Starting my cycling journey (again)

Over the last few weeks I have been getting back into the routine of regular training and looking for improved cycling performance. In my previous years I raced pretty seriously, competing in region also, national, and international events, even picking up quite a few wins as well! However, when my Master’s degree started alongside another job with long commutes (see previous post) my training time was dramatically reduced, and when I compared the time available with what I was used to, I fell by the wayside and was happy with an occasional ride for enjoyment. With the PhD just around the corner my aim is to get back into riding and competing but in a different and more controllable discipline, this blog is about how I am going to approach getting back into training and racing on limited time.

When you have been used to training weeks in excess of 20 hours of hard riding, alongside strength and flexibility work, looking at between 5 and 8 hours of training time can seem paltry in comparison. However, what I have learnt over my time as a sports scientist and coach is that specificity and individualisation is the key to high performance. I am going to focus on how I can make the very most out of these 8 training hours per week, in order to improve my performance. My focus was then directed towards what discipline I would focus on; road, cyclocross, time trialling? I am a road racer at heart, cyclocross rider by upbringing, and time trialling as a result of sheer scientific curiosity. 

My appraisal of road racing came to the conclusion that with the stress I used to put myself under both before and after races, and not to mention the numerous aspects of physiological performance that you need to train, this discipline wouldn’t be a wise choice for a main focus. Cyclocross was next to be appraised; muddy, cold, and tough on equipment… Maybe a few races for shits and giggles. This led me to time trialling. I have only done a couple of time trials; a 21 minute 10-mile TT and a 53 minute 25-mile TT. I am not built for TT excellence; under 60kg and 169cm in height, but what I do have is a capacity for pain tolerance, aggression, and the joys of the scientific process. With the aim of time trialling to complete set distances as fast as you possibly can, this makes my goal essentially a lengthy n=1 case study.

The first step on this case study was to complete some baseline testing; a Lactate Threshold Test and FTP test at Cadence Performance Centre where I work. My lactate threshold came out at 240W, down from ~280W when I was racing, but my maximal power from the ramp test actually increased from ~340W to a nice 363W. This means that my first goal is to target train my threshold in order to get it back to the 280W mark. However, I knew my capacity to empty myself over a known timeframe had always been quite good, so I decided to see how the lactate threshold power from a ramp test compared with functional threshold power from a 20-minute test. I did the two tests 24hrs apart and my FTP came out 10W higher – I wasn’t surprised. So I had my baseline numbers, my targets, and my individualised training zones; now to put a plan into place.

I know my body responds well to certain types of training; tempo rides for 3hrs, 10-20min sweetspot work, 30:30 sessions, and the very important recovery rides. I looked at my available time and decided that I would likely be better served by a 2hr tempo/sweetspot ride at the weekend, which would give me around and hour each day during the week to train. I mapped out an easy 1hr circuit through my local fields I could do on my cyclocross bike on Friday as a recovery ride, which would keep the enjoyment there and prevent monotony in training. This left two 1hr sweetspot sessions to be placed on Monday and Thursday, with the joyful 30:30 session on Wednesday, and an easier indoor interval session on Tuesday. My progression method would involve 2-3 weeks of this, followed by 1 week of slightly reduced volume and intensity to promote recovery and adaptation. I plan to re-test my lactate threshold every 2 months, and FTP every month. If I can manage a 5% improvement in threshold each month, I should be back to my old performance by May, leaving the summer months to enjoy enjoy this power.

I will be keeping things updated as the training, work, and importantly the PhD progress, but this blog outlines the plan at the moment, although if the time I have spent coaching athletes had taught me anything it is the importance of being flexible and being able to adapt to necessary adjustments.