Lesnak’s Long Road to States: a Portrait…

BY KENNETH LUNDGREN

I have been working with Ben Lesnak, an unattached Cat-5, since late-winter. When we started, he had an FT of around 285w. His goal was to do well in TTs and judging by his past power files, I saw potential. His power curve was flatter, his aerobic engine appeared to be quite strong, and he loved to train these longer intervals — three huge mitigating factors a time trialist should have…

Ben’s had immense success in TTs thus far: he won Sandy Hook, missed Readington, won the Palisades TT, won Cape May, 2nd at High Point, won Kingwood 36k, won Somerset, and then went to States…

Back in the winter, we started slow and steady. Ben’s goal was to peak for the 2009 State Time Trial Championships in Chatsworth, NJ. He went to the A2 Wind Tunnel in February and got the position and bike completely dialed in. In JAN and FEB we continued with steady Foundation work, doing the necessary things to ensure he’d be fast on May 31st and not in the early part of the season… It’s very common for a rider to accelerate his training too quickly. The form might come quick this way, but you’re putting a low ceiling to how high you can go, and worse-off — the form can vanish just as quick, too…

Ben works very hard. Whatever workout I prescribe, he bangs it out. Rarely misses workouts, rarely cuts intervals short, rarely has any excuses. Just gets the job done. As a coach, I have to try to analyze each rider very closely, try to avoid those “bad days,” really try to get in tune with his body and see how he best adapts to the training stress. Luckily for the both of us, he has REALLY responded to the prescribed training.

March 2nd we start first week of Build work, dosing in the SubThreshold and threshold work. My goal as a coach is to build a wicked foundation, almost “over” build it, make sure that base is as wide as possible. The wider that base, the higher we can go… Typically, I’ve seen riders fall apart during the first two weeks of Build work, the body unable to keep up. It’s like a boxer who enters training camp and does too much too soon. He has to dial it back after a few weeks, delaying progress and his ability to reach his potential come fight night… With the athletes I work with, this is something I try to avoid, something I always look for…

Ben responded very well to the increased workload. Foundation is NOT the time to see huge jumps in Functional Threshold, but if you prepare properly, the power will really come on once you dial up the training stress. Remember: the smarter athlete, not necessarily the stronger one, is flying when it counts, and so many riders fail to understand this… Ben put his ego and competitive side aside while racing and we essentially trained through the Central Park races. He would put himself on the front of the peloton and do steady LT and supra-LT work, using these races strictly as workouts.

By early April, his FT was close to 300w, and he won Sandy Hook by a convincing margin. We missed Readington, which would’ve been a great test for him, but we were able to get another Fitness Test that day, showing continued improvements… The training continued to go well as we sprinkled in occasional road races to make sure the Vo2 Max and anaerobic threshold systems were alive and breathing… We had really held back from this type of white-stuff until now, and it paid off. Even though he didn’t win any of these races (Cherry Blossom, Team Challenge, etc), he was able “make” the race, force breaks, constantly be active, and most importantly the files were impressive, he reported feeling great, and he recovered well after the races. His data continued to move in the right direction.

Ben won the Palisades TT, placing close in the overall leaderboard, and then won the Cape May TT. At High Point, we pulled an “O’Donnell” and opted to go full TT bike. We didn’t do much climbing prior, but his race file was rock solid and he placed 2nd in the Cat 4/5s. He paced himself well and put out an excellent power average, one of his best at that time.

You train for your goals. High Point was not one of them and so we didn’t sprinkle in climbing workouts prior to the event. I can speak from experience: YOU TRAIN FOR YOUR GOALS and need to choose your battles, be willing to accept the defeats. One year I was on flying form for TTs, did the 40-lap circuit race at PNC, suffered like hell up that climb, just hanging on, and then a week later I’m splitting those same riders off my wheel at the Pine Cone Road Race, where the speeds were much faster, these wide open rolling roads where I could stay on the gas. Anaerobic threshold work I had not done — LT and supra-LT work I was very good at and the difference was crystal clear as I unnecessarliy powered the break and was able to take 7th in a stacked field.

The day after High Point, Benjamin won the Kingwood 36k TT. One thing I should note is Ben recovers very well from his workouts, and I’m sure it’s a combination of his excellent aerobic conditioning and his PowerCranking, two things we work steadfastly on… As mentioned, he recovers VERY well from his harder workouts and, bizarrely, has rarely if ever had a bad day.

I knew Somerset TT was not going to be a great course for Ben. His power curve is very flat (power curves are something I always try to analyze, helping me find out what a riders strengths/weaknesses are, then I’m better able to help the athlete choose logical and realistic goals and peaks…). Ben is almost built for 40Ks… Somerset, it’s virtually a supra-LT effort with tons of anaerobic threshold pops. I knew he’d have trouble keeping the watts up where they needed to be if he was to have a top time. To compensate, I really stressed staying aero aero aero, keeping the head down, forward, close to his fists. Take those turns FAST… Know every inch of that course. What we lacked in the engine we’d make up with the intangibles and superior preparation and technique.

Ben had an okay ride, power not great, holding position not great, but he still tied for 1st on the day in the Cat 4/5s, not too shabby! Another rider, two weeks prior, may have started sprinkling in more higher-intensity workouts into his plan to help for Somerset, but we didn’t do that. Ben never said a word. I guess having a coach can be good because you have an objective POV assessing the situation. Ben’s big goal was States. Gotta say it again: you train for your goal. Stick to your guns. You change horses too many times you go nowhere. Worse, you drown.

I knew Ben was strong and talented enough to still do well in these shorter TTs without vastly altering his training. And I knew in my heart that this guy could put a blazing time at States.

I should note that the weeks of High Point (2nd) and Somerset (1st) were heavy, heavy weeks for Ben, and he was able to WIN Kingwood 36K, too, just an excellent sign…

I did something I usually don’t do: I prescribed a full recovery week for the first week of our taper. No intensity. No volume. No extended PowerCranking. Zero. Nada. Nunca. Some coaches have a blueprint for form, a formula for peaking. This isn’t alway the case. Life happens, work sickness crashing bad days even great days. Things ALWAYS change and as a coach, I’m well aware of that. There is no one way to help a rider to peak fitness and that’s the tricky part…

Giving Ben that rest week was a gamble, but it was one I was willing to take. Ben never second-guessed (I also want to mention that sometimes riders don’t listen that well, do their own thing, adding stuff to the plan, blah blah, and when they don’t win or do well they say to me, “What happened?” I don’t run into that here with Ben; if something goes wrong, it’s entirely MY fault!). We were running hot, the numbers were rock solid. 310 FT, I thought it’d be better to enter States with more rest than less… Things can go sour FAST halfway into a 40k peak event, VERY quickly…

Then we ripped the first taper week, completing our final threshold workout, and he was posting his best numbers of the year, just unbelievable how he could push. HR up, power up, the guy was just able to push at a new level. I will be honest: I just couldn’t believe the threshold data he was putting out. He was posting his best data of the year 14 days prior to his goal event, and I couldn’t have been happier. It seemed the timing was PERFECT.

Then it got better: we experienced what I look for as a BREAKTHROUGH workout. This should occur 7-10 days prior to the peak event, and with Ben it occured during his Fitness Test 7 days before States. We tested in early April, and it was not a great test, and I configured his FT to be at 310 — maybe.

Well, here Ben threw down a wicked number, and I checked and re-checked the first max interval, but it stood. I used the second part of the test to configure his FT and it was easliy 330w. 330w. I had NOT anticipated that much of a jump. I knew with this form that no matter who was at States, he was going to be a top contender (okay, Cannell not included).

We did a reliable TT workout on WED, one of my favs before a big TT event, and using the 330w power tables, Ben was able to bang out the Vo2 Max work. Now, he had massive trouble in the past with Vo2 Max stuff at 310 FT, but now he was making the power at an FT 20w higher. He for SURE was reaching a peak in his fitness and I just could not wait to see how he’d do at States…

How’d he do? Well, a flat tire. I wanted to stick my face in a vice when I heard the news. When I hear “My stem loosened, I dropped my chain, I couldn’t shift into my 11” etc, there’s this vein in my forehead that just wants to explode — I just CANNOT tolerate mechanicals. But… a flat is a flat, nothing you can do.

Ben flatted after the turnaround. His training was especially tailored to have a better performance coming BACK. We talked about this. With his engine, with his preparation, I was looking for higher watts coming back. I dunno what everyone’s time splits were, but at the turnaround he did a 26:45, 28 mph average. His average watts were just a hair UNDER threshold as he held back so diligently and I was hoping they’d be just OVER threshold coming back, and when he flatted he was averaging 4 more watts. Textbook perfect 40k time trial. With the faster speeds and conditions on the home stretch, I have to wonder just how fast he would have gone…

Sigh. It happens. We guesstimated at WORST he’d run a low 53:00 without a flat. That would’ve been huge, right up there with the big boys. Not bad for a Cat-5 with less than a year of competition. Even though he flatted, Ben still performed GREAT, earned the training stress. We know we did things right and take take massive confidence from that. Not much else you can do. Always look for the positives.

Next up: NY State TT Championships in August. For now, Ben’s going to be resting up a bit. It’s a long, hard season. So many riders start going the wrong direction around this time of the year, and we’re going to ensure Ben stays on target, will not fall into that boat. I think he can take an overall top-3 at States if he prepares 100% and stays dedicated…

The long road to Chatsworth was an interesting one, and it’s very reassuring knowing we did the right things at the right times and we were able to find that rare window of peak fitness. Easier said than done. Other than Nick Bruno in 2007, to date Nick is the single-best example of a rider reacting positively to the periodized program and then performing at a top level in peak real-world situations… 285 FT to start and 330w FT to end is much, much more than I had hoped for!

I am very proud to say I coach Ben Lesnak, here are his power files and this is how he performed — the experience makes me proud. I am elated that Ben has done so well, that the program seems to have worked in many ways. HOWEVER, I am not on the bike. Ben is a very, very, VERY hard worker (probably the most disciplined rider I’ve ever met) and deserves all of the success he’s earned thus far. I look forward to helping him to more success in the second half of 2009 and hopefully we can come back even stronger…

Thanks for reading.

kens-signature

Kenneth Lundgren's Diary | Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 | | |