As we draw to an end of another successful season for V C Melyd it’s time to again reflect on the end of the cycling season and what it has meant for me.
A broadly positive experience with a few ups and downs, mostly of which were nasty hills!
We have been involved in all sorts of events this year as a club, from our usual and varied club rides including many away days, local and some more iconic and challenging sportives and of course the Time Trial and Road Racing leagues.
I for one have had a go at it all this year. Dipped my toe into it all so to speak. I’ve been lucky enough to have been subjected to a structured training plan from the beginning of January. It’s been tough at times but the benefits I am now feeling are surprising to be honest.
We often read about structuring our riding and training to goals and ensuring your diet supports it all too. We see the same articles being churned out in the cycling press year after year. I’ve read them year after year and just continued riding my bike. Some good days, some not so good days. Just riding.
Within the training plan I had certain goals set. I am not overly interested in criterium racing particularly on a closed circuit. It just does not float my boat. I’ve tried it a few times and it’s a young mans’ game. Yes I could hold my own as in finish in the pack but riding in circles for an hour isn’t for me. So that goal was out. I fancied having a good go at the local Time Trial league. I struggled last year as I had a bad shoulder injury after a crash so my TT season was awful. I was still having shoulder problems so I wanted to develop my TT riding skills. Goal number one. The second goal I agreed was around the type of riding I really enjoy. That is longer endurance type riding where there are tough and testing elements – hills. I really enjoy riding in the open countryside and pushing myself every now and again on sections of roads which are normally hills. Much more appealing than riding in circles so that was goal number two set.
So my two broad goals were get the TT position sorted and get more comfortable riding and work to get over the shoulder injury and the second was to train for some testing and longer endurance events with some tough hilly bits thrown in.  I chose three events to work towards within my plan. They were the Fred Whitton Challenge, the Morzine Alpine Sportive and the London 100. I had wanted to try the local road race series but there was a big conflict with my work which made it prudent not to.
Armed with a plan off I went. Every week a new plan came and every week I worked hard achieving my small goals. Feedback is key. I spent a lot of time understanding how I felt how I was performing within the plan and being sure I was not doing too much or indeed not doing enough. All very new to me. A very enjoyable experience.
I was a stooge in this, I’m an ageing grey haired forty something, nearly 50 year old MAMIL. I don’t need a training plan. I just want to enjoy riding my bike! Alan Overson was doing is coaching qualifications with British Cycling. I had a deal with him. I’d work hard both on the bike and with the ever so important feedback and he would seek to understand how he can develop me through structured training. Principally he needed to make me faster. That’s what it is all about after all. Cut to the chase. I’m not training regarding race tactics. I’m riding my bike on my own and to a plan. We need to see improvement and in the cycling world that transposes to speed.
Eating the right things at the right times has been key too. My son is a Coach with Blackburn Rovers and a Personal Trainer with Virgin Fitness. He specialises in Strength and Conditioning and has all sorts of qualifications regarding sports nutrition. Another freebie was coming my way. A nutritional plan. To be fair to him he even got me a lot of nutrition products as he’s sponsored by A supplement company. (Not free by the way – a mild discount) My pantry is like a supplement shop!
We all needed a way to keep a good analytical record of my progress. We discussed a few different applications. Training Peaks, Garmin Connect, Strava and just plain old spread sheets. We decided upon Strava as it had everything we needed plus I could make direct comparisons to how I was riding on one piece of road at different times because of their segment feature.
In the early months of the plan there was a lot of build up work. Lots of work in different Heart Rate zones and cadence and differing length rides, all of which had a very detailed brief. My out door riding was coupled with “this will make you sick” turbo sessions. I’ve never worked in a structured way on a turbo. I was told to be sure I could get off the bike and onto a soft surface and to always have a sick bowl next to the bike. For real!
The weeks came and the weeks went. Plan followed pain followed feedback followed plan. I really enjoyed it. For the first time in 35 years of riding a bike (off and on – pardon the pun) I had structure to my riding. I even had rest days off the bike! That was strange for me as I live on my bike, my wife Debs, has always referred to me as “you know Daz, he rides everywhere on his bike” when we dated at the tender age of 15 – yes I was going everywhere on my bike. It was a Raleigh Winner then. Nothing has changed she says.
Rest. I didn’t like it. We had to change the rest days off the bike to “adaptation” days. On these days I would do my core work and very occasionally would do a very gentle recovery ride. Zone 1, think about a 12mph average on a flat loop for an hour. Or I would just rest my legs as in hardly use them if the plan said so. That usually followed one of those nasty turbo sessions. Zone 5×5. I still don’t like seeing that written down.
Progress was needed, for the three of us. So was it achieved in the end? It most certainly was. In all honesty I was getting frustrated as I felt the progress and indeed the plan wasn’t testing enough at first but I bowed to the experts and went with it. I did all of the events I had planned and was surprised at how I could ride within them. Riding the challenging mountain passes of the Lake District in the sideways rain in the Fred Whitton Challenge was my first proper test. The work had paid off I felt good and strong for the event. I faltered within the last 10 miles or so as the wind and rain got to me and I had to temper my efforts. Knowing how I could do this whilst being mindful of my numbers (HR, power, speed  etc.) helped me greatly. Another benefit of the training was that I now know what I can do and at what effort – I am now a stat geek. Yikes.
I too was over the moon with my riding in France. The Alpine sportive was my first in the Alps. Now that is tough climbing and stunning riding. The one day event was a true test for me and it was important that I worked to the plan and ensured I stuck to it. No heroics. Know my numbers and work to them. I missed most of the views on the Sunday! When I blinked I could see “Garmin”. Funny. The ride was good. I really enjoyed it. I tempered my efforts on the climbs which were long and tough but I was able to complete it to plan and I was very happy with how it went. The time I took was never a goal. That would be a consequence of riding to plan. It was and I was happy.
London too was a great day out riding. I’ve done it twice before when we have had a team of four in “The Club Challenge”. It’s a sportive ride on 100 miles of closed roads. The club challenge was always billed as a timed event where four from the same club work together and aim to beat other clubs. A four man TT type of thing. That’s how we rode it in years before though as its over 100 miles and our teams had different abilities it was always a jolly day out though a tough ride. This year though we wanted a strong team so that we could challenge other clubs to the virtual podium. All a bit of fun whilst experiencing 100 undulating closed road miles finishing with a sprint along the red Tarmac of The Mall.
The experience was totally different this year. Our team was seeded as we all put 4 hours as a target time to complete it and some of us provided evidence of times from the previous years where we had top ten (virtual) finishes. There was no way this was a club challenge when we started in the first group. It turned into a pseudo road race but without having the necessary infrastructure and support. It was quite an experience but never the less met my needs in respect of my goal. I went with it. The standard of riding was surprisingly good. I had no issues at all. Yes we were close and yes it was fast but it was fine. I tried to stay at the front of the bunch and we worked hard as a team when we could. Four hours and six mins was my time. I was very happy with that. The climbs spilt the riders as expected and I managed to stay with the main group before a slowing was experienced due to a car on the route. No drama though as the second group was great fun. I did too much on the front though. A great day out.
I’m summary then, having a structure and a plan has improved my heath, fitness and wellbeing no end. Have I done it to win races? No, indeed not, I’m far too old for that. I’ve enjoyed my goals which is what it us all about for me. Use of Strava has been a drama, only as I use it to track progress sometimes “crowns” pop up and that can create a world of fun as Strava develops into a social media platform. I’m not really into all that and I’m unsure as we get segments popping up everywhere it’s the best tool to use. Jury is out for me but I do enjoy looking at my progress. Seeing others progress too is great. Comparing times on there with others is what it is all about though really it’s not great at that as we all know the environmental factors when riding a bike impact greatly on “times”. I will concentrate on my performance and plough on using it. It’s a shame you can’t opt out of public leaderboards whilst keeping all other data public. Private rides take too much functionality away.  I’m sure it will mature and the functionality will grow. Let’s hope so.
Give a plan a go. It’s hard, it’s tough but it’s very rewarding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no great bike rider, I’m not deluded! I’ve just enjoyed riding to a plan and I’m rewarded with higher fitness which has impacted upon my health and wellbeing positively.
I keep on being asked why I don’t race, the honest answer is I’m not great in competitions, it’s a mental thing. I really do not enjoy it. I never have. I love riding my bike. Each to their own. We are all riding and enjoyment is a must. As soon as I stop enjoying riding my bike I will stop and find another fantastic hobby.
Happy riding (structured) :)