It’s true: This week I made a personal discovery that time trials are ideal for those who want to ride fast, but are too soft to suffer. Now, hold on a sec – before you girly-man time-trialers get your panties in a bunch. let me clarify. I am not saying that all time-trialers are wussies. I am only saying that there is evidence that time-trials are good for wussies. (Note that the focus is on the time trial, not the time-trialer.) …and that girly-man time-trialers wear panties. Of course, if you do not wear panties, you are unlikely to be a girly-man. (Again, watch for focus people.) Anyway, let me tell you what happened.
Some of you may know that I have been taking part in a study at Stanford University which apparently is testing the effects of bicycling with one really cold hand. Yep, you read that right. But that is another story. Anyway, to date I have gone through a VO2-max test, a Lactate Threshold test, and two time trials. The interesting results of the time trials are what I want to share with you.
The time trials are completed indoors on a Velotron Dynafit Pro bike. It is connected to a computer which measures heart rate, body core temperature, cadence, speed, and all the rest. During the test blood is drawn every 5 minutes to measure blood lactate. The lucky user (me) self-selects cadence and resistance, but does not get to see any of the vital stats except heart rate. After the tests though, we do get to see the blood lactate readings.
Knowing that pacing is critical to a good time trial, during the first test I went out easy. I rode a fast pace, but didn’t particularly strain myself. About five minutes into it (at my first blood lactate draw), the tester says to me, “can you see your heart rate?” It was at 140 bpm. This is pretty darn low – about 75% of my max. I took his statement to mean, “WTF. You need to go harder, dude!” I know by feel how hard I was working, and I was doing a good pace. My plan was to slowly ramp it up. Besides, he was making me ride for an hour on a stationary bike with no floor fan, a tube up my nose and down the back of my throat, all the while sticking me with needles. I figured, I didn’t owe him anything.
Ten minutes into it I was going hard. At fifteen, I was going at what I felt was my full TT pace. My heart rate was a higher than expected at 170 bpm (90% of max), and I really had to dig to keep the power and cadence steady. It felt quite hard, but I was up for the punishment. I maintained this pace by digging whenever I needed to, and drinking whenever possible. I wanted to quit on a few occasions, but instead I cut the resistance back just enough so I could continue a consistent cadence. My heart rate was pretty steady at 172-175 bpm for the last 30 minutes. It was all I had, but I finished in 59:08. I was cooked (literally), and quickly got to the job of replenishing the 3 pounds of water I had lost during that hour.
Looking back on day one’s blood lactate measurement, I noted that I actually had started pretty hard. Despite showing a relatively low heart rate, by minute ten and fifteen I was at 6 mmol/l. This is above what I would expect, and beyond what I could sustain. Over the whole test, I averaged about 5 mmol/l, which appears to be consistent with the previous week’s lactate threshold test.
Test two was going to be a different story though. I was a bit tired, and did not feel like suffering. Besides, my blood lactate levels showed that I went out too hard, so today I was going even easier. This day, the first 10 minutes were around 140 heart rate, the next ten around 160, and I was at 170 by minute 30. Note that I never increased my resistance or cadence. I went out at a reasonable pace, and just held it there. Over time, my heart rate creeped up and my perceived effort increased. Although I was going good, I never felt like I was drilling it. I never “red-lined,” or otherwise had to dig deep. I just rode it. I should note that around minute 45, I felt sick to my stomach. It could have been dehydration, but I was also acutely aware of that stupid temperature gauge shoved up my nose tickling the insides of my stomach. I pressed on nonetheless.
I finished in 55:11. Four minutes faster than the previous week! If you know time trials, you know that four minutes is a huge improvement. My blood lactate showed that I was at 3.5 at minute 5, and about 4 to 4.5 the rest of the ride.
So what did I learn?
- Do not set the pace based on a single heart rate.
- Don’t go over your Lactate Threshold, ever.
- To be fast over 60 minutes, don’t strain yourself. Ride like you want to get there fast, but not like you really want to get there fast.
Now that you know the details, let’s go back to where we were at the beginning of this blog. Remember back when you were pissed off at me for all those things I said, that I really didn’t say? Well, now you know why I said that there was evidence that time trials are for wussies. If you happen to be a wussy and are genetically gifted, then you probably love time trials. You probably even ride them faster than the “hard men,” because while they are pouring their guts out, you are riding easy and whining, “…but it just hurts too much when I go harder.”