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Returning to riding and maybe racing - advice needed

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Returning to riding and maybe racing - advice needed

13 Mar 2013 15:09

I thought I would see whether others have any input on this.

I used to race competively up to 2nd category in the UK some 10 years back but what with work and family commitments cycling has taken a back seat for some years. I have just started riding again recently and getting out for a few hours at weekend. I was thinking about maybe getting myself back into shape before maybe doing a bit of racing next year.

When I raced years ago we did the typical winter of long rides 3-4 hours on a Saturday and Sunday before fine tuning the speed and power before the season started with intervals etc. Much of my training during the summer would be short but very hard rides with weekend burnups. Its fair to say that I basically suffered myself into shape as a lot of local riders just ripped group rides apart. There wasnt any training plan other than go ride your bike and ride it fast!

In retrospect this probably wasnt the best approach for me to arrive at races fresh and ready to perform well.

I wondered whether anyone has some suggestions for good books on formulating a training plan using heart zones? I wont have an enormous amount of time to devote on a weekly basis but I would like to get the most out of the time I have. I reckon that the longest distance I will race in the first year will be 60 miles with most circuit races being 20-30 miles.

I think I used to train to hard and too long!
B_Ugli
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13 Mar 2013 16:12

B_Ugli wrote:...
I think I used to train to hard and too long!


Interesting topic. Well getting in shape is quite "simple" really, it just requires that one has ample time to train (though this isn’t always easy of course unless you're a pro, which means without that there’s actually nothing simple about it).

After a long break this also inevitably requires suffering and being pushed to the limit by riders in better shape. If you are ready to suffer and accept being dropped more than once, then, with time, the form starts coming around.

For example I stopped riding seriously in 2010 after a fractured tailbone in a race and then decided I wanted to get back in shape last summer, but didn't really start training hard before the fall. There are group rides where I live during siesta (between 1 and 4 PM) of about 80 k during the week, over quite hilly terrain at an average speed of about 37 kph. For the first couple of months on the hardest climbs I expected to get dropped, if the assassins decided to ride hard and in these cases inevitably did. After about 6 weeks, though, I could hang on. After about 10 weeks, I could attack. After about 14 weeks, I could drop people who previously were dropping me.

The weekends consisted of 4 to 5 hour rides with climbs of sometimes up to 10 k. Needless to say in the beginning I suffered like dog, often arriving home after having been dropped totally exhausted. Once again after 3 months I was ok. I did my first race after 3 years a couple of weeks ago, a granfondo of 135 k and 2400 meters total elevation, and place 12th overall and 2nd in my age category (masters II).

Now the jump in fitness since last November actually surprised me, although in hindsight I realize I did a lot of quality time and rode on average 6 times per week, with blocks of up to 10-12 consecutive days. Always just doing what I was capable of and giving into the fact that at times I was simply going to get dropped, but always mentally ready to embrace the pain in the moments when the terrain and pace made suffering unavoidable (this, too, as you know is important for getting in shape). Oh but one thing I didn't do, was fuss over diet or deprive myself of a night out or anything like that. In short, I thought about the bike only when riding. It seems to have worked.

I remember the moment from one week to the next, after about 10 weeks, the work put in began to reap benefits. All of a sudden I could feel that there was power in the peddle strokes and that I began to attain speeds comfortably that before would have been impossible without going into the red.

In summation: 2.5 hour rides during the week, with two at "race effort" and on the weekends long, hard rides. After circa 3 months you're back in a decent racing shape. One thing I have noticed, which experience has taught, was that riding hard but not needlessly (through brazen attacks) digging into the red zone permits a steady progression. In other words push hard (and be pushed hard), but realize when restraint is better or it's more fortuitous to back off slightly. This allows for a steady progression without becoming exhausted. At any rate as the Italians say nel ciclismo non si inventa niente (“one doesn’t improvise anything in cycling”), in the sense that there are no short-cuts, whereas the body simply needs a sufficient workload and time to absorb it for any noteworthy increase in fitness to occur. Excessively burying yourself does not speed up the process, if anything it doesn’t permit the necessary recovery to sustain the quality workouts that are required of this process.

By the way always take it easy two or three days before a hard race, that way you arrive at the start line fresh and ready to give everything when it's needed. Besides if you have done your homework, then the fitness level will be good and you wouldn’t gain more fitness anyway a couple of days before the race. In other words nel ciclismo non si inventa niente.

Cheers

PS. Sorry if I sounded conceited, but I just wanted to relate my personal experienced over the past 4 months after having made a decision you seem to now be facing.
User avatar rhubroma
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14 Mar 2013 13:36

No you dont sound conceited - I am old enough to know that nobody knows everything and if you think you do you are in trouble. In fact what you describe doing on your comeback is pretty much how I got back into shape when I started riding again seriously about 4-5 years ago so I am guessing we come from the same school of thought!

What I am trying to work out is whether suffering yourself fit is the best way or taking a bit more time for what we used to call conditioning is the way forward these days.

I am not in any rush to race this year so I can take all year getting it right!

Now and again riders would come out with us who were on the British Cycling Performance plan and get dropped. Not because they couldnt keep up but because their plan for that day was not to go into the "red". Other good local riders seemed to do this and were mocked on training rides as they went out of the back in high cadence with their HRM alarm going off. However, when it came to races they wiped the floor with everyone. Frequently they would say to us........"you guys are going too hard, save it for the races".

I am familiar with using a Heart Rate Monitor and the concept of zones, as I used to use it mainly on the turbo for speed and interval work. The problem i found out on the road is that to keep within say level 3 you would have to ride very slowly indeed! Reading the experiences of others who have followed a HRM training plan riding slow is a necessarily long term evil to yield better race results than the "old school" approach.
B_Ugli
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14 Mar 2013 15:40

B_Ugli wrote:No you dont sound conceited - I am old enough to know that nobody knows everything and if you think you do you are in trouble. In fact what you describe doing on your comeback is pretty much how I got back into shape when I started riding again seriously about 4-5 years ago so I am guessing we come from the same school of thought!

What I am trying to work out is whether suffering yourself fit is the best way or taking a bit more time for what we used to call conditioning is the way forward these days.


I understand your point. What I initially meant by inevitably suffering, was when being in situations in which the more fit guys start pushing your limit. For me it was a mental game, my strategy being ride defensively and see how long I can hang in there. Sometimes forcing you to go beyond certain limits, when it's not you burying yourself (I find that's when you don't recover well), gets your a$$ back in shape like nothing else. Of course there were times in the beginning when it was simply impossible to keep up and so, having gotten dropped, I just rode out the rest of the circuit at my own committed pace: that is, I didn't exactly go into tourist mode. Not surprisingly after several weeks of that, all of a sudden I could keep up. Perhaps inadvertently, therefore, I achieved a happy balance between suffering yourself fit and "conditioning." This is probably the right mix, though some suffering (even quite a bit in certain situations) I still think is necessary and unavoidable to enter into that zone in which one is really fit.

I am not in any rush to race this year so I can take all year getting it right!


That's a good thing. I think I made a mistake in saying my accident was in 2010, when I believe it was actually in May of 09. Whatever the case, for over a year anytime I attempted to ride I had pain on my bottom. A fractured tailbone must be the worst bone to break for a cyclist. I probably spent two years after that doing almost no riding, but then last June I started wanting to ride again. For the first several months I went out alone and just rode for fun. By Sept. I wanted to join the group rides and occasionally would do so, though nothing too committed. Consequently when I finally decided to train for competition in November, I had actually been riding fairly regularly since June. Only at this point did I start pushing myself and setting little "goals" to get back into a good condition; and from there it took another 3 months of going to battle with others (but mostly myself) before I obtained the kind of form necessary to do fairly well in my first race, nearly winning my category and placing pretty up there overall.

Now and again riders would come out with us who were on the British Cycling Performance plan and get dropped. Not because they couldnt keep up but because their plan for that day was not to go into the "red". Other good local riders seemed to do this and were mocked on training rides as they went out of the back in high cadence with their HRM alarm going off. However, when it came to races they wiped the floor with everyone. Frequently they would say to us........"you guys are going too hard, save it for the races".


This is frequently the case with overzealous, though not so intelligent amateurs. Guys that just want to go out and crush it, without having any forethought as to what the consequences of riding themselves into the ground today will do for them in the race on the weekend. Of course one has to ride fast to be able to ride fast, but there's a method to building strength which can be carried into races and used when needed: in other words not on the freekin training ride to show everyone how "strong" you are. In Italy the guys I ride with are all experienced enough (some rode pro) to generally not make this mistake, while at the same time ride hard enough on select days to build fitness. Sometimes if enough of the strong guys have been really pushing it over recent days, the pace just naturally comes down, even if it's a day in theory when the ride is supposed to be done hard. Of course there are scientific means to set up a training regime that reaps the most benefits, however, one of the things I was looking for in deciding to get back in shape was to not obsess with such details. In short I wanted to be pushed and push myself and let come what may and that’s it. And if tomorrow I get dropped so what, although I have to say the results I’ve achieved have been more than satisfactory, while riding is still fun. This is why, in anticipation of what you write below, when I was offered a heart rate monitor by a guy on our team, I declined precisely because I don’t want to start calculating too much my riding approach. I realize training in zones is useful and incredibly effective when done properly, but for me right now I just want to ride on sensations and I know I’ve trained in zones besides, even without a heart rate monitor to tell me I am.

I am familiar with using a Heart Rate Monitor and the concept of zones, as I used to use it mainly on the turbo for speed and interval work. The problem i found out on the road is that to keep within say level 3 you would have to ride very slowly indeed! Reading the experiences of others who have followed a HRM training plan riding slow is a necessarily long term evil to yield better race results than the "old school" approach.


Perhaps you were riding too hard then and the HRM plan may for you be the way to go. As with so many things proper training is a delicate equilibrium between intensity and backing off, for which each rider has his own threshold and parameters. Experience and knowing your body is helpful, while in the constant give and take scenario of group training one has to play off the collective effort to draw the most individual benefit. An intelligent rider knows how to do this.
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14 Mar 2013 21:07

I am just coming back into some form after "retiring" from racing 7 years ago, having three kids, work etc etc, and so have gone through a similar process to get to the point where I am about to start racing seriously again.

I can acknowledge that previously I also did too many miles and often introduced too much intensity when I should have been looking at more recovery and have been much more focused in my comeback.

For me, I looked at the type of races that I am mostly going to be riding and tailored my training to these - lots of people fail in this basic test - their training is not specific to the races that they are going to be doing and their demands. For me most of the races I am training for are around 80km handicaps (so riden like a ttt), or short citeriums, so my training had to focus on developing lactate threshold wth less focus on long 4hour plus rides (though still needing to build a good areobic base). I am limited for time so the focus for me is on getting the max benefit from the training I do, and basically I achieve this by "training with pupose" and unrstanding the specific goals I have for each training session.

I started with 10 weeks of just getting miles into my legs. Concentrating on good form and wanting to finish most rides feeling like I could do a bit more. It was important to me to ensure that I had a good base of basic riding for injury prevention as much as anything else. I did all of this 10 weeks on my road bike and aimed for 6 days a week. I only rode by myself and the rides were 1-2 hours. This gave me a good base. At 45 this was a REALLY important phase for me.

Next I took an approach that was different to what I would have done previously and added in two days per week on the mountain bike, riding a circuit that included some longish climbs a lot of up and down powerish climbs. The long climbs saw me getting into my highest heartrate zone for the first time and generally these rides were pretty intense for me and needed a good recovery. This lasted 6 weeks and then I had an easy recovery week.

Next step was to introduce 2 sessions on the track. One was a motorpaced session where I do efforts behind the motorbike at 50kph+ and one was a session where I do 1k on 500 m recovery in three blocks of 15 min. I know that not everyone will have access to this type of training, but for going from being reasonably fit to being is race shape, these motorpacing efforts are hard to beat. Doing them on the track in a medium gear also helps me to get my leg speed and pedaling efficiency up - basically the sessions are hard but they dont take as much out of you as fighting too big a gear. At this stage one of the mountin bike sessions becomes more of a recovery as my fitness means i can get up the climbs without going into the red. I still have not done any group rides as I have been able to control the sessions I want and avoid the temptation to get sucked into doing what other people want.

I am a couple of weeks to go before I have my first race which will follow another recovery week, and racing will take the place of one of the track sessions. So it has been about 20 weeks to get to this point, but my body feels very good and mixing up the road, mountain and track bikes has been a great way to keep me motivated through the building phase. I can see that maintining a rountine through 6 months of low level racing for the next 6 months will put me in a good position to build an even better base through the summer of next year (australia) but I will do pretty much the same program with just more volume over the build initial 10 weeks of base training and then a bit more intensity when I start both the mountain bike and track sessions.

So thats a long winded way of saying that you can build fitness to racing level without smashing yourself and if you have had a long break you should avoid smashing yourself untill you have built a sifficiant base to be able to cope with that at both a physical and mental level.

I like Joe Friel's book as a good overall training plan builder, but each of us is an individual that needs to develp a plan that is realistic and sustainable for our personal circumstances. We also need to be clear about what we are tyring to achieve and develop a plan to suit. This requires us to understand the demands of the races that we are wanting to compete in and developing a plan that targets these demands. But where most people go wrong is a lack of undertanding that it is the recovery from our hard training that increases our fitness. The stress breaks us down and the recovery allows us to rebuild to a stronger level. Not enough recovery and we break down without the rebuilding and are either overtrained or injured. The older you get the more you have to keep this fact in mind and the longer the break that you have had the more you need to ensure that your body has the base level of finess to be able to cope with the stress of higher intensity work without it being counter productive.
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15 Mar 2013 07:53

Sounds like a well-conceived program that. In contrast with your solo approach, however, I really needed the competition and social aspects that inevitably factor into group scenarios: also to see clearly where I stood compared to the other usual suspects.

Like you I spent the first 3 months riding alone though, but then, also out of the sheer boredom that comes with desire, I needed to be thrown into the bunch again. At first this was only sporadic and even now I try to be intelligent in choosing the days in which I have matches to burn on such rides. Otherwise when I don't feel like a bouncing baby (pimpante) and it’s better to ride alone to avoid, as you say, others dictating the law, then that's what I do (especially if there's a race in a few days). On the other hand before I was in decent shape having others whip my a$$ was useful. :D Those sessions of forced resistance and threshold work really did the trick, such that now I have the "luxury" to not participate in the war if I don’t want to.

As per specific work: for a month between Jan. and Feb. a couple of guys and myself would go out and do circa 130 k with three climbs of between 5-8 K each with grades of 6-7%. On the climbs together we'd do big gear power work (say 53 x 15-14) for 5 min. and then spin out in a low gear for 2, as many times we could fit in on each climb. One of the guys was a top 30 placer in the Maratona delle Dolomiti, so you can imagine these workouts were hard and of quality. The first time I got dropped from about 2k out from the summits, then it was 1 k, then I was riding over the top with them. So evidently this method worked (and no they weren't slowing down, I got faster).
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15 Mar 2013 08:26

Your approach sounds good if you are looking at a lot of climbing and certainly this is what I would need to do if I was going to be doing a lot of climbing, but for me its about being able to ride at high speeds and then sprint so I get away with ding my climbing on the mountain bike and do my quality work on the track and then the trainer when the weather turns.

Group or solo is an interesting question. in the day I did mst of my training in a small group of maybe 4-6 and they ould be known quantities and you could negotiate what was going to happen at the start of the ride.

Now that I am a grumpy old fart I prefer to ride by myself than to get stuck with a disfunctional bunch. I am also at the point in my life where between work where I am dealing with people all day and with kids, to be honest i an happy to have a bit of peace and quiet. I also do a fair bit of my training either to or from work so dont generally have the option.
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15 Mar 2013 08:53

Well so far I have an itinerary of granfondo events lined up, each having between 1500-3000 meters of elevation through June; thus, yes, climbing needs to be a necessary diet on my training plate. Whereas the group hilly rides a couple of times during the week (5-6 colli between 1.5 -3 k over 80 k: real mangia e beve stuff) have been excellent for speed work and vertical high intensity resistance.

I'm 42 so, like you I imagine, I concentrate on my age category even if everyone's thrown in together at these races, in which case if I can do a top 20 ride then that's a good performance for me on pane e aqcua. If that's the case then there's also a chance of winning the category, though obviously that depends.
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15 Mar 2013 09:59

B_Ugli wrote:I think I used to train to hard and too long!


Haven't waded through whole thread but my tip is to train long really easy and train hard really hard. Don't get too fussed on the stuff in-between.
Hamish Ferguson
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15 Mar 2013 10:20

CoachFergie wrote:Haven't waded through whole thread but my tip is to train long really easy and train hard really hard. Don't get too fussed on the stuff in-between.


Sounds like some Groucho Marx's proverb on cycling! Is that a life philosophy? :D

G.M. would probably respond with this: A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.
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15 Mar 2013 10:30

If you look at the Power meter thread you can see I could make it more complex if you like:)
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15 Mar 2013 11:59

Nope there's beauty in simplicty. :)
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15 Mar 2013 12:43

You are right rhubroma on that.

The modern world has a tendency to over complicate things!

Thanks for all your posts chaps its been interesting to see what peoples views are dependant on their type of competition.

It all goes back to the same thing, make a plan and stick to it!
B_Ugli
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17 Mar 2013 02:40

CoachFergie wrote:Haven't waded through whole thread but my tip is to train long really easy and train hard really hard. Don't get too fussed on the stuff in-between.


Good thread, this.

Fergie, by "long really easy" what percentage of FTP and max. HR are thinking? I know there's all sorts of work/typologies on zones out there, but to you what's the specific intensity of a purely aerobic, fat-burning metabolic zone?

Slightly OT. I just ride for fitness, not racing, but I imagine that most fitness riders (not the guys here) are predominately in the "garbage"/in-between zone, which you're warning against: too fast for purely aerobic training, but not nearly hard enough or close enough to threshold to get the big gains. So tiring themselves for lesser net gain ultimately, when they should be alternating at both ends of the bracket [aerobic--OR--threshold and above]--not the middle.

I ride a hilly route (6 months/year in Canada) mainly because it takes me away from cars etc, so I'm pretty well at threshold and above on a rolling basis (per hills), then recovering, then back at it again. Can't do it back to back days (legs don't recover, aging etc.), but need day or two off to recover. Works well with limited schedule. But curious about above question.
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17 Mar 2013 03:14

Parrot23 wrote:Fergie, by "long really easy" what percentage of FTP and max. HR are thinking? I know there's all sorts of work/typologies on zones out there, but to you what's the specific intensity of a purely aerobic, fat-burning metabolic zone?


Below 70% of FTP and if going by HR about 60-70% of Max HR. But when going hard, go really hard. Even for fitness goals.
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