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Hunter Allen breaks cycling down to a science

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The founder and CEO of Peaks Coaching Group discusses how data plays a role in custom coaching

By Melanie Schumilas

When you think of athletic training, you might think of grit, sweat, hard work and pushing physical boundaries. When Hunter Allen, founder and CEO of Peaks Coaching Group (PCG), thinks about training, he thinks about the data.

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The data that Allen uses to design tailor-made training programs for his clients comes from their bike’s power meter.

“We can see what their best wattage is, when they’re fatigued, when they’re fresh, etcetera, and then determine how much training to give,” explained Allen, who grew up in the Bedford area. “We get a lot of data from them to use to build their training programs.”

How does Allen and his additional 42 coaches nationwide decipher the data dump? Using a software called Training Peaks (or WKO4) that was developed by Allen and programmer Kevin Williams.

Allen had been coaching for nearly six years before releasing the software that would make him renowned in the cycling industry.

Allen is a former professional cyclist who competed across America and with a team in Spain before stepping away from the sport.

Once he retired, Allen found himself asking the same question most college graduates ask.

“I retired from pro racing and then I wondered, ‘What am I going to do with my life, again?’” Allen said. “I was coaching some riders at the time, so I decided I could do some coaching.”

Allen’s coaching turned into a legitimate business, now PCG , after he traded lessons for a website in the late ‘90s.

“A computer science major from Clemson approached me and offered to make me a website... he said, ‘Oh it’s like a business card online, it’ll be really cool,’” Allen explained. “I thought... I don’t want a website, I have an actual business card. But we made a deal and then I had a website. After three or four months I wanted to turn it off because I had so much interest.”

Within a couple months of his website launching, Allen found himself with more than 40 clients. Understandably overwhelmed, Allen asked former professional cycling friends to help with his client load. And so PCG was formed.

After nearly four years, Allen’s business would once again be transformed by technology, as one of his clients approached him with the idea of training with a power meter.

“An athlete came to me in 2000 and said, ‘Hey, I bought one of these power meter things but I don’t know what to do with it... can you coach me with it?’” Allen recounted. “I said sure, but I realized I had no clue what it was. We started to figure out what exactly to do with the power meter.”

In order to figure it out, Allen began training like a professional again while using the power meter. He used the data from his own sessions to compile historical data and figure out trends in order to apply them to a training plan. After years of development, Allen and Williams successfully produced the first software of its kind, originally titled Cycling Peaks.

“We launched it thinking we were going to sell maybe 10 or 100 copies, we didn’t know,” said Allen. “But we sold a lot of copies and it became the gold standard in cycling on how to analyze this data.”

Allen’s revolutionary training software spurred on a series of training books, all of which incorporate the power meter.

In 2006, Allen penned his first book with Dr. Andrew Coggan, aptly titled “Training and Racing with a Power Meter.” Allen said the book became the ultimate “reference manual” in how to effectively train with a power meter.

“No one really had a power meter before, or knew what it meant or how to use it,” said Allen. “Once we had the software, we needed a way to explain how to use it... so we have the book now.”

The book’s second edition was published in 2009 and has now been translated into seven languages (Danish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, German, Dutch and Spanish) which is a point a pride for Allen, a seasoned world traveler.

Allen’s most recent book, “Cutting Edge Cycling”, written with Dr. Steven Chung, has also been translated into Spanish.

Not only are his books available for global consumption, Allen has taken his power meter principles overseas. Allen currently teaches the power certification course for all coaches. He’s taught the mandated course in South Africa, England, Spain, New Zealand, Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Paraguay, Brazil, and of course, the US.

Allen also remains active on the bike, holding several cycling camps within the US and internationally.

In April, PCG held its  cycling camp for the 20th year in Bedford, which garnered a “huge” turn out, according to Allen. The Liberty HS alumnus has also held cycling camps in Spain and is actively working toward holding one in Iceland.

Beyond cycling camps and personalized training, PCG offers other additional services to assist clients of varying level and commitment.

“We have training plans built around their time constraints and their goals,” said Allen. “Someone’s goal might be to bike 100 miles, another person’s goal might be to make the Olympic team, or win a race on Saturday in Roanoke. Everyone’s goals are different so there are different plans based on those things.”

CG also offers packages that are financially friendly. A prospective client can purchase a 12-week plan for $100 that Allen guarantees is extremely effective.

PCG also offers consulting for those that have made their own training plan, but want a professional opinion.

Undoubtedly, PCG has had incredible success with its athletes. Allen has helped coach several cyclist that won national championships in their respective countries, and even helped one rider make the Japanese Olympic team for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Allen also lent a hand to the 2008 Olympic BMX team as a technical coach. He described the experience as “really fun,” given that it was the first time power meters had been used on a BMX bike.

Allen is now looking to  expand the use of power meters into different bikes, as he did with the BMX bikes nearly a decade ago.

“What’s next?” Allen asked. “Next is indoor cycling. Indoor spinning bikes now have a power meter in them plus the heart rate monitor, but no indoor cycling instructors have used it or written a book about it.”

With Allen’s expertise on power meters and training principles, he is working on a book about training with a power meter on a stationary bike. Training with a stationary bike will also reach a new market; individuals who are looking to simply get in great cardiovascular shape. The stationary bike training manual will also help Allen’s current client base who need additional training methods during the colder seasons.

Also in Allen’s plans is holding a bike race is Bedford.

Despite Allen’s busy lifestyle that frequently takes him around the globe, his core passion remains in coaching and helping clients reach their goals.

“Being a part of people’s lives and seeing them succeed and accomplishing their goals, whatever that may be, is amazing,” said Allen. “That’s been really fun, because that’s something I feel like I’ve been able to do, is help a lot of people through the book, through the software, and through coaching. It’s very rewarding.”

Hunter Allen’s tips for beginners

    1. Get a proper bike fit. It’s important to fit correctly on the bike; you have to have the right seat height, right distance from the handles, etc. The right fit not only gives you comfort but makes you more economical, meaning you can ride longer and faster (which also makes it more fun.)
    2. Increase your training volume and intensity 10 percent each month. Don’t over exert yourself by trying to bike the Peaks of Otter on the first day (plus, you might get stranded). It’s a “slow, incremental, rational ramping of training,” explained Allen.
    3. Safety is important. Wear a helmet and have lots of lights on your bike. Allen says he has so many lights on his bike/clothes he looks like a Christmas tree. With drivers distracted more than ever with texting, it’s imperative to your safety to be as flashy and eye-catching as possible.
    4. Drink before you’re thirsty and eat before you’re hungry. If you feel thirsty or hungry, it’s too late. You need to eat/drink before the hunger/thirst hits you in order to keep your energy level stable.