Training For Real Riders #2: Setting Baselines

The Real Riding is underway! This was the week of setting benchmarks figuring out where I’m at so I’ll have some idea how far I went by June 19. Under Frank’s strict tutelage, I did 3 tests to set some baselines.

The famous and grueling test of Metal course profile. 67km single lap circuit, 1,200 metres of climbing and 35 kilometres of singletrack. Mass start, 800 rider limit. Last time I did it was 1998, in 4 hours. The plan is to cash in on my early season fitness, gained in prep for the Belgian Classics, and carry it through to June 19, to hopefully better my time.
Photo courtesy of

Real Riders: Defined Again
Last week we defined what makes a “Real Rider”, and the truth is… there are as many definitions a there are riders… But for this series, we’ll continue with our definition to include:

Part of being a “real rider” is the reality of getting on your bike when you can and enjoying the ride. I’m 41 years old, married to the lovely Mrs. Pez, no kids yet, but busy enough with other interests that I’ve discovered more to life than “just” riding (I admit to a new-found interest in growing grapes in my backyard… I guess we all turn into our dads at some point). Don’t get me wrong, I love riding, which is why I’m still pushing myself to find new levels of pain and performance, and why I’m writing this. Real riding is about fitting riding into your life.

So, onto the training! The past two weeks have been about setting my baselines of fitness. I followed Frank’s advice and three tests…

FRANK SAYS: Set The Base!
By setting a baseline using an accurate, reliable, & repeatable protocol we can compare your power before we started working together and in 7 weeks after training. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see a noticeable increase in your maximal steady state threshold and in the distance you travel up your test hill in same amount of time.

PEZ DOES: Let’s Get Maximal
First was the Maximal Steady State test, done two weeks ago on the CompuTrainer, to determine my maximal steady state power and heart rates . In detail, I did my usual 15 minute warm-up on the CompuTrainer, began the test at 125 watts, spinning at 102 rpm. The test protocol involved ramping up my wattage by 25 watts at three minute intervals for the next 12 minutes, taking me up to 225 watts, while recording my heart rate at each workload increase. Once I hit the pace I felt I could sustain for a mountain bike race or a 40K time trial , I held that pace for the next 8 minutes. At 225 watts I recorded my hr every minute. Frank used the data to estimate my MSS heart rate at 159. Okay – sounded good to me.

Check me out – ! That’s me in my fave Kelme jersey, blasting out the start at the “Ripper” – put on by Vancouver’s own (awesome mtb website) and DizzyCycles

PEZ DOES: A Race Test
I then raced in an mtb hillclimb the following Saturday – my first race in about 5 years, and also my first with a heart rate monitor. The climb itself gained about 1000 feet (350 meters) on a fireroad, and took about 35 minutes. Frank advised that I do my pre-ride on Friday – NOT Thursday which I had suggested. Instead I used Thursday a rest, and used Friday as a warm-up for my muscles and legs. Again- not my traditional methods of mostly anecdotal training, but I was keen to listen to the master.

During my re-con climb – eve though I was not trying to go hard (yeah, right!) my heart rate rose to 169-172 for the duration of the ride up. Hmm – I was surprised – this was way higher than I’m used to riding for any sustained time – but maybe I’ve been taking it too easy? Okay – so I noted that my average hr for about 40 minutes was 169 bpm.

On race day – the next day – my hr data was the same. I rode the climb as hard as I could, and sustained a heart rate of 169-172. Okay Frank – what do you make of this?

PEZ DOES: The Final Benchmark
For the final mark of my current fitness – Frank had me find a good long local climb, and ride up as fast and far as I could get in 10 minutes. I used the Cypress Mtn.- the road up gains about 1800 feet (600 m) over 10km to a peak of around 950meters altitude at the top. The climb is basically 5 long straight sections of road connected by switchbacks, and a steady grade of 6-7%. There’s a good 350 meters of climbing form sea level here to get to the start point so I was good ‘n warm for the test. Hey – I even overcame my usual technological-disinterest to figure out how to use one of the the 3 stop-watch functions I had attached to me (VDO MC1.0 Altimeter, Sports Instruments Pro 0 heart rate monitor, and Timex watch).

So off I went, starting in 39×21, then quickly notching back to 39×23, before settling into a swicth between my 25 and 27 climbing gears for the duration. Being a smaller guy – I’m 5’8” weighing in at 136lbs – I don’t have the muscle mass to push big gear, so I rely on my spin and high cadence to get over the hills. Ever since I was once told that I had good “power to weight ratio”, I realized that I had in fact been born to climb, and have loved it ever since. Regardless – I went as hard as I could, my heartrate steadied at about 166 bpm, and I set my mark at a distance about 200 meters shy of the first switchback – we’ll keep our eye on this as we progress in the coming weeks .

FRANK SAYS: Where You Are & Where You’re Going
Given your previous endurance training, I am confident that you have sufficient aerobic endurance to handle a high intensity interval program. Our primary training goal will be to improve your maximal steady state power output which is specific to mountain bike race performance and your goal. We will accomplish this increased power output through a structured interval training program following the periodization principals developed by Dr. Tudor Bompa. Rich, I am going to take you out of your comfort zone on the bike and similarly I am going to prescribe many recovery days. Train hard, rest hard. As you adapt to the training you should notice gradual improvement from each training block as your body supercompensates and adapts to the training stimuli. That’s code for “getting faster”!

PEZ SEZ: Giddiyup!

Frank Overton
Frank is a USA cycling certified Expert coach and category 1road racer. On more than one occasion he has been known to bust out a few intervals in and around Boulder, CO. He can be reached at his website
cycling fitnesscycling nutritioncycling psychologycycling sciencecycling trainingToolbox