No excuses – Part 2

After yesterdays post it occurred to me that it may be useful to follow it up with a slightly more in depth look at the analysis I carried out after realising my fitness wasn’t where it needed to be. Simply telling myself to work harder won’t accomplish much in itself. It’s taken a fairly in-depth analysis of the last few months worth of training diary entries and ride data in order to get a better handle on what went wrong and therefore exactly how to fix it. Here is how I went about it.

  1. Start with the basics.

How did I feel training was going? Looking back through the diary, most of the time my attitude was fairly negative. LSD Training is undoubtedly boring, you can of course make it more interesting by trying new routes or including a cafe stop but after a while the novelty wears off. Perhaps this lack of enjoyment was one reason why I didn’t feel inclined to increase volume when the rides began to feel easier. A training regime that you don’t enjoy is ultimately unsustainable – something that I should have taken into account more back in October when planning the winter. Next time round I’ll adopt a different approach, especially as the main objective in 2018 will be an Ironman it makes more sense to follow a reverse periodisation plan (starting off with high intensity sessions and building volume as the year goes on). If nothing else, that option is far more suited to the UK climate.

2. Take a look at the numbers.

Sounds simple – train more and get better. This does hold true up to a point but does have some significant limitations. My average weekly volume was something in the order of 8-10 hours – similar to that which I had been working at during the summer. Training with a power meter allowed me to quantify the training impact in a different way, using TSS. This is far more useful because it takes both volume and intensity into account. If only I had paid attention earlier, I may have noticed that the weekly training load didn’t significantly increase week by week. At best this will bring about a plateau, long term your fitness may actually decrease.

Taking a good look at my  performance management chart only confirmed this. I was loosely monitoring it throughout my winter training but have to conclude that I should have been paying more attention. My CTL (a measure of fitness) is currently only very slightly higher when compared with this point last year. Judging by the general trend, I allowed myself too much recovery time – with CTL rising during the three ‘hard’ weeks of each mesocycle then dropping considerably in the 4th (i.e a recovery week). This must have reduced the net effect of my base training. No wonder my FTP is so much lower that I might have expected.

3. What happened off the bike?

Compared to last winter – very little. There was no hurried filling in of a University application, less exam revision and most importantly no injury. Sadly this might have been a double-edged sword, leading to a large amount of complacency. Last year Cycling was my number one priority, everything was designed around training. This time round it has been a little different, there are more demands on my time and the novelty accompanying structured training has long since worn off. Like many fellow Cyclists I don’t especially enjoy analysing data files.

Last winter I was terrified of gaining a large amount of weight as a result of being injured. This made it much easier to be sensible in terms of festive indulgences. I have calorie data to back this up, last time in the two weeks before and subsequently after New Year my average intake was about 3,000/day. This year it was closer to 3,500. Hence the weight gain that has lead to a reduced power to weight ratio.

4. Why?

I have mentioned much of this already, but nonetheless found it useful to write down a summary of the reasons why things went wrong so as to learn from it in the future. Here they are.

  1. Trying to follow a training plan that I knew would be boring.
  2. Not carrying out enough analysis.
  3. Neglecting my nutrition.
  4. Too much recovery during rest weeks.

In the past I’ve tended to dwell on mistakes like this and have long since learnt that it’s just about the least helpful thing you can do. Will worrying about it make it any better? No. Anything I can go back and change? No. Having given myself a justly deserved telling off, it’s now time to move on that think of some solutions…

  1. Come up with a more interesting, varied and specific training program.

This morning I sat down and had a good look at the power file from the last Road Race that I completed. A few things stood out. It involved a good amount time spend in the higher power zones (5-7) and those in the middle range (3-4).  The Race lasted two hours and covered 55 miles – my A race in April should be very similar.

No real need then for a large amount of LSD training – thank god. One ride per week lasting 3+ hours should be enough to maintain endurance. Instead my training should focus on muscular and anaerobic endurance. In other words, threshold work for the former and short high intensity interval sessions for the latter. Time to get some speed back.

This type of training won’t be easy – I need to find ways of enjoying it, I’m under no illusions in that it won’t all be fun but nonetheless things can be done. I might decide to go for a few Strava KOM’s (i.e. hills of varying length) rather than doing a structured interval session – the competition will make me work harder. I’ll start competing in TT’s once the season starts – again the incentive of a PB or high placing will make it easier to get the most out of the training.

2. Test more regularly.

Before, I’ve tended to do FTP tests every 12 weeks. I realise now that this probably isn’t often enough at this level, if something is amiss I’d like to know about it sooner rather than later. An increase will provide much sought after motivation, a plateau an incentive to work harder and a decrease an indication that it’s time to back off for a few days.

3. Devise a realistic nutrition strategy.

It’s not likely that I’ll be-able to go for the next three months with nothing in the way of treats. Trying to go ‘cold turkey’ on previous occasions has only ever worked for a couple of weeks, followed by a guilt ridden binge. Instead I’ll be going with a moderate option, eating natural foods 80% of the time and not worrying too much about the other 20. My diet could certainly do with more iron and a little less in the way of sugar. In terms of post-ride nutrition, I certainly need to time it better – not simply eating everything in sight after getting through the door.

4. Optimise recovery.

At the relatively young age of 20, I should be-able to recover from most workouts with relative ease. Unfortunately this hasn’t ever been the case, I certainly seem to need more rest than most of my peers (judging by the Strava data anyway). My rate of recovery is usually about the same as that of my father (with a 30 year age difference). If I am to seriously improve I’ll need to train harder for longer, that means improving recovery time.

The cause of this poor recovery has been very hard to pin down. My best guess is that it’s due to several factors; nutrition (as mentioned above), lack of sleep, poor ability to manage life stress and tendency to make easy workouts too hard. The upside to this is having a big incentive to work on all of the above. With the high volume associated with Ironman training, becoming a master of recovery will be extremely useful.

5) Set realistic goals.

Sadly, I’ve had to lower my sights somewhat in terms of what I can expect from the first half of the season. It would be foolish to assume that I can condense five months worth of improvement into two. Setting achievable and measurable goals should help massively in terms of motivation when things get tough – which they of course will.

In summary, I have a lot of work to do. You’re not the only one who  (probably) found bits of this post very tedious. I hope however that it does provide a few ideas as to how to proceed upon encountering a fitness plateau – once you’ve ruled out overtraining as the cause.

Stay tuned.

Which Bike Part should you upgrade first?

Following on from the last post which I hope I laid any any fears that not having the very best equipment would hold you back to rest. I thought it sensible to talk about the best order in which to purchase upgrades and what to focus on when looking at a new bike.  Not everyone will agree, but hopefully it will provide a good starting point. Here goes

  1. Frame.

Truth be told, there isn’t much point in putting lipstick on a pig. If it comes down to a choice of a lesser frameset with higher end wheels/groupset etc or slightly cheaper components and a better one, always go with the latter. Quite simply – the frame is what everything else bolts on to, much like the chassis of a car. A good frame will be the best starting point for any future upgrades. My top tip would be to go for high end alloy over cheap carbon, the material is undergoing a major resurgence at present and the weight penalty is often smaller than you might think. Need convincing? Just read this review of the Cannondale CAAD12. 

2. Pedals, Saddle and Handlebars.

Why? These are the contact points, in other words those that probably make the biggest difference to the feel of the bike. Finding the right saddle for you often involves some trial and error but is well worth it once you succeed – an incorrectly fitting saddle can cause more pain than any hard training session. Most bikes don’t come with Clipless pedals (the choice of the great majority of road riders). There are a wide variety of systems to choose from; Shimano, Look and Speedplay to name a few. You can spend as much or as little as you want here though I’d recommend going for at least Shimano 105 level, having had a nasty experience with a very cheap cleat breaking during a sprint – resulting in two weeks off and some very painful road rash. Much like saddles, handlebars come in a variety of shapes and sizes – it’s a matter of finding the right one for you. For instance, as a smaller rider I prefer to ride with a 40 cm bar as a pose to the 42 cm you’ll find with most bikes as standard. None of these upgrades cost a fortune and all can significantly improve your experience.

3. Wheels, tubes and tyres

A decent pair of wheels can make a very big difference to the overall feel of a bike. Manufacturers often spec new bikes with very cheap models as a means to get the cost down. You really don’t have to spend a fortune, my pick of the bunch would be Fulcrum Racing 3’s. I’ve found them to be robust and long lasting – with greater stiffness and of a lower weight than most stock wheels. A decent pair of tyres can also make a difference, at the time of writing many bikes still come with the 23mm variety as standard – 25mm tyres offer reduced rolling resistance, improved handling and greater comfort. For racing I tend to go with the Schwalbe One‘s, for training I use Continental Gatorskins, in my experience these can’t be beaten for puncture resistance. If you really want to reduce the weight of your bike, latex inner tubes coupled with lighter tyres can be a good place to start.

4. Groupset.

In all honesty this does tend to be expensive. You can of course just change parts as they wear out and upgrade drivetrain components gradually. Again, a better groupset will likely knock a couple of hundred grams from the weight of your steed but what you’ll notice most will be improved shifting and braking. In terms of value for money, Shimano 105 is about as good as it gets – failing that Shimano Tiagra is a good budget option (it’s basically the old ten speed 105 with a slightly more modern look). For me – I’d always look to upgrade the brakes before anything else as manufacturers own-brand units do tend to be a bit substandard (from my own experience – sometimes downright scary).

5. Power meter

I’m going to use the examples above to illustrate something. Once you have a bike of this kind of spec (lets say a CAAD12 frame, Correctly fitting saddle and handlebar, Clipless pedals, Racing 3’s with Schwalbe One’s and sporting a 105 Groupset) it really won’t hold you back in races, sportives or whatever events you choose to do. In fact I’ve seen people do very well on far more modestly specced machines. Before buying deep section wheels, carbon handlebars etc – invest in a power meter. I can testify that working with one has made a massive difference to my training and seriously improved my performance – if you’d like to find out more then this book is a brilliant starting point. If you only ride for fun then it’s probably not necessary to get one – however if you are looking to improve performance then look no further.

So far I have only talked about bike parts. It hasn’t escaped my attention that anyone reading this who happens to be new to Cycling might have some questions regarding kit. Unfortunately, especially if you live in the UK you will need to buy gear for just about every eventuality. If you have a tight budget, I’d recommend spending most of it on a decent pair of shorts. I have had a very positive experience with Wiggle’s dhb range –  never having experienced an issue with the quality of this kit. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it’s better than some of the more expensive offerings (Having had to send two pairs of shorts from a more ‘established’ kit provider back in the space of one season owning to the stitching falling apart). A separate post covering this in more detail is on the way.

To finish with – just remember that it’s always best to invest in yourself before your bike. You can make very large gains with improved training, nutrition and recovery. Marginal improvements are important for professionals but don’t lose sight of the bigger ones that make a much greater difference for us mere mortals. Let’s face it – you do look a bit silly riding a pro-standard bike if you are 20kg overweight.

As always – Stay tuned for more.

7 Reasons to start Bike Racing this season

Hello and welcome to the first ‘useful’ post of 2017. I have saved it for this time of year, when I suspect many of us will be having the debate – to race or not to race? If you have decided to give it a go, take a look at this page for info that will come in useful. If you are still unsure, this post might help to provide a guideline as to whether you are ready to take to the startline for the first time. I hope that this post should provide a kick in the right direction – here are my top reasons to start racing.

  1. Your motivation will be sky high.

For most of us those first few races are something of a steep learning curve – that is to say they involve a through thrashing. Doing badly in your first race is nothing to be ashamed of and in the long term actually prove beneficial. Nothing provides quite such a good incentive to lose a few pounds, get up in the morning for that turbo session, follow a structured training plan and generally improve your riding.

2. Training effect

Following on from the last point – in my experience it is very difficult to push as hard in training as in racing itself. Competitiveness serves to wring out those last few watts, yes it hurts but the benefits can be massive. I’d challenge any rider to say they didn’t emerge from that first season of racing fitter than they ever were before (assuming they didn’t end up overtrained that is). Want to be the best cyclist you can be? Enter a race.

3. New bike day – if you like.

Just between you and I – unless you happen to be riding a 20 year old frame then your bike is unlikely to be holding you back. Never be put off entering a race because you don’t have top of the range equipment. It is the rider that wins – not the bike. If you do happen to be in a fortunate position, racing provides a brilliant excuse with which to convince your significant other that you need a new machine. Deep section wheels, power meters and various other pieces of equipment now begin to make more sense.

4. Rewards are sweet.

Of course it is satisfying to do well in a sportive or other non-competitive event, competing against yourself can bring much satisfaction. Let me tell you – it doesn’t compare to the feeling that accompanies doing well in a race. Personally I have never been so proud of myself as when I got to stand on a podium for the first time. All the sacrifices you make in preparation suddenly become worth it.

5. It isn’t that expensive.

Once again don’t be dissuaded if you have a tight budget, for more on this check out this post. Races are far cheaper than most sportives (at the time of writing most closed circuit races cost about £15). British Cycling membership is more costly than I would like but it does provide many benefits.

6. Bragging rights.

Lets face it – being able to wow your club mates with heroic tales of racing exploits is a tantalising prospect. Especially if they don’t race themselves, you may get away with some artistic licence. A few old favourites include “I was first in my age group” or “I attacked at the wrong time and got caught”, for purposes of this post I won’t include the translations. If nothing else you can give yourself a pat on the back for taking the plunge when many others choose to stay at home.

 

 

7. Why not?

In all likelihood, the worst that can happen is crashing or getting dropped. Neither of those things represent the end of the world. If you don’t give racing a try then you’ll never know whether or not it happens to be for you. You can even enter without a full race license, though this will render you illegible for any points should you finish in the top ten (more on this here). In my case I can’t see myself entering another crit for a very long time, but road racing still has much appeal.

As a final note. Racing has taught me a great deal about Cycling and possibly even more about myself. It has bought lows but also some amazing highs. Yes it may turn out not be to your liking but giving it a go won’t hurt and I would urge anyone to do so.

On that, goodbye from me.

How to stay motivated in Winter

Firstly, apologies that it’s been so long since the last post. Sadly I’ve had a great deal of work to do towards the latter end of the Semester and the blog has had to take a back seat. Fear not, normal service will soon be resumed.

I’ve been looking to write a post on this for a while – I decided to wait until it really felt like Winter (i.e. sub zero temperatures, darkness and massive amounts of mud), so as to remind myself what riding at this time of the year felt like. Yesterday I completed a training session I’d been dreading all week – a 5 hour endurance ride, with some 20% gradients thrown in to keep it ‘interesting’. Truth be told I felt crap the whole way round – as is the norm the day before the start of a rest week. It has served a useful purpose, in order to avoid turning round I had to use just about every trick I have learned over the years just to keep going. Here are my top tips.

  1. Enter an event and train for it.

Picture this; Sunday morning, freezing outside, legs a bit tired and the prospect of a day off sounds very appealing. It is very hard to get out the door unless you have something to push you. Enter a challenging event taking place in early spring, think about how it will feel to do well where others will fail (i.e. those who stay at home when the going gets tough). It is much easier to stay motivated to train if you have something to target. Obvious as this sounds it is a mistake I’ve made in the past – riding aimlessly is all well and good in the summer but for most of us will not lead to good things during the colder months.

2. Set intermediate goals – measure your progress.

This one does tie in with the last point, but is useful nonetheless. Say your event is in February, in November this can still seem like a very long way away. Winter riding can be monotonous, often feeling like you are making little or no progress. Seeing some improvement can provide a large mental boost, much easier to keep going if you know your training is having the desired affect. Knowing that your regime isn’t working is of course also useful – you can change to one that does rather than wasting your time. For more on this click here and Here.

3. Take the Summer bike from time to time.

It won’t hurt to go for the odd blast, on one of those rare sunny days. Riding my race bike makes for a very nice change from my heavier and less well fitting winter machine. It reminds me of what it is like to ride in summer and that training won’t always be such a long, cold grind. Yes, your pride and joy might get a bit muddy but it will help you to blow the cobwebs away.

4. Include some variety in your training.

There is almost nothing more dull than doing the same thing over and over again. If nothing else, it’s not good training and can lead to staleness, more on this here. If you tend to do long steady rides mix in some shorter, sharper sessions and vice versa. This can also take the form of simply trying some new routes, rather than that same old mid-week loop over and over again. I often treat winter endurance rides as an exploration – seeing new sites takes my mind off the riding and time tends to pass much more quickly.

5. Try other sports.

This can be a very useful tool for maintaining some level of fitness whilst keeping your mind fresh, especially during the early part of the Winter (i.e. during or just after the end of season break). I’ll admit to enjoying going for the odd run – it provides a good cardiovascular workout in a short space of time, burning more calories per mile than cycling. From a health point of view this helps to maintain bone mineral density by virtue of being weight bearing exercise. It should however be noted that as the Cycling season approaches it is better to spend your time on the bike.

6. Join a club.

I’m unusual in that I prefer to ride on my own most of the time, nonetheless being part of a club is useful. Making plans to ride with others is a surefire way to minimise the chance of backing out at the last minute. Riding with others can make those long rides pass by far more quickly and can be a good way of getting in some intensity so as not to completely lose your edge during the winter. If feeling lazy – one trick I regularly use is that of simply looking at my Strava feed and seeing what other people have done, motivating me to get out and train in order to be-able to keep up with them come the summer.

7. Indulge yourself.

It is ok to put on some weight in Winter, within reason. Like many Cyclists I first got into the sport primarily in order to lose weight – I still maintain a love of food. Sometimes the thought of allowing myself an extra mince pie or similar as a reward will spur me on to ride that bit further or faster. Sustaining race weight (i.e. a very low body fat percentage) all year round is very difficult. Just be sure not to overdo it and it will be relatively easy to lose those extra pounds during the Spring.

8. Be sensible.

Sometimes it just isn’t a good idea to ride. It it is icy, snowing or blowing a gale then staying at home is the best option. No training session is worth risking life and limb for, better to miss one ride than end up getting injured or worse. Plan ahead, look at the forecast for the week and schedule rides for the best looking days if you can. If you can’t do a long ride just swap in a shorter indoor session.

For today – that is all. Having just submitted my last assignment, it’s time to catch up on the last three months of TV. Hope you enjoyed this post – feel free to comment if there is anything you feel ought to be added. As ever, stay tuned.

Training with Power – What I’ve learned.

Before starting the post, just some quick housekeeping. This week I’ve made an effort to get a few more visitors to the site – making it easier to comment, share and follow. If you haven’t yet, check out the facebook page. It would be great if you could share any content that you’ve found particularly helpful. Fellow bloggers, I’m happy to post links to your sites if you’ll do the same for this one.

Secondly – I’m looking for some general feedback on the layout of the site. Is there anything that could be made easier about the navigation, do any pages need a rethink etc? Also, are there any posts that you would like to see on the site? As ever, any constructive comments are always appreciated. Right – boring bit over.

Training with Power – my experience so far

It’s in every training manual. If you really want to get better, buy a power meter. Back in February I was curious as to whether the hype was worth it. I was also in a tricky position, having lost a large amount of fitness through injury and facing the task of getting to Race fitness by April. To that end, I decided to invest in one such device. More specifically a Stages system, one of the more budget friendly options.

One of the first things I noticed was how much easier it was to keep to the right training zone. I’d only ever used RPE before, considering heart rate to be too unreliable. I realised I’d made a classic mistake in my training, making the easy sessions too hard and the hard sessions too easy – reducing the overall quality. It made me push harder as well, seeing your output will make you want to sustain the effort for the full amount of time.

Another was how useful the numbers could be in relation to overtraining, though not after I’d made a mess of things the first time round. Back in late June I set off for a threshold session (classic 2×20), I felt absolutely fine – only when I saw how low my power output was did I begin to question matters. Ordinarily I can sustain about 280W for a 20 minute interval, that day 250 was a struggle. I pressed on, thinking there might be something wrong with power meter itself. Wrong – the next day I was ill, this was the start of a bout of overtraining. In short – the numbers don’t lie.

Making sense of vast amount of data that I was suddenly provided with did prove to be a struggle at first. However, after reading a few books (more on this later) I learnt that the most useful information could be gleaned from a 5 minute post-ride analysis.

My personal favourite metric is that of TSS, which basically quantifies the training impact of the ride – taking into account both volume and intensity. For example, riding for 1 hour at threshold = approximately 100 TSS. I’ve done 4 hour rides that only equated to 150. Many a time, I hadn’t worked as hard as I might have thought, just by looking at the length or average speed of a ride. TSS is a far better number around which to build a training program than training volume (e.g. you might aim for 500 TSS/Week).

It’s motivating to see a positively sloping line on a graph, displaying increased fitness (known as CTL). Your fatigue is also tracked (ATL). The balance between the two is known as TSB – essentially it is a measure of form. Using these numbers, you have a far better chance of coming into form at the right time. It’s a matter of reducing ATL whilst maintaining CTL to as greater extent as possible, reaching an optimum TSB.

Right – geek stuff over. I must admit that it isn’t always plain sailing, it can be frustrating if the numbers don’t improve. You can begin to feel like a slave to the data. Nowadays, for some rides I’ll keep my power meter on but not have any numbers displayed on the Garmin. From time to time it’s good to just go and ride a bike, without any particular objective in mind.

It is also easy to lose sight of the simple fact that power isn’t everything. My power to weight ratio at FTP was 4.5 W/Kg at the time of my first Race, I recently had a VO2 max that put it at 67. These numbers are about average for a 2nd Cat. I still got dropped within the first five minutes of 4th Cat closed circuit race. Technique and tactics are important too, arguably more so at lower levels.

That’s not to mention the costs, though they are falling all the time. You can pick up a decent one-sided power meter for around £350, still a lot of money. If you don’t compete and just ride for fun, it’s not worth it. Unless you are lucky enough to have a coach, in order to make the most of a power meter you have to put in some effort. The numbers you see whilst out on the bike are only half the story.

If you really want to get faster then buying one will make more of a difference than any piece of aero or lightweight equipment. As we all know, it is the rider that wins the race – not the bike. I am in no doubt that training with power has made me far fitter than I have ever been before.

. If you are interested in investing – here are some useful links.

  • The Power Meter handbook by Joe Friel Provides an excellent introduction to the principles of training with power, it’s a very easy read and easily contains enough information to get you started with the analysis.
  • For something more advanced, try Training and Racing with a Power Meter. To my knowledge, what isn’t in this book probably isn’t worth knowing. I haven’t yet had a question that wasn’t answered somewhere within.
  • For a really quick guide to getting started with power, take a look at this video .

For today, that’s all from me. Stay tuned.

Ps – Would anyone like to see a more detailed post on training with power, any questions that other sources haven’t answered?

 

How to avoid Overtraining.

I’ve mentioned this once or twice before, as part of my posts on training and the use of data. However, it has occurred to me that a dedicated post may be of more use. Like most of us, I’ve overtrained at various points in the past – I’ve also studied it as part of my degree.

Firstly – what exactly is overtraining? In the Cyclists Training Bible, it’s defined as a decreased work capacity (i.e. inability to train, decreased performance or simply a fitness plateau) resulting from an imbalance between training and rest (i.e. not enough recovery). For many of us, the natural response to poor Race performance is to train harder, most of the time this isn’t the answer.

For me, it happened during the Summer of 2015. I found myself with a large amount of time on my hands having just finished my exams. At the time I’d never read anything about how to train properly and made the assumption that more was always better. I increased my training volume from eight to eleven hours per week. As you might imagine, it wasn’t pretty. I endured months of frustration, puzzled by a lack of improvement and regularly finding myself too fatigued to ride. I learned the how to avoid overtraining, the hard way. Here are some tips.

 

  • Include recovery periods within your training.

Remember – it is during recovery that adaptation and therefore improvement occurs. Exercise itself will break muscle down. From time to time you need to take a break in order to offload cumulative fatigue and allow yourself adequate time to recover.

This applies even if you aren’t following a structured plan. A good rule of thumb is to halve your usual training volume every 4th week (make it every 3rd if you are over 40 or are new to the sport). I wouldn’t advise completing any high intensity sessions during the early part (i.e. the first four days) of a rest week. These weeks can also be used to taper for races and carry out any tests.

 

  • Increase volume or intensity in small increments only.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that more hours of training, or riding hard every time will always make you faster. It will work as long as it is done with a degree of caution. It is advised not to increase annual training hours by more than 5-10% year on year (this works out at around 1 hour extra per week).

This is particularly relevant for anyone coming from a Sportive background (more on this here). You might decide to include a greater number of high intensity sessions than before, to prepare for short & sharp races. If doing so, reduce volume. The idea is to keep your training load the same, or to increase it by a small, manageable amount.

 

  • Don’t train when ill.

Another one I’ve learned the hard way. My advice would be to avoid training all together if you have any signs of cold or flu – especially if the symptoms are below the neck (i.e. aching muscles, fever). It will likely make the problem worse – prolonging your recovery time. In extreme cases, training when ill can be fatal.

Missing 1-3 days of training will have a negligible affect on your fitness. Much better to miss one or two sessions in order to recover from illness than push on and have to take two weeks off.

 

  • Listen to your body. If you feel too tired you probably are.

We’ve all been there. A hard interval session or five hour endurance ride planned – only you feel knackered and really don’t want to go out. Chances are, there is a reason for this. Either stay at home or complete an easier session instead.

Numbers can also be useful here. If your power output is very low for a given perceived exertion, it’s time to turn round. The same applies to heart rate if abnormally low or high (say 10 bpm difference). Back in July I ignored one such warning and carried on – I had to take ten days off afterwards.

 

  • Optimise your recovery.

This is really several points contained in one. Obvious as this sounds, the better your recovery the smaller the chance of overtraining and the greater the performance gains. Here are a few tips;

Eat right. Stick to natural foods whenever possible. Refuel appropriately during a ride, consume a good quality recovery drink during the first 30 minutes after it has finished. If you can, avoid alcohol – at the very least don’t consume it on training days.

Get more sleep. Your bed is one of the most effective recovery tools. If you can, try to get an extra hour or so of sleep per night. For more on this, click here.

Avoid stress where possible. Ok, for most of us this is much easier said than done. We all have commitments outside of Cycling. If you often find yourself very stressed – it can be worth looking into relaxation techniques. Click here for more on this.

Save hard sessions for days off – or after work. If you have a physical job, it’s better to complete a training session after coming home (I appreciate this isn’t always possible). The harder the session, the more you’ll need to rest in order to recover from it. Ideally, you’d train in the morning and spend the rest of the day lying down, with the inclusion of a midday nap. Of course this is highly unrealistic in most cases, but you get the point.

Don’t Race too often. Racing is hard, very hard. Yes it is good to get experience, and there is no better training to prepare for racing than racing itself. However, too much can easily lead to overtraining. You are more likely to miss warning signs during a Race than in training – carrying on could be dangerous. Once again, if in doubt listen to your body and rest. If nothing else; racing is far more fun, crashing less likely and chances of a points finish higher if your legs and brain are fresh.

Take a break at the end of the Season. This does tie in with the first point but I wanted to give it special attention. It’s yet another mistake I’ve made – trying to carry all my fitness from one season over to the next. What this lead to was a severe bout of overtraining, 5 hours per week was all I could physically manage. In much the same was as a rest week at the end of a training block, taking 2-6 weeks away from riding is designed to completely offload fatigue. After a busy Race season, physical and psychological tiredness are likely to have set in. Click here for a useful GCN Video.

You don’t have to take the time off immediately after your last event. In fact it can be useful to carry    on training for a month or so, simply because it makes the Winter shorter. In addition, there is no reason why you can’t exercise during this time – just be sure to make it low volume and low intensity. Now is the time to try other sports or simply spend more time with family, it will leave you feeling refreshed and highly motivated to get back in the saddle.

It’s not a bad idea to take a shorter break in the middle of the season, for much the same reasons as discussed above. After taking ten days off at the beginning of August I came back in the form of my life. I had more success in the last three weeks of the season than in the previous four months

There we go. Hopefully, doing all of the above will allow you to avoid overtraining and have a successful season. In reality, there is always some trial and error involved in determining optimal volume and intensity. As you gain more experience, you’ll learn the signs that indicate you might be pushing it too much – there is no universal set of symptoms. Here however, are some common ones to look out for.

. Physical

  • Decreased performance, or plateau.
  • Weight loss.
  • Appetite loss
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Increased susceptibility to illness.
  • Increased resting heart rate (4-5 bpm or more above normal and you shouldn’t train that day).
  • Frequent injuries
  • Greater than usual muscle soreness

. Psychological

  • Apathy
  • Lethargy
  • Concentration problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest (applies to both cycling and life in general)
  • Mood swings
  • Low self esteem

You’ll have noticed that most of these symptoms are fairly generic. Hence why it can be tricky to know for sure if you are overtrained. As a rule to thumb, if you experience any number of these symptoms without any other obvious cause – take a couple of days off and cut back on volume for a 1-2 weeks. See if the situation improves. Take overtraining seriously, it has ended careers and probably has negative long term effects. It often ends in complete burnout, causing people to drop out of the sport all together.

 

For today, that’s all. As always, any constructive feedback is appreciated. Goodnight.

 

 

Coping with a Cycling Injury.

I’ve spoken plenty of times about fracturing my Clavicle last December. For anyone who hasn’t read this blog before, I didn’t see a pothole whilst out on a social ride. The next thing I can remember is waking up in a hedge on the other side of the road a few minutes later. My injury required surgery, I was off the bike for a total of eight weeks. In short, I have  first hand experience of the highs and lows that injury and subsequent recovery can bring.

It is a sad inevitability that you will crash at some point during your Cycling career. Most of the time you’ll be fine after a few days, but if you do incur a more serious injury the recovery can be both long and painful. Here are my top tips on how to get to the other side

  1. Don’t be a hero – listen to the Doctor.

The single worst thing you can do is to try and force recovery or return to training too early. This could lead to a much longer total recovery time. Listen to advice and stick to the rehab guidelines you are given. Much better to have eight weeks off the bike than try to return after four, suffer a recurrence of the injury and have to avoid riding for another three months.

If you need painkillers to sleep through the night in the first few days after injury – take them, you’ll sleep better and recover faster. No point in going through unnecessary pain, suffering on the bike is one thing but this is another.

2. Don’t beat yourself up.

Yes, if you’d done things differently you wouldn’t have gotten injured. Ultimately you didn’t – no point in worrying about it now. For me, thinking extensively about all the what-ifs lead to anxiety, stress and a pretty terrible mood. These will all be detrimental to your recovery, not to mention the strain placed on family and friends.

We are all human, mistakes are going to be made. If the injury was directly your fault (which is actually fairly unlikely), forgive yourself for it and move on. Remember, it could be much worse – some people crash and don’t survive.

3. Use goal setting.

I went into some more detail on why this strategy works and how to use it effectively in my post on Mental Skills for Bike Racing, click here to read it. Breaking the recovery process down into smaller steps and setting achievable goals can make it seem less overwhelming. Just be sure that your goals fit in with any rehab instructions you have been given.

When I was first injured, eight weeks seemed like a massive space of time to be off the bike. I learned to think only in terms of the next few days; trying to achieve a given goal, rewarding myself when it was done and then moving onto the next step. For example in week three my main goal was to start exercising properly again in the form of running. I still had some pain in my shoulder and this was easier said than done. I had of course checked with a Doctor that light running wouldn’t harm my recovery.

I felt much better for doing the exercise, it got me out of the door again and made me feel more in control. As time went on I gradually returned to training, rewarding myself for the making steady progress and looking back on how far I had come rather than how far I had to go.

4. Occupy yourself – make use good use of the time.

You’ll find that being unable to ride leaves you with a massive amount of free time. Boredom can be real enemy, leaving you lots of time to think about being injured and feel sorry for yourself. If you have any other hobbies, now is the time to get more into them – if not, find one fast. You can turn this newfound time to your advantage.

I occupied my lay-off time by reading training manuals, trying to work out how to avoid past mistakes and make myself faster upon returning to the sport. The knowledge I gained during those two months was instrumental in what was to eventually turn into a successful Racing Season. In fact it was what got me interested in the field of Sports Science, prompting me to apply for a degree therein. You never know.

5.Watch what you eat.

In the absence of training, it can be very easy to let good dietary habits slide. I often  found myself reaching for the cookie jar out of boredom. With no events on the calendar, there wasn’t much of an incentive to keep my weight down. I had to work hard to lose what I had put on when I did make a return to Cycling, ideally this time would have been devoted to putting on muscle and gaining power rather than losing weight. Sadly, the latter was a necessity.

It goes without saying that eating unhealthily, or simply too much will be detrimental to both your recovery and future performance on the bike. You will have to cope with hunger in the first couple of weeks following injury, your body is used to eating a certain amount and having less will leave you feeling unsatisfied to start with. Again, goal setting can be a useful tool here.

6. Plan a Comeback.

Ok, this does tie in somewhat with the last two points but it is useful nonetheless. It will make it easier to comply with rehab and be sensible with your diet if there is a real incentive at the end. After a long lay off and consequent loss of fitness, it can be tempting to simply not return to Cycling. Speaking from experience, you start to get used to the more sedentary lifestyle and entering back into a training regime can seem daunting.

I’d put off making an appearance in the Racing world and may well have done so for another season it it hadn’t been for getting injured. It was entering a Road Race that got me through those first few hard sessions and made me stick to a proper plan.

7) Buy a new Bike

On a less serious note – there is never a better time to acquire a new machine. You’ll want to ride it, giving you something to look forward to during the recovery process. Your significant other will likely be feeling very generous and sympathetic, more receptive to an expensive suggestion.

It may be that your old machine was written off at the point of injury. Leaving you with no choice but to invest in a new one – and of course an upgraded model may in fact be better value in the long term. Every cloud and all that.

For today, I’ll finish with this. At the time, getting injured seemed like the end of the world – in fact for me it was a blessing in disguise, this blog would have never come about otherwise. As ever, stay tuned.

 

Mental Skills for Bike Racing

This post has long been on my to do list. Truth be told, I was always cynical about the mental aspect of performance and how much of a difference it could really make. That was until I had to come back from injury, if felt like a massive mountain to climb and I wasn’t sure where to start or even if I’d be-able to do it.

I had to develop mental strategies, breaking the process down into steps and finding ways of keeping myself motivated. I’ve also applied this to Racing, learning to manage my emotions and change my mentality so as to perform better. Just to warn you, this is a long post, I have divided it into sections with this in mind. Anyway, lets begin.

 

Part 1: Response to Anxiety

It is perfectly normal to experience anxiety (i.e. a nervousness, apprehension and worry) before a race – healthy in fact. Different individuals will experience different levels of anxiety, I for example would describe myself as highly trait anxious – meaning I am naturally inclined to perceive situations as more threatening. Trait anxiety is a personality disposition – your level of trait anxiety will determine what is known as state anxiety, the anxiety you experience relating to a situation.

It is a myth that anxiety is always a bad thing – it is the perception of anxiety that makes the difference. Essentially, anxiety can either be viewed as facilitative or debilitative, the critical factor in determining which is that of control. If you feel in control (that is say, feel as if achievement of your goal is possible and that you can cope with the anxiety) – anxiety will be facilitative. Likewise, if you approach the situation with a more negative mentality (say “I’ll never stay with the bunch in this race”), your anxiety will become debilitative.

What is the point of all this? I hear you asking. Anxiety has both psychological and physical components. Hence the physiological response will differ depending on whether or not you experience facilitative or debilitative anxiety. With facilitative anxiety, you will enter a challenge state – this involves a number of physiological changes (i.e. increased cardiac output and improved bloodflow to the brain). In this state, you will perform better. With debilitative anxiety, you will respond by entering a threat state – this has a negative affect on performance.

It is also worth mentioning arousal levels. Arousal is defined as a blend of psychological and physical activation varying along continuum. Basically, it describes how “Pshyched up” you are before a Race. Individuals have different optimal levels of arousal, finding yours may take some experimentation. I perform best at a high level of arousal, when going into a race in a very relaxed state my mind will wander and I will be less inclined to suffer for the sake of doing well. Thankfully, achieving a high level of arousal before a race is easy for me – being highly trait anxious.

In summary, interpretation of anxiety has an effect on physiological response and therefore on race performance. It is natural to experience anxiety before a race and it is not always a negative thing. Arousal level is also important and the optimum level differs between individuals.

 

Part 2 – Positive thinking

After reading the above, you may now be asking yourself – how do I bring about this challenge response so as to perform as well as possible? From my own experience I can say that positive thinking is key, going into a race thinking you will do badly usually leads to just that. Sadly, I’m a natural pessimist – I can remember lining up for my first race, looking at the other riders and their expensive bikes and thinking “I can’t hope to compete with this lot”. To that end I have had to develop strategies to bring about a more positive mentality.

I am always full of self doubt and worry on the morning of a race. This won’t ever change, it is the same before an exam or any other challenge I am confronted with. I am careful to allocate some time to sitting down and going over a few key points in my head – bringing myself round to a more positive state.

Firstly I visualise doing well in the race – early in the season this meant not getting dropped in the first few laps, later on it meant a points finish. I focus very heavily on achieving success rather than worrying about failure.

Next I remind myself that the result of the race is not a matter of life and death. Failure is not desirable but it won’t be the end of the world either. I don’t ride my bike for a living – I train and race for the sake of challenging myself and having fun in the process. It is my choice to enter a given race, what is the point of paying for it if the experience isn’t enjoyed?

I then remember that there are things I cannot control. I can only focus on my own performance, there is absolutely nothing I can do if a competitor produces the ride of his life and goes on to win the race. I don’t get annoyed with myself anymore for simply doing badly in a race, only giving myself a telling off if I know I didn’t give it my all and failed to achieve my goal as a result. My fundamental goal for any race is do the absolute best that I can, no point in worrying about the performance of anyone else.

Following on, I think about what I have done in order to get to this point. For example all the miles I put in during the cold and wet winter when most others would have stayed at home and the lung burning interval sessions done in preparation for racing. Assuming I’ve prepared properly, this boosts my confidence. I find it helpful to think of my rivals neglecting their training and eating too much (I’m sure this isn’t the case in reality, but it’s a useful lie to tell myself). Thinking of the work I have put in also helps me to push myself that bit harder.

Lastly I use a cue phrase. Just before the flag is dropped I repeat it to myself. Upon hearing this phrase in my head, I know it is time to race – time to switch my focus to the task at hand. It is important to have an external focus when racing as a pose to an internal one. This means focusing on what is going on around you (i.e. the race itself) rather than looking inwards (i.e. thinking about what you are having for dinner tonight).

You might not need to develop a strategy as extensive as this, I suspect most individuals are far less neurotic than myself. It is just an example to illustrate the point. Think positively in the run up to a race and make sure your mind is on the task at hand once the event gets underway. The above involves a mixture of self talk and imagery, for more on these click here.

 

Part 3 – Goal setting

It is likely that you have a goal in mind when it comes to racing, be it achieving a podium finish or simply staying with the bunch. An effective goal setting strategy increases motivation and therefore performance. Personally, I find it difficult to get out the door and train if I haven’t got some kind of goal in place – especially at this time of year. For an explanation of why goal setting works, click here.

As per usual, I made a complete mess of it first time round. Back in January, I was very motivated to get back into Cycling. Unfortunately, I was a little overenthusiastic in the goals I set for myself – planning to go under the hour in a 40km TT, Ride a sub 5-hour century and Move up to 3rd Cat. For me, achieving all of these in the space of one season simply wasn’t possible. Eventually I had to go back and revise my plan – focusing only on the last of these initial goals.

A handy acronym when it comes to goal setting is SMART. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Action orientated, Realistic and Timely. Here is an example from my season;

Back in January my FTP stood at 260 Watts, I set a goal of increasing it to 275 by May. This 15 Watt increase was a specific task. I had a power meter, therefore making it measurable. I came up with a training plan designed to bring about this increase, taking action to achieve the goal. A 6% increase was a realistic expectation. I set myself the target of achieving this by May, giving the goal a time scale

Note that the above goal was realistic but also challenging, don’t fall into the trap of setting very easy goals – you’ll likely lose interest. Also be mindful that your goals need to be flexible, for example you may have to take a month off from training due to illness – in which case you will need to lower your season expectations. Likewise you might find you achieve a goal earlier than planned, in which case it is good to set a new one in it’s place in order to maintain motivation.

It is recommended that you set different types of goal. An outcome goal focuses on the result of a race (e.g. want to finish in the top ten). Performance goals relate to achieving a given standard, independent of competitors, for example increasing your FTP to 300 Watts. Finally, process goals focus on the individual components of performance that are required in order to do well (e.g. set a goal of increasing your average cadence to 80).

Beware of focusing entirely on outcome goals. As I mentioned previously, you can’t control the outcome of a race – a competitor might just happen to have a very good day. Day to day I focus more on achieving performance and process goals.

It’s a good idea to set goals for both training and racing. This year my main goal is go under the hour in a 25 mile Time trial by June, call this an outcome goal. Along the way I have set intermediate performance and process goals, for example increasing my FTP to 300 Watts by June and eliminating a dead spot from my pedal stroke by February.

As I have previously mentioned, at this time of year (Mid November at the time of writing). It is often difficult to motivate myself to go training, it feels like there is a very long period of time inbetween now and the point at which I want to achieve my main goal. To that end I set small goals for each week, such as getting in a certain training volume or achieving a PR on a favourite Strava Segment. If I achieve these goals I reward myself, normally with chocolate I will shamefully admit.

To summarise, goal setting is useful in helping to achieve a better performance. Set a main goal, then a series of smaller ones along the way in order to help you achieve it.

Part 4 – To finish with

Writing this post has been tricky. There is a vast amount of information out there about the mental aspect of Bike Racing (and sport in general for that matter). I have included the aspects that I have found most useful in my time as a Cyclist and which I feel would be relevant for anyone looking to improve their mental skillset for purposes of racing . If you’d like to know more I would recommend this book.

On that, it’s time for my supper. Bye all.

Ps Some some feedback on this one would be very useful – if anyone has any constructive comments in terms of length, content and format I would love to hear them.

How to get out of 4th Cat

So – you’ve done a few races. Chances are you have progressed beyond the initial experience of getting dropped in the first half of the race. You can now stay with the bunch until the end of the race, you might have even had a couple of points finishes. The question on your mind now will likely be how to improve that bit more, so as to gain your 3rd Cat license.

You might be talented enough to easily move up to 3rd Cat and beyond with sub-par preparation. Sadly, this isn’t the case for most of us – myself very much included. Here are some tips on taking it to the next level.

  1. Chill out

I began the 2016 season with moving up to 3rd Cat as my primary goal. When it didn’t happen immediately, I began to worry. Racing stopped being fun and I was on the verge of giving up on it entirely and switching to triathlon (I know, don’t make fun of me – we all have thoughts we’re not proud of). Once I did get enough points, after the initial feeling of euphoria I realised it wasn’t a massive deal. Yes, its a great achievement but moving up a category isn’t a matter of life or death – the worst that can happen is you’ll have to wait till next season.

2. Ride lots of Races

It can be difficult to replicate the intensity of racing in training. The best way to increase your fitness and race skills is to practice them ‘in the field’. Besides, you might just get lucky and end up with a lower ability or simply smaller field of competitors than usual from time to time – leaving more opportunity to gain points. Just be sure not to overdo it – if you feel too tired to race, you probably are.

3. Ride to Win

Following on from the last point, your primary motivation should be want of success rather than fear of failure. You’ll never learn where your strengths and weaknesses lie as a rider unless you give it your all, at the very least go with some attacks – preferably initiate them. It is likely that you will have some crushing defeats, but it will be more than made up for when everything finally goes right. I gained enough points to move up to 3rd Cat in the course of two consecutive races – once I stopped worrying about losing and tried to make my own success, rather than hoping to scrape points in the sprint. Read more about it here.

4. Train Smarter – find your limiters.

Really think hard about your last few races. Is there a particular weakness that is holding you back? Admittedly, it is easier to quantify such a weakness if you have a power meter, but it can still be done (See my post on training  ). For example – lets say you regularly attack with two laps of a closed circuit race remaining, and consistently get caught just before the line. Each lap takes roughly 3 minutes, giving a 6 minute all out effort. Your limiter is probably anaerobic endurance. It’s not rocket science – just do lots of very intense 6 minute intervals in training. Read more about interval training here.

5. Don’t overtrain

If things aren’t going well – the most logical solution would appear to simply be training harder. In actual fact, this isn’t usually a sensible idea. Take a rider who is 10% undertrained vs one who is 10% overtrained and the former will win every time. Be careful if increasing either volume or intensity, monitor yourself carefully for signs of overtraining –  this article summarises them nicely. Better to miss one session than overdo it and end up having to take two weeks off.

6. Taper properly for big races.

Here is some quick science: What we know as form can be defined balance between fitness and fatigue. Training with Power allows you to quantify this balance, making it easier to achieve optimal form at the right time – yet once again, you can still produce good results without one. More on this here and here. A common mistake is training too hard in the days leading up to a big event, speaking from experience it’s a bad idea. You won’t make any significant fitness gains and might offset months worth of preparation by going into an event heavily fatigued.

Reducing volume in the weeks preceding an important race will help to offload fatigue. Maintaining intensity will ensure you don’t lost too much fitness. There is some trial and error involved in perfecting the taper – the optimum balance will vary between individuals and also depends on the nature of event for which you are tapering. In general, longer events require a longer taper.

Tapering might produce that final increase in performance that gets you a win or just the points finish that you need in order to secure a 3rd Cat license. Races are very often won by very small margins – every little helps.

7) Eat right

Nutrition is one area where large gains can often be made. Sadly, you are more likely to notice the negative effects of an unhealthy diet than the positives that come with a healthy one. Eating better will allow you to recover more quickly and therefore to train harder. Just eat as many natural foods as possible, find what works well for you.

I was a cynic when it came to the real world effects of improved diet. Back in March I cut back on Bread, Pasta and Cereal bars, compensating with an increased intake of protein rich foods such as meat, fish and eggs. I was soon recovering more quickly from workouts, allowing me to substantially increase my weekly training volume, from 8 to 10 hours per week with no ill effects. A more detailed post on nutrition is on the way.

8) Consider off bike training.

Strength training is becoming steadily more common amongst cyclists and endurance athletes in general. Increasing leg strength has obvious benefits, as does working on your core. This can be especially useful if you are a smaller rider, trying to succeed in Closed Circuit races that are often the realm of more powerful individuals. Gains made in power usually offset any increase in weight. Click here for some more detail.

Strength training also has general health benefits. Cycling has been linked to low bone density and osteoporosis. I found a good article on it here. Strength training may help to counteract this. If nothing else, it will reduce the chance of a a fracture should you happen to crash. Take it from me – recovering from a broken collar bone is not fun!

If you are having a frustrating time and struggling to get points, as I was during my first season – take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come. Did you imagine that you’d even be taking to the start line when you first took up Cycling? There are always improvements that can be made – don’t give up.

On that, goodbye from me.

How to start using data for Bike Racing.

Chances are, many of you reading this are already using some kind of data in order to at least log your rides. The focus of this post is the use of data for training (no, you don’t need a power meter for this to be relevant). This should provide a good overview, explaining which figures to pay attention to and how to use them to measure improvement, find out your strengths and weaknesses and prevent overtraining.

Lets begin with what not to do, that is to say what I did;

I first started recording rides back in January 2015, having been given a Garmin for Christmas. It came with a cadence sensor and heart rate monitor, at the time I knew what these were but hadn’t ever considered what they could be used for. I fell into a very common trap – the only figures I paid any attention to were average HR and average speed, believing that higher always equated to better.

Every ride became a time trial – regardless of the conditions, if my average speed on a given route was lower than last time, I would assume this meant I’d lost fitness and needed to train harder. I noticed over time that my average heart rate began to decrease – again I interpreted this as being a loss of fitness.

In actual fact average speed is a very poor figure on which to judge improvement, there are simply too many variables for it to be a reliable measure. Wind speed and direction, air temperature, how much weight you are carrying, which bike you are riding and your riding position – just to name a few. A gradual increase over the course of a few months is probably a sign of improvement, anything short of that isn’t worth looking at.

A decrease in average heart rate over time is generally a positive sign. It is almost certain that your fitness has increased if your average HR for a given power is lower. Anyone who read my recent post on training (click here for it) – might remember a brief discussion of training zones. Heart rate zones remain relatively constant, what you should notice with increasing fitness is power zones shifting relative to HR zones.

The message here is simple, though it is one that I took a long time to learn. Don’t just look at a number and assume it is good or bad, think smart. Again, to most readers the above will be very well know – I’m just using the example to prove a point.

So, how can you use data to measure improvement in fitness? To start off with, there is no need to get overly technical. Simply comparing times on Strava segments can be a good way of testing whether or not your fitness is improving. Once again, conditions do have a part to play. In general, uphill segments provide more reliable measures – as the effects of wind resistance are much smaller at lower speeds. I’ve found the best method is to ride a segment as fast as you can and take note of the conditions. Ride it again, in as similar conditions as possible (e.g. same time of day & on the same bike) to draw a reliable comparison.

If you are following a training plan, you can Set weekly distance or time goals using Strava. Speaking from personal experience, this can be very motivating if you are feeling lazy on a given day and are tempted to skip a ride for no good reason. It’s satisfying to look back at the miles you’ve covered and hours spent in the saddle before a big race. For some useful Strava tips, click here.

A more accurate, and still cost effective way of measuring improvement is to use a turbo trainer fitted with a speed sensor. Indoors, the usual factors affecting average speed are removed – if you can sustain a given speed for a longer period of time, it’s a positive sign. That said,  be sure to make a note of the resistance setting used on the trainer during your first test – if you can, also record the room temperature and make sure it is similar for future attempts.

Be sure to test yourself regularly – if not it can be difficult to know if your training is working (sounds obvious but it is a mistake that many make, myself included). There are various tests relevant to racing, for example a 20 minute threshold test. Stick to the same protocol each time you perform a test in order to make it as reliable as possible.

In my experience, important factors in racing are CP6 and CP1. That is to say the maximum power output that can be sustained for a duration of 6 minutes and 1 minute, look here for more. Race outcomes are often determined by these short intense efforts. My greatest improvements came after working hard on improving both values. You don’t need a power meter to test for improvements, just use average speed on the turbo trainer for  6 minutes and 1 minute or look at your times on segments taking approximately those times to ride.

I’ve left out information on training with power. I’m assuming that anyone with a power meter has good knowledge in this area anyway, just in case – for a guide on getting started with power, click here.

Ride data is at its most useful if things go very well or very badly. If you do happen to get dropped in a race, note down the time at which it happened and take a look at the data afterwards.I’ll illustrate how this can be useful with an example from my own season;

In the first two races I managed to finish, I was dropped virtually on the startline. My first thought was that this was due to a lack of fitness. I looked at the Strava data of some of my fellow riders, those who finished in the points, noticing that their power outputs were broadly similar to my own.

One thing I did notice, albeit after much head scratching was that all of them rode at an average cadence of 80 or above. Mine on the other hand was 68, much lower. For the next month I worked hard in training, setting my Garmin to tell me if my cadence dipped below 80. After a while, I became used to riding at a higher cadence and began to do it instinctively.

Afterward, I never got dropped early on again. Riding at a higher cadence made it much easier to accelerate quickly and as such respond to the frequent surges in pace that occur in all races. My power output did not significantly improve in this time, (FTP increase of 10 Watts only) technique alone made all the difference.

Your weaknesses can very quickly become apparent if you take some time to analyse what was going on during a poor performance. Do you, for example struggle to close gaps that open after technical corners during closed circuit races? In which case, your CP1 is probably a weak point. This was another problem I ran into, if I had to close a gap I’d be-able to stay with the bunch but not have much left for the finish.

It can also be very useful to take a look at the numbers, if you should happen to do very well in a race. The more you information you have recorded the more useful this will be, for example; What did you eat the day before? What training had you done in the 8 weeks before the race? How long did you taper for? Did you sleep well in the days leading up to the event? All of these questions are of course also relevant in the aftermath of a bad performance.

In short – data can really help to determine your strengths and limiters. The more you know, the easier it will be to correct any problems – just make your training as specific as possible to your limiters.

This also applies to other factors relating to race performance. For example it is worth noting down any changes in diet, sleeping pattern and stress levels. For this reason, I’d suggest keeping a training diary rather than just recording rides on Strava or similar.

Data can be useful in preventing overtraining. Keep track of your weekly volume and the intensity of workouts – this is worth doing even if you don’t follow a specific training plan. If you’ve been putting in more hours or just more hard sessions than usual lately and notice that you are feeling tired, depressed and demotivated then it’s probably time to take a break.

That’s all for today – and probably for the next few days. Goodnight.