People wonder how hard they should train to get better. I don't have an answer. I do know how hard I have to train to get better. Diet issues aside - always my key pain-in-the-ass training issue - my answer to the question is "f***in hard." For an example - yesterday was a moderate hard training day. I did some laps at Hains at lunch, going moderately fast. Not blazing fast, just good hard 110% of threshold power type riding, punctuated with hard tempo. The chart said medium effort day, and that's what it was.
Today's prescribed workout was 5x6 minutes at just a hair under threshold, a hard ride, so the HON ride, the Wednesday hill ride, while in practice a bit harder than threshold in many parts, was close to perfect for that chart. I rode aerobic tempo (L3) for about 10 miles getting into DC, then I rode up Lee Highway, a 5 minute climb, at threshold or a bit above, kind of hammering because I was sure I'd miss the ride start. By the time I got to the top of the hill it was too late to go to the coffee shop so I hammered it down the Custis Trail to Lorcom, then up Military and up the first major climb on the HON ride, a hill that just murders me because it has two walls in the middle of it. I waited at the top for everybody to arrive, did some stretches for 5-8 minutes, and only Scott showed, so we rode the rest of the ride more or less together. I pulled subthreshold down Glebe and hammering the downhill on Military, then tried to lead or hang with Scott until I popped on each uphill. I kept in contact with Scott for about 2/3ds of each hill, which is sort of miraculous compared to where I've been, then I just suffered my ass off up the remainder of each hill. Going into the last hill, my legs just flat gave out going up Military and I told him I was skipping out, all the matches were gone. I struggled to pedal back into DC and I wasn't even nearly fully recovered until I was riding through Georgetown. Seriously, I had trouble maintaining L3 power for 20 minutes after I blew up. It was baaaaddd.
That doesn't tell you how hard I rode. What would tell you about it is that I arrived at my desk before 8:00 AM, and had the shakes until 9:15. I was also loopy and a little lightheaded until about noon. That's pretty common for me after the HON if I ride it right, I spend a shitload of time at VO2 / L6 power levels, and it leaves me woozy, my brain swimming in a pond of lactic acid. I drank a bottle of Accellerade and ate half a Clif bar and a few apples around 9:45, but had mild stomach cramps and felt totally blown out, just physically useless, until an hour after lunch. Even at 9:00 PM tonight, my legs are feeling this morning's ride. Now *that* was a workout.
*That* is also how I'm getting better at riding. On the hard days, I ride really f***ing hard. On the easy days, the BikeTrailGuys can usually dust me. The riding power and stamina are coming along nicely, I'm still seeing good improvements, though I need to lose weight and gain skill, no matter which discipline I'm looking at. I've gotten compliments on the improvement at climbing; they're a little backhanded of course and always will be - I will never be able to hang with a 140 pound climber no matter what I do, but I'm not a total charity case on hilly rides any more and that's a good feeling. It's especially good because I know the improvement is earned. I'm not tapping into some deep well of hidden cycling talent that is easy to reach; I'm busting my ass.
Do *you* have to ride that hard to improve? I don't know. Maybe you do, maybe you don't, it's hard for me to gauge how much others are putting out so I just don't know.
I have some limiters I'm trying harder than ever to beat, and maybe you don't have them. And maybe you're more inherently talented at this kind of thing than I am. I don't know. But what I do know is that for me to improve I need two things - high volumes of low intensity riding, and hard days where I ride like Optimus Prime was chasing my ass for stealing his WD-40.
I've found the way to ride this hard is to focus on building up to the really big efforts, winding up the engine like a big diesel. The surest way for me to blow up quickly is to do a half dozen thousand-watt-plus efforts on little or no rest. That will pretty much cure me of feeling froggy in about 5 minutes - I'm sitting there perfectly in control of my faculties, but stuck with blown legs.
On the other hand, if I just wind up the engine, even up to twice threshold levels, I can spend a whole lot of time in the red zone, really tax all the body's systems, and hammer myself into the ground until my vision starts to go gray and I start seeing spots. I can do much more net work by powering up a little slower. Simply put if I power up the diesel gradually, just ramp up the power to get up hills, close gaps and so forth, I can do tons and tons of work, maybe a half hour of that level of work over the course of a 45 minute ride, breaking up the work with short recovery periods (as if in a race). But if I do a bunch of quick near-all-out efforts, I go underwater so fast that Jacques Cousteau would be taken aback. The volume of work completed is much, much lower.
So how hard was it?
Not hard enough. Next time I'm going to try to get a little more out of myself on each of those walls.