Monday, 5 November 2012

Five training sessions to change your life

The last two years, i have spent some time getting to know myself. Prior to that i farmed out all the hard work and scientific aspect of my training to a coach, with the intention of freeing myself to just do the easy part of actually riding a bike. It worked, i ended up fitter than i had been previously, but being an incorrigible tinkerer, it left me unfulfilled – i spent a lot of time wondering whether things would be better if i tried a different tack. Unfortunately, thoughts like this are really quite unhelpful and disquieting. It became clear that i would have to take charge of my own training plans for my own peace of mind, and also for that of Rachel who was subjected to late-night musings on the subject of sports science more often than i care to think about.

So it was that i started 2011 with the intention of trying something new. In January, we moved up to Scotland, and i started working as a postdoc in the physics department in St Andrews (i am reliably informed that St Andrews is “only just” a Scottish town). I was acutely aware that starting an academic post in a new subject area would leave me with precious little time to train, but at the same time i badly wanted to be able to race the SXC series which are renowned for their excellent courses. It was high time things became more time efficient!

Armed with a copy of the “Time Crunched Cyclist” by the man who painted himself as the architect of Lance Armstrong’s success  (a title he may now be more than happy to relinquish) Chris Carmichael, i was ready to start over. For 8 weeks, i religiously followed the “Experienced Competitor” plan in the book, and to my surprise with basically zero base miles (i.e. long, slow rides that are so in favour with a particular breed of coach) i was amazed when i made significant, measurable gains in fitness, and didn’t get ill, injured or both (one of the main arguments for base training is that it prepares your body for more intense training). In doing the program, though, i realised that even within the 8hrs a week it takes, there’s quite a lot you can cut out, and that the strict format is actually much more open to alteration.

Armed with some confidence that i wouldn’t die of overtraining doing just shorter, intense sessions, i started to fool around with the sessions i had planned. I cut out over-unders (sessions where you cross your lactate threshold repeatedly) and the peak-to-fade power intervals which i could never get right, and discovered that their loss made very little difference to my profile as a rider. A move south upset things rather, but again i planned a similar approach to 2012, this time using just the sessions i decided i liked – there are five of them, and they’re detailed below:

1 – 2*20m (“Base Training” – FTP training)
Best done using a power meter, warm up for 10m, hold 95-100% of your FTP for 20m, have 2m recovery, repeat.

2 – 6*3m (Veronique Billat vVO2 session)
Again, best done using a powermeter – warm up for 10-15m, the go straight into 3m at 120% of FTP, 3m recovery, repeat a further 5 times.

3 – 10*1m (Anaerobic fitness)
Hard session, only do when well-rested. Warm up. Do 1m at 150% of FTP, 3m recovery, repeat a total of 10 times.

4 – Tabata (Sprint/lactate tolerance)
True Tabata training lasts 4 minutes. Don’t be fooled, it’s a very hard 4 minutes. Warm up well (20 including some efforts is advisable). Block is 20s full pelt, 10s recovery – repeat 8 times. It is totally impossible to measure this by a powermeter. You should be sprinting every time like a rainbow jersey depends on it. If you can’t see right and feel like being sick at the end, you did it right.

5 – Billat II (VO2 threshold)
An occasional session, only for when you are super-motivated. Warm up, alternate between 30s at 120% FTP and 30s at 50% FTP until you can no longer hit the powers. Aim for 30-40minutes.

All the structured training i have done this year has been a mixture of these  5 sessions, commuting to and from work 4 days a week, and the occasional longer mtb or road ride at the weekend. They will prepare you just as well for a 1.5hr XC race as they will for a 9hr mtb marathon. Go, try them, keep things fresh, have fun!

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