Finding Form

It’s that which all competitive athletes crave. Something which only comes along once or twice a season, if that. It’s possible to increase the likelihood of it appearing at the right time but there is still an element of hit and miss. I’m talking about form, that state in which KOM’s fall at your feet and it’s possible to win or at least do well in races. For the first time in a while I’m having a good run of it. It’s a good feeling when many months of graft start to pay off, all those long winter rides and indoor interval sessions finally seem worth it.

Coming up with a training program is one thing, sticking to it and believing it will work  is quite another. Strava isn’t much help here – I can’t help but look at what other riders are doing and worry that I’m not putting enough work in. It’s demoralising when you think you’ve had a good week and see that someone else has ridden double the number of miles – making it especially tempting to go out and thrash your legs when you shouldn’t. I’ve had to learn to rein in my neuroticism and focus solely on my own training, you can’t control what your competitors are doing and therefore shouldn’t try to.

It’s here that working with a power meter becomes truly invaluable. Using TSS as a quantifier for training load is far more accurate than either volume or distance. Fifty mile rides in Devon, with it’s abundance of (very) steep climbs are just as hard, if not harder than seventy back home. Fitness and fatigue can also be boiled down to numbers, to a certain extent anyway. That way I know if I’m not working hard enough or working too hard, making it ten times easier to train consistently. It’s a fine line between optimal training load and overtraining, sadly it’s one that needs to be toed in order to get the best out of yourself.

I’m curiously optimistic for the first half of the season. I’ve certainly never been in this shape so early on before, though of course I can’t lose sight of the fact that I might have peaked too quickly. Lifetime PB’s have been coming thick and fast in the space of these last couple of weeks. I’m strong now, at least compared to my past self. All that remains is drop those last couple of KG’s and it will be time to go racing, after all the proof is in the pudding.

Last season I was good enough to stay with the bunch in road races, that much I know for certain. Unfortunately I was held up by crashes in both events that I entered, what I’d have managed to do at the finish is still a mystery. By the tail end of the year I was good enough to mount successful attacks in 4th Cat crits.  Placing well in a 3/4 road race will be much more difficult, the field is larger and the riders generally fitter. Not to mention the increased distance and having to contend with the usual hazards of the road; drain covers, potholes and cars – none of which are there to distract you in a closed circuit event.

Truth be told, I won’t have much of an idea where I stand until the starting gun fires. It’s the one thing I failed in when it came to organising my season, finding a road race to use as a test event before the big day. Time trial results will give some indication though not an especially meaningful one, the demands of the two forms of competition are very different. Odd as it might sound I’m reluctant to enter any closed circuit races this close to the big day – crashes are common and incurring an injury now would almost certainly have a detrimental effect on performance in my A race.

It’s getting to the point where it will be time to start backing off in training, tapering for the main event. In theory offloading fatigue whilst maintaining fitness to as greater extent as possible should lead to good form on the day. I know from experience that this doesn’t always work, sadly its one of those necessary risks. Another one of the many, many mistakes I’ve made in the past is that of pushing too hard in the fortnight preceding an important race and arriving at the startline whilst in a state of fatigue. The suffering was worth writing about, the result was not.

Time to relax then? Almost. I’ll still need to watch my diet carefully and analyse my data to make sure my training load is optimal. After investing so heavily in training, seeing it all go to waste because of some last minute indulgences would be crushing to say the least. Nonetheless it is a nice feeling, knowing that I’ve done almost all that I can in order to go well on the day – no point in worrying about any missed sessions etc at this point.

Finally, in all honesty, things haven’t been brilliant off the bike. All the more reason to try my hardest to bring success on it. My chosen race may only be a local 3/4, not exactly the Tour de France – yet for an amateur such as myself (i.e. somewhat lacking in talent ) it still represents a big challenge. I’ve learnt a great deal during the build-up so far, most of it about training in the form of yet more things not to do. However much I think I might know,  there is always more to come.

Stay tuned.

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