Tag Archives: Training

Back into the frying pan

But without oil, because that’s fattening,  but then again I read something on the internet the other day about how oil really isn’t and besides it’s good for your knees and one of mine hurts so maybe I should drink a pint of it before breakfast, like when Viv from the Young Ones necked a bottle of Mazola.

The wheels have slowly started to spin up again.  Work beckons me back, and I was treated for my conscientiousness in turning up by a beautiful ride to work.  Cotton wool clouds flanked the slopes of the mountain, the air so still that warm air pooled below overhanging trees.  True, there was nothing to blow the occasional stench of cow shit away, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

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Oddly, I don’t seem to have lost too much in the way of fitness.  I attribute this to several things.

Firstly, by the end of last season I had the upper body strength of a three-year old.  Surfing, swimming, running and even the odd bit of swiss ball work have filled the bike-free days, and I’ve found to my amazement that I can climb out of the saddle at a high cadence relatively effortlessly.  I think this now means that a remark that I once read on the internet from a respected coach (who was respected because he put something on the internet) to the effect that any kind of exercise except for cycling is never going to make you quicker at cycling than just going cycling would is total BALLS.  I wrote this on the internet, so that means I’m respected, too, and this is now the new word and I may as a result start my own cult.

The swimming, running and surfing things:  all good ways of raising the heartbeat.  It’s pretty easy to coast on a bike when your heart’s not really in it.  Bit harder to coast when you’re running where everyone can see you, even harder not to push it when there’s a six-foot wave bearing down on you head and you arms already feel like noodles.  And the inevitable bit without breathing that comes shortly after that.  That probably helps too, in the way that oxygen starvation helps suppress conscious thought. Given that most athletes are, no matter how intelligent they might pretend to be in real life, demonstrably fundamentally as thick as pig shit because there’s really no other excuse for it, this is probably a good thing.  Stupidity wins races, after all.

I wrote about letting the off-season do its thing last time, and among the occasional bouts of excess, I’ve eaten really good quality food.  The garden’s bursting with leafy vegetables, fresh fruit is easy to find.  I haven’t watched what I’ve eaten – far from it – but I haven’t filled up with shit.  Some wise man once said that the best way to determine good food was to answer three questions:  one, is it from Greggs the Bakers*?  Two, does it look like anything sold in Greggs the Bakers*?  Three, is it the same colour as anything sold in Greggs the Bakers*?

You can figure out how this works, by the way, even if you are an athlete.

Happy eating.

*Greggs the Bakers may have turned into a health food emporium since I was last in the UK.  They’d have alienated their existing customers, but I’m prepared to be corrected.  Insert white flour, refined sugar and cholesterol peddler of shit of your choice.

 

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A cyclist’s guide to surviving christmas and the off-season

Since the end of the season I haven’t blogged at all, mostly because to be blogging about something you’re not doing seems fraudulent: as someone once said, I’m a writer only when I write, and it’s the same with the bike.  I climbed off at the end of October and more or less threw it into the dark recesses of the garage.  On average I’ve done 70k a week, if I’m lucky.  Once or twice I’ve gone for a gentlemanly 40-50k with no thought other than to listen to the birds or atone for the dietary sins which seem welded to this time of year, regardless of whichever hemisphere you happen to be in.

The off-season is tradition, and it  comes with a whole heap of downsides.  Some of my trousers are a little tighter than they were a month or two ago.  The hiatus from racing brings with it a whole being-available-for-DIY issue.  Last, but not least, it takes 21 days to make a habit, apparently, and after six weeks of quite frankly absolutely taking the piss it’s going to be doubly hard to get back on track.  No wonder there’s a slew of tinterweb articles preaching caution and temperance.

However, there are huge upsides which are, by my reckoning, severely under-promoted.  By the end of the year my body was screaming at me, fed up with hunching over bars.  Who, after all, does a yoga session or a swim instead of a ride – which one really makes you faster?  Riding does.  Yoga and swimming make you faster for longer, but that’s tomorrow’s problem, and as such they always seem to wait until then.

So my tip for surviving the off season?  Embrace it.  Take the time to make your body hurt less.  Catch up with friends, remember your children’s names, make that pudding you saw on TV and slobbered at back when you could only eat raw carrots because there was a climb that week, and eat it with them.  Take a surf trip or head for the snow.  Pay the debt of gratitude and attention you owe the rest of humanity after opting out of it to ride your bike.

Bike racing at its best verges on the inhuman.   The real point of a well-spent off-season is to remember how to be human.

Happy Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.

 

End of season blue skies, challenges ahead.

I’ve pretty much finished for the year.  The big race got cancelled, and I was in shit shape for it anyway.  I’ve had a season of sore legs, big efforts, and zero results to show for it.   Anyone who’s raced for more than ten minutes knows that a good ride isn’t always measured by results, but sometimes…aaarrgh!   Anyway, a break is due.  I’ve also come to a point of fatigue where I’m sure that a change of focus next year is what’s needed.

I don’t do weights.  This is for a couple of reasons:  One, I did loads in my teens and twenties.  I reached peak gym boredom, and never recovered from the exposure to all that pent-up testosterone and sexual frustration.   Two,  twenty-something years of surfing hasn’t exactly left me like a pipe cleaner in the upper body.  I’ve been trying to lose muscle, not put it on, for the last few years.  And Three: I have a screwed back, and on the three or four occasions I’ve set foot in a gym over the last decade or so I’ve limped out.

I’ve been pretty dedicated to the cause for the last few years, and over the last few weeks I’ve realised a couple of things.  Firstly, my biking fitness might be good, but my general, athletic fitness frankly sucks more than it ever has.  With my back injury, a strong core and good posture is key to a life without pain and, incidentally, to turning pedals quicker.  Of course, on a day-to-day basis, how do you think this works out?  I’ll take another lap of the block, do another interval, rather than stretch and dig the stability ball out.  The work ethic in that direction’s been…absent.  And secondly, I’m bored.  I’ve essentially done the same calendar of events for four years, and I need a change.

Last week, I did my first run in years.  ITB pain did for me a few years ago, and I’d always assumed it’d flare up instantly if I pulled on a pair of running shoes.  It didn’t.

I hit the pool, too.  Yeah, you can see where this is going.

I’m going to do a few tri’s this summer.  Get some pool miles in, get running.  It’s sufficiently different, and it’ll be great for my general fitness.   It might even be good for my personality to get in a headspace of getting-round-and-doing-my-best, as opposed to being a competitive shithead.

And of course, I’ll be needing a new bike.

The slump before the … what?

The last couple of weeks have been tough.  I did an 80k race, which is one bottle more than I’m used to carrying,  and demanding too, of eating at least something.  I felt good though, and went off the front.  These were roads I know well, so I was able to set myself goals knowing how far I had to go, where the tough bits were, and where I had to get to with a decent gap before I could think about looking for chickens to count.  I never made it, but it was close enough to give me hope:  I was hovered up perhaps 2k before that point.   After 25k out front on my own I was toast and slid out of the peloton willingly, happy with my day’s work, but just a little sad I hadn’t quite had the goods to seal the deal.

So hope sprung eternal, and with a good performance to motivate me I took a day off work and told the kids not to get into trouble while I went to set about some serious miles.  The figures are meh:  130-odd k in just under 5 hours, with 2,900m of climbing.  It’s a tough ride, but perhaps not as tough as I made it feel.  The last hour and a half’s suffering was dante-esque.  What was supposed to be an enjoyable romp on the bike, a confidence-builder for the hundred miler at the end of the month has had quite the reverse effect.  My legs are heavy and – to be brutally honest about this – my arse is killing me.

It would be stupid to read too much into this.  Often,  my best form comes after my worst.  I’m not going to expect too much from this weekend’s racing, but I’ll be listening to my body with interest.  And it’s finally pushed me into trying a new saddle to replace the Specialized Romin which sort-of-but-not-quite suits me.  I’ve gone for a Bontrager Serano, which is an entirely different concept to the Romin, much more akin to the old Concors and Cinelli SLX’s of my youth.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’ll be reviewing it in the future, well after I’ve given my arse time to get used to it.

In the meantime,  I suspect I’m going to be trying to rack up k’s as painlessly as possible, keeping up the training stress with consistency rather than big days.  It probably won’t be enough to get me to the business end of the Round the Mountain in the right position, but there’s … just enough buts there to keep me hoping.

Not just the one I sit on.  See what I did there?

The 2 x 20 interval – and why race calenders matter

Even if the results haven’t come yet I’m pleased with how I’m going at this point in the season.  Looking back on what I’ve done, there’s a couple or three things that stand out:

Firstly, I’ve been consistent.  There’s nothing worse for a season (with the possible exception of overtraining – but I’m getting ahead of myself) than great chunks of empty space.

I’ve trained moderately, so that my hardest sessions have given me a day of soreness, nothing more.

And thirdly, I started remembering how to train.

This hasn’t been as simple as you might think, because the racing scene and culture I came from in the UK is entirely different to here in New Zealand.  For a start, when the season kicks off in February in the UK it’s truly, horribly bollock cold.  Ice, snow, wind, hail.  Not the kind of things on the road you want to be lining up in a bunch to dodge.  Not the kind of thing you race in for long.  So, the season in the UK’s a bit different.  I won’t go into the schism in UK cycling that gave rise to the RTTC and the BLRC – now British Cycling, but suffice it to say time trials are a thing, and they happen – well, all year round, but particularly between February and Easter, which was kind of when the road really started to kick off.  25’s and 10’s to start – maybe a 50 or two if there’s one to be had.

You see where I’m going with this?  The early part of the season was all about TT pace – about functional threshold power.  I looked back at my old diaries and saw that it took me about three weeks of two races a week before I found any semblance of form.  I’d say light bulb, but I suspect I knew what I wasn’t doing already, but just didn’t want to face up to what was required.  Time trials, and time trial intervals, flat out hurt, and quite apart from anything else, you have to be fit enough to do them to start with.

This is where the consistency’s come in – I’ve actually been fit enough and mentally fresh enough, to get on the trainer and crank out one or two sets of these a week.  Here’s my take on the classic 2 x 20:

2 x 20 interval workout

10  minutes – warm-up, gently spinning up a low gear until everything feels nice and loose and I can maintain a high cadence effortlessly.  Maybe add a little resistance, but back right off for the last minute, gather my thoughts and find 20 minutes worth of decent music.

20 minutes at time trial pace.  I’m aiming for a level of resistance on the trainer that’s just above what I can comfortably turn at what I’d call my “normal” hard effort cadence – a little slower, in other words.

5 minutes rest.  Proper rest.  I’d even say get off the bike and collapse for a minute or two.  You can’t recover when you’re working .

20 minutes – go again.  I might vary it around on the second interval, mostly because at the start of it I really can’t believe I’m signing up for another one of these.  I might start with the resistance a little lighter and a higher cadence and then crank it up for the third quarter, before rolling back off just to survive the fourth.

5 minutes cool down.  Start with a minute of trying not to throw up, then spin a low gear and minimum resistance as fast as I can for a minute or two, aiming to slow down to a crawl by the end of the 5.

Climb off, mop up the sweat, shower.  Elevate legs for five minutes while fending off the dogs.

Looking back at my old training diaries, I kept doing 10’s almost all the way through the season.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to – or whether it’s desirable to – keep cranking these out for too much longer.  As I get closer to my main objective I’ll be switching to harder, shorter intervals targeting VO2 max and anaerobic recovery – it’ll be interesting to see how long the current fitness gains stay with me.

 

At the fork in the road

A couple of races into the back half of the season and things are going well.  True, I’ve only minor placings to show for a solid winter, but I’ve ridden strongly and attacked again and again.  Brains have been lacking, legs haven’t.

Danger lurks ahead, though.  Right about now complacency sets in:  I’m strong now, so I’ll stay strong all year.  A race a week and a couple of twiddles in the week will somehow see me improve.

They won’t.  Someone once said something about either depositing into or withdrawing from the Bank of Fitness, which is a line that I really should make a cracking double entendre from.  Right now, my balance is holding steady, but there’s been a few cracks round the edges.  If I’m not careful I’ll be skint before I know it.

Time trial pace is good.  Stamina’s OK too, but not really where it needs to be for the 100 miles of the Round the Mountain, my target race in two month’s time.

You can’t do everything, so for me there’s going to be a break from racing for a week or three and a block of long rides interspersed with VO2 max and recovery intervals.  Consistency’s the key now, and if I can build on my early season momentum rather than chucking it in the bin I’ll be on the start line at the end of October anticipating, not dreading.  Onwards!

Coming off the bottom

As far as I’m concerned, the phrase “base period”  is – to put it kindly – disingenuous.  It conjures up visions of an off-season of forced athletic abstention, smugly smirking over beetroot salads and yogic retreats.   There are few glimpses of a more accurate truth – the orgies of drinking and pie-eating that inevitably follow the end of my seasons.  Muscles get shorter, bikes go unwashed. The first couple of weeks back should be more accurately referred to as “rehab”, and like any rehabilitation, the effort here is primarily a mental one.

Sure, there’ll be a couple of rides.  More likely I’ll be dodging weather, and a few twenty minute sessions on the trainer will yield enough sweat that, for a while at least,  I can languish under the misapprehension that foundations are being laid, house is being built.

This is of course, a lie.  The habits of post-ride beers, a quart a week of chocolate milk – for recovery, cakes to fuel the afternoon ride – these are for later in the season – these are relics clung to, treasured.  The will to discard them must needs be strong, and strength of anything is something in short supply at this time of year.

Eventually though, rehab finishes, the latter parts of which are taken up with generally avoiding domestic turmoil by doing all the shit jobs I thought I’d got out of last season, and the second part of base period begins, known as “panic”.

In an effort to get as much mileage in as possible, I cram in five or six rides a week, but none of them are long enough, none of them are fast enough, and I know, deep down, that I still haven’t resigned myself to the pain that has to come. Starving myself might help on the hills, but after so long as a glutton, even resuming a normal diet feels like unbearable flagellation. A week without beer looms ahead like an iceberg to the Titanic.  Doubts haven’t just crept in -they’ve kicked down the front door and climbed into bed with the wife.  I’m this far from taking up competitive pipe smoking, or popping into town for some elasticated slacks to get fat in.

Maybe, a voice says, this could be your big year. In the garden.

Somehow, I keep going.  Some undead and unkillable streak of blind optimism pushes past the cold logic of age, fatherhood, and financial responsibility, tells me the career will always be there – and besides, I’m probably even worse at that than I am at this. It pushes me through the humiliations of crawling up hills I stomped two months ago, tells me that the spare roll in my bib shorts’ll go if I just do one more lap.

Somehow though, just before I give up, I’ll be ready for the Day, the ride that heralds the end of the beginning.  The day when I’ll feel like a cyclist again.

A hard, hilly century-plus, ridden on my own,  in the rain and wind, that might be it.

It could be a twenty minute time trial preceded by too much coffee, or an hour’s breathless, dying slog up the local alp.

Or it might be as it was this week:  I got home from work early, fussed about my bike for a while, fought myself into my gear, which combined took enough time for the clouds the weatherman promised would be the day’s due to materialise, remnants of the blue skies that had reigned while I was office-bound scudded down the coast.  With the correct level of rage for this inevitable confluence of circumstance I warmed up and went full gas, resolving that once the rain hit I’d pull on a jacket and twiddle home, figuring I had perhaps ten or twenty minutes to wrestle my inner five-year old into submission.

The rain never came.  I rode a fifty-k time trial, caffeine and rage fuelling me to the point some way around when I realised I was on a ride that could be, if I let it, become the Day.

When I realise this, the only course of action is to press harder, to crouch lower.  To change up, not down, To not worry about the mess you’ll be tomorrow.   Right now, there is only the road, and the top of the next hill, and the wind to be beaten.  It’s the first victory of the year, and the taste is sweet.