Adventures in Boulder: Part Two
By: Annie Byrne
This is the 2nd part of my two-part post recounting my trip to Boulder. The first part covered the days before the training camp, and this part is on the training camp.
PART TWO: ALP CYCLES HIGH PERFORMANCE TRAINING CAMP
Thursday arrived and it was time for camp to begin! Each day was PACKED with on the bike and off the bike lessons. Nina’s house was home-base and everyone gathered there on Thursday morning. We met the coaches and one another and I felt a lot like I did when I was 12 and went to summer camp and met my cabin mates, camp counselors, and got an introduction to what was in store. Except this camp was led by the Alp Cycles all-star lineup of cycling professionals. Alison Powers recently retired after racing professionally for eight years, and is the only person to win all three road discipline national championships in one year. I could (and started to) go on and on about the other coaches, but just know I was very excited to get coached by such accomplished and knowledgeable people. And they are all so nice! If I decide to stop being self-coached, I would definitely talk to Alp Cycles about coaching.
First up on the agenda was a talk on nutrition and supplements from a local expert. We learned what vitamins to take when feeling sick, what type of protein is best right after a workout and which is best before bed, how probiotics can help, and much, much more. Two changes I made after this talk include taking COQ-10 supplement to increase energy and Vitamin D to support strong bones.
After the talk we got kitted up and headed out on our bikes to do drills focused on improving bike handling skills. Before the camp Alison asked if there is anything in particular we .want to focus on and one of the things I told her was I really wanted to get more comfortable rubbing elbows and bumping in the pack. When I started racing in the P/1/2 field at some of the bigger races it became clear that these skills are essential and I need to practice. We rode to a park and started out with doing figure-8s in a parking lot space. By learning how to maneuver your bike in a small space you learn how to shift your weight and control movement in a stable, safe way.
We moved on to the grass and did drills leaning into one another, rubbing wheels, learning how to track stand, and riding in different positions going through a series of tight turns. We also practiced picking up different sized cones and really getting comfortable controlling our bikes while we shifted our weight.
Developing these sorts of skills is so important and it was really great to get so many tips from the coaches. It’s one thing to go out and try to replicate what you see someone else doing, but it is so much more helpful to get instruction and have someone break it down step by step. I’ve done the cone pick-up drill before but have never been able to do it. I’m happy to say that I became quite proficient during this drill! The tip that really helped me was to have your pedal in the 6 o'clock position in the side you are reaching down on. That way your knee is not in the way of your arm. You then keep your balance by simultaneous putting a lot of weight on your hand in the drop, while the other hand reaches down to pick up the cone. I couldn’t reach the flat circular cones, but I will keep practicing!
We went back to the pavement and practiced cornering. Cornering is a pretty basic skill, but it is also something you can continue to get better at and again I realized I had a lot of improvement to make when I started doing the bigger higher level races. Taking a corner at 28mph in a pack of 60 aggressive racers is much different than what I had been used to!
I learned a new cornering technique where you lean the bike but keep your body straight, which allows you greater control at higher speeds in a tight turn. It requires you to shift all your lower body weight on the outside pedal, while simultaneously putting your upper body weight on your hand on the inside of the turn. You keep your upper body completely straight while the bike moves underneath you so the saddle is on the outside of your butt.
I was struggling to do this correctly so Alison called me aside and held my bike while she instructed me how to position myself and my bike. It felt really weird BUT I felt the control and balance I had never felt before. I’ve been practicing this a lot since then and I am pretty pumped to have this new technique available to me.
After some snacks we rode our bikes to a road that had a moderate climb, probably about two miles long. We were instructed to ride two by two and the last two people would make their way to the front by coming through the middle (one at a time). It was kind of like a paceline but opposite, where the people in the back move up by coming through the middle. This gave us more opportunity to practice bumping and maneuvering in a pack. Simultaneously, we alternated sitting and standing out of the saddle. It sounds simple (or maybe not) but keeping a steady pace and line with all that going on takes practice. It was hard but I learned how to control my bike and speed better while shifting from seated to standing, something I will keep practicing.
After we rode that a couple times we headed back to the house and got ready for a talk from Alison on mental imagery. Alison talked about the value of visualization and had us do a couple exercises to really practice it. We sat with our eyes closed and started by relaxing our toes and moved our way up to relaxing our jaws. Then we pictured ourselves at start line of a race and really imagined everything, including what it sounds like, feels like, and allll the details. Alison cued us with lots of details from the official talking, taking the 1st corner, riding in the pack and asked us to think about how it feels. It showed us how to really put yourself in a situation and become comfortable with it so when the actual situation arises, it feels familiar and you feel confident. Mental imagery is a very powerful tool and one I plan to use more frequently!
Day two was motor pacing and bike fit day! We met at a training facility, Revo, and spent about an hour learning exercises to do before a ride and those to do after. The focus is to help prevent injury, get the most out of your training, and improve recovery.
Then we split into two groups-- half of us headed out to motorpace and the other half stayed for bike fits. I was in the first group to motor pace and we started out with a nice long warm-up. Coach Jen Sharp drove the motorcycle, which was bedazzled with a needed HTFU on the back. I had never motorpaced before so had a few questions, mostly about how close to get and how hard to go. The focus was to be on maintaining a high leg-speed but also get a high speed. It was an 11-mile loop and the first mile was an easy pace to get the hang of being close behind the motorcycle. Then it was on. The pace started as a nice tempo and I focused on getting aero to get as much draft as I could while keeping my legs spinning fast. The speed gradually picked up and by the end I was drooling. It was great.
We rode back to Revo and got ready for our fits. But first I made a needed trip to the Whole Foods about a block away and get snacks and all the beverages. Wandering around Whole Foods in the post-motor pacing state I was in made for a highly memorable moment, so I did not want to leave it out. I got: an americano, jerkey, trail mix, chocolate covered pretzels, a protein drink, and green juice from the juice bar.
Then it was time for my fit. Two guys did the fit and started out by asking me questions about any issues I have and how I feel on the bike. I told them I don’t have any serious issues, but the one thing I recently added was a shim to one of my shoes because I was getting saddle sores on just one side. The explanation for this had been because one leg is longer than the other, something I have been told many times. They had me lay on the ground and moved my legs a bit. He told me it’s not that my legs are different lengths but that my pelvis is tilted.
I got back on the bike and they measured the angle in of both knees with the pedal at the 6’clock position and discovered a notable difference- one was 31 degrees and the other was 38 degrees. They also noticed that my sit bones were not making much contact with the saddle so they put a wider saddle on and moved the saddle forward. It felt SO much better. They took the knee angle measurement once more and it was now 31 and 32!
The other cool thing they did was attach electrodes to my hamstrings and glutes so we could see the muscles firing. This shows if there are any imbalances which could be addressed by adjusting my position on the bike or doing certain exercises. I was happy to see that everything looked balanced and even.
After the fit everyone met up at the house and got ready for the evening talk. Local sports psychologist and racer Julie Emmerman presented on confidence on race day and moving beyond your comfort zone. She talked about why people stay in our comfort zones, the result of doing so, and how to overcome that tendency. She gave us a lot of great tips and we had a really good discussion.
Day three was our big ride day. We loaded up our bikes and drove about 45 minutes up a mountain to get to the town Nederland. The goal of this ride was to practice some of the things we learned and get in some good climbing.
After about 13 miles of climbing and descending, Alison and the coaches had us do a 2.5 mile loop three times. Each time the coaches split into “teams” and would deploy whatever tactic they wanted and everyone else would respond. It was fun and hard! And I made big gains in my descending! I realized so much of it for me is feeling comfortable with the road and knowing what is coming helps a lot. Riding the same course multiple times helped me feel much more confident with the turns and therefore I was able to keep my speed up. I was also very consciously practicing the tip from Alison to turn your head way before a turn so your eyes are focused on the road past the turn. After each lap we recapped and talked about what happened and what there was to take away and improve upon.
Then we filled up our water bottles and continue up. And I mean up. The next nine miles we went from about 7,750 feet to 9,500 feet. It was tough but I had great help from the coaches, especially Ruth who rode with me and gave me great advice on how to move my bike and my hips to make it more smooth and easier. I think all the spin classes I took before I started bike racing taught me some bad habits and I struggle with moving the bike when standing out of the saddle. Now I really get it and and am COMMITTED to practicing. I’m happy to say I have already made a lot of progress!
After that long steady climb, we met up at the top before descending. The ride back to town was a nice mix of up and down and it was BEAUTIFUL.
After eating lunch we headed back to Boulder, had time for a quick shower, and then back in the car over to Stages for a presentation on power meters and training with power. This was a very informative presentation and got into the nitty-gritty data charts which I LOVE. Too bad my voice was officially gone so I had a hard time asking questions. Gasping all that dry mountain air did number on me!
After the presentation everyone came back to the house for dinner—it was our last night of camp and it was great to spend some time chatting over dinner and wine with everyone.
The last day of camp arrived, which happened to be my birthday. The morning started out with Daphne performing her song-and-dance routine of Katy Perry’s Birthday song. LOL. Really sorry I have no photos or videos of this.
After breakfast we gathered in Nina's basement for a talk on aerodynamics and how your position and equipment affects speed. It was really interesting and my big take away was what is best for one person is likely not best for all people. It's just as important to be comfortable so you don't fatigue too quickly as it is to be aerodynamic. There were a lot of facts and studies referenced, and one thing I was surprised to learn is the reason why pros in the big tours use tubular tires is so they can ride on them when they are flat. Otherwise the difference between them and clinchers is widely seen as nominal.
After the presentation, it was time for our final on the bike lesson. The focus of the last day was on one of my biggest weaknesses: sprinting. I don’t particularly enjoy sprint practice but am learning to like it so was looking forward to the drills and lessons we’d be given. We got kitted up and rode from the house to a baseball field that was surrounded by quiet roads, perfect for sprinting.
We broke up into three groups, each group with their own coach. We kept doing laps around the baseball field doing lead-outs—Alison set up cones to mark a 200m stretch of road where we would sprint. Each lap we would add a gear so we started out being very under-geared, and had to stay in the same gear for the whole sprint. I surprised myself at how close I was able to stay to the others in my group. It was really good practice to sprint in different gears. Being under-geared forced a really high leg speed, then moving up in gears you find that sweet spot where leg speed and force was just right and felt so good, and then being over geared became obvious as the pedals were just too heavy to turn with enough speed. I also got some good tips on how to position my body, like to open up my elbows more to give my upper body and knees more space. It made such a difference!
After that we did a couple more laps all together to practice a bunch sprint. Then we did a three-lap mock race. Someone attacked on the 2nd lap, I chased her down, attacked and was off the front up until the final turn and was out-sprinted by Daphne and a couple other people (WOMP WOMP). We had a great recap, a quick photo shoot, then headed back to Nina’s.
We sat on the patio for a final meeting to recap the camp and then we came inside, was surprised to see 13-year-old Anya had made me a birthday cake! A perfect end to camp!
I’m really glad I went to Boulder—it was so good to have some time away and have a change of pace. And the camp itself was AMAZING. I learned a lot and feel more energized and motivated to work on my weaknesses. It can be really frustrating to just feel bad at something and not know how to get better, other than to practice. But sometimes you need more than just practice. You need someone to tell you very specific directions and teach you new techniques in a very hands-on way. Then once you get it, that frustration turns into a sense of accomplishment. And that is ADDICTING.