I’m currently writing from 30,000 feet as I fly back to Maine from Los Angeles, where I spent the past two weeks of Bowdoin’s (my university) spring break. The first half of my semester flew by, with classes, riding, and cross-country skiing taking up most of my time. Although Maine winters are wonderful for skiing, for cycling I was confined to the trainer for all of January, February, and the beginning of March save for one freakishly warm day in mid-February when I rode outside. Riding inside can get monotonous, but I kept myself entertained with Netflix, Zwift, and plenty of calls with friends while on the bike. Despite a full academic workload, I put in steady 20 hour weeks of training between indoor riding, skiing, and some gym and core work.
I also gave back a bit to the Bowdoin ski team – my historic “home” as a Bowdoin student – and stepped in as a wax tech at a few races during the season. My cyclist readers may not know, but cross-country skiers spend inordinate amounts of time preparing skis for races with various combinations of wax and application techniques. Although exhausting, working as a wax tech was rewarding: seeing Bowdoin skiers happy (mostly) with their skis and racing well was wonderful. I capped off the end of the Maine winter with a 50 kilometer ski race in Rangeley, Maine called the Rangeley Loppet. Apparently two years without any skiing intensity or race-specific training isn’t the best prep for a Nordic marathon, so I was dropped from the lead pack after 5km. I broke a pole with 20km left, which turned the race into a fun day on skis rather than an actual competition, but I enjoyed it nonetheless; the weather was perfect.
Catching up with Mike Brown, longtime supporter of my ski career, at the UVM Carnival while waxing for the Bowdoin ski team
Bowdoin’s spring break then began, and unfortunately I timed my arrival in Los Angeles with high Southern California pollen counts. My allergies flared up for my first five days of training. The wall of fatigue that hit simultaneously meant that I wasn’t good for much at the start. After several 12-hour nights of sleep and a few days of gentle riding, I was feeling better just in time to join (by coincidence) a USA Cycling women’s team pursuit camp. With no men’s training camp at that time, the women’s national team coach, Gary Sutton, graciously let me join in their sessions. My time on the track centered more on technique than hard efforts, so we completed a wide variety of sessions ranging from standing starts, flying 500s, team pursuit and Madison work. For the standing start and flying 500 sessions, coach Sutton had me put on a 55×12 (a 55-tooth chainring paired with a 12-tooth cog), which equates to a massive 124-inch gear. This means that for every full pedal stroke, my bike travels 9.78 meters, or 32 feet. Although slightly intimidated by the gear at first, I quickly found that I had the power to put it to good use, dropping in for some flying 500 PRs. After looking at my splits, I found that I was on pace with the team pursuit world record, which at 4km is eight times the distance: so I unsurprisingly still have some work to do. By the final day of the camp, I was feeling much better, and had almost entirely dug myself out of the hole of fatigue and allergies that had plagued me earlier that week.
A standing start in a 124-inch gear is more like a dead lift than riding a bike.
After discussion with my coach, I put away the track bike for my last four days in L.A. and focused on volume, with some anaerobic threshold work mixed in. I completed consecutive days with six, five, five, and six-hour rides to cap off my largest ever training week in three dimensions: 33 total hours, 15,119 meters climbed, and 23,968 kilojoules (kJs) of work done.
Here’s a bit of physics for my cycling and non-cycling readers alike. With cycling power meters, which are nearly ubiquitous among competitive cyclists today, we can quantify the amount of work done (output) during a training session or race. Power meters measure torque (usually in the crank arm) in newton-meters, and multiply that value by frequency, or cadence. The resulting value is measured in watts, which is one joule per second. A joule is a unit of energy, and a kilojoule is a thousand joules. Thus if I ride for six hours at an average of 220 watts, I know that I’ve done 4,752 kJs of work. The equation is this: 220 watts x 60 seconds x 60 minutes x 6 hours / 1000 joules = 4,752 kJs. This data point is helpful in understanding approximate energy expenditure and therefore gives a good general guideline for fueling during training and racing.
Halfway up Mount Baldy. The long white line on the opposite mountain is the path that the road takes.
I’m wrapping up this two-week training block (which is simultaneously Bowdoin’s spring break) feeling far better than when it started, and ready for the last seven weeks of the spring semester before flying to France in mid-May for some quality European track racing and training. Between now and then I’ll jump into some local road racing in southern Maine, a state where I’ve never raced before. I’ve updated my schedule tab with a tentative race calendar, and will keep the updates coming as the season kicks into gear
Huge thank-yous go out to Kevin and Melanie Phillips, Sarah Mattes, and Luis Che for hosting me during my stay in Los Angeles. None of this would have been possible without their generosity.