By the time Hillclimb season rolled around in 2014 I was knackered. I only raced two events before calling it a day. I came second in both, but was disappointed with my heavy legs and the fact I won the same races the year before.
I wanted to avoid having that feeling again in 2015.
That’s the thing with Hill climbs. The efforts are so severe; the pain so acute; the training so specific. You need to be in the right place mentally, as well as physically to compete at your best. The difference between you at 95% and you at 100% is only exaggerated on such short, aggressive pieces of tarmac.
Now what’s a guy to do? It’s November. I’ve got 11 months of training ahead of me. How can I be fit but without the fatigue in October?
I got chatting to a good friend of mine who was looking to get into coaching. I told him about my plan for Nationals and before I knew it, I’d agreed to be his guinea pig. He didn’t have any previous experience, but he does have a good head on his shoulders and absolutely had my best interests at heart.
Let’s avoid over-training.
I was a guilty trainer.
What I mean is that I struggle with rest days. I get all jittery and restless. Feeling as though I should be out spinning my legs or burning off calories. Sitting around doing nothing is harder for me than a six minute vO2 Max effort!
A typical week back then when left to my own devices consisted of;
Tue: Thirty-something mile training loop
Wed: Thirty-something mile training loop
Thu: A hilly three hours with Strava KOM attempt!
Fri: Recovery ride
Sat: A long hilly ride
Sun: A steady cafe ride, but still over three hours
If I felt I had over-indulged one day I would most likely head out in the evening for a quick “recovery ride”. When in reality I just wanted to burn off another 500 calories.
This is a destructive mindset that can quickly undo a lot of hard work. As the body is not getting the recovery needed to adapt and progress physically, it’s the quickest way to plateau. Which isn’t much fun at all.
Just because you’re going slow doesn’t make it a recovery ride. Sometimes you just need to stop.
I would also use my bike as transport daily. Any errands I needed to do within a 10 mile radius would be done by bicycle.
Because of this it was suggested by my friend early in the process of putting a plan together that I spent too much time on my bike. With the structure I described earlier a typical week would see me in the saddle for fifteen hours or more. Regularly I’d do upwards of twenty hours, and during one crazy week in July I rode for thirty three hours. That’s an average of almost five hours a day.
I love riding my bike, I do.
As we drafted my training schedule I was given free reign to complete the Rapha Festive 500 at the end of December (which has become a tradition of mine) but then it was time to knuckle down and put in some hard work on the turbo trainer.
I wrote about this already so I’ll be brief here. It isn’t the most interesting time of my year! Unless, of course. You enjoy a view of my garage.
The “Pain Cave”, complete with sick bucket
I did an FTP test on the 27th November and produced 311 watts for twenty minutes. This gave me an FTP of about 295w, or 5.2w/kg. Not too bad, considering those are winter numbers.
Come January I was chained to my turbo. Punishment for all the hours I had stolen earlier in the year. The aim was to remove any “junk” miles and make every second on the bike count. This should leave me fresh, well rested, and most importantly fit. A sound theory, right?
And so for months I barely rode my bike outside. In the belief that this was the way to make me a stronger, faster, healthier rider. I wasn’t thrilled by the idea, but it made a lot of sense to my weary body at the time.
I had a new schedule I followed religiously;
Tue: An hour on the Turbo
Wed: Rest (off the bike)
Thu: An hour on the Turbo
Fri: Rest (off the bike)
Sat: A long hilly ride
Sun: Rest (off the bike)
This meant I was now riding between seven and ten hours a week and my Saturday ride was no longer a tempo-driven-strava-smashfest but a pleasant Zone 2 pootle.
We built slowly, and at first I saw improvement.
I was feeling fresher. My numbers were getting better. Things were going great. I even lost a bit of weight as I didn’t need to consume anywhere near as much food having halved my riding. At that point I weighed in at 56.7kg.
Sessions would be done at Sweetspot or tempo. It was really a textbook taper that lasted a month or so.
Then as we increased the intensity, I (metaphorically) crashed.
And not one of those holy-shit-how-did-that-happen ones where it’s over before you know it; you get up, dust yourself off and crack on.
No, this was one of those horrific slow motion crashes. Where your hands are off the bars and you have time to say to yourself, “hang on, this is isn’t right, why’s my bike ghosting alongside me… what am I sat on then? Oh… Right, okay. Damn. This is really going to suck in 3… 2… 1…”
Too much riding. Not enough cycling
Here’s a sample of my training at the beginning of February. It’s got everything I didn’t really need at that time of year. Including v02 Max efforts until failure and double days at and above Threshold! However, with the “less miles are better” approach we had, what other option did we have but to increase the intensity of each session?
At this point I was still feeling good. My diary contains notes like “Hit the numbers and hit them well” and “Arse probably gave up before my legs. Might’ve had most of, if not all of an 11th interval in me but didn’t take any food or extra water into the garage. Felt as though I was emptying the tank last minute of 10th interval anyway but overall legs felt GREAT!” (4min intervals at 310-320w until failure).
I did my first competitive ride that year on 28th February and placed an unassuming 28th out of 111. To be fair though it was a Time Trial that I raced on a standard road bike.
I think this is where I first started to feel something was up.
Having spent little time riding fast on the road (remember my weekend rides were in a relaxed Zone 2) my position had suffered. Where my back was once straight with my elbows at 90 degress, I now had an awkward arch to my back and elbows that stuck out worse than bloody Chris Froome. I was also finding it difficult to put down power on the road. The pacing, the feel of the bike beneath you, it’s all just so different to a turbo effort.
The increased difficulty of my turbo training now began to catch up to me. I started regularly missing targets, especially on longer intervals. The frustration was building.
I wrote a post in February describing how we’d tweaked my training plan
In hindsight this was too much too soon. I hadn’t done enough endurance miles for my body to cope with the increased intensity and double days. I started to go backwards.
This was supposed to be my year! I sacrificed cycling outside in favour of performing mind-numbing training sessions in the garage because they’re supposed to make me a stronger, faster, more powerful rider. I’ve put absolutely everything I’ve got in to each session. Why the hell was I going backwards?!
After months of hard training since the start of the year I was struggling to do more than 290w for ten minutes. Whereas before I started this programme I had managed over 310w for the same duration.
I rode my second event on the 15th of March, another hilly Time Trial on my Road Bike. It was on a great course I was familiar with around Longridge (one of my favourite places to train). The legs still weren’t there though. At this point I had been eating healthily all year. My frustration from a lack of performance peaked. When I got home from the race, feeling sorry for myself I thought “fuck it”.
For the first time in months, I made myself exactly what I fancied to eat. A peanut butter and jam bagel.
I posted the picture on Facebook, which sparked a somewhat heated debate.
I wrote in reply to one comment
“I’m wasting away! I need help. I’m pretty much 54-54.5kg now in the mornings and somewhere between 53-54kg after a ride depending on how long / hard. I’m fairly sure my power is dropping. I’m eating a lot of stuff but obviously not enough calories!”
I guess it’s something when a table spoon of Jam is the naughtiest thing you’ve eaten in months. But It was this bagel that changed my entire season.
Thanks to this picture I was introduced Jody at Transition Cycle Coaching. When he left a comment offering the first bit of sensible advice I had been given all year.
I still wasn’t prepared to completely write off the turbo training just yet. The idea still made sense to me. It must be my nutrition that was off. I decided to send a message to Jody asking him if he could help me with my nutrition. He agreed, and in order to put together a personalised plan asked to see what kind of training I was doing.
I gave him access to my Training Peaks account, and waited expectantly for the magic nutrition plan that was going to turn my cycling around.
The nutrition plan never arrived. Instead, one Friday afternoon in March a mobile number I didn’t know flashed up on my Phone. It was a concerned Jody. Who had reviewed my training, had a mild heart attack, and called me straight away before any more damage could be done.
Part III isn’t actually written yet so could take some time to appear (if it ever does).