What's Cool In Road Cycling

New Feature: Training For Real Riders

Today starts the first of a season long series of training and fitness coaching articles, designed for “real riders”. We’re talking about guys and girls with real jobs, families and lives that dictate when and how much you can train, ride, and race. We’re probably talking about you…! We’ve selected a real life lab rat and Cat. 1 racer, named John Crowley, who will collaborate with our own expert in sporting science and real life Physiology PHD Stephen Cheung, to design a customized training program to illustrate how training theory can be applied to individual cyclists within the constraints of a full time job and other real life commitments.. Today, we begin with the basics: cycling goals and training history…

One of the biggest problems with the information age is that we’re bombarded with so many ideas that it’s sometimes difficult to separate the good from the bad and ugly. This is certainly true in bicycling, where most riders coach themselves despite having no physiology background and have to sift through an avalanche of training ideas. Worse yet, it can be very difficult to apply some of these abstract ideas or training methods into practical use to our real lives.

About JC: John Crowley (aka J.C.), lives, breathes, and rides in North Vancouver, BC. He’s been riding since 1985, and has raced Cat. 1 for several years. At 38, John is still enjoying the prime of his “butt-kicking” years on the bike, but as Vice-principal at a local high school involved in several extra-curricular activities with his students, his time available for training and maintaining a high level of fitness is harder to find, and more valued than ever before. Dr. Stephen Cheung thinks he can help…

Stephen: JC, thanks so much for being the inaugural PCN training guinea pig. I’ve tortured lots of subjects live in my lab, but I’m looking forward to torturing you remotely! I’ve harped about this in previous Toolbox articles, but my very first question to the athletes I work with is very simple. What are your goals this season?
John: Last year was a surprisingly good season. A strong Tour de Gastown (pro criterium in Vancouver) and a top 10 overall finish at the Test of Metal (tough 65km MTB Enduro) and were definite highlights. The hope is to start well in the spring training races on those blustery March weekends. Traditionally, I am a late season racer; the fitness usually only starts to come around after June. The Test of Metal is always a focus however. This year, I hope to do well in the late season races such as the Cheakamus Challenge. A focus will be a 3 day stage race in Hood River Oregon and if scheduling works out, I am hoping to attempt my first 24 hour race at the Gorge Games. As preparation for that, I hope to team up with Tom Stewart once again for the North Shore Enduro.

Stephen: Excellent goals, and we’ll do our best to get you there! You’re also a good illustration of how mountain road biking can mix! Now the second half of the equation. What is your history in cycling? This can be a pretty loaded question, so I’ll be more specific. First off, how long have you been cycling and how long have you been racing?

John: I took up cycling seriously in 1984 to “rehab” from running injuries. I moved up through the categories fairly quickly and was racing Cat. 3 for several years before moving to Cat. 2. My best year was 1989 when I was doing the full slate of Canada Cup races. I had a top 10 GC finish in both Edmonton and Calgary but primarily I saw my value as a team rider supporting my teammates. The last 10 years, work has been a serious commitment so I have taken a fairly relaxed approach to training and racing. However, my wife got involved in training and racing 3 years ago, and this has allowed me to pursue riding at a higher level.

Stephen: So you remember toe clips and down tube shifters too! Having so many years under your belt, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea what are your strengths and limiters. What areas of racing do you do well in, and what do you think needs some work?

John: Down tube shifters? I’ve still got unopened boxes of ‘new winner pro’ freewheels and Suntour Superbe Pro on my winter bike! I’ve always been a strong rider in crits. I’m a pretty good bike handler and since I’m pretty big, I don’t get pushed around too much. My strength is the second to last leadout man. I’m pretty good at generating watts; I remember getting to 600 plus watts during a VO2 test at UBC one year. I’m also a good starter; this helps in pro crits where you sit around for about 15 minutes then need to start hard and survive the first ten laps. I can dig pretty deep early in races. Being 6’3” climbing is never going to be my strength although one year I got down to about 170lbs and my strength to weight ratio was pretty good for getting over the hills. My greatest strength is my ability to get fit quickly; I recover from inactivity pretty fast and lose weight as soon as it gets warm. (although in my role as an administrator the donuts are piling up!)

Stephen: So given your goals for this year and what you’ve told me about your history, it appears that one of our main challenges from a purely training standpoint is to optimising power-to-weight ratio to help with the climbing. Now comes the third half (SC: I know this doesn’t add up, but it illustrates my point!) of the equation: tell us about your “real” life? What are your occupation and other responsibilities, and what are your time demands? Break down how your typical day and week goes?

John: This year has been crazy. I’m a vice principal (the enforcer!) at a high school in addition to teaching and coaching. I’m also in the middle of my masters (20 – 25 h a week). Of course I have a wife, I think, and we try and spend quality time together. We both try and ride to work when possible (about 15km each way,) however it seems I’m going to some meeting somewhere every other day so I need the car. The only constant I work towards training is our Saturday club ride. It’s a good distance with some solid tempo work. I’ve kept my power over the winter although I’m feeling the weight this year.

Stephen: Sheesh, how do you find time to breathe, let alone hang with the Cat. 1’s? That’s really impressive! Tell us what your typical training week might look like then.

John: Well, Saturday is the big day. 2 hours of double pace line at 35km/h then single pace line at 45km/h for a good session. Back down to double pace line for another 15km and then a single pace line windup to a pack sprint (Got two of ‘em already this year). Then survival for the next hour. Sundays are either road or a good XC ride. Monday to Friday is too difficult to predict. I try and do at least two aerobic workouts a week added with some senior men’s rec. basketball and some swimming. If I’m short on workouts, I run with my senior boys in practice. (short high intensity anaerobic stuff). This year I haven’t been in the weight room because of time constraints and a nagging shoulder injury (a tree jumped in front of me on an MTB ride). In Feb. we start Tuesday night park jams which are a total puke session. May – August is Tuesday niters (training crits) which are some of the best intensity training around. Wednesdays after March are Wednesday night rides to the North Shore; lots of rolling hills and tempo; usually 2 -2.5 hrs. Of course, in March, the Saturday club rides get replaced with the spring training races.

Stephen: You’re really lucky that the Vancouver area offers a mild (but wet!) climate and such a great variety of cycling terrain, along with weekly group rides and a solid spring series of races. Having a good chunk of the summer off sure helps too!

So let’s sum up what we know so far, JC. Given your heavy work duties, finding time to train and making every minute count during these early-season months is going to be absolutely essential if we’re to meet your goals and maintain any semblance of sanity. The good thing is that you’ve got a lot of endurance built up from your many years in the sport, and also that you know from your history that you tend to be able to regain fitness pretty quickly. This is going to be your ace up your sleeve! Keeping weight is also a major factor to your success, so this is another area that we’ll have to keep our eyes on. We’ll leave it at this for now. In our next interview session in two weeks, we’ll talk about how we’re going to periodize JC’s training over the whole year to meet his goals, and then break down some of these major periods. Feel free to send me any input into this series and how you might plan JC’s training!

About Stephen:
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. He has been an avid roadie since beginning university in the mid-eighties, and still has non-indexed downtube shifters on his winter bike and wool jerseys hanging in his closet. He can be reached for advice or comments at [email protected]

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