Q&A on Training Zones, Cyclocross, Weekly Planning, and Beer, with Alec Donahue

Coach Alec Donahue of Cycle-Smart helps us answer questions about training zones, cyclocross, weekly planning, and alcohol.

Cyclocross racing

With the help of Alec Donahue, the senior coach at Cycle-Smart who has worked with some of the best American cyclocross racers, including Jeremy Powers, Stephen Hyde, and Ellen Noble, we dive into questions on training zones and whether we’re being duped by them; beer and bike culture and its effect on recovery and performance; effective methods for transitioning to cyclocross season; ‘cross skills; and weekly planning for time-crunched athletes.

Duped by zones?

This question comes from Brian Adkins. He writes:

“Given that there are three primary energy systems— 1) ATP-PC, for very short efforts; 2) anaerobic glycolysis; and 3) aerobic—and that we now know that all three are typically being utilized, just in varying proportions, I’m wondering if we (cyclists) have been underserved with this seven-zone Coggan model of:

  1. Active Recovery
  2. Endurance
  3. Tempo
  4. Lactate Threshold
  5. VO2max
  6. Anaerobic Capacity
  7. Neuromuscular

It seems to me that Neuromuscular makes sense as a proxy for “ATP-PC” but it seems that as we progress from zone 1 through zone 6, we’re just increasing the proportion of anaerobic glycolysis in more of a “fader” manner as opposed to a “light switch” manner.

The polarized training idea resonates well with me, and I enjoy that type of training. So I’m trying to think through the ramifications of various interval durations for power that are above threshold. The distinction between zones 5 & 6 seems a little silly—aren’t both emphasizing anaerobic glycolysis quite a bit, with more emphasis from higher wattage?

Are the actual adaptations resulting from a 4×8-min @ 108% FTP really that different from a 3x4x1.5-min @ 125% FTP? I haven’t found much science on it.

It seems reasonable that central adaptations may relate to durations of a certain heart rate (e.g. 8-minute intervals averaging 90% HRmax seem important from Seiler), but what about the muscular adaptations, and how they vary in these higher zones?”

Beers and bikes

This question comes from Eric in Somerville, Mass. He writes:

“Given the ‘beer and bike’ culture, I would be very interested in knowing if there are any performance or recovery effects of alcohol use.”

Transition to cyclocross

This question comes from Colin in Colorado. He writes:

“I have been racing marathon MTB and 100-mile gravel races this year with large volume and significant work around Lactate Balance Point or Sweet Spot Training to create high CTL numbers—for me that’s around 95.

What strategies should I employ to transition summer fitness to cyclocross specificity? Should I continue high volume in a polarized fashion while the weather is nice while focusing on VO2max and anaerobic capacity work during intervals? Is there value in still hitting SST or FTP in my lead up?”

Cyclocross skills training

This question comes from Megan in Westport, Ireland. She writes:

“I have heard Katie Compton discuss how she trains certain ‘cross skills by repeating the same skill over and over again, at a faster and faster pace, until she is ultimately going faster than race pace.

Is this a sound approach for amateurs? What other pro tips do you have for mastering ‘cross skills, particularly ones that involve quickness at race speeds?”

Mapping out a week

This question comes from Robert. He writes:

“I typically have 10 hours/week to train. I try to spend 1-2 of those hours doing some strength routine work for maintenance. I tend towards a ‘polarized’ model. I’ve been riding regularly for eight years so there’s not a lot of ‘unknowns’ in my overall capabilities.

Like a lot of people, I am time crunched, especially when it comes to getting in a ride/workout of longer than 1.5 hours. That said, I can probably get 2-3 hours of training in a day a couple of times a week if I workout before and after work.

So, within a week I try to get in the following:

  • 2 hours maintenance/weights
  • 6 hours Seiler Z1 <75% max HR
  • 2 hours Seiler Z3 (let’s say 4 or 5 x 8-min per hour) Within this kind of time frame
  • 1 day off a week
  • 1 day 3 hours (2/day)
  • 2 days 2 hours (2/day)
  • 3 days 1 hour

What’s the best way to plan this for maximal adaptive response? And how do two-a-days affect adaptive response with different kinds of stimuli?”

Episode Transcript

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