Jesse Moore of Moore Performance Coaching brings us the second installment of his three-part series where he details his approach to helping masters cyclist Chris Lyman prepare for the Dirty Kanza 200. Jesse’s clients represent some of the country’s top athletes, ranging from triathlon to pro road racing. Yet even with decades of experience, his commitment to helping Topical Edge athlete Chris Lyman prepare for the demands of 200 miles of gravel racing might be his greatest challenge yet.
The numerous challenges of Dirty Kanza 200 that have to be navigated were identified in Part 1, and the next step in the process is outlining the approach to each of those challenges. The initial temptation is to take the shotgun approach and throw everything at Chris. Big endurance rides, big power, VO2, threshold, HIIT training, etc. He’ll need it all so we have to train all of it all the time right? There is some truth to that. He will need a solid blend of all of the energy systems that these training stimuli develop. However, the key to the recipe will come both in how much of each ingredient we add, but also in the timing of when they are brought to bear during his build up. It is important that we consider the individual at this point.
Building The Fitness Base
Does base building need to be the priority because the event is so long? Not in the traditional long slow distance (LSD) sense for Chris. He has been an endurance athlete for a long time and already possesses what I’d consider the aerobic foundation and neuromuscular economy of movement required for the event. There just isn’t much to gain from punching the clock on big hours at low intensities given his athletic history, so we will focus his energy elsewhere. LSD wouldn’t fit his time budget anyway. Essentially, we’ll be shortcutting the initial base building part of his program, by leveraging all of the work he already has deep in his bones.
That said, DK is a massive aerobic endeavor and we can’t neglect the fundamental adaptations required to deliver that many kilojoules of power over an extended period of time. Instead, of consistent LSD to build that aerobic engine we’ll be using targeted big bouts of work done as “mini-camps” to freshen up Chris’s ability to go long and serve as his aerobic foundation or “base”. He has several big adventure races and high-quality cycling events already carved into his schedule. We will be taking advantage of his blocked off work calendar and availability during those periods to double and triple up on big days whenever possible. Adding a second or even a third big day after a number of these hard events will impose a substantial training stress on his system. The repeated bouts of glycogen depletion, muscular and neuromuscular fatigue, along with the inevitable mental exhaustion will provide DK specific stimulus and encourage the physiological and psychological adaptations we are looking for. The camps will also present valuable opportunities to further hone nutrition strategies; which any ultra-endurance athlete will tell you is the true crux of these events.
Last note on these camps that often gets neglected is it will actually be the well-managed rest going in and recovery after these deep dives that will be the key to these mini-camps being successful. Anybody can smash themselves. The success is in the rest!
Simply put, with cycling you just have to be able to make watts. Unlike running where you can recoup large amounts of energy through the elasticity found in the muscles and tendons, there is no bounding along in cycling. Once the muscles can no longer create contractile force you’re done, and we’ve all felt that. This makes building a deep vein of muscular resilience to draw upon vital for an event like DK. I call it ’bombproofing’ your legs.
With DK on the horizon, Chris has already set himself up with a very strong winter of muscular resilience work. He built this with the big torque pedaling he found organically just riding the dirt trails around his house, but also with more mindful and structured big gear road riding sprinkled into his winter training. The increased pedal force required to push the lower cadences recruits and therefore trains large numbers of muscle fibers even at lower intensities. This allows the recruited fibers to become more fatigue-resistant along with improving the structural properties of the muscles so that they won’t incur as much debilitating damage with extreme use. Sounds like that might be a good thing for DK!
While there are big surges in DK, being able to go moderately hard for long periods is the key to DK success overall. Going hand in hand with the higher torque muscular resilience work comes a lot of tempo or sweet spot training for Chris this winter and it will continue to be a staple throughout his build up. Big bouts of 15-, 20- even 30-minute sets of tempo really bring out that deeply rooted base fitness that Chris has in his body. For Chris, tempo is challenging enough to push continued adaptation, but not so hard that it tears him down for days after. That is why you may also hear tempo referred to as sweet spot training. As an added bonus, Chris loves doing it, so it is easy to get high value work out of him in this range without incurring large amounts of mental fatigue.
On that note, managing the depth of the mental reservoir for the duration of the DK build up and execution is essential to keep in mind. While doing large amounts of HIIT or VO2 max training over the winter may have yielded a better physiological result, I learned long ago they will just empty Chris out and he’ll have no fight left in him on race day. We have to time that work carefully and use it sparingly. This is where sports science and coaching often differ in approach. As coaches, we have a responsibility to manage the health and overall well-being of an athlete for the long haul. Not just get the most significant result in an 8-12 week study.
The often neglected Achilles heel for most athletes is the neuromuscular system and the ability to coordinate the complicated movements found in sport under extreme fatigue. Much of what we feel as fatigue and attribute to muscles breaking down is actually a signaling issue from the brain to the working muscle. Correcting this isn’t necessarily about building stronger muscles that look good in spandex, it comes cheaper than that, but requires dedication to some uncomfortable and unsexy work.
Keeping things simple, the high torque, muscular resilience work we’ve done trains high signal strength and the tempo work trains a prolonged high signal output, but I find it is also important to challenge neuromuscular coordination with a higher signaling frequency using some complimentary high cadence work along with isolating the individual legs using single leg pedaling drills. I’ve found this extra high cadence, increased frequency challenge in neuromuscular communication gives us a bit more in reserve at regular cadences when tired. Any musician will tell you if you can play it fast you’ll be able to do it in your sleep at regular tempo. Normally you would work on neuromuscular coordination fresh, but for Chris’s purposes I like to do this when the muscles are good and tired from some big gear work. A similar scenario to what he will face on race day. The rider that can maintain good economy of movement late in the day is likely to do well.
Check back for Part 3 of the training series soon.
Topical Edge is a proud sponsor of Dirty Kanza. You can read about how Dirty Kanza athletes are using Performance & Recovery Lotion to prepare for the event this year, here. Additional training insight into Dirty Kanza-specific training articles can be found here.