Life on the Peloton

Becoming a morning exerciser took a couple years to figure out. We moved in June 2020 and took new jobs. Knowing I’d be busy but still dedicated to fitness and peak performance, my, now former, superintendent, an avid runner, gave me some advice, “Get a Peloton and do your runs and rides before the school day starts (at 7:50am!). This was a hard pill for me to swallow. COVID shut down most events and I spent the first year generally just losing fitness. I was burnt out on ultra-running training and racing. By late summer 2021, looking again into the fall and cold, dark winter months, we decided to pull the trigger on Peloton. I had to become that guy—the indoor/morning exerciser! As is the refrain in the Disney+ series, Mandalorian, “This is the way.”

Back in my triathlon days, I tried pretty hard to make spin classes work during the off season. I’d set reminders to call the gym and reserve a bike with one of my favorite instructors, three days out from the actual class. Then the day of the class would come and I’d drive to the gym, find parking, walk in and scan my ID, grab a towel, head into the locker room, put on my cycling shoes, clip-clop upstairs to my spin class, wipe down my bike, make the requisite adjustments, clip in and go. From a time management perspective, it wasn’t anything approaching optimal, but I did love the classes. I loved the intervals set to music and it was a fantastic workout.

At Peloton, they’re all about milestones. I don’t mind.

Fast forward to today, August 3rd, 2022. It’s my one year “Peloversary” of the first class I took last summer. I recall being excited to get the party started and trusted that I would certainly get my money’s worth, but underestimated Peloton’s overall positive impact on my quality of life. I’ve always liked the feel of a spin-bike—so smooth; so quiet. You can’t coast so your legs are always moving. I love that efficiency and economy of movement. And if I’m on Peloton, I’m not putting miles on my own bikes, especially the mountain-bike, which can be costly to maintain. I like to joke around and say that my goal is to not ride my mountain-bike! Over the last 365, I’ve ridden 3,000 miles on Peloton. That’s a lot of time not on my outdoor bikes. Also, that’s 3,000 miles of continuous spinning, and at higher average power outputs than I’d be seeing outside where I’m stopping more, descending, and coasting. No driving, no gym, no stupid locker key to keep track of, no distracted motorists, no stopping. Just jump on the stationary bike with a screen, AirPods, warm-up, do hard intervals, cool-down. Recover.

One aspect of Peloton I totally underestimated was the importance of an inspiring instructor; an instructor that is a good fit for not only my style of training but also my personality. It didn’t take me long to discover Matt Wilpers. Matt’s a former Division 1 collegiate runner. He’s a former accountant so loves the numbers and creating structure inside sessions. He’s also a recent age-group champ at the NYC Triathlon. Matt’s a coach’s coach. He does like country music, but I don’t hold that against him. More than anything, he’s a force of positivity. In my opinion, we could all use a Matt Wilpers in our lives. Every time I take a class, I enjoy some food for thought I can carry with me all day.

Overnight, I traded in the heart-rate monitor for the power bar on my touch screen. I soon took my first functional threshold power, or “FTP,” test to calibrate my training zones and the rest is history. Matt excels at keeping the class on task and motivated. I usually set my audio setting to “More Music” but often will switch to “More Instructor,” since it’s during the recovery intervals when Matt likes to drop some good training wisdom, often reaffirming concepts I have employed with success over the years. I do often rely on the music to get me through hard intervals though. It’s one important aspect of the training for me. Peloton’s playlists have gotten better and better over time. Many of the 700 tunes currently on my Spotify “Liked Songs” playlist I first heard on Peloton, like Dom Dolla’s “Pump the Brakes.” When that song plays when I’m out on weekend long road rides, I’ll listen to it at least three times!

A new toy. My first Peloton class on 8/3/2021. Heart-rate monitor?!

After recovering from a hard MTB race a few weeks ago I thought it was time to suck it up and suffer through an FTP test so I could update my power zones. The goal is to put out as much power as you can sustain for 20min. Once you’re done, Peloton asks you if you want to re-calibrate your zones. The idea is that you’ll continue to take power zone classes, with your new zones, and test again, as Wilpers recommends, every 4-6 weeks, or whenever your fitness has changed, for better or worse. Doing the actual FTP test sucks to high heaven, but keeping your FTP up to date really does help you get the most out of your power zone classes. What can be measured can be improved!

In addition to the FTP test, the one occasion where you have no limits to how hard you can go, there are three main classes I’m going to try to hit over the next eight weeks: Power Zone Endurance, Power Zone, and Power Zone Max. Power Zone Endurance is nice because intervals don’t exceed Zone 3, muscular endurance or “tempo,” so you’re never suffering like a dog and want to die. Power Zone classes, on the other hand, can get a little raw. You can preview the intervals you’ll do inside any class (but I never do) and generally see there will be some Zone 4 (Threshold) and Zone 5 (VO2 Max) intervals. Zone 4 and Zone 5 are not nice places to hang out, but they will make you a better, tougher endurance athlete.

Last fall, I was doing a handful of Power Zone classes during the week and less than 25mi running and was able to run a 1:16 half-marathon, mostly off the aerobic fitness I created on Peloton. Truth be told, the half-marathon did have a lot of downhill, but I did have to sustain 5:50/mi pace for 13.1 miles. I tweaked a calf in training, trying to do shorter, intense run intervals. It still wasn’t healed by race day. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve bailed from the race. But voila! I have this secret weapon. Runners are using Peloton more and finding out what huge aerobic benefits they can derive by doing consistent power-zone classes each week in training. I have a buddy that’s doing the Grand Slam of Ultra-running this year and is as religious with Peloton classes as I am as a pure cyclist. After his first 100mi run, he texted me the following, “3 words: Power Zone Classes.”

Hey, I might be a 48 year-old school teacher, but still want to get after it. I want to be as lean and mean as I can possibly be. I’m lighter now than I was as an ultra-runner (and I’m not in pain all the time). I do, however, have a lot going on and I do want to be effective in each of my life roles. Thus, time management is the key. With the new school year about to start up, I’m looking at optimizing my training for an end-of-September MTB race. Most of the these races don’t play to my endurance strengths so I’ll need to fry my circuits a few more times in training so I don’t get dropped at the start and on steep hills.

Early to bed, early to rise and shine. For me and my athletes (and the Tour de France for that matter) Monday’s always a rest day, Tuesday’s a Power Zone Endurance ride, Wednesday’s either a Power Zone or FTP test, Thursday a little longer duration from my standard 60min class; so around 75min Power Zone Endurance class that puts my tired legs back into gear. Friday’s either a shorter Power Zone Endurance ride or total rest in the morning, depending on how shelled I am from the work-week. I want to try and consistently get out for a 60-90min MTB ride after work on Fridays. We’ll see how that goes. Finally, it’s weekend warrior mode starting Saturday morning, bricking together a warm-up MTB ride then jumping on Peloton to fry the circuits one more time with a Power Zone or Power Zone Max ride, depending on my state of recovery. Sunday “FunDay” is my cherished long ride on the road, where I’ll ride 50-100mi depending. So, I have a good mix of sessions. Variety’s certainly the spice of my training life. Peloton encourages quality workouts during the weekday mornings.

If you want to get better at anything you need to do it a lot. For me, Peloton encourages consistency. Getting fit as a cyclist take twice the time it takes to get similarly fit running, running being a weight bearing sport and all. You can do a lot with 10 hours of run training. On the bike, that’s a minimum number to be even somewhat competitive. But, training 20 hours per week on the bike just isn’t in the cards during the school year. This is where power zone classes come into play. I can get concentrated dose of training in a short amount of time. For example, after work this year, I want to hit regular 20-30min power-zone endurance classes, just to decompress from the school day, where I need to be ON, all day. Come home, hop on the bike, process my day in a healthy manner, avoid ALL the distracted PM drivers, stay alive, all while maintaining some nice training frequency. Just a third to half of an hour to feel fantastic for the rest of the evening, and get a good night’s sleep, which is the glue that holds everything together.

Peloton offers a lot of bells and whistles but if you’re into optimizing your precious time and energy, you can’t find a better tool to incorporate into your arsenal of training resources. As my man, Matt Wilpers, says at the end of every class, “Train hard. Train smart. And have fun.” I always say “Thanks Matt,” under my breath, as I’m cooling down. I’ve just earned my feel-good-vibe for the rest of the day. Come at me, world.

Remember to point positive and stay in the flow > > >