached to your bike increases or decreases the resistance. That way it feels just like an outdoor course, where you are constantly switching gears to match the gradient.

We had a full class of 12, and as the race started, I was a little apprehensive as to how I would measure up (having only biked on my trainer at home since getting serious with our training). I started out at a fairly strong pace, and was surprised to find myself in the lead for the first quarter or so of the race, while Danielle was more towards the back of the pack (presumably strategically pacing herself for a big move later on). I realized that I probably couldn’t maintain my pace for the full 90 minutes of the class, so I eased up a bit, and soon found myself in a three way “race” (not to imply that I was constantly measuring myself against the other two who were near me on the course…okay, I totally was 😉 ) for first.

We had a couple drop-outs, and one of the three fell back, leaving me and a girl named Stephanie (who looked discouragingly and annoying like she was not trying nearly as hard as I was to maintain a similar pace) at the front going into the final 15 minutes. Danielle was showing incredible patience by still hanging towards the back of the pack, though she had passed 3-4 people (2 of whom had dropped out, which definitely counts as beating them), my wife is clearly a brilliant tactical rider to craftily position herself in such a way ;).

I decided that I was not going to let Stephanie beat me, so I started really pouring on the speed and power, and as you might expect, with my Iron Will, Steadfast Determination, and Thews of Steel, I didn’t let her beat me. Sadly, despite my not “letting” her, she just went ahead and did it anyway. At the end she commented, “you really made me work for that one,” said after what was a noticeable increase in exertion towards the end of the ride, but still looking far from peaked and in a normal tone of voice. “Thanks”, I wheezed/gasped, after collecting my breath for several seconds in order to be able to speak at all. Still, I was extremely happy with my performance, and Danielle passed another person or two to finish mid-pack (including drop-outs, but we know my position on those 😉 )

For our second time at Element, we did a 60-minute class that was a bit different, and Danielle preferred this one, though we both enjoyed both of them. The physical setup was the same, but instead of a course map, there was an actual narrative video, wherein we all joined the “Sufferlandia” bike team and competed in several races. It gave us wattage targets for each time period (and they changed fairly rapidly), while the video narrated the story, using real footage from actual bike races. Our wattage targets were baselined individually, but all went up and down together, and they turned different colors (green/yellow/red) depending on whether or not we were hitting them. So if the video was of a hill where we needed to “pull our team leader up to the front,” our wattage target would be higher, then after everyone caught up and was in a feed zone, the target would be lower. The guy running the class had to guess for both of our baselines, since it was our first class of that type. This time around, the resistance level on the trainer was constant, and you increased or decreased wattage just by changing your RPMs and by changing gears.

We started off, and it was definitely interesting and enjoyable, but he had also definitely set my baseline too low. Thankfully, there were several others in the class who had higher baselines, so I just found the guy with the highest target and started going by his instead of my own (it’s possible I was influenced by a desire to have the highest average wattage at the end, but probably not, as I’m likely above such motivations 😉 ). We finished the class, and this time I did succeed at being on top in raw wattage (though to be fair, I was probably also the biggest person there or close to it), but guess who beat me (and maybe had the top?) as far as wattage/kg (power/size)? You guessed it, Danielle was crushing it out there, and had also been under-baselined but went above it, and she beat my wattage/kg.

The moral of the story? We’re getting to be quite a bit better at biking, going harder, going longer, and generally kicking butt, yet the 112-mile bike (as only a part of the Ironman) still seems pretty fricking daunting 😉

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