Group Rides

Group Rides: everyone seems to have an opinion regarding their inherent value. Some say group rides are bad and should be avoided at all costs. Others wouldn’t miss them for the world, showing up like clockwork every Tuesday or Thursday night, primed and ready to take out their frustration over being emasculated by an office cubicle for the last 8 hours.

Coaches Hate Group Rides

Most coaches love to hate on group rides. As a general rule of thumb coaches love order and discipline. In large part it’s what attracts them to the profession (as it did me). The group ride is often seen as the archenemy to order and discipline, a chaotic and unstructured mish-mash of saddle time (not unlike a race ironically) that could be better spent drilling precise and measured intervals.

A longing for precision and measurability is what leads many coaches to look at their athletes like science-experiments (which can be a good thing actually, as I wrote about here). Pour in X ingredient, wait X amount of time, and observe the results: measurable, controllable, and repeatable. The problem with this singular perspective on training is that it ignores human variability. Few athletes have the time or mental fortitude to be coached like a science experiment. They struggle with motivation, get tired, stressed, and maybe bored. They balance work, school, and family lives with their desire to train and improve on the bike. They have a capacity to train hard but also need a balance of fun.

Group Rides Have Value

This is where the group ride comes in. It offers an instant injection of social interaction, external motivation, and race-like adrenaline. While a group ride might have debatable “training” value, it offers value in a larger context of an intelligent training approach that focuses on long term, steady improvement rather than instant success brought on by a three-month block of bone-crushing intervals. So how do you implement group rides into your training plan while insuring that you’re continuing to maximize your available training time and get faster on the bike?

Overload

First of all, it might be helpful to look back at the old-school principle of “overload”. This principle states that in order to get faster or stronger one needs to introduce a training stimulus that challenges the body. Simple concept, you need to “overload” your body with a training stimulus in order to elicit positive training adaptations. So what does the principle of overload have to do with group rides?

Group rides generally follow a pretty predictable pattern. There are the fast guys launching attacks and riding aggressively at the front of the group. There are the medium guys who throw in an attack or two but generally hold their cards close to the chest, and there are the slower guys who are hanging out and looking to simply enjoy the dynamics of a group ride.

Comfort: The Enemy

The problem with this caste system is that it rarely introduces a training overload to anyone but the most aggressive in the group. For the majority of riders a sufficient training overload isn’t the outcome of a group ride, comfort is. Comfort and familiarity are the counterparts of overload, insuring that you never get any faster. If fun is your primary objective then don’t worry about any “training objectives”, just go out and exercise the demons of your work day.

Whatever your approach, remember that your body is incredibly efficient at adapting. You can’t expect to get faster if you’re not challenging that adaptation. It’s up to you to provide the overload, through focused and disciplined training or by stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone on a group ride.

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Nate Dunn, M.S.
Data Driven Athlete
@ddacoaching

Honesty

I’ll probably end up spending my entire life uncovering all the nuances that pull me toward the sport of cycling, but at the core of my love affair with cycling is the element of total honesty. Lining up for a race and measuring yourself against your peers is like asking advice from a trusted friend that you know will always “tell it like it is”.

Nevada City: I Love You

Perhaps that’s why I love races like Nevada City, University RR, etc. (both of which have made me feel like a “worthless steaming pile of cow dung, figuratively speaking” — credit Liar Liar. If a typical office park crit is like a boss who never looks you square in the eyes, always avoiding conflict, Nevada City is like Jim Carrey in Liar Liar, physically compelled to tell the truth. Here are a few exchanges to illustrate my point…

The Interview

You: Hey Nevada City, how do you think my fitness is coming along this season?

Nevada City: Are you kidding me? Over the past 3 months your training has been sporadic at best. To be completely honest, your genes aren’t good enough to be able to compete without training smarter and harder than your competitors.

You: But maybe today is different. I was racing in last week’s office park crit series and was sitting 15th wheel heading into the final sprint before I got “boxed in” and ended up sprinting for 35th. I could have won that race.

Nevada City: “Boxed in”, I like that…cute. You’ve been getting “boxed in” at every crit for the past 3 years. The longer you use that excuse, the longer you will fail at bike racing. You’ve got 3 choices to compete in a flat crit. Get in a break, reconfigure your genetic make-up, or train smarter and harder than you are now; take your pick.

You: All right fine, point taken, but what about rider X? He never trains, and is still able to consistently land on the podium.

Nevada City: That’s nice, good for him. Come on out to Nevada City and step on the scales, let’s see how you measure up…

No BS

That’s the gift of a bike race like Nevada City, unfettered honesty and clarity. No BS, no drama, no egos to sort out. Pin on your number, step on the scales, and get a rare unfiltered glimpse at your strengths and weaknesses. It’s what I love most about cycling, honesty…

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Nate Dunn, M.S.
Data Driven Athlete
@ddacoaching

Top 5 Reasons Not to Buy a Power Meter

You roll up to the start of your local crit or Tuesday night world championship and everybody and their mother has a power meter. Every season it’s gotten worse. What started a few years ago with a few dudes talking “wattage this and wattage that” has turned into every nitwit discussing their FTP, critical power, and 5 second max. Every time you hear these dummies talk you want to smash your face into your color coordinated stem cap.

Back in the golden days everyone used to talk about the sweet smell of tubular glue and the finer points of road rash debridement, now all anybody talks about is strain gauges, normalized power, and the delayed release of Garmin’s Vector pedals.

Not Serious Enough

You start to feel a few pangs of guilt for not “taking your training seriously enough to invest in a power meter” but at the same time you enjoy the satisfaction that comes from spanking other riders that have a power meter, a feeling that you would of course have to relinquish if you purchased one for yourself.

You’ve heard all the great reasons for training with power but are still unconvinced of the power meter’s magical ability to transform you into a leg ripper and race winner. What you need is an authoritative document that lets you off the hook; one that gives you compelling, empirical evidence supporting your decision to NOT purchase a power meter. This blog post might be just what you’ve been waiting for.  Without further ado…

Top 5 reasons To Not Purchase a Power Meter:

  1. Because it’s fun to ride an old bike with 32 spoke wheels and toe clips, then dominate other riders that think they’re god’s gift to chamois cream because they spent $3k on an SRM.
  2. Because your best friend Billy Bob has never done an interval in his life, thinks power meters are for sissies, and still poaches Strava KOM’s in his sleep. He said all you have to do to get fast is ride really hard all the time and if you’re not winning it’s because you don’t know how to “suffer” enough on the bike.
  3. Because you already have a heart rate monitor that tells you exactly how fast your heart is beating when you blast past that dude on the bike trail wearing skinny jeans and a V-neck.
  4. Because you don’t need a power meter to tell you how much you suck. Being faced with how little power you actually produce might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and forces you to recognize that you won’t ever go pro. As long as you don’t buy a power meter, there’s still a chance you could go pro.
  5. Because when it comes to cycling you’re a bit of a Luddite (except for your deep dish carbon wheels, those are different because they sound pretty). Numbers and data kill everything you love about riding a bike. Riding and racing your bike is an opportunity to escape the constant hum of technology (except for your iPhone recording every second of your ride so you can pimp it on Strava as soon as you get home). The moment you begin adding more connected technology to your bike you might just stop enjoying cycling altogether.

So there you have it, the top 5 reasons NOT to buy a power meter. Save your money, divert more of your paycheck to your 401k, and rest easy knowing that you made the right decision

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Nate Dunn, M.S.
Data Driven Athlete
@ddacoaching

Top 5 Reasons to Buy a Power Meter

The holiday season has come and gone and you’re looking to justify the extravagant purchase of a power meter. You’re trying to convince yourself that it’s a good idea to spend more on your crankset than you did on your first car. If that’s the case I’ve compiled this handy list to push you over the edge and help you plunge into the abyss of training with a power meter. As if cycling wasn’t expensive enough, here are the top 5 reasons to drop even more money on a power meter..

5. Because they’re awesome

The modern cycling power meter is a direct descendant of the old school cycling ergometer previously found almost exclusively in exercise physiology laboratories. If you stop by the Sacramento State Human Performance Lab you can give one of these old birds a spin. In order to calculate the wattage of a rider the laboratory assistant estimates the RPM’s, records the mass in the weight basket at the front of the bike, then uses a formula taking into account the resistance on the flywheel to arrive at the power being produced on the bike. Did you catch all that? That’s what a power meter used to be. Today’s modern power meters are mobile, weather proof, crash resistant, exercise physiology laboratories imbedded in your bike that wirelessly transmit real time power numbers to your cycling computer for immediate feedback and post ride analysis. That is completely awesome.

4. Hold your coach and/or yourself more accountable

The beauty of training with a power meter is the objectivity through which it displays and records your progress on the bike. One thing is clear, you’re either getting stronger and faster on the bike or you’re not. If you’re paying for coaching a power meter can serve as an insurance policy to assess the effectiveness of your training plan. If you’re putting together your own training plan the evidence of your progress (or lack thereof) is equally clear.

3. Maximize available training time

If you’ve got a limited amount of time to train, no tool has a bigger impact on your training than a power meter. Whether you’re shredding indoors on a trainer or blasting out a quick workout during your lunch break, a power meter helps to bring focus to every minute you spend on the bike.

2. Bring added meaning to race performance

Racing with a power meter not only gives you an unbiased account of every second of a race, it also allows you to address previously unanswerable questions such as;

“Was that race really hard or did I just have a bad day”?

“What power output do I need to attain in order to stay with the leaders on that climb”?

“Do I have a better chance of winning in a break or a bunch sprint”?

Questions previously left up to conjecture can now be answered with objectivity and precision. You now have the data to pinpoint exactly where you need to improve in order to be more competitive on the bike.

1. Have more fun

The best reason to purchase a power meter is that it makes training and racing more fun. Immediate feedback while you’re riding coupled with post ride analysis make it possible to capture personal bests and other training milestones. This in turn makes training more fun while strengthening your motivation to get faster and stronger on the bike.

So there you have it. My top 5 reasons to break out the plastic and throw down on a power meter. Check back for my next post where I’ll outline the top 5 reasons to NOT buy a power meter.

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Nate Dunn, M.S.
Data Driven Athlete
@ddacoaching

New Year, New Content

With my Masters Thesis almost wrapped up it’s time to recommit myself to doing some regular writing on my blog. Before I get started for this year here are a couple themes I wanted to establish before my thoughts begin cascading from the interwebs.

  1. This blog will never be a conduit for me to shamelessly plug my coaching business. If it begins to smell that way then please call me out. It is my goal to write articles and share perspectives that are engaging and interesting to read. I want my posts to stand on their own as quality pieces of penmanship that are enjoyable and insightful to read.
  2. Most of my posts will focus on data, technology, and science and how to use these tools to better understand and impact athletic performance. Occasionally I’ll throw in some random thoughts and mindless ramblings to remind myself that cyclists as a group take themselves entirely too seriously and deserve to be ridiculed.
  3. This blog will err on the side of quality rather than quantity. Two posts a month is a good target for me. I’ll aim to deliver my little nuggets of wisdom on Mondays. Mondays typically find bike racers wasting time at work, searching for killer pictures of themselves wearing their best pain face in a race, and hopefully watching my race videos on Youtube. If I don’t have anything interesting to write I’ll keep my mouth shut and focus my energy on solving more vexing issues like why people feel the need to sprint for 25th place in a crit.

If any of the above sounds interesting I think you’ll enjoy the content up ahead. Stay tuned for my next post on the top 5 reasons to buy a power meter, followed shortly thereafter by the top 5 reasons NOT to buy a power meter.

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Nate Dunn, M.S.
Data Driven Athlete
@ddacoaching

What Makes a Great Coach?

These days cyclists have a ton of options from which to choose a qualified and professional coach.  Do a quick search through USA Cycling and you’ll find the number of  “certified” cycling coaches has exploded in the past five years.  Whichever coach you decide to employ here are several attributes that I believe are crucial:

A good coach…

  1. Has a solid background in exercise science/kinesiology/exercise physiology and can apply this knowledge to create data driven, science-backed training plans.
  2. Has knowledge of current technological advances in the sport and knows how to best use technology to improve performance.
  3. Has the ability to artfully blend exercise science, training/performance data, and human variability into a flexible and dynamic training plan for long term athletic success.
  4. Can communicate the what, why, when, and where to maximize motivation and personal ownership.
  5. Makes a personal investment in their athletes and cares about their success and fulfillment in life.

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To learn why my cycling coaching is different click here

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Nate Dunn, M.S.
Data Driven Athlete
@ddacoaching

Intelligent Training Equals Smart Research

One of the things I’ve loved most about graduate school is learning more about the components of quality research. Quality research is typically well planned, tightly controlled, and precisely measured. Planning, control, and precision allow a researcher to say with some measure of confidence that what they are observing is a result of a specific training intervention as opposed to an external variable.

Intelligent training

In essence, the process of conducting research is identical to intelligent training. Getting faster and stronger in any sport is about conducting research on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. Much of this research has already been conducted and can be found in books, magazines, online forums, peer-reviewed journals, or personal anecdotes, but the real research happens when an athlete intelligently trains over months and years and finds what works best for them.

A power meter greatly enhances the quality of this training research by controlling for variables such as wind speed, elevation, rolling resistance, temperature etc., while reporting the one performance metric that matters most: power into the pedals. Investing in a power meter allows an athlete to quite simply perform more reliable research applicable to the population that matters most: the individual.

Quality Research

With this in mind the role of a cycling coach should be to help each individual athlete conduct quality research. Since each athlete is unique, each training plan should offer a high degree of individuality. At their best, a coach is able to synthesize a background in exercise science, personal experience, and a highly flexible listening ear into a training plan that clearly and efficiently produces a research environment most conducive to success.

While a coach might have an idea about effective training methods demonstrated in prior research, what matters most is whether or not you are seeing repeatable and measureable results in your personal research laboratory. Are you getting stronger and faster? Are you consistently nailing workouts and feeling motivated to train? If not then your research is telling you you might need to try something different.

Coach’s Roll

In short, a coach’s roll should be that of a head researcher, someone who leverages their knowledge and experience to ensure a training environment that gives an athlete the best chance for individual success. That’s the process of conducting smart research and inevitably reaching your maximum potential as an athlete.

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Nate Dunn, M.S.
Data Driven Athlete
@ddacoaching

The “Best” Way to Train in the Off-season

One of the most frequent questions asked of cycling coaches regards the “best” way to train during the fall/winter or typical off-season months. Old school thinking goes that you need to pound away the miles at a slow endurance pace in order to build your “aerobic” engine before the competitive season. New-school thinking points toward the benefit of high intensity training as well as explosive “anaerobic” efforts typical to cyclecross racing. Old-schoolers will tell you that you shouldn’t “ride too hard” during the off-season or you’ll compromise your “aerobic” fitness development. New-schoolers will tell you that spending a bunch of time riding slow might not be the best way to get faster on the bike. So who is right?

What Is Your Reality?

My problem with the “best way to train” question is that it’s the wrong question to start with, when it comes to training in general. The better question to ask is “what is my reality”. Let me explain…

Focusing on your own training reality guides you to perhaps the most valuable pieces of information when it comes to constructing a training plan. Here is an example…

The Important Questions

  1. How much time do you realistically have to train during the week?
  2. With fewer daylight hours, how much physical and mental energy do you have to complete workouts either before or after work in less than ideal training circumstances?
  3. What is your tolerance for extended training indoors?
  4. What family commitments do you have that might impact your ability to train?
  5. Does your spouse/family support you coming home from work and immediately hopping on the bike to train, or do you need to make some compromises that might reduce your weekly training volume?

Details

All of these questions will get you closer to your training reality. When you lay out the details of your daily and weekly schedule, you should be forced to focus on what is real rather than what might be ideal. The sooner you are realistic, the sooner you will be able to get the most out of your available training time.

You’ve figured out what real is for you, now you’re ready to construct the best off-season training plan. It’s the “best” because it is centered on your weekly time constraints, not what might be ideal for a European pro or a local hot-shot.

Basic Guidelines

You’ve nailed down your reality. You’ve sketched out the slots of time that are realistic for you to train , now back to that “best” off-season training approach…Here are a few basic guidelines.

  1. If you’re only training 5-8 hours a week, riding slow endurance miles doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you have the opportunity to get a longer ride on the weekend great. If all you’ve got is small pockets of time during the week you might as well hit it hard and maximize your training time with some higher intensity training.
  2. If you’ve got 8-15 hours a week to train you’ve got some more flexibility. Mix things up with some longer endurance rides as well as some higher intensity work during the week
  3. If you’ve got 15-20+ hours a week to train then you’ve got more options. The world is your oyster. Experiment with some new concepts, find a cross-training activity you enjoy, throw in some intensity to keep things interesting. Focus on staying mentally fresh and motivated.

It Depends

As with most training-related questions, the answer to “the-best” usually starts with “it depends”. The sooner you can nail down your reality, the sooner you can maximize your available training time and be confident you’re following “the best” off season training plan. A plan that is specific to you and your goals as an athlete.

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Nate Dunn, M.S.
Data Driven Athlete
@ddacoaching