TABR 2021

TABR training notes

I mentally committed to riding TABR 2021 at the end of January 2020, and started training in earnest in March. I didn’t know what I was doing at first—I was still figuring out structured training, but by June, I had the rudiments of a training plan. I’ve been refining and tinkering with it since then.

That should have been plenty of time for me to get in shape for the TABR, but now I am 11 weeks away, and I feel like it wasn’t.

I can attribute part of this to some health issues (some related to my training, some not) that started cropping up in October and weren’t resolved until February. My fitness didn’t deteriorate during that time, but it didn’t improve either.

But part of it is simply being too complacent with my training plan. I could have pushed myself harder during the four months October—February. And I definitely could have started pushing myself harder immediately after that.

I saw a comment from a coach who has worked with at least a couple of successful TABR racers that one should get one’s cumulative training load up to 120 before the race. I don’t see a good way for me to do that right now.

There are a few concepts to understand here:

  • Every workout has a training stress score (TSS) calculated for it. This is a single number that represents both the intensity and duration of the workout. The formula for working it out is complicated.
  • Cumulative training load (CTL) is a recency-weighted average of the training stress scores for one’s workouts over the previous six weeks. This is also sometimes called “fitness.”
  • Acute training load (ATL) is a recency-weighted average of the training stress scores for one’s workouts over the previous week. This is also sometimes called “fatigue.”
  • Training stress balance (TSB) is CTL minus ATL. This is also sometimes called “form.” In order to be making progress, this needs to be a negative number, but if it is beyond -30, that indicates overtraining. This also lets one optimize one’s taper for a race: by easing off training immediately before a race, CTL goes down but TSB goes up. However, I’m not sure how applicable TSB is to a multi-day event like the TABR.

In any case, there’s no way for me to ramp up from where I’m at right now (CTL of 82 as of this writing) to a CTL of 120 without my TSB going deeply negative. In fact, there’s no way for me to ramp up my mileage to where I want it without spending some time in the TSB red zone.

My current training plan has me doing two 60(ish)-minute interval workouts, two 90-minute recovery rides, and a long weekend ride each week; I am using a mesocycle of three weeks, where I ramp up my long-ride distance by 10% for each cycle, and in the third week of each cycle, give myself an easy week with a relatively short weekend ride.

In order to build this plan, I’ve had to estimate the TSS for all my workouts. For the weekday workouts, this is a non-issue. I build the workout in Training Peaks and then I ride it on my stationary bike, so apart from the smart trainer having minor tracking issues, the result is nearly identical to the plan. There are no confounding factors like hills or weather. For the weekend road rides, I alternate hilly rides with flat rides; I worked out an average TSS/mile for both categories based on past rides, and use that when estimating the TSS of upcoming rides. I don’t have a power meter on my bike, so TSS for past rides is calculated based on heart rate (which I know is less accurate).

For my most recent weekend ride, this didn’t work. I had estimated a TSS of 355. Due to steep hills and strong headwinds, it turned out to be 465. It’s three days later and I barely feel recovered from it.

My current plan gets me up to a CTL of 105 before the event, and that is after a recent retooling to give me a more aggressive ramp rate. But now I’m wondering if even that is too aggressive. Especially since I’ll intentionally be hitting TSSs of 465 on some of my weekend rides as I ramp up, and I know how much that took out of me. I am worried that I’ll be both overtrained in terms of my health and undertrained for the event.

With my current training plan, I am cramming most of my TSS ramp-up into my weekend ride. In theory, I could change my training plan so that instead of comparatively light weekday rides and a very heavy weekend ride, I would ride at more consistent TSS levels throughout the week. This would avoid blowing myself out on one weekend ride, but would be harder to fit into weekdays, and in any case, I feel like I need to have the experience of long, uninterrupted hours in the saddle to prepare.

Trans Am Bike Race 2021

The Trans Am Route Map
The Trans Am Route Map

When I was a kid, my father told me about a friend of his, Rudy, who had ridden his bike coast-to-coast. I think this planted a seed.

In the late 90s, I decided to do my own cross-country ride, and resolved to ride the Southern Tier. I was preparing for that in a desultory way, but my life kind of turned upside down in 2000, and I forgot about that goal. At the very beginning of 2010, something reminded me of it and I realized that I still wanted to do it. I mentioned this to Gwen, who gave me a look and said “you’re not getting any younger.” That was all I needed to hear. I started preparing immediately, and in September 2010, I did it.

Although riding the Southern Tier wasn’t exactly easy, it also wasn’t quite the challenge that I was looking for. For some time, I’ve wanted to do another cross-country ride, but one that would be more of a test. I had the idea of doing this in 2020, ten years after the first one. I’d heard of the Transcontinental Race before, and it fascinated me, but the logistics would be so daunting that it just seemed off-limits. In January of 2020, I learned of the existence of the Trans Am Bike Race and I knew instantly that I would do it. This was before the pandemic reached the USA, but I felt that my commitments to Flipside would make it unrealistic to attempt it in 2020, so I set 2021 as my goal. Of course, then the pandemic struck and everything was cancelled. But I was still able to start preparing for the TABR, and I did. This has been the thing that organized my time during a period when time has gotten fuzzy.

The race starts June 6. The course is 4200 miles, give or take. I’m aiming to complete it in 20 days. Registration has opened for it and I’ve signed up.

Take to the Sky


This is my new bike.

The setup

Frame
Kinesis RTD. This is a 55.5 cm frame, bigger than the 54 cm I would usually ride, which I chose at the suggestion of a fitter, who was concerned I wouldn’t be able to get enough stack on the smaller size. As I’ve got it set up now, I could probably lower the stem and still be comfortable.
Wheels
Just Riding Along “Mahi Mahi” rims (30 mm front/50 mm rear), SON Deluxe front hub, JRA house-brand rear hubs, Sapim X-ray bladed spokes. I felt like this would give me the best balance of aerodynamics and handling in crosswinds.
Group
mostly Dura Ace.
Cranks
Easton EA90. (Bottom bracket is also from Easton.) I got over my pride and decided to use 46/30 chainrings. For the amount of power that I can produce and my style of riding, I don’t need anything bigger (I sometimes see cyclists in bike forums asking about putting bigger chainrings on their bikes and I wonder “can you really push that gear?”). There aren’t a lot of road cranks that will take rings in those sizes (Shimano’s GRX have a wider chainline, which I could imagine causing shifting problems), which is why I went with Easton cranks. Although I don’t have a power meter on this bike now, Easton’s spindle-based power meter would be a relatively easy retrofit.
Cassette
Ultegra 11-30. Having small chainrings meant that I could put a relatively close-spaced cassette in back. This still gives a very low low gear, and a top gear that’s higher than the 52×13 that was typical when I started cycling. If I feel like I can pull it off, I’ll use an 11-28 instead.
Seatpost
Redshift; can toggle between a conventional position and a TT position on the fly. I got this used, along with a set of Redshift aero bars. After only one ride, I’m not convinced that it suits my purposes, but it is a well-made piece of equipment.
Saddle
Fabric Race Line Shallow, which seems to work for me.
Stem
Old stock from Zipp. Available cheaply; bought as a placeholder to confirm my positioning; I will probably replace it with a shock-absorbing stem from Redshift
Bars
Old stock from 3T, also available cheaply.
Pedals
Speedplays zeros. I would like to use SPDs, but they don’t offer a lot of float, and that has been causing me knee trouble lately, so at the last minute I made this change.
Tires
Continental GP5000 tubeless, 28 mm. I waffled on whether to go tubeless on this rig and ultimately decided that I would. I’d read horror stories about how hard road tubeless tires can be to mount and inflate, and about how tires that are the tiniest bit out of spec with the rims can blow off. In this case, I was able to mount the tires by hand with little trouble, and even inflate them with just my track pump, no air blaster required. Getting the valves set up took a little trial and error, and I misjudged the ideal length for the stems.
Chain
Wipperman Connex. Has a reputation for being especially durable, and the master link uses a clever design that does not require a tool to connect or disconnect.

Build notes

This is the first bike I assembled entirely myself. I had a shop face the brake mounts and bottom-bracket shell, and I bought prebuilt wheels, but the rest I did on my own.

The number of weird, specific bits and pieces I needed came as a surprise. I wound up getting a special socket driver for the bottom bracket and another one for the lockring that holds the chainrings to the cranks. I had bought the levers and brake calipers used, and had to buy barbed fittings and “olives” for the hoses (as it turns out, I should have bought new hoses as well). The rear caliper requires mounting bolts that are sized exactly to the frame, so I had to get those as well, and Shimano’s documentation on this is somewhat lacking, so that took a fair amount of research.

Apart from needing two new tools, getting the bottom bracket and cranks set up was a breeze. Although the preload adjuster didn’t stay locked in place.

Cutting the steerer tube was nerve-racking–do it wrong, and the fork is a total loss. Bleeding the brakes was especially nerve-racking. I’ve tried it before and gotten it wrong. I may still need to re-bleed the rear brake, because the bite-point seems a little late, but they both work.

Routing the cables and hoses was surprisingly fussy and involved a fair amount of trial and error. Although the result is OK, cosmetically it could be better. The frame routes the cables and rear-brake hose through the inside of the downtube, which was a slow and fussy task. I’m guessing that a Di2 setup would be considerably more fussy.

Using Shimano’s documentation to get the derailleurs set up was an exercise in frustration, and I really didn’t feel like I had it right until I took the bike around the block a few times and played with the barrel adjuster. I wound up ignoring Shimano’s documentation on bleeding brakes and went with Park Tools’ instead. As a Japanese translator and technical writer, I’m kind of disappointed with Shimano’s documentation–both the translation and the overall approach.

Ride notes

So far I’ve only gone on a couple of neighborhood shakedown rides and one real ride. I’m still getting my position dialed in.

On my one full-length ride I had the tires over-inflated and wound up letting some air out at the turnaround point; I could probably still let more air out. The frame is reputed to be especially smooth-riding, but I was feeling slightly beat up. I may change the seatpost for one with a little give (something my Felt VR30 has), or perhaps a suspended seatpost. I was buffeted by a stiff crosswind the whole way, which was a good test for those aero wheels (these the first aero wheels I’ve had). They definitely took a little extra wrangling, but not more than I expected. My average speed for the ride wound up being about 1 mph faster than I would have expected on the Felt I’ve mostly been riding lately.

Bad rides

Ride Time: 4:53:17
Stopped Time: 27:16
Distance: 75.08 miles
Average: 15.36 mph

I went for a ride yesterday that I can only describe as a bad ride. It was cold and rainy. When I rolled out, I thought I’d be warm enough. I wasn’t. My left knee starting bothering me after about 20 miles. I had planned on riding 85 miles, but got discouraged and turned around early, so I only put in 75.

But you don’t learn anything from a ride that goes perfectly. When things go wrong, you can learn a lot. So what did I learn?

Because my right leg was doing most of the work, I couldn’t ride as hard, so I couldn’t generate as much body heat as usual, so my kit—which might have been warm enough if I were riding harder—wasn’t warm enough. Normally my average heart rate on a ride like this would end up around 125 bpm, and be higher at the end than the beginning; on this ride it was around 123 bpm early in the ride, and by the time the ride ended, it was down to 119 bpm. It’s possible that I wouldn’t have been warm enough anyhow: I’ve worn exactly the same kit to commute to work in the same conditions, but my commute is only about 30 minutes each way, not a continuous five-hour slog. I’m not sure whether to chalk up the difference to riding faster on the commute, or just an ability to tough out the cold for a short period.

I suspect my knee was jacked up because of a combination of the cold tightening my muscles, and my pedals not giving me as much float as I’d like. My natural tendency is to ride in a very toes-out stance. I always used to ride on Bebop pedals, which had 20° free float. Conceptually, they’re a lot like Speedplay pedals, except they are more robust and the cleats fit regular 2-bolt drilling.

Bebop pedals were produced by what I think was a one-man company. Eventually he sold the works to a big Taiwanese company that continued manufacturing them for a few years, but ceased production in 2017. I’ve still got a set, but the cleats are worn out. I’ve got a watchlist set on eBay for these: in four months, I’ve seen two NOS sets listed; in both cases for ridiculous prices, and in both cases they’re snatched up immediately. If there were a Kickstarter to put them back into production, I’d subscribe.

Rather than switching to Speedplay pedals, I’ve been using SPDs. But SPDs only have 4–5° float, and I can’t position them to accommodate my weird stance on the bike. In the warm months, this hasn’t been a problem, but my past two chilly rides have been hard on my left knee, and I’m pretty sure this is why.

So what I’ve learned is that I’ve got to bite the bullet, get warmer cold-weather gear, and get pedals with more float.

Cyclemeter Cycle May 3, 2010 15:47:43

Route: Bee Cave Out-&-back + 360 dogleg Activity: Cycle Google Maps URL: maps.google.com/?q=http://share.abvio.com/7bc7/930d/4b53/e040/Cyclemeter-Cycle-20100503-1547.kml Shortened Google Maps URL: j.mp/aWZCgT Started: May 3, 2010 15:47:43 Ride Time: 2:39:57 Stopped Time: 4:50 Distance: 38.79 miles Average: 14.55 miles/hr Fastest Speed: 208.69 miles/hr Climb: 1191 feet Calories: 2096 Official Route: No
www.cyclemeter.com