125 Miles of Pudding
Six days after I finished my winter training with my first indoor century, I brought the bike outside for my first substantial ride of the year: the Pittsburgh Randonneurs’ 125-mile Sandy Lake 200k brevet.
I had more than the usual nerves leading up to the ride. After all, it would be the longest ride I’ve done in two years, and I was going into it with essentially zero prep. In the past four months, I’ve only done a couple short rides outside, none of which I’d count as “training”.
Honest, I'm stretching!!! #notamidget
For the first time ever, all my winter riding was done indoors, on the trainer, using Zwift. I’d done a lot of that, but would that be sufficient to power me through a 10-hour, 125-mile ride? I was about to find out!
And what better way to put Zwift to the test? The rolling route from North Park to Sandy Lake and back has over 8,000 feet of climbing, making it the second hilliest ride I’ve done since 2009.
It didn’t begin auspiciously. Eight of us set out promptly at 7am in unexpectedly chilly 45-degree weather, and I somehow scraped my calf on my pedal pretty nastily as I first clipped in.
As the miles and hours passed, the sky cleared and the sun slowly warmed the air, and riders started shedding layers of clothing. Although it’s too early in the season for the leaves to be out, it was heartening passing outbursts of forsythia, cherry, dogwood, and magnolia. My legs felt good, but I rationed my strength, knowing I hadn’t done much (i.e. any) training for endurance. After a while, both my knees and my traps complained insistently (the latter are my biggest weakness on long-distance rides).
An undetected tailwind that had helped us ride north became a much more noticeable headwind on the return leg. My strength faded and I remained with slower riders at a casual pace, rather than burn my few remaining matches.
We eventually plodded back to our starting point at 5:10pm. That’s 40 minutes faster than the roughly comparable McConnell’s Mills 200k brevet I did back in 2016. As measured by Strava’s “Relative Effort” metric, it was the fifth hardest ride I’ve done since 2009.
Although this was my second 100-mile ride of 2019, it was my first IRL / outdoor century of the year, after last weekend’s indoor century on the trainer. And discounting that “Zentury”, this was the earliest in the year that I’ve done a 100 mile ride, beating my 2016 brevet by four days. As far as I can figure, it was also my 75th confirmed overall century; there might be others, but records from my early years are incomplete.
It was a satisfying day; I got some sun, hung out with friends, and knocked out my biggest athletic goal for the spring. I’m very pleased at how well it went.
But before I finish, I have to revisit my preparation. I went into this event with the goal of putting my wintertime indoor Zwift training to the test. Was it effective? Was it valuable? Let’s look at that in more detail…
Tan lines starter pack
On the plus side, Zwift is fun; it makes indoor workouts more than tolerable, even attractive. It ensured I started the event with excellent cardiac and aerobic conditioning, with leg strength that was up to long miles and hard climbs, and with touch points (hands and seat) that could tolerate time in the saddle. In terms of building early-season fitness, Zwift was an unqualified, smashing success.
There’s another side of the equation, however. Although I’d done some long efforts on the trainer, other than my grueling indoor “Zentury”, none were more than half the duration of my 200k. While I gained strength and aerobic conditioning, I wasn’t building up the endurance needed for 10-hour rides.
At the same time, all the high-resistance work I put in compromised my joint health, specifically my knees, where I’ve been experiencing pain both on the trainer and during outdoor rides. I’ll keep a close eye on that, so I can ride as long as possible without needing joint replacement surgery and the associated time off the bike.
A much lighter consideration (pun intended) is that indoor training didn’t allow my skin to adjust to the seasonal increase in sun—and specifically UV—exposure. Yeah, I came home with a bit of sunburn, on a five-inch spot just above each knee. For proper springtime training, my Zwifting setup might need a couple sun-lamps!
More seriously, the net-net on Zwift is that it has been a complete success, and I’m pleased that the investment produced the desired and worthwhile improvement.
My previous post, following my Zentury, summarized my winter training and said that I had achieved my two expressed goals for 2019: using Zwift to both get over my 2018 malaise, and to begin spring at a high level of fitness. Sunday’s Sandy Lake 200k brevet was the final proof (the proverbial pudding), and I couldn’t be pleaseder (sic) with the result.
I also couldn’t be pleaseder that I’m now on break, with no major events until the middle of June. I’ll be riding—and might get another century in—but a good training plan includes periodization, wherein peak training is followed by recovery and consolidation before kicking it up another level. Fortunately, I’ve got a few weeks to kick back before the solid block of summertime events line up like dominoes.
But so far—and for the first time in a year and a half—things are looking really good!