In this modern Covid-19 era, lack of motivation for training is a very real thing. Competition in a “normal” race format has been thwarted and group rides are also a distant memory. There are two options for training at this moment: let your training routine be dictated by the lack of racing, or set tangible goals and apply specified training to smash your expectations. Without racing, setting goals can become a bit more challenging. This past year, I’ve worked with several athletes who set the goal of breaking the hour record at their local velodrome. One example being athlete Josie, pictured above, who holds the San Diego velodrome hour record at 38km. Riding the velodrome for an hour in an attempt to break your local record sounds daunting, and it is, but it could also be the target to motivate yourself back to fitness. If your goals don’t scare you, even a little bit, maybe it’s time to set the bar a bit higher. The hour record is the perfect quarantine target. It’s solo, that’s important, it’s not cancelled, and it’s easy to train for.
Yes, the hour record is easy to train for. You know how long it will last (hint: it’s one hour) and being solo in a velodrome, most of the variables can be controlled for unlike a road race or crit. The first step is to verify your local velodrome’s hour record. Most tracks will separate records based on gender and age group, so pick the record that suits you. Once you know the current record’s distance, the next thing is back calculating what the average lap time would be and how many laps that would amount to on the velodrome. You’ll then want to set a distance goal for yourself: something that is attainable but will stretch the record to a new best. This can be a really challenging component of the hour record. Breaking the record is the goal, but aiming too high puts you at risk of blowing up and limping home shy of the record. Worse yet, finishing the attempt knowing you could have gone much further with a more aggressive pacing strategy. After setting a target distance, talk with a velodrome official to pick out a date and set yourself a training timeline. Talk with your coach about an appropriate timeline as this will depend on current fitness level and how much experience you have riding the track. Giving yourself about six to eight weeks is a good ballpark as you’ll probably want around ten specific track sessions in preparation.
When thinking about the preparation, I believe it’s best to break it down into three components: the physical aspect of the effort, the mental aspect, and equipment choice.
The Physical Aspect
The physical aspect can be broken down into several pieces, including your current fitness level, your training approach to get you game ready and what that hour of power might look like at a physiological level.
In the athlete example above, the effort itself is very steady, with an average heart rate of 178 and a max of 181, there was very little variation in heart rate. Cadence is flatlined as well. The effort consists of a hard start to get on top of the gear and then settling into threshold power or heart rate and holding steady for the duration of the effort. The closest comparison for the hour record would be akin to a flat, windless 40k time trial, so naturally a similar training approach can be taken. With this athlete in particular, I set up an eight week threshold build with six track specific sessions. The main goal was to slowly build up time at hour record pace, while in the time trial position. For example, at the start of the block we worked with 2x12 minutes at FTP from a standing start on the same gear as what would be used for the attempt and worked up to 2x30 minutes at FTP, all on track. Sweet spot workouts were utilized as well in the build up to get the athlete comfortable during steady state efforts and push threshold power just a bit higher before the attempt. For the hour record, the start isn’t super important in such a long effort, but if an athlete doesn’t have an extensive track background adding some standing start practice can be beneficial as well. The physical aspect of the effort is simple enough, ride your FTP for an hour in the aero position without shifting gears. However, the mental component can be very challenging as you are more or less just riding in circles for an hour.
The Mental Aspect
The reasoning for setting up a training block with track specific sessions is mostly to be able to handle how mentally taxing the hour record can be. Just like everything, practice makes perfect and learning how to suffer while riding in circles and staring at the pursuit line is very important in the build up to the effort. Time trialing on the velodrome for an effort longer than 4k is pretty foreign for most riders, so learning what that feels like after 50+ laps is just as important as the threshold work for preparation.
Even in the simplest 40k time trial, there is likely to be some gradient changes, wind speed/direction change, a corner or two and possibly a turn around, not to mention changing scenery. All this is eliminated during the hour attempt. There’s no chance to coast, change pedaling cadence, shift, turn, get out of the saddle and no change in scenery. During Rohan Dennis’ prep for the hour record, Neal Henderson, Dennis’ coach had Rohan watch POV aero bar track footage for an hour at a time to help take the mental edge off. This approach might sound a bit extreme, but it goes to show the mental prep of the effort is just as important as the physical. After feeling confident that you have what it takes to get through the effort, it’s time to put the final touches on equipment choice.
Equipment for the hour record boils down to gear choice for the effort and anything to reduce aerodynamic and mechanical drag. When looking at gear choice, it’s best to work backwards and determine your preferred cadence for the effort. Having an idea of target distance will give you ballpark target speed and from that you can start to calculate the rpms required for different gear combinations. Everyone is a bit different with their preferred cadence and it might take a bit of trial and error to nail it down. Current record holder Victor Campenaerts held an average cadence of 105rpm for the duration of the effort, whereas Jens Voight opted for a lower cadence of 99rpm. Somewhere between 95-105rpm is the sweet spot for the hour. Picking too big of a gear can be detrimental if your pace starts to drop, as it will get exceedingly difficult to pick pace back up. Inversely, picking a gear that is too light might be challenging to hold such a high cadence for the whole hour. Thinking about aerodynamic drag, having the smallest CdA while still being able to push FTP power is ideal (check out this SE blog for ways to optimize CdA). This entails not only body position on the bike but optimizing things like wheel choice as wheel. Running a rear disc as well as a deep profile front wheel is optimal. Marginal gains can start to add up as well, so things like a skinsuit, an aero helmet that works with your body position, aero shoe covers can add up to an additional lap or two. To reduce mechanical drag, it’s more efficient to run a larger front chainring with a larger rear cog. Making sure chainline and chain slack is optimal can reduce friction as well. Once you’ve prepared with a specific training block, you are confident in your mental ability and your equipment is as optimal as realistically possible, there’s nothing left to it but to do it!
Your Hour Record Attempt Day
On the day of the attempt, treat the effort like you would an important time trial. Try to eat about 2-3 hours before the effort with a carbohydrate heavy meal, as there will be no eating or drinking during the effort. Get in a solid warmup and be ready to go from a standing start. Try to pick a time where you can predict wind speed to be very low (if on an outdoor velodrome), typically early morning or around dust is ideal. Make sure equipment is dialed and the chances of a mechanical failure are as low as possible. Finally, make sure you apply some AMP PR Lotion (Use coupon code SourceE25 to save 25%) get the most out of your effort and give it your best shot! If you are looking for a challenge that is Covid friendly, consider talking with your coach to make a run at your local velodrome hour record.
About the Author: Taylor Warren’s journey into the world of bikes started back in 2009 when he would join his dad once a week to cross train on the West Orange bike path in Orlando, Florida. In 2015, Taylor earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science with a focus in Sports Medicine at Colorado State University while competing in collegiate racing on the road and track, rising to the rank as Category-1 racer in both disciplines. After graduating school, Taylor raced professionally on the road with the Colorado-based team, the 303 Project. Today, Taylor calls San Diego home where he works in a bike shop performing bike fits, trains to meet the demands of the US Pro Road Tour calendar, and applies the latest sports science to the athletes he coaches including himself. At the core of his coaching, Taylor believes balancing life demands with the eustress of training, while keeping the process fun, is the key to progression and a lifelong passion for health and fitness. Learn more about Taylor Warren.