If You Do The Same Things…

…You’ll get the same results. Is a sporting trueism. It basically means that whilst performing to a certain level, you cannot just expect to improve consistently based on the same inputs.

For example, my best year on the bike was 2006. 3 or 4 good placings in road races and all on hard courses. 5th fastest in the Fred, good rides on Etape Du Dales, Polka Dot Challenge and the Marmotte and some good Hill Climb showings too. Those successes were based on training a 14 hour week minimum, commuting to and from work 3 days a week (thats a 40 mile round trip) and 2 long rides at the weekend. My only interval training came from Road Racing and Time Trialling and I bumbled through the season at a constant level and I was pretty pleased with the results. I can’t do that any more due to not being single and having a job that requires me to move around between sites, so I had to change it.

2007, 2008 and 2009 were not what I hoped and now it’s time to change again. One of the hardest things anyone can do is take themselves out of a comfort zone and risking a new approach. This year I’m planning to take in structured gym work (which seems to have worked miracles for Honister 92’s very own Schleck brothers) and approach my goals in a different fashion.

I’ve always picked out individual events and said “that one” building up to a peak for one day and then beating myself up if I didn’t measure up. I think this year I’m going to pick periods of a few weeks with decent races I can do well in and aim to perform right across them. Hedging my bets, if you will. I’m going to prepare differently too, by breaking my goals down in to physical characteristics required giving me something to hang my hat on while I’m training.

Likewise I need to amend my mental approach. I havbe a tendancy to think myself out of a race before I’ve left the house. I don’t know what it is, but I need to address it all the same.

Anyway, will update this later on following my first gym session and my goalsetting session with Coach Sam!

Power and Climbing Intervals

Tonight, a work-out I described on the Whinlatter post (the very second post on the blog!) a couple of weeks ago. Out from Cockermouth, along the A66 to keswick and back home over said Pass. The structure of the work out is 10 minutes warm up 4×4 minute power intervals at 90%+ of Max HR with 4 minutes recovery inbetween and then, on the climb, 1:30 of Aerobic Threshold Riding (170-180 BPM on my HR) and throw in 5x 30 second all out attacks with a minute of Threshold riding inbetween.

The A66 section was strange tonight. A really wierd, swirling wind that was at points (my first interval) pushing me along at 50kph, at times trying to throw me into the gutter and at times (last interval) trying to blow me back home. I finished the 4 intervals with an average of 32.2 KPH, which is about 0.7 kph lower than the last time I did it. So overall the effect of the wind pretty much evened out, was simply a bit wild. The purpose of these intervals is to keep going to that intensity you need in a race whilst training, mainly, for more steadily paced Sportif efforts. I keep feeling better and better on the power stuff at the moment, so I guess reducing the overall intensity, after a prolonged period of training at very high intensity has given me some benefit, maybe the first Race block of the year came a little early for me…

Onto the climb and again, the aim here is that racing intensity. The threshold riding is also useful for quick climbing on the sportifs, but I’m thinking at the moment of the Westmorland Tankard CDNW race in 3 weeks. There’s a big climb on that and the ability to attack repeatedly will be a bonus. First 3 attacks felt great tonight. In fact the second one took my breath away. Faded a bit for the last two, but this is a very intense workout, and it’s to be expected. The threshold riding inbetween the attacks is one of those situations I can see a Power Meter being useful. Your heart rate just isn’t going to recover from those kinds of efforts within 60 seconds, so you’re pretty much riding on feel in those “recovery” sections. I didn’t time the climb tonight, as I feel having done 3 timed ascents in the last 7 days, I’m in danger of over-analysing every performance on it. I’m riding it again tomorrow as well…

Descent, however, was timed. With a following wind for the top section that, sadly, degenerated into a headwind for the flat bit in the middle. Even worse, a cross wind on the flat, sweeping bend that leads you to the steep, tight corners half way down. I was, again, overly cautious down those but the time at the bottom was 9 seconds better than my previous best of the year, so can’t really complain. In fact, the average speed for the rid of 30.1kph was pretty pleasing considering the conditions and 1.5 kph quicker than the last time around that ride, which is really encouraging.

Honister, Newlands & Whinlatter

Another of my simulated Sportif efforts yesterday. Slightly curtailed by my hangover from Saturday night’s festivities. Sadly, it also took in 3 of the tougher climbs in the lakes all strung together in 20km sufferfest.

Anybody who’s ridden the Whitton will know that the ride really starts once you hit Honister and never settles down afterwards. I hadn’t been over it since last years Fred either, when I was reduced to walking, so with some trepidation I approached via the A66 and, Cumbria’s answer to Pave, the Borrowdale road. 29.8 kph average to the foot of the climb, wind assisted, and feeling pretty good.

Turning onto Honister, I was immediately hit by a stiff headwind. However, the gradient on the first ramp wasn’t as harsh as I recalled and I was still tapping a 39 x 25 at quite a good tempo as it levelled out. After this “easy” section at a mere 13%, you round the corner onto what looks like a wall. You’re immediately hunched over your bars, levering the bike and grinding. Then, as you come up to the bridge, it gets worse. The trick at this point is to stay out of the trench that runs across the bend and to remember that the cattle grid marks the end of the worst of it. After that you have a few hundred meters to spin it out and recover for the final assault on the summit. The headwind definitely wasn’t helping at this juncture, but I made it in 12 minutes. Always feels longer though and the pain in my legs, arms, abs and back tell me that the climb of Honister pass is the all-body workout of champions!

The descent, however, is just stupid. It’s very, very steep, covered in holes, ruts and ridges and has two sharp corners at the end of straight steep sections. In short it’s bloody dangerous and I crept down it.

Climb of Newlands passed fairly easily, only 13 seconds down on my years best time and my legs were feeling pretty tired by then (glad of a rest and a massage today). Descent was curiously slow considering how fast it felt! Was leaning into corners, intentionally breaking later, all that good stuff. Must have been a headwind.

Whinlatter was really tough, given how tired I was feeling. My head and stomach were complaining too. Still, I gave it all I had and made it hurt. I could feel cramp setting in as I pushed for the top. The time was nothing to write home about but the effort was there. Again, I felt I’d improved on the descent so some positives to take out.

The only other incident of note was my failure to empty my jersey pockets at the end of the ride. This led to my racing license, cash card and a £20 note going through the wash. Balls.

Kirkstone Pass

First of my “Simulated Sportif Efforts” today. The route was as below

See what I did with the terrain map there? Looks good!

Anyway… I have never had such a soaking. 4 hours and 20 minutes of 116 kilometres of misery. The first hour from cockermouth was pretty good, chilly (but then it was 0830) but managable, indeed I took the windproof off round the back of Thirlmere. Up the easy side of Dunmail Raise at a decent clip (in the saddle 39X16 all the way) and then the rain started on the top. With nothing under my helmet and no glasses, descending at 65kph was both painful and dangerous. The rain felt like needles on my skin and I was literally glancing at where I was going. I was mighty relieved to get down get into a layby and put my jacket back on. After that a nice spin onto Ambleside where I again removed it (figuring that the rain had abated for the day). 50km at 29.6kph. So far so good.

On then, to Kirkstone Pass. The first big climb on the Fred Whitton and one of the most difficult. It’s long, the gradient is constantly changing, there are even some downhill sections in the first part of the climb. The surface is also atrocious. When you turn off at Troutbeck you are immediately pitched onto a ramp at above 10% which goes up to nearer 20 on a series of hairpins (some seriously nice houses up there too!), and then when the road opens out a bit you drop down a way through the village, and then go up through the twisty little road that takes you onto the main climb, before a final steep plunge which gives you some brilliant momentum for the next section.

The middle third of the Kirkstone cllimb seems to have been resurfaced since last summer and the really steep bits of the climb are now a joy to ride with smooth, fresh tarmac. At this point it was really starting to come down and I was cursing the way the climb undulates as it kept on killing my rhythm. Again, I felt pretty good. I can feel the last few days in my legs but even riding at a brisk tempo my heart rate was rarely above 170 and I felt i could have gone deeper, I seemed to be switching between 39×21 and 23 for most of the way, with the occasional foray into the 25 (oh the indignity!).

I stopped at the top to put my jacket on and have a bite to eat. The view back towards Windemere is fantastic from up there, and I could see a few walkers ascending into the mist to tackle Hellvellyn. The descent from Kirkstone down to Ullswater is one of my least favourite bits of road. It twists, the corners are off camber, it’s full of holes and there are, inevitably, loads of cars coming the other way. What I’m getting around to saying is I bottled it. On the brakes all the way down (to the extent my rims started to hiss), every time i looked at taking a corner properly there were two cars waiting around it. I didn’t even get on the drops. The rain can’t have helped, but i know I’ve never ridden that descent well in any weather.

The Descent that broke PD Malcolm

The Descent that broke PD Malcolm

The ride along Ullswater saw the rain get heavier and the wind pick up until I was just so fed up all the way over Matterdale end that even my favourable average speed and low average HR couldn’t cheer me up. The ride back to Keswick on the A66 was every bit as enjoyable, with the spray from about 6 caravans hitting me full in the face as I chewed on into the wind.

I was almost relieved to climb Whinlatter to finish the day. 12:38 today, which was, to be honest, expected given the 100km already in my legs and the awful conditions. I descended better than I did on Wednesday in perfect conditions however, go figure.

All in, I’m glad I’m doing rides like that and that they don’t detroy me. But today just wasn’t fun. I’ve got a housewarming tonight so the perfect excuse to skive off tomorrow… And if the weather doesn’t improve I’ll be doing just that.

Otherwise, join me for 3 hours and 3 climbs. Honister, Newlands and Whinlatter!

Force Climbs Ride

Lots of good things to report tonight. The workout was a nce ride out for the 15km or so to the foot of Newlands Pass, on the Buttermere Side, then up the pass in my Aerobic Threshold Zone 170-175bpm with as much work being done in the saddle as possible. Then a timed descent into Braithwaite before repeating the exercise on Whinlatter, another timed descent and then home.

The ride out was excellent fun, no wind whatsoever, 35 minutes of nice easy tempo/ endurance riding with one semi-serious hill in the middle. Completed at an avetage of 28.1 kph. Onto the Newlands climb and I was almost immediately into my bottom gear of 39×26. I started my timer at the Snow sign at the bottom and stopped it at the grit bin on the laybay on top. Whilst every attempt was made to stay in the saddle, i’m only human. The gradient defeated me on the second steep kick up (after a short flat/downhill section) and I got my arse up. Felt good throughout though, getting up in 9:19, although my Polar tells me that that equates to a pretty grim average speed of 11.7 kph for 1.8km at an average gradient of 11%.

The descent of Newlands is a strange one. It tests everything about you. Your bikehandling on the rough 25% slope at the top, your bravery in not braking for sheep (Whitton riders be warned!), your ability to jump on top of a big gear on some of the sudden rises. It has some brilliant hairpins and terrifyingly bad surfaces but I love it. I just need to get off the brakes a bit more! My useless descending has always costed me and introducing the competitive element in timing it is my way of getting to grips with this. 13:36 for 7.7km at an average of 33.3kph.

I’ve talked about Whinlatter on this blog before, but tonight I stormed up it. My best ever time on it is a half-remembered 11:32 from about 6 years ago. Tonight was 11:44, a massive improvement on the years best of 12:06 for the 3.2km going up to the forest park at the top. At one point I looked down and was 2 gears higher than I thought I was, and still spinning smoothly. Perhaps the Schleck’s ripping me apart on Sunday was worth it afterall!

Descent was, again, disappointing. 8:57 for a 5km descent. Again, Whitton fans, there’s holes and gravel all over the S-Bends half way down the descent.

All in, a really pleasing ride in great weather and the fells looked stunning in the sunset. A really good reminder of why riding a bike round here is such good fun!

Hour of Power!

Hard workout tonight to kick off the Sportif block… The hour of power. Cribbed from Bill Black, my take on this workout is to ride at just about my maximum sustainable pace for one hour and throw in a 30 second all-out attack every 2 minutes. On the turbo, this is murder and only a DVD to take my mind off the pain can get me through it. On the road, it’s slightly easier due to undulating terrain and the fact the biggest gear on my training wheels is a 13.

I did this on the Daffodil Road Race course, which I’m planning to use every time I do it outdoors fo the summer, as a benchmark. Really good night to be out as well, no legwarmers (first time, not in a race, since October!), sunglasses on and an average temp of 13 degrees.

The performance was a little down on the last time I did the HoP (back in my peak phase) with an average speed of 32.3kph compared to 32.5kph and an average heart rate of 173 bpm (88% of max) compared to 168 bpm (86%) last time. I’m going to put this down to two factors;firstly, after a week of slothing about on transition and two weeks of reduced workload on peaking… I’m bound to have lost a little fitness and second, i’m still knackered from Sunday… There was a really strange tightness in my hip when I got started that seemed to work it’s way out after about 10 mins.

All comparitive hour of power stats welcomed!

The Sportif Season Starts

Now I know a lot of road racers give sportifs a bad press… They paint them as being full of unfit wannabes without the balls to race properly and without the wherewithal to ride in a straight line. I, on the other hand love them. The mistake those guys are making is judging the events by the same standard. To me, a cyclosportif is as competetive as you want to make it, it allows you to ride with other people over always spectacular courses and it serves, for the guys at the front, as a race on roads they’d never be allowed to race on. I’ve ridden La Marmotte four times now, staying in the same hotel as Bert Dekker (who “won” it twice), you tell him it’s not competitive.

This year i’m taking a break from La Marmotte and so my main aim for this section of my season is La Pyreneenne, which is run in the Pyrenees (duh!) taking in the Aspin and the Tourmalet with a hill climb to Hautacam the next day (oooh leg breaking!). Bitter experience has taught me that you need to prepare for such events properly so I’m putting racing on the back burner for a couple of months and training specifically, as well as riding 3 uk Sportifs to get ready in the shape of my local ride, The Fred Whitton challenge, the Etape du Dales and the Polka Dot Challenge.

Now I’ve usually just gone about Sportif training as part of the “just ride yer bike” school of thought. Racking up monster miles with no more thought behind them than proving to myself I could ride the distances without dying. The structured winter I’ve had and the benefits it wrought have convinced my however, that it’s worth preparing a little more specifically. Below is the plan I’ll be following for the next 3 weeks with some brief notes on WHY i’m riding it.

Monday– Rest Day
Tuesday– Power Workout
This will either be the Hour of Power described here or it will be the ride described here or else it will be the local Time Trials run by Velo Club Cumbria. This both keeps my arm in for racing intensity and develops that high end you need for either grinding up a steep hill or seting a hard tempo up the Tourmalet!)
Wednesday– Force Climbs
This takes the form of riding out to Newlands Pass (Buttermere Side) and going over it in the saddle, then onto Whinlatter and doing the same. I use a 25 sprocket as my lowest gear so, Newlands especially, provides quite a challenge. This is designed so that Honister, Hardknott etc are within my abilities on that kind of gearing and I don’t have to splatter myself to get over them.
Thursday– Free Ride for 90 minutes.
Theres no point doing it if you can’t enjoy the benefits. I can work on anything i feel i’m lacking and I can also, hopefully assess how I’m coming along.
Friday Rest Day
Saturday-Five hours at tempo, all major climbs at aerobic threshold.
Essentially a simulated Sportif effort
Sunday As Saturday.

Any questions comments, feel free to E-Mail or put them in the replies, i’ve removed the pre-moderation now, so they should be a bit easier and smoother to use!

A view back down the Buttermere side of Newlands Pass

A view back down the Buttermere side of Newlands Pass

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