Friday, May 10, 2013

The Science of Speed Part 3 – Training: an Interview with Benjamin King

Ben King laying it down during the Mont Saint-Clair Time Trial  (Photo RSLT)

Benjamin King (Radio Shack Leopard Trek) is a professional cyclist who is now in his third year of racing in the elite World Tour ranks.  Over the years, we have gotten to know Ben pretty well and we have nothing but respect for his work ethic. At the core is a commitment and dedication to his team, the sport of cycling, and the greater global community.  Ben has done some pretty incredible things both on and off the bike.  In 2010, at 21 years of age, Ben won the US National Pro Championship (the first rider under 23 years of age to do so).  In his first year as a professional, he won the best young rider competition at the 2011 Tour of Beijing. During the off-season you won't find Ben on the couch.  He spends his fall breaks volunteering his time for mission-based charities in Mexico and Central America.  Ben has a long term approach to his life and training which has turned this Virginia native into not only one of the strongest cyclists on the planet, but also a humanitarian who is out there making a real difference in people's lives.

Last 100 meters of the Tour Med TT

Back in the beginning of February, Liam and I made the trip down to Cap D’Agde for the 2013 Tour Mediterranean Time Trial.  Ben was racing the Tour and we wanted the chance to get to see him in action.  It was a very cold and windy day and the finish was at the top of a killer 2k climb up Mont Saint-Clair with sections over 19% grade.  It was so windy, in fact, that Liam almost got blown off his bike a few times as we rode the 24k point to point circuit in the morning just before the pros.  Coming that early in the season, it was a tough time trial course to race.  Ben’s performance was fantastic.  He finished inside the top 20 in 17th place.  It was amazing to watch Ben fly up the mountain and incredible how deep he was going into “the pain cave” pulling off that effort.  It was too cold at the top of the mountain to catch-up so Ben invited us down to the team hotel at the base of the climb for a coffee after the race.  Back at the hotel over coffee and hot chocolate, we talked about the day’s race, the upcoming season, the off-season, and how training was going so far.  It was really fascinating stuff - we wanted to know more, but it was getting late.  Ben had things to take care of (he was two days and 171k into a five day 700k stage race) and we had to ride back to the car in the cold and wind before it got dark. 

Ben and Liam post race

As we started preparing this Science of Speed training segment, we thought back to that day in February.  We e-mailed back and forth, and, true to style, Ben was willing to graciously share his knowledge and experience for the blog project.

The Interview:  
1) FatherSonTour - When we sat down for coffee after the Mont Saint-Clair TT during the Tour de Med, you had mentioned that your year is broken down into different training periods.  Can you walk us through your calendar year so that we can get a better insight into how it is structured from a perspective of training and conditioning?

Ben King - The training period is broken down into different periods to build on itself. We lay the endurance foundation with long miles in the winter and do some rides throughout the year to maintain that.  After that, we introduce more intensity and shorter intervals.  Races also increase fitness, and there are periods of the season when it's just "race, recover, race."  Before target events, we'll taper down the weekly hours to around 70% of our weekly averages. 

2) FST - Over the years you have been a part of several different cycling programs, at both the developmental and professional levels - Hot Tubes, Kelly Benefit Strategies, Trek-LiveSTRONG, and the different Radio Shack teams.  What have been your most useful training take-aways from these various programs?

BK - I have had to learn the same lessons repeatedly at each level of the sport.  My first year as a junior, I got my head kicked in, so [I] buckled down that winter, and built the fitness to regain confidence.  I only spent one year on KBS/Medifast racing mostly criteriums.  I improved my pack skills and learned to go all-in for the team, but I felt that to reach the next level, I belonged in Europe. On Trek-LiveSTRONG I always did my job for the team, but was lacking the confidence and/or fitness to read a race and take advantage of my own opportunities.  I trained like a maniac that winter and 2010 was my "breakout" season that launched me to the WorldTour.  On RSLT I have improved each year and served the team well, but recognize that I still have some adjusting and developing to do before I realize my full potential.  One of my coaches, Jim Miller, always tells me "trust in the process."  That has become one of my mottos.  It isn't about instant satisfaction.  It's about hard work, commitment, and determination.

3) FST - That’s some pretty sound advice.  USA Cycling coach Jim Miller lives in Colorado Springs, and you are based in Lucca, Italy.  With that much distance between you, how does that training/coaching relationship function?

BK - This year I have begun to work with one of our team trainers who is more directly involved with me throughout the season.  However, Jim continues to be a mentor and follows my training via the files that I upload to the internet.  I owe Jim a part of all the success I have enjoyed in cycling so far.

4) FST - Over the last two years we have followed along as you post many of your rides throughout the season on Strava.  You have done some pretty wild training and racing all over the world.  Is there any one ride that stands out and captures the spirit of what you love about cycling?

BK - Home sweet home: This is one of my favorite big laps.

FST - *Note:  It somehow comes as no surprise that, even after all his travels, Ben’s favorite ride is a 100 mile loop with 3600 meters of climbing not in the Dolomites or the French Alps, but in the hills around his home town of North Garden, Virginia.

5) FST - Since we are covering the "Science of Speed" -- if you had to choose one, what would be the single most important workout for increasing your bike speed.

BK - That's a trick question!  See number 2.  It's a process, and there is no magic.  Get stronger, get faster.  Get more aerodynamic, get faster.  Get lighter, get faster.  Shorter intensity workouts show quicker returns, like 1 minute on, 1 minute off, or 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off, 4x4minutes...  All of these spike your power when you've laid the foundation.

6) FST - This past fall you spent time in Mexico volunteering for a project helping communities in need.  You built homes for two families in Tijuana, Mexico.  It doesn't sound exactly like what most people consider to be "down time," however, when we talked with you about the experience it was clearly a source of inspiration and strength.  Can we link the great article you wrote for VeloNews about the experience? 

BK - Sure  

FST - Thanks so much for sharing your approach to training with us.  Good luck in the upcoming Tour of California.  As always, we will be cheering for you! 

So, there it is, straight from Ben King.  When it comes to training, there are no short cuts.  Only hard work, determination, and commitment and, above all, having the faith and patience to trust in the process.  Oh, and those 40/20s can't hurt either....

Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.