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.
There's a rhyming mnemonic to help remember how many days are in each month, '30 days have September, April, June and November, all the rest have 31 apart from January which has 438. But, hey, we've battled through another bleak January, so what should February be all about?
Transition – a gradual increase in intensity and a reduction in volume if you’re going to be competing over the spring and summer is probably in order during February. If you’re only just clearing the Christmas decorations away, it’s probably your last chance to start training with any realistic hope of seeing performance improvements in time for spring. If you have left it a little later than normal - cut yourself some slack – the world’s in a funny place, just don’t be tempted to increase the intensity and volume of your training at the same time as you risk overtraining and fatigue. You may have to accept that early season racing is going to be part of your training program and target events may have to move to a little later in the year - during the pandemic, this doesn't seem to be much of a problem sadly. If you’re aiming for summer or autumn fitness, there’s plenty of time, but there’s no time like the present to start.
Be specific – whatever your choice of cycling poison, time trial/triathlon, road, MTB, track, etc the more time in position, towards race intensity and with ecologically validity in February the better – this means training in your race environment whenever you feasibly can. Fundamentally cycling is an immersive experience in the real world, not one endured through a screen. Turbo trainers are glorified exercise bikes, we use them because we have to, because it’s too dangerous, dark, cold or unpleasant to ride outside. Too much of it and you become conditioned to be effective at riding an exercise machine, not effective at riding a bicycle. Humans are mentally happier and physically healthier when they’re outside and exercising – fact. If you want to interact with your natural environment via a machine, I’d suggest a bicycle rather than a computer screen. Push something hard with your feet rather than tap something gently with your fingers. After all, fast or slow, riding a bike is what we enjoy doing, right?
Fitness testing - If you tested around Christmas or early in the new year, you might want to repeat that testing around the end of February. First, it will give you a good indication whether your efforts during January and February have paid off - 8 weeks is a realistic time over which it’s reasonable to expect detectable fitness improvements. If you’re not seeing the signs of improvement, you’ve got time (and the data) to implement some changes. Secondly, testing will give you updated figures on which to base your race or event prep during March.
The little things – they used to be called marginal gains but that was before marginal gains became a euphemism for testosterone patches. As intensity increases so does the need to look after yourself – when you train hard, as a minimum make sure you’re hydrated, you’re fuelling appropriately during and after exercise, and you're keep an eye on resting heart rate as this might indicate you're over doing it or you've got the start of a bug. When marginal gains was a thing, hand washing was there in the mix (really). Hand to eyes, nose and mouth is a principal route for viral infections and, for obvious reasons, never has avoiding this been more important. The less time you're ill, the more time you have to train.
Have faith – I’m not invoking the power of God here, I wouldn’t dare, particularly as my garage has been BlasphemyCentral during turbo sessions this winter – but mindset is critically important. Belief is a powerful thing, powerful enough to make people think it’s a brilliant idea to strap on explosives and blow themselves, and anybody unfortunate enough to be near them, up. If one is prepared to believe in immaculate conceptions, fiery talking bushes and vaccines containing a 5G tracking chip, a passing belief that we may get to use our hard crafted training during something that looks like a racing season shouldn’t be much of a stretch. Confidence and belief that training tailored to you represents a worthwhile investment in your future means engaging with your sessions and rides with purpose and intent. Simply, this means your training will be more effective. It ensures you will be as fit and fast as you can be. Importantly, it should also give you a personal sense of identity, value and direction. Having said that, my firm view is that it may be appropriate to blow up at the end of one of my time trial turbo sessions, but not whilst shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and rattling off a Kalashnikov. Everything in moderation, including belief.
Until next time peace, love and cycling.
Rich Smith has been in trouble before for reasons that are probably becoming obvious. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a mature psychology student. He spent 30 years responding irreverently to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching.
Here we are then, the start of 2021 – I don’t think anybody will be regretting saying goodbye to a shocking 2020. If you want to be ready to rock come the spring there is no time like the present to start training with purpose and intent. Candidly, now is the time to make it hurt just a little.
However 2021 turns out, by training you’re making a positive statement about the future - you’re investing in your physical and mental health. Arguably, this is the most important down payment you can make because it’s the most precious thing you own.
So, without further philosophising, what should your January look like?
Train, don’t ride – I’m overstating this for affect. There is of course no need to stop riding your bike but there is good reason to stop going on bike rides. It’s more than semantics because if it’s your aim to be as good as you can be come the lighter nights, you need to flick the switch from 'ride’ to ‘train’ mode. This means having structure to both your individual sessions and to your weeks and months. Try asking yourself ‘what purpose does this session serve, how does it relate to my goals?’ If you can’t come up with a plausible answer then stop doing it and start doing something else – something measurable and relevant.
Physiologically, you are going to have to introduce periods of intensity appropriate to your current fitness to overload your system. Coupled with periods of rest and active recovery, this will create the effect you’re after. Frankly, it’s going to hurt a bit. If training doesn’t overload you from time to time, you’re not doing it right. You’ll need to find some accountability to make sure you train hard when you should and rest well when you’re not – without this, your fitness will be an insipid beige.
Psychologically, all endurance athletes embrace hard training, that’s the ‘easy’ bit. Paradoxically, the other vital part of the equation – rest - is where most struggle. Rest is not something you do after training, or something that happens by accident when you’re not training but is part of your training. Rest is the bit where you get fitter and faster, your body adapts to the hurt and repairs itself to cope with the next instalment. Without it you’ll grind yourself down. You’ll risk fatigue and a whole host of injuries – some more sinister than others.
Make your training relevant. If you’re training for time trials, you’ll need to start spending time training in an aero position. Whereas If you’re targeting a 100 mile sportive in August, 45 min balls out sessions on the turbo in January won’t get you far. Take a leaf from the elite athletes note pad and think about polarising your training by making your easy sessions easier and your hard session harder. Being on the smart turbo sweating at threshold will work for a bit but you’ll be visiting Plateau Beige pretty soon.
Weight – Don’t panic! And don’t crash diet. if, if (and it’s a big if) you want to shed a bit of timber because you’ve rinsed the Quality Street over Christmas you can comfortably shed a stone (6kgs or so) sustainably in 12 weeks by carefully counting calories (approx. 500 kcal deficit per day) without compromising your training or rest.
January is an important starting point – if you want some help with your training, please get in touch here.
Happy New Year!
Rich Smith coaches riders in the UK and internationally. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a mature 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 which is much more fun
The 5 min interval, more accurately the 5 min effort - the interval refers to the rest period – has currency in the cycling world with good reason. They are a mental and physical journey as those familiar with the experience will attest to. Painful, grim, soul sucking, the list of descriptors is endless and yes, all true, but oh so very useful.
To put them in context, we’re talking about bloody hard multiple over FTP kick ass high Zone 4/low Zone 5 efforts. Individually they represent the kick you find at the end of a race or when trying to establish or get across to a break. In time trial parlance, they can be used in multiples for training – 4 of them if you’re superhuman and can break 20 mins for 10 mile TT, 6 if you’re a beginner trying to hold 20 mph for 30 mins or 5 if you’re a mid-marking improver looking to get under 25 mins. More broadly, they are used to induce an element of overload and, applied judiciously, are effective in increasing FTP.
So, shall we see if we can sneak up behind one, tap it on the back of the head and get in on the bench for a figurative dissection?
The first minute
What’s happening inside – if you’re reasonably fit, you carry enough ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) in your muscles to produce something like a 45 second to 1 min hard effort meaning you’re get the first part of this for ‘free’. Flat out, your ATP will go in less than 10 seconds but at a (high Z4, low Z5 power) or 10 mile TT pace, you’re going to be able to eek it out a bit longer. The ATP systems is handy from an evolutionary perspective when you’re escaping a sabre tooth tiger attack. You won’t be able to outrun the tiger but you might be quicker than your hunter gatherer mate who’s overdone it on the nuts and berries.
How it feels – cadence up, power up, relaxed but pumping legs. Heart rate low but starting to react to the effort. Breathing easy, no real noticeable strain in the legs.
What you’re thinking – this is a piece of piss, I’ve probably undercut the power target I was aiming for by 30w or more. There are a few pro teams out there who are going to be mighty sorry they missed out on signing me I can tell you. Sub 20 minutes for a club 10 this season and no mistake. I’m a Legend me.
1 minute – 2 mins 30 seconds
What’s happening inside – you’ve burned through most of your immediately available ATP and you’re having to synthesise it for which you need oxygen and as much of it as you can get. Your body doesn’t know what you’re doing because it can’t see a tiger but it will put up with it because your mind is telling you it’s important and it probably knows best.
How it feels – BIIIIGGGG intake of breath after 45 secs to 1 minute, rapidly rising heart rate, legs slowing a little under the resistance, noticeable strain in the legs.
What you’re thinking – Right, let’s just try to hold the original power target. I can do this; I know it’s going to be tough but I CAN and WILL push through this. I’ll he halfway through in a minute. Oh Christ, I’m only halfway through but I'll hang on.
2 mins 30 secs to 4 mins
What’s happening inside – heart rate well over what is sustainable for anything more than an emergency, your synthesising ATP as fast as you possible can and your body is pulling in oxygen and using water like it’s going out of fashion. Your blood lactate levels are rising rapidly and you’re unable to clear it as fast as you’re making it so you’re over your lactate threshold. Somebody will have told you that lactate makes your legs burn, slows you down and gives you that dead feeling. It doesn’t, but that what’s people say sometimes.
How it feels – Hard to know as your teeth are now biting down hard on the handlebars. Your breathing is noisy and laboured and you’re looking for new holes to breathe through. Heart rate revving like an F1 car but starting to drift and you sound like a Astramax diesel van with 250,000 miles on the clock.
What you’re thinking – This is unpleasantly difficult and you’d very much like to stop. However, you’ve invested in getting this far and even though your cadence and power is dropping, you're not going to blow it by giving in now. You're thinking you might have to knock this down a gear and pick the cadence up – this might Sting a bit.
4 mins – 5 mins
What’s happening inside – your systems are becoming overloaded and staring to get fatigued. You’ll be running on fumes and your engine management chip (your mind) is going to be balancing the need to achieve your objective of finishing this effort against the significant physical cost. It will probably be breaking down fibres in your muscles and stretching your aerobic capacity to the maximum. Arguably, this is the most important part of the effort if you’re striving for performance improvements.
What you’re thinking - More hallucination than thinking. Superman zooms past. His warp speed passage has instigated time going backwards. You are now sitting in HG Wells time machine as the world ages around you, the sun sets a few thousand times and you’re surrounded by a heard of triceratops. A diplodocus moos plaintively in the background whilst munching on giant fauna. You see God.
How it feels – Like the Ninth Circle on Dante’s Hell. Your body is screaming at you to stop and but you’re telling it you don’t want to yet. Muscle pain, gasping for breath, sweating profusely on to your headset. A sense of elation at the completion of the effort is marred by an instantaneous sense of dread at the approach of the next one. Time accelerates forward as you sling shot around the moon…
Rich Smith loves prescribing sessions that include 5 min efforts - his riders have invented new words for their coach. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a mature 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 which is much more fun
Ride – Yep, there’s a pattern developing here isn’t there? Assuming we’re heading for a normal season (racing from when the clocks go forwards in late March), December is a good time to continue building endurance with a focus on volume rather than intensity but introducing some polarised sessions could be an idea. January is likely to see the start of gradual reduction of volume and an increase in intensity so reminding the body of what this feels like pre-Christmas may make January a little more palatable.
'...Christmas time, mistletoe and wine, pissed up drivers psychopathically inclined…’ as Cliff once sang.
A straw poll of some club mates indicates many have taken increasingly to Zwift or similar indoor tortures. Of course, much of this is enforced by work patterns meaning mid-week day light road rides are out but also weekends can become problematical because of weather that, in meteorological terms, is mostly shit. Just a word of caution, 2 hours on the turbo is physiologically (and psychologically) different from 2 hours on the road. I try not to prescribe anything over an hour on the turbo but this does mean dialling up the intensity sometimes. Make sure you build some balance in, nothing but virtual riding is a bit like eating a pot of strawberry jam: the first spoonful is nice but it gets sickly pretty quickly when you see how much more you’ve got to eat. Spring is still a long way off.
Weight – Tricky. Personally I only have to look at a mince pie (with cream, obvs) to put weight on. At this time of year and at a time of Covid-19 induced isolation, stress and boredom, those of us with a propensity to seek refuge in the biscuit barrel are at risk of putting on a bit of timber. Weight is such a personal thing and it’s essential you find a balance that suits you as a person and as an athlete. My own experience is that in the past I’ve often relied on shedding excess weight post-Christmas meaning sometimes my training is compromised by having one eye on calorie deficit and the other on performance. They are not always compatible.
Weight is a minefield. There are lots unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders out there and all of us have our own relationship (good or bad) with food. The assumption that to be great on a bike means being rake-thin is wrong but it’s an unavoidable truth that too much excess chub is unhealthy and will slow you down – we need to find a healthy balance.
Head – Remember those goals you set a few weeks back? The targets that will map out what you’d like to achieve next season? Give them a shake and see if they’re still appropriate and will motivate you to press on purposefully with your training during the winter months. If they don’t fulfil this critical role, adjust them so they do. Training is most effective when it’s performed with meaningful intent and a clear-eyed view of relevant goals is a vital part of this.
'...all I want for Christmas is some new front forks, new front forks, new front forks...' as Spike Jones & his City Slickers once sang.
Variety - If you have been training during autumn, give yourself a pat on the back because you’re going to be much better prepared for 2021 that those that haven’t. If you’ve careful built up a sustainable, durable base at the right level you’re going to be able to push on harder and faster in the new year. If things are starting to feel a bit ‘samey’ go for a spin on the mountain bike, walk, rest, mix things up a little bit. You can afford to do this because you’ve built up resilience in your fitness and a week off the bike is likely to consolidate, not damage, those hard earned gains.
Reflect – Cycling is a rich, complex and involved sport, it’s one of the reasons why it's so enriching to be involved in but it risks becoming obsessive. It’s easy to get bogged down in numbers, FTPs, CdAs, TSS etc, sometimes it’s important for our broader relationships and our own mental health to ensure our beloved sport has it’s proper place in our life and is not overstepping the boundaries.
It’s important but it’s not that important - we ride for fun, nobody is forcing us to do this.
'Ooooooo baby baby, ooo baby BABY...' Hang on, that's Salt and Pepper...
Rich Smith's favourite Christmas song is Greg Lake's 'I believe in Father Christmas'. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a mature 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 which is much more fun.
So, there I was, flying through the air thinking ‘here we go again’ closely followed by ‘if I survive hitting the deck, I hope nothing runs me over’. Time stands still whilst a crash is happening but soon enough, I was lying face down on the A458. I was 200 metres away from my house having had my recently started Sunday ride brought to an abrupt halt by a little old lady in a Volkswagen. Again...
I’ve got a thing about being hit by little old ladies in little old cars whilst riding although to be fair, this is my first VW. I’m beginning to think it might be my fault, or maybe I did something terrible to old ladies in a past life. My brother had to fish me out of a hedge after being broadsided by a driver emerging from a T junction a few years back. Renault Clio. She said she was so unsettled by the crash she’d just caused; it was her sincere hope she wasn’t going to hit anything else on her onward journey. I shared her concern.
More recently a little old Spanish lady decided to turn right to get petrol at the same time I was riding past the filling station. Peugeot 206. She said it was ‘mucho calor’ and, yeah, perfectly understandable, paying attention to other road users when it’s warm is pretty challenging. Either way, Mallorcan tarmac tastes the same British tarmac – it’s just served warm.
I walked away from the first two with some missing skin, a collection of bruises and some bike scrapes. The latest instalment did involve a (short) lift home in a Shropshire ambulance and a bike that will only turn left. Well, it would only turn left if the wheels went round. Which they don’t.
I was fortunate to be helped off the road by a young lady who took charge of a situation very calmly (an ex fire fighter now in the armed services), a young man who witnessed the crash and stopped to help and give me his details, the cops and the ambulance staff. I’m extremely grateful for their care and attention.
If you ride long enough, this shit happens, a moment’s inattention from a driver and bang, down you go. I was lucky again – it you want to frame it like that – but it got me thinking about the value of healthy life and why I choose to spend a good chunk of it astride a bicycle.
Although it comes with obvious risks, stuff like this will not stop me, or you I suspect, from riding. It’s too important for my physical and mental health. I don’t ride a bike out of a determination to exercise my right as a road user. Self-righteous indignation is no protection against inattentive drivers and riding angry is no fun. it’s just cycling stops me from going bat shit and keeps the ravages of Mr Kipling's finest at bay.
Recent experiences have made me reflect on the place riding a bike has in my life. Instances of chewing tarmac aside, cycling gives me an enhanced quality of being, and training and racing gives me a sense of purpose and fulfilment. To some non-cyclists what we do may be no more than playing on a child’s toy dressed in a Lycra onesie, but for me it’s a fundamental part of my identity and psychologically important. Have you ever been prompted to think about what cycling means to you? Or is it just something you 'do'? I'd be interested to know.
Riding a bike outside makes me feel fully alive - in the elements you sense the environment and feel the work. It’s a real, not virtual, world and to me it’s all the more valuable for that. You can’t ride a bike without hurting a little although hopefully this is self-infected rather than in the gift of a little old lady in a little old car.
The moral of the story? I guess don't take your ability to ride a bike for granted. Value it, own it, nurture it and above all, enjoy it. And get insurance. And... bear in mind if you need a new bike, there's a long, long wait because there's nothing in stock!
If you've had your own experiences of bouncing down road unattached to your bike I'd like to hear about it, particularly if it's changed your attitude to riding or made you reflect on how riding effects your life.
Rich Smith bounces real good. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a mature 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 which is much more fun.
If you’ve lost your fast paced group ride for a few weeks because of Covid-19 restrictions, here’s something to try if you're still allowed out to play on your own.
Z3 Power (Tempo) is often ignored in training prescription for solo riding, perhaps because it tends to be the kind of effort level used in faster paced group 'through & off' type training rides or quicker Sunday club runs but, in the absence of these during lockdown, it might be worth trying a bit of Z3 on for size.
'Resist turning all your longer training rides in to Zone 3, you’ll be bolloxed...'
Z3 power is 76-90% of FTP or 84 -94% of your heart rate threshold (the HR you can hold for an hour) if you’re not using power measurement ...yet. So, whilst still fitting in to the ‘aerobic endurance’ definition, it’s pretty tough stuff, particularly to maintain on your own. I tend to prescribe sessions of 90 mins to 2.5 hours in duration with my riders. I tried to do 3 hours of it myself once and started to hallucinate about lemon curd on toast. Anyway, whilst it's noticeably tougher than Z2, trying to maintain this level can have a number of benefits, so...
If you try it, let me know how you get on.
Rich Smith tried to fit a rock & roll reference in to this hastily constructed piece but thought 'Stone Tempo Pilots' was pushing it. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a mature 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 which is much more fun.
‘…Or I'll just end up walkin' in the cold November rain…’ sung Axl Rose of Guns & Roses in their 1992 'November Rain' ditty. And had he not the foresight to take a couple of spare tubes and a pump with him, he probably would have been walking too. He was also right about the temperature of the rain. Combined with the dark nights it's enough to have Axl, Slash and whoever the hell the others were, reaching for their turbo trainers.
I think you can get away with doing ‘hello trees, hello clouds’ rides in September and October but if you want to be at your best for the spring and summer you should, in my view, be following a structured training program by now – it’s a critical time to start building an appropriate level of base fitness. So, what could your November look like?
Ride – As I mentioned in last month’s piece (here) you might want to think about lengthening your endurance rides in November whilst maintaining a semblance of zone discipline and not simply dropping down in the Z1 or the low end of Z2. Tempo (or Z3) is an often ignored zone but try it – see what 90 mins at Tempo on your own feels like – you might be surprised at how tough it is.
Sweetspot training – Axl used this a lot. You can tell the influence it had on him because he wrote Guns & Roses most commercially successful song ‘Sweetspot Child of Mine’ about his experiences. There are differing definitions of sweetspot parameters but, reportedly, Axl used 88-93% of his FTP and I concur with his thinking. Sweetspots are commonly used in multiples of 8 to 20 min efforts and can be effective, particularly if you don’t have the time to put long rides in as they are a reasonable substitute for endurance. They can be neatly squeezed in to evening turbo or rollers session and are (judiciously) doable day on day to fit around ones rock and roll lifestyle.
Build strength – Power comes from a combination of strength (torque more accurately) and speed. Pre-Christmas is a good time to build strength and therefore your capacity to push the pedals harder. Covid means gym time is unlikely but there are other leg strength exercises that can be done at home. ILT (independent leg training) on the turbo is an interesting and useful training method too. Don’t forget that strength can also come from developing your core and having a good stretching regime.
Winter bike – I once rode with a guy whose winter bike was better than the one he used in the summer. His reasoning being he didn’t want to ride something uncomfortable or unreliable in the worse weather conditions. He had a point, but the moral of the story is ensuring you’re riding something comfortable, reliable and fit for purpose. If you have the luxury of a bike with full length mudguards you will stay dryer and warmer for longer even if it is chucking it down simply by reducing spray. If you’re riding in a group, I would suggest these are essential.
Head - This time of year can be pretty tough. The clocks have gone back, it's dark and it can be bloody miserable. We're also contending with a resurgence in Covid-19 infections which is, at the very least, unsettling. Do all the right stuff to help keep you from going batshit. Eat properly, exercise, make sure you get enough sleep and if you lack structure, get some, it helps. Get a structured training plan - commit to it, implement it, trust it. Structure promotes reliability, predictability, accountability and consistency all of which are essential for good mental health.
Rich Smith was more grunge than glam in the 90s but enjoyed being Welcomed to the Jungle. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a mature 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 which is much more fun.
'October…and the leaves are stripped bare…' as Bono once sang before he became unbearable. Anyway, I promised a month by month training ‘could do list’ and as we are staring autumn in its ruddy face already, now seems like an appropriate time to do October.
Ride or rest? - Like September the weather can be good enough to make riding outdoors enjoyable but, if you are working a normal pattern, the nights have drawn in to the extent it’s too dark for evening rides in natural light. The transition to mid-week turbo sessions is on the way but I would caution against going too hard, too early. We have got 6 months of this stuff to get through.
If you are motivated to ride, then ride. However, Covid-19 means we have had an unusual season. The vagaries of lockdown means you may have missed rest between periods of intense competition, the family holidays without the bike and, paradoxically, a couple of breaks due to having a cold. I’m not suggesting a cold is a good thing but it does enforce some time away from the bike. Physical and mental rest and recovery is essential so if you are feeling bored or tired, put your feet up for 2 weeks and rekindle your desire to ride – you will need it over a long winter.
Refine your targets – Hopefully, you will have an idea what you are aiming to do in 2021 by now. Nail something specific and measurable down and stick it in the calendar. It is an important part of sports psychology to help you stay on track over the winter.
Training zones – If you are using power measurement, make sure your zones are up to date and, if necessary, do an FTP test. Check your current FTP is consistently reflected in any and all of the systems or apps you use so your training is at the right intensity to be effective.
Longer endurance rides – Probably the right time to start building these in. There is a debate in endurance training about whether the most effective programs are pyramidal (building a base and refining it to a peak) or polarised (80% easy and 20% hard). Truth is, it depends who you are and what your physiology best responds to. If you are a 28 year old pro rider aim to do the Milan San Remo and a grand Tour in 2021 you are going to need a good number of 6-7 hour back to back rides. An older club cyclist will not need this, but building appropriate aerobic endurance is important if you want to be quick over anything that lasts more than a few minutes.
Zone discipline – This is important. If you are going to do a Z2 ride then try and keep it in zone as much as possible. There is a big difference between 2 hours in Z2 using your correct FTP setting and 2 hours with 40 mins in Z2 and the rest drifting in Z1. Try holding a couple of hours riding at Tempo (Z3) – it is pretty tough. Always worth checking your average Normalised Power at the end of a ride, to ensure you are pushing at the right level. If you take only one thing away from this blog, take this.
Rich Smith's turbo trainer is sulking at the back of the garage where it was unceremoniously booted last year. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a mature 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 which is much more fun.
I had an idea to do a monthly article over autumn and winter to suggest some ideas for riders looking to be fit and raring to go for next spring and summer 2021. This is September’s instalment.
Under normal circumstances, September would see the gentle end of the season for riders focused on road racing and time trials. Some would be making the transition to cyclo-cross and track, others would be looking forward to a well earned rest. However, it’s safe to say this year has been anything but normal.
Hopefully, 2020 hasn’t been a complete washout and you found a way to keep entertained on the bike despite the loss of both competitive and non-competitive events. Mid July saw time trialling recommence which was a welcome relief for some of us, others have taken refuge in Zwift competitions and hammering Strava segments – whatever floats ones competitive boat.
Clearly, nobody knows what 2021 will look like but I feel the need to look forward with hope and optimism and I’m encouraging my riders to set their targets based on a normal season (with a few refinements as below). If Covid-19 restrictions play a part again targets can be adjusted in due course, but having clarity of purpose over the winter is important when training gets tough.
So, what could you be doing now to prepare for a sparkling 2021 on the bike?
Ride - The weather can be lovely in September and in the UK at least, what we Brits laughingly refer to as 'summer' has been pretty poor, so ride when you can. Usually early autumn is a time for a lack of structured training, a ‘ride when you feel like it’ period after a season of racing. This year, not so much, but if you are planning on having a structured training program over winter, bear in mind it’s four months just to get us to Christmas. Complying with a plan that will undoubtedly contain some dark nights sweating in the garage for that length of time can be a real challenge. Frankly, it can get boring, so enjoy the riding and maybe leave the rollers, turbos and Zwift alone for a while yet. Autumn is often the time for endurance rather than intensity with good reason.
Race ‘em if you’ve got ’em – There are some autumn season events out there, time trials and a few circuit races with limited number fields. My experience of these is they tend to be low pressure so if there are events you fancy doing, go do them, but maybe don't put any pressure on yourself to 'perform'. Enjoy it.
Start setting your goals for 2021 – You may have unfinished business from 2020 to refresh. As well as setting some output goals (win the Tour in July 2021 etc) it might be sensible to look at some process goals too, specifically ones that are less likely to be affected by events beyond your control. These might be power/FTP targets, segment times, ‘PBs’ on your training routes and the like. They form useful markers to guide progress and can be a good fall back position if external disruption comes in to play.
Review data – Make sure you record your metrics including speed, times, power and HR from any races, events, PBs from this season because they will help inform the levels of your training over winter. If you are using power measurement, and particularly if you’re using Smart turbo trainers and algorithm based training programs, correct FTP settings are vital. If you are trusting the machines to prescribe your training, get your FTP settings wrong and you risk not optimising your efforts or burning yourself out.
Niggles and injuries – get them sorted now and that includes your bikes and equipment. Workshops are really busy, if you have winter bike, now might be the time to do the work on it or book it in for a service.
Remember, you win your medals in the winter, you just go and collect them in the summer.
Rich Smith has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a mature psychology student. He spent 30 years responding badly to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property.
The ramblings of a cycling coach...