So here we are then, spring. It's been a long and difficult winter like no other I've ever seen. Hopefully you've made it through in one piece and have either avoided or recovered from this awful bug.
If you're a regular visitor here you'll know I've been doing a month by month 'guide' to training over the winter. This is the last of the monthly based updates for the time being because, praise be, winter is finally over. I hope you’ve found these things useful or at least pleasantly distracting whilst the world has been in such an unfamiliar and unsettling place.
With both cycling and pandemics it appears data is critical. All other things being equal, if the UK COVID-19 figures continue to trend downward, we have the reward of a return to outdoor sport to look forward to (in England at least) from the end of March. Quite what this means for mass start events like road racing, sportives and the like we don’t know yet but British Cycling are on the case so we'll know as soon as they do. Fingers crossed. However, the Cycling Times Trials calendar is already well populated for those of an aero disposition, clubs seem to on the ball and the diaries are becoming populated with events from 29th March onwards. I guess we’ll have to wait to see what the devolved administrations come up with, but I know the riders I coach in Scotland are growing weary of sitting on the runway, engines running, all ready for take-off.
'...Oh shit, it's March...'
Over the last 6 months, I’ve based these brief articles around training through winter for a season that starts in April. If this timeline is relevant to you, you’ll probably fall in to one of two camps. Either you've had a winter’s worth of riding ready for the application of the finishing touches or you’re currently spraying chocolate digestive crumbs out of your mouth whilst muttering ‘oh shit it’s March’ and easing yourself off the sofa. So, this month let’s focus on approaches for these eventualities.
The chocolate digestive scenario
We’ve all been here to a greater or lesser extent and, if you’re just getting in to this cycling malarkey, you’ve got to start somewhere. Now is as good a time as any. It’s easy to be tempted to do too much too soon if you’ve left things a bit late. But ‘a bit late’ is a relative term. With a fair wind, there should be races and events all the way through to October in 2021 and, because of the pandemic, a lot of these are late in the season so there’s still plenty of time to get in to shape. You just may have to accept you’re going to be at 60% at the start of the season and you’ll need to use the first couple of months to judiciously build form, using racing as part of your training. Not exactly the end of the world, and don’t apply pressure to yourself to ‘perform’ try to focus on ‘build’.
The same principle applies if you’ve been out of the game injured or ill. One of the very few positives of the last 12 months is there have been far fewer cold and flu viruses in circulation (because we haven’t been circulating) but whatever the reason for time off the bike, the way to return to fitness involves pragmatic, progressive and appropriate training to get you back in to shape. Don’t rush it and don’t be tempted to take short cuts. Crash diets and 5 hour bike rides don’t make great bed fellows
The finishing touches scenario
Well done you…!
Broadly speaking, you should be dropping the volume and increasing the intensity. However, this should be in a way that is relevant to your level of fitness, season’s targets, current training load and, critically, your data. You probably want to be spending more time in Zone 4 and Zone 5 if that’s where the important bits of your racing happen, but bear in mind we are talking about building up minutes, not hours, in these zones. Time spent up here is physiologically and psychologically extremely demanding and repeats in these zones have to be carefully measured and combined with the right amount of rest. Undoubtedly, you’ll need to monitor recovery to understand when you can go hard again without blowing a gasket. Be cautious if you’re using a TSS score to balance your training load, it’s a reasonable way of judging training load if there’s lots of Z2 but when you hit the intensity button, it’s not always fully reflective of physical input.
'...your body is like day-old rice. If it ain't warmed up properly, something real bad could happen...' Ted Lasso
Training doesn’t stop when the racing starts but it does need to be adjusted to make the most of the increased demands placed on your body. With careful measured application of overload and recovery, this is where your largest physiological gains can be made. It’s where the work you’ve put in to lay the foundations for spring and summer will pay off and where you can see the benefits of proper rest, active recovery, structured warm ups and tapering on your cycling.
I hope to see you on the lists in 2021 and do get in touch if I can help you with riding faster.
Rich Smith has had enough of winter. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a psychology student. He spent 30 years responding badly to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching.
The ramblings of a cycling coach...