It’s that time of year, the Turkey is stripped of all edible meat, you’re full of mince pies, bloated on wine, lacking exercise & feeling a little guilty perhaps? Well fear not, the rookies & the insane will be road racing in Scotland by February, but you’ve got plenty of time to get yourself ready for a new season, if you start right NOW!
Other Riders Performances
Our new breed of winter racers, not the antisocials & the old-school club ride racers, or the new-age Strava group-ride destructors, but the socially acceptable & quite positive ‘cross riders & indoor winter trackies are going to be going well early in 2013, but perhaps too early for the actual road season. So if you’re intending racing in 2014, it’s time to take a reality check, don’t compare yourself on New Years Day against a race ready ‘cross rider who’s just completed his season of racing. It’s time to get realistic.
Another thing not to be put off by the glut of information you find on social media, with all these riders doing a pile of miles in the off-season, then posting their accomplishes up on Strava, Twitter & Facebook, along with their impressive power data & KOM accomplishments in mid-winter. Looking at these accomplishments & the attached comments is quite interesting, well, to me anyway. Especially the lack of understanding of things like the numbers they’re posting & the heart rate data. Some riders seem to brag about their heart rate going over 160 for example, but showing their complete lack of understanding of the intricacies of heart rate measurement, that it’s a very personal thing & somebody the same age could have a wildly different max heart rate, that 160bpm could be close to somebody elses recovery level. If anybody is still using 220bpm minus their age to guess their maximum heart rate, you’re going to be beating them pretty soon with a decent bit of proper scientific training. In fact, whoever is still using maximum heart rate to set their zones is living in the 90’s, they are most likely training in the completely wrong zones. These days it’s much more accurate to set your zones from the functional threshold, I’ll not go into that here, but if training with heart rate, then Joe Friel’s ‘The Cyclists Training Bible‘ is for you, if using power then you’ll need Hunter Allen & Andrew Coggan’s ‘Training & Racing With a Power Meter‘. Both books explain things in a methodical manner & allow you to set your zones yourself, by either heart rate or power.
So if you’re looking at others data, decide yourself whether or not it’s relevant to you. Will you be racing against these riders? Can they hold that form until the road season starts? Why are they training at such a high intensity at this time of year? Do they really know what they’re doing or are they just bragging, or worse, Strava doping? If anybody’s beating Strava KOM segments at this time of year, you’d have to take a judgement view on whether or not that’s a good idea, if the rider doesn’t race then that’s fine, but if that’s part of their mid-winter race preparation they obviously don’t have a plan for the season, or are being encouraged by those without a plan to step outside of their base training. Doing high intensity efforts in the worst weather outdoors, probably isn’t going to do you any good in the long run, a weekly blast on the track could be the answer to keep things ticking over, but mostly you’ll be wanting to do reasonably low-level training outdoors at this time of year, don’t get sucked into pseudo uncontrolled races or any bunches where people talk about getting a result, it doesn’t matter if you’ve not got a number on your back.
If you want to have a good racing season, collect lots of points & improve your category, then peaking for a race at the beginning of March isn’t going to help matters. Normally a peak will include some pretty good form prior to that target weekend, including several weeks of improving form. If you peak too early, then you’ll not have any events to ride while you have that improving form. The early peak mistake also means you’ll risk it all on one weekend, which could dent your confidence if there’s ice, a crash, mechanical, or some other obstruction to getting a result, you may not even get a start in an oversubscribed target event. You would look back on all that hard work to see it going down in flames, not exactly motivational for the rest of the season. The early season attracts new racers too, keen as mustard, but while looking very strong & fit, new riders obviously lack actual race experience. This used to be ok, as riders were educated on the etiquette of bike racing by their clubs, but increasingly fast riders are dodging the whole club membership situation until a very late stage. The reason for this is good for the sport, more people wanting to take part, but somewhere along the way the club structure hasn’t been promoted, with governing bodies more interested in numbers of British Cycling members than helping direct those riders to join clubs. This needs to change, but identifying ‘good clubs’ is a whole other blog, on which I’ve touched on before.
Don’t place too much importance on these early races, target something later on & use these for building your race skills, take a few risks, try an attack, make the race & use the experience for later successes in important events. As road races have moved to dates more winter-like, even into February, the unpredictability of our weather has also played a part, the last couple of years have seen many events cancelled due to ice & snow. The ‘March Hare’ rider isn’t making the best choices to be flying for these events if they want a great season, but then again, some people like that kind of thing.
You can have all the gizmo’s you like, power meters, GPS devices, heart rate monitors, virtual reality turbo trainers, it’s all out there & marketed at you, but do you really need it? As more riders move towards scientific training, the short answer would be that in order to remain competitive against riders of similar talent to yourself, then scientific training is going to make the difference. But in reality, as I’ve mentioned before, only a small percentage of these riders are actually using the devices properly, most who have the devices probably use them as a toy. Basing training programmes on heart rate & power data (especially) isn’t simple, it requires constant re-evaluation & small changes to the training programme, it’s not an A4 sheet that you stick to for a whole winter. So unless the gizmo’d cyclist has a good coach or has read the correct books, and understood them, then that expensive power meter may just be a fancy looking toy they can impress their cycling buddies with. Having the gizmo doesn’t make you fast, using the gizmo correctly does.
With the above in mind, if you refuse to get involved in technology, then there are other ways. I’ve seen a few ex-pro’s & some other former international riders commenting on the use of fixed gear bikes by some current racers & the good results they’re getting from this. The best use of scientific training is to get the best out of yourself with the minimum time required, a fixed gear is a slightly older version of the same thing. Consider your club ride, if you went out on fixed, while others were geared, you’d be working very hard downhill, while those freewheeled riders were cruising, doing nothing. Imagine you looked at the heart rate profiles of those riders, the fixed gear rider wouldn’t drop much on the descents at all, they get more from every ride if you consider it a training session, sometimes twice as much aerobic work. So if you don’t like technology & don’t like fixing your bike, a fixed gear may be the ideal winter steed for you. It may take you a few weeks to stay in contact on the downhill, but a fixed gear for this type of training actually works better on terrain you’d imagine wasn’t suitable for fixed, i.e. lots of hills. But please put two brakes on it, don’t go riding with others on freewheels if you’ve not, otherwise you may cause some problems.
Get Out More
Clubs can help you ride your bike, just knowing there’s a ride on locally & that somebody will be there is a good piece of motivation to get yourself out of your bed. It would be nice if clubs could arrange things so that if there’s a fast & slower group, they could start out together, head to a cafe & either the fast boys keep going or all stop together. I don’t think we allocate enough time to the social side of cycling these days, which is probably one of the issues with people withdrawing from the club system. Emphasising the social side of cycling, not just the performance side is something that seems to be in retreat, I think we all need to have a think about how we can make that happen. Cycling is after all about getting out & riding our bikes, performance & racing are an afterthought, if you don’t manage to get out at all, then it’s hard to consider how you can get fast enough to race. January’s priority should really be about getting out there, no matter how bad you consider the weather, surely you’ve got some new Christmas kit that will allow you to ride in all weathers, or at least buy some mudguards to make it luxurious for yourself, and pleasant for your comrades.
The Gist Of It
Lets get the miles in during January, whatever your discipline or ability level. Use your gizmo’s if you have them, if not, just enjoy riding your bike. Once you’re out there it’s much better than it looks from indoors, but the big push is just getting out there in the first place. Set out your clothes the night before a ride, buy a good set of lights or charge them up (now) if you’re intending doing any evening rides after work. Please don’t get put off by others digital accomplishments on their bikes, it’s not relevant to you. Renew your club membership & go out on a club ride with them, the time to start is now, not February when you’re a bit fitter (and likely still not been out), the camaraderie of a cycling club should renew your passion & help remove that Christmas gut you’ve been cultivating recently.
Most of all, I wish you all more spin in 2014, it’s going to be some year & like most others, I got no tickets for the velodrome at Glasgow 2014, so the free events will be my stomping ground, the road race, mountain biking & time trial (yes, I might even watch at time trial!). Get yourselves out for a short ride on New Years Day, once you sober up, it’ll make you feel a lot better, whatever the weather.
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