Winter miles

For the aspiring road racer November is an awesome month. Most are done in after a long season of hard miles, be it racing or training. Winter gives you a chance to recharge your batteries, get back to enjoying riding your bike and prepare for the season ahead. I’d raced long into October so I’d actually reached the end of the season fairly fresh as my last few races had been crits. Rather than take a few weeks off I decided to head out in November and just ride my bike. I met up with the club run for the first time in ages, totally ignored my power meter and just plodded along without a care in the world. It was absolute bliss.

To many, November and December are horrible depressing months, why on earth would you ride in the rain, the cold and the dark? There are five things which I think are essential to making winter miles bearable. If you get it right, winter miles can be some of the best miles of the year. Do it well and you will also be in great shape for the coming season.

Mudguards

A divisive subject but I bloody love my mudguards! No soggy chamois, your feet stay dry and you get home not smelling like a farmer’s field. What’s not to like? I’m also convinced that mudguards create a serious parachute effect in the wind. Your good bike will feel about 2 kgs lighter when you dust it off in April. So hopefully 4kgs lighter in my case….

A solid winter bike also helps to get you out the door when plugging away at the miles. I’ve set my Kinesis up with the same fit as the Emonda, the same saddle and the same gearing so its pretty much just a heavy version of the good bike. There really is no point spending three or four months on an uncomfortable bike that bears no resemblance to the fit of your good bike. In my case I’m still limited drop wise by my hip flexors so I’ve dropped the bars 10mm lower on the Kinesis to see how it goes. I live in hope of something that resembles an aero position on the bike next year.

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Good kit

There is no such thing as bad weather, just poor kit choice.

There’s a lot to be said for that I reckon. My winter essentials are as follows:

  • Good quality bib longs.
  • Merino base layer, ideally long sleeved.
  • Gillet
  • Decent gloves, overshoes, buff and hat.

With the above and a couple of different jerseys to layer depending on the temperature you really can ride in all weathers. I’d love to add a Gabba to that list but I’ve yet to find a spare £200 down the back of the sofa. Don’t underestimate the awesomeness of quality bib longs. I bought a pair of Sportful Fiandres earlier this year and they really are a world away from shorts with a cheap pair of tights over the top.

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A plan

It sounds daft. But decide early on what you want to achieve next season and structure your winter so that it gets you to where you want to be. Ideally you want to be using either power or heart rate to guide you along the way but whatever you use, make it structured.

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I’ve got a pretty weird season ahead of me so my winter training will have some scratching their head. I’ve got an exam in April so realistically my season can’t start until May and I’m getting married in September which means my season will only run until the start of August. I’m going to give the Hog Hill winter series a solid go this year and try and make 3rd cat early on.  My winter will look something like this.

  • November – Volume. Simples.
  • December – Less frequent longer rides (3-4 hours). Sweet spot and threshold work plus intervals. Stay away from the mince pies.
  • January – Race Saturday. RTs where possible on the Sundays whilst maintaining some volume through the week (study permitting).
  • February – As above.
  • March – Drop the racing, focus on the exam whilst hopefully maintaining some semblance of fitness. Try not to eat too many biscuits.
  • April – Final pre season tune up. Mostly sweet spot and intervals.

 

Good mates/training buddies

Why else would you get out of bed at 6 am on a Sunday and ride for four hours in the pouring rain? Given we spend most of the year staring at each others seat posts and breathing through our arses, it’s a pleasant change spending a few hours rolling around the countryside catching up with the guys, putting the cycling world to rights (Froome’s data release will keep us going until February at least) and just generally having a laugh. All the while building a solid base for next season.

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Rest

Seems obvious, but don’t over do it! Catch up with your friends, your loved ones and just generally relax. Also eat cake. Winter should be filled with cake. There’s absolutely no point in watching your weight until that Terrys Chocolate Orangathon that is Christmas is behind you. Once January comes around pick a target and start that painful taper back down to race weight.

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I would say there is also no point in peaking in December but that’s exactly my plan…..I’m going full winter warrior.

Speaking of which, is it acceptable to wear arm and leg warmers with a skinsuit? I really don’t want to shave my legs in January…..

Whatever you do, enjoy it. It’s supposed to be fun.

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East London Velo – Six days of winter – Round 5

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(Some) photos courtesy of Ian Lambert (https://twitter.com/IanLambert18). The good ones basically.

Likely to be my last pre-season outing, I was looking forward to heading back to Hog Hill for round 5. The weather was looking great, no rain, kind winds and I was feeling pretty good. Due to mud on the circuit (floodlights have been installed) we were racing clockwise, which means down the Hoggenberg and up the descent. Most of the circuit was dry but the usually first corner, now the last, was pretty muddy. It’s also off camber for maximum pucker factor.

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 Ever wondered how much crap you need to take to a road race? Bike and rollers in addition for the pedants.

The event was marred by the sad news that a rider due to ride my race had been killed mid-week commuting in London. As a mark of respect the first lap of each race was neutralised and the bunch led round by his club mates to the applause of the supporters. I don’t think I raced with him, nor did I know him, but it was a fitting tribute. From what I gather similar events were held at the other road race circuits around London.

The race started at a fairly steady pace. I think most, like me, were not really sure of the circuit in this direction. The Hoggenberg had a nasty kink halfway down, not tight but the natural line took you out to the edge of the circuit and it seemed no two riders took the same line. The uphill was fine, no kick at the end but the last (first) corner was challenging especially if you had overdone it up the hill.

I set about floating about in the front third of the bunch, choosing my lines and keeping effort to a minimum. Having changed from 50/34 to 52/36 this meant a few more gear changes than before as I was using the bottom half of the block on the hill in the inner ring and most of the block in the outer ring on the rest of the circuit. The shorter crank length did also seem to be helping me hold a higher cadence.

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Where’s Wally continued.

At the halfway point I found myself sitting comfortably in the top 10/15. Only a couple had attempted to go off the front and all were brought back pretty quickly. A few laps later I found myself on the front up the hill. Initial thoughts were ‘Oh shit, how did I end up here?!’ Despite images of blowing up (and heading backwards through the bunch like I’d been dragged off stage by a giant shepherd’s crook) I paced myself and pushed on through the final dip and over the line still on the front. I briefly considered an attack off the front but it was far too soon and there was no way I had the legs to make it stick in any case. Consigned back to anonymity in the bunch a bunch sprint was looking a certainty.

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Roll on another few laps and we were approaching the last third. I’d slipped back a bit too far through not paying attention. Cyclingtips.com.au’s advice here is brilliant. If you’re not moving forwards, you’re going backwards (Well worth a read! –http://cyclingtips.com.au/2012/10/golden-rules-of-crit-racing). I set about working my way forwards again as the 5 laps to go board came out. By the start of the final lap I was well placed, probably on the edges of the top ten, until a crash blocked the road ahead of me. Those on the inside line got through unscathed but I’d lost all my momentum. A chase up the hill ensued but the top ten was out of reach by this point. A few caught me cresting the hill but I held off the remains of the bunch for what I think was 16th (results haven’t been posted yet). An improvement on last week, but a little disappointing as I’d felt good. Still, valuable training and another good chunk of miles in the legs.

Strava data below, complete with power data this time. Saying that though, the nature of the circuit throws out the averages.

https://www.strava.com/activities/251609098

Edit: I found this great video since the race (Courtesy of Thomas Willan: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9woSIYfS9EjG_-U3hBFCpg). Shows  I was further back than I thought at the end, lesson learned! Results are also in and I finished 14th rather than 16th.

New toys

I decided a few months ago that heart rate wasn’t quite enough to help me structure my training, especially given the limited time I had available. Since then I’ve been looking down the sides of the sofas and under the seats in the VX for loose change. After a favourable grant from the wedding fund, and negotiation of mutually acceptable interest terms, I was good to go! As I was also planning to change from a compact (50/34) to a pro compact (52/36) Stages wasn’t really the cheaper option despite already having the 6800 crankset. Replacement 6800 chain rings, it seems, are priced at pretty much the discounted price most retailers are selling the complete crankset for. Sneaky Shimano, sneaky! Effectively Shimano’s 110 bcd standard is only helpful to them as manufacturers and not us as consumers.

For the money I also wanted a true 360 degree power reading rather than half a reading doubled (This one could run and run…). I did my research and settled on Power 2 Max as the power meter for me. Unfortunately about a month after they discontinued the classic model range and about a week before the Euro took a dive…..

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Two and a half weeks later, voila! It arrives. Hurrah! The noQ aero chain rings are likely excessive but just look the outer ring, It’s like an aerodynamic ninja throwing star! A Rotor 3D24 (what was the 3D) crankset completes the package. As I’m running Shimano cranks (and more importantly bottom brackets) on both bikes I can swap the power meter (complete with chainrings) from one bike to the other.

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At the moment these are just expensive paperweights until I’ve made sense of this beast. Enter Mr Coggan and the power training bible. It may look heavy going, but it was this or study for my next exam, helpful research based power training, or the regulation of pension schemes and retail investment advice? Tough choice….

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East London Velo – Six days of winter Round 3

Pete - Hog Hill 2

Photos courtesy of Fadil Mokchane (www.twitter.com/fadilmokhchane)

After a pretty woeful attempt at racing in 2014 (Trinity Park was not kind to me!) I was determined to have a better year this year. I’ve been busy racking up the miles in horrendous weather and spending hours in November and December sweating on the rollers like a Polar bear in the Sahara. Part of my master plan was to race a few early season crits to see where I stood. East London Velo’s six days of winter is held on the daunting Hog Hill circuit and provides a 4ths only race and a 2/3/4 race over a six week series. Having read up on the circuit I was pretty nervous, like really nervous, images of being blown out the back on the first lap were filling my head and I really I didn’t fancy a two hour round trip for ten minutes of racing…

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After a healthy dose of Rule 5 (not entirely self prescribed), I chose the second race of the series to be my debut. My bunch riding skills needed work and I still wasn’t sure whether I was fit enough but I joined 40-45 other chaps with nowhere better to be on a Saturday afternoon at Redbridge Cycling Centre. If nothing else this was reassurance that if I had lost my marbles, at least I wasn’t the only one. Sadly the notorious Hog Hill puncture fairy caught up with me and my first race of 2015 ended after five laps. I’d been warned it was terrible in the wet but hadn’t realised that I could take a lap out (to swap wheels) before getting back in the race. Lesson learnt for next time! Despite the brief time spent actually racing I’d felt pretty good and got round ok with the bunch.

Roll forward a week and  I took to the start again with (with spare wheels this time I might add). I’d warmed up by spending fifteen minutes on the rollers steadily building the intensity with a few harder efforts towards the end. So far so good, I had mounted and dismounted the rollers without ending up on my arse (which is more than can be said for some poor chap that stacked it next to the line). I save my roller acrobatics for the privacy of my own garage. Trinity Park taught me that my warm up needed to be harder, especially for short races like these. It’s no good getting into your stride ten minutes in as the bunch wont wait. The race was to be 45 minutes plus 5 laps which would be roughly an hour in total. The course was dry and the wind straight down the start/finish straight (meaning there was also a nasty headwind into the bottom hairpin and on the approach to the Hoggenberg).

Pete - Hog Hill

Like Where’s Wally this.

The start went well and I got myself into the front third of the field in preparation for the first ascent of the hill. Many go out the back in the first few laps and you need to keep your wits about you to avoid getting boxed in and dragged out with them. After a couple of laps I settled into a rhythm, stay close to the front on the hill, recover (a bit!) on the descent, choose my line carefully for the sharp right at the bottom of the hill and carry as much speed as possible into the bottom hairpin before getting back into position for the hill. I found I was moving up the field on the hill by choosing my wheels carefully. Still carrying a slight weight penalty over many I was catching others on the descent without too much effort. This left the bottom of the course as my danger zone. Despite terrifying me on the first couple of laps I was carrying good speed through the sharp 130 degree right hander at the bottom of the hill and positioning myself well on the bottom straight. There was always a bit of a kick coming onto the straight but it was good fun jockeying for position.

My only goal at this point was to remain upright, stay out of trouble and get round so I camped firmly in the middle of the bunch and sucked wheel like a pro. At roughly 30 minutes two went off the front and remained away but in sight, probably about 10-20 seconds ahead of the bunch. After another couple of laps it became clear that they weren’t tiring so the pace shot up as the bunch tried to bring them back. This took me out of my ‘happy place’ and I could really start to feel the fatigue in my legs. The pace dropped after a lap or two and it wasn’t long after that the 5 laps to go board came out.

By now I’d already eclipsed my 2014 racing efforts so mentally I was ticking the laps off with legs that were getting increasingly heavy. On the last approach to the hill Andrew LoveLock (Interbike RT) went off the front and the pack chased hard to bring him back. With not much left in the legs I dug in and literally emptied myself. The effort was worth it though as I caught a couple on the line and finished 19th (of 34 finishers). I’m not threatening 3rd cat just yet, but once I’d stuffed my lungs back down I was pretty happy with the result. To give some scale to the graph below my threshold heart rate (i.e. what in theory would be sustainable for an hour time trial) is around 170 bpm. I was hitting about 180-185 bpm every lap, which is about 90-95% of max and blew through this on the last climb of the hill and set up camp on my maximum heart rate. No wonder I couldn’t speak after the finish.

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If you got through that waffle you deserve a medal. I’ll likely race one more round of the winter series before getting back to training through February and March. Exams in April mean my actual season isn’t likely to start until late April or May.

Strava data below:

https://www.strava.com/activities/245444840

Are we nearly there yet?

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One question that has been bugging me for the last six months was ‘how do I know when I’m fit enough?’

I spent October, November and December steadily plugging away through the dark mornings and the grim weather, increasing the distance each weekend whilst chucking in a session or two of 2 x 20 intervals where I could in the week. Whilst not exactly a training plan to make Team Sky envious, looking at training load at least I appeared to be fitter in December than I was during the Summer. I felt pretty good, but how does ‘good’ compare to your garden variety 4th cat?

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Winter miles without a wet arse, sponsored by SKS mudguards….

To answer this I enlisted the services of Russell Hampton at Marginal Gains Cycling (http://www.marginalgainscycling.co.uk/) and took on the ramp test. Best not to google that before giving it a go as all you will find are tales of vomiting, seeing spots and jelly legs. Which pretty much sums it up to be honest! The test takes on average between eight and fifteen minutes and starts at a low resistance level.The aim is to maintain a steady cadence, say 90 rpm, whilst the resistance increases until you can’t sustain that cadence any longer. The weirdest part is that nearer the end of the test, when the seconds pass like minutes, you’re breathing like a hyperventilating rhinoceros, seeing spots and concentrating equally on 90 rpm and not vomiting, it just ends. Like that its over. The results give you an indication of your functional threshold power (from which power zones can be derived) and your heart rate zones. I’d already worked out my heart rate zones using the British Cycling threshold test but this was a great chance to see how the two correlated.

And the results? Well, pretty good actually. I’m no Marcel Kittel obviously, but power wise I’m pretty strong which is reassuring, stronger than I thought in fact. Worth remembering here that I’m heavier than your average racing whippet (and not just because of all the Jaffa Cakes and Smarties I consumed over Christmas!) so I need to be putting out better numbers than my lighter competitors just to level the playing field.

Wattbike-Trainer

Would I recommend Wattbike based torture? It’s well worth doing if you want to get an idea of where you are power wise. Marginal Gains combine this with a personal evaluation which assesses training, nutrition, goals, pedalling efficiency and strengths/weaknesses. Overall, I’d put it right up there with a proper bike fit.

Winter miles = summer smiles. Or does it?

So then, it’s that time of year again. Having read numerous articles and spoken to everyone and everything that has ridden near me in the past month I’m none the wiser as to how to spend a winter preparing for a season of road racing. I’ve probably bored people to tears with my inane questioning and if that’s not bad enough, I’m probably ignoring most of what I’ve been told! The old school views are clear, big steady miles will give you the base needed to build on early in the new year.

I tried riding by heart rate and staying in zone 2 for all of a week and pretty much lost the will to live. I reckon a winter of that would have me back on the Dominos and Xbox diet pretty quickly so that was scrapped sharpish. There is a bit more logic to my thinking than a spectacular lack of willpower, mostly that I simply don’t have the time to commit to the big steady miles. Whilst there is no doubt that it would have been beneficial, I don’t have the time to go old school.

So, with a bit of pondering I’ve decided to do what I can in terms of mileage at the weekends and top this up with a couple of roller sessions in the week. Basically my weekday riding is going to be mostly spent staring at a wall…

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The plan is simple, sticking to it less so. The main miles will be at the weekend. The Saturday club run is around 45 miles, a good start, but not quite enough in my mind, so I’ve taken to adding 30 miles on beforehand. That’s a good 4-5 hours on the bike but to get the 30 in means leaving the house at 6:45. On a Saturday morning. Ouch.

The roller sessions will be the tried and tested 2 x 20 intervals. Once I’ve got the best out of 2 x 20 I’ll move on to 3 x 15. In theory, it sounds easy, get the heart rate up to the point that you are almost seeing spots and almost gasping like a fish out of water and keep it there for 20 minutes. Simples! Sadly not the case on rollers it seems. I’ve found that without resistance it really takes some concentration to get your heart rate high enough! Not to mention will power, I mean why push to 170 bpm when 165 bpm feels, well, pretty good in comparison! Still, it must be doing good things for my pedaling technique if nothing else. With 2 hours on the rollers that takes my weekly riding up to around 7 hours.

Hardly earth shattering I think you will agreed but hopefully a strong base for the reliability trials in the New Year. Even this though is hard to commit to when you are juggling a job that consumes hours like a time trialling Bradley Wiggins consumes oxygen with maintaining some kind of normal social interaction with loved ones, friends and family. I guess the proof will be in the pudding! Although that could be a somewhat Schrodinger-esque statement as I need to stay away from the cake….