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.

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