Now winter training is fully underway, I thought I’d aim to make some notes on how I’m progressing as I work towards next year and my 2016/17 season goals. This won’t necessarily be a weekly, fortnightly or even monthly thing – I’ll just post some updates as and when it feels right, or if I’ve had a particular set-back or improvement.
Over the last month or so, I’ve been getting back in to the swing of things after a few weeks off the bike. I had a big summer, riding/racing 1,000 miles in each of August and September, so I felt it was important to take a bit of time to relax, give my stomach a break from the carb gel and protein shake diet, and generally kick back for a while without the worries of sticking to a plan or maintaining fitness.
For a cyclist looking to push themselves and be competitive, an “off-season” can be surprisingly difficult. Us aspiring (albeit distinctly average) amateurs work hard for much of the year to build fitness, perhaps targeting specific events and using those as a focus to be in great form at particular times. That requires discipline: getting up at the crack of dawn to hammer out intervals on the turbo or the road; constantly watching what we eat and drink (and seeking to strike that difficult balance between normal sociable person and obsessive compulsive cyclist); putting ourselves through horrible Friday night FTP tests after a long week. Even if we enjoy the rewards that a training regime brings, and even if we bring it entirely on ourselves, it is tough work and we make sacrifices along the way.
And so, when we’re feeling strong and fitness is high, we rightly treasure that hard-earned form because we know what it has taken to achieve. Having trained for months on end, it can be difficult to intentionally back off knowing that fitness will fade much quicker than it came about. But you shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to keep pushing for fear of wasting the gains you’ve made: it’s not healthy to ride yourself into the ground all year round, and it’s good for body and mind to take it easy for a few weeks before attacking next year’s plan fresh and full of enthusiasm. Have faith, it’s the right thing to do.So after a few weeks off, I climbed back on the bike in the last week of October. The first few rides were pretty tough, physically and psychologically – it was all a bit of a shock to the system and kind of alarming seeing my heart rate hit the roof before my legs knew what they were doing. I rode for 30 or 40 miles at a casual pace, and my legs felt sore the next day. Madness! At times I questioned how I ever managed to race a week-long mountain stage race just a few weeks earlier.
Within a couple of weeks, however, things started clicking again. I settled in to a new Trainer Road 10 week plan (“Sweet Spot, high volume”) and ticked off a few movies whilst spinning out some long miles on the turbo. All pretty easy riding, just to re-engage and remind the body what it’s like to ride 4-6 times a week.
A month down the line, it’s the end of November and I feel like I’m building a good base. Weekly mileage isn’t crazy (averaging 160-175) and my TSS could be higher (about 500/week), but it’s consistent and that’s the main thing at this time of year. I still worry that I’m not doing enough threshold and VO2 max and that I’m losing my top end (if it hasn’t disappeared altogether) but I’m starting to accept that’s just part of the plan – you can’t maintain those race-ready fitness peaks all year round. Now is the time to build a bigger engine, before fine-tuning it in the spring and using it to race hard in the summer.I’m not sticking to a specific programme. I realise I’m someone who needs training variety to keep me interested, so I bailed on the Trainer Road plan and I’m taking advantage of all my options – Sufferfest videos, Trainer Road workouts, Zwift and, occasionally, actually riding outdoors door with my friends and club-mates. I figure that the priority during these cold, dark months is keeping the pedals ticking over when the sofa and a plate of comfort food calls. So for now, I’m just mixing it up and making sure I ride regularly. My wife, Ines, is in Spain for a couple of weeks so I’m trying to take advantage of the freedom and will be looking to ride both days this weekend with the guys from (shout-out alert!) East London Vélo and/or Hornchurch CC. With a bit of luck, we’ll get a crisp, blue day and a Blue Egg Cafe run might be on the cards… I haven’t done an FTP test for a couple of months, but I dialed it down to 280 for turbo workouts and that seems to be about right (although I think I’d struggle if I tried an intense VO2 max or anaerobic workout at that setting). If I really have only lost around 10-15 watts from my FTP and I can maintain that with plenty of sweetspot training through the winter, I’ll be really pleased – and well-placed to work towards that goal of 300w by April 1.
I hope your winter riding is going well. Don’t stress too much about sticking to a specific plan or hitting target numbers – now really is the time to build that base by simply riding as often as you can and banking some good mileage. A pro cyclist friend of mine recently told me to aim for 70% unstructured riding and 30% specific work pieces at this stage. That’s a target I’m keeping in mind. So open the lungs and legs every now and then, but generally just enjoy being on the bike at a time when many don’t leave the garage for weeks on end – you’ll reap the rewards in the new year.