A chat with an athlete this morning prompted me to write this blog. The athlete has just done his first week of training with Spin Doctor Coaching. So we sat down to ‘de-brief’ (over coffee of course) and go through some key things moving forward. I should point out that this athlete brought almost 10 years of data with him, so I had a heap of fun going through it all last week. I know sometimes riders think I am anal about data. And I am to a point. But there is a very good reason for this. One of the best predictors of what you are able to do in the future is what you have been capable of doing in the past. So if you have a nice clean data set it is so valuable moving forward.

In any case, I digress. We were talking about the structured workout. You know the one; you export it to your head unit so you can follow the prompts and get the intervals completed just as the coach programmed them. There is a place for structured workouts in most training programs. But it is important not to be glued to your head unit all the time. That’s no fun. Twice a week, perhaps three times a week if you have an indoor session is about the maximum I recommend. I said to the athlete that the rest of the time you can achieve your training goals with unstructured training rides, if you choose (or your coach programs) the right ones. Here’s an example of a structured workout. I won’t analyse it, that’s for another post. It’s quite a tough VO2 Max session though.

Which brings me to this blog post – the unstructured weekend bunch ride. Over the past few months it has not been possible to ride in bunches, hence many of my athletes have received a more structured ‘kitchen sink’ type ride in their programs. This was typically a solo ride of about 3 hours duration with a variety of efforts in it. These efforts were different intensities and a variety of lengths with the goal being to get a nice balanced workout across the power and heart rate zones. They look like this.

Now that restrictions around training in bunches have been partially lifted it is possible for us to be back training in small groups. So it comes to pass that a small group of us planned a training ride this past weekend. Living on the Sunshine Coast of course it involved some hills, as we have so many options to choose from. I didn’t tell the other riders that I had mapped the intended route in Strava and knew that it was about 120km with around 1500m of elevation.

Here is the file analysis of one of the riders. It is NOT the rider I was chatting to this morning. This male rider is in his early 50s and has been with Spin Doctor Coaching for about 8 weeks, though he has been riding for many years. He is being coached by a coach I am mentoring, and I am overseeing the overall program. His goal is in his words ‘just to get better’. There are no race goals, and at the moment no events such as Fondos et al. The rider’s FTP before the ride was 282W or 3.1 W/kg. Some of the other riders in the bunch have FTPs over 4W/kg, so this rider was going to be working hard. You can see there are a number of breaks across the ride as the bunch re-grouped for riders.

I’ve cleaned up this file to make it less cluttered. Pink is power, red is heart rate and grey is the elevation profile. You can see the rider’s power meter died about an hour before the end of the ride (when we may or may not have stopped at a bakehouse). What’s of note here? Well this is a very solid ride. An Intensity Factor of 0.91 across more than 4 hours of riding is very high. The rider dug deep, many times. The overall Training Stress Score of 294 is also very high. One of the benchmarks I use to monitor how a rider is going is what I call ‘the 300 TSS ride’. Do these for a few weeks in a row and your fitness IS going to improve. It’s important to qualify here though that you need to pay attention to the training load the athlete is coming in on before programming something like this.

The rider achieved all time power bests for both 10 minutes and 20 minutes. These are marked in the trace below. Clearly his recorded FTP coming into this was an under-estimate. This is something we were aware of, despite having done a FTP test. Another reason why sometimes the best form of testing is training (or racing). Especially if you choose to train with riders better than yourself.

What is equally interesting about this ride is the zone profile. Time in Zone is a crucial thing we look at as coaches. Here is the basic zone profile from TrainingPeaks.

The athlete spent significant periods of time in traditional zones 4, 5 and 6. In other words, he did truckloads of work at a high intensity. He did this without having to follow a structured session. He chose to join a group that included some strong riders, on a hilly course, and he dug in and tried to get maximum benefit from the session. Goal achieved. Kudos to him.

Here is the ride description I use for this type of ride. I call it a ‘Bunchie with Bite’. It’s worthwhile including these in your program if you are looking to build load and/or achieve breakthroughs.

The bunch ride is by definition a bit of lottery. Sometimes you can’t quite predict what is going to happen, so it’s always good to keep an open mind when joining a bunch. There will be sections in this ride where you are comfortably sitting in Z2, and other times you will be punching up short hills at maximum effort to react to the movement of the group. Overall for this ride aim for a total of about 4 hours in the saddle. The length of the ride is not relevant, as the elevation profile will determine this. A good target is 100m of elevation for every 10 km of riding. So if this ride is 100km for you, then aim for 1000m of climbing. This profile will give a nice balance of time across the zones. It should end up being a solid tempo ride, that is, the intensity overall should come in somewhere in Z3 (75-85%).

Note I said in the ride description that overall this ride should come in around a tempo level intensity, which is 0.75 to 0.85. This rider has come in well above this at 0.91. This is a slight over-estimate given the final one hour of riding is missing power data. This final hour was pretty flat, though the pace was on a bit courtesy of a couple of strong workhorses. You can see from the rider’s heart rate in this section that he was still working hard. Recovery is key following a ride like this. The next day the rider spun his legs out with 2 hours at low intensity, then had the following day off completely.

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