Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Training Plans

The plans set out in magazines and books can look really good but I wonder how many amateur cyclists ever follow them in practice?

I know I never had.  And I've tried - setting out my own programme of workouts week by week, day by day.

But somehow it all goes wrong very quickly, why's that?

1)  Life gets in the way - the plan calls for a big bike ride every Saturday for the next 3 weeks but the 2nd Saturday has a special family event that you can't get out of so your big ride can't be done.

2)  Monday is a rest day - this is a classic of almost all plans, the thinking is that the amateur cyclist will have trained all weekend so Monday should be off.  But the amateur cyclist is also probably a full-time worker and has to turn up early Monday morning to put in a full day of work - so its not really a rest day.

3)  Make the most of the weekends - this is the corollary of the Monday rest.  Hammer yourself all weekend is the idea but in practice a Saturday or especially a Sunday may be the amateur cyclist's only real day of rest.

4)  Complicated, zone based training sessions - can be quite difficult to manage by yourself during a ride - perhaps you need to get a coach and do it on a track?  Oh, right you're an amateur and don't have all those facilities.

I sometimes suspect that these training programmes are written by coaches of professionals and all they have done is change the quantities to reflect the lower capacity of the typical amateur cyclist.

What they haven't done is take into account how the amateur rider is fundamentally different from the professional.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

More on Rest Week

Currently taking the week off bike riding (or any serious exercise) - I do 3 weeks "on" and 1 week "off" - to recover.

What are the alternatives?

1)  Just train all the time - sounds more productive but in reality you can't push yourself all the time, you end up ill or injured.

2)  Don't push so hard - yes, you can keep going week after week but you aren't really stretching yourself and things won't improve like they could/should.

3)  You ride infrequently, never building up fatigue - a safe option, and you may make some progress, but it's not really a training programme that builds significant capacity, more just riding about and "keeping" fit.

Taking a week off is justified if you have trained hard, you'll need the time off if you have done the 3 weeks right.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Rest Week

I always look forward to Rest Week.  My current programme gives me the 4th week in every month off, so I have 3 weeks of expanding my riding then a week when I'll hardly ride at all.

Am I wasting a week?  How can not riding my bike help improve my riding?

Mmm, well, the first thing to say is that I really need the week off.  After 3 weeks of pushing and forcing myself to do as much as I can, to ride when I'm tired, getting on the bike when I'm aching still from the last ride, I really need to stop.

I can push myself harder because I know I've got a rest week coming.

Rest isn't just for the body either - the mind needs a rest from all the striving, all the keeping going, all the ignoring of pain.  It can be wearing to take the strain day after day so mentally I need to take some time out.

And when I come back to training for the next 3 weeks I'll have new enthusiasm, and hopefully will notice additional physical capacity - the rest will give me a mini-peak.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Thinking about hills

Start of the Passo Sella
When approaching a big European event or trip to the Alps or Dolomites the thing that will play on your mind is:

"Will I be able to do the climbs?"

Things are a bit different over there.  The climbs go on and on.  Many start at heights way above the tops of UK hills, and climb way up into sub-altitude training territory.

They can be long - 20km, and they can be constant - 8% gradient all the way, and you can gain more height in a single climb than you would in the whole of a UK sportive.

How are you going to prepare for these kind of climbs?

I've started trying to get my head around the climbs I'll be doing this summer in the Dolomites. Lets look at one climb - the Passo Sella in the Italian mountain range.  Truly spectacular scenery and a relatively modest climb - 436m will get you up to the top but this is still much more than just about any road up a hill in the UK.

Clearly, if I could ride up a similar hill in the UK that would help me prepare for it.

Even in a hilly part of the UK you need to pick your hills carefully to find one with over 100m of height gain.  Yes, many will be much steeper than the Passo Sella but finding one that is even a third of its height gain will take some looking for.

OK, lets say you can find a hill with 140m of gain.  Brilliant, you now need to do training that involves "hill repeats" - that means going up it, turning around and coasting back down it and going up it again.  Do that twice and you've got 280m of height gain, and 3 times will give you 420m and that is within spitting distance of the Passo Sella.  In fact your UK hill will very likely be steeper so you may be doing a higher load, and this may make up for the short rests you'll get as you coast back down to do the next hill repeat.

Psychologically, it can also help when surrounded by high pinnacles and peaks to remember that the stupendous mountain you are scaling is actually just 3x your local hill that you climb every week.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Off-road sportives

There's an upsurge of cross-country sportives this winter, with series of events mainly down south and around London.  An off-road event isn't totally tracks and bridleways; there can be 60% or more of tarmac and then plenty of gravel and solid farm roads, and then may be just 25% or so of dirt, single-track and mud...

For the normal roadie, used strictly to tarmac, this sort of mixture of surfaces can be definitely challenging.  No doubt experienced mountain bikers will smile when I say that for a roadie any deviation of direction taken by the bike is alarming.  If the front wheel moves from under you then a crash is likely to happen, if your back wheel loses traction you may well fall off.

Off-road, though, is different.  It involves almost constant deviation.  Your wheels are rarely going in the same direction, its best not to be too precious about where your front wheel is going - just so long as it generally in the direction you want.  If your back wheel is sliding left and right that's not a problem - just keep it turning around and everything will be alright, probably.

Here's a couple of events I've reviewed for Cyclosport:
Wiggle Wildwood 80km CX sportive

Evans Ride It Hampshire Sportive Cross