Chris Case //

131// Balancing science and experience in your training, with Cameron Cogburn

How do you, as an athlete, combine your understanding of sport science and your training and racing experience to most effectively map out your training? That question is the basis for today’s episode, one in which we drift between the philosophical and the practical.

Essentially, we’ll dissect the different ways science and experience can influence how we train. Where does the science shine? Where does experience come into play? How do we best balance the two? And how can we use so-called scientific thinking to improve how we digest and analyze each and every experience we have in our training and races to become a better athlete? Remember that even when we’re talking about your experience as a rider, you are essentiallyJame experimenting on yourself – it’s just an N of 1. We’ll talk about all that and much more, on today’s episode.

Our primary guest today is former pro racer turned Ph.D. student Cameron Cogburn. After years of racing for teams including Smart Stop and Jelly Belly, Cameron took an academic turn. He’s now a Ph.D. candidate in theoretical physics at Boston University.

We also hear from physician Dr. James Hull, who appeared in our last episode on breathing; pro racer Erica Clevenger; and our friends from The Pro’s Closet, Spencer Powlison and Bruce Lin.

Let’s make you fast!

Photo: Martin Magnemyr/ Unsplash.com


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TRANSCRIPTION

(Please excuse any typos as this transcript is generated automatically through A.I.)

Chris Case 00:12
Hello, and welcome to Fast Talk your source for the science of cycling performance. I am your host Chris Case.

Chris Case 00:20
How do you as an athlete combine your understanding of sports science and your training and racing experience to most effectively map out your training? That question is the basis for today’s episode, one in which we drift between the philosophical and the practical. Essentially, we’ll dissect the different ways science and experience can influence how we train. Where does the science shine? Where does experience come into play? How do we best balance the two? And how can we use so called scientific thinking to improve how we digest and analyze each and every experience we have in our training and races to become a better athlete? Remember, that even when we’re talking about your experience as a rider, you are essentially experimenting on yourself. It’s just an N-of-one as we say. We’ll talk about all that and much more on today’s episode.

Chris Case 01:13
Our primary guest today is former pro racer turned PhD student, Cameron Cogburn. After years of racing for teams including Smartstop and Jelly Belly, Cameron took an academic turn. He’s now a PhD candidate in theoretical physics at Boston University. We also hear from physician Dr. James Hull, who appeared in our last episode on breathing, pro racer, Erica Clevenger. And our friends from The Pros Closet, Spencer Powlison and Bruce Lin. With that, let’s make you fast.

Chris Case 01:50
Welcome, everyone to another episode of Fast Talk. We’ve got a interesting discussion on tap today, perhaps philosophical, perhaps nerdy and scientific. Think it’s going to be a lot of different things. We’ve got a great guest, Cameron Cogburn, former pro racer, now studying theoretical physics at BU, somebody with lots of training experience, lots of racing experience, but also a fundamental grounding in the practice of science. So welcome to the program, Cameron Cogburn.

Cameron Cogburn 02:24
Thank you. Great to be here.

Chris Case 02:25
And Trevor, you and Cameron, were you guys rivals when you raced? You were on rival teams. I know, yes?

Trevor Connor 02:34
We kind of have a history here to the point that I’m feeling like I found my long lost twin brother here because we both got our starts out of Ithaca, New York with the illustrious Chris Cooke squad and we’re just talking about how we are known for not using handlebar tape, because that’s a waste. So I was managing team Rio Grande back in 2012 through 2014 and that was when you were pretty much racing full time with CCB and you were the bane of our existence. Every race that we went to, you were the guy that we were trying to beat. And I remember Green Mountain that year, since I was a manager, I was riding support for the team, there are all sorts of pictures of me on the front of the field with my tongue hanging out trying to bring you back – and it wasn’t very successful because you won Green Mountain that year. You’re now at BU that’s where I did my first Master’s, we’re both studying science, so Chris, good luck controlling us today.

Chris Case 03:39
I will try. A nerd fest today, coming up!

Cameron Cogburn 03:42
Trevor, I remember I think the first time I heard of you, you had just won Green Mountain yourself. And that was when I was really first starting to ride. You know, as you said, we were in Ithaca, New York and there are these famous or infamous Tuesday night races and you had just come back newly minted from winning Green Mountain 2008 or 2009 – I forget –

Trevor Connor 04:08
Seven

Cameron Cogburn 04:08
Seven! That’s right, okay, that would make sense. Yeah, so those were some of my first rides, period. And I looked into that race and I said, “Man, that is a race I want to win. That is an awesome race. Like, how do you win that? Who is this guy who won that?” And I you know, I think I remember sending you an email maybe the next year about how you won that year, and how you went long from the bottom of baby gap and up back gap and that’s where you kind of sealed the deal. And yeah, I remember just wanting to pick your brain and learn all about that race and how to kind of crack that nut. So yeah, we definitely go kind of way back.

Trevor Connor 04:54
I appreciate that, but considering how badly you whooped our butts in 2013 I really regret any advice I gave you.

What is science? What is experience?

Chris Case 05:02
Well, speaking of advice, I mean, you guys both seemed to have not only this shared history in the sport, but a shared passion for training through science, but also, you know, you guys have a ton of experience and that’s where we want to take this discussion today is: how do you merge those two things effectively? How do you take the science, interpret it, put it into practice? What do you do with all that experience if it contradicts maybe some of that science? So, shall we dive into that discussion? And maybe, as we like to do here, define a few of the terms we’re talking about Trevor?

Trevor Connor 05:45
Absolutely. So let’s dive into this. These are simple ones and Cameron, you sent some really good thoughts on this, so maybe we’ll toss it to you.

Cameron Cogburn 05:54
Sure.

Trevor Connor 05:55
Let’s start by really defining what what we mean by science and what we mean by experience.

Cameron Cogburn 06:00
No easy feat here to try to encapsulate the totality of both here. The best place to start when looking at a definition is just, you know, you can go straight to the dictionary here. If you look up science, there are a couple of definitions but “the state of knowing knowledge as distinguished from ignorance, or misunderstanding”, and B, “Department of systematized knowledge as an object of study, as something providing a framework for knowledge”, I think that’s kind of the working definition. Similarly, with experience, two definitions stood out to me. And the first one is “a direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge,” and B “practical knowledge, skill, or practice, derived from direct observation of, or participation in events, or in a particular activity”. So more kind of a grounding of knowledge as a consequence of events, basically.

Chris Case 07:04
There’s knowledge there in both of those terms, in the definition of both of these terms. So it seems like it would be relatively easy to merge these things to synthesize these things for them to be complimentary is that is that true? Or is that not always the case?

Cameron Cogburn 07:14
They naturally just go hand in hand, and they do complement each other, not only kind of abstractly, or philosophically, but very, very practically. And, you know, just to unpack that a little bit more, you know, practically speaking, how we kind of take our experience and add that to our body of knowledge and then we look back at that, we try to decide whether you know where that fits in our knowledge and how to improve upon that. And then once we have an idea of potentially how to improve upon that, we, you know, make kind of educated or scientific guess on what to do going forward and then and then we repeat it, so I kind of see them, practically speaking, just going hand in hand. In, you know, everyday life, and certainly in sport.

Trevor Connor 07:22
The way I think of these, particularly when we’re talking about helping out athletes, I always think of science as the law of the bell shaped curve. So what you are doing is – so think of it as the, when you’re doing a study, they talked about n, which is the number of subjects or the number of whatever it is you’re studying. So the higher the N value, the more scientific power it has. Because what you’re looking for is trends. And the idea is the best science, you are taking any bias out of it. So let’s say we’re talking about studying a particular sports drink formula, you really just want to say we’re going to take a group of subjects, we’re going to test them with this formula, we’re going to test them up against a placebo. And we’re just going to see if it shows whether improve their performance or not. You have taken the bias out of it, the more subjects you have, the stronger the statement you can make.

Trevor Connor 09:19
Experience to me is the end of one; which in many ways for you is all that matters. So science will say, here’s the general trend we saw it helped a lot of people but whenever you have a large sample, it’s really going to help some it’s not going to help others, again, it’s that bell shaped curve. What you care about is you. Did it help you? So I always think of experience being this N-of-one is all that matters.

Cameron Cogburn 09:46
Right.

Chris Case 09:47
That sort of gets at the shortcomings of each in a nutshell; the science because it’s about a large number of people it doesn’t always apply on an individual level, because individuals can be unique and different. On the experience side, the what works for you, it can’t necessarily or doesn’t necessarily work for your training partner or somebody else on your team that you’re mentoring. So there, that’s a little glimpse into the shortcomings of each of these things. What are what are some of the other shortcomings?

Trevor Connor 10:27
So on that bell shaped curve, and I’ll throw this to Cameron, there are what are called outliers. And I’m a strong believer that all of us are an outlier somewhere.

Cameron Cogburn 10:37
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, if you’re, for instance, looking at specific study, you know, as, as you mentioned, Trevor, that most scientific papers, they try to analyze phenomena in the aggregate, and then from that derive, you know, a general principle. However, you know, you might have an individual response to that, for instances, if it’s a training modality, or, or nutrition, you might have an individual response to that intervention. In most scientific papers, not 100% of the participants get the same outcomes. And so, I think it is important to recognize that individuality does come into play when interpreting these papers, and, and other, you know, scientific principles, and the more I guess, experience you have, and the more you know yourself, and what kind of works and does not work for you, the better you can interpret certain results and know ahead of time, whether they’ll be applicable, whether they won’t necessarily be as useful to you or not.

Chris Case 11:53
And what about on that experience side? How does someone take what works for them and interprets that can be can open the door to a lot of issues potentially.

Trevor Connor 12:06
So I’m going to use an analogy here that I hope will help kind of explain how the differences between these two and how one can inform the other. So I’m going to go with the simplest scientific experiment, which is trying to determine what’s the median height of adult male humans. So going back to I was talking about with the scientific power, which I didn’t do the best job of explaining before, if you just survey two people, and let’s say you happen to pick two basketball players, you’re gonna say, well, the median height is six foot eight, which obviously, we know isn’t true. So that’s a low power study that you can’t really trust. Now, if you surveyed a million people, you’re probably going to get a pretty good, median height. And I think it’s around five foot nine, five foot 10. That science then informs a lot of the decisions, the broader decisions, that we make.

Trevor Connor 13:07
So in this case, they go, well, the median height is five foot nine, five foot 10. So doorframes need to be about six foot three, which is great, if you’re five foot 10, if you’re that six foot eight basketball player, that’s not the right height, you know that because you keep banging your head. So what that informs you, this is the experience side, is if you’re that basketball player, and you build your own home, you’re probably gonna want a bigger doorframe. And when you’re in other people’s homes, you need to duck.

Trevor Connor 13:38
So same sort of thing, I mentioned before a sports rank, that science is going to inform the sports rank based on these these mediums, which is going to be right for a lot of people, but you might be the equivalent of that six foot eight basketball player where the typical science based sports rank actually isn’t quite right for you, then you need to find either a sport strength that does work for you, or if you’re on a team, and they’re using one that doesn’t quite work for you how to modify it.

Chris Case 14:11
Yeah, I think that’s helpful to understand how each of us somewhere along the line will probably fall outside that, that range that most people fall into.

Trevor Connor 14:25
And that’s goes back to what you and Cameron were saying, which is this is not just about numbers. This is not just about looking at your training plans. These scientific studies inform everything: the design of your bike, the food and drinks that you use your kits, how you should train, everything, it’s based on scientific studies. And sometimes you might be that outlier.

Cameron Cogburn 14:48
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think with the experience side, the biggest shortcoming with just pure experience is if you don’t have a framework, and in which to interpret and make sense of your different experiences, then they just become kind of uncorrelated events. And that way they have no predictive power that you are, you know, you’re kind of shackled to all your prior experiences. And so when you’re put into a new or novel situation, by definition, you haven’t experienced it before. So you so you won’t know what to do goes back to why they science and experience go hand in hand, is that I think the the shortcoming of not having this framework with your aggregate of experiences is what science, you know, as we’re defining here directly addresses and helps make it more predictive and more applicable not only to you, but to, you know, other athletes, you might be coaching or mentoring or other situations you might be in. But yeah, I think the biggest shortcoming of probably experience, I mean, just experience alone is just not having this framework in which to interpret your results or observations.

Trevor Connor 16:16
Applying science to your training isn’t just for top athletes, our friends from the pros closet, Spencer, Powlison and Bruce Lin, two amateur riders like us, have started using themselves for training experiments, something Chris and I love to do. They shared with us how much they follow the science versus their own experience.

How do you take the science of training and physiology and put it into practice?

Chris Case 16:34
Bruce, do you keep abreast of the science of training and physiology? And if so, does that confuse you? Does it help you? How do you take that information and put it into practice?

Bruce Lin 16:49
So I’m definitely I’m really hungry for that sort of knowledge. You know, I follow your podcasts, among other podcasts. And, you know, I’m always just paying attention to it. I would say, with my life as it is, it’s hard to apply. But mainly, I pay attention because hearing other people take it so seriously, I guess, motivates me. And you know, that’s valuable for me, as someone who always wants to get better at ridin. Even if I can’t apply what I’m learning, I want to at least have it in my head, M\maybe someday it’ll be useful, but at the very least, it gets me on my bike, and gets me wanting to continue to improve.

Chris Case 17:40
Excellent.

Trevor Connor 17:42
So take that question just a little bit further, which you feel has informed your training more learning that science or your own experience?

Bruce Lin 17:54
Hmm, that’s a tough one.

Trevor Connor 17:58
Or a bit of both?

Bruce Lin 17:59
It’s a bit of both, I definitely. I tried to take what I’ve learned or absorbed, and I try to apply it. And ultimately, my experience and the results, sort of influenced what I do in the future. So yeah, they kind of they kind of build on each other for me like that.

Chris Case 18:22
Spencer’s same question to you, I guess, how do you use science in your training? If at all? And does it help you? Does it confuse you? How do you put it into practice?

Spencer Powlison 18:36
Right, I, there was a time when I was way more tuned into training science and, um, I probably don’t look up, look it up as much as I used to, or research it as much as I used to. But it still is like very much present in my mind and it’s very much something that I’ve kind of internalized over the years, especially the fundamentals of it. I think the fundamentals are the most helpful thing for me where I can generally appreciate what you know what it takes to prepare for certain types of races or efforts or events, that type of thing and it’s kind of like a reader’s digest style for me where I kind of take like, at least the concepts and apply them and some of the basic workouts and apply them. Definitely, it’s most important for me, when I’m going out to do a race or something that’s beyond my experience level and I need to do my homework, sometimes a little lazy when it’s a familiar race, but for instance, like DK doing 200 miles of gravel, I definitely did my research, especially from what you guys Chris and Trevor, what you guys did for Chris when he did DK and that was really helpful to understand these you know, the pacing and the workouts and that type of stuff. So it just kind of depends on the context for me and how I’m using it. I wouldn’t say ever really gets super confused by it or anything, but I think more than anything, sometimes I just kind of look at it and say, yeah, that might make a bit of a difference for me. But I don’t think it makes enough of a difference for me to lose sleep over it and try to structure every single ride of my month around it. You know, I’ll take a little that a little bit and really just get on your bike a lot, and putting the effort and having good planning and determination when it’s time to really go for a racer, or ride whatever.

Chris Case 20:37
One thing I want to be clear here, because before we started recorded, Trevor’s like, Chris, you got you got to chime in a lot more today, because you’re one of those people that trains a lot by experience and not the science. But what I want to clarify is when we say science in this context, yeah, I don’t know that we’re necessarily saying data and you must use a heart rate monitor and a power meter to understand what you’re doing from a scientific point of view. I, you know, for the most part, having been on this show for so many years, I’ve absorbed a lot of scientific principles about physiology and training, and so forth and I can still apply that, even though I’m using more of my experience of “how did that work” and “let’s tweak it a little bit.” And I still am merging some of those things here. So I want to be clear to people that when we say science, we’re not necessarily saying the data that comes out of these measuring tools, necessarily and exclusively, do I have that correct here?

Cameron Cogburn 21:49
Yeah, personally, I think that is a point I want to also get across as well. Because Trevor and I, I mean, and I’m sure, a lot of the the audience is very sympathetic to nerding out and that more kind of hard science, but we have to remember that, in the in the broader picture that, sciences encapsulates a bunch of different things and, you know, only, let’s see, 300 years ago or so, you know, Isaac Newton was sticking a spoon in his eye to measure, you know, to help make sense of some calculations he did with optics and…

Chris Case 22:31
That seems like a very silly thing to do.

Cameron Cogburn 22:32
I know, I know. So, I mean, this kind of gets into the self experimentation part of the talk, we’ll get there a little bit – don’t do this, though – but, um, you know, I think just going along with having this systematized, you know, framework in which to interpret your experiences, practically speaking, at the end of the day, I think for most people it boils down to being just observant about their training and their nutrition, what they do, and the outcomes of different things that they do, and trying to evaluate those outcomes honestly, and kind of unbiased, you know, with as with as little bias as possible. And just applying that to the next day’s training the next week’s training the next year or season. And I think being kind of a curious, observant and mindful about all the decisions you make, I would argue is quote, unquote, the scientific process you applied to, you know, in this case, cycling

Chris Case 23:46
camera and anything else, when it comes to the the shortcomings of either of these two areas that you’d like to bring up,

Cameron Cogburn 23:53
It’s a shortcoming and also a strength that I think, with experience, you know, one of the phrases I like the most is this phrase of “standing on the shoulders of giants” And that is, you know, with any kind of body of knowledge, whether that is academic or physical and athletic, that we have learned from centuries of basically aggregated experiences and we’re starting at a much higher level than previous athletes or people before us. And so, I mean, I think you can see that today with different training techniques, you can just look at the progression of, of different world world records and, you know, I think it’s not trivial the amount of the power of, you know, this aggregated kind of science plus experience knowledge and how useful it is actually, in practice.

Where should scientific principles be applied to be better cyclist?

Chris Case 25:04
Where to next? Should we talk a little bit now about where the science shines, where experience shines, where the scientific principles are best used and applied when it comes to training physiology, and being a better cyclist? Trevor, let’s get you to jump in here. And what would what would you say to that?

Trevor Connor 25:28
That is a good question. I think the direction I’m going to go with this is I see a lot of athletes who early in their careers think they can figure it out better than others. And so they go and try to design their own training purely based off of experience. And I find when you do a purely off of experience, you can go all sorts of wrong directions. You can try something you think that it worked for you, so you start doing something quite strange like, removing all plants from your room the night before a race because you did that once and

Chris Case 26:06
Are you speaking from personal experience here, Trevor? Is this how you started your career?

Trevor Connor 26:11
When we, when I was managing team Rio Grande, we convinced a rider on the team that if he slept in a room with plants, he wouldn’t finish the race. We got him obsessed with it purely as a joke, which I shouldn’t really be admitting to.

Chris Case 26:26
What a nice team manager you were.

Trevor Connor 26:28
Yes, I was.

Trevor Connor 26:31
Grounding in the science to start as a starting point where you get rid of that bias, you get rid of those associations that you’ve make that really aren’t there.

Cameron Cogburn 26:44
Perhaps superstitions, if I may jump in.

Trevor Connor 26:46
Good term, thank you. Get rid of those superstitions, start with the science that is where science is most beneficial. Learn the science learn, the way things are most commonly done seem to be in general, the most effective way to do things, and then build on experience.

Trevor Connor 27:05
So for some reason, the example that’s coming to mind for me is my freshman year in college, I took a couple art courses. And we had one artist in the class who kept wanting to do her own thing and not learn the basic principles of art. And I remember listening to the teacher explained to her, “Yes, we want you to have individual expression, we want you to find your own voice in your art, but first, you got to learn the basics.” And to me, that’s what the science is: learn the basics, learn the principles, then find your own individual expression.

Cameron Cogburn 27:37
Yeah, I mean, absolutely, to use that, you know, kind of maybe hackneyed phrase, like don’t reinvent the wheel, like, you know, know what’s out there, know general principles of your sport and how people train for it. Each sport is different and it’s not for nothing that athletes have found success doing certain training sessions and certain nutritional strategies for for just random reasons. Like, you know, over time, they’ve been honed down pretty well. I mean, there’s still obviously improvements with everything, but I think it is important to as with anything, understand the fundamentals of the the problem that you’re trying to crack, or, you know, the endeavor you’re trying to pursue, because if you don’t, you’re gonna have blind spots, and you might spend a ton of time spinning your wheels, you don’t know why, when really just a little bit more understanding could have saved you a lot of headache.

Chris Case 28:50
I want to put both of you on the spot. I don’t know how useful an experiment this is, but pretend that you are each the professor of the class Training for Cycling 101 – what does the first month of class look like? What are the principles you might think are most important to underpin everything you speak about after that?

Cameron Cogburn 29:15
I would say for the first week, I would just have all the students just simply go out ride and come back and immediately write down their thoughts, their observations of their, you know, of the experience they had that day riding, you know, whether they felt good, whether they felt bad, maybe, you know, try to brainstorm potentially why they thought certain things happened or not, but really just for cycling 101, you know, just get out there and get a you know, get some practical experience. So you know what it is like to ride a bike, what some of those sensations might be, that would be kind of the starting point for the first first month, at least the first week.

Chris Case 30:05
Trevor, principles that you think would be first up to teach like, you know, the the adaptation process or pathways that would that be to advance what would you start with?

Trevor Connor 30:18
I have a big bias here, because a couple episodes ago, we talked about overtraining, and I shared my own experience. At the end of the day, the reason I put myself into severe overtraining state was because I felt I knew better. So I did everything on experience, I didn’t listen to the science, I didn’t listen to the principles, and I destroyed myself. And I had that opportunity where Glen Swan who Cameron knows, and is also the guy that taught all of us not to use handlebar tape, pulled out a graph to show me the basic principles of physiology and had I listened to that graph, I probably never would have overtrained, I probably would have saved myself a couple years of pain. So when I am trying to just introduce a new cyclist to the basics of the science, I actually now use that graph. So the couple principles I teach are, this whole concept of training does damage. You rebuild and recovering get stronger, that’s the fundamental principle that people need to understand. The graph is this idea of the law of diminishing returns – that the harder you train, it’s not a straight line that you progressively get equally stronger, there is a certain point where it plateaus, where the harder you train, you don’t get any stronger, but the risk and likelihood of burnout or, sorry, overtraining becomes increasingly larger. So I try to just get those basic principles, which are all based on a lot of science, those what I try to teach people to start.

Trevor Connor 32:06
Dr. James Hull is a respiratory physician at Royal Brompton Hospital in London, who also works with Olympic athletes. He’s used to applying science to his training advice. Let’s hear how he approaches that with his athletes.

Chris Case 32:18
You’re taking a lot of the science in and you’re creating some of the science here, but you’re also working with athletes that may not speak that language, so to speak. So how do you translate that science into direction when it comes to athletes?

Dr. James Hull 32:39
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s very key. And one thing that I suppose experience over the last decade of or more of doing this really has taught me is that, you know, what you need is very simple instruction, particularly for some of the exercises. So it’s no point, there’s no point getting into very complex explanations or issues when you’re trying to work through someone’s breathing issues when they’re working very hard. Because if you’re a racing cyclist, and you’re, you know, chasing down a break, or you’re you know, it’s a crucial time, there’s so much going on for you, you’re looking at what’s going to happen, you’re looking at power numbers, for instance, you’re getting instructions in a radio in your ear, that you have to have something which is relatively simple to deliver. And so I try and work through a simple format. So, you know, almost like a three point check that people would go through thinking about their upper body, thinking about some of the techniques they can use, using, almost like musical ways to breathe so that you can use a word or a musical sound or something that allows you to get into a rhythm. And then you can learn that and then when the hammer goes down, you know, effectively, you’ve got that in your back pocket to be able to bring out and use. And yeah, you know, a lot of the techniques that we’ve developed and built, are built on, you know, the work we’ve done in the laboratory looking with direct camera visualization, different parts of the airways, and seeing how those techniques actually modulate the actual visual appearance of the upper airway. So this isn’t simply just, you know, made up of something that sounds like it’d be good fun, it’s, it’s actually based on putting a camera down, looking at the technique, and then seeing whether that technique actually opens the airway in the in the way it’s supposed to. So keeping it simple, keeping it easy to remember, keeping something that you can easily do while you’re actually, you know, really under the caution, you’ve got to think about lots of different cognitive challenges at the same time and, and that’s the basis of trying to build something that works for people’s breathing.

Chris Case 34:42
The tricky thing for a lot of newcomers to the sport would be okay, I get it, but what does that mean? How do I, how do you take that science, take that understanding of physiology, whether it’s rudimentary or not, and turn it into the practice of getting on your bike and going out and training?

Cameron Cogburn 35:06
In some way, we’re, you know, we’re, we like me, Trevor, and you, Chris, we’re all biased in that we’ve ridden for several years, decades, for some of us at this point. And so it’s really easy to kind of forget what it’s like to first come into the sport. And, you know, I think some things we think, implicitly are just obvious when they’re, they’re really not if you’re new to cycling, and especially if you’re new to both cycling, and endurance training. And so, you know, I think the best way to proceed practically is to take general scientific principles that Trevor just spoke about. And being that you, you know, for instance, that you can’t smash yourself every single day and expect to get stronger, not only biologically and psychologically, but in terms of physics, there’s only a set amount of energy that your body can consume, and use that to sustain itself and get stronger, I mean, so and there’s a set amount of time in the day, so you literally can’t smash yourself every day. So there’s certain kind of a rhythm to training. Take some of these scientific principles, and combine that with getting out there and riding and coming back, being mindful of and observant about how you feel, why you feel that way, where that maybe fits into your goals for the, for the day, your goals for the week, even, or the season. And, you know, soon enough, you’ll start from day one, and you’ll have day two, then day five day 10, by the end of the month, you’ll have 30 data points. And, you know, you’ll – it’s it’s kind of like a toddler on a bike trying to learn how to ride a bike without training wheels at first, you know, they’re they’re kind of wobbly at first, and then all of a sudden, they they kind of get it, and then they’re off without the training wheels. And I think that is kind of the trajectory of a newbie to the sport. And so certainly at first, there’s gonna be some wobbles here or there. But I think if you are kind of, you know, mindful of these basic training principles, and how you feel, and in each individual session experience, then, you know, eventually you’ll have a lot to work with.

Chris Case 37:53
The three of us have a lot of science background. So we know what that entails, we know the scientific method, we know how to sort of categorize sensations, interpret, experiences, synthesize all of that data, and make some conclusions from that. Not everybody has that experience, has that education in the scientific method, so to speak. So it might not be as easy, but what you’re effectively saying here is, you know, science obviously is grounded in a lot of observation, you do this, you observe what happens next. So his experience and learning from experience, it’s based on being a good an observant pupil, in a way you go out you ride, you know, you you said, if you were teaching this class, you’d have people go out and essentially become a quote unquote, scientist in that you want them to ride their bike, comeback, write down their thoughts, their observations, and then that will help them understand what those things mean. So what we’re really referring to here is a bit of a scientific method in both regards, is that true?

Cameron Cogburn 39:15
This is why it’s practically speaking hard to kind of uncouple science and experience why they just really complement each other o well, is that, yeah, the nature of science, be it a study that you’re observing, you know, hundreds of participants ideally, if not more, or you’re just observing yourself, that first step for both experience and science is one of observation. And I think were having the framework of science and in this observation, you know, recording it down somewhere in your training log, practically speaking is that – over time, if you say didn’t have a training log your memories of that day, even if you think you remember them and sensations and whatever, it becomes corrupted over time. I mean, literally kind of our memories aren’t, you know, what we think they are. And so I think truthfully for both of the science and having good, like approaching experienced, quote unquote, scientifically is, is this being observant and writing it down somewhere and even the act of writing it down, if you don’t ever go back and look at it, it will help researchers know, it will help solidify that thought, or that observation in your mind, you know, and it be less likely to be corrupted. And you think it’s something else when when it’s really not.

Trevor Connor 40:57
One of the first books I ever read that I absolutely loved was jack daniels running formula. He started with principles. And one of his principles was time errodes memory. And he brought up the example of you have athletes who are absolutely dominant winning everything, then they get injured, or they have an offseason and then they never quite come back the same. And his, part of his theory behind this was, it’s because they forgot what it took to get to that place the first time around and aren’t able to repeat it the second time around.

Cameron Cogburn 41:38
Yeah, absolutely. And I think just one of these – I just remembered one of these quotes that I love that kind of encapsulates this point is that “the strongest memory is weaker than the palest ink.” So just write it down, type it up, whatever.

Trevor Connor 41:56
And that’s the experience side.

Learning through experience

Chris Case 41:59
In your experience for both of you who have such grounding in science now and the principles, but also a lot of experience, do you feel like you rely less on those principles after a time, because they’re maybe so innate?

Cameron Cogburn 42:20
Over time, as you do gain more experience and you do gain more knowledge and understand better scientific principles and how to apply them, they all become more intuitive. On one hand is both good and bad. Because when something’s more intuitive, you’re much more efficient and applying it and you apply it immediately and more likely than not, correctly. At the same time. I think over time, you can become a little complacent and hoodwink yourself, and you think that you are still applying, you know your experience and scientific knowledge in an unbiased fashion. Butreally, as you mentioned, Chris, it is good to always stop and ask yourself, like, you know, do I really understand this? Or why why am I doing this? Why have I done this in the past? Do these certain scientific principles still make sense? I mean, you know, obviously, our understanding of various things from physiology to, you know, optimal training is, is constantly changing. And so what you might have thought is a good idea, five years ago, I mean, might still be a good idea, but actually have different underlying principle, or it might actually not be such a good idea now. I mean, we’ve seen very practical things with, you know, stretching before athletic endeavor, pre exercise, that was a thing a lot of people did 20 years ago. But the science has shown that actually, that’s not such a great thing to do. And so that’s kind of that’s kind of changed. And so you, I think you do always have to constantly, go back to the fundamentals and make sure you understand them, and then proceed forward. And of course, you don’t have to do that with every single thing that you approach. You would never get anywhere you would spend all your time starting from ground zero. But I think it is useful every now and then to catch yourself and ask yourself, do I understand why I’m doing this? Or what are the principles behind behind how this works and why it works?

Trevor Connor 44:52
The answer I want to give to your quote, because that’s a great question. The principles are the most important parts. We’ve been touching on this Cameron, you talked about the, the principles and experience; my personal take on all this is you have to start with the big principles, the principles need to inform everything. Then you use experience to hone in. And then you combine that with specific science. So let me explain what I mean by that.

Trevor Connor 45:26
So going back to the story I shared of my overtraining, I think that the continuation I didn’t share is after I went through that whole overtraining experience that I reached out to Glenn Swann and said, okay, teach me your graph again. His price was two slices of pizza because Glenn loves his pizza, and we went to the pizza shop and sat there for two hours and he taught me three principles: the law of diminishing returns, the concept of you get you do damage in training, you rebuild stronger in recovery. And he also, even though the term hadn’t been coined back then, he also introduced me to this polarized concept of stop beating yourself up every single workout, most of your workout should be easy. I then for about a year and a half, use just those three principles to guide all my training, I did not have at any point, a planned workout, I didn’t map out my weeks, I didn’t have a particular interval workout that I did, I mostly used those Tuesday nights that Cameron’s very familiar with, and that was the year I went from a guy who couldn’t finish a cat4 race to training at the National Center.

Trevor Connor 46:42
Then, after I had really learned the principles and started to learn myself, then I was able to dive into the more specifics and I started reading about, Hey, what about five minute intervals or eight minute intervals or 15 minute intervals? What about a one minute recovery versus a five minute recovery, and started getting into all that, but that was the minutia, that was the details, I would say 80 to 90% of what made successful or unsuccessful training was the principles and learning how to apply the principles to yourself. And I would say when we get questions from our listeners, one thing I do frequently see is they – a feeling that the science is all about that minutia. And we get questions where they very quickly dive into the “What about at 95% of FTP versus 100% of FTP,” but no discussion of what’s the principles here. And to me, when I’m doing my own training, when I’m working with athletes that start with the principles which are grounded in science, then add experience to that as you gain experience, then add the minutiae.

Chris Case 47:57
This brings up a question my mind, you know, we’ve spoken out there to the beginners a little bit. What about the advanced rider, the veteran, he, or she knows these principles well, but through experience thinks, “I don’t, maybe I’m an outlier here. I don’t think this applies to me, or the way I do it actually feels better or works better. Or in my observation. It just is a, you know, works for me.” It takes some confidence, I would think if you’re if you’re grounded in the science to say, you know what, I’m going to set the science aside, and I’m going to go with my gut here and go with what experience tells me works. Do you guys have experience there and advice on, you know, just when do you make the call on abandoning the science and in some cases? Cameron?

Cameron Cogburn 48:59
Knowing when to trust your gut verse, you know, trusting the science is a skill that comes you know, over time and knowing yourself and how you respond, of course, that comes from being observant and having a record of your training and, and racing over your career. And I think though, that the mistake is to initially feel like you want to abandon, like, let’s say take-you go out for a session, a training session, and we’ve all had this, we all, you know, feel terrible at the beginning. And you know, so we may ride around, and our legs start to come around and the heart rates responsive and so we decide okay, let’s go ahead with this interval session or you’d say, you know what, maybe rest is a better option for today. Making a decision like that it does require some confidence in trusting yourself. And I really think that in trying to when it comes to these decisions of quote, unquote, how, how do I feel? It;s really, you really have to try to think how do I feel in an unbiased manner? It does take some confidence to synthesize those, but at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself kind of how you feel, you just trust that you made the right decision. you record your observation for the training log that day, you see how you feel the next day, which maybe is even more important, whether that was a good decision or not, one of the pitfalls is this, going back to relying on intuition all the time, that most of the time, it’s good, if you’ve had a lot of experience in both regimes, but then sometimes it can lead you astray. So…

Trevor Connor 51:15
I love that you brought up the concept of trust in yourself, when you’re talking about experience, because that’s a big part of it, you have to try something, you’re often trying something new. And you have to have the trust to give it a chance, and see how it plays out for you. If you’re trying to, for example, a new interval workout, you’re not going to do one session and know what it did for you, you have to give it six weeks, you have to give it maybe eight weeks and see how it plays out. And that takes a lot of trust.

Cameron Cogburn 51:46
You have to trust that the training, you’re doing the plan that you have set out, you know, you have to let it run its course. And what I mean by that is, a lot of times we do things in training as simply confidence boosters. We love, we love that dopamine hit of getting the KOM or you know smashing a workout and getting all the kudos and stuff. But sometimes we kind of we throw our race in training, basically, we give our best performances in, you know, in training, which is fine, if that’s what you’re looking for. But yeah, I think it’s really tough to be confident in your process. I don’t really have to do this five minute all our effort and get a new personal best, right before this race. Like I know, like, I have it in me, I’m gonna save it for this race. I don’t have to do it in training.

Chris Case 52:43
Trevor, it would seem like you would have a good story here. Because I feel like you’re someone who will use yourself as a guinea pig to try out new things. Do you have an example of maybe when it’s worked well, and how that how you did it, but also, when it went bad when it went poorly? And why?

Trevor Connor 53:08
What are you saying Chris, you saying I have a lot of stories?

Chris Case 53:11
You have a lot of stories, you’ve been riding bikes a long time, you’ve probably gotten to the point where you’re bored with doing the same old thing, so you’re like, let’s, let’s flip this on its head and try something new. And maybe there’s been a time when that’s actually worked for good reason. And maybe there’s been times when it’s not worked so well.

Trevor Connor 53:33
There’s been a lot of that, and I’m gonna go back to again, this you start broad, so almost think of it like art, you’re carving a sculpture, initially, you just need to make a rough sculpture. And as you develop, it’s more and more fine tuning. So the story I’ll go back to that first year after I learned those principles, I didn’t need to be reading the the science about five minute versus eight minute intervals versus two bodies or anything else, frankly, if it back then if you’d said, “Have you considered five minute intervals?” I’d be going “cool, what’s the five minute interval?” Really, all I needed to learn then was have a couple days of intensity and do a whole lot of easy riding. How was it? I didn’t need to be fine tuning recovery lengths or percent of FTP or anything like that.

Trevor Connor 54:31
More and more as I’ve learned and gained the experience and learn myself, everything Cameron was just talking about and having that trust to try things. That’s where you can be doing a particular interval workout, check the science and go oh, I can modify this a bit. So the story I’ll share that’s a really recent one is I have started doing quite frequently, Doctor Seiler four by eight minute intervals. I used to be very religious about recovery has to be two minutes, no matter what. If I’m on my trainer, when I hit that two minute mark, if I had tried to run and grab a cup of water or whatever, another water bottle, and I’m at a minute 59, I’m going to do a mad lunge for my bike to start at two minutes. But when we read the science and had this conversation about recovery lengths, it looks like it’s not as important. So this winter when I was doing them, if I didn’t feel quite ready, I might wait two and a half minutes, if I was feeling particularly good, I might only give it a minute, a minute and a half and actually found I was being more successful, getting through all four, doing it that way. So that was a minor adjustment based on some of the science. But first, before that, I had to learn how to do four by eight minute intervals. And get used to doing them before I could make those sorts of modifications based on the science.

Chris Case 56:00
It’s funny to hear you say learn how to do four by eight minute intervals. I know what you mean by that, of course, it sounds funny to me, because it’s like, well, you just ride your bike for eight minutes, and then you slow down and then you do another one for eight minutes. But as we’ve spoken about many times on the show, the execution of that it’s not so simple. And that gets at the experience side of this conversation is that there’s a lot of nuance to that word. What that means when it’s put into practice, I putting experience into practices as a funny phrase, but learning through experience, and fine tuning through experiences is what I mean by that.

Trevor Connor 56:46
Yes. And you’re I mean, here’s where I’m going to throw it back at you and say what stories do you have, because I’ve gone out and done workouts with you. And even though you don’t have a single metric anywhere on your bike, but you do have handlebar tape,

Chris Case 56:59
and tires actually, for that matter.

Trevor Connor 57:01
Yes, those two. I will go out and do workouts with you. And even though you don’t have a single metric, your ability to execute any sort of work is is quite phenomenal. And that’s all just based on experience and feels so what what stories do you have to share about?

Chris Case 57:18
Hmm, good question.

Chris Case 57:21
Well, I always go back to the fact that I started as an athlete really early in life. Well, I say athlete, I was running. And when I was a kid, I was running a lot. But I had none of this understanding of what it meant, what I should have been doing, what I could have been doing – the science of it. But in there, through that practice, through that experience, I learned my body, I learned myself as a physiological engine. And I think through that I absorbed a lot of information about how to do things, what worked, what didn’t, I may not have realized it at the time. But I think inevitably, that was the case.

Chris Case 58:15
So how does that relate to this conversation? Well, I think it goes back to that point about observation, I think better athletes, if you want to qualify it that way are observant athletes, they quote unquote, know themselves, they know their body. But that comes through studying what they’re doing, studying themselves, seeing what works, what doesn’t, very importantly, being honest about those things. Now, yeah, I don’t care to have data gathering devices on my bike or on my person at any point. But I still have a lot of that understanding within me, so it just kind of clicks. I don’t know if that’s an answer or non answer. But that’s, that’s what I would say.

Where can you find new sports science? And, how much should you experiment with new research?

Trevor Connor 59:16
Erica Clevenger is a pro cyclist with Team TIPCO Silicon Valley Bank. She is someone who has used both science and experienced to drive training. Let’s hear how she mixes the two. And also a little bit about her horrific choices for where she gets her science.

Chris Case 59:33
So Erica, how do you actually stay abreast of new research findings in sports science? do you do that?

Erica Clevenger 59:39
I listen to Fast Talk –

Erica Clevenger 59:41
And that’s where learn a lot in regards to research. You know, I actually often will listen to fat stop while I’m riding, I’m literally on the bike and I’m like, “Oh, why don’t I just try that right now.” So that’s kind of how my at least small way that I sort of implement those things. But what I’ve kind of learned is that a lot of times you just sort of lean on your coach a little bit more for some of those things, at least for implementing sort of new research. And then also, of course, as you’re kind of progressing along your career, you’re learning a lot about yourself then too. So even if a new piece of research does come out, typically, if I’ve heard of it, I might try to implement it, if I’m, you know, right there in the moment, but I usually have an idea already of what works for me, and often research and I’m a researcher myself, so I feel like I can say this, there’s a lot of things that go into research and there’s a lot of – no research, no piece of research, as great as they are, is perfect, and they’re usually not necessarily for like one person in particular, right? So, you know, maybe, and this is the case for a lot of women at least is that a lot of the past, like, sports research has been done on men, right? So, um, you know, just being aware of some of those things, um, usually has me like leaning towards kind of doing things the way I know how, but obviously, you know, you can get in sort of a rut by doing that. So, yeah, my method is just kind of listening to some podcasts like Fast Talk and kind of trying to implement things that I think makes sense for me.

Chris Case 59:42
Oh you’re too kind

Chris Case 59:52
Well, I wonder too, I would assume, you know, you speak with your colleagues, they probably share your racing colleagues, science colleagues with within your field, too. But you speak the language, I guess, a little bit, but I’m also curious how much you as an athlete are willing to experiment with new things. And I’m sure that that every athlete has a different perspective on how much they’re willing to try new things.

Erica Clevenger 1:01:47
Yeah, I definitely think that’s true, I really think that a lot of people start trying new things when they sort of hit a plateau quote, unquote. Um, so that’s when I’ve literally seen that happening a lot. I don’t feel like I’ve had a point in my life yet, where I feel like I’m doing everything right. And, you know, none of this is working, maybe I should change things up. Um, so I don’t, I don’t find myself doing a lot of experimenting for that reason. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to, um, I’ve actually like, you know, I’ve had some different coaches over the years and years, and for me, every time I get, you know, not that I get new coaches a lot, but like, whenever you switch with a new team, or a new coach, or whatever it might be that’s an experiment in in and of itself, right. So I usually, and totally willing to try out some new different types of training techniques, when I have someone there who’s sort of guiding me, I do think it’s a little bit hard to do on your own, when if it’s something extreme, like, you know, it’s gonna be hard to do some things safely on your own. But that’s not to say that there are a lot of different things you can try and I’ve definitely, I actually, I shouldn’t say I don’t, you know, research a lot, I definitely have read a few things and tried to implement some things, but usually, it’s adding on to knowledge that I didn’t already have. For example, there’s a lot I don’t know about nutrition. So when I learned something new about nutrition, then I will try to implement that.

Cameron Cogburn 1:03:16
Have you read or heard of something, some scientific study or whatever? And immediately, did it change permanently change your training or your approach to the sport? Can you think of an example of that?

Trevor Connor 1:03:32
The immediate one I go to is recovery because I think more than anything, I was basing my recovery, and unfortunately, also recommending to my athletes how to recover based purely on experience and a whole lot of I guess what we would call superstitions or what other people had told me was effective. And I ended up writing a two part series for velonews about recovery and read through the science and quite literally, everything that I believe worked, the science had, nope, doesn’t work and everything that I believe didn’t work besides went yep, that’s the one thing that does work. And I adjusted, it was tough, because it was completely in contradiction to my experience and beliefs. But adjusted all the same, and it is actually proved to be quite effective, but it was hard.

Chris Case 1:04:32
You know, going back to the fact that I grew up running a lot. I would say that, for the most part. The training I did back then, was of a polarized type. Then when I stopped running, I forgot all of that. When I started riding bikes, again, I would say generally speaking, in more recent years, my training involved more just going out smashing it a little bit, but never going super easy. So, you know, maybe it fell into more of that sweet spot training style, which I think is probably true of a lot of people.

Chris Case 1:05:18
But getting back to the point, when we first had a conversation with Dr. Seiler. And he explained not only what the polarized training model looked like, but why he basically, how it came to be that he prescribes that, because he studied the greatest athletes in Norway and what they were doing, I kind of immediately went, “Oh, yeah, that’s what I used to do, I’m going to start doing that again.” And since then, I would say, the polarized approach that I take is probably even more skewed, where I’m riding very easy most of the time, like 95% of the time, and then occasionally I’ll, especially in 2020, I occasionally, either there’s a person on the road that I want to catch, or, you know, recently a group ride where I’ll go hard. But effectively, it’s the polarized approach. And so that is kind of the one thing recently where I, it was an immediate Oh, yeah, that makes total sense. And oh, yeah, I used to do that. And I should do that again, because that is a better way to do it. And so, you know, we plug him a lot, but it also really does make sense, when you get right down to it. And that that’s the example I would use. What about you, Cameron?

Cameron Cogburn 1:06:46
In a lot of cases, you almost can’t point to a specific thing and be like, aha, I did this and all of a sudden, I was a completely different rider, and my life was better, and I made more money, and I slept more, and I, you know, all these other great things that aren’t correlated to it. You know, I think one of those things that I do a lot that I used to do a lot, and I understand why and so I make it more of a habit to do now is, you had a recent episode on this kind of maybe fasted training, and exploring some of the mechanisms behind that and, and how to use that. I mean, practically speaking, I think for me, the one thing I like to do that I find a really big benefit from is that after, you know, a high intensity session, the next morning, I will just get up and I will go for a run for an hour before breakfast, not only does it burn fat, but it also helps train your body to be able to perform and a glycogen sparing state to connect this with the recent research. There’s all this research on, you know, training hard one evening and then quote unquote, sleeping low. And then you do a easy session the next day in a glycogen depleted state, you get a better kind of endurance adaptation from that. And I think naturally, that’s what most people do, they do an easy session after a hard session. And for me, I for you know, I’ve always liked to do an easy run the day after a hard bike session, at least in the morning, I might ride again in the afternoon. But But then in because of running, I think there’s many factors involved because of the jostling and, and impact and other things, tt is kind of advantageous to not eat, or if you do eat, you have to eat several hours ahead of time. Once I kind of read the research behind that, and it kind of jive with my experience. And in fact, that’s precisely what I did this morning before hopping on with you guys here.

Chris Case 1:08:19
I think to sort of summarize a lot of the changes that people see in themselves. Most of them are evolutionary, their evolutions over long periods of time. And probably pretty rarely, there are those moments that are revolutionary, where they read a study and immediately say, I’m going to make this switch, they do it in it works instantly, and they adapt the new practice instantly. It’s rare that that happens.

Cameron Cogburn 1:09:43
Yeah, and I think most of the time, yeah, that’s great, yeah, evolution versus revolution. And a lot of times that revolution is getting us to stop doing things that we thought were necessary, you know. I mean, we we have this ability to rationalize our experience with, you know, again, if you don’t have this kind of framework of putting things in scientific perspective, you start kind of developing subconsciously, whether you know it or not, or consciously kind of these superstitions and stuff. And you know, they keep perpetuating, but yeah, I do think a lot of times the revolution is, you know, not doing something or not making it so complicated. It doesn’t need to be that way. I mean, we always want to do more, you know, it’s fun, it’s fun to ride, we always want to do more, ride harder, ride longer, make our sessions more complicated, everything like that. And I do think that yeah, perhaps revolution more often than not means actually, you know, less is better, actually less but better.

How to think and apply the science

Chris Case 1:10:53
Cameron, and I know you wanted to bring up this notion of how to quote, or how to think, quote, scientifically, would you mind walking us through that approach that you take to a lot of things in life, but specifically to the this context of training and physiology?

Cameron Cogburn 1:11:16
I’ve really enjoyed what we’ve talked about so far, it might be a little abstract and philosophical, and I’m sure some listeners are probably, you know, chomping at the bit to get to more how can we apply this conversation to become better cyclists or better people, I would argue.

Cameron Cogburn 1:11:36
There’s this book by George Polya, he’s a mathematician it’s called “How to solve it.” And so it’s a famous book. And, you know, it’s, it’s a kind of a way to break down any problem. And I think it’s not only mathematic, mathematically, but I think you can apply it to anything that has a well defined problem you can apply these principles to, and I think this kind of encapsulates what I would call scientific thinking, you know, applied to athletics.

Cameron Cogburn 1:12:08
First step in his book is that, first, you have to understand the problem. Step two, is after understanding, make a plan. Step three is carry out that plan. Step four, is look back on your work: How could it be better? You can already hear in those steps, things that we have been talking about throughout this conversation. So you know, step one, first, you have to understand the problem. Now that problem could be physiology, you’re trying to train your vo2 Max, you’re trying to train your threshold, or your endurance, or it could be the problem of, you know, it could be a race problem. You know, I’m trying to approach this time trial, on this certain course, with these certain parameters, it has a hill in it or a headwind or a tailwind or, you know, you have to first define the problem concretely.

Cameron Cogburn 1:13:06
So then after you’ve defined it concretely, then you can make a plan. So, again, understand the basics of the problem, the principles behind it, then you can make a plan, okay?

Cameron Cogburn 1:13:19
Now, the next step is simply carry out your plan. You know, you have confidence in your plan, because you’ve tried to understand the problem, to the best of your knowledge, you’ve tried to come up with a plan based on that understanding to the best of your abilities, now just carry it out.

Cameron Cogburn 1:13:36
Then the final step is this, you know, kind of observe what happens. So, you know, this notion of recording and observing what happened, how it went, what went right, what went wrong, where it could be better. And so I think that, you know, this kind of system can really be applied to various problems, you know, both abstract and very practical. And yeah, I mean, I’m happy to go through some examples of this, for instance, and so –

Trevor Connor 1:14:13
I was about to bring that up. So

Cameron Cogburn 1:14:15
You wanna go, Trevor?

Trevor Connor 1:14:17
No, I want you to give an example. I was gonna call out a particular one of so you won Mount Washington, what, four times?

Cameron Cogburn 1:14:27
Yeah, I guess it was two were the actual Mount Washington race and then two were the Newton’s Revenge Race, but they were all up, there’s only one mountain in one road to get to the top.

Trevor Connor 1:14:37
Yeah. Explain to us how you applied this approach to accomplish that.

Cameron Cogburn 1:14:42
Yeah. So this is a very good kind of test scenario in which to apply these principles. So, so Mount Washington. So first, you have to understand the problem. What’s the problem? Well, now, Washington, it’s a road it’s about –

Chris Case 1:14:58
A very steep road

Cameron Cogburn 1:14:59
A steep road.

Cameron Cogburn 1:15:00
It hurts a lot. It’s 11.92 I believe kilometers that 12%, you know, it has significant altitude change, has significant changes in weather, it also the road goes to dirt at certain points. Obviously, equipment makes a huge choice. I mean, beyond just being as light as possible you want it to be, let’s see how I put this, you want it to still be functional. I mean, one year I won, I actually, you know, night, you know, this is going back to the learning from mistakes, but I put on a new chain, I thought I tested it, it skipped like crazy, chain fell off. Try to get back on a bike on a 12% gradient after putting the chain back on and trying to chase back to the lead, yeah, it’s not not a non stressful situation. But that’s kind of sort of step four.

Trevor Connor 1:15:00
It hurts a lot

Cameron Cogburn 1:16:03
But yeah, there’s all these parameters to the race, not only the course itself, but how do you approach training from Washington. What type of sessions do you need to do? So, for instance, for the training, it might seem very simple, you just do threshold all the time, and you get as light as possible. But there’s also the fact that you go from, I mean, Mount Washington ends up well above 6,000 feet, there’s, there’s an aspect of altitude, that plays into effect. And, you know, you have to realize that your power will decrease over time, not because of fatigue, but because there’s simply less oxygen as you go up. So one of the training philosophies I like to have just regardless is, a lot of my interval sets, I will do them progressively, I’ll start off easier and then, so the first one will be a little easier than I think it should be, the middle one will be kind of bang on from what I think it should be, and the final one will be basically as hard as I can go for whatever type of interval I’m doing. And I think that is, that’s helped me a lot with this race. Yeah, if you look at my pacing, I guess, compared to other people, I have a very even pacing, because I kind of looked at this problem and tackled it like this, I like to think.

Cameron Cogburn 1:17:31
There are many problems to Mount Washington, I’m starting to get into the plan now. So the plan is, you know, the training leading up to it, you might do certain sessions tailored for that race. You know, so that takes into account altitude, you have to also take into account, you know, basic, not basic physiology, but I guess applied physiology, and that, that the course is so steep that, you know, there’s some research out there that shows after a certain gradient, you become less efficient, you know, in the bike position. Basically, the front wheel comes up so high that you require more oxygen for less power output. So necessarily, if you think you’re gonna put out some certain power output, even after you’ve taken into account the altitude, it will probably be less. I mean, and it’s kind of like, Time Trialer, for a lot of people who don’t Time Trial a lot, they get into this scrunched up position that uses their arms and their latmps and, and they’ll find that, you know, they’re hitting new max heart rates and their time trial, but their power is 50 watts down. And it’s just simply because they’re, you know, the oxygen is going to other muscles that don’t either a) have an effect really on direct power output, or b) do have an effect, but they’re less efficient. And so actually, with these really steep courses, there is fundamentally, you know, it is different, it is almost kind of like training for a time trial. It’s it’s not like an 8% climb like 12, 13, 14% is is very, very tough. And also requires a lot of strength, so a lot of low cadence work is beneficial for this, this type of race.

Cameron Cogburn 1:19:29
So yeah, I guess I’ve really kind of gone over the steps one and two here. So understand the problem, not only the course, but also the, you know, the demands of the race. Step two is make a plan based on those demands. So how you train, how you eat, what to do if things go sideways, potentially. Three is race. So you know, this the benefit of having done this race multiple times is that I can and have looked back on, you know, what has gone well, and what hasn’t been made changes. So step three is race. And I guess that’s more step for you. You look back on what happened, how it went, what went well, what didn’t go well, and then you kind of adjust from there.

Chris Case 1:20:19
I want to briefly walk through this for myself, because I did actually race Mount Washington once. It was before I was a cyclist. I was living in Washington DC at the time. So I understood the problem, same as you: it was Mount Washington steep road. My plan was find the steepest hill in Washington, DC and ride it up and down as many times as possible. And I found this little cobbled street down near Georgetown and I don’t know how many repeats I did up it, but over the course of my training of like two weeks before I decided to do this when I was not a cyclist, hundreds of times at this silly cobbled street. And then I got my mountain bike, took the suspension fork off of it, and put on a rigid front fork. And step three, I raced the race and step four, I look back and said that was ridiculous.

Trevor Connor 1:21:26
I assume you did not win it.

Chris Case 1:21:28
Well, no, I wasn’t a cyclist, this was when I was a kid. And no I didn’t win. I’m almost certain I went under an hour though. Which of Mount Washington is a legit time when you’re not a cyclist and you’re riding a mountain bike?

Cameron Cogburn 1:21:45
Yeah, absolutely.

Trevor Connor 1:21:46
You have no idea how much this frustrates me.

Chris Case 1:21:50
Have you raced Mount Washington, Trevor?

Trevor Connor 1:21:52
You know, even though I lived right around the corner, and I was a cyclist in Boston, I never actually did Mount Washington. The one year I was going to do it a friend got married on that day, and I had to go to the wedding.

Chris Case 1:22:04
I’ve always wanted to go back, well, now it’s too late. I’m no longer fast. But I wanted to go back and really give it a go, but it just never worked out. Mount Evans was closer. So I did Mount Evans. Another another problem to tackle in an another episode.

Cameron Cogburn 1:22:21
Oh, yeah. I mean, I can tell you how I tackled mount Evans, because I did that once. And basically, I flew in the night before I did that strategy, suffered like a dog, I think got seventh or eighth. I mean, there was just a pack of, you know, seven or eight of us at the very end. And I can actually sprint pretty decently, but at that point, I could not sprint.

Chris Case 1:22:44
Any sprint at 14,000 feet is not really a sprint. I’ve had that experience as well.

Cameron Cogburn 1:22:50
Yeah, I think I was just so I usually after I adapt, I’m really good at altitude, but it’s really interesting. Flying and then going up to 14,000 feet, you really see how much do you need to, you need to use your respiration muscle. At one point, I built a hyperbaric chamber and so like not just an altitude 10, but an actual chamber that you know, actually reduced the pressure in that chamber.

Chris Case 1:23:24
I’m not saying that you were the person, you were one of these people that did this, being the the physicist.

Cameron Cogburn 1:23:30
I know, I should, I hesitate bringing this up because it is dangerous and under no circumstance should anyone do this. And so, I think I had a website at that point, I put it up for a day, and then I got a bunch of emails like “Oh, can you sell me the blueprints?” I was like, “yeah, this is a bad idea, people are just gonna hurt themselves.”

Trevor Connor 1:23:52
I’ve seen that.

Cameron Cogburn 1:23:53
Yeah, but I do remember just getting in there and just putting it to, you know, Pikes Peak 14,200 feet, or whatever it is, or, and you just, it’s like you just can’t even breathe and you and you realize like how much energy it actually takes just to, you know, breathe in and out and actually, you know, if you this is this interplay with experience in science, you know, a little bit of the science behind how much your diaphragm and respiratory muscles actually take in terms of oxygen in order to breathe in or out like they’re actually a non trivial fraction of the oxygen you put on your system is just to get them to function. Yep. Yeah, and you really kind of realize that when you’re placed in that situation.

Chris Case 1:24:49
Perhaps it’s time we bring this back around. We like to wrap up our episodes with take home messages, Cam, Cameron, you know that this from listening to the show that we like to put people on the clock for 60 seconds, give us their most important take home message. So let’s, let’s start with you.

Cameron Cogburn 1:25:10
Sure, I think let’s see, I think the take home message I would like to get across is that bringing it back that science and experience they are complementary they go hand in hand. And I think practically speaking, the best way to implement this is to be curious in your approach, you know, be purposeful in your execution, and be honest and thorough in your observations. Don’t just go through the motion. And I think that if you can do those things, then you are approaching the sport with the scientific process.

Chris Case 1:25:55
Trevor, what would you add?

Trevor Connor 1:25:57
So first of all, I have to point out that over the course of this hour and a half conversation, as I’m up in my apartment in Toronto, my downstairs neighbors so far have been outside in the yard, yelling and screaming with their kids. They had blasted the radio, and now they are vacuuming. They are not podcast friendly people.

Chris Case 1:26:18
I haven’t heard any of it. So you must have good windows?

Trevor Connor 1:26:22
No, I’ve actually got my microphone in this little padded box, because I can’t control the sound here. So I’m glad the box works. It’s pretty funny looking.

Trevor Connor 1:26:33
So my one minute is something that actually, I’ve always used, but I’ve never really put it to words until we went through this conversation. So I know I was kind of quiet at points, I was actually really reflecting about this. And so what I realized is the way of perfecting your training, or I guess I would say almost anything you do is this dance almost between science and experience where I think you need to start with basic scientific principles. I don’t think you start with the new show with the little details. You start with those big principles. And then you have to experiment you have to try you have to learn yourself and the way you work. And as you learn yourself, then you go in back to the science and say, Okay, how can I improve on this a little bit being informed by the science and then you try that and you use this whole process, that Cameron just explained very well to refine what you’re doing, and you just keep going back and forth of, “Okay, now I’ve refined it a little more, what does the science say, to help me refine a little further,” than experiment and back and forth.

Trevor Connor 1:27:51
One important thing to point out with this is start big start with the principles and work your way down to the my minuta. Don’t be starting with should I be at 101% or 103% of FTP, just for say, maybe twice a week, I’m just going to go ride really hard to some sort of interval work. Don’t worry about those little details until you’ve really found what works for you. I know we live in the era of marginal gains, and they talk about you know, marginal gains can get 5-10 percent. And that’s the difference between winning and losing a race. But my argument there is before you get that 5-10 percent marginal gains, you first got to figure out the 90%. And that’s the stance. Chris?

Chris Case 1:28:42
Well, I think both of you make excellent points. I like that Cameron brought up the ideas of observation and honesty here. I thought it might be good to actually walk through the the steps of the scientific method because I think they apply to both science obviously, but also this principle of, of learning through experience. So you start with a question, whatever that question may be. And this some of this was reflected in the four steps of George Boolean solving a problem. So you start with that question you do your research, whether that’s reading literature, or studying what others have done around you, or talking with people about how they do things, then you come up with this hypothesis. And then you test that hypothesis, you experiment, you go out for your rides, you write down your observations, you be honest with yourself in those observations, Was it good? Was it bad, was it effective? How did you feel and so forth. And obviously from all of that, you can then draw some conclusions based on the results of those experiments that is not so instinctual for everybody but learning that process or knowing the basics of it, I think can be applied in a lot of different ways throughout a lot of different aspects of training and life and it’s a it’s a very, very sound method for acquiring knowledge, and progress.

Cameron Cogburn 1:30:28
Absolutely.

Chris Case 1:30:32
That was another episode of fast talk. As always, we’d love your feedback. Email us at fasttalk@Fastlabs.com, or record a voice memo on your phone, send it our way. 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. For Cameron Cogburn, Dr. James Hull, Erica clevenger< Spencer Powlison, Bruce Lin, and Coach Trevor Connor. I’m Chris case. Thanks for listening.