This episode is all about improving your understanding of how to train in the race season. Of course, any discussion about racing must be preceded by a discussion of the base season, which sets that foundation for success. So today we start with a bit of a review.
Once we set our focus on race physiology, we address which assets should be developed, how, and when. How much “top end” do you need? Which assets take longer to develop and which can be honed in a few sessions?
Once the stage is set, we dive deeper into how you go about planning and refining the assets you’ve identified, whether that’s through threshold work, anaerobic capacity workouts, or something else.
Our featured guest today is a Fast Talk veteran: Dr. Iñigo San Millán, director of training at UAE-Team Emirates, has appeared on the show numerous times before, and now we’re proud to welcome him back after successfully coaching Tadej Pogacar to the 2020 Tour de France title. With Iñigo’s help, we get a glimpse of how this incredibly talented prodigy trains, and how those lessons can be applied to any amateur cyclist.
In this star-studded episode, we also hear from elite coach Neal Henderson, who heads performance at Wahoo Fitness; former Olympian and longtime Fast Talk contributor Colby Pearce; and WorldTour pro Brent Bookwalter of Team BikeExchange.
Wherever you are, we sincerely hope that racing is on your horizon. Let’s make you fast!
Hey everyone, welcome to Fast Talk your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Chris Case.
Chris Case 00:18
The race season is upon us, hopefully, that’s true where you live, even if it isn’t, we hope this episode helps you understand how to train in the race season. Of course, any discussion about racing must be preceded by a discussion of the base season, which sets that foundation for success. So, today we start with a bit of a review of the base season. Once we set our focus on race physiology, we address which assets must be developed, how and when, how much top end do you need? Which assets take longer to develop and which can be honed in just a few sessions? We’ll answer both of those questions and many more. Once the stage is set, we dive deeper into how you go about planning and refining the assets you’ve identified, whether that’s through threshold work, anaerobic capacity workouts, or something else. Our featured guest today is a fast talk veteran, Dr. Iñigo San Millán, Director of Training at the UAE-team Emirates, who has appeared on the show numerous times before, and now we’re proud to welcome him back after successfully coaching Tadej Pogačar to the 2020 Tour de France title. With Inigo’s help, we get a glimpse of how this incredibly talented prodigy trains and most importantly, how those lessons can be applied to any amateur cyclist. In this star-studded episode, we also hear from Elite coach Neal Henderson, who heads performance at Wahoo Fitness, former Olympian and longtime Fast Talk contributor, Colby Pearce, and we also hear from pro, Brent Bookwalter, Team BikeExchange. Wherever you are, we sincerely hope that racing is on your Horizon. Let’s make you fast.
Ryan Kohler 00:48
Hey, it’s Coach Ryan here. Many of us are enjoying a return to bike racing, these early races of the season are ideal for testing your race fitness, but how much more could you get out of the season if you know your VO2 Max? Or if you reset your training zone? Our new INSCYD advanced Test offers you an incredibly detailed look at both of these metrics and many more. Schedule an INSCYD test with us this week, and your test results can pay off in better performance for the rest of the season. See more at fasttalklabs.com.
Chris Case 02:43
Well, welcome to Fast Talk Dr. San Millan, it’s a pleasure to have you back.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 02:47
Yeah, thank you very much for having me here. I’m pretty happy to be back.
Introduction Dr. Iñigo San Millán
Chris Case 02:51
For those who don’t know, Dr. San Millán is a bit of a superstar. He is the coach of Tadej Pogačar on the UAE team, winner of the Tour de France. That’s part of the thing that he does in life in professional life, he’s also, you know, working on some cures for cancer in his spare time and all of that, he’s got a lot going on. Today, we want to really have a focused conversation about the physiology of race season. We often hear people say, here’s what you should do, here’s what you don’t do leading up to that race season, now we kind of want to talk about the why of those pieces of advice. Why do we want to do those things? And why do we want to avoid some other things? So, we really dive into the physiology with Dr. San Millan today.
Trevor Connor 03:45
And I just got to kind of emphasize what you said, just the impressiveness of your resume, we were talking about this offline. Dr. San Millan is working with a highly respected physiologist named Dr. Brooks and some cutting-edge cancer research, and in between working on curing cancer, he’s also coached an athlete to winning the Tour de France. Dr. San Millan and I had the same thesis advisor, I’m pretty sure the thesis advisor looks at both of us and then looks at me and goes what happened?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 04:18
No, you guys are doing an amazing job, very necessary what you guys do in educating the audience and transmitting the knowledge. So, this is very fundamental it will show results, very sure, in many athletes down the road, which is key. So, great job.
Trevor Connor 04:35
Chris Case 04:36
Let’s take a step back as we often like to do give the context of the discussion here. What are the assets that we’re trying to target in the race season, people might call it top end, some of that fine-tuning that’s going on, Dr. San Millan, I’ll start with you here, what are we talking about? Let’s define the attributes of the race season.
Attributes of Race Season
Dr. Inigo San Millan 04:59
When I look about this, those attributes always think at the cellular level. So, we need bioenergetics, right? So, we need a very good lactate clearance capacity, very good fat burning or fat oxidation capacity, we need a very good glycolytic capacity, which I also call the turbo, and we need a very good high intensity, so anaerobic sprinting capacity. So, those are the main energy systems that they’re going to make an athlete successful.
Chris Case 05:32
One of those attributes is things that are more in the biochemical realm versus those that are in sort of the physical realm.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 05:43
So, we know that in the season, you don’t decide the races at the zone two-level, for example, you don’t get an award for being the slowest guy, you get awards for being the fastest guy, right? So, and this is where you need to have high intensity and competition pace, but before that, you really need to have a very good base, and that that comes at the cellular level from a very solid mitochondrial function. When you travel through a race at high intensity the fast muscle fibers, produce a lot of lactate, and it’s not lactate itself, because lactate is a great fuel for the body, but as the hydrogen ions associated with lactate, that they’re going to decrease the pH of the muscle and interfere with what’s called the or we call it nowadays from cancer, we call it now that the muscle microenvironment. We know that it’s a little off-topic, but we know that in cancer, lactate is responsible for that acidic environment of cancer, and it’s called, cancer or tumor microenvironment, which is one of the hottest areas of research now. Anyways, it is caused by the hydrogen ions, decreasing the pH and interfering with the function in this case of the muscle. So, this is what happens at high intensities. So, when you travel for the race, you have to have a very good lactate clearance capacity, so that you’re very metabolically efficient, and in order to achieve that you need to appear like to very well and you do that, mainly in the mitochondria are the type one muscle fibers, the slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are the ones who have the highest mitochondrial function. So, this is important because if you are going to show up at the last climb, or the last push of a race, and let’s say you have seven millimoles or millimoles of lactate, you’re not going to have many chances, because that means that you haven’t been able to travel through the race economically. Whereas, if you arrive to that last climb with two millimoles, your muscles are much fresher, and they’re going to be able to deploy the turbo. So, you can have a great glycolytic capacity and have done a lot of high-intensity training and intervals, but if you don’t have the good likely clearance capacity, this is not going to work. On the other hand, especially with slower races, you need to preserve glycogen, and in order to preserve glycogen, you need to be very efficient at burning fat, and this is where here we go again with mitochondria of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which is the mitochondria is the only place where you burn fat. So, the better the mitochondrial function, the better the fat burning, and the more glycogen you preserve for the second part of the race. So, those are the key elements that intuitively, people tend to forget when they put together a training plan for an athlete because we all want to go faster, and we all know that this is where the races are decided in that high state. So intuitively, we do high intensity, but if you don’t have the basics for fat burning, and for lactate capacity, it’s very difficult to be successful. So, this is how I see how you get there.
Trevor Connor 09:09
So, I’m looking at a study right now that I think you would agree with this 100%, it’s going to be an older study. It’s called Aerobic Fitness and Amplitude of the Exercise Intensity Domains During Cycling. They did this interesting experiment where they took untrained athletes and highly trained cyclists, put them through, I think it was a VO2 max test, I can’t remember if it was a VO2 max or a lactate test. In either case, they put them through the test and then figured out the amplitude of that time through the test that was spent below VT1, between VT1 and VT2, and then what was spent above VT2, so basically looking at the three zones on a three-zone model. What I found really interesting about the study was untrained and trained cyclists, the amplitude of the time spent above VT2 or above threshold was exactly 31% for both, and the difference that you saw in the untrained and the highly trained was the amplitude of the time spent below VT1, which was huge in the pros, pretty small on the untrained. So, that to me is kind of getting at what you’re saying, which is, really you set your level with all that base training, building that aerobic engine, and that top-end fitness is always going to be kind of 31%. So, if you don’t have that base fitness, you are kind of capping yourself, you can’t compensate by getting a better top end.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 10:52
Yeah, I agree. I agree with that study, I’ve read it, it’s a great study, there are a couple of more similar, also showing similar results. But I also have learned a lot about people learning from the real world, right? And this is what I see at the highest level of cycling, it’s not able to do a very good base in the winter, the season is not going to go well for sure, at least until he or she resets bottom, and we do that base. If you do a very good base throughout the winter, and in the preseason, yeah, you’re going to be much better off, this is absolutely no doubt about it. I could say names on our team, even for example that for several reasons, they get injured, or they have mechanical issues or simply finished late especially with Covid, and they link to one season to another and they didn’t have the time to do this base, and they’re really hurting in the races. I’ve seen this every year. So, obviously in other categories, but we learn a lot from what we see at the highest level of the sport so that we can use at other levels, you know, of cycling.
Chris Case 12:12
One thing I want to make sure is very clear and emphasize right up front, we’ve mentioned this on many shows in the past, but I think for this discussion, it’s worth reminding people, the attributes you’re talking about when it comes to the base season are those that they do take a long time to develop, the ones we’re talking about for race season that quote, unquote, top-end things, but those biochemical changes that adaptations that need to take place for us to find that top end, those happened quite a bit faster. So, the problem that you can run into is if you do that stuff too early, then you can plateau early, or if you continue to do it, then that’s when you get into overtraining when you’re racing and doing the intensity in training simultaneously. Do I have that correct? Trevor let’s start with you.
Trevor Connor 13:10
Well, I hate to steal Dr. San Millan’s Thunder here, because I’m going to maybe give the dummies version of something here that Dr. San Millan is quite literally the top expert in the world on when you’re talking about lactate metabolism. But a good way to think about this there, so lactate gets actually transported around our body. So, our anaerobic muscle fibers, pump it out, because they can’t really use it. Our aerobic fibers love to take it up and use it for fuel, when they were actually going hard our hearts almost rely exclusively on lactate for fuel. So, it’s actually quite important. There are these transporters, and this is where I know Dr. San Millan is going to talk a lot more about this in a minute because I’m the dummy in the room on this, he’s the expert. There are these transporters called monocarboxylate transporters, and yes, Chris make fun of me for butchering that.
Chris Case 14:02
Trevor Connor 14:03
Let’s call them MCT’s. There are two types that we really want to focus on here, MCT1 and MCT4. MCT4 will express on your anaerobic fibers and they transport the lactate out of the fibers. MCT1 takes up the lactate, so you’ll see them expressed on your more oxidative fibers that want to use as lactate for fuel. So, lot of research on how can increase the expression of these? But you really see high-intensity work causes expression of the MCT4 to get the lactate out, and those adaptations are rapid, you’re talking days. MCT1 takes much longer to express, that’s where it takes months, so that’s part of the reason you need to do that long base work to get that MCT1 expression up, and if all you ever doing is high intensity, you’re gonna suppress a whole lot of these MCT4 are going to pump the lactate out and then there’s nowhere for the lactate to go.
Chris Case 15:00
Do you have a practical example of this as somebody that maybe just does a lot of high-intensity work what that looks like physiologically?
Physiology of High-Intensity Work
Trevor Connor 15:08
I’ve talked about this on the show before, but one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of what happens when somebody does a ton of high intensity is there was this master’s athlete that I started working with, he was all intensity all the time, and when I started working with him, he was like, “Oh, let me send you this test result that I did.” It was a bit of an odd test where the examiner just had him ride for an hour at about 240-250 watts, which was below his threshold. So, would have been kind of that between VT1 and VT2 type effort for him, and the entire hour he was maintaining his lactates at like, seven or eight millimoles. Which you just look at and go, how are you sustaining that? And I talked to the guy who gave the test he’s like, “Oh, yeah, I see this master’s somewhat frequently. It’s because it’s not that they’re producing tons of lactate, it’s that they haven’t developed that system.” So, the muscle fibers are pumping the lactate out into the blood, but there are no slow-twitch fibers really taking it back up. So, it just sits there in the blood and accumulates.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 16:23
Yeah, exactly. This is why doing lactate testing is a very good surrogate to know what happens at the mitochondrial level, right? If you have solid mitochondria, and you are able to clear lactate coming from the fast-twitch muscle fibers exported by those transporters that I mentioned earlier, the MCT4, and they’re imported into these slow-twitch muscle fibers into the mitochondria by another transporter, which is MCT1, and they’re metabolized there for fuel. So, you’re not only getting rid of that escape microenvironment, but you’ll see you use lactate as extra fuel, and lactase is a more potent fuel than carbohydrates, for example. In traumatic brain injury patients, for example, the brain prefers to use lactate or glucose, and pretty much every cell in the body would like lactate or glucose because it’s a much, much simpler process to metabolize it. So anyways, lactase is a great fuel. So, when you have a good lactate experience capacity, you kill two birds with one stone. First, you don’t accumulate lactate, unless the microenvironment is lower, and therefore the muscle contraction is going to be better. Second, you use it as fuel, and you spare other fuel. Yeah, if you don’t have a good mitochondrial function, as you said very well, Trevor, you’re going to you, you have no other choice than to send the lactate out to the blood, right? Where you are staying utilize burned by almost every cell in the body for fuel again, but it’s in the blood, and it means that you don’t have a lactate capacity in the muscle.
Trevor Connor 18:06
So, it just sits there.
Chris Case 18:08
This is probably jumping far ahead, but since we’re talking so much about it, I think it needs to be asked. What are the things that someone can do to improve their lactate clearance capacity?
Improving Lactate Clearance Capacity
Dr. Inigo San Millan 18:21
Going back to the lactate in the blood, we also know that lactate in the blood, it’s like policies, that is the breakdown of fat, adipose tissue into fat. It binds to a receptor, TPR81, and which is expressed in five cells in the adipose tissue, and when lactate binds there in here, it’s like policies. So, this is another thing, you don’t want to have high blood lactate, because you’re going to inhibit fat burning, which is going to come back to haunt you at the end of the race. So, this is one more reason to have a good lactate clearance capacity.
Trevor Connor 18:58
What would you suggest for building that lactate clearance? Is it something that you work on in the base season? Or is this in season training thing?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 19:07
So, I think that the main time to do this is in the offseason, at least this is what I do with my athletes. I do that in the offseason, and this is what I call the zone two, but 25 years ago people would laugh at these concepts and now people are talking about zone two. But yeah, I think that this is very important because this is the exercise intensity where you are stimulating those muscle fibers type ones in the mitochondria to both clear lactate as well as to burn fat, and as we discussed, this is something that it doesn’t take, you know, couple of weeks or so it takes at least two months. So, this is what the best time you have to build this is in the offseason, once you start the season, you don’t have much time to do this, you need, as we discussed, to focus on high-intensity exercise and recovery, but you should at least keep simulating here and there that zone two because you will deteriorate. And this is what I see, and I’ve seen over the years, not just enough in cyclists, but in other athletes, that when they stop completely doing zone two, halfway through the season, or towards the end of the season, you see a decrease in fat burning capacity, as well as in lactate clearance capacity, because all they have done has been racing and recovery, but they haven’t been able to do this translated into the world of professional cycling at the highest level, this is one of the reasons why, you know, more and more athletes pace their competition quite a bit, and even take time off in the middle of the competition to rebuild the base, or to keep stimulating to take a break from competition and in recovery, and put together good solid blocks of training where they revisit zone two, that is that capacity for mitochondrial function, and then also high intensity. But that’s what I’ve seen over the years, both in the real world, as well as in the laboratory looking at fat oxidation and lactate capacity, that’s what it takes. That’s my modest opinion.
Trevor Connor 21:34
I can tell you back when I was doing a big race calendar, I was doing 80 plus races a year, that point in the season when you’d have a couple of weeks without races, and I could just go out and do that long, steady ride. You could just tell your body needed it, it’s like going on vacation, and that first day on the beach, your body just goes thank you.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 21:57
Yeah, I would agree.
Chris Case 21:58
Speaking of pros, then we would be remiss if we didn’t ask you about the 2020 Tour de France champion that you coach, Tadej Pogačar. It doesn’t apply necessarily to everybody listening, but out of curiosity, tell us what does someone of his caliber looks like coming out of base? And then what do you focus on to get him race-ready?
Getting Professional Athletes Race-Ready
Dr. Inigo San Millan 22:21
Yeah. So, I mean, it’s pretty much the same principles that would apply to anybody else. He’s a very high-level rider, as we know, physiologically he’s privileged, has great genetics, but the fact that you have great genetics doesn’t mean that you’re just going to win the Tour de France for that, right? Burnout, for example, he has great genetics and won the Tour two years ago, but last year, he didn’t do well, right? With the same genetics, obviously, the way you plan and the way you train and the way you want to try things very important and the way you eat, they have some fantastic capacity, amazing genetics, and what we’ve been focusing on since we started working together is in that zone two training, face out every part of the season. So, from the preseason, or offseason, to the altitude training camp pre-season, right before the season, to the competition in recovery, once you start racing, and you between races, to take some time off in the middle of the season, to go back and do another solid block of zone two, and training and then altitude training and then competition. There’s a lot of monitoring between, so they are the same, you know, and obviously, we do testing to reset training zones and, and I monitor him every day through TrainingPeaks, and so you know, that’s where we can see how much he’s improving, or if he gets stuck in that improving after a week, which is rare. But this is what we see, and we change training plan accordingly. But we build a system like that, but again, these are the same principles that I apply to anybody else, you know, like, for example, McNulty has started this season very well and I have done the same thing since last year, and he has done a big jump in quality from last year to this year that we have seen it in the last races, but you know, whether it’s study modality or whether it’s an amateur cyclist or a category three cyclists I think the principles are the same.
Trevor Connor 24:34
So, the question I have to ask is are you having them do so we’re getting into April, May, June, or I guess the pro season is earlier so even March, are you having them do any interval work? I remember you saying with some of the Grand Tour riders you coach in the past that there was quite literally all zone two work in and racing. Is that still the case?
Zone Two Work and Intervals
Dr. Inigo San Millan 24:56
Well, we mix the intervals to during training, of course, but this is what the calendar is very important, you know, some races are going to be good preparation for other races, and they will give you a very good competition pace. So, that races not your goal, you can use that race to get that competition pace work as we discuss, you’re going to get it very fast if you have a solid base, if you don’t have the luxury of using the race for preparation, then you have to do more high intensity before, and sacrifice more of the base, or maybe try to mix it in the best you can. But yeah, it is not that just zone two, I do a lot also high-intensity training with them, but try to monitor all this very well, and this is how, for example, again, with TrainingPeaks, how can we see, you know, if that cyclists, for example, nowadays we’re seeing that, for example, the pro level, the average pace at the one they climb is 5.5 to 6 watts per kilogram, and to be competitive, and to be able to be among the top ones, you need at least 6.2 watts per kilogram, so that’s when if you see that of an athlete isn’t is not capable of producing that power output, that’s where you start changing things, you know, and then you might include more intensity, or maybe you see the lactate clearance capacity is not good, because he or she hasn’t done a good base. But absolutely, the high intensity is important too.
Trevor Connor 26:33
When you have an athlete at that level doing high-intensity work, are there go-to workouts or areas that you focus on? Or is it really you need to look at the profile of that athlete individually and then design it completely around what you feel they need?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 26:49
I like to get to know them and see, you know, like, for example, their athletes that are explosive, they do very well in short climbs, but they don’t do very well in longer climbs, and to me that’s like, if you’re winning short climbs, you should be able to do well in long climbs. That’s my humble opinion. So, that’s what we try to work more on, on the weak points, right? That we have to identify, and we try to do more high intensity during long periods of time, or sometimes the opposite. Some athletes are very good at 20-minute climbs, but not very good at five-minute climbs, and they got seven, seven, and a half watts per kilogram. So, you need to train that, so that’s where you adjust things. Ideally, you have to improve in everything, you need to keep improving every year, and keep stimulating those, those metabolic pathways and the bioenergetics, and regardless of the age, this is what we do, you know, we see that so far in this last three years I’ve been with Tagej, every year, he keeps improving a little bit, a little bit, and hopefully, he keeps going like that as well. But yeah, it’s about identifying the weak points and how we can address them in the most scientific way that we can, and this is where you need a very solid base before entering the cycling season. Once you have a solid base in the cycling season, yes, of course, you need to focus on two things. One thing is to improve that turbo, right? That the high-intensity capacity, the glycolytic capacity. If you have a VC racing schedule, that is going to come pretty much on its own because the best way to get competition pace is competition itself. If you don’t have a very busy schedule of races, and you only race 15 races a year, you’re going to have to train it, right? So, that’s the one theme once we get into competition. The other thing, the second bucket, once you get into the competition is the monitoring phase. So, we need to monitor athletes very well how they’re simulating training and competition because this is where overtraining starts happening. There’s not much overtraining during the offseason, but this is where during the season, this is where overtraining is very, very prevalent. I would not be able to tell you, obviously that percentage of people, right? But I would say that a good 60 to 80% of cyclists get overtrained during the season. So, it’s very important to monitor these to make sure that we rearrange both training schedule maybe competition as well and nutrition correctly according to the monitoring that we’re doing.
Chris Case 29:50
All right, let’s shift gears then to bring it back to the amateur rider here. This is someone who maybe races five times a year, maybe races 15 times a year, do some road races that are three hours, four hours at the most, some crits, everybody’s program will be a little bit different, but their goal should be I would think similar in terms of this building race form top end that we’re talking about here. We did touch upon it at the very start of the show, but let’s get into a more specific conversation about this race form, where again, we’re talking more so about biochemical changes rather than structural changes, Dr. San Millan, we can revisit that in more specific way and also talk about how long it takes to develop this race form. We didn’t really put a number on that.
Developing Race Form
Dr. Inigo San Millan 30:40
Yeah, so I think that to complete a very good solid base, I’d say that it depends on the level that you race and the time that you have to dedicate, but I would say that at least two to three months are very important.
Trevor Connor 30:57
Neal Henderson, the head coach at Wahoo Fitness, has a lot of experience getting riders of all levels on to the top form. Here are his thoughts on what changes in the race season.
Neal Henderson: Changes in the Race Season
Neal Henderson 31:06
So, in the race season, when we think about our training and what’s going on, generally speaking, we start to actually pull back the overall training load, but the thing that we start to do is add more specificity specific to what we’re getting ready for. So, what are the demands? What are the things that are going to create the biggest difference in the race? Being able to do some sort of simulation of those kind of efforts to get the confidence, and to also get that kind of reacquaintance with those sensations that you get when you’re digging deep into that anaerobic capacity, so doing short, high-intensity efforts with limited recovery is really beneficial there, as well as in some cases like start simulation. So, if you have a mountain bike event that, you know, they always start very hard, and then you settle into some level, and then, you know, depending on the course, it’s going to vary a little bit, but being comfortable with the level of discomfort that’s associated with racing and performing well is something that you have to build into your training just enough so that you have the confidence and capacity.
Trevor Connor 32:15
So, let’s go on the assumption that the people listening have had a good base, they got there two to three months, they did appropriate base work. How do they shift? What should they start doing during the race season? The other assumption we’re going to make here, most of the master’s categorized athletes I work especially right now because there are so few races as a result of COVID, they’re not going to be able to do 70-80 races in a season, at most might be doing 15, a lot of them are going to be just doing five or six, and there’s going to be often a lot of weeks in between the races. Where would you put your focus? What are they trying to improve?
COVID-19 and Preparing for Race Season
Dr. Inigo San Millan 32:59
Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s challenging, right? Especially in this COVID times, so my recommendations are to definitely increase the intensity, try to do kind of race simulations, either on your own or with a group of people, those typical weekend Worlds, or mid-week Worlds, you know, like a bunch of writers get together and they go full-out, kind of like, you know, if it was a race. Those are very, very good and very necessary for those ones who can’t race much because, again, you’re going to need that competition pace, which is, which is the other thing that you know, I didn’t mean to maybe confuse some listeners that all you need is zone two, that’s the base, right? But without the competition pace, you’re going to get stuck, and again, this is what we have seen in many athletes who they come off with a great preseason training, and they show up thinking they’re going to do great, but they don’t have any competition pace or high intensity, sometimes conservative, and they’re missing out, right? So, it is very important to stimulate those pathways at the glycolytic level, and the only way to stimulate those is to reproduce the competition pace, you know, it’s like that’s I think where you need to be very specific of what your goals are. If you’re a crit rider, you need to focus on doing very short or high-intensity intervals or sustain one hour a very high intensity and you can get together with other riders and do a one-hour full out, right? If you are doing time trials, which is what you like the most, then you need to really practice competition pace at the time trial, whatever is the distance it’s like a 20, 30, 40 minutes you need to really reproduce that. If you do a little bit of everything you need to do both, but I think that it’s very important to reproduce that, and I would say, at least two to three times a week, if you’re not racing, you know, two times can be during the week, where you can do some either short or long intervals, and the weekends, you can do like, the typical group ride, where it’s all out, kind of simulating the race. If you have racing, then you need to keep in mind the tap tuckered, right? Because these group rides, you know, if you blow up the results are not the most important thing, but when you get to the real racing, yeah, you have to be careful not to train at very high intensities either, because you’re going to have that already from racing, you know, the more you do high-intensity training, usually the higher chances you’re going to get off the train or tired or fatigue, and you need to keep that in mind and, and build some good days of recovery before your goal of the racing.
Trevor Connor 36:08
Lunchtime training races are a great way to get the race intensity Dr. San Millan talked about. Let’s hear more about the value of these events from coach and bike fitter, Colby Pearce.
Trevor Connor 36:18
Lunchtime throwdown ride, can it be valuable training? And how do you use it for training?
Colby Pearce: Lunchtime Training Races
Colby Pearce 36:24
It can. It definitely can. It fits into some rider programs, I think, you know, it depends a little bit on the psychology of athletes, some athletes really thrive on a very structured environment of training and intervals by themselves, and when they do that they get good results, but even most of those athletes many times, frequently, those athletes every once a while, they need to change gears and just go out and ride their bikes hard, in a group. That said, group rides are starting to die for good reason. Man, a pack of 30 or 40, or 50 or more road riders turn around on local roads, there aren’t that many communities that I know of that have healthy cycling populations that don’t have major conflicts with traffic. So, whenever I prescribe a group ride or recommend a group ride to one of my athletes, I always give them a lecture about being smart, not riding like an idiot, not running stop signs and stoplights just because the rest of the group is doing it, not swinging out into the lane, let alone the opposite lane of traffic, right?
Chris Case 37:26
Thank you for doing this.
Colby Pearce 37:29
This is 2018 man like group rides are, they’re more dangerous than ever, we all know about this, it’s not even distracted drivers, it’s just the number of drivers.
Chris Case 37:36
Yeah, you’re sharing the roads out there.
Colby Pearce 37:38
We are absolutely sharing the roads, and we’re also all ambassadors for the sport, and man, nothing pisses me off more than I see some bike racer blow through a four-way stop or whatever, and all four cars are just going, what’s wrong with this guy?
Chris Case 37:49
Right. Gives a bad name to every one of us.
Colby Pearce 37:51
Really does, and it’s only a couple of bad apples, and then we all have to deal with the ramifications of that driver anger later. So, a bit of a rabbit hole. In terms of training load, yes, mean, really, what is it fundamentally? You’re riding against or with other people’s motivation. Sometimes that can push you more, but you have less control of the specifics of the workout. As a blend, sometimes I’ll have people do training races, and I’ll say, for example, today, I want you to focus on 20-to-30-second efforts. So, what does that mean? That means be an idiot, lead out of sprint for 30 seconds and see how long you can hold on before everyone comes around you, or let it break it up the road and see if you can weld it back together in one clean shot, or just try suicide attack, focus on those types of efforts come back to the group. Depending on the course and how strong your rider is, you can prescribe some structure within a group effort at times, most the time, you can’t really do that, you’re sort of at the mercy of whatever the group’s doing. So, you have to accept the fact that yes, the pro is the athlete probably doesn’t have to put quite as much internal motivation on the line as they would if they weren’t going to do a set of intervals or out and ride by themselves, the downside is that you’re getting a little bit of a mixed bag. I think that can be effective for athletes who don’t have access to motor pacing in a taper period or approaching a big race where they need a little speed and a little zing, provided they’re not already getting tons and tons of racing, then a group ride can fit in well because it can kind of tie things together in that sense, where you get that pack feel a little bit of reactivity in the sense that if someone attacks you like oh, what do I do? You’re going to make that yes, no binary equation, are we going to jump on him or not? And he learned to wake up that racer instinct, get those gears turning and make those decisions quickly happen, and that can be a real pro. So, they have a place, but you’re really giving up control of what the athlete is going to get exactly, so that fits in every once in a while.
Chris Case 39:42
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Trevor Connor 40:28
So, I actually just read a study last night, it’s a brand new one that came out in 2020, called Training Characteristics and Power Profile Professional U23 Cyclists, and a lot of it was pretty much what you’d expect, but something that really caught my attention later on in the study, so they took data from these U23 riders, and they were all right around 20 years of age, they were relatively new U23 riders. Took all their data from a year and analyzed it for trends, and you mentioned this before, you just mentioned this now, they pointed out the fact that even though you saw their overall training stress during the races and going up, they saw what they were calling E Trimpe. So, basically their heart rate, overall heart rate coming down over the course of the season, and they discuss that a bit and basically said, we think it’s because they’re doing too much intensity. As you can see, during the season, they were only spending about 17 to 19% of their time on zone one, and this drop in heart rate was probably because they were getting fatigued. So, this goes back to your comment of you do too much intensity and you’re gonna start pushing overtraining, and I think that’s what they were implying in the study.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 41:50
Yeah, this is a big deal of overtraining, right? And because many times, you know, many people who are competing in category one, two, threes, or masters, right? There are people who are not professionals. So, normally they’re either working or studying, right? So, they have other things, right? So, they are at a higher risk of getting overtrained, because they don’t have much time to rest or much time to have a very good dedicated nutrition as part of the recovery, and intuitively also many times think that, Oh, I need some high-intensity pace, right? So, they do more. Also, they don’t do monitoring, we do a lot of blood analysis where you can see different biomarkers of muscle damage, of decreasing hemoglobin, which is going to affect your oxygen-carrying capacity, and therefore it’s going to affect your performance. Many times, this is very, very, very typical in these athletes, they show up to races, and they’ve been doing a lot of high-intensity training combined also with high volume days, and they show up in the peak of the season, and they’re not doing well, and they blow up, and they think oh man, I need competition pace. I cannot produce more watts, my FTP, for example, was 350, and now it is 300. I have lost 50 watts, I think that I need to do higher intensity because it’s the summer, right? What is the other way around in these people, which is part of the monitoring, right? It’s very important, and why we do more analysis, you see that this athlete is completely overtrained, and has deteriorated significantly. There’s like a study published recently showing that non-supervised, high intensity leading to overtraining damages mitochondrial function, for example. So, it’s not just at the muscle level that you cause muscle damage, but also mitochondrial function and structural changes, and low-grade inflammation, hormonal changes, and this is what leads to a lot of people to overtraining, it’s very, very typical in these athletes, especially in Colorado, in the Boulder area, right? Where they are extremely straightforward, like, you know, like extreme training and extreme diets, which is a perfect storm.
Chris Case 44:19
It seems like this is one of those areas where it almost seems like you should error on the side of caution, and there’s a minimum required number of high-intensity workout sessions that you would need to elicit the response you’re looking for. So, I want to put you on the spot. I know it’s difficult because every situation is different, but say a person has a race that’s a month away. Actually, let’s say that the race is two months away, and they are coming out of the base and they’re questioning, okay, what do to get ready for that race that’s two months away? Let’s say it’s a road race with some climbing, and, you know, obviously, it’s kind of a traditional race. When would you have them start doing the intensity? And how many sessions would you have them do per week leading up to that race two months away? And would it taper? I know, this kind of gets into the peaking conversation.
Preparing for Races and Intensity
Dr. Inigo San Millan 45:26
Yeah. So, if you have, for example, two months away, I would divide that into two blocks of training, to what is called the microcycles, right? I like usually, to do three weeks of training and one-week recovery, and this is where these three weeks training, you should still cultivate zone two, but yeah, you should do at least two, three times a week, solid high-intensity training, which I tailor that according to what type of race are you going to be doing in those two months, right? Is that a criterium? Or is it a short race? or is it a mountainous race that is very long, but many climbs? You know, so this is where you should, you should tailor in my modest opinion, those high-intensity exercise sessions to the race that you’re going to be prepared. I would say that two or three days a week is important, you need to obviously recover, I kind of regeneration week, I will do that, but of course, yeah, the tapering has to happen, right? Five days or so before your goal, right? Where you can do some activation sessions, right? To activate the muscles in those energy systems, but at the same time, you don’t want to train hard until the very last day.
Chris Case 46:57
Now, let me just clarify something, because you’re saying two to three high-intensity sessions per week. What if somebody only has time to ride four days a week? Then I wouldn’t think you would want to do two to three high-intensity sessions and one endurance session you might want to skew the ratio?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 47:15
Yeah, that’s a great question. Being creative is important in this is the scenario, right? So, this is where you can maybe dedicate one zone two sessions a week to keep stimulating that, and you can do another three high-intensity sessions a week, where two my days, specifically to intervals, the other one you can build it within a longer day. So, you can mix both, you know, a longer day with some high intensity, right? and this is where you have a little bit of those energy systems that are stimulated in those four days, and obviously, the other three days would be off days. But that’s it too, it’s important to calculate, where are those going to be four days, because if you do those four days in a row, and then you rest three days, you might have more patience, because four days in a row, either with high intensity or long and hard intensity, they tend to build fatigue, and maybe the fourth day, you’re not going to be able to, you know, have the adaptations needed, right? So, even though you could have them three days off, I would mix the days off too, right? Two days training, one-off, two days training, one-off or two or something like that, or three off.
Chris Case 48:36
Dr. Inigo San Millan 48:37
I’m supposed to do four in a row, right? Which is important too.
Observing Gains and Maintaining Form
Trevor Connor 48:43
The other thing I’ll point out and Dr. San Millan, I’m interested in hearing whether you agree or disagree with this, but certainly a trend I’ve seen in the research is as you get into higher and higher intensity intervals, so start getting into those shorter zone five intervals, or get into sprint intervals, it takes fewer and fewer sessions to see most of the gains. So, I’ve seen a lot of studies that show like if you’re doing like Tabatas, it takes five or six sessions to see most of the gains. If you’re doing sprints, it can take just three to four sessions. So, one of the things I do with my athletes, and I’m very interested in hearing how you feel about this is at the beginning of the race season, and when we’re trying to build race form, I might say, okay, let’s get two sessions a week, maybe have a week or you have three sessions to bring around that race form pretty quickly, but once we’ve done those five, six sessions and have gotten most of the gains, that’s where I might back it down too often just doing once a week just to maintain form.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 49:42
Yeah, no, I would agree with that too. Especially if you have our competition during the weekends, right? Yes. I think that once you have competitions on the weekends, I think once or twice a week it’s enough to maintain and simulate this, absolutely. This is why planning is important, right? In the case that Chris mentioned, if you have a race two months out, yeah, you need to definitely do higher exercise intensities more frequently, right? But if you have races on a regular basis, on the weekends, for example, yeah, I agree with you, Trevor, that one, four days a week, should be enough to maintain it. Absolutely.
Trevor Connor 50:29
I’m sure you’ve seen this one as well, this is called Within-Season Distribution of External Training and Racing Workload in Professional Male Road Cyclists. This followed four athletes whose target event was the World Championships. interestingly, what you saw was from February to May, that’s when they both had their biggest volume and were doing the most what they would call intense work. So, they were doing that by the amount of time spent above 300 watts. So, that was in the February to May block, but then in the June to September block where they were getting ready for the World Championships, volume came down, intensity came down, as a matter of fact, their average power for those few months was lower than their average power in the base period.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 51:17
If you build again if you build a very good solid base within months, then I think it’s time to focus on, just simulating it enough that you don’t lose it, but definitely, you really need to start working on the high intensity, right? Because this is where you’re going to be competing at. But yeah, if you only prepare for it for one event, or mainly one event it’s tricky, and things could get more complicated, right? You need to try to stimulate every energy system, especially the high intensity in a forced way, which is not as easy, as opposed to someone who competes regularly, and that high intensity comes from the races, you know, it’s a big dose of high intensity, and that is going to be very good or enough. This is what we also see during the, for example, the pro tour season, the spring is very busy. So, I mean, one week later after the finish, right? One week in between, right? So, this is why you have a major dose of racing, but you need a major dose for recovery. So, this is what in the situations, you’re gonna need to train high intensity, you need to recover. But in the situations where you don’t have many races, it gets trickier because you really need to stimulate high intensity, and the less competition that you have, the more difficult it gets, and so it’s a mental game as well.
Trevor Connor 53:02
I would say the thing I got from this study, and a lot of what you’re saying is there is a certain point where to build that race fitness, you’re probably going to have to push yourself, fatigue yourself a little bit, but that should be done way before any of your target races. Then as you’re getting to those target races is where you want to back down, do enough to maintain that form, but really be fresh.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 53:27
Yeah, and I think there’s a combination of both, too, right? I think that it’s important to keep simulating all the way until the race, but yeah, how are different blocks where you just really, really focus on working hard, without to a point that you might blow up and then you need a month recovery, which is the typical thing that happens in triathletes if you observe the tapering of triathletes, it’s in many triathletes it’s a whole month into my opinion, that’s the wrong approach because if you have to taper a whole month for a race, that means that you probably blew up and got overtrained, and this is what usually happens. I would say that 75 to 80% of all triathletes are in a chronic overtraining state, and eventually, this is why they need a whole month to taper for a week, and finally, they’re fresh and new for an event and finally they’re fresh, and they feel good, and this has been working, right? I’ve really seen that you can or triathletes can do much better by tapering to the last week of an event without killing themselves doing so many intensities and so much training in the months before. So, I feel a little bit of that balance that is important, right? We see you know, riders going into the Tour de France, they don’t taper one month before, right? They taper five, six days before. So, this is why I think that that balance is important, and again, the monitoring for that is going to help you a lot because it’s going to dictate how well you’re training. If this is why you keep insisting base and I’ve been doing blood analysis for 25 years, and it’s been, it’s been a great, great tool because this helps to understand how an athlete is simulating both training and competition, and how we need to adjust that training accordingly, and it happens all the time. There are many things that you can control in training, but in the competition, there are things that you cannot control. This is why you need to adapt, you know, and do things differently. For example, we’ve seen that the TSS, we’re talking about 1500-1600 TSS.
Trevor Connor 55:50
Dr. Inigo San Millan 55:52
Exactly. It’s huge, right? You really need to be careful with that, because even someone at the highest level, cycling, you know, you’d really need to recover very well from that, and if you don’t, you’re going to be compromising your next performances. The same thing happens at a more amateur level, if you will, if you go into like a series of races and training, and you monitor that, you’re compromising the rest of the season and adaptations as well. So, that’s why I keep insisting that once you start the season monitoring is it’s crucial.
Chris Case 56:27
Dr. San Millan, you come at this from a very scientific point of view, yet you’re working with athletes that don’t necessarily understand it, don’t necessarily need to understand what the heck’s going on in their cells, and you tell them to go out and do a workout. How adamant do you get with them about the specific workout that they do? Because there’s a lot of different ways to perhaps get to the same end goal, and some workouts are preferable to certain athletes over others. So, do you have your favorite workouts in mind, and you kind of say you will do these because they’re the best? Or do you work with the athlete to come up with a compromise and say, okay, this is maybe the best one, but you hate it, so you’re not maybe going to execute it with quality, and you really like this one, maybe it’s not the best workout for what we’re targeting, but you’re going to do it and you’re going to do it well, so we’ll go in that direction.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 57:31
Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s always that relationship with the athlete, right? If I start working with an athlete, who’s very young, like, in this case, Tadej, very moldable, right? You know, you click well, and you explain, one thing that I like to do is not just tell that like, the what to do, but the why, and that education process is very important because if an athlete knows why they’re doing a workout, they understand better, you know? So, that’s why you know, working with someone at a younger age is easier to connect, quote, unquote, impose your methodology, right? But that’s it, right? As that athlete progresses, you get to know him or her better, and also that athlete gets to know himself or herself better and, and they’re also the ones who give you feedback, too. So, that’s why they might tell you, hey, you know, what this training? Can I modify this slightly? Or I feel that I need to increase my acceleration power, can I incorporate some sessions into these, right? So yeah, sure, you study, you negotiate, right? But you adapt, older, like, you just, they don’t ask me, they see that this has to work for me, I’m not going to change anything. And then you have all the older riders who many of them, they, they think that this has worked for me forever, so I’m going to keep doing it, but there are a lot of things where you know, that they have to prove, they could improve, and you try to educate them on why and try and negotiate, right? But honestly, with the old riders, I try not to spend a lot of time because many, many of them they have their ways already, and you’re not going to be able to change them, you know, in most cases. So, I just try to be as available as possible and say yeah, just any questions you have I will suggest this, I would suggest doing that. But this is why I like working with young athletes because it’s much easier than working with old athletes at the pro level, right?
Chris Case 59:38
Dr. Inigo San Millan 59:39
That’s it to, at the more amateur level or competitive level, these older athletes they’re eager for a lot of knowledge and education, and with these athletes, yeah, you spend more time trying to explain them things which I also love, the typical Master athletes or a typical category three, who is you know, 35-years-old, and then finally got very, very into understanding the physiology and metabolism, right? So, this is where you spend a lot of time on this concept, so this is why I enjoy that a lot too.
Chris Case 1:00:12
Trevor, are there, just to put a point on this, are there workouts that you won’t compromise on because you know they are the only ones that elicit the response you’re looking for?
Trevor Connor 1:00:26
I’ll give you my bias, which is, remember, high-intensity work really hurts, and you can sit there and read the research and say, theoretically, 30/30s are better for building what we want to build than, say 20/10s, or some other type of workout. But what I actually look for is, it could be the perfect workout but if the athletes going out and hating it, as a result, not able to give it the full effort, you’re not going to get the gains out of it. So, I want to find an interval workout that’s in the area of what I want to target, but then mostly what I’m focusing on is what do they seem to respond well to? What are they going to be motivated to go out and do tomorrow knowing this is really going to hurt? To some degree, even though it really hurts kind of enjoy it. With each athlete I work with, I try to get a sense of what stuff is just work that they hate and what stuff is kind of fun for them.
Chris Case 1:01:31
Trevor Connor 1:01:32
And I’m willing to compromise on the perfect intervals to get the enjoyment and the good execution, but Dr. San Millan, and how do you feel about that?
Failure and Success as a Cyclist
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:01:41
Yeah, no, I agree with you. I think that there are some things that I might not be willing to compromise. With young kids, it’s easier to explain why, you know, and in general, with young riders, you explain to them why, and they trust you, you are able usually to convince them. If not, you know what I take the different approach, and yeah, they don’t want to be convinced that, okay, it’s just okay, you can do it, and eventually the riders, end up not getting the best results. That’s when they can come back to you and say, yeah, sorry, you were right, you should have stopped using that, and it’s not that you were right because you know everything, by no means, right? But it’s more because of the experience that you have seen the situations before. I’m originally from Spain, in Spanish, we have a say that might not make much sense in English, but says, the devil knows more from being pulled than from being the devil, right? So, that means that yeah, you know, when you’re on fire, and you have experience, you have seen the situations many times, and this is what I tried to explain afterward, hey, look, I know you want to do five days a week sprints in intervals, but look, it’s not going to work. If you want to do that, then you’re on your own, right? Because you’re going to fail, and that’s where eventually you kind of let the, which is necessary I think, you know, we all fail to be successful. Failure is an absolutely necessary step to be successful, and many times you see these athletes, they’re going to fail, and you need to let them fail because that’s when they will realize that they were doing the wrong thing. That’s when you say, see, you know, and by anyways, I think that making mistakes, we all make mistakes every day, and the first one and making mistakes and failing is absolutely necessary to take it to the next level.
Trevor Connor 1:03:47
I agree with that completely, but the downside of that is you need an athlete who’s willing to recognize those mistakes and try something different.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:03:57
I identify myself with this a lot because when I was a cyclist, I think that had good potential, but I trained horrible, I eat horrible, I didn’t recover properly. I didn’t do the right thing. So, I did a very good base but once that once the season started, I overtrained myself, I get way too many intervals, way too many hours, I didn’t recover enough. I was always looking to lose weight. I didn’t have an eating disorder, I have disordered eating, right? With is very obsessed with the food, try to lose weight all the time and look at the calories of everything, you know, so I was pushing the edge, you know, overtraining all the time. This is why I see in many athletes’s so this is why I try to tell them, “Dude, this is this is what I do when I was your age.” It ruined my career and or I was destroyed after doing this into that. So, how about you do this and that and change things, this is what we do with other athletes who are successful. So, given examples to athletes of what others do and they don’t, I think it also helps as part of the educational process.
Trevor Connor 1:05:16
I still remember working with an athlete a few years back who hired me because he kept having frustrating seasons, and when I look back through his previous seasons, you can see he was peaking in January, and by the time the actual race season came around, he was overtrained. That’s why it wasn’t doing well. So, I’m not going to say I did anything particularly ingenious, besides you just say, backing him down in the base, doing some proper base and having a peak when the races were occurring, and he had a great season, he got his first podium ever. At the end of the year, we had that conversation, he goes, “Yep, I recognize I had my best season ever, but I’m firing you because I’m still more comfortable with the way I used to train.”
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:06:02
Trevor Connor 1:06:04
So yeah, that’s what I mean by you have to be open to the changes sometimes you get athletes and just go, just the way I like to train even though I know it doesn’t work.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:06:15
I know. Yes, I agree with that, and this is frustrating. This is why there’s a lot of psychological component to that, right? I 100% agree, I’ve seen athletes even at the highest level, they overtrain, they don’t eat well, and they have horrible results, but you will do a reset button to them, and they start training better, eating well in their performance goes off the roof, and they start winning races or being competitive, but then, one month later, they go back to where they were doing, because that’s what they like. It was like, hello, it is a fascinating phenomenon, but it happens even at the highest level, trying to wrap my head around this, right?
Trevor Connor 1:07:03
Completing and enjoying a Gran Fondo is just a valuable goal, and it doesn’t require quite the same approach to training. Brent Bookwalter, a rider with Team BikeExchange, and founder of the Bookwalter Binge Gran Fondo share his thoughts and how to prepare for a fondo.
Brent Bookwalter: Preparing for a Grand Fondo
Brent Bookwalter 1:07:17
Yeah, I think one of the great things about gran fondo that I’ve seen as a rider, and from the point of, you know, hosting one is that, you know, there really are for all abilities, and it’s a great venue to sort of experiment with, you know, a new distance, or a new load of climbing or, you know, being in a pack, or it’s this nice entry and into just, you know, kind of testing our limits, pushing our limits, and I think that’s something that most of us who ride bikes do enjoy to some extent. That sort of feeling, I think one of the main things about preparing for a fondo is that, you know, to be ready for it, you don’t necessarily have to go out and replicate the exact load or experience before. I think, you know, if you’re looking at doing your first 100-mile gran fondo with, you know, eight or 10,000 feet of climbing, it doesn’t mean that in order to be able to complete that and enjoy it, you don’t have to necessarily go do that consistently, definitely not consistently, and maybe not at all before the actual event you’re looking to do. It’s really just a matter of, you know, sort of slowly and systematically, ideally with a little guidance, sort of building those systems and looking at, you know what, portions of your skillset, maybe you are going to be tested or stretched the most, and then just trying to sort of tune those up and build those up. That ultimately, I think is gonna leave you in the best position to enjoy it on event day.
Trevor Connor 1:08:43
Okay, so if there was anything you were gonna say you should be doing this every week, leading up to the event, what would it be?
Consistency of Riding
Brent Bookwalter 1:08:52
Oh, for sure, just the consistency of riding. I think that’s the biggest thing I want to talk to friends of mine who are doing fondos, or racing at an amateur level, I think the attraction is to sort of get caught up in the weeds and the details and reading the sort of hyped nuances of training and all this, that’s kind of details, but I continue to just preach the fundamentals, and preach the consistency. Doing a small amount of consistent workweek, after week, after week, is going to get you a lot farther than cramming a few rides at the end of the week, or just the week before the event.
Trevor Connor 1:09:31
Okay, it’s as you said, just stick with your training versus going out and doing some epic seven-hour ride a couple of weeks beforehand, and then having a couple of weeks where you barely do anything is probably not the best strategy.
Brent Bookwalter 1:09:46
I agree. Yeah, I see that play through in my own racing and training life all the time. The tendency is to sometimes panic train and pile it on last minute and think you can fix it when it’s down to the wire, but really it’s the slow steady path and the consistency that really produces the most, most gains, and most consistent enjoyment, whether it’s a race or gran fondo.
Chris Case 1:10:13
Let’s flip this around just a little bit and ask the important question. Are there any physiological systems that were a focus at one point in the season that you should definitely not focus on in the race season? Dr. San Millan, what would you say to that?
Physiological Systems Not to Focus On During Race Season
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:10:32
I think about all the hard work that you have done, to get to where you are now, when you’re going to start peak and race, and try not to throw it or throw it all away. So, how do you coach behind with a method or coach who has experienced also, they can guide you through. Don’t get overtrained, try to monitor, don’t restrict foods, you’re going to need a lot of energy, which is another area that we haven’t discussed, nutrition is a key concept, and many athletes when the season starts, start restricting carbohydrates, they start not paying attention to the recovery. I’m not saying about just like tapering or taking it easy, but recovery in terms of nutrition, right? That’s very important, that’s absolutely key. Also, it’s important to not to lose your head, when things aren’t going well as you desired, because that’s when you start doubting of everything that you’ve done, right? I think that if you’re confident in what you’ve done, you have to stick to a program, and give yourself some time to achieve your goals, and if that’s not the case, then instead of just, you know, going crazy at things and try to do more intensity or going to Italy, just do some blood analysis, or seek for attention of someone who can help you in those situations when you’re not performing well. But yeah, it’s just keep calm, don’t lose your head, and stick to a plan, and if things happen well, you know, you should be successful. And again, if you fail, okay, it’s good. I mean, it’s not ideal, but it’s good, because that’s a wake-up call that okay, you know, I will not do this again, and if you fail, okay, it’s part of the process, and it is necessary many times. So, I think that important thing like at the mental level not to lose your, your head, don’t restrict foods, don’t overdo it. It’s better to be conservative, many times people think, oh, if I could do an extra two, three days, so hard days of hard training before this race, oh, man, like, well, when you have worked for so many weeks, right? Two or three days go nowhere, right? In simulating energy systems, but those two-three days might really start putting you in a hole, in overtraining situation, and jeopardize your results. So, always be conservative, always.
Trevor Connor 1:13:16
I’ve seen many athletes that will follow the plan all bases and going into the race season, the plans been successful but as they get close to their target event, three, four weeks away, they start getting stressed, they start getting nervous, and then they get themselves off of the plan.
Chris Case 1:13:36
They start cramming.
Trevor Connor 1:13:37
Right. Essentially cramming. You can’t cram in cycling and taking months and months and months of great work and throwing it out the window.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:13:47
Chris Case 1:13:48
One thing that more specifically that I would ask is, you know, we talked about how you want to maintain some of that zone two riding during the race season, and as you said, it’s almost a refreshing break from all the intensity that you do, whether it’s training or racing. But what about some of these other specific types of rides that you might do during the base season? Would you want to avoid them in the race season? I’m thinking specifically of something like big gear work.
Trevor Connor 1:14:17
Chris Case 1:14:18
Low cadence, high torque stuff.
Trevor Connor 1:14:21
I am a big believer in weight training all year round, but big heavy lifting, and doing a lot of big gear work in the bike, these rip your life.
Chris Case 1:14:30
Set it aside.
Trevor Connor 1:14:31
This is not something you want to do right before a race.
Chris Case 1:14:34
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:14:35
Yeah, I agree. I agree with you guys completely. That’s a great point. It ruins a lot of people’s training, that high torque. I’m also into definitely core training throughout the entire year, that’s important. This is something that in cycling, we have learned this from other sports, right? Cycling is at the forefront of many sports. Yeah, I would say that it is that the sport that is at forefront of all of them, but we also learn from others, and cycling has been in the back of the line when it comes to core training, strength training, and instability. We’re learning more and more thankfully that, you know, people pay more attention to this, but at the same time, yeah, once the season starts, you need to be careful, as Trevor was saying, with, like teamwork, you know, in high torque, as you were saying, also Chris, and this has also worked when looking at doing blood analysis to monitor biomarkers of muscle damage, that’s where you can see this and you can dial that in, you know, and normally, you’re gonna see muscle damage show, yeah, you can really throw everything out the window, if you abuse this.
Chris Case 1:15:49
Dr. San Millan, you’ve been on the program many times before you know how we like to close it out, we put a little challenge to our guests, you get one minute to recap the most salient points from the episode, what would be your take-home from this discussion we’ve had today?
Dr. Iñigo San Millán Takeaway Message
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:16:05
I would say three buckets when you plan your season. The first bucket is to do a very good base, right? Those two, three months, we were talking before to improve your mitochondrial function, fat oxidation, lactate clearance capacity, aerobic base, if you will. The second bucket is to get ready for the competition, and that’s where you need to do a high-intensity exercise to improve that glycolytic capacity, the turbo, you need to do the sessions. The third bucket is the recovery, because once you get into the monitoring, once you get into the racing in the competition, you need to make sure that you recover well, and you also monitoring that you’re simulating correctly, competition in training together. So, I would say that those are the main three buckets to pay attention to.
Chris Case 1:16:53
Trevor, what would you have to say?
Trevor Connor Takeaway Message
Trevor Connor 1:16:55
Boy, this is a tough one. There are so many things to cover, so many great things that we talked about. I think I want to just make my take home one thing that I noticed in all these studies, I read getting ready for this episode that I found interesting, which was the biggest training, volume, and intensity, that these athletes were doing in these different studies was not in the base period, was not in the peak period, but it was in that early season when they were getting ready. My takeaway from that, which I think I’ve always done intuitively with myself and my athletes, but it was just nice to see it is when you do shift to build in race form, there needs to be that short period where you’re probably fatiguing yourself a bit, you’re doing a little more intensity, keeping the volume up and building those systems, and you’re going to be a little bit tired, you’re not going to perform at your best. But after you’ve done that it doesn’t need to be that long a period of time, that’s when you back down and make sure that while you’re keeping up the intensity keeping up the training, you’re going to the races fresh, because if you’re going to race as fatigued, you’re just never going to race well. Chris?
Chris Case Takeaway Message
Chris Case 1:18:12
I think yeah, this conversation has brought me back in time to an analogy that Colby Pearce used to use quite a bit, he used the salt as you know, the top end form is the, you don’t need a lot of it, you just need a little sprinkling of it to get ready. Maybe this is too light and approach, but the top-end form that we’re looking for it comes around very quickly, you don’t need a lot of time to make it happen, you don’t need a lot of sessions to make it happen. So, it’s that conservative approach. You don’t want to ruin the whole meal by throwing too much salt on the dish or too much seasoning on the dish and ruining it, you just need to be careful about it. To carry the analogy a little bit further, as Iñigo has said many times, you want to monitor this, you got to put a little on and taste and see if it’s good, you don’t want to go overboard with it. How’s that for the final analogy? Final point?
Trevor Connor 1:19:13
I like the analogy. Well done.
Chris Case 1:19:16
Very good. Very good. Well, thank you again Iñigo for joining us, Dr. San Millán, it’s always a pleasure to hear from you, your great experiences across different realms in science, and the caliber of athletes you get to work with. Thanks for joining us on Fast Talk.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:19:33
Thank you very much, you guys for having me back again. It’s always a pleasure and honor to be here and yeah, great work that you guys are doing with the podcast and all education that is it’s really, really important and necessary. I’m sure that many listeners are appreciating it on a regular basis, you guys bring good experts in this area along with your own expertise, and they can get great information to improve their performance as cyclists and athletes. So, thank you very much.
Trevor Connor 1:20:06
The honor is all ours, you’re getting a bit of a rock star status out there, and the fact that you’re still willing to come here is appreciated. I always love the physiology you bring to the show.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:20:17
Thank you again.
Chris Case 1:20:21
That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts and be sure to leave us a rating and review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always, we’d love your feedback during the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of Fast Talk Laboratories at fasttalklabs.com/join and become a part of our education and coaching community. For Dr. Iñigo San Millán, Neil Henderson, Colby Pearce, Brent Bookwalter, and Trevor Connor. I’m Chris Case. Thanks for listening.