The Fast Talk Laboratories N1 Challenge

In Fast Talk Episode 147: What 2020 Taught Us and the Exciting Places 2021 Will Take Us, Trevor, Ryan Kohler, Jana Martin, and I each highlighted the big event we plan to target this year:

  • Trevor wants to prove he can still race at a high level now that his racing license says 5-0!
  • Ryan wants to test himself at Breck Epic, a six-day MTB stage race.
  • New to the sport, Jana has chosen to attempt her first gravel race.
  • And I’ve decided there’s no better way to spend my vacation than riding 2,500 kilometers along the western coast of Ireland in my first bikepacking race.

We are calling these 2021 rides our N1 Challenge: We are each an experiment of one and our experience can provide lessons for all.

We hope you’ll follow us on our journeys as we highlight the training, nutrition, skills, and gear it takes to tackle such events. Learn from our articles, videos, workshops, and podcasts what it takes to take on a big event.


Our Challenges, Declared: Fast Talk Episode 147 // What 2020 Taught Us and the Exciting Places 2021 Will Take Us This is the Fast Talk podcast episode in which Trevor, Ryan, Jana, and I declare our commitments to our goal races.

2020 Lessons and 2021 Plans: This Forum post is a companion discussion to Fast Talk Episode 147. What did you learn in 2020? What are your plans for training and challenging yourself in 2021?

2021 Intentions: Members talk about their intentions for this year. How will we train, recover, and fuel this year?

We hope to inspire you to commit to your own N1 Challenge! Join our N1 Challenge on Strava. Where will cycling take you in 2021? And how can we help you? Let us know; just reply to this Forum topic!

- Chris Case, Co-Host of Fast Talk

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This N1 Challenge is a great idea! I had hip surgery in January so I’m recovering from that. However, I have signed up for “The DaMN” (Day Across Minnesota), a 240 mile gravel race in August. If that goes well, I have some big winter ultra plans as well, but one thing at a time!


@pgreehan the DaMN ride always look great. Is it the last year they are doing it?

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This challenge and reading what everyone is doing have really gotten me excited for my next 2-3 months of training. I decided to put together my own…

My Challenge
I am planning on riding from where I live in the Madison, WI area to Chicago. I am planning to route via the Milwaukee Area and into Chicago from the north to be around 200 miles to get my first official Double Century.

I have done longer rides but in recent years my overall volume and general fitness (for longer events) have gotten worse. Lately I have been doing more higher intensity group rides. Some weeks I would 3 hard rides and 2 semi-hard rides. I neglected the longer rides and the more frequent everyday rides that really added up so that I can save my legs for the group rides. In the past year as I have not done as many with lockdown I realized I am not getting as much “utility” out of the shorter intense rides and was getting pretty burned out after a few months – it kind of felt like an obligation to others rather than doing something for fun and/or fitness. While I was trying to be fresher for the harder shorter efforts, I started cutting back on things that I really enjoy about riding my bike - commuting, “grocery trips”, doing other things (good strength and cross training - I need to cross train) and just overall getting out and having fun. Committing to this challenge is a way for me to nudge me to focus back to what I like about training and cycling.

I am also looking forward to learning things about myself. In recent years I have really been able to recognize cycles in when my body is able to perform better than other times. I am hoping to keep good notes and see what I can learn about those times. I am sure things will ebb and flow over the next few months preparing and on my ride as well.

The route isn’t going to be as challenging as the Ride Across Wisconsin (RAW) in 2016 but it is longer. It will be a solo effort (for the most part) so it is more than just the ride – the process of training, prepping, and self-supporting.

My challenges in upcoming years are to do more rides in other parts of the world like doing a week that begins by doing a ride in Switzerland doing the Chasing Cancellara ride from Zurich to Zermatt, spend a few days of rest in Zermatt, and then ride from Zermatt to Chamonix France (Matterhorn to Mt. Blanc!). The N:1 Challenge would be a great springboard to start rebuilding that long haul fitness and mentality to achieve that challenge.

A few weeks ago I hit a peak with indoor training where I hit some pretty good 5 and 20 minute power numbers. I feel if I can focus on getting hours in the saddle and not lose too much, I should be good to go in a few months…I will look to be working more on HR training while trying to get more out a 60-70% LTHR effort by doing longer rides in that ranges and really looking to keep the HR in control when the road get steeper since I like riding on hillier routes.

I will continue to fit in workouts about once every week or two, depending on what block I am in, that will to maintain my 1, 5, and 20 minute efforts as much as possible. I plan to use different weeks in blocks to determine to do these efforts early (or stand-alone) in a workout or at the end to workout to do with some fatigue set in. Usually I plan my 4th (of 4) week of a block for less volume/sessions and will use that week to try to the intervals a little harder. A standard week will be 5-6 days of training:
• One day - weekend or day off work - of a 3+ hour ride at an intensity that I feel like doing that day. Probably somewhere around 70-85% of LTHR
• 2 days to fit in a 2 hour or 2x1.5 hours @ ~ 70-75% LTHR
• 2-3 other days with lighter volume and intensity with a run or a swim fitted in for some of the sessions. @ 60-70% LTHR
o Or 1 “easy” day @ ~ 60% LTHR with 1 interval day but work in an extra rest day
• 1-2 days of strength where one day will be work on rotary stability and movement form; and the other will be lightly weighted strength movement (slow tempo with some isometrics) for helping on bike – KB work, lunges, hinges, bench press/pushups, rows, etc.

Diet and Nutrition

I have been getting pretty dialed in with on the bike nutrition for the shorter and longer efforts I was doing. I know a 200 mile day in the saddle will be challenging on getting my “day of” nutrition right but also my on the bike and off the bike nutrition since it will be a lot of time getting ready. My only real plan right now is to make sure I am eating good food and getting enough and make sure I bring enough with me on my longer training rides. This is an area that I have not started to think about yet but I know I can make big improvements that will help me out immensely.


Great insights! I like your assessment of how fitness for longer events has changed. It’s valuable to see that and then piece together how we came to that point (e.g., doing many more group rides and neglecting the long rides). It’s great to go back every once in a while and see if you can pull out larger trends like that because it is so valuable to inform your upcoming training - especially if you’re preparing for some of these N1 challenges that will require good endurance.

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Sadly, yes, this is the last year. I kept putting it off “until next year”…I guess now is the year!

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This race sounds epic. Recovering from hip surgery too! Wow. This will be a feat. Good luck to you as you recover and train.


Love this adventure plan. Riding to a fun destination sounds like one of the best adventure motivators.

Interesting to see how you’ve laid out your training for this. Seems you’ve got a good balance of training planned, on and off the bike.

Good luck and happy riding!

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Thank you! I am chomping at the bit to get going! Good luck on your N1 Challenge as well. As someone who is kind of biased towards gravel, I’m excited to follow along!

@jana this will be my adventure for the year. We just found out that our trip to Lebanon will need to hold off for a while because of the situation there - COVID, economic/political, and overall. But it does leave a window open for more local adventures and events, so not all bad!

Right now, for training, I am starting up my volume - doing low intensity indoor and outdoor rides during the week. On weekends fitting in at least one 50 mile ride. This is about 8-12 hours a week. This weekend I am doing a ride with the Rapha Club in Chicago to start getting use to some of the roads I will have options to ride on my challenge. Also, I am planning on finishing my challenge ride at the club there since I know people in the area and there are a few restaurants I would like to “recover” post challenge.

In early April I am expecting to maintain my weekday regimen but then adding a longer ride on the weekend - 2 rides of 40+ miles with one being on gravel and the other being in hilly terrain.

As the end of May rolls around, I am hoping to be getting a weekly volume to be around 16 hours with putting in 120-180 miles (9-12 hours) over the Fri-Sun time window.

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Hi everyone,

We have just opened a Strava Club for those working toward their N1 Challenge.

Feel free to join here!


That’s awesome! I can’t wait for hip to heal up and join you all on there!

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That is great! I was thinking the other day there should be a group for this and/or FTL in general. Thanks!

Also, as we go through the challenge any “best practice” on the community to update on milestones, learnings, etc. as we go through the challenge? I know the past few weeks as I have adjusted training and upping outside volume as the weather gets “nicer” - that is above 30 with no ice on the roads in WI :wink: - there are things I am learning as I am being more observant to my training, recovering, and overall feeling as I am prepping for my challenge.

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Ok, I’m ready to share my N of 1 challenge…

Steve’s Back to the Front Challenge

In 2019 I had a spectacular start to the cyclocross season, with podiums in 6 straight races. In mid-November things fell apart just in time for our state championship (to be fair, I misjudged the start), but I managed to turn it around by December and finished a strong third in a hard-fought series (that’s me, with the bronze hardware and the beer!).

Off of that success, I had a great winter offseason lifting and getting super strong, easily hitting a 28" box jump (I’m 5’7" stature) and building to a 280 lb 4x rep max deadlift (200% bodyweight). That’s where I was when my son arrived a couple weeks early, which coincided with the beginning of the pandemic. No gym. No group rides. No races. And, oh by the way, adapting to raising my first kid and the stress and lack of sleep that goes along with it.

Suffice to say, there has been a lot of life since I last pinned on a number. And thus the challenge.

My goal for 2021 is to return to the form that earned me a spot on the OVCX series podium.

It’s a little different than the adventure and endurance-related goals that others have kicked off. It’s also not based on a single event or race weekend. The series podium is based on points accumulated over the series, so it will take a combination of consistency over 12 weeks while managing to keep my Life Stress Balance in the green to earn my “kitchen passes” while traveling to races each weekend. I have a decent amount of life to juggle with work, being a good dad and husband, and potentially also starting a PhD program this fall :nerd_face:. I think it’s kind of relatable, which is why I’m sharing.

Where I am now

To be honest, I my training has been flailing a bit for the past month or two. I did manage to procure a set of olympic freeweights (Costco for the win) so I have a pretty nice lifting setup in the basement. And today I set out for my Inscyd test to set my zones and determine where I need to go from here.

So there it is. As of today I have 24 weeks to put together 12-14 weeks worth of fitness/skill/durability, while keeping the wife and kiddo happy and crushing it at work. Looking forward to updating my progress after I recover from my test :face_vomiting:!


Great, @SteveHerman! Excellent N1 Challenge and background (this is great to see before our INSCYD discussion later this week!) Congratulations on your new kiddo too!

I think your story is extremely relatable and I’m looking forward to watching your progress through the season into the fall. I think there are a lot of riders looking forward to a full CX season this year, so I’m sure there will be a lot of excitement leading up to the races and within each race itself.

This should be a fun upcoming spring and summer of training for you :slight_smile:

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*Back to the front: Steve’s N1 Challenge Update

So last time I posted I was getting finished with my INSCYD test and debriefing with @ryan. I learned a ton during that process and have been working to establish my plan forward.

  • Despite not having been training very consistently so far this season, my test showed a surprisingly high VO2 max (63).
  • My VLa max was also very high for an endurance athlete (0.78). While not intrinsically a bad thing, it means that my power at Fat max is very low (148 Watts). It’s a little surprising but reflecting on my past athletic history perhaps not. I played soccer, but was a defensive player because I didn’t have great endurance, and sprinted 100 and 400 relay in track. With my VO2 max I wish I had stuck with it! 🤷🏼

According to Ryan these two facts combine to mean that I have significant potential to increase my AT from where it is now at 236 Watts (which is waaaay lower than where my FTP has been set u til now).

The path to doing that is improving my low intensity fat metabolism. As a CX focused athlete I do need to be careful not to go too far though to avoid losing the explosiveness needed to be successful. My plan going forward, then is the following:

  • Improve my training frequency to continue stimulating VO2 max adaptations. For me the best way to do that will be using my 40-50 minute one-way work commute.
  • Really focus on the fat max style ride. It is very difficult for me to ride steady at such low intensities.
  • On my interval days, longer intervals rather than shorter ones will be the focus. 5X5 at FTP is a good starting point at my current level, but eventually progressing to longer.
  • Block periodization, with blocks of 4 progressing to 7 starting off with intervals or high torque efforts.

Anyway, executing the plan will be my focus for the next couple months, followed by a re-test mid summer!