Stars and Spokes
Trying to stick to the training plan, whilst evacuating Kabul!
Dan here. Six months to go… seems quite short when you write it down! Being at this point made me wonder whether my training so far is on track (not quite) and adequate (it isn’t). The New Year seemed like a natural turning point to really focus on the training programme and look for consistency, on the basis it’s never too late!
I looked at my ‘Year in Sport’ over Christmas, and the total mileage for 2021 was 3613 miles by bike. It was actually going quite well up until May, and I was averaging 500+ miles a month. Then a couple of deployments happened - a trip to Mozambique, then an unscheduled few months in Afghanistan. It was an incredibly valuable, professionally rewarding deployment; I was fortunate to be able to help some desperate people and make a tangible difference. It culminated in the evacuation of Kabul and I left on the penultimate plane, but certainly not an environment conducive to bike training for many reasons!
So, new year- new training plan… Go!
Last winter I had endured too many night time training rides which were just uncomfortable and dangerous. I came off a few times because of poor road conditions, and I certainly can’t afford an injury now. My routine was to get the kids in bed then bravely head out in to the night, regardless of weather, for 2-3 hours. To put it mildly, it was rubbish. Whilst it’s ok for simply building miles, it’s difficult to build consistency of effort, and it absolutely destroyed my bike. Plus as one of my friends said, ‘One does not simply go for a bike ride in Cornwall’, reflecting on the state of the roads in winter (often slippery, muddy bogs), and the saw-tooth like hills with valleys where the sun hardly reaches their depths in winter and you can feel the change in temperature like diving in to a cold swimming pool.
I wasn’t doing that again. Luckily I had bought an entry-level smart turbo trainer last year (bought in haste in a misguided attempt to have it available during isolation from another work trip). I dusted off the box, read up on it and started an endurance programme.
The appeals are obvious. Ride unaffected by weather, as well as a structured regime where the intensity is easily controlled. Plus snacks on hand! Riding outdoors has so many variables it is impossible to really control and assess your power delivery across the entire ride, particularly in the dark or on poor, narrow roads. I’m using a 5 week developmental programme which is based on your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and gets progressively more strenuous. Options of hours per week and intensity (based on Watts per Kg of body weight) mean you can really find a suitable programme.
One thing to consider with turbo training is the metric being used to judge success. Mileage is not the answer, unless you’re following ride simulation programmes. Training based on power outputs is fundamentally not representative of a ride in the real-world. It is designed to stress your muscle groups in a way to promote desired characteristics and development which then translates to strength and fitness which is applicable in the real world.
I’ve found it excellent. I like the consistency, progression, being able to fit it around my other daily activities and the fact that when it’s hammering down with rain I don’t come back with hypothermia and spend 2 days drying kit! Even in a few weeks the structured training is giving me more power in the real world. I intersperse virtual rides with actually venturing outside in order to keep building miles and because I enjoy it so much more when I’m not doing it because I feel I have to. It feels much less of a chore to hit the roads on a sunny day and you’re not against the clock, or in a battle for survival! There is no shame in being a ‘fair weather biker’!
It is however pretty mind and backside numbing. There is no interesting scenery passing, little change in body position, and basically no respite from turning pedals at a set cadence and power until you’re allowed off! A 3 hour turbo trainer ride takes some facing up to!
A chocolate hobnob and what appears to be a documentary about sheep gets you through 3 hours of a gruelling turbo regime. Stunning scenery not included.
Nevertheless I will keep doing turbo programmes as I think they’ll develop my cycling power and endurance in ways that simply road riding can’t, and I need that development. Of course, in our position of preparing for 100 miles a day for a month, there really is no escape from doing long rides. Over the next few months I will be trying to find opportunities to get out and do some long days in the saddle… but only on nice sunny days!