The AI Coach: VeloPro

The AI Coach: VeloPro

For the last few months I’ve been using a new coach. This was a big step for me. Since I stopped road racing 15 or so years ago, I’ve been virtually discipline-proof. Left to my own devices, I’ll do long days, short days, easy days, hard days, ones on the road, through gravel, down singletrack. I allow myself a rest week once a month. And that’s it. I might benefit from doing four 10s in a HIIT workout, but when I’m on a bike, I don’t count. I watch the time only so far as feeding and knowing when to get home.

Let’s not mince words: I’m not someone a coach would want to have as a client.

I’m not bothered by this, though. Most coaching relationships friends of mine have are fraught with frustration. The coach doesn’t respond in a timely manner, sends incomplete workout schedules, miscalculates how hard a workout you can handle, or how much recovery you need, or goes to Belize for the same month you plan to do your biggest event of the year. I don’t want to cast doubt on coaching as a way to chase your fitness or as a rewarding and valuable career, but I’m dismayed to say that most people I know who have a relationship with a coach are dissatisfied with it.

Enter VeloPro. Much of coaching is a logic tree, a series of if/then conditions. The founders of VeloPro have codified those principles into a system that can deliver workouts tailored to meet the fitness requirements of your big event. Artificial intelligence for the win, amiright?

Here are the basics: You enter your data, which can be done by uploading workout files, manually entering data or by syncing with Strava. Once the sync with Strava is established you don’t have to do a thing. Next, you establish a goal or two. You name it, set it as either an A or B goal, set the date, choose your base period (normal, half or none) and set what kind of an event it is. For event type, there are a dozen choices, including a first century, a criterium, a time trial, a cross country race, cyclocross and more.

It is this last detail, a dozen options for telling the system what sort of event you’ll be doing that is the system’s only real weakness so far as I see. When I was preparing for Dirty Kanza, I selected the “randonneur” option because it seemed to be the closest fit.

To be clear, VeloPro isn’t meant to be a replacement for all coaches. Ideally, what it will do is introduce cyclists who have never used a structured training plan to a periodized training schedule. This is a big deal, bigger than many will think. A recurring conversation I have with newer cyclists is how their improvement has plateaued, or worse, they are feeling tired and run down. The first question I ask anyone is when they last took a rest week. I’m rarely met with anything other than a blank stare.

So designing a training plan is easy enough. I’ve done plenty for myself and for friends over the years. That’s not the hard part, though. Here’s the thing: Sooner or later something goes wrong. You get sick. You have a business trip. You fall on a ride and are injured enough to miss a couple of rides. Then what?

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to dealing with missed workouts. One is to simply continue the plan as it was. The second is to change the plan and update it based on the missed workouts. Seriously, I’ve never understood when to do one vs. the other. That may have something to do with why I didn’t achieve more as a racer. Srsly.

What I like best about VeloPro is the way it will change a rider’s calendar in real time. If I was supposed to do one hour with several intervals yesterday, but instead I went easier for two hours, the moment that the data is uploaded from the ride, the workouts going forward that need to be changed instantly evolve. It’s remarkable to see the numbers change across the screen.

Like I said, I don’t really care for doing structured rides, at least, not if I have to keep track of how long the interval lasts and which one comes next. The particular genius of VeloPro is that I can ballpark a ride and often see little change in my schedule afterward.

Of all the aspects of periodized training that people most routinely get wrong, it is peaking for an event. That is, the process of taking a week or two to decrease both volume and intensity prior to a big goal. Typically, most of us will either do too many hours, or too much intensity, if not both, and thereby not go into an event as fresh as we could be. The issue is that the volume and intensity in a peak is so light as to cause many of us to fear losing fitness or just go batty from not enough time with our most effective antidepressant.

I stayed close to everything that VeloPro recommended for my peak going into Dirty Kanza. For whatever my fitness may have lacked relative to the daylight finishers, what I can say is that when I got on the bike that Saturday morning and rolled out, I felt not just good and not just strong. I felt amazing. I felt the best I have on the bike in years. Given the pace of my first hour, which is to say I felt no chain and had to talk myself into slowing down, I have all the proof I need that VeloPro worked for me.

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5 comments

  1. Andrew

    Padraig

    It’s a little late for me to try this, with a very long ride just a couple weeks away, but I’m curious what this AI program had you do in the last couple weeks before DK. Also- “rest weeks”? Like, the whole week off, every 4th week?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Actually, I think signing up now could be really helpful. Broadly speaking, peaking could involve cutting your miles and intensity by half. A rest week, depending on whose opinion you run with will see you cut your mileage by 30-40 percent as well as see you back off intensity. Getting completely off the bike is usually only called for if you’re injured or seriously overtrained.

  2. Gary

    I like the idea and frankly, it’s likely to be better than a decent percentage of folks selling their “coaching services” over the web. It seems a huge risk to sign up with someone and “pray” that it works out over a good part of a year. Having a full “bad” season due to the workout regime sucks. I’ve personally had mixed results which have led to just going my own, relatively informed, thing.

    The topic of rest is very overlooked IMO. There’s plenty of articles etc. about types of intervals, base miles,hill repeats, low rpm workouts, sprint sets but I don’t recall seeing any (myself at least) that discuss rest or recovery with the same focus or depth. I’ve dug myself a hole applying the “more is better” method. The reality is that workouts don’t make you faster, recovering from them does. Methods to measure recovery along with sleep are an ignored area of improvement. YMMV.

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