The Coach and I…

“My name’s James and i’m addicted to junk miles”

Wow it feels good to finally say it aloud… okay okay i’m only joking, I don’t think it’s the biggest secret out there!

In my last blog post I’d let you in on my plan to get my season up and running at the very first opportunity, my grand idea was to catch my competitors napping by taking the earlier races by storm, getting some early points on the board before the majority had dragged themselves out of their sheds and off their turbo trainers.

Initially, everything had gone to plan -smaller fields and fewer riders meant I’d scored well in my first few races-  my points bumping me high up the rankings. However my addiction to “Junk Miles” was as strong as it had ever been, I found myself having to get my fix. A viscious cycle then ensued (no pun intended). I was getting fatigued from the racing and frantic training but instead of accepting that I needed a few easy days here and there, I’d try to cram more and more miles in to overcome my self diagnosed Plateau. On reflection it sounds really quite daft.

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It’s plain to see this was never going to be sustainable, something had to give. I was spending more time on the bike than ever before, every spare minute I got I would be out. If I wanted to progress and do well in time trialling I’d have to completely revise the time I spent on my bike.  I needed to swap the quantity for quality.

I needed to get some structure into my workouts, It had become clear this was never going to happen by my own doing. I knew that if left to my own devices i’d relapse into the same mile -munching, aimless riding of before. The structure couldn’t come from me, it had to come from someone else, someone telling me exactly what to do and exactly how to do it.

I needed help, I needed a coach…

So far, i’d manged to totally wing it with my “training” -and I use the word training, loosely- I didn’t know what real structure was, I didn’t have a specific warm up/ warm down routine, my diet wasn’t terrible but wasn’t amazing and I definitely didn’t know the first thing about tapering for an event.

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I googled different coaches, not completely sure what it was that I was looking for. I trawled through the pages and pages of coaching providers, comparing their prices and plans. I wanted a TT specific plan but cost was always going to be a limiting factor for me,  I was prepared to strike a balance to ensure solid bang for buck returns. Most of the pages looked great, but the very best came with the very best price tags. As much as I would have loved to have gone straight to the likes of Matt Bottrill, Drag2Zero or Dig Deep, my wallet, unfortunately, wouldn’t have allowed it!

 

I narrowed my searches to Southwest-based coaches and after a bit of browsing came accross RaceCraftVelo; a Cornish coaching company headed up by former local racer-turned-coach Drummond Masterton. Nearly all coaching plans are done through TrainingPeaks so although distance was almost irrelevant, it would be nice to have a local coach who knew the courses i’d be racing on and the sort of roads and routes i’d use for training. Drummond and I chatted extensively on the phone about exactly what it was I wanted to achieve this season and what I could expect from him in return. Despite being very “green” to it all I’d made a list of questions I wanted to discuss prior to any sort of agreement, after our phone call I felt good about our potential partnership, img_1153Drummond told me to take a few days to think about our discussion before making a final decision. After a day or so I agreed to go ahead and sign up for the minimum 12 week programme. Although the season was already in full swing my plan would take me right up to the very last race of the season which, coincidentally was the most important of all, the Team TT, not only was it the Regional Championships and possibly my only chance of silverware for the year, it was also bragging rights for the next season.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad anxious about starting my plan. Fear of the unknown perhaps, but mostly I worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle the demands, the junk miles all add up, but structured training day after day was going to be tough, I could only do my best.

As well as the structure, having a coach would add accountability into the mix,  I would be held to every workout I did. I was surprised just how much this effected my training, I found I could really grind out the last set or hold that impossible seeming number just that little bit longer knowing Drummond would be on the other end scrutinizing and analyzing my data each time.

I affiliated my TrainingPeaks account to RCV and added the races and events for the rest of the season into my calendar. Drummond would tailor all of my workouts around this to ensure my training would fit around race days, rest days and taper days. The sessions came thick and fast, I could be doing anything from 90 minute sweetspot intervals on the turbo to a 5 hour endurance ride on the road. I quickly found training to power much harder than I’d thought it would be, the undulating roads, seasonal traffic jams and the typical Cornish “liquid sunshine” all seemed to conspire against me keeping within 5 or 10 watts of my target. I’d have to U-turn on my previous anti-turbo thoughts, If i wanted to get quality workouts and hit the power numbers then it was the turbo where the big gains would be made.

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My initial sessions seemed all too frequently to include un-achievable power targets, the sort of numbers I could only dream of hitting from the Turbo. Coaching was all new to me so I like to think these were more so Drummond could see where my ceiling was and what he was working with, rather than him just trying to break me. Although at the time, it certainly felt more like the latter.

More words I never thought i’d hear myself saying; “Thank god for Zwift”. Without Zwift I would have cracked, no doubt about it. All of my turbo sessions would be uploaded onto Zwift, it helped me to keep my sanity for sure. Each sessions intervals, power numbers, TSS, duration, heart rate, speed, distance and time required would be displayed clearly on screen for me, i could see how long I had left and what was coming up – although sometimes that could be a morale killer!

After each week of coaching I could honestly feel myself becoming better, i’d put this down as two parts physiological and one part psychological. I definitely suffer with pre-race anxiety and nerves, but from my training I knew I could hit and hold solid power numbers, I knew I had fast kit and a great bike, I’d done the sessions, done the hard graft done the warm up, now it was just putting what i’d practiced into action. My reults stabilized and I found I consistently placed, the time gap between myself and the winner was shrinking every week.

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The joy of seeing your performances backing up your hard work was very welcome, not money down the drain as I had at times feared. Sharing my work load with a Coach was helpful too, If I felt under the weather or simply needed to get out and have an easy ride without watching the numbers, that was fine too. Drummond understood the need for mental fitness as well as physical fitness.

To date, there have only been two workouts I simply couldn’t complete; I’d set an early alarm to get the turbo session done, but I could barely hit the numbers on the warm up let alone the main session. I skipped one set and told myself, “right, this next one you’re gonna smash”. It ended with me climbing off the bike frustrated and empty. I felt awful afterwards, like I’d failed myself and Drummond.

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In hindsight, feeling like that is a good thing, it stops you from throwing in the towel or just simply skipping a session because you don’t fancy it. Contrary to popular opinion, coaches aren’t masochistic slave driving maniacs, they understand that you’re not a robot and that there will be times were you can’t train, either your body just can’t do it or sometimes other commitments take precedence, that’s just life. That said, no one knows your body better than you, it’s important to recognise it and acknowledge it.

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Throughout the 12 weeks I’ve had my ups and downs, it’s been great seeing my power numbers creeping up and my weight dropping. I’m feeling good and looking lean. I’ve been left frustrated at time too, waiting for my workouts to be uploaded to training peaks at 4pm when i’v deliberately set my alarm early to get it done. One of the main reasons for choosing the coached route was to condense my time on the bike to allow time for a social life. The majority of these issues can be easily resolved for next season, I guess I’m so green to the whole coaching thing that I don’t really know what “normal” is, I can only go on the experiences of others. I’ve got an idea of how to structure next season and i’m already looking forward to that.

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I’ve learnt to love the turbo. To begin with it was a real struggle, I love long, all day riding with friends. The sunny cafe stops with too much cake. My junk mile loving side really suffered adapting to the long, solitary and often boring turbo sessions, even Zwifting, whilst a saviour at first becomes quite tedious at times. To get the best out of myself I need to be happy, I need to be riding outdoors and most importantly I need to be enjoying my riding. I’d speak to Drummond and ask for social rides on the weekends when I wasn’t racing, just to give my mind a bit of respite from the number-counting, in fairness, he nearly always said yes.

I recently read an interview with Emily Batty, Pro Mountain Bike Rider. When asked about her training,  she said;

“I’m a social person, so being alone is not healthy long-term. Depression after a few bad races sets in and it’s easy to fall into a really dark place. It’s just important for me to rely on those people that really matter.”

It was certainly something I could sympathise with. Towards the end of the plan, I’ll admit I was counting down the weeks, days, hours to go. It had been a big journey for me and I’ll be glad when it’s over. I won’t lie, it’s hard graft. Made harder by social media images of my friends out on their jolly’s or a sunny group ride to my favourite cafe, but I can honestly say I wouldn’t change it. It’s not so much that the turbo is fun (it isn’t) but more what i’m getting out of it; The consistency is now there where it wasn’t before and my pre-race routine has become second nature, as a result of my hard work I was topping the Cornish Cup series for a period, beating rivals that last season were the benchmark for success. I can feel myself getting stronger as I adapt to the sessions.

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I’ve noticed my results getting consistently better each passing week, I feel a thousand times better prepared come race day now. I still get my pre-race nerves but I guess thats a good thing, it means I want to do well. If i turned up and didn’t care how I did there wouldn’t be any point in competing!  All in all it’s been a great experience and a huge learning curve, I’ve discovered quite a lot about myself , unlocking my potential both physically and mentally. For the upcoming season i’m going to resume my coaching with RCV and Drummond, getting a full beginning to end season together should help to bring me on further and truth be told i’d only revert back to junk-mile Jim otherwise!

 

To Summarise, I’ve really enjoyed my coaching programme, it’s been brutal at times and i’ve honestly dreaded looking at my next workout but what it’s done for me has been fantastic. I know that every ride or workout i’ve done in the last 12 weeks has been tailored towards a goal and has been full of quality. It’s been about capitalising the time spent and making use of the time spent on the bike.

If you’ve had any thoughts about coaching or progressing then i’d highly recommend taking the plunge. Group riding and solo training is great for some and if it works for you then that’s fantastic, if you’re ill-disciplined like me and need some guidance then I can’t recommend it enough. Coaches aren’t the masochists they’re made out to be, of course they want you to achieve your goals and with that comes hard sessions and a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but they also want you to be happy and motivated. A happy and motivated athlete will adapt and progress much more than a tired, resentful one.

If you’d like to get in touch with Drummond then check out his coaching page: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/coach/racecraftvelo

Anyways, looking forward to taking up with Drummond again soon for the 2020 season.

Thank you for reading. Now, just go ride…

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