Me, A Champion!? TTT SWDC 2019

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With my Time Trial season drawing to a end only one event remained, one that would arguably be the toughest race of my season; The Team Time Trial. Not only was I hungry to improve on last years 3rd place position, but this would also double up as the South West Regional Championships.

Having ridden a handful of  TTT’s before, I knew it would be a challenge to get right and even with hours of practice in the bag top professional teams would rarely pull off “the perfect TTT”.

In my individual season I’d suffered a devastating blow, narrowly missing out on a podium place by a single point (A single point!?). This meant there would be even more riding on the championships. One last chance to medal and to save my season. No pressure then…?

I firmly believed the team could really challenge for the overall this year, on paper we certainly had the firepower, the results and the hunger. I’d felt like this previously; last seasons’ team event had looked highly promising until the midway point. We quickly and heartrendingly spiraled out of overall contention, we went from a strong quartet of riders down to a confused and annoyed duo of myself and Dave stopped on the side of a dual carriageway!

I promised myself 2019 would be different. A change of personnel meant we would have an even stronger line up than last year. Our Team consisted of James Hadfield, Tim McEvoy, Jason McGowan and I. Tim was our not-so-secret weapon, 2nd overall in the BBAR (Best British All Rounder) and no stranger to a Course Record. Tim epitomized everything it was to be a time triallist; if it wasn’t aero or efficient, he wasn’t interested. Regular trips to the wind tunnel confirmed he was as aerodynamic as was possible and his lengthy palmares backed up his ability. Jason had won the event multiple times and had been an essential cog within a super strong St. Austell Wheelers lineup. Myself and James had traded results throughout the season including multiple podiums. I felt good, despite a long season I’d manage to sustain a high level throughout within the end-of-season tail off many suffer from.

Prior to the event Tim sent us graphs and charts showing optimum cadence vs speed using different Chainring teeth and gear ratios. It was clear to see that Tims’ 62T chainring would be hard to keep up with, likewise the 58T both James and Jason would be using. My 54T however would require a much higher cadence if I were to keep with them. I had little option but to go bigger, the cadence needed would already be much higher than I would usually race at so the larger chainring would hopefully keep my legs spinning at a more manageable level. I worried I would’t be strong enough to pull a 58T so opted for a compromise and went with a 56T.

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We set about trying to arrange a couple of practice sessions, this proved easier said than done. Clashing coaching plans, work and family commitments seemed to consistently conspire against us. We managed to squeeze just one practice in before the big day. Far from ideal but certainly better than nothing. With typical Cornish luck our meet up fell on the wettest and most filthy of evenings. Putting aside the poor conditions it was a great lode off my mind to get up to race pace with my new teammates on my freshly fitted 56T chainring. Together we rode through and off for two laps of the 15 mile Ladock Valley course, with each length of the valley we became smoother, more synchronized and in return, quicker.

The noise of the four disc wheels rumbling together in a whirling harmony was fantastic, from the back looking along an arrow-straight line of flat backs felt great, could we really be in with a chance here?

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Our short but sweet practice did nothing to quell my nerves about the race, if anything it had exaggerated them further. If I have poor legs on an individual race then I affect nobody but myself, If my legs aren’t playing ball in a team then I could jeopardize the race for everyone else too. Our pace and power meant we would be serious contenders, I just had to perform. –No pressure

An almost perfect day with light winds and clear skies greeted me on the morning of the race. Normally I quite enjoy being up super early on a Sunday, you see only a few cars and feel like you’re getting a head start on the world, this time was different; nerves, nerves and more nerves.

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We were the first to arrive at the Race HQ, agreeing to head out for a “quick 10” on the course as our warm up and to iron out a few creases. Looking at the start list we were going to have to give it our all to take home the spoils, we expected big competition from the Penzance Wheelers and the various Military teams.

Our warm up confirmed the power numbers required to win were going to be big, bigger than I thought. A quick tactical briefing by Tim, an SIS gel and a slurp of Isotonic and we were ready to roll.

We watch the first two teams head off before taking our place on the start line. I can’t help but feel like I’m riding towards the gallows. It’s decided I’ll lead us out and up to the first rise. As nervous as I feel, dictating the pace of the first effort suits me, I just have to keep it smooth and make sure we’re all together from the start.

Naturally I get excited and push hard from the gun…oops.

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I get the shout to ease, slowly until we’re back together. By the first mile we’ve settled into a firm but fast quartet. – Panic over

Turns out “race pace” is at least 50 watts more than what I thought it was going to be: Rider 1 is anywhere from 410 to 500 watts, Rider 2 is 350 to 400 watts, Rider 3 is 290 to 350 and Rider 4 is 250 to 300.

We’d done one full rotation and things were going smoothly, hard, but smoothly. The relief of catching back onto the tail after finishing your turn was immense. The pre-race shakes and concern had been replaced by a lung burning oxygen debt and an eye-crossing stare on the wheel in front. We had executed our tactics well with Tim hitting the front on the fast and flat parts to drag us along and keep our speed up and on target.

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At just 5 miles in the ferocious pace means we have ourselves a split, Hadfield has gone through too hard  and misses the wheel to catch back on, he doesn’t call it out in time and the gap widens. I look back and see him dangling, “EASE!!” I scream, dropping back to him. Once he’s on my wheel I bury myself to drag us back up to Jason and Tim. United once more as a foursome we ramp the speed up again much to the complaint of my lungs.

We’re flying along now, the noise of the wheels and the wind funneling past my aero helmet is deafening, as hard as it is I’m starting to enjoy it now, this is great, this is really racing! The turn comes quicker than I expect, our plan is for rider 2 to pull us up the drag and then for Tim to slingshot us around the roundabout and back onto the carriageway, It’s all aboard the McEvoy express for the next 2 miles as we sit at 45mph+! We lose James for good here, he pushes on far too hard up the climb and ultimately pays the price for his big effort.

For a second we pause, not knowing whether to hold on for him, Tim makes it clear it was time to cut our loses and push on. The knock on effect of dropping to 3 was immediately noticeable. It meant that recovery leapt from a very manageable 250 to 300 watts to a much less manageable 330+ watts.

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16 miles in and despite the extra effort of losing James we’re soaking it up and pushing on through. I’d broken the course down into checkpoints, 10 miles, 15miles and 20 miles. The last 5 would be an all out empty the tank effort. The miles were ticking over the but the fatigue was also starting to creep in, each time I had to catch back on after a turn I could feel my legs screaming at me.

The course was over two laps of a circuit, as we’d come around on our second lap we began to catch the teams on their first leg, this had to be a good sign.

On the front my pace dropped to 27mph as we covered the undulating rise and fall of the road, 30MPH Or Change!” came the call from Tim. I dug deep, heaving the gears and clawing my way up to speed.

The teams came thick and fast, each time we caught one we’d set our sights on another and another, like a game of Pac-Man. With only 5 miles to go the gaps were widening, we no longer had the wheel to wheel, flat backed, low head position of the first 20. My legs hurt, my shoulders burned, my neck ached and my lungs felt raw.

5 more, just 5 more to go…

4 miles…

3 miles…

2 miles…

We approach the last roundabout to leave the carriageway, I know there’s just one last big push to bring it home. Tim shouts out to empty the tank. I obey, spinning my legs as fast they’ll possibly go, leaving everything i’ve got left on the road. We blast past through the finish line and up the service road. Gasping and unable to turn the pedals we coast to a standstill congratulating one another, bent double and sucking in mouthful’s of air, I can barely stand.

Jason’s feeling confident, he think our time is good enough to win, Tim agrees. We started early so now we have to play the waiting game, I feel good, i’m trying to keep my smile hidden and not get my hopes up, but they seem so confident we’ve got it…

Back at the HQ we anxiously wait… team by team they come in and each time they do we make the familliar post race small talk before asking the pointy question on all our lips; “tough course ey?… hard work isn’t it…say, how did you do?”

Everyone is back now, the time keepers are huddled around the time sheets and the tea and cake is flowing.

“Cough cough, can I have your attention please…in last place..”

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We start bottom to top,  each team called gets a round of applause until it’s just us, Plymouth Corinthians and the Royal Marines left… a podium, if nothing else we’ve equaled last years achievements. Third for Corries and Second for…Royal marines… we’ve done it! Regional Champions for the South West 2019!

I’m stunned, so happy and so relieved all at the same time. Wow, what a feeling…me, us, champions!

Massive shout out to Tim, Jason and James it was a team effort but you guys were awesome, pleasure racing alongside you and lets hope we can do it again next year…

Bit of a longer one this time, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and apologies for the long delay in getting any writing done, this ones been a long time overdue.

Now, Just Go Ride..

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…