Onwards and Upwards

It’s done. I thought to myself with a great sense of relief upon climbing off my bike today, the stats speak for themselves; 37 hours and 563 miles over these last three weeks. It’s pushed both my physical and mental resilience to the absolute limit but already I can feel my legs getting stronger. Bootcamp, thank you. I’d like to think it ended in style, a 25 mile time trial PB of 56:07 set this morning felt like an ideal way to head into an easier week.

After struggling so much with motivation throughout these last few months I’ve adopted a different approach to training that I think has made that higher volume possible. It’s both an art and a science, finding the balance between the two is a tricky thing and I have no doubt that the right one is something that depends very much on the individual.

I think it’s fair to say I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum at various points. Before I decided to take Cycling that bit more seriously and got round to picking up that very first training manual I’d ride on feel alone. There was never any plan, I’d ride hard if I felt like it and easy if my legs were tired – taking each day as it came. Fast forward eighteen months to my first season of competing and it was the complete opposite, it’s no exaggeration that each and every workout would be planned weeks in advance. If I missed a session or my power output wasn’t where I wanted it to be it would feel like the end of the world.

Approach number one certainly had it’s merits but also some significant drawbacks. Not scheduling rest weeks lead to a long bout of staleness and not working toward any particular goal often made it difficult to motivate myself to get out the door – I’ve only got to look at the Strava to see how inconsistent my riding was, that’s never going to lead to good performances.

Taking the ultra-scientific approach also had it’s pros and cons. I learned some very useful skills in terms of how best to track my fitness level and quantify my training load however for me it soon became dull and repetitive. I forgot how to enjoy riding. Another common trap I managed to fall into was becoming scared of the numbers , as a self coached athlete it’s very difficult to interpret your performances objectively and I’d live in fear of discovering my training plan hadn’t worked as well as I had intended.

I think that finally I’m starting to crack it this year, using a mixture of the two. I’ll schedule four week training cycles, the main advantage of this being that it will allow adequate time for recovery and thus help to prevent overtraining. Power data is undeniably the best way to test progress and therefore I’ll still do an FTP test or something similar from time to time.

However I’ve made a big change in that my aim is now to come up with workouts I’ll enjoy rather than those which would be best on paper. If I want to do a session of zone 5 intervals I’ll find four or five strava segments of 3-5 minutes in length to chase over the course of a ride. If I feel like a mountain bike ride rather than a session on the TT machine that’s exactly what I’ll do. If it’s pouring down with rain I usually won’t ride, at this time of year the weather is reliable enough that usually I can just make the next day’s ride longer and/or harder instead.┬áIn order to conquer the pre-competition nerves that have held me back in the past I’ve made a point to get out and race as much as possible. I won’t pass up the local midweek TT just because it’s a short distance and technically speaking I should do a longer session. After all the principle of specificity always applies – the best way to prepare for racing is racing, whatever type that might be.

I’ve made the effort to get out and socialise more outside of Cycling. Of course this is completely anecdotal but I think that’s been a positive step to take, it’s not the end of the world anymore if my form isn’t great – I’ve always got other thinks to think about. It’s reminded me that ultimately it’s my choice to do this sport and for reasons I’m sure a Sports Psychologist would be-able to explain that sense of freedom has made the processes of training and racing far, far more enjoyable than they’ve been for a long time.

Finally I’ve made the decision to suspend my multisport ambitions for the immediate future. Now simply isn’t the right time to train for something as extreme as an Ironman Triathlon. With everything else that’s going on it wouldn’t be possible to make that commitment, far better to take the pressure off and revisit that particular ambition at a later date when other aspects of my life have fallen that bit more into place.

So, what goals for this season now? Time Trialling definitely remains my favourite form of racing; I like the purity of it, pitting yourself in a physical and mental battle against the clock. There are no complex race tactics to worry about, it’s just a matter of trying to pace yourself so as to get round as quickly as possible. To that end most of my training will be TT focused and the plan for the rest of the summer is to try and set good times over a range of distances, all of which can serve as benchmarks upon which to improve in the future.

If today proved anything it’s that I still have a long way to go, despite beating my previous PB by a full five minutes it was only good enough for 11th place, six minutes down on the winner. Having become (slightly) older and wiser by this point I know not to interpret this as a bad thing, I won’t get better by constantly comparing myself to others. Instead it’s a matter of looking at where I am now and putting in the hard work needed to improve so that eventually I can become that guy standing on the top step of the podium.

Thanks for reading.

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