by James Machin
I’ve been experimenting with different fuels on my ride and after looking at gels, powders and mixes I thought ‘hang on a bloody minute! Most of these drink supplements are boasting 2:1 fructose mixes or other “Fruit” sugar mixes, what would happen if I just mixed jam with 750ml of water?’
If you follow me on Facebook you’ll know I love home cooking and recently I made a massive batch of home grown blackberry jam and decided to see what it was like mixed with water. The Blackberries were passed through my juicer 5-6 times to remove every last seed and liquid from the pulp that made a very thick concentrated blackberry juice which was then added to organic demerara sugar and lemon juice, very simple, very healthy and bloody delicious!
Once mixed with water you don’t lose the flavour of the berries and it has a nice sharp after taste that leaves you refreshed when out on the road, especially in this heat.
So how does it nutritionally stand against the big names?
Homemade Blackberry Isotonic Energy Drink
- 47g of homemade organic blackberry jam (no seeds or pulp)
- Pinch of salt
Estimated nutritional value
- Calories: 114kcal
- Carbohydrates: 30.5g
- Sugars: 28.2g
HIGH5 Energy Source
Listed Nutritional Value
- Calories: 180 kcal
- Carbohydrates: 45g
- Sugars: 16.0g
Nectar Sports Fuel Isotonic Concentrate (blackcurrant)
Listed Nutritional Value
- Calories: 120 kcal
- Carbohydrates: 30g
- Sugars: 20.0g
As you can see there is very little difference between them, the HIGH5 powder is actually a carb drink and thus naturally has a higher carb %age. My jam on the other hand has a higher sugar content although I would argue that it’s all organic, homemade and doesn’t have any preservatives or other chemical enhancers, but like I said they are all pretty close.
On today’s ride and even at 6am the temperature hit 34°c. I used the homemade mix, it was easy to drink and had a nice sweet but sharp taste that didn’t leave a gritty or dry after taste in the mouth. More importantly it was easily digested and didn’t unsettle my stomach or digestive system.
The only down side I can see with using jam is basically it’s a premix that you leave the house with as there really isn’t a viable solution for taking it out on the road and then mixing.
Although this is homemade I looked at other jams and they are very close to mine regarding nutritional values. So I don’t see why others can’t experiment with this!
yes! i was more nervous before Ian Hilt’s race then i’ve ever been for one of mine, and was waiting feverishly to hear the result.
i’ve been coaching Ian for 5 weeks or so, and after a bit of a blow-out in his first event just 2 weeks into the CPCS training program his spirits were low, but we got to work and honed him close to absolute perfection – well, kinda!
Ian, a 4th Cat rider from Iowa, not only had never won a race before but had never even been on the podium, if you can believe that.
so congrats to you Ian, great stuff.
Here we are, in The Lull. Someone really needs to plan an event that comes between the razmattazz of the Tour de France and the altogether more cotton candyesque Vuelta a Espana (you know what I mean, it’s a hard race but it’s the flyweight amongst the three Grand Tours) to capture the cycling public’s imagination.
There’s no disrespect intended (well maybe a little) but the Tour of Utah and the Eneco Tour just don’t quite cut the mustard, and the Worlds, Paris-Tours and the Giro di Lombardia come way down the line.
Gravel racing is taking off in big style in the USA (races along old fire tracks and gravel-strewn mountain paths) – wouldn’t it be great to see Boonen and Cancellara, Voigt and Voeckler and the rest of the best taking on one of those?
Or maybe a roller-derby type event but on fixies, with studded armpads and no holds-barred? Last to lose a pint of blood wins? Something, anything, to fill the yawning chasm that is our post-Tour existence! (I’d bet on Cavendish every time).
Not wanting to get pulled back into the debate on doping yet again, I thought it might be time to look at training plans. There are myriad options out there and it can be confusing as to how to work out what is most suitable for the individual cyclist, but with a bit of level-headed reasoning it’s not too difficult to work one out for yourself.
The crucial thing though, before even drawing up a calendar, is to ask yourself three questions:
- What are my strengths?
- What are my weaknesses?
- What are my goals?
Most cyclists make the mistake of neglecting their weak points and focusing on their strengths, simply because it’s more fun to do what you’re actually good at, and it’s easier.
And therein lies the first big mistake. Often you’ll hear sprinters say they don’t train in the mountains because they fear that incline work will cut back their flat-line speed. Strong flat riders say the same, and climbers will happily spend hours in the hills but never work on their time trial.
The fact though is that, if you are a road racer, the courses you’ll face will rarely be completely perfect for your talents. Working on weak points will turn the specialist into a more complete rider.
To return to Mark Cavendish, we see a case in point. The Manxman desperately wanted a classic win and so looked to Milan-San Remo in 2009, a course with a finish that suited him but with that featured some pretty impressive hills near the finale.
He looked at his physique and his training plan and made the necessary changes, losing weight and working on the kind of hills he’d face in the race.
He bluffed his way through the races just before, huffing and puffing on the climbs to lull his adversaries into a false sense of security.
Then in Milan-San Remo he bided his time, shocked the rest when he hung in on the climbs, and readied himself for the sprint.
The result? Victory in a race that just about the entire cycling fraternity said was beyond him.
Alberto Contador made a similar adjustment, working tirelessly on his time trialing abilities, which he then married to his awesome climbing prowess to become, for a time, the best Grand Tour GC contender against the clock.
Thor Hushovd and Tom Boonen are also examples of riders who have re-examined their strengths and weaknesses and then adjusted their training to bring renewed success.
And then we have Andy and Frank Schleck, both talented climbers but riders missing speed on the flat. Andy’s own coach bemoaned the fact that he ignored ITT training for too long, relying instead on his climbing ability to get him high up the GC.
So yes, if you are a flat man then the hills hurt, but you always have to remember this: it might hurt in training but you are doing it for the race, or the club run, or the sportif.
Cherish the hurt, because it means you are becoming a more well-rounded cyclist. Include your strengths in the training plan, but work them just once a week instead of constantly. You’ll soon discover that training smart means that there are benefits to be found on all terrain.
If you are involved or aspire to be involved in competition, you should be constantly asking youself: “Is what I am going to do today going to help me in the race?”
About those goals: I always advise people who ask for advice to write them down. Have a clear idea of what races or events are priorities and what are best suited to be used more as training rides.
If you have honestly answered the first two questions then you will be better able to prioritise your racing calendar. And be realistic: getting fitter takes time, and there are nothing but pitfalls in trying to run before you can walk.
A word on racing smart too, before we look at an example plan. For some reason, most cyclists (myself included) get into a race-type situation and suddenly think they have the power of ten men! 60km still to go and BOOM! They attack.
But if we’ve never done 60km solo TT-style ahead of a rampant, concentrated pack in training, why do we suddenly think we can do it in a race?
I’m not a fan of Mr. Alejandro Valverde but he had one great bit of advice: what you feel bad, take a chance, enjoy it. But, when you feel very good, do nothing.
By which he meant that, when the legs are golden, be patient, abide, and go when you know it is the perfect time. You still may not win, but you have to ride to your strengths, and not hand the advantage back to the rest of the pack.
In any effective training plan, you have to build up the intensity, but the timing as to when to do that is crucial.
If you have say 2 months before an event and are just at an average fitness, the first three weeks or so should include fairly longish rides that increase in intensity and come down in duration with each passing week.
Many riders make the mistake of riding for say 3 hours at a constant effort, but this does little to prepare for a race or to increase strength and power. Assuming that the rider already possesses a decent level of stamina, we can do away with these kind of rides unless they are for recovery days.
Another mistake many make is to look at race duration in kilometers instead of time. If you have a 150km race then yes, sure, go ride 150km to be mentally confident that you can do that, but not every week.
Instead, work out how long that 150km at race pace will be roughly in minutes, then go ride the same duration, hard, say once or preferably twice a week.
In the race you will ride most of it in the pack so will be using less energy than when alone, and so the actual distance of the event is not such a useful rule of thumb in training.
Personally, even when I have a 160km or above race I will usually only train for 4 hours max. At a race pace of 40km/hr, 4 hours in training, ridden hard, is effective enough.
Training smart is all about intensity, or to use another phrase, quality over quantity. Some select riders need to ride massive kilometers a week but most overtrain, thinking that kilometers equals fitness.
But what you need in a race is power, speed, and the ability to recover within the race from sustained attacks.
It’s important then, to work out what the race will require you to do, then to go do that in training. It’s impossible to completely replicate a race situation in training but it is possible to replicate sections of a race.
Train with others certainly, but be aware that when you do this you are at the mercy of the collective whim. Spending too much time with others means that you tend to ride more on ego than on brains.
One effective method of getting an advantage from training with other riders is to set up ‘cat and mouse’ situations. Get to a hill or a decent stretch of road and have one guy set off thirty seconds or more ahead of the next, then chase. This is great way to replicate racing, and lots of fun too.
Again, look at the race coming and ask yourself what skills you will need to perform well, or to use a golfing analogy, what clubs you need in the bag.
Is it a criterium? If so, count how many corners are on the course and work out how many times you will be sprinting – sometimes this can be daunting!
Then get sprint training, quick.
A road race with three hill repeats of a 4 km climb? Then you should be doing three or even four time hill repeats in training, trying to make each effort faster than the last, as often happens in racing.
As you cut down the hours of training in the build up to the race, increase the suffering. Get the intervals going, anything from thirty minutes to five, coming down to three and one in the week before the race.
Many riders think intervals are only really intervals if they are thirty seconds long, but again, think about the race situation. You will probably not need to sprint for 30 seconds ten times in any race but a crit, so why concentrate on these too much in training?
Work on attacking yourself instead within hard efforts. So, do say ten minutes fairly hard, attacking yourself every second minute for 20 seconds, then return to the previous effort and keep it steady, then go again.
If you don’t have a power meter, and I don’t, use the Perceived Rate of Exertion (PRE) scale. On this 1 is barely pedaling and 10 is a nuts out, on the rivet effort.
Within training ride, alternate the PRE scales, increase, decrease, work on riding steady and becoming more attuned not only to your body but to what you are actually capable of – you will probably surprise yourself.
Also, choose a local hill or a local 20km stretch of road where there are few stops and ride them every ten days or so, timing yourself to see the gains you are making.
And in the weeks before the race, be sure to plan small ‘race preparation’ sections, where you can start to work out just what kind of pre-race training works best for you. Some people need complete rest for two days, others are better at keeping on going hard til just before race day.
The only way you can work this out is by either racing – a lot – or replicating it in training.
Finally, build rest and recuperation into the plan. If your form dips, don’t train harder! Instead take a break, out the bike away and come back motivated and fresh.
Training smart means training hard in bursts, and you can only do that if you hit those rides at 100%.
Hope some of this helps you to build an effective training plan!
guest writer James Machin* gives some nutritional advise and talks about the potential pitfalls of getting it all wrong.
Eating disorders have received a lot of press in recent years and we are well aware of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, the deadly trio of nutritional mental disorders.
Many regard this as a problem that only women are afflicted with, however that is a common misconception held by most. Men are just as susceptible to the pressures that modern media and society put on our personal image and looks, and that combined with the increase in people taking up sport and being bombarded with advertisements regarding nutrition products means that more and more people and making unhealthy changes in their lifestyles that they believe, incorrectly, are healthy.
Harvard University undertook the first ever national study of eating disorders which revealed that in a population of nearly 3,000 adults, 25% of those with anorexia or bulimia and 40% of binge eaters were men. However many believe that the figures are higher still with many men reluctant to admit they have a problem, in main part due to the stigma attached to the issue.
This article is about the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating, which is an issue that is rapidly increasing within the circles of amateur athletes and even pro’s that do not have the support of a nutritionist or councilor that can address the issue.
What is the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating?
We all know what the 3 major eating disorders are but disordered eating is not well known and in comparison to the seriousness of anorexia and bulimia is swept under the carpet. However I personally believe that disordered eating is the first steppingstone to the more serious disorders.
So what exactly is disordered eating? Basically disordered eating describes irregular eating habits, such as self-starvation, bingeing, purging and exercising obsessively without constructive rest or nutrition to maintain the body’s natural equilibrium. Although there maybe some similarities between these and the clinically defined “Eating Disorders”, they are not diagnosed as such, and are instead considered atypical, or sub clinical.
A classic example of this is binge eating, followed by the mad dash to the gym during and after the festive season, or the crash diets 1 week before going on holiday, all examples of disordered eating habits that many of us are guilty of. Not life threatening per se but still these processes put your body under enormous pressure that can cause depression or stress and, possibly later or through repetition, may result in more serious disorders.
As a cyclist and cycling coach I hear all types of fad diets or disordered eating habits that individuals are involved in, from crash dieting for a certain hill climb race to completing cutting out carbohydrates from their diet or chicken and broccoli diets in the effort to lose unwanted body weight. Another form of disordered eating and one that I was guilty of until studying the subject of nutrition and mental health, is using food and beverages as a form of reward.
As endurance athletes, cyclists need to pay particular attention to the importance of refueling and maintaining a balanced and healthy diet, including hydration. Those of us that have cycle computers that can give you an estimated calorific expenditure will know it’s almost impossible to replace in a ride what we have burnt, and will often use this as an excuse to binge out the following day with the inner monologue chanting “You did burn 4000kcal yesterday!”
Unfortunately our bodies don’t work like that and this is another classic case of disordered eating.
The facts remain that to lose body fat, the best method for getting it off and keeping it off while maintaining healthy energy levels and a stable mental disposition is a steady effort that can last months, if not years depending on the target weight, by adapting to a balanced, healthy diet, combined with a structured and consistent exercise plan. (Notice I don’t use the word training).
The difference between training and exercise?
Some of you reading this may have been on the receiving end of what you might think was me trolling you: a classic example of this would be a Facebook post such as: “Great training ride today with the guys, 120km with 1500m of climbing, Epic ride!!!” with me asking “What are you training for?”
Yes, training sounds more “Pro” than exercising but there is a danger in this mentality, and we’ll get to this in a minute.
As a coach and nutritionist I sit my athletes down and explain to them the difference between training plans and exercise plans and what they actually need.
Training is when you have a specific objective or goal and a time frame you wish to achieve that goal in. It is incredibly structured with several different phases in training that slowly bring you to the point where the objective is achievable. There will often be primary and secondary goals, with performance markers on route to give a clear indication as to if and where gains are being made or lost.
Exercise and nutrition are constantly fine tuned to meet the needs and requirements of the athlete and (a) clear, concise and easy to understand explanations as to why performance is not improving, or, if it is, how and why. The athlete is fully aware of what is happening.
Exercise plans are exactly that, planning when you can fit exercise in to your daily routine that more commonly than not is sedentary: it’s about changing daily routines to fit it in.
Remember, walking to the train station, taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator is exercise and these can be fitted into your exercise plans.
So what is the danger of treating exercise as training?
Most cyclists will plan their riding around a single day on the weekend, trying to squeeze out as much as possible in the short amount of hours they are able to dedicate, while also participating in some healthy rivalry within their peers (groups).
Many will have done very little aerobic or anaerobic exercise during the week, and this puts an incredible strain on our bodies. Coupled with poor nutrition and hydration choices, this one or two-day training ‘binge’ can have a disastrous effect on our health, and unlike for instance at a gym, there are very few riding groups that can offer professional coaching, fitting and nutrition to their riders.
This brings me back to nutrition. On many a group ride I see riders pulling a plethora or gels, bars and powders from their jersey pockets or emerging from the convenience store with sports drinks boasting of amino acids or electrolytes. These all have a time and a place but in reality your weekend ride is not really the place or the best option.
Calories from fat: 20
Total calories: 230kcal
Medium Banana (118g)
Calories from fat: 0.4g
Total calories: 105kcal
Or how about the famous Pocari Sweat?
Water, sugar, citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium lactate, magnesium carbonate and flavor.
You really think this is good for you?
It’s a fact that during times of intense physical exertion our digestive system is slowed, with the body’s primary focus on hydration and then energy.
So if you are solely hydrating with sugary drinks over the course of a 5 hour ride, consuming gels and bars and with the body’s limit on how much it can digest per hour, what do you think is happening to this excessive sugar intake?
Well, our liver can only process a certain amount; once it’s full it then turns the glycogen into triglyceride which is commonly referred to as fat and most likely than not is then stored as visceral fat.
You get home from a great ride totally spent and craving something sweet, so after knocking back a beer to hydrate you raid the fridge or pick up the phone for takeout.
Let’s reconsider the opening paragraphs of this article again
“disordered eating describes irregular eating habits, such as self-starvation, bingeing, purging and exercising obsessively without constructive rest or nutrition to maintain the body’s natural equilibrium. Although there maybe some similarities between these and the clinically defined “Eating Disorders”, they are not diagnosed as such, and are instead considered atypical, or sub clinical.”
Now ask yourself: do I have disordered eating habits?
So what’s the answer?
Well it all depends on what you are doing. Many of us whom should know better are falling victim to the marketing of bars, gels, powders and supplements. We believe the pseudoscience given by self proclaimed guru’s, that their methods and techniques will work when in actual fact with a small bit of research and common sense these can be easily debunked.
Now don’t get me wrong, legitimate sports supplements have a time and a place in a serious athlete’s nutritional inventory (notice I don’t use the word diet).
If you are training for a 100km road race then chances are you want to eat on the fly, trying to replicate exactly the conditions you will be racing to. So you would be eating a balanced nutrition plan to sustain this kind of effort and would have built up to this kind of ride.
In this case the answer is simple, you’ll want the convenience of pre packed gels and bars and a bottle of carb drink and 1 of pure water with maybe a pinch of salt to get you through it. But you’d also be carrying real food, bananas, rice balls or other nutritional alternative and more likely than not you would have a meal prepared for your return normally high carb to be eaten within 20 minutes to actually take advantage of how the body works and thus carb loading intelligently and effectively.
(That’s right, stuffing a high carb meal the night before a ride is not carb loading and all you are doing is again saturating your liver glycogen levels)
But if you are out for the weekend ride with your friend’s then this has been touched on several times: you should be eating healthy real food. Here in Japan we are very spoilt with the proliferation of convenience store chains in even the remotest of places, not to mention the amazing amount of vending machines scattered along the road sides and hiking trails.
The choices on offer are also incredible, however unless you have a fat ratio of under 10% these products designed to replace the lost electrolytes or give you that boost to perform better than before just aren’t needed, and your own stored body fat will pretty much do exactly the same.
Now as I pointed out, the amount of calories we burn on a ride can be enormous and we are never truly going to be able to consume 3000+ kcal over the course of a ride, not unless you have a support car or prepared to stop every 45 minutes and eat something. What we can do is aid the body in breaking down fat into energy, and plain old water is excellent for this.
If You feel the need for something sugary then a mix of 20/80 (100%) pineapple, apple or grape juice and water is everything your body needs and will help you recover from any hunger knock or bonk better than any other product on the market.
You want a long burn fuel? Bananas are the ultimate food for endurance athletes and have been used for decades. Another is the simple Japanese Onigiri (Japanese white rice ball with filling and wrapped in seaweed) which have been the go-to energy food since the 17th century, when warring Samurai would eat them on the battlefield. The portion size is perfect and gives you pretty much everything you need. A Tuna-Mayo Onigiri will give you 232 kcal, while the Salmon a healthier 192kcal. Buy two, one for now and one for an hour and a half later.
You’ll be surprised how much energy they give you when you are waging your own personal battle on some remote mountain pass.
Where do I go from here?
Many of us look forward to our weekend rides, we plan the routes, organise the meeting place and more likely than not plan where you will put in the killer attack that will blow away your peers on a certain Strava segment or signpost, but for most the planning and preparation stops there.
This is actually the time when you should be preparing your nutrition and hydration for the ride: again stuffing your face with pasta is not going to help here. But increasing the amount of food with low glycemic indices such as fruit and vegetables or, if you can get it, whole grain pasta or bread which have a minimal effect on serum glucose levels is highly recommended to people with sedentary life styles during the week.
Watching your hydration practices midweek is also beneficial as not only will it help with your digestion but will slowly increase your retained water, ready for the weekend ride. Again throwing back a liter of water in one go every hour on the hour will in actual fact have a negative impact on performance as it stretches the stomach and can lead to over eating.
Probably the most essential meal before a ride is your breakfast. They say eating a balanced meal 3 hours before a ride offers the optimal performance, however if you have a 6am start I doubt anyone has an appetite at 3am, and in this case rest is probably more important than getting up to eat.
Easy to digest foods such as fruits, yogurt and oatmeal (notice that again these are low glycemic indices) are excellent for pre-ride fueling. Coffee is also a welcome addition as the caffeine helps the oxidation of fat over a period of 4 hours. (8mg of caffeine is recommended, which is equal to about 2 mugs of coffee).
And finally something to eat like a banana while you go through the obligatory 30 minutes of “Faffing” at the meeting place.
At the end of the day it’s all common sense, the majority of people really don’t need the processed, prepacked energy fuels which in actual fact in most cases offer very little benefit compared to readily available food at your local convenience store. Stop and think too before you hit the fridge when you get home – optimal time to eat is within 20 minutes of getting off the bike, and protein and carbs are what you should be hitting.
*James’ Bio: Elite/Pro CX Cat1 Roadie, Professional coach, nutritionist and qualified chef (something very rare in nutritionists apparently) 2010 – 2012 winner of the Japan Road Series (JCRC) Winner of the 2012 Nikkan Sports; Tour Du Japon and 3rd over in 2010. If you wish to contact James please contact crankpunk
intervals. the dreaded intervals. truth be told, interval training is just about the best thing you can do to get ready for racing, to improve power, speed, strength and recovery. but, as ever, it comes down to knowing what kind of intervals to do and when. the real key to cracking the ‘interval code’ – to discovering what model works best for you, is to look at your recent and upcoming races, and to break down the efforts required into an ‘interval code’.
the other essential key is to stop thinking of intervals as intervals…
so, to break down the ‘interval code’, for example, let’s look at Johnny PunkCrank’s last race:
10 mins pre warm-up
5 minute high intensity (Perceived Rate of Exertion [PRE] 8-10) powering after break attempts, staying more or less in top of bunch following wheels
1 minute break (5-6) coasting in peloton
20 minute high intensity (7.5-9) hard riding near front, covering breaks, in wind from time to time
5 minute break (6) coasting in pack, gathering breath, maybe a break has gone up the road
5 minute very high intensity (9-9.5) bridging to break
1 hour 20 medium intensity (6.5-8.5) sitting in break, doing work at front, resting at back
10 minutes high intensity (7-9) covering attacks, following wheels
3 minutes super high intensity (9-10) breaking clear in last 4km.
1 minute super slow, high intensity despondency (-58) got caught with 2km to go and wept like a child, whilst pedaling backwards
so this is how Johnny’s race looked, when broken down into intervals. but why then when he’s training does Johnny just stick to one minute intervals all day long, then a hammer fest with the local club on Saturday and Sunday?
within a training regime, the cyclist needs to cover all the elements that will be required in a race, whereas most of us turn up to events knowing deep down that we didn’t train quite as we should of, didn’t cover all the bases, and yet for some unknown reason seem to believe that Saint Eddy will bestow his god-like talents upon us just for an hour, just for that climb, just for that sprint, just for that salute.
but then the race finishes and we learn, once again and as though we didn’t already know it, that unless you are a born natural it is nigh on impossible to produce speed, strength and power that was hitherto lacking, and, critical here, hitherto untrained for.
so how do we get into this situation? is it laziness? often not, no. often, when i chat to cyclists, i hear them tell me the hours they put in and i am quietly amazed – 20 hours for this guy, 22 for another, and with full time jobs in some cases – mind boggling. so if it isn’t laziness that brings many people to the start line still under-prepared and under-trained, what is it?
putting over-training and a lack of proper recovery aside for a moment, let’s look at what at first seems to make no sense in what i just wrote: how can you be training 20-22 hours a week and be under-trained and under-prepared?
it’s a matter, really, of being under-trained in the aspects of the race that you are about to be faced within and under-prepared in that you cannot possibly hope to cope with them.
Johnny PunkCrank is a dedicated cyclist, eh sleeps well, eats pretty well, doesn’t drink to excess too much, cleans his high-end bike and gets on the forums daily, but he’s still stuck with this idea that ‘INTERVAL TRAINING’ means going out and doing 20×1 minute efforts then puking, twice a week.
‘phew, yeah, i am hard at those intervals, did 15 yesterday.’
‘you got a crit coming up?
‘huh? no, a 150km race…’
see how that makes no sense? unless you are about to go do a Belgian kermesse, over a 10km course with 10 90 degree turns, there is no way that your race is going to require you to be able to do 15×1 minute intervals. what you are going to need to do it to be able to start strong, go stronger briefly, then settle in to a steady pace for some time, then go hard again, then again, then go really hard and then, ideally win.
sure, 1 minute intervals have their place but only when you are tapering in the last one to two weeks, unless, as stated, you do a lot of crits. if you’re a ‘One Munuter’ then the whole concept of ‘the interval’ needs to be reassessed, reconsidered, and reevaluated as a part of the training programme, because you are building power for something you don;t need, and neglecting areas you need to train.
*base power (ie the ability to power along at over 40km/hr for 2-3 hours or more.
*shorter, high intensity power (anything from 3 to 20, even 30 minutes) to put in and chase specific attacks and to power a break away
*an ability to recover within the race after hills and other hard efforts (winds, bad roads, punctures, mid-race attacks).
*the ability to have some power and strength left at the end to put in attacks and chase escapees.
*finally, the ability to sprint over the last, exhausting 300m.
that is just the physical side, there is also bike handling, race reading and tactics to consider also.
what the aspiring champ needs to do is to grasp the fact that racing well is very much like a jigsaw puzzle – you can try to out it all together, but if there are pieces missing the picture will always be incomplete. one of the best gifts a cyclist can give to him or herself is honesty. to sit down, consider your talents, and to identify strengths and weaknesses. if you can do that and then identify what you need for specific races, what elements you need to bring to your training, and, specifically, what kind of intervals you need to replicate racing in training, then you will be on your way to cracking the secrets of preparation, and to performing well in races.
i recommend, as a way of beginning to recreate racing, to go out and do 2 hours of fairly steady riding then to come home and do an hour on the indoor trainer, with a 15, 10, 5 and then some three minute intervals thrown in.
only, don’t think of them as intervals – you don;t think of them as intervals in a race, so why categorise them as such off? it’s not so much naming them that is the problem, it’s that most people have a fixed idea of what interval training entails, and most people get it wrong.
a sound, solid training plan requires a Unified Approach, one that takes in the forest rather than just a few well-marked trees. then, when you’ve honed that, you can cut training time, increase effort, and be more successful on the bike.
thanks for reading, and crank on.
PMA baby, positive mental attitude. ugh, don’t you hate those anacronyms…
Mark definitely does…
after many months wondering if i should, i decided i should.
i’m offering personal coaching to anyone looking to improve.
get in touch via ‘contact’ of the ‘personal coaching’ tab and we can chat.
“How did it go?” I asked a young Frenchman when he’d finally retrieved something akin to a normal breath after the 7.2kilometer individual time trial at the recent Tour of Friendship race in Thailand.
“Ah, putain!” he exclaimed, working his facial muscles into a look of disgust and wrangling a soggy baguette out of his back pocket. “My SRM console screwed up, stopped working, so I didn’t know how hard to go…”
I just stood there looking at him, unable to find a comment that wasn’t going to insult his intelligence. I mean, seriously? The guy had become so dependent on his power meter that, when it ceased to function, he didn’t know how to judge his own body’s effort.
This obviously is an extreme case but as ever in life, it is often only at the extremes where we really begin to learn anything. This guy had gone over the edge, way beyond the line where a power meter went from being a tool, a guide, to a point where it had become his own personal cult leader.
This guy was living in Jamestown and already three liters of Kool-Aid up.
“Yes,” you may be thinking, “that guy went too far. But I use my SRM to tell me my limits.”
But therein lies the problem. Accepting limits.
Two examples why. The first involves a guy who used to be on my team, who would never attack but who always finished in the pack, seemingly content with a 24th place and not getting dropped out the back.
Now, some kids on my teams come up and ask me for advice, and I can talk to them all day about training and recovery, about how to limit lactic acid build-up in a race and about when and how to attack. It’s a pleasure, to have young riders seeking ways to get better, and to be able to help them.
On the other hand you have guys who blatantly need help who never ask anything. Whether it’s shyness or arrogance I don’t know, but I’m not about to start telling someone ways to improve if they don’t first seek it out.
But this guy, he obviously had talent, and one day I’d had enough of him soft-pedalling in.
“Why do you never do anything in the race?”
“What do you mean? I always finish.”
“Finishing top 40 is worse than attacking and a DNF! You never attack. How do you expect to ever learn anything or to get better?”
“Yeah but my heart rate monitor tells me I’m near my limit. If I attack and get caught, I’ll get dropped.”
So, ‘knowing his limits’, and worse – accepting them – was leading this kid to play it safe every race. Yes, if he did attack with 5km gone he would probably get dropped once he got caught. But so what? Getting dropped through hitting the wall toughens you up. The first time he might only have managed 50km.
But the next time he might manage 60. Then 70. Then… well, who the heck knows? And that’s it – nobody knows how good he might become with real dedication and a willingness to risk it all. But if he rides forever thinking ‘I know’, with his current attitude, then he’ll never improve.
Second example. A guy is on his indoor trainer, riding with power. He does a test. He finds he can do X watts for 60 minutes. He trains each week for 6 weeks to get ready for a race, using the power meter each time he rides, indoors and out.
Studies the lines, crunches the numbers. Examines data. Goes on FB to tell his pals he is improving. Then, race day comes.
Boom! Straight off the line the pace is mad, he’s looking down and can barely see straight, then it goes uphill and ‘holycrapIcan’tdothis!’ – and then sure enough, he pulls the plug.
The fact is that his beloved numbers have obscured from him the fact that almost always in a race, without fail, you are going to be riding harder – a lot – than you can in training, no matter how regimented and serious you may be.
Improving is not always about a steady progression, in anything in this world. Every once in a while, amongst the grind and the slow push, you need to get turned inside out, strung out, dropped from a great height and just plain old battered.
You need, from time to time, to glimpse the other side of the wall. To hang in there with someone who is on another level for as long as you can and to go home with a footprint on your backside – but one well earned.
I remember my first race. Once my 15-year old self had just about gotten over the size of the muscles on the legs of the older guys around me, we then went up a hill that I rode all the time alone at a speed I couldn’t even begin to get my head around.
But I went up it. With the pack. And we did it another 5 times in total, and I almost won after being in a three-man break for 30 of the 50km race, but bonked so hard with just a few km to go that I fell over and just lay there for a minute until a car came by and asked if I was ok. Despite having entered another dimension of time and space, I think I said ‘UGH’, and they left me there, my feet still strapped to the pedals and half of my sweaty face covered in small pebbles and the odd cigarette butt.
Possibly a rabbit dropping or two.
Next race it was the same story all over again, except for the ending: this time I won. My solo attack almost petered out and the pack was just 100m behind me as I crossed the line, but goshdammit, I won. I fell off the bike straight away yet again, but this time with a smile the size of Lance’s mini-fridge on my face.
We are surrounded by limits. We encounter our first at home, then a truckload more at school, the ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ – some perfectly reasonable, some less so – along with the ‘you can’t that!’ lot, which are far more insidious.
We have tests that tell us we are dumb and play games that tell us we aren’t good enough, and then we trundle off, after all that, to the ‘real world’ where it all continues apace. As if there weren’t enough limitations imposed us by society, we then begin to impose them upon ourselves.
I’m too fat.
I’m too old.
I’m too ‘me’.
Well, shove all that. You’ve all no doubt heard those tales about mothers driving down the highway. The car flips. The woman gets out. Her child is inside. There’s a flame. It’s growing. She runs to the car and tries the door, no good. Then, knowing that she must do something or her child will be dead, she gets a grip and heaves and strains and lifts the car.
Extraordinary strength brought on by extraordinary circumstances. Think she’d have done that if she was using a power meter?
Exactly. Not a chance.
We are extraordinary beings. We are of stars, of this universe, from this universe, yet the universe, perhaps most miraculous of all, is within each of us. Whenever we say ‘I can’t do that’ – however essentially, unarguably true it may seem – we are denying the limitless potential of the human mind and spirit, of will and the determination to succeed.
You don’t start riding to accept limitations, you start, by and large, to be free. To escape. To just ride, and ride fast. Then we become more ‘serious’ and start to get into the science of it all, and that’s fine, I love science, I wish it would shine its light on more of the world and our befuddled attempts at existing in it. Yet to allow it to rule us is to deny the very unscientific elements that, ultimately, make people achieve such wondrous and unfathomable feats.
It’s the immeasurable that makes it all so worthwhile.
Amundsen and Scott didn’t have power meters. Neither did the first men to set off on rickety vessels across the great oceans. Nor the early climbers of the high mountains. Neither did Eddy Merckx.
Now, I’m no Luddite, and yes, modern technology and power meters and the like can be extremely useful, but let them guide, not rule. Put them away a few days a week. Try not using an SRM in a hilly race. I’d wager that something like 85% of people who have them don’t use them properly.
I know because I was one. SRM sponsored me for a year, and the console just stopped working after 2 weeks. It was 6 months before I sent it back, and to be honest, I just kept it on the bike to scare people. Because it meant I was serious. Ha!
Riding is so much in the mind that your philosophy of riding can have a profound effect on everything you do.
See what you can do. Feel your body and its incredible ability to adapt.
And, most of all, feel limitless. Go on, give it a try…
*this article first appeared in The Roar.
crankpunk & the Giro, analysed on Pez, read it here, or here… below.
“That’s the difference for me. I can do miraculous things when I have a team that believes I can do it as well. I’m on form in the head and my heart.”
I try not to write about the obvious. That, after all, was my brief for this series from the editors at Pez. Yet when one guy is smashing the living daylights out of the peloton and generally proving that he is without doubt the greatest in the world at what he does, and doing it with an ease that borders on the violent, but another guy has slipped so far from the heady Graceland he inhabited for just about the whole of 2012, well, there’s really not much choice but to get on with it.
Yesterday the rampaging Cavendish won a sprint for which he really had no business even being around to contest. The parcours was not overly challenging, has to be said, but the speed at which the peloton covered the last kilometers, up hills, was.
There was one image of the Red Jersey wearer riding just off the front of the peloton on the way up the day’s toughest climb with about 30km to go, already eager, sniffing the line like a shark sniffing out a shipwreck. The best though was on the last rise, when the entire Omega Pharma-Quick Step train went missing for five minutes as a result of the pace Astana was setting up at the front.
Only one rider from the Belgian team was able to keep his place, and that rider was Cavendish. And that makes absolutely no sense.
Cav’s 2012 season with Sky was, on his terms, little short of a disaster. He claimed 13 stage wins over the season, claiming ‘only’ three at the Tour and missing Green. The win on the Champs on the last day of the Tour was somewhat of a salve to his wounds and would have made just about any other rider’s year, but this is a man, lest we forget, that had won the previous three Champs Elysees romps.
Just another day at the office, really.
Also, lest we forget, 2012 was his Rainbow year, something of which he was immeasurably proud and yet an honour that became, albeit not perhaps by intention, something of a side show at Sky.
2012 was the Year of Wiggo and it was not only Chris Froome that felt somewhat of a casualty. We needn’t reel off all the victories that Cavendish has racked up over his career, we’re all aware of those. That we take them for granted says something about the dominance of the man. If he were as majestic as Mario Cipollini or as charismatic as Tom Boonen I feel we would be singing his praises even more highly.
That he is ‘prickly’ at times certainly does him no favors, but then he is, after all, a sprinter. He’s easy to dislike, with his quick temper and expletives to camera. But make no bones about it, the lad is a stone cold genius on two wheels, the greatest sprinter of all time already, and he still has years to go.
Yesterday’s ride was for me a revelation. It was as though I suddenly realized just how good he really is. With a body full of slow-twitch muscles, a cardio system designed for track sprinting and a smallness that means he has less horsepower to play with than his big-boned rivals, he defied all the odds and rode with a heart over those last 30km that spoke volumes for the determination of the man.
In a modern world full of power meters and cycling coaches, where everything is defined and refined, contained and controlled, Cavendish turns up with buckets of stuff you cannot even begin to measure: willpower.
Revenge? I don’t know how he sees it – though the opening quote gives us a glimpse – but he already has 11 stage wins this year and a GC victory under his belt (Qatar), and all that with a team that, many said at the tail end of last year, wouldn’t suit him. Points Classification at both the Giro and the Tour? 5 stage wins in each?
If you’re a betting man, those odds probably aren’t good enough for you.
On the flip side of things, we have Mr. 2012, Sir Bradley Wiggins. I wrote about him in my last article here also, about what I perceived as a lack of respect for his teammate, Rigoberto Uran, and of the sense that, in many fans’ eyes, his stock has definitely fallen somewhat as a result of the toing and froing over the Froome/Tour question.
But let’s look at his form. Two wins this year, though both came in team time trials. Two 5th places in smaller races on the GC, Trentino and Catalunya. A teammate riding better than him here at the Giro, which he eventually abandoned, citing illness. Certainly no need to take him out behind the barn just yet, but he hasn’t looked very good all year.
And ok, he may well be sick right now, having something similar to the condition that befell Ryder Hesjedal, but illness didn’t make him crash and lose time in the rain, nor dent his descending skills on every downhill after that. A sudden case of the Andy Schlecks?
Possibly. Either way, 2013 has been altogether a bit shoddy for El Wiggo, whereas his former teammate is sat in a very purple patch, smiling from ear to ear. One of them has demonstrated not only incredible power and a will to keep winning, but also a longevity that has to underlie any label that includesthe word ‘legend’.
The other, despite a Tour de France win and Olympic gold, realizes now perhaps that you are only ever as good as your last race. Now he and Sky find themselves in a tricky position. Wasn’t the Giro for Wiggo and the Tour for Froome?
If Wiggo does now turn full attention to the Tour and try to pull rank, it won’t only be his form we are decrying, but also his reputation.
as a firm believer in listening to my body and heeding the signs that the little grey lump encased within my skull transmits to, er, itself, i took the decision not to take part in Taiwan’s second biggest race of the season (the first being the UCI Tour de Taiwan), the AMD 2 Day Huadong race.
with a total of something like 320km over two days in what looked like being bad weather (Day 2 was in fact very wet), i felt like it was going to, in then end, drain too much from my legs rather than help improve my form.
it’s been a funny start to the season this year, all affected by having to take almost three months off from the beginning of October to almost the end of December due to injuries.
that led me to having to pack in big kilometers from the start of January then to pick up the pace from the middle, way too soon really but with the Tour de Taiwan coming in mid March i had little choice.
two wins in my first two races were a little surprising but in the Tour it was obvious that I was a little off the pace but unable to really ride myself into the race, as the signs of having over-trained were all too obvious. aching legs, a lack of power on climbs and a sore throat, not to mention a pervasive tiredness, all combined to let me know that it was time to back off.
as cyclists/athletes/nutters (delete as applicable) we have learnt that through endeavor and dedication in training, we get fitter and stronger, so when we are going slow we ten to go to the default setting of ‘Train Harder,’ but this is, very often (unless you’ve been lazy), a mistake.
an old pro once told me that it’s better to be under- than over-trained, and there was never a truer word spoken when it comes to preparation. being a little slow allows you to use the next race and the subsequent training to gt fitter for the one after, whereas if you blow a proper gasket due to having done too much, it can take weeks if not months to get over it.
the human body is amazing, no doubt, and adapts to innumerable situations in incredible ways, but we have to remember that, whilst exercise may be fun to us, to our bodies it is stress. and, if you train a lot, that stress is accumulative.
the body begins to respond to being overworked by sending signals to itself. we, as irrational beings (we are cyclists, remember), often tell our bodies to shut the f**k up, cos we are hard as Belgians and love the pain.
sometimes that is justified but sometimes it is just plain stupid. like, stoopid stupid. signs of an impending crisis are an inability to get a good night’s sleep, sleeping late, a sore throat and a lack of motivation. thirstiness, for me, is another, as is feeling aches in the legs from a moderate day on the bike.
forget SRMs, PowerTaps, heart rate monitors and whatever other gizmos you paid a truckload for – the best and most brilliant training device we possess is between our ears.
the sooner we start listening to it, the sooner we can make steady improvements and get proper rest.
so, after the Tour de Taiwan i took ten days off the bike. put it in the spare room and forgot about it. despite the sniffling and whimpering i heard from it during the night, i stood firm.
then when i picked up again i had an easy 5 days, then started training proper again. my motivation was back and within another 5 i felt strong again. the Huadong race that i just missed is a lot of fun and i felt ok for it but something was telling me to ease back off a little again, so i did.
instead i did a solid 75km yesterday with one 8km climb and a 30 minute TT section, and today i headed out to Ali Shan, a beautiful behemoth of a mountain (around 2,500m to the road summit) an hour’s drive from my place.
with a hill climb up it on May 5th, i decided to tackle the route, a 63km climb that is 90% up, heading up into the rarefied air above the clouds. luckily i just missed the rain and the cold and had a wonderful ride. i’m not a natural climber but i somehow have convinced my head that these climbs are actually time trials, just, with a dollop or three of extra gravity, which helps pass the kilometers.
anyway, legs feel fine now, i’m tired but not wasted, and all good for the next week of training and the stage race the week after in Thailand.
less, as they say, sometimes really is more.