I’ve never really cared much for structured training. It’s not that I dislike the idea of it; I actually really like the thought of having a plan. I’ve read the popular books on training plans and mapping out your races and training to peak for key events. I even made a pretty fancy spreadsheet once that would track my training and progress. I think I only ended up logging 2 rides in it, but it sure looked cool. The problem was I didn’t have a suitable target. I hadn’t committed to anything outside the normal scope of my riding, so why change anything? Enter the Dirty Kanza.
I knew that if I was going to commit to riding 100 miles of gravel at the Dirty Kanza as part of team with my brother, that I needed a plan. It would be my first organized century and would be over some pretty unforgiving terrain. I dusted off the old training books, grabbed a highlighter from my daughter’s coloring bin, and set about designing a plan to get me across the finish line. But, after an hour of reading, I wasn’t too thrilled about my findings. Apparently, all I needed to devise a successful regimen was a PHD in human biology and 15 hours a week on the bike. So I ditched the books and turned to the time tested wealth of knowledge online. I was enlightened with such keen training advice as…
“Ride a lot as fast as you can”
“I doesn’t matter how much you train, it’s going to suck”
“Make sure to take a spare tube” (Really?!)
A bit more googling finally landed me on Chris Carmichael’s website where I found his book, The Time Crunched Cyclist. I figured if he could take Lance Armstrong to 7 Tour wins through the Pyrenees, he might have an idea on how I could drag my fat carcass 100 miles across Kansas with less training time. It was perfect. Not only could I keep my job, the realistic time commitment would still allow me to remember what my kids looked like, and the plan would most likely not end in a divorce. Huzzah! When the book arrived, I dove in.
The first couple chapters of the book are aimed at convincing you that long hours on the bike aren’t necessarily the only way to train and provided some basic science behind the plan. It covered how high intensity workouts benefited fitness and stressed the importance of rest, which is right up my alley. There was just enough science to make me trust the plan without feeling like I had read a text book.
These chapters were all about measuring intensity and proper nutrition. I got the feeling that Chris really wanted me to buy a powermeter to track my progress. As I was already a little apprehensive on spending $12 on a book to tell me when to ride, dropping another thousand on a gizmo was out of the question. I settled on tracking my workouts via heart rate monitor and certainly never felt like I was missing out. In fact, it helped me recognize where my limits were relative to my breathing effort and taught me how to better recover from a hard effort while still pedaling. I had been having good success with a Paleo diet, so I admittedly skimmed over the nutrition section.
I put this before chapter 5 because I think you should read it first. You’ll be tempted to jump right in after 5, but this one has some very important info on the plan and what you should realistically expect from it. Notice they put this after the actual plans and after the chapters convincing you it would work. 2 main things stood out to me….
1) Though the plans are 12 weeks long, most people peak in week 8 and it would be a pretty short window of performance.. I just counted 8 weeks back from the race and started there. I didn’t do the last 4 weeks of the plan.
2)These plans weren’t designed for hard efforts much past 3-4 hours. It took me about 7.5 to ride my Dirty Kanza Century.
This is why I bought the book, the meat and potatoes. This Chapter gives you a few different training plans based on what kind of race you’re aiming at. All of the plans looked suspiciously similar, but I opted for the Experienced Century plan. No, I wasn;t an experienced century rider, but my other option was labeled “Beginner” and my pride is fragile. The actual workouts are laid out in weekly plan which equates to 4, 1-1.5 hr workouts and 3 rest days a week. I’ll also point out that the schedule has more acronyms than the Dept. of Defense (DoD), so you’ll be flipping back and forth looking them up for a while.
These chapters give you some strength training ideas as well as info on an “Endurance Block” if you happen to find yourself with a few days with no obligations. I’m not sure where these are supposed to fit in the plan, as they stress rest days early in the book and give you intervals to ride 4 days a week. I didn’t do any of it.
8 weeks out from the race I strapped on my heart rate monitor, stuck Weird Science into the DVD, and mounted the spin bike in my basement. I found the workouts much easier to follow under the controlled conditions of my basement. Had I tried to do the required intervals and hit specific heart rate zones out on my bike, the verifying terrain and conditions would have made it very difficult to track accurately. I also often found myself extending the cool down period to catch the rest of what ever movie I was watching. I need closure.
I found it helpful before each work out to write an outline that showed what time I would need to increase or decrease effort and what my target heart rate was for that time. That let me focus more on a consistent effort (and whatever movie I was watching) than where I was in the interval. They looked something like this…
Time Heart rate
I found weeks 1-2 to feel pretty good, but certainly left me winded and tired. It was pretty challenging to hit my required times. By week 4-5, fatigue started to set in and I was feeling pretty weak on the bike and having second thoughts on the plan, which I had kind of expected. It started getting pretty hard to climb back on that spin bike every other night, but a fresh rotation of Netflix movies kept things fresh. I watched a few cycling documentaries, but that got old quick. The last few weeks I felt like I was slowly crawling out of the slump and by my taper in week 8 I felt strong again.
Later in the program I did substitute some Sufferfest videos for a similar prescribed workout to mix things up, which worked out nice in a throwing up kind of way. I also made it a point to do 1 real ride a week to keep me sane, which usually ended up being a night ride of 20-35 miles. By the end, I think I had only ridden outside maybe 10 times, with the longest ride being a flat 60. When DK finally came around, I was just happy to be able to ride outside in the daylight.
A couple of interesting things happened on race day. Both of which I should have anticipated. Around the 30 mile mark my body thought it was done. Not surprisingly, because that had been the average distance of most of my riding. I had basically conditioned myself to be very efficient at that distance. There was about a 10 mile stretch there that I was really dragging and my legs were feeling pretty heavy. I bounced back a bit from that, but started getting cramps at mile 50 or so and came into the 60 mile rest stop feeling pretty tired. A Gatorade, banana, and giant pickle later I was rolling again and felling pretty good. I felt decent until the 80 mile mark where I forgot about my legs (maybe because my ass was so uncomfortable), just put my head down and powered through the last 20, which ended up being my fastest of the day. By the finish I was done. I’ve found that once I’ve set a goal distance in my brain, anything beyond that is pretty tough, be it 30 miles or 100. I might have had a few more miles in my legs, but not in my butt or my back. My back was so stiff I couldn’t bend over to take my shoes off. I guess that strength training chapter may have done me some good after all.
All in all I think the plan worked just fine for me. It was certainly better than anything I would (or wouldn’t have) done on my own. Kanza was a bit outside the suggested limitations of the plan and I knew that going in. I could see it being a great plan for XC races where shorter distance at greater intensity is king. If you’re just looking to train for 1 or 2 events of shorter distance, I think you’d be fine with the plan. However, it does warn that the peak is very short, so those with longer seasons are best to stick with something more traditional.
Next year I’ll be going for the full 200 mile dose of Dirty Kanza, so I’ll be creating a new plan. I’m sure I will keep many of the interval workouts found in this one though. As a side note, CTS has now joined with Dirty Kanza and will be offering a training plan specific to that race. I’ll be interested to see what that looks like.