Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Early season training

I have gotten lots of questions lately about how I approach the off-season and how I prepare for the next season. In this post, I'll bring you through a little of my preparation for the 2011 season. I have been influence by lots of different things. Joe Friel and his blog/books, Hunter Alan/Andrew Coggan book "Training and Racing with a Powermeter" as well as the Wattage Group and 100s of articles/papers I have read. Oh, as well as my own personal experiment – that is me.

First off, my 2011 season starts after the day of my final race, my second National Title of the year at the MTB Marathon Championships. I had not felt raced out towards the end of the season, indeed, I wanted to race more but I did feel pretty trained out. I had enough of the structure and intervals and looked forward to some recovery time. After spending a couple more days in Ireland (I rode or ran each day – just for fun though) Mel and I headed for our delayed honeymoon in Peru.

For the first time since I started riding, I would be moving away totally from the bike for a few weeks – I was not sure how I would respond to it afterwards. Fortunately, from a fitness point of view, our trip was very active with lots of hiking, climbing and running around – all this at high altitude meant that despite indulging a little (or a lot) more than usual we came home from our trip a little lighter! Gotta love traveling to altitude.

No bikes found up here - climbing a 6,000 meter mountain

This takes us to around the 19th of October – my official, “start training” point is November 1st (a Monday, so for me – a recovery day) so up until then, Mel and I joined up on various group and social spins. Moving the legs, meeting new friends and being brought down roads and loops that we had not seen before. I really enjoyed it – some of the spins were 6 hours long, but at a pace that was closer to recovery for me I would still come home fresh, both mentally and physically. I felt like a social cyclist.

As November comes along, things get a little more serious training wise. My body seems to handle the rigors of training very well and doesn't seem to need a break, but after almost 16 months straight of racing my mind does. This time of year I focus on doing rides that can be hard (in some cases, very hard) but are not mentally challenging. For instance, a lot of rides would be simply, endurance on the flats, tempo on the climbs – if I want. If I feel good and want to ride harder, I will, if not, no biggie. Get the volume in without causing any mental fatigue. So for the first few weeks of November, it was about doing training to prepare myself for the 'real' training.

As I mentioned earlier, the 2.5 weeks gap off the bike was by far the longest time I had spent off the bike since I started riding – even breaking my collarbone (and the resultant surgery) only meant 2 days not riding. For the first few days when I started riding again, the bike felt a little alien – I didn't feel my legs spin as easily as they had in September and I'll be lying if I said I wasn't a little worried... Two weeks later however, while out on a normal training ride I came to a hill I often perform tests on, I decided to ride hard, but not too hard – as I closed in on the top of the climb, I noticed I wasn't actually very far off a PB set in the summer (while wearing shorts and a jersey – not all the winter garb I was wearing then). My mind was set to rest. My body and mind had time to recover from the 2010 season and my legs weren't going too bad either!

Cyclocross - for something a bit different

Next was the first proper training block of the year – like past years I went to northern California to get some quality riding in. In the past it was to meet work requirements, but that had changed a little and now my trip was to take advantage of better weather, nice roads and a change of environment. While there, the weather was not exactly typical for the time of year (I got rained on a lot and it was pretty cold) but having seen what Ireland was going through, I was very glad to be there.

Many of my longest rides of the year (at least in the past – I will have a different focus in 2011 so this will change a little) came in this block - packing in 20-30 hours of riding a week. In the area there is a set of hill climb races that I take part in (and blog about) and they served as great power tests. Mentally, it is so much easier to push hard when in a race and being timed. I rode two this year and the power figures (for November) where good, actually, very good. There are lots of great, fast group rides on in the area – many Pro cyclists and National Champions make up the bay area cycling scene so you can often get your hours in in great company.

For the solo rides – a lot of it is basically, endurance riding on the flats (focusing on high cadence work too and some sprints), and riding sweet spot on the climbs – that is basically riding at 90% of my threshold power. Basically trying to get 1.5-2.5 hours of tempo (or better) riding in per day. The climbs in the area are all pretty big (15-35 minutes) so getting good steady efforts in is pretty straightforward. People say that I have a big engine (in cycling terms), I put a lot of that down to this type of riding I do this time of year. Again, if I'm out and the legs, mind or body really are not feeling it, I can ease off, enjoy the scenery and charge up the batteries for the next day.

Climbing hills - big ones... (pic from here)

Now, after 4 great weeks training I'm back in Ireland – a few days of recovery first and then back to building for the 2011 season. Due to the weather, I probably will not be able to get in the same sort of hours, but the intensity will no doubt rise a notch (especially considering I expect a chunk to be on the indoor trainer).

Many thanks to my brother and his family for taking Mel and I in under their wings while we were in California - you guys made everything so straight forward for us to get the best training in while still meeting our work commitements. THANKS!

So that is it for my first month and a half of training. Basically it is about building the engine/base for the harder things that follow without making it too hard on yourself.

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