Category Archives: training load

Back on the bike


The turbo bike

After a few months off I finally got back on the bike on December 31st. 18 miles (at 13mph!) later and I was sore, tired but pleased to have achieved ride #1.

Since then I’ve unpacked the turbo trainer, repaired the turbo bike and bridged the bad weather gap with a couple of easy static sessions.

I’d been worrying (!) that my heart rate was too high for the perceived effort I was making. On reflection I think it’s because this is the first time in years that I’ve been training while REALLY rested (as opposed to barely recovered).

On Sunday I went for a leisure ride with Pat along the new Coastal Connection path between Glyne Gap and St Leonards. The surface is a bit sketchy in places (deep, loose gravel) but I think it will be a popular alternative to the main road. Especially as it has a café on it. We stopped for a brew even though it was only a ten mile ride.

In the afternoon I did a 25 mile circuit through Cooden, Pevensey, Magham Down, Herstmonceux, Ninfield, High Woods and Little Common. I only averaged 14 mph after blowing up in some style with a few miles to go. The Ryvita for lunch was clearly not enough fuel.

And so to today’s session. It was a perfect, mild, windless day. I did the same 25 mile circuit and pushed along about one gear higher. I felt stronger. I did get a bit ragged towards the end, but always in control. It was still only a 15mph run, but that’s progress. I love it when a ride goes well.

If I’m cycling to maintain fitness (rather than to improve racing performance) I think three rides a week should be enough. I’d like to get some more distance work in, but I need to adjust to being back in the saddle before that becomes possible.

Cycling review of 2011

This shouldn’t take long.

I started a new job in May. It has weekend working and a variable schedule which made it difficult to keep to training plans and made weekend racing tricky to programme. So I slowed down then stopped the racing. And then slowed down and then stopped the cycling. I haven’t been on the bike since August.

But it’s not about the job of course. the job was just the excuse pushing at an open door. The racing was getting difficult because I was going slower. Motivation is a problem when there is no incentive. The house move in March meant that I had lost my support network.

Support network sounds grand doesn’t it. What I mean is those people who get after you if you start taking it easy: the Willesden CC, the Minet Ladies CC, the veterans at the Hillingdon Cycle Circuit, the Imperial Winter Series and so on. Living in a new place means you have to be a self-starter until you find the local networks. I did this for a while… and then stopped doing it.

Will I ride a bike again? I’ve got a hell of a lot invested in kit. That’s probably not enough of an incentive to tempt me out on a day like today (cold, wet and windy).

The one thing that might persuade me back onto the road again is that I’ve started putting on weight. The new job, with its outdoor work and requirement for nervous energy, has kept the pounds off during the season. Since November I’m working less and the pounds are creeping back on. I hate being fat.

If I do race next year I think I’ll stick to club races. There’s a really good calendar of evening events in East Sussex. I do like riding opens, but down here the weekend events always start early in the morning (in most areas the Saturday races are in the afternoon). Two early starts (3-5am say) in a row are no fun, especially if you’re riding like a slug.

I don’t think I can afford to set targets for next year. They get me down and, in the end, become counter productive.

Some statistics for the year:

Fastest 10 miles TT – 25:52 on 9th May on the G10/87 course (compared to a PB of 23:37)

Fastest 25 miles TT – 1:05:33 on 8th May on the Q25/8 course (compared to a PB of 59:07)

16 races ridden. This compares to 48 in 2010.

2,615 miles in training (so far). This compares to 6,786 miles in 2010. I’ve never exceeded 10,000 miles in a year.

633 miles in January was the most miles in a month this year. The disruption of the house move and then new job kicked in around March.

>A new metric

>Am I training on hillier terrain? It feels like it, but the Chilterns were pretty hilly as well. There’s something going on. Check out a graph derived from my training log:

Miles per week (LH axis, blue bars) and TRIMP (RH axis, red line)

This shows how few miles I’ve been doing, especially in the last month or so. The TRIMP figure is derived from analysis of time spent in different heart rate zones. In a normal week the line coincides with the top of the miles bar. If the line is above the bar, I’m working harder per mile. This happens in the first few weeks of training (2010, 46-48) and then settles down.

The figures from the last three weeks, though, show and even higher TRIMP/mile. I’m not working really hard yet, so this is surprising. What’s pushing my heart rate up? I’m fresher, I suppose, and heart rate is depressed when recovery is impaired. The time off for the move, fewer miles per week and the decision to train (for the time being) on alternate days means that my heart can get nearer to the maximum more easily and more often. The warmer weather is also a factor – heart rate tends to drop in cold temperatures1. But are the hills really hillier?

I’ve gone back through my training files (stored in a database) and created a calculated field of feet of ascent divided by miles travelled. Both figures are taken off my Garmin Edge 305 which I’ve been using since late in 2007. The ascent figure can be a bit flaky (it’s based, I believe, on atmospheric pressure) but over time I hope it gives a fair reading.

This week’s training gives me 60’/mile of climbing – the highest on record. Only six times have I exceeded 40’/mile since the end of 2008. Three of these are in the last three weeks (of the others, one included a long, hilly ride in Herefordshire and Worcestershire in 2010, another was a week in Brittany in 2008). Yesterday’s 32 mile ride (Bexhill, Catsfield, Netherfield, Dallington, Rushlake Green, Hailsham, Windmill Hill, Ninfield, Bexhill) gave me a return of 74’/mile, the second best on record behind a 10 mile ride in Herefordshire last April. How I must have avoided those Chiltern climbs!

I love numbers me.

A friend of mine once asked the great Paul Carbutt how to get fit. Carbutt just said “head for the hills.” I hope he was right.

1 This variability is one of the reasons why some sports scientists despair of working with heart rate. Those with big budgets prefer working with power meters.

>Rides a bike

>This is a link to a picture of Laurence Olivier riding a bike. The cap seems to have the rainbow bands on it and perhaps ‘NISSAN’ on the side. It’s from the film ‘A Little Romance‘ (1979) which I’ve never seen.

Anyways – Larry rode a bike in 1979, I rode a bike yesterday. So I’m back on the bike. I rode 2 miles to a café on Sunday as well, just so I could say that I did ride.

Yesterday’s effort was deliberately relaxed. A long, flat opening over the Pevensey Levels and then some gentle undulations through Herstmonceux (land of trugs) and Ninfield. The gentler profile of the route meant less energy expended than recent efforts. All in all it was great – good weather and a real ‘build’ to the ride. It may not have had much training value, but it got me back out there.

Next weekend’s planned event (the Catford CC 10m TT) is off – my entry was received too late to be considered. I think the Royal Mail may have done me a favour1. The extra time will mean a bit more fitness gained before the ’10’ and ’25’ the following weekend.

Easter is out for racing because of family commitments, so it will be May before I get a chance to start racing in earnest. I’m still not exactly champing at the bit. I’m going to try training every other day for a while (rather than 5 days a week) to try and build up the enthusiasm ahead of the fatigue.

1 They didn’t do me a favour when they lost the modem router that I’d ordered though. I ended up having to buy an overpriced one from PC World. Still no refund either. Not that I’m bitter.

>2011 – race #1

>And so it begins again.

I’ve had a fortnight of occasional short, gentle rides rather than training. We’ve been packing the house ready for the move and that has taken all of our attention. Despite this I did want to ride today’s event. I’ve got very anxious over the last weeks and cycling has helped take some of the pressure off.

I had a particularly good ride on Friday – an hour at Hillingdon on the Planet X TT bike for the first time in months. It felt like flying. On Tuesday I’d struggled to average 16mph on the road bike. On Friday, despite no effort longer than three miles, I did 19 miles in the hour. Given how unfit I’ve been feeling, it was a big boost. It was good to say ‘ta ra’ to the Tuesday/Friday veterans as well. I’m not going to miss the regular kickings they gave me though.

So Friday and Saturday we broke the back of the packing. The loft is empty and our life is almost all in boxes. This meant that I could legitimately spare the morning for a proper bike race – the West London Combine / Maidenhead and Dist CC 10m TT on the Knowl Hill course (H10/2). We might have had the Tour Down Under, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Strade Bianche, but we all know the season really begins at a village hall just outside Maidenhead in early March.

It was a cool, crisp morning with a slight tailwind to the turn. This made the early rise to Knowl Hill a little less lung bursting than usual, but made the last half a mile a living hell quite hard. I was pleased with my ride. Last year I messed it up by being on medication and snapping a gear cable on the way to the start. Two years ago I did a 26:37. Today I did exactly the same time. I’m not progressing as well as I might!

CORRECTION: I misread my time. It was actually 20 seconds slower – 26:57. I need new specs.

Race stats: Time: 26:57 (22.26mph). First 5 miles: 12:20, last 5 miles: 14:37. Top speed: 29.6mph. Slowest mile (6): 3:09 (19.05mph), fastest mile (4): 2:18 (26:09mph). Average HR: 163bpm, maximum HR: 168bpm. Average cadence: ?rpm. 28th of 84 finishers. Winner: Peter Dixon (Willesden CC) 22:58

As it was an association event I rode in the colours of my second claim club, the Willesden. That should be my last ride for them… It was good to say cheerio to so many of the team mates and friends from other clubs who have made the nearly five years we’ve lived in London so nice. Apologies that I didn’t get to chat to all of you. Thanks all.

In other news – they’ve just run the Kiwi age group track championships. My sister Marie reports…

Final score for NZ National Track Cycling Championships:
Jennifer [my niece – U17]: bronze (scratch race), silver (points race), silver (team pursuit), bronze (team sprint), 4th (individual pursuit) and 6th (sprint)
Me [i.e. Marie – vet]: bronze (500m TT – PB 42:814), silver (2000m individual pursuit – PB 2:49:418)

Well done the Muhls!

>Miles in the bank

>When I were a lad we used to talk about ‘miles in the bank’. Structured and scientific training was the province of the few (we had heard of ‘intervals’ and ‘fartlek’, but we didn’t quite know what they were and we  certainly didn’t know anyone who used them). Coaches were pretty thin on the ground and running a coaching business unheard of. Training started at the Boxing Day ’10’ time trial and continued through January and February with a series of unstructured, longish rides to knock the edges off. Pace and pain was added if you went out with faster riders. Racing started at the end of February and from then on in most people were ‘racing themselves fit’. Most of my PBs happened in July and August.

Nowadays, of course, even if you don’t have a coach, you have access to myriad coaching manuals, magazines and on-line forums. I train far less than I used to – last week I rode 230 miles, which is the most I’ve done in a week since the 1970s. I used to clock up 300+ miles a week regularly and once, memorably, rode over 600 miles in a week.

I know the new methods produce results, but habit makes me think of getting the miles in the bank. And I’m hoping there’s something in it.

After a stressful couple of weeks, where we thought the house buying chain might crumble, we finally exchanged contracts yesterday and we’ll be moving to Bexhill in a couple of weeks. This is great news but will lead to a reduction in training. My focus is elsewhere and there’s a lot to do between now and the move. I’m going to be cashing in some of my miles in the bank.

I hope that I can get back into full training again in April and start racing properly in May. I will try and ride next weekend’s ’10’ just so that I can say the season has started! It’ll be interesting to begin late. My recent seasons have seen performances peak in May and early June. Perhaps we’ll see a reversion to the old pattern.

Yesterday’s news about the house was topped by wonderful family news. Tonight we have a meal with friends and tomorrow is Pat’s birthday. It’s turning out to be a pretty good weekend.

>Easing back

>An easier week this week. Just a few signs of not coping with training (power drop off, insomnia, dry throat, difficulty with breathing etc.). I know it makes sense, but I still feel guilty. In the past I’d have trained until I dropped (i.e. caught a cold, strained a muscle, thrown a wobbly) and then have been forced to rest.

So 10% less work this week and no long ride. Tomorrow’s a rest day (family do). ABW I’ll be back to the schedule on Monday, fresh and ready to go.

The reliability trial season is on the horizon. I had hope to start with the Lewes Wanderers‘ event on 23rd January, but this was reliant on us having moved South. There’s the Harp Hilly Hundred on the same day, but I’ll probably wait until the following week and ride the shorter of the two Team Quest events. I’ve not done enough road riding to be confident in the hills yet!

Details of all six Chiltern Classic reliabilities are here.

>It’s a funny old time of year

>I started January today. I began my training programme a little late, so I’m running off a different calendar to most people.

It’s a difficult time. The pain and disappointments of last season have faded and the new season is just over the horizon. The numbers are going up (as they should be) and it’s tempting to push on – to do too much too soon.

Keeping the intensity down is an issue for me. Few people now subscribe to pure ‘Long Slow Distance’ work, but there’s a consensus that this time of year is about building up endurance and working on skills. The trick is to allow enough time between training sessions (and real life) to recover. Going too hard, too soon can lead to over training.

Over training can lead to irritability, depression, aches and pains, insomnia, and headaches (hmmm). It’s a chronic condition that can take a long time to fix. That’s why it’s important to get the intensity right and recover properly (and each person’s response to training is different – you have to know yourself and be honest about what training load you can healthily sustain). Good nutrition and hydration are important as well. I’m useless at the nutrition side of things.

It can be a physically dangerous time of year as well. The days are (slowly) getting lighter and I’m desperate to get out onto the road. But several people have reported falls this weekend, caught out by the ice. An accident like that can wipe out any advantage I might gain from a long road ride. I looked out of the window on Sunday morning and decided to substitute a long turble session for the day. Not much fun, but safer.

There’s a lot of illness around at the moment as well. Pat has had really nasty flu this past week. I’ve been wearing a deep sea diving helmet around the house, so I hope I don’t get it. I think it’s made my hypochondria flare up again. I try to keep my immune system in good order by taking vitamins C and D, zinc, omega 3 and by touching wood on a regular basis. I wish I could avoid using public transport at this time of year.

I suppose the other January thing is motivation. Sometimes it’s lacking. I just don’t feel like training. The good news is that I don’t need motivation, I just need to get on the bike and ride. If it’s raining, icy or dark I use the turble. I don’t have to like it (see above). I have a plan for each session and try to execute it. If I do miss a session, I forgive myself and move on. It’s not the end of the world.

I still haven’t set goals for the season. The house move is progressing slowly. It might be two months or more before we move. I hope it’s less than that – we’d hoped to before Christmas. Whatever it is, it’s likely to take out the early season. Until there’s a bit more certainty around, I’ll hold back on the targets.

>The Sufferfest – Angels

>I have downloaded another Sufferfest turbo sessionAngels. Like The Hunted (my review here) it involves some sustained efforts. This is why I’ve started with these two – I don’t want too many short, sharp efforts at this time of the year.

Which is not to say that Angels is easy – oh no. After a warm up (in the line at San Diego velodrome) you do ten minutes of over/under intervals to ‘open your lungs’. The nice thing about this section is the footage from the 2010 Paris-Nice where you ‘drop’ Contador.

There’s a respite and then you are into three eight minute climbing efforts with four minutes rest between. Each effort has a different character, both onscreen (Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Paris-Nice and Dauphine-Libere) and in terms of the intermediate instructions (full details on the link above). The final ascent of Alpe d’Huez feels brutal with several attacks to cover.

It certainly makes the hour go quickly. The script is involving and the text prompts come at the right moments to urge you on. Despite my efforts to scale the power back to where I’m supposed to be in my training programme, the race scenarios push you to try just a little bit harder than you might want to. If your motivation is low, these videos will help to push you further. Another excellent product for under a tenner.

I’ll wait until later in the year before I consider more downloads, but I glad I’ve bought these two. They’ve certainly maintained my interest through a difficult phase of training.

>The Pit Pony

>There used to be a regularly shown piece of film of pit ponies being brought to the surface for their once a year holiday. The ponies, released from the perma-dark imprisonment of the mine, went bonkers. Running and jumping around the field – a picture of unconfined joy.


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Today I rode a bike outdoors for the first time in what seems like weeks. I scampered over to Hillingdon and span round for lap after lap. After two and a bit hours I was pretty knackered and cut the session short. I think the daylight tired me out. I wasn’t quite in pit pony heaven, but the parallel wasn’t lost on me.

I’ve actually got into quite a productive groove with the turble, but it’s taking its toll on my body. The relative lack of movement and adjustment keeps too constant a pressure on joints and ‘contact points’. It’s good to get back on a bike that moves with you. It’s good to ride in company again as well.