PREPARING FOR AND RACING IN THE FURNACE CREEK 508
Using CompuTrainer as the Fast Track to Speed
After 15 Years away from Racing
by Paul Skilbeck. Author "Single Track Mind" VeloPress, 1996
"Would you like to race the Furnace Creek 508 with me in a two-person team?" This question came pretty much out of the blue, from Johnny Boswell, one of the RAAM officials, in Atlantic City on June 29th Ė the day after the 2005 race ended.
I last competed seriously in 1990. Back then I was a mountain bike racer competing on the European Grundig Challenge circuit. My results were respectable, but not spectacular, climbing into the top 20 on my better days. Riders like Tim Gould and Mike Kluge were winning those races. In 1991 this circuit expanded to include North American races and took the name "Grundig World Cup."
Fast forward to 2005, and somebody was asking me to race in the toughest weekend road cycling event on the US circuit. Sure, I was riding regularly at the time, but I hadnít been training to race. For better or for worse, I agreed, knowing I had three full months to get fit enough that my effort wouldnít be an embarrassment to my team-mate Ė a very fit 52 year-old with several double centuries under his belt.
Since I do PR work for RacerMate, I have a CompuTrainer in my basement, which I had used occasionally, promising myself Iíd use it more if I ever trained for a race. But the lure of the hills of the Marin headlands and Sonoma County proved too strong, and I opted for the scenic route instead of the indoor experience.
After a month of these beautiful training rides four or five times a week I was thoroughly enjoying my cycling and I was slowly getting stronger, but I was not seeing the kind of fitness gains I had expected. Being an exercise physiologist I had an idea what I was looking for, and this was not it.
I turned to the CompuTrainer early in August. Even though I was riding half of a 508-mile race (we rode in approximately 60-mile turns), I knew I did not want to replicate that kind of mileage in my training. What I needed was something a lot shorter and intense without leading to high muscle acidity.
I programmed the CompuTrainer with some 20, 30, and 40-mile flat courses, and some with some uphill steps. No descents. Thus I had work-outs of one to two hours, with varying intensity but nowhere that I could easily rest. Sure I could slow down on the flat parts, but that would really have be whimping out. Many CompuTrainer users design some descent into their courses, and I can say from experience that this is harder than descending out on the open road, but for me, I chose the NO RESPITE option. If I wanted something soft and easy, Iíd have sat down on the sofa and watched a film.
How would I describe a CompuTrainer session? Itís very different. Ever been jogging? You notice how much better fitness value it is than 30 minutes of cycling outside. Thatís because you maintain a high pulse rate throughout, even when going downhill. Meet CompuTrainer. Design a flat course and your heart rate profile will fluctuate in a 5 beats/minute range for the full ride. You get live feedback on your power output, cadence, and your heart rate too, so you can monitor yourself throughout your ride.
The results were spectacular. Using the CompuTrainer three times a week, the fitness gains I was looking for soon started coming. And how!
As a physiologist, I had to question why should it be that this form of training conditions the body so much more quickly than being out on the open road? One thing is time. For a busy person trying to run a PR company, it was great to get a thorough workout completed inside two hours. Another thing is where you feel these gains: out on the road. The CompuTrainer conditions you to go hard without letting up. Come to a downhill and you hit the big gears, you donít take a rest. You donít need it. If you do take a rest, you feel like you are slacking off, and when you get back to the hard pedaling it feels so much better: youíre back in your rhythm. Come to a big climb, you know you have the strength to maintain an even pace for an hour or more. You feel like the Energizer bunny, just going on and on and on. The CompuTrainer courses I selected specifically condition the body to ride in an unrelenting style. For time trialists, mountain bikers and triathletes, this is what you want.
A different course can easily be altered or built from scratch to suit road cyclists, as Jay Gumpís students discovered, but I do not have first hand experience of this approach to talk about here.
What I can tell you is how it went for me in the Furnace Creek 508.
Remember, I had not raced for 15 years prior to this event. The 508 is a race that calls for unrelenting, and I had this in spades. I went fast on the flats, fast on the climbs, and fast on the descents. My legs never once felt tired or heavy throughout the entire race. Sure, I was careful to stay below the 4mmol point, so I never suffered much from acidosis of the muscles, but I was delighted how my legs just seemed to go on and on.
My team, Red Kangaroos, won the 2-person category outright and set a new course record in the 40+ age group.
Without the CompuTrainer conditioning I have no doubt that I would have lacked this aggressive unrelenting style of pedaling.
CompuTrainer training is not as fun or as pretty as being in the outdoors. But of my 11-hour training week, I only rode 4.5 hours on the CompuTrainer. When using the CompuTrainer all of my riding had a lot more focus. I learned a huge amount about pedaling efficiency and cadence, I enjoyed my outdoor rides more, and my race experience was a trip Iíll remember for a long time to come. Easy? No, CompuTrainer is not easy. Thatís why it makes you go faster.
Recommended? Yes, that is, if you want to do well in races. People out there, like myself, are benefiting from the CompuTrainer advantage. Thatís making it awfully tough on our rivals.
Just ask Tim Becker, a 5 times age-group duathlon world champion who only won after starting to use CompuTrainer and who also happens to be RacerMate's Sales Manager. Heís been benefiting from the CompuTrainer advantage for years.