The €12 watch method of training on feel

By August 8, 2016 Cycling

I suffered the heartache of breaking my Garmin Edge 510 back in early May when I somehow managed to delete important settings.

It killed me not to know what my average heart rate was, where my lap power stood, how my average speed stacked up and what my maximum power was after a session.

The latter of course, is purely a vanity thing.

Living in Spain I’ve learnt a few things, one of which is shit takes a LOT longer to get done than anywhere else…like getting a replacement Garmin.

I had to wait six weeks before I got an email reply from someone who reckoned he could help.

It was two more weeks before I received the new one.

So, in short, I was Garmin-less from May 17th to July 18th.

I received a replacement device 10 days before a big race I was due to fly back to Ireland for.

I resisted the overwhelming urge to buy a new one in that two months and instead, played the waiting game while facing the unthinkable; training on ‘feel’.

Yes, no heart rate monitor or power metre. Instead, I used a €12 watch from Decathlon that told me one thing; time.

Here’s what I did for exactly eight weeks leading up to the race and while I didn’t win it, I actually think I was as strong as I’ve ever been.

For the first three weeks I trained six days a week as follows;

Monday – total rest day

Tuesday – 7am-9am; 4 x 10-minute intervals broken down as follows; the first 8 minutes suffering comfortably, the last two minutes suffering uncomfortably, on a climb known locally as Els Angels.

I marked the exact spot where I finished each interval and in theory, I would move the stone up the hill as the weeks went on.

There was 10 minutes rest between each interval.

Wednesday – Ride whenever I got time, but no more than 4 hours.

The intensity was ‘bunch cruising pace’.

The key was to have the power on, always.

Always turning, uphill or downhill.

I could do an hour before breakfast, two hours in the afternoon and another on the mountain bike at night (in the dark with a head torch) to improve my bike-handling.

Thursday – 90 minutes on the Bryan McCrystal plains.

The session is short and sick; 5 x 5 minutes with 5 minutes ‘twiddling’ between intervals.

The intensity is all that matters; it must be so hard that I am almost getting sick.

If I am not close to vomiting it is too easy.

The Bryan McCrystal plains are a sprawling area just outside Girona where one road leads from Cassa de la Selva to Caldes de Malavella and over to Llagostera.

I always think of the line from the film Flatliners ‘Today’s a good day for dying’ when I’m deep in the well, trying to stay on McCrystal’s wheel.

I strap the watch to the handlebars and stare at it for the full effort, breaking it down into 10 x 30-second chunks. This is the worst I will feel all week.

Friday – Today I do the 80k Matt Holmes loop at Matt Holmes intensity.

It’s a two and a half hour tempo ride from Girona to Banyoles via Sarria de Ter, up past David Millar’s mansion, onto Vilademuls, down some back roads, over a few ramps, slide on a little gravel, back to Banyoles and home the ‘back’ way.

Holmes held around 300 watts for this loop one day, me clinging to his back wheel.

If I do it in less than two and a half hours I can finish third on a stage of the Rás, in theory…

Saturday – Just cruising for two or three hours. A coffee is always had. And a cake.

The earlier I get back the better as on Sunday I  race and I need all the hours I can get to recover.

Based on the RPE scale (rate of perceived exertion) today is a 4 out of 10. This is an intensity I’d call ‘annoying’.

Sunday – Race. Given the training week was heavy I have no expectations other than to be aggressive.

Power metres and heart rate monitors are useless to me in a race. The demands of the race are to be at the front and know what’s going on.

That is ROUGHLY 14 hours a week.

I did this for three weeks and the stone went up the hill each week.

On the fourth week, as a test, I tried to do a 10-minute effort and was 30 seconds off it.

So I turned around, went home and drove to the Tour de France where I camped and ate and ‘just rode’ for five days.

I never did more than 50k on any day, though. On one day I did 12k. This was a rest week.

On weeks five, six and seven things got very serious and I stuck to the bible as much as possible, except on the first Thursday where I could only manage one of the five efforts on the Plains.

So I just went home and took the day off.

I did, however, do it the following day instead of the Matt Holmes loop and felt amazing. I can’t say why, I just did.

Another easy week led me into the race where I finished (reasonably) comfortably in the front group three of the four days.

The other stage was a criterium which I had no chance of winning so I took the time penalty for withdrawing.

It’s hard to say where I’d have finished if I did ride it, but a top 20 on GC was very possible.

Here’s what I learnt from the €12 watch mechanism of training.

  1. It’s possible to train hard based on ‘feel’…you just have to train hard. I always think of point three in this list.
  2. Without a power metre or heart rate monitor I reckon I tend to go harder than I ‘should’. I guess it’s ‘just to make sure’. Is this a bad thing? I’m not convinced. It killed me to think I was below what numbers I ‘should’ have been so I just went harder. See point four.
  3. Numbers are often debilitating and sometimes incorrect. ‘Feel’ is never incorrect. It is what it is.
  4. Riding on ‘feel’ is way more pure and actually way more enjoyable. I learnt to feel myself going through the gears.
  5. My FTP went up in a test I conducted after this eight-week ‘block’. No surprise there but comforting, nonetheless.
  6. I became unbelievably accurate at ‘guessing’ what time had elapsed.

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