Lockdown Cycling Pt 2

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Seamons CC in action – WTRL Team Time Trial on Zwift

First off I hope this finds you safe and well wherever you are. On March 20th I wrote this blog post as the immediate races I’d planned were cancelled and I suspected that what was happening at the time might escalate. It came as no surprise (to those that had been following what was happening in mainland Europe anyway) when the UK formally went into lockdown on Monday 23rd March.

I wrote again at the end of April, the height of lockdown really, about what I’d been up to. Despite being allowed outdoors for an hour or so exercise I’d stuck to the turbo and riding indoors. Then, in the middle of May, some restrictions were lifted, we were allowed unlimited exercise outdoors and so I rode outside (on my own, as usual) for the first time in what had been 9 weeks, which felt pretty good!

Since then the season’s races have been postponed several times, with current guidance, as I write, that open TTs can start from the 18th July. That is not the case with the Manchester (J code) district, who are not promoting either open or club events until the end of August. There are a few races in September that haven’t yet been cancelled, including the re-arranged VTTA National 15, so I think we will wait and see – although when the cancellation to the end of August happened I gave up any semblance of structured training. I do have a sneaking suspicion that I may just sack the season off and not race again this year. Time will tell.

In the meantime I have been Zwift racing, Zwift TT-ing and Zwift TTT-ing with club mates, which has been great fun. As I’ve written before, Zwift races are really hard. I prefer the longer ones but the basic tactics for any race seem to be

  1. Start hard – usually a VO2Max effort (130% + FTP) for 1 to 2 minutes
  2. Continue at or just below threshold (90%+ FTP)
  3. Any hill or rise accelerate back up to VO2Max
  4. At end, can you sprint?
    1. Yes – sprint at end
    2. No – try to clip off about 1 to 2km before the end at VO2Max

In my case, somewhere between 3. and 4. above and I usually get dropped from the first group, which is actually an improvement because when I first started it was immediately after 1. That said, they are a great workout and good fun if you want to push your limits.

WTRL Team Time Trial

The team time trials are run voluntarily by a group called WTRL and involve an element of teamwork to try to stay together as a team of up to 9 riders, with your time being taken when the 4th rider crosses the line. They are typically around 40 to 55 minutes of effort and attract literally hundreds of teams from around the world. The teams are grouped into classes based on rider capabilities and it’s a really impressive setup and great fun riding as a team. We use Discord for team voice communication which is simultaneously hilarious and disturbing given everyone is usually on their aerobic limit. In theory, the better you stay together, ideally in a long line, the faster you go due to the draft involved and the ability to recover between efforts. This is more successful some times more than others, usually where a hill is involved. You can see from the video above we’re often in a “clump” rather than a line which is less efficient, but we’ve done pretty well and seem to be improving.

Anyway, please stay safe wherever you are and I hope to see many of you out on the road or at races in the future.

Lockdown Cycling

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Zwift cycling through Central Park

April 2020 is the first month since the start of 2009 where I haven’t ridden my bike outdoors. At the start of the lockdown I took the personal decision not to ride outdoors. I make no judgement of people who do, but I realised that if I were to ride outside the temptation to ride ever longer distances would be too much and that is not within the spirit of the somewhat vague rules we find ourselves with. Equally, I have elderly and unwell dependents and however low the risk, it is a choice I felt I needed to make.

Instead I have ridden 859 miles indoors on Zwift. The TT season will not start until July at the earliest so I’ve dropped the structured training and I just ride the courses. I’ve also done some Zwift races and some Zwift TTs. The races are absolutely nuts. The start is a massive all-out sprint and then you settle back into riding somewhere above threshold. There is no respite until you go pop. 4.5W/kg basically isn’t enough. Still, it’s good fun, especially the longer races, and you do find out in the results that you’ve been racing pros (Warren Barguil notably in one race up the Alpe d’Zwift). The TTs are equally hard but you know what you’re getting – ride as hard as you can from start to finish. There are two courses – a flat 10.9 mile course and a replica of the San Luca climb in Bologna used in various races including the Giro d’Italia. Newbury Velo cycling club have set up regular Wednesday night and Saturday morning TTs, and the VTTA have started a series competition based on the Saturday races. I even managed to place first one morning, which was satisfying.

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Barney

I make no apologies for mentioning this in my cycling blog. Last Friday we lost our Labrador Barney, aged 11. It’s devastating, heartbreaking and I miss him every day. Normally getting out into the countryside on my bike would be a big part of mentally processing things like this. Riding indoors on a turbo, however good the setup, is just not the same.

Roll on being let outside (properly) again.

Season Over?

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After 3 races in March (they went well and I was pleased with my performances despite the remnants of Storm Denis or whatever it was called) it looks like the season might be over already. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the CTT have cancelled all events until May 31st. Given what I’m reading about the likely scenarios I would not be surprised if it doesn’t restart again on June 1st. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t seem that important.

That being said I’m going to continue training for a number of reasons

  1. I enjoy it. I like the process and I like the practice. My training takes place indoors on a turbo, or outdoors on solo training rides, so adheres to social distancing guidelines (we’re not yet at the total lockdown stage yet)
  2. Fitness is good for you and boosts your immune system – as long as you don’t dig yourself into a hole where immunity is depleted – so I’m backing off intensity a bit. I feel that this is going to become ever more important as we come through this period in our history. It’s scary enough for most of us – I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a higher risk underlying health condition
  3. It’s good for mental health. It’s something to take the mind off what is going on outside

In the short-term I’ll try to get outdoors but I realise that might become impossible as this goes on. Not sure whether I will resurrect my Zwift membership or just stick to Trainerroad, but I will definitely be doing something.

Anyway, I hope anyone reading this is safe and well. I hope to see everyone on the other side. Best wishes, Ade.

Motivation, Mind Games and the Power of Failure

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I’ve read a number of books on the subject of mental strength and self-improvement in my attempts to become the best amateur cyclist I can be.  Some of these have been profoundly useful whilst others less so.

It’s fair to say that I didn’t originally get on with “The Chimp Paradox” by Professor Steve Peters – he of British Cycling.  Not for me inner humans, chimps and computers the first time I read it.  In fact I stalled part way through.  However, the more I think about it, the more I realise I probably should give it a second chance and a re-read because it does provide methods to help cope with wider issues such as anxiety and unwelcome thoughts and feelings.  Maybe there is an irony in there – my inner chimp acted impulsively and got me to stop reading the book and now my human is taking control (this will only mean something to you if you read the book!)

“Black Box Thinking” by Matthew Syed is a good book but is really a different subject area – it is more about the process of improvement borne out of failure.  As somebody who has spent the last few years learning as much through my own trial and error it certainly resonated with my own experiences.

One other area where I’ve read quite a few articles and studies is the Central Governor Theory, where the brain is the limiter rather than the muscles.  I guess you could call this mind over matter.  Much of this theory is based around the premise that fatigue is simply the sub-conscious brain creating a perception or feeling in order to moderate the amount of damage you do to yourself – a bit like a valve.  This is where books like “Dig Deepest!” by Adam Topham and “How Bad Do You Want it” by Matt Fitzgerald come in, as they basically support this premise and then cover ways and means of pushing past it.  In the case of Fitzgerald, he refers to these as coping strategies.


At the moment my training is going quite badly, which is not where I really wanted to be as the season starts.  I have a stack of data that tells me it shouldn’t but it feels really hard.  I know, I know – training is meant to be hard.  The data includes figures that define my Chronic Training Load (CTL – it’s high ✅) and my Training Stress Balance (TSB – it’s positive ✅).  I should be flying.  But in terms of rate of perceived effort (RPE) my training feels harder than it should do.  And in addition my Heart-Rate Variability (HRV) has taken a worrying tumble (by the way, the last time it did that I was ill the week after so fingers crossed it’s just a blip).

So it is clear that physical conditioning is not the complete picture.  There is a massive psychological side to it as well.  And I don’t just mean during actual races.  To get yourself into the best condition requires great motivation and dedication to map out and stick to a plan at the macro level, but then during each individual workout you have to have the mental strength at the micro level to push through the discomfort (and yes, pain) to make the gains necessary to drive adaptation in physiological systems.  And it is that micro level that I’ve been struggling to sustain in the last few weeks as the intensity has stepped up.  My coping strategies in the past have included

  • Setting challenging goals
  • Remembering success and the feelings that come with it – repeat, repeat, repeat
  • Event visualisation – pre-riding a race in my mind, especially the last hard effort, with positive outcomes
  • Lying to myself – “One more minute and I’ll stop.  Okay, just one more minute…”
  • Fear of failure – use of social media (and this blog) to publicly state goals and intent
  • Reward – if I get to the end of this session then my reward will be…

Repetition plays a big part.  It’s important to repeat successful behaviour but also to avoid unsuccessful behaviour becoming a habit.  Just not bothering, or finding excuses for giving in can become habit forming, so I’ve always found it better to just get on with it and stick with the plan.

That all said, these last few weeks I think I’ve overreached a little bit as the strategies haven’t really been working, so I’ve decided to dial back the intensity a bit and rebuild some confidence.  You only really learn when things go wrong, so hopefully this will let me take one step back to then allow me to move forward again.

October – Season 6 (2018) Training Plan

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Everybody needs a plan!

I’ll be using TrainerRoad for my training again this winter.  Last year I added to it with some additional indoor sessions that I found useful, but I think this time round I’m going to stick to the plan during the week.  At weekends, if the weather is relatively kind, I intend to substitute turbo rides with appropriate outdoor rides.  This helps mentally as it can get a bit stir-crazy constantly training indoors.  As ever, all my rides will be logged in TrainingPeaks – you can see the overall training plan PMC chart above.  I’ll be following these  plans

  • Sweetspot Base High Volume I – 6 weeks
  • Sweetspot Base High Volume II – 6 weeks
  • Sustained Power Build High Volume – 8 weeks
  • 40k TT Speciality High Volume – 8 weeks

Instead of the TT bike I am using an old road bike frame on the smart-turbo, with all the measurements set as close as possible to my TT position.  I want to reduce the wear and tear on the TT bike and although using a different bike is not optimal, as long as I get the position close enough it should be okay.  That said, around about the middle of January I will be swapping back to the TT bike in order to iron out any positional differences before the season starts.  A welcome side effect so far is that the road bike is MUCH more comfortable on the turbo than the TT bike!

I’d also like to do some changes to the front end on my TT bike, with some new aerobars that provide more of a ski-jump extension than a flat extension.  Initially I’ll try to use the BikeFastFit video app to get the position how I want it viusually, and then hopefully some reasonable weather in the New Year will let me do a bit of outdoor aero testing to fine tune it.

Of course, most of this is just a plan at the moment.  It’s important to have a plan and a sense of how you might get to the outcome you want, but it is equally important to understand that they can and do change and be prepared for that.  However, I have started and it’s going well.  The first task was to re-establish zones by performing an FTP test – using the 20 minute protocol.  These tests are pretty hateful affairs and mentally having a decent music playlist helps tremendously.  I’ve spent a bit of time perfecting mine with tunes that motivate and keep me going.

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A decent start point

At this time last year I started with an FTP of 296W, whilst weighing 68.76Kg.  That means my FTP was 4.3W/Kg.  As you can see, this year I start slightly higher at 298W, which doesn’t seem like a big gain.  However, my current weight is under 63Kg, meaning an FTP of around 4.75W/Kg.  I’ll take that as a starting point!

As I write this post I am coming towards the end of week 5 of Sweetspot Base I and my legs are starting to feel it.  I’ve had some decent outdoor rides including a recent trip over Holme Moss and Audlem CC’s reliability ride both of which were high TSS efforts.  I’m looking forward to a recovery week of lower intensity before my next FTP test which is fast approaching.

In October I managed 625 miles outdoors with 36,355ft ascent at around 16.3mph average, which used up around 24,256kcals. I spent 21 hours and 20 minutes on the turbo using a further 15,914kcals. Total for the month was 3,234 TSS

Videos to Watch on the Turbo

If like me you find it riding the turbo a deadly dull experience, even if you are following a structured plan, you’ll probably try to entertain yourself by watching videos or listening to music.  I follow TrainerRoad on my  mac but have an iPad mini showing videos at the side.  Some people I know like watching cycling videos whilst they train and there is a lot of choice on YouTube.  Over the years I’ve taken a few videos whilst out on my bike so I’ve put a set of links below if anyone is interested in using them.  They aren’t in anyway professionally produced and you’ll probably have to put your own music on in the background but there are a few interesting ones in there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smarter Training – Joe Beer on the Cycling Time Trial Podcast

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@markflorence11

I listen to a few podcasts related to cycling.  Amongst them is one about time-trialling by a chap called Mark Florence and it’s called the Cycling Time Trial Podcast by Mark Florence.  You can subscribe to it through a few different sources – I use iTunes here.  Anyway, it’s a great podcast and he usually has guests who provide insight and information on a range of subjects, all related to time-trialling.  If you’re reading this blog for that reason, you should listen to this guy.

So his last episode introduced a coach named Joe Beer.  I have to say I’d not really heard of him but he’s been coaching endurance sports for a very long time – not just cycling.  He has a white-paper available for download from his website (until 11/2) called Smarter Training – here.  The crux of this paper, and his talk on the podcast, was about training “smarter” and was based on many years of accumulated evidence and data.  I’m not going to reproduce the report here – read it yourself – but I was interested to compare my training approach to the rules that he lists.  As an example, his rule 1 is that 75-90% of your total training time should be in what he terms zone 1.  He defines this as “low lactate” or working at an intensity of 55-80% of your maximum heart rate, so it isn’t the same as, for example, Coggan zones.  Now when I heard this on the podcast, I didn’t quite catch the definition of zone 1 so I thought it was very odd and certainly not something I do.  However, when I looked on TrainingPeaks I realised that his definition of zone 1 encompasses zones 1-3 on the scale I use (80% of my HRmax is around 146bpm and zone 3 tops out for me at 151bpm).  When I added those up I was surprised to find that since I started training at the end of September to now, I’ve spent 76.5% of the time in Joe Beer’s zone 1.  Who am I to argue with that!

Like I say, listen to the podcast and check out the website/white paper.  Very much worth your time in my opinion.

October – and so it all starts again…

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Last month I wrote about the end of the season, taking a short break and then starting training again.  This month my training plan really kicked off in earnest.  I’m using TrainerRoad, starting off with an extended Sweetspot Base high volume plan.  I’ve extended it in two ways.  Firstly, the initial phase of the plan has an extra 3 weeks to fill it out so that I will be ready for the middle of April.  Last season I was ready by the end of February and I struggled to hold fitness through the season so I’m hoping this will help a bit.  I’ll still start racing in March with the first local TT races but will build fitness through that first month.  I’m also aiming to do London Edinburgh London next year so a bit of extra base work won’t hurt.  Secondly I’ve added an extra workout.  Over the last 3 years I’ve adapted to being able to train for 6 days a week so it feels sustainable to continue that now.  And it’s a quality workout focusing on some VO2 max and sweetspot intervals, so it’s not just adding a TSS filler for the sake of it.  The result is a bigger TSS for the month than I’ve ever managed before – I’m going all in this winter!

I’ve also changed my position on the TT bike too which has taken a bit of getting used to.  The saddle is further back and the bars are extended which has the effect of stretching my body out when I’m in TT position. This is an attempt to flatten the Quasimodo-esque hump in my back.  It feels slightly strange but getting better.  I am also trying to do at least some of the training in TT position but it hurts too much on the turbo so I do as much as I can.  It didn’t seem to cause too many problems last season but the more I can manage the better.

A Word on Nutrition

The training I’m doing is very challenging.  The fact is I will be 50 next year so getting the right amount of sleep and eating properly are just as important.  I’m not great on the sleep – the older I get the harder it seems to get a really good nights sleep, no matter how tired I feel.  Also, I’m not going to bore you by listing my diet but there are a couple of things I do which may be of interest, and I’ll share a recipe for homemade protein bars that Liz has refined/concocted from various internet sources – they are really delicious – see below!

So I eat a lot of foods high in nitrates – beetroot, celery, rocket.  I drink cherry juice.  I eat foods that are a source of l-carnitine such as red meat (in moderation), milk and seeds. I also create a smoothie using 175g of frozen blueberries and 300ish ml of chocolate milk, and I eat my own protein bars to aid recovery.  If you’re interested it is worth Googling the benefits of these nutrients to see what you think.

Protein Bars

We found the original recipe online and then adapted it to taste.  These are high calorie protein bars depending upon the size you cut them.  If you cut into 12 bars, or half the ingredients to make 6, then I reckon each bar will be 200-250 kcals but high in protein.  I’m using a lot of calories in my training and my weight (and more importantly my bodyfat %) is coming down very slowly, which is what I am aiming for.

Blend 1 cup of oats until it’s like flour.  Mix in 1.5tsp cinnamon, 6 scoops of chocolate whey protein powder (I use PHD), a 460g jar of smooth peanut butter, about 30g honey, 5 egg whites and about 120ml skimmed milk.  Now I’ve experimented with adding mashed bananas (2 or 3) which was okay but not to my taste.  Instead I added 100g chopped almonds and that was great.  I then added 100g dark chocolate chips and that was even better!  I imagine if dried fruit and/or raisins are your thing you could chuck those in too.

Anyway, mix the lot really well and pour it into a greased or lined baking pan – I think the one Liz uses is about 12x9cm.  It’s baked at gas mark 4 for about 15 to 20 minutes, allowed to cool, cut into as many bars as you need then stored in the fridge.  Mine happily last a week – I wouldn’t recommend longer.

In summary for the month I managed 428 miles with 24,893ft ascent at around 15.3mph average, which used up around 17,693kcals. In addition I spent 24 hours 45 minutes on the turbo using a further 20,340kcal. Total for the month was 2,994TSS

Time to Plan the Winter Training

I don’t know if you’ve noticed yet but the shops are starting to stock Christmas cards.  Depressing isn’t it.  And here I am about to talk about winter training when the season isn’t over yet.  Sorry, but I’m not sorry.

I used to hate turbo training.  In fact I didn’t do any until after my first real season of time-trialling.

At the end of 2012 I’d decided to give it a proper go in 2013.  I took delivery of my first TT bike, a skinsuit and a pointy hat.  I rode my bike a lot at weekends but I did no specific training.  I certainly didn’t use the turbo.  I followed the aero school of get as low as you can.  I was all-in for free speed.  With hindsight, of course, it was anything but a “proper go”.  That year I rode 23 open events.  I set PB’s of 23:06, 57:55, 01:57:02 for 10, 25 and 50 miles respectively.  I was mostly in the top half of the races I entered (which were mainly in Cheshire) and 4 times I broke the top ten.

At the end of the season I realised I needed to train over the winter.  So I bit the bullet and concocted a bit of a training plan that involved the turbo trainer.  I read the black book.  I had some sessions suggested when I took undertook some performance testing.  So I had half an idea.  I took October off (other than social rides) and started in November, and built my training through December, January, February and the start of March.  Once the race season started I relied on racing for training (specifically club 10’s).  In 2014 I  was able to ride 36 opens.  I set new PB’s of 20:48, 54:06 and 01:53:09 for 10, 25 and 50 miles and I rode my first 100 in 04:20:17.  This year I was mostly in the upper quartile and top ten 9 times.  Averaging my speeds across all races I was nearly 1mph faster over all distances.

I wasn’t sure if I could progress much more on my own so I started working with a coach.  My workload over the winter of 2014/2015 was both higher and more structured.  I followed it religiously.  When the season came it was clear that I was in better condition and faster than I had ever been.  Then illness knocked me out for a couple of weeks.  Possibly my body wasn’t able to cope with the increased demands. However, I still set PB’s at 10, 25 and 100 miles of 20:12, 52:30 and 03:52:14 and I was in the top ten in 12 of the 31 opens I rode.

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I was back doing my own thing during the 2015/2016 off-season but I had a much deeper understanding of what I was trying to achieve.  I upped the volume and overall intensity of training again, progressively.  The extra efforts were considerable, the additional gains much harder to come by.  It’s not over yet but by any measure it’s been my most successful season, which I’ll document in a future post.  And the goalposts have moved.  The standard of amateur time-trialling is higher than ever due to better training techniques, aerodynamics and improved equipment.  If you standstill, you go backwards.

The takeaway from all of this is that training is important.  No shit Sherlock.  Yet you’ll be surprised how many people think that a skinsuit, a pointy hat and a TT bike is all you need.  I should know, that was me in 2013.

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So coming into the 2016 season I built my training volume up through November, December, January and February.  I had a 20 minute W/Kg figure in mind as a target for March but that’s not the whole story.  The image above shows % training time spent in specific power zones, from Zone 1 at the bottom to Zone 6 at the top.  Again, I built up to working for longer and harder periods in higher zones, although for time-trialling the most important ones are around threshold level.  The aim for this winter is to do the same again.  I’m currently constructing an approach that will see me using Trainerroad as the basis for it with some personal tweaks on top.  I’ll follow the general approach set out of base, power build and speciality phases.  If you are fairly new to time-trialling, and you are already using a turbo trainer, or planning to, then you are ahead of the game.  My advice would be to use a tool like Trainerroad and/or TrainingPeaks to give you some structure and direction and then follow the plan!  Whilst it can seem daunting, you then just focus on each individual training session, safe in the knowledge that each one you complete is a step in the right direction.

Good luck!

The Lonely Road

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I started training for the 2015 race season in the last week of October.  After nearly 4 months I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.  One more month and the season will be upon me.  Many hours of training on the turbo, hundreds of miles on the road and still the nagging doubt at the back of my mind – is it enough?

I did some field testing yesterday – trying a couple of different positions and saddles, and also trying to get my body to remember what a TT position feels like.  The first few races are always difficult and challenging, and so it was yesterday.  I’ve pencilled in races in March to get myself used to racing again, but field testing plays an important part in the process of making that as quick as possible.  The racing starts in earnest in April, with some rides that will play a large part in whether I achieve my goals for the year.

It’s been a lonely road to get to this point.  I hope it’s been the right road.