My target race for the second half of the season is the Aviemore half marathon, but along the way i’ve entered a couple of 10k’s, the first of which is my ‘home’ race, the Perth 10k, this weekend. Training is great, I love the process and feeling the improvement as my body adapts to the workload, but racing is the reason we train, so I cannot wait to pin a number on and toe the start line on Sunday.
The other great thing about a race week is that the training load is a little easier. Basically I have one ‘hard’ session this week – tomorrow morning, then it’s recovery runs until the big day. So tomorrow is the only 5.30am start for me this week. Lie ins FTW!!
Forecast just now looks good for racing. Not too warm, maybe a little light rain, and little wind. It can all change before Sunday, but if it stays like that I’ll be chuffed.
Be sure to look out for the race report on Sunday night!
It’s been a tough training week. Tuesday was 15 mins of threshold effort, not too bad on its own to be fair. On Wednesday I rode to work & back, 80 mins on my cx bike at recovery effort followed by a 30 min strength & conditioning session when I got home.
The session I’d been fearing was on Thursday, 6 x 1km with 90 second recoveries. I decided to do this on the track at Perth Grammar School after work. 1km on the road is hard, because you don’t know exactly when the interval will be over – I judge it by time, but that depends on conditions or how I’m feeling. Whereas on the track you can measure the effort out exactly. 1km is 2.5 laps of the track or 5 x 200m.
And that’s how I got through the session, counting down in 200m chunks. The first interval was about getting into my stride. No matter how good a warm up you do, the first interval hits you hard. By the third interval, I thought there was no way I was going to be able to do all six. But you do. It’s a mental thing, and years of racing a bike have taught me how to suffer.
So by this morning I was feeling pretty tired. Today the plan called for a 90 minute run, the first 50 at an easy pace, then the last 40 at my target half marathon pace. It was with trepidation that I headed out the door and the first couple of miles did nothing to disprove my fears. But during mile 3 the sun came out. I’ve always loved the feeling of the sun on my legs, it seems to warm the muscles – my best days on the bike were on days like this. And so, from somewhere, I tapped into a reservoir of energy.
The 50 minutes came and went pretty quickly. My legs were feeling good as I started the last 40 minutes. With the sun on my legs, I got into a steady rhythm, and slowly but surely the minutes ticked down. Each mile was quicker than the last, with the final few minutes well below my target pace.
It’s funny, sport. Sometimes when you think it’s going to be a tough day, you find yourself almost floating through the session with ease. On other days you have what we call in cycling ‘un jour sans’ – a day without, when you just feel empty and everything is a struggle.
Thankfully, for me today was one of the good ones.
When the alarm went off this morning at 5.30am, I’ll admit that for a fleeting second I thought about switching it off & going back to sleep. But this training isn’t going to do it on its’ own, I need to be involved! So up I got.
Today’s session was 4 x 8 minutes at threshold heart rate – that’s 152-159 beats per minute (bpm) – with 90 second recoveries. It’s one of those sessions that’s hard (especially as you go out the door at 5:45am) but on this side of do-able. The first interval is always the hardest as your body adapts to the shock you’re inflicting, even after a good warm-up. For me this session means running at approx. 7:00/mile, so it’s hard work but you know you can do it, so you grind through.
I can’t believe that it’s now four weeks since we were in Lanzarote at training camp! After a few days of rest & recovery, it was back onto the training plan and Gary was increasing the intensity. Before Lanza it had been a block of tempo work, and most of the sessions I did out there were at tempo too. This next block, however, we’d be moving onto threshold work.
Threshold is essentially eyeballs-out, full-gas, race pace. This was going to hurt, as other than a couple of efforts up Fire Mountain in the sun & heat of Lanzarote, I hadn’t done anything like this since my last cross race in November.
Over the next three weeks, we’d build up from 4 x 12 minute intervals, to the final week (ending this weekend) where I’ve got 1x13min, 1x15min, 1x17min & 1x20min to look forward to this afternoon! I’m doing these efforts twice a week – one on a Tuesday on the turbo & then on the road on a Saturday.
The turbo sessions are amongst the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike, they are just horrible. There’s no change in elevation, no corners, no tailwind or headwind, none of the chances you get on the road for micro-recovery, a chance to re-group and get back on it. Nope, on the turbo it’s just one long intense effort. Absolutely brutal.
It’s no surprise that the numbers I produce on the road are always better than on the turbo, it just feels more ‘real’. Like Mark Cavendish (the only thing I have in common with him!), I find it hard to replicate the effort on a static bike that I can produce on the road.
But one of my mantras is ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, and that’s the mindset I’ve taken to these intervals. Coupled with the gym sessions that I’m doing this block, I can feel it all working, my strength growing and my form building.
Tomorrow brings a 4.5 hour ride, with 90 mins of tempo and also the end of this block and a week of recovery. It’s also four weeks to my first race, the Ythan APR on Sunday 30th March. I can feel myself getting more and more excited about racing with every passing week, something I never expected to feel, or be doing, again. But having made a few major changes in my life for the positive over the past six months, I have a renewed energy and passion for racing my bike.
Training on the turbo is okay, it’s something I’ve got myself used to over the past few years, indeed sometimes it’s better for specific training sessions. That’s okay midweek, when training is done before or after work. It’s dark then anyway. But the weekends are for riding outside.
I spend the week working in an office. I go in in the morning, usually take my lunch with me, so often I don’t see the light of day from Monday to Friday during the winter. It’s pretty bleak. One of the things that gets you through those dark days is the prospect of riding your bike again come the weekend. So when the weather puts paid to that, it’s pretty bad.
Finally, after four weeks of training indoors, we got out on the road this weekend. It was surprisingly mild, about 5-6 degrees both days. No need for the winter jacket, it was long-sleeved jersey & gilet both days. I still wear winter leggings though – those will stay on until it’s at least 10 degrees, and then I’ll swap to leg warmers. Over 15 and it’s shorts (unless I’m racing and have to wear them in colder temperatures), but not below.
Both mornings were cold to begin with. I wasn’t sure if I’d been too optimistic with my choice of spring gloves and a cycling cap rather than winter hat under my helmet. But after 20 minutes of effort I’d warmed up.
2.5 hours solo on Saturday, and then almost 4 with a small group today, it felt great to get back outdoors. Flying down the descents, and sprinting out of corners, the prospect of the season ahead was almost tangible.
It’s not long now until our racing begins. Eurosport has racing to tease us with. This week Qatar, next week Oman & the Algarve. Before long the semi-classics will begin. Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne are only two weeks away.
It’s difficult not to get excited, but the reality is we’re in Scotland. Next week it could snow. But even if it does, it’ll be March soon and in just 6 weeks I’ll be on the startline for the first time in 2012.
A lot of my non-cycling friends are intrigued by the amount of training that we do. Saturday morning, after tweeting about doing a 2 hour session on the turbo, I got a bunch of tweets saying that just reading my tweets made them feel tired!
As a club rider, I don’t do half the training that some of the top local guys do. On average it’s about 10 hours a week for me, including a couple of hours a week in the gym. But with running a busy business, with offices across Scotland, it’s the maximum that I can do. And sometimes it can be a challenge to fit even that in – hence my 5.30am turbo tweets!
So what’s involved in all this? Who’s in Team McGill? Quite a few people!
First off there’s my coach for the past five years, Ken Bryson of Total Endurance. Ken prepares training plans for me each month, we work on three weeks of hard training & one recovery week each block. Ken structures the training so that my fitness & speed progresses throughout the season, aiming to peak for a few key events.
At my age, looking after my body is a really important part of recovery, and a couple of years ago I was introduced to Joey Devlin of Aberdeen Sports Massage by my mate Ian Brown. I now see Joey every four weeks for an hour of pain, sorry deep tissue massage (hurts like hell, but feels great afterwards!).
Then there’s nutrition. Over the past few years I’ve tried a few different brands, mainly SIS and Allsports, however for the past six months I’ve been using Herbalife supplied by my Perth-based mate Steve Bonthrone. I’ve been really impressed with the products so far, and with Steve being a competitive runner and personal trainer, he’s been able to tailor a program that meets my needs. I’m now at my lightest weight since I started cycling back in 2006, and it’s only January. Hopefully my weight loss will continue and I’ll lose a few more kilos in the next couple of months before the serious racing starts!
And then there’s a couple of training aids. I started using the Sufferfest training videos to relieve the boredom after breaking my collarbone last winter. I now have all 10, and use them for pretty much every turbo session, often just for the kick-ass music and brilliant race footage rather than the workouts themselves (I have my sessions all planned out by Ken).
Recently, thanks to the Sufferfest I’ve been introduced to Athlete’s Audio, an innovative mental training program for sports people. When I played golf, I was really interested in the mental side of the game. I’d never even thought about that side of cycling, but thinking about how you feel in a time trial, the difference between winning and losing, between a PB and an average time, often comes down to that space between your ears. I’m excited to see what difference a strong mental game can make to my cycling this season.
And finally, most importantly, there’s my family. Without the support and understanding of Joanna, Andy & Rebecca (even though she’s at Uni in Dundee now), I wouldn’t be able to commit the time to training and racing that makes all of this possible.
This is what it takes to be a reasonable club rider. To be a good local racer, capable of winning races, will require a lot more. Scary, huh?!?
So, considering that back in November I was pretty sure I’d never ride another bike race, my winter training is coming on pretty well! In early December I decided that I had unfinished business racing my bike, so I spoke to my coach Ken Bryson and got back on a training plan that would get me fit for the season.
One of the good things about the running that I did over the autumn was that it kept me fit. And I’m pretty sure that I will go back to it at some point in the future. I’m listening to an audiobook by Ironman Chris McCormack just now, and I definitely want to have a go at some duathlons before I hang up my wheels.
I managed to get back up to cycling fitness pretty quickly, and the two power tests that I did in December showed that I’m actually stronger than I’ve ever been at this stage of the winter. I’ve also been able to get a full winter in the gym, the first time since 2008/9 and I can feel the benefit. On the windy rides over Christmas I was solid on the bike. I haven’t felt like that for a couple of years.
The other thing I’ve added to my armoury over the winter is mental skills training. Back in the days when I played golf, I was a devotee of Bob Rotella and put a lot of time & effort into managing the mental side of the sport. I’d never thought about this in cycling, however I came across Athletes Audio via my Sufferfest videos and decided to check them out.
I bought the Sufferfest promo set for $50 and am working my way through the set. From deep breathing, relaxation and recovery to visualisation and race planning, I’m pretty sure they’re going to help me take my racing to the next level.
The first races of the season are now only six weeks away, and I’m more excited about racing than I have been for a couple of years. Bring it on!