The first full week of actual work is over. A mixture of hard efforts, recovery rides, yoga and cardio, both indoors and out on the road. Was it hard? Some days, yes. Was it manageable? Definitely. Will I keep going with it? Without doubt.
Having spent a couple of weeks in my definition of a relaxation mode, I’d been chomping at the bit to thrash my legs on the pedals. And the first week of training did not disappoint. It was encouraging. Thus far, the sessions have been on the short side, mostly because of the time constraints I have, but also to focus on building power. This has meant I’ve typically had a very hard hour on the bike, followed by a normal day. But after each of these short sessions, I find myself wanting to go back into them. Perhaps my intensity needs to lift, or perhaps I need to become more patient with the importance of recovering.
The best part? I’m feeling amazing! I’m not sure if the rest leading into the programme is the difference, or maybe it’s the targeted training – either way, I feel like I’m getting stronger already. My legs get heavy, but bounce back quickly. I feel as though I can breathe deeper. I’m putting out more watts at a seemingly lower heart rate. And I don’t feel as though i’m going to crash and burn – having recovery days during a hard week are clearly a good thing right now – and soon enough I’ll have a full recovery week. It’s too early to make claims about improvement, but I’m pretty sure this is all getting me somewhere.
I’ll let you know how I go at the end of the week – perhaps another 7 days will knock me back some.
Immediately afterwards I felt dizzy. Soon after that I was still shaking and my legs were sore. By lunch time my legs were shot. All after beginning a new training programme this morning with Matt, commencing with an FTP test.
I’ve done an FTP test a couple of times before, on the home trainer and in front of Zwift. The first couple of times were mere attempts, with the connection between my power meter and laptop dropping out, or simply popping before 20 minutes had elapsed. This morning’s was different – I had a coach, the equipment was there, and I had a better understanding of what I’d be getting myself into. Briefly, FTP (Functional Threshold Power) is the highest average power a cyclist can maintain over an hour. Typically, a 20 minute test is used, and 95% of your average power over the 20 minutes is taken as your FTP. This will serve as the base line for my training over the coming months.
I met Matt at the shop at 5:30am, and he proceeded to set my bike up into a stationary trainer (this one). An excellent set-up, as I would be using my own bike and power meter – so everything can be transferred onto the road. After a 20 minute warm up, consisting of some easy pedalling and a few harder efforts, Matt then worded me up for what he wanted out of the 20 minute test.
And he threw a curve ball at me – no data! I would have no monitor to look at, nor would I be able to utilise my Garmin for reference. No heart rate, no timer, no power! And it was brilliant. I don’t know if it made the effort easier or harder, but having no numbers to look at, I was forced to feel it out and judge my riding. Matt would occasionally act the clock, letting me know either how much time had been covered, or how much time was left (are you a glass half full, or half empty kind of person?).
“Thirteen minutes in”
“Only one quarter left”
“Thirty seconds to go”
And this interspersed with,
“You’re doing well!”
“Give it all you’ve got now!”
He also made a poignant comment just before the test. It’s something I had worked out through endurance rides, but will now start to apply it more to the riding I want to get better at. The brain will want to give up when the muscles are capable of giving more. I need to break through the glass walls.
With the 20 minutes covered, I found myself breathing heavily. Head dizzy. Hands shaking. Heart pounding. I was left to spin out my legs with sweat streaming all over me, and a few moments to compose myself before getting off the bike. Only after that did Matt approach me with congratulations and some numbers. Numbers I’m not going to publish just yet – I’m not going to be a total Froomey about my data, just a little bit. I plan on doing another test at the end of the 3 months, and will have a comparison to share at that point. Until then, I will reveal that I don’t think I could have gone any harder during today’s test. My FTP was considerably higher than when I measured it myself using Zwift, but it is perhaps lower than what some of you may expect. And most importantly, I have been reassured by Matt that I will improve.
Yesterday was somehow the first actual XCO race I’ve ever competed in. Crits, enduros, marathons and stage races have come and gone, but I’ve never raced the traditional cross country format. Weird when I think about it, but not surprising when the level I’ve ridden at has always tended towards different events (more mass participation events).
Anyway, on Sunday afternoon, the Darwin Offroad Cycling club (DORC), ran an XCO at Charles Darwin National Park. Supported by Blue Cycles, it involved 4 laps of a rather demanding, 8km course (4 for elite, 3 for sport). With recent bush fires clearing much of the dense vegetation and scorching the earth to dust, it would be fairly easy to keep sight on anyone in a close position.
The race started Le Mans style. With a Go Pro mounted on my handlebar, you can see me picking up my bike first, and get an early lead into the single track. Not knowing the course and terrain all that well, I opted to let someone pass after about 1km or so. This gave me a wheel to follow and hopefully learn the trail.
I found the pace not quite where I wanted it on one of the long, flat, open straights, so I decided to up the tempo and gas it back into first place. A good move really – I was able to hold the lead for a while longer with a bit of climbing coming up and more long drags to push power levels. But just before the track turned to more single track, Chris Hanson romped on past me. He wasn’t going all that much quicker at this point, but with my heart rate up high, and legs feeling a bit leaden, I could see the calibre of rider that Chris is. And this was the wheel to follow.
For maybe a couple of kilometres of single track, I stuck pretty well to his wheel. He was clearly more powerful on the more open single track, pulling away slightly, but with ease, and was exceptionally better on the more technical sections and the downs. However, I’m confident I had him well and truly covered anytime the track pinched upwards, and I’d gain back time. This pattern wasn’t to last too long, however, and he eventually pulled away out of sight after a longer section of down.
This left me all alone for basically the remainder of the race. 3rd place was not to be seen with a look back, and I was assuming Chris was now putting minutes into me. But the track was so much fun, I didn’t mind too much. I don’t spend enough time on the mountain bike, and found the race a great skills tester. Rather than kill myself trying to get back onto Chris’ wheel, I opted to do my best to ride smoothly and efficiently, and focused on keeping a constant effort (yup, this shit again… but it works!).
Heading into lap 2, I still had no sign of anyone. But I was still up for riding quickly and I’d settled into a rhythm. A thought struck me – I could easily become complacent now. I could back off the pace and probably still hold 2nd. If anything, I’d be well rested to fight for it if necessary. Perhaps Chris is thinking the same? Maybe he’s sitting up right now and cruising around the course? So i started riding faster, and put in my quickest lap time. Still focused on riding smoothly, but hammering the downs, putting more power out on the less technical single track, leaning around the uphill switch backs to keep the momentum up, and above all else, climbing flat stick.
It worked! I’d taken the nifty, but slightly sketchy A-line towards the end of the Wirraway trail, making up some more time, and was confident of going fast for the entire race. Really smacking the pedals about on the straights on lap 3, I could see Chris up ahead. And the best part was that he couldn’t see me! Over about 3 minutes of racing, I’d gone from about 100m behind him on first sight, to within striking distance after putting in a near max effort on the longest climb of the course. Another long straight after that climb, and he was only 20m or so ahead. But then I witnessed the quality of rider that I was chasing. After that straight, there was a technical 150 degree turn. It wasn’t actually all that technical, but it was very awkward and you had to slow right down for it. Just when I thought I was being all ninja like (not really, I’m sure me heart beat was audible), Chris shot me what I felt was a devastating look-back, and took the fuck off outta there, leaving me to negotiate that corner whilst he was accelerating. All-over red-rover.
By the time I made it around the corner and onto another short straight, there was no sign of Chris bar a plume of dust – a sure sign that he was proceeding rapidly. The next bit of single track gave him a sure lead, and I was no longer able to see him. If he was being complacent on lap 2 and the start of lap 3, it didn’t matter. He still had the energy to kick my arse all over Sunday afternoon. No matter, I’ll have to work out another way to beat him (if that is at all possible).
The remainder of the race was an exercise in the same. Put in some energy on the climbs. Take the quicker A-lines when I was comfortable. Gas the straights and turn bike on the corners. And at race pace, riding at Charles Darwin is so much fun. I held onto 2nd place, with Chris having put in 3:35s by race end. Kevin Wells placed 3rd, 2:20s behind me. Thank you to DORC and Blue Cycles for putting on a brilliant club event.