Of course there are a few exceptions. Most notably would be that I have recently started implementing some 1.5 to 2' hill attack intervals into the occasional ride. This is in direct answer to the fact that most of my races have exposed a weakness in this aspect of my form.
So I use races for my "training", and the total now stands at 51 (including weeknighters as well as "real" races, and of course the legs don't know the difference) for the season.
This is a trick I have learned from pro riders and long-time Masters with whom I am in contact (mostly via the internet). The majority of my time in the saddle (other than racing) is spent at L2 (Coggan level 2, endurance pace). Basically, it's the classic "all-day" pace.
So how is it going? That depends on your perspective. I have a multi-year perspective and have to keep reminding myself that (very much the way I train young musicians) in building a really good foundation of ability, it's not the hours that count so much as the years. Hence I have made this change to my training. The whole point of it is to keep the body at a level of endurance which can withstand the amount of racing that I wish to do. And to recover from it.
So far it has been working remarkably well. I have had exactly zero injuries, zero overuse pains, zero symptoms of overtraining syndrome. No elevated resting heart rate, no prolonged periods of sleep problems. No massive fatigue lasting for days.
The cost? Improvements come very slowly and are quite subtle. Here's a "for instance"...
Last night was the first real long individual time trial I have done this season. (We had a few on the schedule but I was either unavailable or tapering for a weekend event at the time) A 20 mile TT with a substantial amount of climbing in it. I came in with no expectations, since it fell on day two of a block of active days, directly following a 4.5 hour day. I rode to the event, getting a good 35 minutes of warm-up in, and really not feeling all that strong. Once I started the TT, I slotted in to my FTP and kept reminding myself to keep the power down. Save it for later!
I started to come alive on the hill, making a pretty good go of it and eventually passed everyone on the road. This was mainly due to my start time being a bit too early in the field, not so much because I was fast. Unfortunately, it also removed any "carrots" for me to chase after from that point on and I was simply left to ride by myself. Not usually a problem, I focused on denying anyone the chance to catch me. (Todd did go by me near the end but nobody else did)
On the back leg (downhill plus tailwind) I had to coast a bit due to spinning out the 54x11 and feeling like I would be better served with a few little "breathers". Once back on the flatter sections I pushed a fairly big gear and kept the pressure on. Sometimes power would fade a bit, but I was able to ramp it back up to a decent level.
On finishing, I expected the average power to be a bit higher than it was, and was a bit disappointed (but of course this was just day two of a training block). I did set a PR on the course though, finally beating the 50 minute mark for 49:51 and getting 4th place (meh)
The point of this whole thing is this:
Even without tapering or rest or even planning to make this into anything more than a simple training day, I was able to:
-make a PR on a long TT
-arrive at the finish within a few watts of FTP average
-feel strong at the tough sections, even late in the race
-ride there and back, no issues
and today, I feel pretty much fine. Yes, it's a rest day, but if I had to I could race again. This is a good sign and bodes well for future stage race events.
I wonder how it would go if I planned a peak for one of these weeknight events. So far, I have only done one TT on day one of a peak event (ESG TT) and it resulted in a new power record for 20' (albeit just by a few watts)
So the long slow multi-year plan seems to work. The downside is that any improvements gained seem to be very small, but most likely will be as close to "permanent" as I can get.