Rationing Your Matches
Last week I described how the pros ration matches, a technique that can benefit all roadies from commuters to racers and everybody in between.
It may not be noticeable on TV, but each racer carefully monitors the amount of effort he or she is putting out. At the start of a race, a smart pro imagines that he or she has a book of matches. Every time the racer makes a hard effort the rider burns a match, e.g., hammering up a hill, conquering a climb in the Pyrenees or the Alps, sprinting for points or the stage win, taking a pull at the front of a group, breaking away or chasing a break, chasing back to the peloton after a mechanical, etc. When the matchbook is empty the racer can’t get any more matches, the racer is out of gas.
On a ride, it might help to divide your ride into thirds. The first third should feel easy. In the middle third you can push, but be sure to leave a few matches to burn during the final third.
Don’t Chase Rabbits
Depending on a rider’s goals for a race and the team strategy, a pro decides whether to chase a break or not. Two clients of mine DNFd on a century two weekends ago. The route was confusing at the start, so they rode with a group of locals at a brisk 16 – 18 mph to avoid getting lost. Afterwards the husband wrote, “I knew the pace was too quick, but my heart rate monitor went belly up. I rode the century by feel, which is a problem because I don’t perceive exertion like most people. I use the HRM to be my governor and it was obviously needed.” Pacing is pretty simple on an endurance ride: the husband should have been able to chat easily with his wife the whole time.
On my website there’s an amusing story about chasing rabbits.
A negative split means doing the second half of a ride harder than the first half, i.e., having more than half a book of matches left midway through the ride. Whether it’s a 50 mile, 100K, 100 mile or longer ride I advise a client to start at the pace the rider thinks he or she will be riding the second half. This means consciously conserving energy – saving matches – during the first half of the ride.
Feedback from Perceived Exertion, Heart Rate or Power
Using feedback is a great way to pace yourself.
For an endurance ride I give a client two zones to ride in:
- Climbs not harder than zone 3: By Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) the client should still be able to talk comfortably but not whistle. This is 84 – 94% of Anaerobic Threshold (AT, also called Lactate Threshold) or 76 – 90% of Functional Threshold Power (FTP).
If a rider climbs harder then eventually the ride will have to slow down to recover and the overall time will be longer.
- Flats not harder than zone 2: The client should be able to talk and whistle. 69 – 83% of AT or 56 – 75% of FTP.
For a multi-hour ride riding by zones 3 and 2 will result in your best ride. The reason to work harder on the climbs than the flats is aerodynamic drag. If a rider puts out a constant effort on a rolling course then on the flats more of the energy is burned pushing through the air than going faster.
There are several caveats:
- Heart rate may be higher than normal because of excitement or other factors.
- As a ride wears, on due to fatigue a rider may not be able to climb in zone 3 or stay in zone 2 on the flats. That’s just cumulative fatigue and is okay.
- Conversely heart rate may rise later in the ride even though the rider isn’t working harder. This is known as cardiac drift. Due to fatigue the heart isn’t pumping as much blood per stroke so it has to beat harder to maintain the same cardiac output.
Studies show that RPE is as effective as heart rate at gauging effort — I ride by RPE. Power is superior to both; however, instantaneous power jumps around a lot and it’s hard to stay at a specified power level. Power data are much harder to interpret than HR or RPE.
Knowing and Using your Thresholds
Your AT or FTP are respectively your average heart rate or your average power for a one-hour time trial. What if a ride is shorter than an hour and you’re riding for time?
The stage 20 time trial in the 2018 Tour de France was over rolling terrain and finishing times were just over 40 minutes. Each racer knew how many watts he could sustain for about 40 minutes. That’s his 40-minute threshold. Even though he was trying to ration matches he didn’t ride at a constant power output. On the uphill sections he put out more power than his 40-minute threshold and on the flats he put out less than his 40-minute threshold.
If you are doing a timed event experiment to determine your threshold for that ride. Periodically I have a client do a 20-minute baseline time trial to see how much the rider has improved and whether the training zones need to be adjusted. Several days before the baseline TT, the client does a 10-minute TT on the same course as the baseline TT. As a rule of thumb every time the duration doubles the average speed, heart rate and power decrease by about 5%. If the client averages 20 mph with an average HR of 160 bpm and power of 250 watts for 10 minutes, then the rider’s 20-minute threshold is about 19 mph with a HR of about 152 bpm and power of about 225 watts. From this the client also learns what it feels like to go as hard as possible for 10 minutes. At the start of the 20 minutes it should feel almost as hard as the 10-minute TT. If it feels as hard as the 10-minute TT then the client is going out too fast and forgot about a negative split.
Using a Plan
Some of my clients ride centuries with rest stops. Some ride brevets. On a brevet, a rider must reach periodic controls within specified times. Other clients race multi-lap non-drafting time trials. The pacing for each is the same.
I work with the client to develop three plans:
- Base case plan: How long it should take to ride to each rest stop or control or to ride each lap of the time trial.
- Good day plan: The rider has good legs and conditions are good so the plan is faster.
- Bad day plan: The rider is having a bad day and the plan is slower.
The base case plan is the governor: the rider should arrive at the first control or rest stop or finish the first lap in X hours and Y minutes not faster and so on through the event. If the rider is having a great ride, then the rider goes for a negative split: in the mid-section of the ride the client changes the pacing to the fast plan. If a client isn’t having a good ride, then the rider adopts the bad day plan instead of struggling to faster than he or she can that day.
Your Best Season Ever
My two-article bundle Your Best Season Ever provides five Key Events as examples of pacing:
- Climb Whiner’s hill in 15:30. Whiner’s climbs 525 feet in two miles (160m in 3.2 km), a 5% grade.
- Finish the Race of Truth 10 mile (15 km) club time trial in 27:30 (averaging 21.8 mph / 35.1 km/h).
- Finish with the Big Dogs’ “A” group on the 50-mile (100 km) Saturday ride by rather than getting dropped.
- Finish the Hills and Valleys Century in 7:15 (or 200K in 9:00).
- Ride your first 100K on a personally defined route.
Part 1: How to plan and get the most out of your training (34 pages) I explain how to set appropriate goals for the season, how to assess your individual strengths and weakness and set appropriate personal objectives. You then use this information to build a plan including personal training volumes for different seasons and months. Based on the plan you create your personal workouts including:
- Exercising at the right intensities,
- Recovering fully to allow progress,
- Measuring your progress, and then
- Adjusting the plan.
Part 2: Peaking for and riding your event (37 pages) I describe how you can develop, test and employ a personal strategy for your Key Event of the season. I explain how to:
- Analyze your event to figure out what’s required for success.
- Develop specific training objectives based on that analysis.
- Create and test a personal strategy for your particular event.
- Train for peak fitness for your individual event.
- Taper so that you are fresh and on form on the starting line.
- Control how you ride your event for best performance.
The 71-page bundle Your Best Season Ever is only $8.98.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.