The Off-Season Part 2

In my last post I began describing how I am putting the off-season to good use. I mentioned that I believe the areas of improvement that will have the biggest bang for their buck are:

  1. Swimming
  2. Biking
  3. Nutrition
  4. Smarter training
  5. Strength training
  6. Better rehab (e.g. massage)
  7. Sleep
  8. Running

Swimming is a major weakness of mine, and it is the event that I am furthest behind the best in the world in, so it likely has the biggest potential for pay off on time invested. Biking on the other hand I do not consider to be a weakness, yet I still think it has big potential for pay off on time invested. There are several reasons for this logic.

First off, I have not been biking for very long. I rode the BMX bike as a mode of transportation as a kid, but other than that, my bike training really only started in 2010. In reality, it wasn’t until 2012 that I began to get serious about training for the bike. Up until then I didn’t do much biking over the winter, and any of the biking I did in the summer didn’t have much substance. My idea of a bike workout was going out and riding for 100km, that’s about it. In 2012 a friend of mine introduced me to the scientific basis of training, as well as loaned me a PowerTap wheel. It was at this point that I began learning how to properly train for the bike.

What I have found over those three years is that bike training is very complex. If you go out and smash bike workouts day in and day out, you most definitely will get better at riding the bike. This same logic is not true of swimming. But, as I am coming to find very recently, there is a further degree of complexity to smashing bike workouts very hard. Some of the questions that must be asked are:

  1. How hard should I ride? Said another way, what are the various intensities I should ride at?
  2. For what duration should I ride at each intensity?
  3. How often should I ride at each intensity?
  4. What intensity should I recover at?
  5. For what duration should I recover?
  6. How long should I go in a block of training before giving the body a planned rest?

You could go out and ride hard every day and two months later you will likely be a stronger biker. But, are you the strongest biker you could be? Is riding hard every day an efficient way to achieve your true potential? I have adopted this sort of philosophy over the last year or two. The conclusion I am coming to is that it is not the best path to reach your full potential.

What it appears I have been doing in the past is trying to ride as hard as I can, as much as I can. I believe this logic can get you a long way. After the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, I felt as though I had reached a plateau on the bike. In that race I pushed around 360w. I weighed in somewhere around 165lbs. In watts/kg that is something like 4.8. That was good for the fastest pro bike split. While reflecting back in the days after that race I found it difficult to imagine pushing any more power than that over that distance. In fact, I found it hard to believe that I had even been able to push that much during the race! In practice leading up to that race I rarely pushed 360w for any considerable amount of time. I had been doing most of my moderate length intervals at around 345w. In the races leading up to 70.3 Worlds I had come to find that whatever power output I was holding in moderate length intervals in practice, I usually could push 10-15w more in the race setting. Thus, that is how I came up with the 360w value as an upper limit to shoot for.

Below is a workout I did on August 27th. This was one of my peak workouts that I was really happy with going into 70.3 Worlds, and gave me the confidence to strive to push 360w for the 90k. The intention of the workout was to do 6x(2 minutes @400w with 2 minutes recovery to 10 minutes @345w with 3 minutes recovery). The actual value of the six ten minuters were: 347, 349, 352, 356, 354, 350. That workout was very hard. I knew 360w was a very ambitious number to go after.

Peak Bike Workout

When I successfully pushed 360w for the 90k it was bitter sweet. Sweet in the sense that I had accomplished something I was not sure was even possible in the beginning. Bitter in the sense that I could not see pushing a wattage significantly higher than this, EVER. I thought I had come very close to my limits. Purely by chance, I chimed in on a Slowtwitch post. Very quickly I was challenged by someone I believe to be a respected Slowtwitcher. If you want to read the entire post you can find it here. If not, this was his response to me:

desert dude Dec 27, 14 11:39

Post #14 of 34 (1485 views)

Re: Running off the Bike in Training- Beneficial or Recipe for Injury [LSandersTri] [In reply to] Quote | Reply

I wonder how fast you could run if you actually thought about what you typed and what may happen if you changed how you do things?

It, your running, could be even scarier.

sorry man but I see low hanging fruit on your tree.
Brian Stover
Accelerate3 Coaching :: @accelerate3 :: Facebook 
AeroCamp 3.0: 2 hours of testing that will make you faster than a month of training


I gave this response some deep thought, with regards to all three sports. Had I become set in my ways? Had my training philosophy hardened into training fact? I then asked myself the questions I mentioned above, and began to stockpile all of the things I had taken for granted. What really stuck out for me were my Active Recovery and Easy intensities and durations.

In the bike workout mentioned above, my Active Recovery wattage was 240w. Where did this number come from? Why was it not 200w, 150w, 100w? The average power during my four hour long ride just two days prior to this workout was 288w. Where had this wattage come from? I really started to tear apart the bike training I was doing. I decided that in my next bike workout I was going to lower the recovery pace significantly. The workout I ended up doing was: 8m@360w to 10x4m@400w to 2x8m@370w all with 3 minutes recovery at 130w. Here is the data:

Paradigm Shift

I couldn’t believe I had finished this workout. I had never pushed 370w for any significant duration, and then to do it after doing 10x4m@400w, really helped put things in perspective. I had been doing my recovery paces too hard. In other words, I wasn’t recovering during my recovery. It was amazing, a light bulb immediately went on. With just this tiny little change I have had 11 straight bike workouts that in my opinion, all would surpass the “peak bike workout” I did going into 70.3 Worlds. For instance, below is one I did two weeks ago that is very comparable to the one from August 27th. It was 3x20minutes with 10 minutes recovery. I ended up pushing 361, 366 and 375w. Even 5 weeks ago I could not have fathomed doing this workout in practice.


Long story short, I have had a paradigm shift in both my run and bike training. Since that time I have been doing the best workouts of my life. The moral of the story is that you should continually stock pile all of the training “facts” you have accumulated and question them from every angle. It is possible that you may not be on a physiological plateau, but a plateau caused by your current training philosophy / methods.

Thanks for reading!

14 thoughts on “The Off-Season Part 2

  1. Great Post. I have discovered the value of rest intervals as well this season and it kind of came as a result of signing up for ‘Training Peaks’. Now instead of having a moderate 200W recovery I drop it down to 160W and am able to push the hard intervals even higher. I now give meaning to the term ‘Training Peaks’ to be the taller the peaks, the better the workout.

  2. Great post as ever Lionel, I was intrigued to see how you were going to change your bike training – and after going through some of your previous posts over the last couple of weeks the thing that had struck me were how hard your ‘recovery’ intensities were. Seemed that you were almost always at ‘endurance’ intensity in between intervals rather than recovery. I guess that could be an effective way of training but only up to a point – and ongoing recovery would be difficult. The whole session would end up being at a higher wattage so a good overall training effect, but the actual intention of any given session would be negated somewhat. Evidently your latest sessions are working – where your bike splits are gonna go from here who knows?!!

  3. Hey Lionel,
    You may have already watched this lecture on Polarized Training research that was a popular thread on ST – some great stuff in here, validates what you’ve recently discovered – I’ve watched it 5 times!!! over the past year or so:…r_stephen_seiler-mov

  4. Hey Lionel, great read as always. The new site may be missing a link on the home page to your previous posts. I didn’t one 🙂 The only way to get to them is to scroll down on home page.

  5. great read. i followed that thread on ST with great interest. Your “recovery watts” are higher than my FTP lol

    desertdude is v smart and always has interesting posts to read. if i was more serious about IM, I would like to work with him

  6. You have talked about in your blogs that high end stuff is a weakness of yours. But to me it seems like you do a lot of VO2 max, lactate threshold, anarobic capacity etc. and at least last Winter your volume was very low ( around 6-8 h/week on the bike?). Later in the season it seemed like you did more volume (I am guessing 15-17 h/Week?), but I know longdistance triathletes who have done 25-27 h/week (approx. 800 k’s). Could it be that aerobic endurance would be a limiter at some point and that you need to stimulate that system even more improve from here(i.e. doing very long rides and only very few high end intervals)?

    • I certainly won’t rule this out. I definitely have not experimented with doing a ton of long rides yet. My current opinion in this regard is that the reason for doing really long rides is subscription to old dogma. The dogma being that in order to make riding 180k feel easy, you’ve got to ride for 200+K. Often times I think athletes will do this at the expense of intensity. I.e. they will go ride for 220k, but at 30-35km/hr. Quite frankly, I don’t think this does much to help you to ride at 45km/hr for 180k. Perhaps it will give you the mental confidence that 180k is not that long a way for you, but I don’t think it does much to make you ride 180k fast. My longest ride last year in preparation for Ironman Florida was about 4 hours and 45 minutes. But that ride was done at an intensity comparable to what I rode at for 4 hours and 12 minutes in Florida. My ride in Florida was the second fastest Ironman bike time in 2014 (Sebastien Kienle’s ride in Frankfurt was the only one faster). I hit the wall pretty hard on that ride at about 80 miles, and my average power dropped by nearly 10 watts by the end. This I would attribute to a lack of aerobic endurance. Not because I didn’t do 6 hours rides, but because I only did 4 rides in excess of 4 hours in the two months leading into that race. The correction I will make in the future is to do a lot more rides in the 4-4.5 hour range in the months leading into the race so that the body has time to adapt.

      So to answer your question, I’m not sure. Perhaps if I hit a plateau at the 180k distance I will tinker with really long bike rides in the future. As of right now, I don’t think this has much importance.

  7. Awesome post, always look forward to your new ones. I’ve learned a lot about training from reading your blog. Does saucing plan to sell the canadian flag suit you wore in Florida?

    • Great to hear! Thanks for reading. That suit was actually produced by Louis Garneau. They weren’t planning on doing a production run of the suit, though you are probably the 10th person to make a comment about it, so perhaps if I continue to tell them this they will eventually do a run.

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