Updated: Sep 26, 2020
With most competitive events postponed or cancelled in 2020 I shifted my focus from competing in my first Triathlons to improving at the one thing I could compete in during lock-down - Zwift Racing!
In most of my serious hobbies over the years I've sought out the help of coaches and pros to understand how to most efficiently improve and hit my targets and I approached this goal in a similar fashion.
I think a relationship with a coach needs to be built on a strong basis of trust. If you are going to invest a significant portion of you week into training, and make a financial commitment, you want to know you are getting "bang for your buck" in every sense of the phrase.
Having been a fan of Ed Laverack's YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYHSrKAKxCNk32ge-uI0fGQ) for a while, and in particular his emphasis on Zwift Racing during lock-down I arranged a consultation with "Laverack Coaching" (https://www.facebook.com/LaverackCoaching/). I found Ed very easy to chat to and very enthusiastic about my goals and how we could work together to progress towards them. This coupled with some great reviews from fellow cyclists I knew I decided to proceed and get going with program with Ed.
So, what were my goals, and where was I starting from? As of mid May 2020 my functional threshold power (FTP) was sitting at 300W at a weight of 67kg (4.48W/kg). This places me in the A category in Zwift races (4.0W/kg +).
I've always been a Time Trial phenotype, so steady state efforts are my speciality. However, the shorter/sharper efforts were where I knew I had to improve. This is often exposed when taking on a hilly race in Zwift, where in A category you will likely be required to hold 6W/kg for a 2 minute climb or around 5.5W/kg for a 5 minute climb to not be dropped.
Now, it's one thing to be able to perform that kind of effort as a one off, but being able to do it repeatably, and often after some race fatigue, is quite another. So this was my initial goal...
For the first month of coaching with Ed, we set about spending a good amount of time at "sweet spot" (87-92% of FTP), and increased the training volume back to what it was earlier in the year after a quiet month of May.
I was feeling the benefits of this after only a couple of weeks, and when Ed scheduled a session which included an interval of 20 minutes at FTP, I saw this as an opportunity to test my progress. I was able to hold an average of 326W for 20 minutes, and subsequently increase my FTP to 311W.
We bedded in this work through the end of June before moving on to some specific VO2max work (typically your 2-8 minute type of efforts). This was where I was really hoping to get more comfortable in this zone (as much as one can!) and reap some benefits in Zwift Races.
Ed's approach to high intensity intervals is to get some strong work done up front, and typically, back it up with some time at high tempo or sweet spot towards the end of the workout. This fulfils a number of goals, but in particular trains the body to be able to recover around tempo and sweet spot which is invaluable in races and for overall conditioning.
The weeks were split up between two or three intervals sessions and one or two longer endurance rides, and often a Zwift race to keep things interesting. Generally averaging around 700 or so training stress score (TSS).
Many of the VO2max sessions had relatively shorts intervals of "work", but with short recoveries in between. The effect of this is that you end up spending a significant amount of time in the high intensity zone, without becoming too fatigued during the one effort, but also it gets the body more conditioned to repeated efforts and really improves your heart rate recovery.
By the end of July/beginning of August I was feeling a lot more comfortable with repeated VO2max efforts and was putting out more power in this zone for a lower max heart rate. This is something we continue to work on.
By early August we elected to increase some of the endurance miles outdoors with lock-down being eased and a lot of high intensity work being completed in the previous weeks. Long days out on the bike are always enjoyable, and are one of the main reasons I enjoy the sport. What I did find with an increased volume of outdoor work was that my conditioning continued to improve significantly. The main side effect of this was a reduced heart rate for a given power output. This is a really big deal when completing those VO2max efforts in a race (5 b.p.m makes a big difference to how controlled your breathing is when you're near you max).
Is it working?
So, writing this on September 1st 2020 seemed an appropriate time to review how the first 3 months of cycling coaching has gone and where we are going next?
Results: I have definitely felt a lot more comfortable racing in A category over this period. In particular, not being "scared" to try and stay with the A+ category riders (4.6W/kg+ average in races) on the climbs. This is not to be underestimated, as believing you can do it allows you to override a lot of the pain in your legs and self doubt. I also attained my first A cat Zwift Race victory (surprisingly in a flat crit race with a sprint finish - Which is far from a strength of mine). I've also been achieving regular top 10 results in some of the longer/hillier races which often contain a higher percentage of A+ cat riders.
Overall Feeling: I feel with Ed's weekly and monthly plans I've rarely felt "too fatigued", which is important, as this is a hobby and there are many other facets to my life, not least of all my day job! With the increased volume of endurance miles in August I've felt particularly strong and generally feel fitter than ever right now. My current Chronic Training Load (CTL or "fitness" in TrainingPeaks nomenclature) has increased from 100 to over 120 during the 3 months of working with Ed as we've balanced the intense work with plenty of aerobic conditioning.
Although lock-down has eased here, it is not entirely clear when mass participation events will return (I'm hopeful for the rearranged Mallorca 312 in October, but that's by no means a certainty). With that in mind, we are looking to the winter season of Zwift Racing already (when most users return to the platform).
In the next few weeks though we have changed things up slightly as I have some days off work the first week of September, and the weather looks to be reasonable. So the short term plan is:
W/C 31/08/20 "Outdoor miles": Plenty of aerobic endurance days with some tempo intervals and a few fatigued VO2max efforts. A high training stress score (TSS) week (~1100)
W/C 07/09/20 "Working on weaknesses": A lower training stress week after the previous week, but working specifically on areas of the power curve which are lower than average (likely the shorter efforts in my case).
W/C 14/09/20 "A week of Zwift Races!" A chance to see how the body will recover from back to back races and a great chance to work on race tactics and put a lot of the good work we've done in the past few months to the test. These races will be streamed live on:
Twitch (https://twitch.tv/philrich) &
As I have experienced in other aspects of life, engaging with a coach offers many benefits, a focus driven approach, a level of accountability and in the case of Ed - a very engaging soundboard for ideas and doubts. I can highly recommend taking a structured approach to your training to achieve your goals, and can certainly recommend the services of Laverack Coaching and look forward to our continued work together. With the increased conditioning over the past few months, I feel even more breakthrough power numbers are not far away and I look forward to utilising that to better Zwift results over the rest of the year!
Naturally this post has been quite general as it summarises 3 months of work together, but I plan to make further more detailed breakdowns as the weeks progress.