Plug-N-Play Harder

The Program

Jan 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

JIM HAD ME DO a baseline fitness test on my indoor trainer, recording average heart rate, cadence, and power via a special wattage meter built into my wheel. He asked how many hours a week I could train, then he asked me to stop lying and tell him, really, how many hours I could train. He quizzed me about my current training regime (group rides), my equipment (bike, trainer, features on my heart rate monitor, etc.), and my philosophy (avoid humiliation). I realized that one of the things I was buying here was the right to talk endlessly about my favorite topic with someone who (unlike my wife) was being paid to act interested.

A week later, Jim posted my first month's regimen online: six 45- to 120-minute sessions per week, each with specific heart rate, cadence, and power output. On Tuesdays, I lifted weights. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, I rode with my local racing team, but under explicit instructions as to how hard I could push. I followed Jim's workouts as if they were instructions from Armstrong himself. I monitored heart rate and rpm like a day trader tracking stock prices, posting data on my CTS Web journal. I charted my waking pulse and daily weight. I adopted a strict diet designed by CTS's staff nutritionist that accounted for my age, height, weight, and that week's training workload. I began to go to bed earlier, and I rested religiously. If I missed a workout due to work or illness, Jim would simply rejigger my scheduled workouts.

Months two and three upped the intensity of the workouts, adding three-minute maximum-effort intervals and the dreaded 30-second speed intervals, which left me gasping and soaked in sweat in the middle of February. By March, I was training hard all week, using preseason Saturday races as a kind of superworkout. "Don't worry about feeling tired during these," Jim told me after one exhausting early race. "If you had been kicking everyone's ass, we would be worried you had peaked too early. We're not looking at this week. We're looking at six weeks down the line."

Thus I made steady gains—until I took a two-week business trip in April, dropped off the plan, and then bonked in a two-day stage race. I struggled to get back in shape. My teammates were no help. They believed rest days were for wimps, and hammered training rides in huge gears, making it impossible for me to keep my Wednesday heart rate between the required 140 and 160 beats per minute. During my first "goal" race—the state championships in May—I got dropped on the second climb and finished alone. I realized I'd run up against the limits of virtual coaching.

subject: THE NEW [inter] FACE OF COACHING

Thursday, February 28, 10:31 AM
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Jim: Felt pretty wasted at the end of yesterday's ride, but was probably riding harder than I perceived—and probably a bit more effort than I should have been expending in a recovery week. Friday, March 1, 9:07 AM
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
It was probably a bit hard for a recovery week, but it is good to see your average power increase for a 3+ hour ride. Make sure you take it easy so you are ready for next week. Friday, March 1, 10:44 AM
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Feeling a little off today—like I might be coming down with something. I'll probably skip the workout and see how I'm feeling tomorrow morning. Friday, March 1, 3:11 PM
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Sounds good. Lay off for today. If you are still feeling a bit sluggish tomorrow, cut the ride to two hours. I want to make sure you are back on track for next weekend's race.

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