Al’s Insanity, Days 19-28: It’s the final countdown!

OK kids, when last I left off, before my overly long feedback break, I had just finished the intervals for week three and was preparing to eat me a sandwich of the gods (it was so damn good, I wish I had another one that I could be eating right now).  Since then here’s what happened:


First, I sat on my butt for a good 36-ish hours, and then I smoked a brisket.  Saturday we had people come in from out of town so I wasn’t able to do my long hill repeat session on time.  However, I did have plenty of brisket, empanadas, chorizo stuffed mushrooms, and a slice of key lime pie.  It was a hell of a workout; I’m really surprised that Al didn’t put that in his plan; perhaps in the next revision.  However, on Sunday, I did my pennance by heading over to my little strip of hills and rode up and down them until I think the people who live there were ready to call the cops and report a crazy guy on a bicycle that must be casing houses or trying to snatch kids or something.  Three sets of 20 minute repeat sessions with enough of a break between to forget just how lousy those last few minutes of the previous repeat felt.  All in all, it was about two hours out on the course, a bit less than what was prescribed, but I had to get home and finish cleaning the kitchen from the night before under threat of more pain than even Al can dish out.  And thus ended week three of four.


Kicking off the final week of the program was a day of strength work on Monday, or as I’ve come to call it, “Happy, happy hip hell day”. Damn those leg raises/circles, they really know how to ruin a good Monday.


Tuesday was supposed to be hill repeats, but my schedule was a bit cramped, so I swapped days with the intervals once again, as I can get them done about 30 minutes faster than the hill repeats.  Since we were now up to three minute intervals, I had to find an appropriate location to do them. I needed a place where I could have at least a mile of road, uninterrupted by stop lights, and with preferably light traffic.  After a bit of scouring google map, for long stretches of road and using street view to scout for stop lights and signs, I finally stumbled upon the near perfect solution: the mall that I ride past every day on my commute.  This mall has a nice ring road encircling it that is 1.3 miles long, has just a handful of entrances with low traffic (depending on the time of day, as we will see soon), and not a stop light to be seen. The first three intervals were great; I was riding full out and never even had to slow for carss at any of the entrances. But as the time wore on, and more and more people were getting out of work and heading to the mall, I started having to slow a bit to let cars in ahead of me (for the most part the sight lines were good, so I could just slightly drop my pace from a good distance away to let them clear), and on the final interval I actually had to stop twice to let a couple strings of cars through.  On the plus side for the last couple of intervals I was able to race cars as they were driving around the ring-road to get to the mall entrance they wanted.  That was probably more fun than it should have been.  I’m quite glad I thought about doing my intervals here. Early on Sundays, it’s got to be a ghost town and a great place to time-trial; heck, it would probably be a great place to throw together an impromptu nighttime crit.  I’m definitely coming back here for more.


Wednesday was my last set of strength work for the program, and I was almost sad to see it go.  By this point in the program, my right knee is much more stable in the lunges than it started out (still not in the same place as my left knee though, that’s going to take more time and work), and my hips are much stronger than when I started. I’ve upped the number of leg raises by 50% and the number of circles by 66% from the first few times through the routine. And as mentioned a couple of updates back, all of the glute and hip work has actually changed the way I pedal, but as with my  knee I’ve still got plenty of work to do there. At least I’ve got a foundation to build upon now.


Time being time and never stopping its flow, Thursday comes around and it’s time to head back to the hills that I was supposed to visit on Tuesday.  The directions say to do these repeats on a hill with an average grade of 7+%, but the closest hill of that grade and of any length is probably down in the Austin hill country (a three to four hour drive), or possibly up over the Oklahoma border (about two hours).  And since neither the dogs, nor the lady of the house would appreciate me disappearing for many hours just to ride some hills, I simply climbed my standard 4-5% hills in a higher gear than I’d been using.  This got ugly pretty fast, with much grinding, a bit of out of saddle riding, and a whole lot of swearing.  I got four climbs in before I started feeling it in my knees (I almost have my saddle position dialed in for my new stroke, but it’s still a bit off), so I cautiously bailed in an effort to not hurt myself and miss the final glorious day of hill repeats on Saturday.


And glorious they were, even if they weren’t “hill” repeats.  I know I should have gotten clearance from the Pain Meiser beforehand, but the relatively short ups and downs of the hills that I have available just don’t mesh well with the long weekend hill sessions, especially when you’ve got four sets of repeats to do.  And so I instead rode down to White Rock Lake and its nine mile loop and did 4×20:00 in the 53×12-14 range, keeping my RPE around 7-8 (which is a real bear to do for 20 minutes, talk about going into the pain cave).  I made it a point to do the last interval entirely in my 53-12 (sadly, I have no 11 on my cassette), so I was up and out of the saddle climbing over the short rises like I was ascending the Tourmalet.  Of course, I had no anger in my belly, so I wasn’t able to look like Andy Schleck out there (more like Andy Schmuck), but still, I ground that bastard out ’til the clock struck 20:00.  By the time I was done my back and legs were wiped. It felt like I had done a few sets each of squats and deadlifts, good thing I had an appointment with my massage therapist later that day.


Anyway, with that ride, my little four week experiment had drawn to a close (unless you count the stretching and Stick work I did on Sunday). So how did it go overall?  I think fairly well.  The biggest thing for me has been the awakening of my backside in my pedal stroke.  I’m pretty sure that this is going to be a huge boon for me as I start ramping up the miles on my rides and when I actually encounter those things that people call hills on my rides. More muscles working should mean greater endurance and greater power, but I won’t really know if that pans out for a few weeks.  I can say that my commute times have been dropping steadily over the past three weeks, and I haven’t been putting in any actual efforts to ride harder on my commutes (in fact, I usually tried to take it a bit easy so I could recover from the added training).  If anyone really cares, I can provide numbers on this when I get home, but my commutes are so short I don’t really know how useful the info is. 


Am I climbing any better? That’s hard to say, as we don’t really have any long hills to test this out on.  I feel better in the short climbs, but I don’t know how that translates to climbing endurance.  I guess i’ll let you know how I feel in six weeks after climbing that bridge over the Mississippi River.  As for leg speed, another of Al’s targets, I’m also unsure if this was affected as the sensor for my cadence meter has a cracked base so it’s not on my bike anymore.  I suppose the next time I’m out there riding I can count strokes while watching the clock on my computer to see if my cruising cadence has changed any from its old 86-ish RPM thanks to the new stroke.  Next time I’m out riding, I’ll do this and report back.


Regarding the program itself, it has its good points and its bad points (as you’ll see, these are sometimes the same thing).  On the good side, it’s fairly flexible. If I needed to slip a workout by a day, or swap workouts due to schedule, I could.  Also on the good side is that it’s quite simple, really, the whole schedule fits easily in your head.  With the exception of looking up the exercises and their order in the strength sessions, I would have never needed to look at the program writeup after that first couple of days. Also good is the limited time required to devote to the program. It’s about 4-6 hours per week on the bike and maybe an hour in the gym (not counting stretching and foam rolling).  If you can’t fit this into your schedule, you really need to find a new schedule.  And of course, on the good side would have to be that it does appear to have helped make me a better rider.  As detailed above, I’ve still got a ways to go, and the results still need to be put to the test of time, but I have noticeably improved in at least one metric.


On the bad side, my main complaint is the same as one of the good points; it’s quite simple, really; perhaps too simple.  For a four week program, this never really became an issue, but if I were to extend it out to six or eight weeks, I think the repitition of the structure would really start to wear on me in a sort of on “if it’s Tuesday, it must be intervals” sort of way.  Even with the four week plan it might have been nice to have a second strength workout to mix into the schedule.  Also on the down side is the 2:1 hill to interval ratio, mostly because it’s just harder for me to do hill work here.  Were I living by Al, or even back in Albuquerque, where I had hour long climbs and some pretty sick grades at my disposal, this wouldn’t have been as big of a complaint, but there are vast swaths of this country that don’t have good climbing options to work with and I happen to live in one of them.  And yeah, I know you can simulate it with a big gear and on the trainer (as I did a couple of times) but that doesn’t seem as natural or something.  Enh… maybe I’m just overthinking it.  Other than that, I suppose I would like to have seen an explanation of what the purpose/targets of some of the exercises in the strength work were (the kneeling side bends and windmills — I assume those were more for mobility than strength), but since it never even rose to the level of sending Al an email and asking, it’s a really minor complaint.  Overall it was far more thumbs up than thumbs down.