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.