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July 31, 2015 No comments

The Challenge of Training

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By Juliet Elliott
The Challenge of Training

Several months ago I wrote a piece for this blog describing my battle with training. I’ve always struggled to commit to a strict and structured regime, preferring to simply ride hard and fast and randomly challenge myself by sprinting for signs and pegging it up hills. In some ways, what I wind up doing on a bike is my own peculiar and haphazard version of training, only I prefer to just call it cycling.

After posting my somewhat tongue-in-cheek blog, I met a friend for a beer and he challenged what I’d said about training. In essence, he questioned whether I was afraid to commit to training, because it would ‘remove any excuses for failure.’ He also enquired whether I was curious what I could achieve if I really tried. The conversation got me thinking, and with a month to go before the Red Hook Crit - the biggest and most prestigious fixed gear criterium in the world - I saw the perfect opportunity to give training another crack. Surely even I could commit to a month of hard work, but would such a short time be enough to make a difference? And could I be persuaded to change my mind about training and even learn to like it? [caption id="attachment_15209" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Photo: Dave Noakes"][/caption] To take away any doubt about whether I was training correctly, I enlisted the help of James from High Rise Coaching. He assured me that a month was enough to make ‘noticeable gains.’ He also asked me what I did and didn’t like doing (when it comes to cycling of course) and to kick things off he asked me to do an FTP test to give me an idea of what I was letting myself in for. An FTP test is a nasty way to spend half an hour, but James assured me it was necessary and seeing as I’d decided at the outset not to question everything he asked me to do, I just got on with it. It basically involves recording your heart rate whilst riding as hard as humanly possible, so hard that you think you’re going to die or vomit, or die vomiting. That done, James set my heart rate zones and it was time to get cracking. [caption id="attachment_15210" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Photo: Dave Noakes"][/caption] The first week’s sessions were based around pyramid intervals, where you ride hard for a certain amount of time in the prescribed heart rate zone, recover for what seems like an infinitesimally short length of time, then crank out another high intensity effort. A quick glance at my diary reveals the words ‘torture,’ ‘agony,’ ‘terrible,’ and ‘I must be a wuss,’ but despite feeling like a useless wet blanket I rigidly adhered to the training prescribed.  And though I found the sessions fairly evil, as the time was broken into segments there was always an end in sight that I felt I could reach, even if it was very difficult. The next week’s schedule included hill sprints, a time trial, more high intensity interval training, and a very slight reduction in the negative comments in my diary. With such short and snappy sessions in my calendar there was really no excuse for skipping them; they fit so easily around my other commitments that I’d feel like even more of a wuss if I didn’t just get them done. Alongside the workouts on the bike came a new and surprising challenge for me to get my head round – time off the bike, or rest days. Taking on a new fitness routine only to be told to cycle less seemed extremely odd to me, but James told me the rest days were equally as important as the bike based sessions, so I had to trust him. It was during one such off day I realised I was – shock horror - actually looking forward to training, or more precisely looking forward to the effects it delivered. Though I still found the workouts extremely tough, even painful, I’d started to crave the satisfaction that completing my training brought me. The workouts were so all consuming that for the duration of each session all other worries disappeared as my gaze zoned in on my Garmin’s screen. The training had brought me back to a special place I like to visit, where my mind isn’t wandering and making lists of what jobs I need to complete, a place where I only care about turning the pedals. For a short period of time, the only thing that mattered was cycling - joy! [caption id="attachment_15118" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Photo: Liz Seabrook"][/caption] So did my training experiment work? The day of the Red Hook Crit, I lined up at the start feeling calm, confident and unflustered, which is fairly unusual for me. I’d done everything I could to prepare and the results would reflect that, so all I needed to do was race and enjoy myself. I felt noticeably fitter than I had just a month before, so though I wouldn’t be able to kick it with the top girls in the lead bunch, I’d be able to race hard and have fun without wondering if I could have done better. [caption id="attachment_15095" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Photo: Liz Seabrook"][/caption] As for whether it’s changed my mind about training, after a few days lolling around at the seaside eating ice cream sundaes and not riding, I suddenly felt quite lost without a training schedule and the accompanying support from James. With Red Hook Crit Barcelona on the horizon I asked him to continue to coach me, to see if we can build on what we’ve achieved so far. The rest days won’t be staying – there aren’t enough days to ride all my bikes otherwise – but apart from that, I’m a training convert. So never say never! Bikes N Stuff