‘…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.
The ramblings of a cycling coach...