Learning To Pedal
I found the learning curve was over such a long period of time that the immediate effects involved a drop, rather than increase in performance, as my muscles learned to pedal in a ‘new’ way, and adapt to the increased workload the PowerCranks inherently demand.
Having used them for just over a year now, I’ve learned that the first year is pretty much just getting used to them. Yes, you will get stronger, and yes you will have a more efficient pedal stroke, but the toll these things take on your body can potentially prevent you from really feeling or noticing the effects.
I did notice some improvements after about 4 months, but I stuck with them mostly because the principal was so incredibly sound. In other words, it just made sense to me that if a rider could become as efficient on PowerCranks as they would be on normal cranks, they would be able to take their riding to a level that would not be possible even after years and years of structured training.
Josh spent most of the winter riding PowerCranks exclusively, and the results are starting to show.
Stay The Course
So I kept my faith, I was patient and I suffered… a lot. This winter, I trained like a pro. Although my elite amateur team had not yet achieved D3 status, I knew I would be racing most of the NRC schedule and that in order to stand out, I would have to not just keep up with the pros, but also beat them. So I trained, 5,6,7 sometimes 8 hrs a day. Avg speed of 20 mph. 20 to 30 hrs per week. 400-600 miles per week.
And I trained hard too. These weren’t LSD rides (Long slow distance), these were tempo rides, zone 2 and zone 3 the whole way, averaging 20 to 25 mph along with Pacific Coast Highway and up in the Santa Monica Mountains. And oh yeah, I did every single solitary mile on PowerCranks.
This seemed like a lot of added suffering, but now that I had been riding them for almost a year, the effects were starting to become much more noticeable and at a more rapid rate. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I didn’t earn any pulled or strained muscles over the winter or that there weren’t mornings I woke up so tired and sore that I grabbed my Cannondale with it’s nice stiff DA cranks, but for the most part I stayed true. The way I figured, it was either all or nothing.
Something is Changing
What kept me motivated, through all the agony and the funny stares? I was getting good. I mean really good. Since I do about 95% of my riding alone, I had no one to compare myself to, but I could just tell, giant climbs that used to bog me down were flattening out. Average speeds for certain rides were increasing 2 to 3 mph. I was flying and I could feel it. If this kept up, I thought to myself, “This could be a very good season.”
The base miles turned into long intervals at threshold and then those turned into shorter intervals above threshold. I felt my body starting to get tired and then one day in January, during a routine 15-minute interval, my body gave out. I still felt strong, but my muscles were telling me no more. Sure enough, the next day I woke with an aching hip flexor and sore glutes on both sides. The PowerCrank bike went away for a little while. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I would just have to trust, that all the work I had done up till then would be enough.
Let’s Go Racing
So what happened? Hilly road race number one, I placed 3rd, only my 3rd podium finish to date in a Pro race. However, my performances started to stagnate after that. I just didn’t feel the abundant strength that I had felt over the winter. Where was it? Had I lost it?
What would I tell one of my clients if he was going through something like this? I took two weeks of recovery. I came out to the Snelling RR (a tune up for McLane Pacific) at the end of February and literally, single handedly shattered the field. For 80 miles I was on the attack. Webcor with their giant team would chase me down and I would immediately counter. Then I would counter the counter. I was out of control. I knew I wouldn’t win the race, but I just wanted to test my legs and see what I was capable of. At the end, 35 guys out of the original 150 were still in. And this was a flat race with now wind. Where had they gone?? With 3km to go, I dragged my teammate (who had been sitting safely in the pack wondering what the hell I was doing) to the front and led out the entire sprint. I took him to the final turn and pulled off propelling him forward to take second place. Not bad for 2 amateurs against a field consisting of Webcor, McGuire, Ofoto and Symmetrics.
At the first two NRC races, McLane Pacific and the Central Valley Classic, it was pretty much the same story. Not that I was shattering these fields, but I was riding with a level of comfort and power that I had never experienced before. I actually led my teammate out for a prime at the McLane crit. If anyone has done this race, you know how hard it is to hang on, let alone get towards the front, let alone organize for a prime. With 10 laps to go, I pulled both of my teammates straight to the front and actually found myself accidentally flying past the 10 man Colavita lead out train that was already at full speed. What the hell was I doing up there? The next day was more of the same as I launched a beautiful solo break away with about 6 miles left in the race but got pulled back in with only a few miles to go. Either way, I was having fun.
So finally after three weeks of working for my teammates on these flat sprinting races, I had my chance. San Dimas starts with an uphill time trial. Although I didn’t feel especially strong, I managed to place in the top 30, which is a good amateur result in a race like this. It also put me as the GC leader for the team going into the Road Race. I don’t want to bore you too much with the details, but after 98 miles in the freezing rain, I managed to make it over the final climb with an elite group of 25 (out of 150). We shot down the final hill and into the finishing straight where I maneuvered through the group to place 8th. I know I could have done better, but 8th for an amateur in a race such as this is a pretty big deal and the way my friends and teammates were reacting, I knew I had something to be proud of. The next day, I breezed through the crit (which I was told was really hard?) and despite one mishap, finished top half and placed 19th in the overall G.C., my first money earned in an NRC race. Overall, a great weekend, and I can say with no hesitation whatsoever, a weekend that would not have been possible without PowerCranks.
Tune In Redlands
Where is the PowerCrank bike now? Basically, I ride it as often as I can, but the race schedule from now through the end of April is so taxing, that I’m barely getting enough recovery between weekend stage races on my regular bike. Still, no matter what, I try to do at least one ride a week on it, sometimes even on the morning before an afternoon crit or time trial. However, with my new team Cannondale Six13 arriving yesterday, I will probably be spending most of the next week just getting my position dialed in before Redlands, which starts on Thursday. It’s funny, but for the first time in 4 starts, I’m heading into Redlands with some real excitement. If I could have just one day like those days I had over the winter climbing in the mountains on my PowerCranks, who knows what could happen?
We will continue to report on real-world training experience with PowerCranks, and welcome reader comments on these and other training tools.
Check out these related articles:
PowerCranks Training Diary #3
PowerCranks Training Diary #2
PowerCranks Training Diary #1
PowerCranks Tech Review
Josh Horowitz is a Category 1 racer and USCF licensed coach. His company Liquid Fitness has become one of the largest and fastest growing coaching services in California. For more information and to order one of his unique (and Pez sponsored) kits, go to www.LiquidFitness.com