It’s been a while, but I’ve finally managed to sit down and write a proper post about training.
A lot has happened since. I’ve had highs, and I’ve overcome lows. Now after a great deal of hard work I feel as though I’m finally finding some good form.
A quick recap: In January I started my first block of structured training. It was mostly short and intense hour-long turbo sessions mid-week. Followed by an endurance ride on Saturday, and an easy recovery spin for an hour or so on Sunday. I came into the year with a good level of base fitness off the back of the Rapha Festive 500 and this approach allowed me to produce my biggest power figures to date in a six minute test. I was nailing every session and feeling strong. The ‘excess’ weight of Christmas was falling off quickly and before I knew it February was here and I weighed 55kg.
But as strong as I got, this approach couldn’t last[*]. With fewer miles in my legs the intensity was getting too much. My aerobic fitness was in decline and gradually I started failing sessions. On top of that I wasn’t riding quite as well on the road, and my climbing technique had suffered slightly too.
“More than anything though, I wasn’t eating enough.”
This was the first big lesson I learned: Light does not mean good. Which is why I’m currently running 2-2.5kg heavier than I have most of the year (and I’m also climbing and riding better than ever). I had become obsessed with being light and counting calories. At one stage after riding I saw 53.X kg on the scales more than once. That’s when I thought “This is probably too light, maybe I should get some nutrition advice”? I was conscious my power output was in decline and convinced my low weight was the cause. I needed to eat more, but eat well. No sugary crap. Just wholesome foods, and plenty of them.
That’s when – after he offered some nutritional advice on a Facebook picture of my post-race snack (a bagel with PB & Jam) – I got in touch with Jody Warrington at Transition Cycle Coaching.
Jody offered me some nutritional advice on my Facebook post of a bagel. That’s when I knew he was the coach for me.
Tired. Underweight. Struggling.
I have a habit of beating myself up. So when things weren’t working out how I had imagined them (power on the decline despite working my ass off in training) instead of backing off and assessing the situation my gut instinct was to bury myself deeper and ‘try’ harder. Jody quickly put a stop to that. We first spoke on a Friday afternoon and he made me take four days completely off the bike to eat well and recover. Then we planned to start steadily building my aerobic base before adding advanced workouts and strength exercises to my plan.
Building My Aerobic Fitness
It was March when I started working with Jody. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made for my cycling. Although It was a difficult one to make at the time for personal reasons.
We started off with something I was very familiar with: 90 minute sessions on the road. Ridden somewhere around zone 2 or tempo pace. For me, that’s a 20mph Elswick loop. Something I have done for the last few years when left to my own devices. However Jody is also well aware of my weakness’ and often gets me to train areas of my cycling that have significant room for improvement. That’s something I just never did when I ‘coached’ myself. Stupid when you think about it, but I’m glad to have someone looking out for me and making sure I do the correct training to progress.
As my fitness returned the sessions became more specific and more intense. We gradually increased the mileage, added extra intervals, or upped the target watts for a session. The legs began to feel good again and I was eating enough for me to recover properly from each workout and hit the next one even harder.
Things were looking great…
This shows my steady decline in aerobic fitness through so many turbo sessions. A big dip when I took my four days rest in the middle, but my fitness has been steadily rising since. That is not to say the turbo sessions were bad. They did make me strong. It was just about time I got back on the road.
With Transition I get a level of support and wisdom I would struggle to find anywhere else. And I can’t recommend Transition (or Neo Pro for juniors) highly enough. He has a wealth of cycling heritage in the family (his cousin rode for Team Sky. I don’t think I need to say much more), and regularly attends coaching seminars with Pro teams to ensure his training methods are at the cutting edge. His attention to detail and structured approach has done wonders for me, and will continue to do so long into the future.
Crash! Bang! Wallop!
At the end of a particularly good session in April I had my second crash since I started cycling. It wasn’t awful, but it was bad enough to cause some issues. I was just starting to really feel good on the bike again and had been building for my first ‘A’ event of the year: The Shap Hill Climb. Sadly because of a bad hip my performance at Shap wasn’t great. I also learned another valuable lesson thanks to Jody: Train to the power you can currently produce. Not the power you tested at when you were strong!
“I also learned another valuable lesson thanks to Jody: Train to the power you can currently produce. Not the power you tested at when you were strong!”
My ego took a hit and we set my FTP to around 280w. The lowest I’ve ever set it at. Luckily, this didn’t last for long and as soon as my hip started to pull its weight we bumped it up to 290w. Not perfect, but I step in the right direction!
Getting into Time Trialling
It was around this period when I started to get a serious Time Trialling bug. I enjoy the simplicity of it. There are no other riders to get in the way, questionably tactics, or hiding in the wheels. It’s just you and the effort. And I love to suffer.
I’m now the proud owner of an ex Tinkoff Saxo Specialized S-Works Shiv TT. It took a while to get it right, but I’m almost there. A disc wheel and a tri-spoke for next season, a few tweaks to my position, and it’ll be spot on!
I’ve done a handful of hilly tt’s this year. Mostly to try and find my legs in the discipline and with increasing success as I dialled in my position and effort on the new bike.
Results from the year so far:
1st Martin Greenwood Memorial TT 2015
3rd Bashall Eaves Hilly Time Trial 2015
4th Kent Valley Hilly Time Trial 2015
7th Shap Hill Climb 2015
7th Lancaster CC Hilly TT 2015
11th Rossendale RC Hilly TT 2015
18th Circuit Of Longridge Hilly TT 2015
Eating my way to success
For a large part of the year I was eating around net 1400 calories a day. I dropped to 54kg and my form suffered greatly. Even at the start of the year I was advised to eat more, but foolishly ignored it. You just can’t function on empty. Now through personal experience I can honestly say this: If you’re training hard Do. Not. Count. Calories.
Instead, I now focus on eating good nutritious food until I’m satisfied. And occasionally until I’m absolutely bloody stuffed! I weigh 2kg more than I did but I ride twice as well. In reality the difference between 54kg and 56kg on a hill climb is nothing vs how much power I lost due to the low weight. My power to weight ratio is actually better now than when I was light. You can’t assume your racing weight is the lowest you can be. My advice is definitely to eat as required and let your body decide for itself what it’s real racing weight is.
As you might’ve guessed from the results above, I won the last two races I did. They may not have been huge races but it’s a great feeling after a few dips earlier in the year. The wins are made more special by the hard work and dedication I’ve put in to my cycling. I was getting decent results back in 2013 when I paid no attention to nutrition or structured training and just went out and rode my bike as hard as I could. It’s great to see my hard work and dedication finally pay off!
So far my training with Transition has mostly been aerobic in an attempt to bring back my fitness to where it should be. With that reaching a peak and my goals fast approaching it will soon be time to build on top of that with intensity. Going back to sessions more like the ones I did at the start of the year. Short, and intense. This time I’ll have both the fitness, and the correct timing to go into Hill Climb season in the form of my life. Whereas last year I burned myself out and completely lost interest in competing by the second event of the season.
I’m off to Mallorca in August for a holiday / training camp and off the back of that we will start to reach for my peak power targets. They’re ambitious, but they’re going to have to be if I want to place well in October.
I’ve learned a lot about myself and my potential through working with Jody. He’s got me fired up and motivated for my future goals. The most immediate being a fast coast to coast ride with Phill Sharpe in a few weeks. And of course the National Hill Climb at the end of the year.
I can’t help it (I mean, we’re only half way through this year!) but I’m already most excited about next season. I plan to continue working with Jody through the winter and on to the early hilly tt’s next season. I will target those with a bit more ambition next year and aim to place well in the SpoCo and NTL series of events.
I’m going to publish this post in its current state as I feel I will never finish it otherwise. Hopefully I’ll be able to drip-feed content to it as and when I remember or have time. Cheers for making it this far with me. And here’s to another interesting six months!
* The plan was always to get me doing more work ‘on the road’ once the weather improved and we were closer to my end of year goals. Sadly circumstance and a focus on other areas of cycling meant Fuse could no longer offer the level of coaching I was looking for. They do however still cater for a range of athletes with their training plans, and offer some fantastic wheelbuilding and bike maintenance services too. Check out http://fusecycling.co.uk/ for more information.