TrainRight Fitness Testing

TrainRight Fitness Testing


After doing a bit of research, I decided to sign up  for coaching at in January. And since then, I’ve been following their training advice faithfully, in the sense that I have a lot of faith that I will see big improvements.


This faith is very important, you see, since I haven’t done much in the way of riding the past 6 weeks. The big problem (aka “excuse”) has been that the weather for January ranged from wet to “weather reporter standing around in blowing rain”. I have my rain bike, but there’s no much light on weekday nights, and I don’t ride in 30 MPH winds. But the skiing has been good on Sundays…


About three weeks ago, I finally broke down and ordered a Kinetic fluid trainer, which is the company lunchroom analog of real riding: it’s like real riding, but misses a few of the finer points. I’ve only ridden it once, but my guess is that I’ll put a fair number of hours on it.


Last week, finally, the weather improved. I got in a 24 mile Wednesday ride with my Cascade group in 38 degree weather, and the forecast was good for the weekend.


That meant that I wouldn’t be able to put off my fitness test any more.


One of the reasons I signed on with TrainRight was Carmichael’s assertion that most athletes are unfocused and work out too hard, and I was looking forward to having some guidelines for how hard to work out. But to generate those guidelines, their system needs some data, and you generate the data for fitness test.


The test format is simple: find yourself a 3 mile flat-ish course, warm up before, and then do two three-mile maximum effort time trails, with 10 minutes of recovery in between. I choose East Lake Sammamish South from the Marymoor entrance, loaded my bike and stuff up, and drove to the park.


Driving to Marymoor is a bit of a wimp manuever – it’s only about 3 miles from my house – but with it being my first test and the temperature hovering at 34 degrees, I thought I might need alternate transportation back home. I got to the parking lot, put all my clothes on (undershirt, jersey, arm warmers, leg warmers, shorts, socks, shoes, booties, over jersey) and my gear (hat, helmet, sunglasses, gloves, camelback), and started warming up. Or trying to warm up. The only thing that saved me was the bright sunshine.


After the warmup, I headed over to the course, zeroed out my computer/HRM, and started out. The goal is to get to your top speed in about 45 seconds, but it took me a bit longer. I got close, but I didn’t want to go anaerobic, and it took about 90 seconds before my heart rate stabilized in the mid 150s and I could ramp it up a bit more.


This is where the pain started. In the “Double E half-hour of pain…”, I peaked at around 161 BPM, which was painful, but bearable. That was for half an hour, and I needed to push a little more on this one, which I thought would take around 10 minutes. So, I kept my heart rate at about 163-165.


You may be asking, “How can 163 be that much different than 161 – it’s only two beats per minute!”. I was asking that as well, in an attempt to distract myself from the rather significant difference. I don’t know the physiology of it, only that it hurts. The course I picked out was a good one, however – it has a few rolling hills to it, and you need to shift up or down to maintain your cadence. If I didn’t have that to focus on, it would have  been much harder.


So, three miles come, I spin out for about 6 minutes, turn around, come back, and then do it the other way. This time I knew what was coming, but I did it anyway.


So, the results were:


Attempt #1: 9:55, 18.2 MPH

Attempt #2: 9:10, 19.6 MPH


I think the first one is slower because of my cautious start, and perhaps not being fully warmed up. I had hoped for a bit faster, but my fitness isn’t great right now.


This gives me an endurance ride limit of about 140, which means I’m supposed to spend 95% of my time below that ceiling. That seems pretty comfortable.


After the ride, in what I hope will be a rare display of very bad judgment, I went on a group ride with some friends. Some more talented friends. After about 20 miles of fast and hilly riding, I begged off and spun home.


I’m going to try to be better about following the program, and I’m looking forward to seeing what gains I’ll make in the next 6 weeks or so.


Oh, and my Polar 720i is great for this sort of thing – I could reset it at the start of a run, then just go and ride and pull any numbers off later.



Comments (9)

  1. says:

    Have you looked at using a power meter? Heart rate can vary (e.g., fail to respond due to stress) and wattage is a far more precise measure of performance.

    Also, do you really think that most athletes would improve if they took it easier? This seems to me like saying, "Most developers spend too much time writing unit tests." Hard work (L4-L6 – Threshold, Vo2Max, etc.) is the bread-n-butter of cycling. Sounds to me like Carmichael is selling some snake-oil? There’s no free lunch.

    BTW, really enjoy your blog.

  2. ericgu says:

    I’ve looked at power, but I haven’t been able to justify the price.  For the powetap, I’d have to build a new wheel. For SRM, I run a triple at the front, so I’d have to switch to a compact double. The polar version would be the cheapest to add, but has a reputation for being a bear to install, and perhaps not as accurate as the others.

    So, I’m going to try the HR based approach for now. It’s not the gold standard that power is, but I’m confident that it’s lots better than what I have been doing.

    On the "snake oil" comment. Well, I think that most athletes who aren’t coached fall into the "harder is always better" camp. The body definitely needs time to recover from stress, and it also makes lots of sense to focus on specific areas at a specific time rather than a buckshot approach. I have friends who I know are overtrained.

    So, yeah, I think most athletes – especially the recreational ones – tend to undervalue the importance of rest. Though I should note that rest may not mean sitting on the couch – it might mean 15 easy miles on the bike.

    Or, to put it another way, would you agree that it is possible to train too hard? If you agree with that, then what standard would you use to decide where that line is? I know that I don’t have the experience to figure it out.

    And it’s hard to argue with Carmichael’s success. Sure, Armstrong is a freak of nature – both physically and mentally – but it took a rarely insightful coach to guide him on his recovery.

  3. says:

    I have serious doubts that a recreational athlete can become overtrained. I won’t go into the over-reaching vs. overtrained debate. I will assert that one can train in a way that decreases performance. Okay, so how to quantify that? Dr. Andrew Coggan’s NP, IF and TSS [1]. I think you’ll find that these wattage based indicators will provide one with a more objective picture of training stress. You may even find that you can/should ride much harder than you first thought.

    Here’s what Allen Lim (work’s w/ Floyd Landis and others) is quoted as saying about overtraining:

    "The only marker for overtraining is decreased performance. He doesn’t

    define feeling lousy, getting sick etc. as overtraining if there isn’t

    a decrease in performance…"

    As for Carmichael, are you sure that he’s the man [3] that Armstrong turns to for training advice? Carmichael is a business guy, a salesman. Nothing wrong with that but I’d be careful. Of course, it all really depends what you are trying to accomplish.




  4. Brian says:

    I had woken up thinking dreaming of taking a bike tour sometime. How did youdo you go about evaluating which trips are worthwhile and what companies are the best for that type of trip?

  5. ericgu says:

    I know there are big debates around when overtraining exists.

    For my purposes, I’ll avoid the word, and just state that I know recreational athletes that I think have hit a plateau because they don’t give their bodies any time to recover.

    As for Carmichael himself, I don’t want to get into a debate of his credentials here.

  6. ericgu says:


    Well, I’m far from an expert, but I’ll tell you what I think.

    The best source for information is obviously people who have been on the tours. My suggestion is to look for some touring clubs in your area, and see who you can find. If there’s a randoneur club nearby, there are likely to be some well-travelled riders.

    You might also look for a bike expo in your area.