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.

 

 

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.

From Sportives to Racing – tips for a successful transition.

It’s likely that when you started Cycling, a Sportive was your first event. Being non-competitive they are accessible to all riders and are a good place to start. Perhaps you then moved on, longer distances completed in steadily quicker times. For me, there came a point when Sportives stopped being a challenge. I knew I could get round pretty much any course with a gold time as long as wasn’t stupid with the pacing. At that point, I turned to racing. I suspect there are many in a similar position – wanting to take part in more competitive events. Here is how to make it a success.

I’ve said before that sportive times are not a good predictor of Race performance, read that post here if interested. The demands of racing are very different  to those of sportives in an number of ways. Don’t be surprised if your first few races don’t go well, even if you have achieved gold times on tough sportives – to a certain extent you may have to ‘start again’. Take it from me it is truly worth it, doing well in a sportive does not compare to the elation that accompanies a good race result.

Firstly, sportives are completed at a more or less constant pace, taking into account variations in terrain of course. In races it is a different story, the pace very rarely remains the same for any length of time. You’ll need to be-able to respond to surges in pace caused by attacks, sprint out of corners and bridge gaps. Importantly, you need to be-able to recover quickly enough when the pace does (usually briefly) drop in order to do the above multiple times throughout a race.

Secondly, races do not require as much Endurance. You may be in the saddle for 6 hours or more when riding a hilly century, contrastingly closed circuit races tend to last for around 40 minutes and road races just over two hours. Don’t get me wrong – you still need to do the odd long ride, but during the competitive season you will be looking to maintain endurance rather than increase it.

Thirdly, bike handling skills are far more important in racing than in sportives. Anyone who has read any of my other posts will be fed up of this message by now – I still can’t stress it enough. You must be comfortable riding in a group before entering a race – otherwise you will be a danger to yourself and others around you. The best way to learn this skill is simply to join a Cycling Club, that way you can learn group riding skills in a safer (that is to say slower) environment. British Cycling have produced a very useful series of videos on how to race safely, click here to take a look.

Finally, this may sound obvious but it certainly wasn’t to me when I first started racing. Races are not as well supported as sportives. Don’t expect to find mechanics at Closed Circuit races, food isn’t usually provided. Road Races do tend to be more supported but the message still stands. Pack something to eat and make sure your bike is mechanically sounded before heading off to a race, otherwise you may be caught out.

Here are some quick tips on transitioning from sportives to racing, these should all make the process easier. Most of this is covered in more detail in other posts, take a look at the Racing Advice section.

  1. Intervals are key

Races, as I have already mentioned – are shorter than Sportives, ridden at a faster and ever changing pace . You should try to replicate this in training, it’s ok to reduce volume in order to compensate for the increase in intensity. You’ll have far more success in races if you train 6 hours per week at a high intensity than with 12 hours ridden at endurance pace.  I found this article on interval training very useful and informative, it’s the first part of a series – all of which make for good reading.

2. Incorporate skills training

Working on technical skills can make a massive difference – a deficiency that has little effect on sportive performance will likely present a large problem in races. If, for example you tend to ride at a very low cadence (say below 75 rpm on average), work on increasing it. This will make it easier to accelerate quickly so as to respond to changes in pace.Cornering at speed is another common limiter for new racers – though this is difficult to practice safely on open roads. Once again, I’ll mention the virtues of joining a club – a fast group ride is the closest it’s possible to get to a real race, there is no better way to improve bunch riding skills.

3. Follow a plan.

Ultimately races are harder than sportives, in order to do well you may need to follow a more carefully structured training program. It is true that many riders do not have a written training plan and still have very successful racing careers – however they are in a minority. Find 2 or 3 races in which you would like to do particularly well and build a plan around them. My post on training goes over this in more detail.

It is very important to include rest periods within your training. As a rule of thumb, halve your usual weekly volume and leave to any hard interval sessions every fourth week. High intensity training is very fatiguing, especially if you aren’t used to it. Overtraining should be avoided at all costs.

4) Use data – test yourself.

Click here for a post explaining this in more detail. It’s likely that you already record your rides on Strava or similar, but do you take much notice of the information on the screen? You don’t need a power meter to be-able to train ‘scientifically’, nor do you need to spend hours sifting through data after every ride. As outlined in the link above, just paying attention to a few key numbers is enough. Regular testing is important, making it much easier to gauge progress or detect the early signs of overtraining.

To finish with, here is one final word of advice. Don’t lose heart if the first few races go badly. I’ve said many a time that this is the case for most of us. Nothing quite prepares you for taking to the start line for the first time – it will get better from then on. I felt as if I’d taken a big step back when I first started racing, having gone from gold times in 100 mile sportives to being dropped on the start line. I went on to have a successful season, achieving my 3rd Category license. Just be patient.

As always, stay tuned for more.

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.

 

Training for your first Bike Race

I have been itching to write this one for a long time. It was reading books about training that persuaded me to study Sports Science and put me on the path to a career in the Cycling industry (hopefully that is). Just a quick warning, this is a long post – I’ve tried to make it as concise as possible however there is a large amount of information to try and get across.

Firstly, I can’t even hope to summarise the vast amount of information that is available on how to train. There is a huge amount of advice out there, most of it is correct – the key is finding what works for you. My go to reference for training is The Cyclists Training Bible by Joe Friel – click here to buy a copy (you should). Note, however that the current edition was published in 2009 – I believe a new version is on the way. For more up-to date information, try Joe Friels Blog, here is a link.

If you are lucky enough to have a power meter, Training and Racing with a Power meter by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan is an essential read- get it here. Ps don’t worry if not – I have written this bearing in mind the fact that many first time racers won’t be training with power yet.

In this post I’m going to focus on training specifically for closed circuit races – for the sake of convenience I’ll abbreviate to CCR. They are the variety with which I have most experience and the best place to start if new to racing. This is designed to be a guideline, for more detail I’d strongly recommend reading some of the material listed above.

I’ll include some definitions of terms I will be using – most of you will already have heard of them, but just in case here is a list.

Volume: Combination of frequency and duration of training – basically the number of hours you train during the week.

Intensity: How hard you are working – e.g. 10/10 would describe a full on sprint with 1/10 being recovery ride pace.

RPE: Rate of perceived exertion – how hard you think you are working.

TSS: Training Stress Score – relevant to those with a power meter. Essentially a value quanitifying the impact of a particular session (1 hour riding at threshold = 100 TSS).The higher the TSS the harder the session.

Lactate threshold (LT): The point at which the blood concentration of lactate begins to exponentially increase. Basically the point at which your rate of lactate production exceeds the rate at which the body can remove it.

LTHR: Heart rate at Lactate threshold.

FTP: Functional threshold power – the power output that can be sustained for approximately 1 hour. Also defined as power at LT.

To begin with, lets dispel a few common myths:

. You have to train at a high volume.

Totally wrong – when it comes to racing, intensity in training is the key. Riding for 12 hours a week at endurance pace won’t directly get you you fit for CCR. You’d be better off only training six hours per week, at a high intensity.

. Harder is always better.

Wrong again. Yes, you need to include hard sessions in your training plan. However, too many and you will become overtrained. Make hard sessions very hard and easy sessions very easy. It is common to fall into the trap of riding hard every time, eventually you’ll end up doing lots of medium paced, medium intensity rides – again this won’t prepare you well for CCR, or any type of racing for that matter.

. No high intensity training during the Winter

There is no better way to lose your ‘edge’ than doing nothing but long steady rides – riding slowly teaches your body to ride slowly. You don’t need to do lots of hard interval sessions, that runs the risk of overtraining. Just get some short duration, high intensity work in from time to time – it doesn’t need to be structured, just go for the odd Strava KOM and don’t be afraid to sprint against your mates on a Sunday club ride occasionally.

. Be as light as possible.

Closed circuit races tend to take place on flat courses. You need to be producing a decent amount of power. If you are overweight then losing a few kg’s will make a big difference – however, don’t lose weight at the cost of losing a large amount of muscle. Don’t be afraid of hitting the weight room over the winter and working on leg and core strength. You should be lean – not emaciated. I found a good article here explaining how to best go about reducing body fat without losing muscle.

. GCN produced a good video on training myths a few months back, click here to view it.

Here are some tips about season planning. Having some structure to your training and following a plan (even if it isn’t a very good one) will almost certainly bring about improvement in results.

. Assign each event a priority

You can’t perform at your very best in every race you enter. Trying to do so will compromise the quality of your training. In order to produce a peak performance you will have to reduce training volume in the days leading up to a race, this is known as tapering. Tapering for every race is a bad idea – you won’t see many gains in fitness.

Pick two or three races per year in which you would like to do really well, preferably one in the spring, another in mid summer and another in autumn. Call these A races – build your training plan around these. Pick 4-6 races in which you’d like to do well but are not top priority, these are B races, taper for 3-4 days only. Anything else should be classed as C priority – use these events primarily as training, don’t worry about the results.

Personally, I find the best way to do well in B races without disruption to training is to have them at the end of a rest week. That way you’ll effectively be tapering but not missing out on any training sessions. Of course this isn’t always possible.

. Be sure to include recovery periods

Every third or fourth week, reduce both volume and intensity of training. A good rule of thumb is to halve your usual weekly volume. This will give your body a chance to recover and to adapt. Remember, it is not during exercise itself but during recovery that training adaptations actually occur. The best time to carry out any tests (e.g. FTP) to measure improvement is at the end of one of these weeks.

At the end of the season, I’d advise taking at least two weeks off the bike – don’t start training again until you feel ready and motivated. A mid-season break of a week or so is also a good idea.

. Set goals

Goal setting works. Nothing like a big race coming up to get you out of bed for that 6AM turbo session. Think about what you need to improve on in order to do better, for example you may want to increase the power output you can sustain for a duration of 5 minutes, important in CCR. If you carry out a test at the beginning of the season and find the value to be 340 Watts – you might set a goal of increasing it to 350 in two months time. Set goals that are challenging but realistically achievable.

. Carry out regular tests – include them in your training plan.

If you don’t test yourself, it is difficult to know whether or not your training is working. I’d advise testing every eight weeks or so. You don’t need a power meter to quantify improvement (though it is the most accurate method).

A Strava PB on a chosen segment is a common indicator, though conditions should be taken into account. Another popular method is to carry out testing on a turbo trainer fitted with a speed sensor, an increase in the speed you can sustain for a given time would suggest improvement. Don’t measure yourself using average speed on outdoor rides, there are too many variables for it to be a reliable measure.

Right, now that part is out of the way here is some more interesting stuff. I’m not going to pretend to be a coach and go into highly detailed specifics. As I’ve previously stated, this is intended to be a guideline only. I don’t know you – therefore have absolutely no idea which exact training sessions you would benefit from. I’ll provide an example training plan, but don’t assume you should be following it.

It is important to understand the concept of training zones, these refer to the intensity at which you are riding. Training at different intensities will result in different adaptations (e.g. training at low intensity for a long time will increase endurance, an all out ten second effort will increase sprint power). Here is a useful article. If you own a power meter, it is best to train to Power based zones. If not heart rate is the next best thing, look here for more detail. Failing that, you can still achieve good results using RPE.

Training should  be periodised. This simply involves training different abilities as the season goes on, beginning with basic abilities (e.g. endurance) and moving onto more advanced ones (e.g. sprint power) once said basics are established. For more click here.

Both the base and build periods are divided into sections (e.g. build 1 & 2), again there will be variations in intensity, volume and abilities. Typically, the base period lasts for 12 weeks and build for 8. Thereafter you will move into the peak (1-2 weeks), and finally into the race period (1 week) – in the run up to your A race.

You might have read my post about what to expect during your first race (click here if not). I explained that CCR involves many short efforts well above LT, with the rest well below it. Below is a power file to illustrate this:

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 16.47.15.png

Note the large number of peaks and troughs. It essentially represents not pedalling whilst going round the corners and then sprinting out of them. No time is spent at threshold. Most closed circuit races end in a sprint – as did this one,  evidenced by the large peak at the very end. In order to make training as specific as possible to CCR, it is best to focus on working above LT. Put simply, this means high intensity interval sessions.

That said, you also need to include other workouts. I’d try and get in one long ride (3 hours plus) per week in order to maintain endurance. It is also worth including some threshold work – the reason being that the further above FTP an effort is, the longer it will take to recover from, hence boosting your threshold can help when it comes to CCR.

There is no reason why these have to be separate sessions if you are short of time. For example a three hour ride; starting with a 20 minute warm up, followed by 4×5 minute intervals at an RPE of 8.5/10 / HR zone 5 / Power zone 5) then 30 minutes recovery followed by two 20 minute efforts at an RPE of 7/10 / HR zone 4 / Power zone 4.

I will emphasise here that in order for it to be effective, training should be specific to your limiters, notice I don’t use the word weaknesses. A limiter can be defined as a weakness that is negatively affecting your performance. For example, being a poor climber won’t have any affect on your results in CCR hence working on climbing won’t be the best use of your time. There is no one size fits all training program – it will be different for every individual. Here is an example – a week in training for me during the build period, at this point I was training exclusively for CCR:

 

Day Training
Mon Rest
Tue Sprints: 20 second all out sprint, 1:40 recovery. Repeated x20.
Wed VO2 Max intervals: 5×5 minutes with 4 minute recoveries.
Thur Rest
Fri Rest
Sat 2×20 Minutes at threshold
Sun Steady endurance ride including 4 hill efforts.

Note how the hardest workout is placed first, e.g. when I was likely to be at my most fresh. This would have allowed me to ride harder, hence getting the maximum benefit from the session (higher TSS). At the time, there was a local race series taking place on Tuesday evenings – following this weekly plan meant I’d be reasonably fresh if I chose to enter one of these races.

C Priority events can act as very high quality training sessions. Replicating race intensity in training is tricky – especially if you don’t have a power meter. Personally, I can always push that bit harder when riding with other people.

The bottom line – how should you train for your first CCR? After reading the above you may have realised the question is trickier to answer than it sounds. Here is a sample 11 week training plan for the build period onwards. For the sake of convenience, lets assume your A race is your first 4th cat CCR at some point in early spring.

Common limiters relevant to CCR include; Sprint Power, defined as the maximum power you can produce and Anaerobic endurance, defined as the length of time for which you can sustain a given intensity above LT. In reality, determining your limiters can be tricky before you start racing – working on these two abilities is a good starting point.  Below are four sessions, two for each ability, all of which have worked well for me:

  1. VO2 Max intervals (Anaerobic endurance)

20 Minute warm up of your choice

5 Minutes, Hr zone 5, power zone 5, RPE 8.5/10

5 Minute recovery

Repeat x4

10 Minute cool down – easy pedalling.

 

2. Sprints (Sprint Power)

20 Minute warm up

20 Second all out sprint – 1m40s recovery

Repeat x5

5 Min recovery

Repeat x 4 (20 sprints in total)

10 Minute cool down

 

3) Plus intervals (anaerobic endurance)

20 Minute warm up

3 Minutes, Hr zone 5, power zone 5, RPE 8.5/10 – 1 Min RPE 9/10 – 1 Min RPE 9.5/10. (Total 5 minute interval)

5 Minute recovery

Repeat x5

10 Minute cool down

 

4) Standing start sprints (Sprint power)

20 Minute warm up

Select a big gear (cadence of around 40). Ten second all out sprint.

1 Min recovery

Repeat x4

5 Minute recovery

Repeat x5 (20 efforts in total)

10 Minute cool down.

Those sessions should come in useful, assuming you have those particular limiters. I’d begin with the first two and move onto the latter sessions after around a month (three hard weeks, followed by a rest week). In order to make the sessions more challenging, include more reps and shorten recoveries. Be very careful with the last session, if your knees hurt even slightly – stop.

I would do each session once per week as a rule of thumb, alongside an endurance ride and a threshold session. My personal favourite is the classic 2×20 minutes at an RPE of 7/10 / HR zone 4 / Power zone 4 – with a 10 minute recovery inbetween. If you like, you could also incorporate intervals into the long ride – just be careful not to overdo it. To summarise thats two interval sessions, one threshold workout and an endurance ride – easier interval sessions for weeks 1-4 and harder from weeks 4-8.

Three weeks before your A race, begin to reduce volume. More detail here.  Now is the time to reduce the number of reps in the above sessions, for example reducing from 6 to 5x 5 minute intervals in week 1 and down to 4 in week 2.  For the first week, reduce volume by around 25% – for the second week make it 50%. You don’t have to worry about getting in a long ride at this point. This is designed to offload fatigue whilst maintaining a good level of fitness, ensuring you are as fresh as possible for race day.

Don’t complete any hard workouts in the final week or leading up to your A race. Do some easy sessions (for example 45 minutes ridden in power zones 1 and 2). It is worth including some very short efforts (e.g. 3x 1 minute) within these workouts. Complete 3-4,  including one on the day before your race. Having a complete rest day isn’t the best idea – your might end up feeling stiff and sluggish in the morning, not what you want after months of hard work.

These workouts are tough. Be sure to listen to your body, if you feel tired and question whether you are able to complete a session – chances are you should take a rest. Better to miss one session than end up overtrained or ill and have to take two weeks off. If at any point you experience worrying symptoms (i.e. chest pain) – stop the session immediately and seek medical advice.

As time goes on, you will come to realise what your strengths and limiters are. You’ll be-able to more specifically tailor your training plan and as such will see greater performance gains made.

That is enough for one day. My final piece of advice would be to read a few books or at the very least online articles on training. The field is rapidly evolving and it’s useful to keep up to date with the latest thinking. Your future self will thank you on the podium. Stay tuned.

 

What to expect from your first 4th Cat Race.

So, it’s the big day. You’ve done the training and sorted out your race license (if not click here to find out more and here to go to the BC website). You’ve managed to find a race within easy range and got in an entry. The conformation email will have come through, confirming you have a ride. It’s best to start with a closed circuit race, if possible a 4th Cat only rather than a 3/4. Here’s what you can expect to happen next.

Getting to race venues isn’t always easy, some are off the beaten track. Always bring a map for backup, the phone number of the organiser can also come in useful. Remember to check what time sign-on closes and the exact start time of your race.

Upon arrival, you’ll see a few very strong looking riders – with bikes to match. I’ll admit to being put off by this when it came to my first race. Appearances can be deceptive, don’t be intimidated by expensive bikes and shiny legs. If nothing else, you may not even be racing against these particular riders. Most closed circuit events consist of more than one race, (e.g. a 4th Cat only and a 2/3).

Remember to go to sign on and present your race license – obvious as this might sound, I’ve almost forgotten it many a time. You will be given a number, make sure to pin this onto your jersey in the correct position (this will differ from race to race).

Its good practice to bring a turbo trainer or set of rollers to warm up on. At some venues you will be-able to warm up on the circuit, do this if you can – it’s a good way of familiarising yourself with the course. However, more often than not you will need to use the aforementioned turbo trainer or rollers. Ideally, leave half an hour for a warm up – in practice this is easier said than done, I find 15-20 minutes is usually adequate.

At some point, typically about ten minutes before your race is due to start – you’ll be called to the start line. Listen out for this announcement, it’s easy to get engrossed in your warm up and not hear the call. Normally, you’ll be given the chance to ride round the circuit a few times before the actual race begins. Finally, you’ll line up on the start line and be given a safety briefing (usually words to the affect of – don’t ride dangerously and don’t swear). The flag drops, and things get underway.

If you can, try to start at the front of the race. Crashes are common in the very early stages, it is possible to be dropped virtually on the start line if you get caught behind one. Being at the front of the race will also save you a large amount of energy. In almost every event, there will be some ‘underprepared’ riders who will be dropped within the first few laps – you don’t want to be behind one, bridging a gap requires a big effort.

For many first timers, myself included, the intensity can come as a shock. You’ll have to sprint out of the corners – especially early on. In this kind of racing, no time will be spend sat at tempo, the effort will either be far below threshold or well above it (very much on again / off again). There is some good news in that the pace tends to slow down rather than speed up, many riders will get caught in the adrenaline rush and start off too enthusiastically. Push on for as long as you can, you might surprise yourself in what you can do once over the initial threshold.

The middle part of the race is simply about trying to stay with the bunch and conserve as much energy as possible. There will be a few optimistic riders attacking at this point, unless there is a large group (say 5+) these attacks are rarely worth going with – 99% of the time they will be bought back by the bunch. I have made the mistake of getting complacent at this point, doing lap after lap can be very dull – some races are far more animated than others. If you start to lose concentration its inevitable you will lose some places in the bunch, it also makes crashing far more likely. Stay awake.

Typically a sign will be held up indicating the number of laps to go, beginning from three laps out. It is at this point that things begin to get interesting – you’ll see more attacks and the pace will increase. If you are feeling strong, now is the time to go solo, that is to say with 2-3 laps to go. Many 4th Cat races are won with attacks such as this, many riders will be unsure of their own ability and as such will be reluctant to chase, even in the closing stages.

If you get to final straight within the bunch, chaos often ensues. The final sprint is another time where crashes are common. If you can, try to come through the last corner in a good position (say one of the first five riders to enter the straight). Often these sprints are short – positioning is more important than peak power. Don’t look behind you before pulling out to sprint, you may well hit the rider in front or inadvertently move to the left or right, again making a crash likely. Do however, pay attention to what is going on in front – leave space in case someone pulls out. These riders won’t know where you are in much the same way you can’t see those behind you.

If you are nervous or know you have poor bike handling skills, it can be better to sit up and move yourself out of the way. This especially applies if you are at the back of the field, chances of a points finish from this position are very minimal. After a season of racing, I still avoid these chaotic sprints if possible – preferring to make a move with a few laps to go.

You will be commonly advised to ‘just sit in’ during a race. If you do, you’ll never learn where your strengths lie – amongst other things it is a complete waste of money. Go with some moves if you can, try and get into a good position for the final sprint. Ride to win, not to avoid losing. I made that very mistake several times, the poor results speak for themselves. It was only with two races left in the season that I began to ride more aggressively, realising I had nothing to lose in trying to achieve my goal of moving up to 3rd Cat. In the course of these two races, I attacked on my own and it payed dividends on both occasions (taking a 6th and a 2nd respectively).

If you do get dropped – don’t worry. It’s what happens to most of us in the first couple of races. If the first attempt doesn’t go well – don’t assume all is lost, give it another couple of tries and things might well improve. Remember, its not just about fitness – the most common limiting factor at this stage is racecraft, more on that here. If you happen to be dropped very early on, it might be time to make some changes to your training plan, a post covering this is on the way.

Hopefully, this provides a good overview of what that first race will be like. Has anyone reading this got a story to share about how your first race went? If so, I’d be interested in hearing it, do leave a comment. Cheers all.

Want to Race a bike? Here’s what you need to do.

I will admit that this information can be found in plenty of other places – however, I don’t feel the site would be complete without it. If you’d like to start racing, this is what to do in order to get to the start line.

1) Join British Cycling

Most races in the UK are run under BC rules and regulations. This means you need to be a member in order to compete. You’ll need at least a Sliver membership in order to obtain a full race license. There are other benefits to being a BC member. Click here to go to the membership page.

2) Apply for a Race License

An optional purchase when you apply for BC membership, be sure to select it. You can’t race without one. One important distinction to make is that between a provisional license and a full one; with provisional you can ride a race but won’t be eligible for any points should you finish high up enough. If you are already a silver or gold member, the license can be purchased separately at any time.

At the time of writing, a full license can be bought at half price from 1 July onwards. Your license will expire on 31st Dec regardless of when you purchased it, I’d advise getting one as early on in the year as possible for maximum value. You will need to renew your license annually.

3) Find & Enter events.

Races, especially those of the closed circuit variety, aren’t as widely advertised as some other Cycling events such as Sportives. Just go to the BC website and look in the events section – you’ll need to apply relevant filters (e.g. event type and distance away). Click here to take a look.

It’s cheaper and easier to enter races online (on the day entries are typically around 25% more expensive). Note that road races are often oversubscribed, making it a good idea to enter as early as possible. Once you’ve entered, you’ll be sent an email confirming your application to enter a race – followed by another one if your entry is accepted (with closed circuit races this is almost certain, with road races there is a chance you won’t get a ride).

You may also receive an email containing some additional event information – don’t make the mistake of ignoring these, they often contain useful details such as when sign-on closes and what time your race is due to start. Information received may differ from that on the BC website, it is worth cross checking. If there is a discrepancy, it can be a good idea to email the event organiser to confirm exact details.

4) Don’t forget…

You’ll need to bring your race license with you and present it at sign-on. It is also advisable to bring another form of ID (driving license accepted). More often than not, only your race license will be requested but you never know. Your license will be taken by the organisers before you race, remember to go and pick it up again once you’ve finished. I’ve lost count of the number of times when I have had to go back for mine after almost driving off – its very easily done.

For today, that is all. As always, hope this post has been of some use. Happy racing.

7 Tips for Bike Racing on a budget

As a Student, this is something which I feel very well qualified to discuss. I have to admit to the cost of racing being one factor which stopped me from trying it earlier. However – I’ve learnt a few things along the way that enabled me to enjoy a full season of racing without worrying too much about money. As per usual, it was a process involving much trial and error – not without disaster. Anyway, here goes.

  • Plan your events carefully

Before writing this post, I had a look back through my 2016 season calendar. I’m sad to say that I managed to waste just shy of £100 by entering races that I didn’t make it too. Don’t impulsively enter events, as I found out – doing badly in a race and then entering another one in a few days time that you hadn’t originally planned to do is a poor strategy.

I’d suggest sitting down with the calendar and spending an afternoon planning the season – after all it is winter at the time of writing, what else is there to do? Entering races on the day tends to cost about 25% more when compared with online entries, once again it’s good to be organized.

  • Look after your equipment

This one should go without saying, as Cyclists we all know that bikes are to be revered and given nothing but the highest standard of care that we can offer. In all seriousness, maintaining equipment properly means it will last considerably longer. This is especially relevant if you have just the one bike that gets used all year round. I’ve been guilty of not cleaning mine after a ride on many occasions – it can be an expensive habit. If you are short on time, just get the worst of the mud off and clean the drivetrain components.

  • Get your hands dirty – but not too much

Bike Shops can be expensive – the more mechanical jobs you can do yourself the better. Anyone who knows me personally will be crying hypocrite, and in all honesty they’re right. I will admit to being a terrible mechanic, sometimes having to have my handiwork corrected by the local bikeshop. You’d do well by just learning a few basic things, such as how to change a cassette and index gears. If a job seems too advanced and it involves expensive components – getting it done professionally is still likely to be a better bet.

  • Don’t take your best equipment racing – at least not to begin with.

4th Cat Closed circuit races have a reputation for being hazardous, and with good reason – many of the riders will be inexperienced. The chances of crashing are during your first few races are quite high. You might not want to risk your most expensive equipment. Alloy frames are far more practical for Crit / Closed Circuit events – the material has made a comeback in recent years and with good reason.

Most circuits on which races are held are flat, hence some extra weight won’t be a massive hindrance. I save my best bike for Road Races, these are ridden at a slightly slower pace and the field tends to be more experienced (usually its about 50:50 in terms of 4th and 3rd Cats, assuming a 3/4 rather than 2/3/4 race).

  • Do your homework

There is nothing worse than buying a piece of equipment only to discover that you don’t need it, you have to buy more items in order to make it work, or it is the wrong size/doesn’t fit. It might sound obvious, but it’s a mistake I have made many times. Just take some time to do some research; read some reviews and hunt for the lowest price.

  • Spend a little more to save in the long run

Buying very cheap equipment can lead to more being spent overall. It’s costly, not to mention time consuming and extremely annoying if you have to replace something over and over again. Plus, the last thing you want in a race is for a component to fail – I was forced to pull out of my first race due to a slipping chain, not before I had all but ground to a halt in the midst of a fast moving bunch and almost caused a serious crash.

  • Treat yourself once in a while

Sometimes it can be good to reward yourself. If you do have some spare money and something you’d really like – don’t feel guilty about buying it because it wasn’t the best value choice. I’ve found that building up to these occasional indulgences is a good way to keep ‘everyday’ spending under control. If you are saving for a new bike – it’s unlikely you’ll make any rash purchases beforehand. Just don’t make the mistake of going into a local bike shop and having a really good look, as I found out this can quickly put an end to an economy drive.

For today, that’s all. If you have anything to add or feel I have missed something out, feel free to comment below. Onwards and Upwards.