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…

The First Race of the Season…

After what seems like an eternity we’ve almost emerged from another grotty Cornish winter. Race season will soon be in full swing and we’ll no doubt be praying for the off-season to come back around. For me, the Start of a new season always comes with mixed feelings: on one hand I’m eager to get that flying feeling of good form and peak fitness, despite the early morning starts, I do really enjoy pitting myself against others.

Continue reading “The First Race of the Season…”

My First Foray Into the Virtual World…

Okay, one huge slice of humble pie for me please… In my last article “New Year, New Me?” I wrote:

“if it means sitting on a turbo trainer night after night chasing people around a fictional Volcano and rarely getting out in the “real World” then, quite frankly I’m not that interested. (No disrespect, it’s just not my thing -plus my internet connection is terrible.)”

But then came the rain and boy oh boy did it rain…over and over again, relentless. I physically couldn’t dry my shoes out between rides quick enough, time to revise my anti-turbo stance perhaps. For the record;  I’ve never “hated” the Turbo Trainer or those who use online training platforms such as Zwift, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t enjoyed the group chat banter at the expense of our in-club Zwift users. However, I still don’t see the point of riding on it regularly anytime after March or anytime before November/December. I understand the training rides are very interactive and “virtual doping” aside it’s probably very accurate and very beneficially to your off-season training, but when the sun is shining just get outdoors. The main reason I have for joining the Turbo party is I’ve simply had enough of getting cold, windswept, wet and trashing my kit every single day, I’m no stranger to cold and wet wintry rides but lately…Jeez! I’ve spent a reasonable amount of money on shoes, I even have a dedicated grotty-weather-pair, but  I’ve probably spent the same amount of money on overshoes too,  I’ve had; Velotoze, Craft, Spuik, Castelli and Giant, unfortunately they’ve all succumbed to the weather in some way or another. So quite frankly I’ve had enough of it.

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My “Training” has been going okay, for me this time of year its more about getting lots of base miles in to build a platform of sorts. I’m fitting in as much as I can around work, It helps that I commute 4 days a week to one job and finish earlier the other 2 days on my other job. But its early morning miles and then post-work miles, hard to build any sort of consistent program. As before mentioned; this year i’m going to predominantly focus on my timetrialling, aside from riding on the courses there are very little places to train over that distance and at that pace uninterrupted by traffic, junctions or just being on a dual carriageway solo with no warning notices!

So here goes.. If i’m going to get any seriously productive training done, i’m going to have to swallow my pride and join the Turbo brigade and get on Zwift. These are words that believe me, I never thought I’d ever utter…

 

What is Zwift? In brief, Zwift is an online cycling and running video game-come-training programme set in a virtual world. You ride as an avatar around a range of maps set in the fictional world of Watopia or in the newer maps located in New York, London, Richmond or Innsbruck. You can customise your avatar by unlocking different cycling kits, bikes and accessories, you do this by gathering “XP” (Experience points) for accumulating miles and achievements, some easier than others, for example: Drafting a rider for 10 seconds will give you XP as will hitting 1000 Watts, I know which is easier!

Zwift was founded in 2014 by Jon Mayfield, Eric Min, Scott Barger and Alarik Myrin in the cycling hotbed of California. It’s currently £12.00 a month for full access to the game, this includes unlimited freeride across the aforementioned Virtual worlds, all the training plans and even the races. Zwift gathers the data from your Power Meter, Heart Rate monitor, Turbo Trainer, Cadence etc through ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart technology to replicate your in-garage efforts to your in-game effort.

I’ve gone the whole hog, I’ve set up a designated turbo spot in the garage, got the floor fan, the towel, the turbo wheel and tyre, I’ve even knocked up a rickety-looking shelf for my iPad to sit on. Technology isn’t one of my strong points (I can hear Stu and Nick laughing!) so aligning and syncing the Garmin to the Power Meter, Heart Rate, Speed/Cadence and Trainer was…interesting..

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I’ve recently acquired a Rotor In2Power left hand crank driven Power Meter which I’m seriously looking forward to using this season. Eager to get to grips with it I went straight home to set it up, “Turn the cranks putting 2.5kg of pressure through to wake up the power meter.” I jumped on and started spinning, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes… This wasn’t funny. I flicked back through the set-up pages examining each bullet point, I’d done everything correct so why wasn’t it working? I scratched my head over it for a while before reading the last line on the last page: “batteries not included”. I was that wound up my heart rate was soaring and i’d not even started my workout! I tried to get into the battery slot with my fingers turning the dial from the padlock to unlocked but it wouldn’t go, I grabbed a tyre lever -all the while getting more and more exasperated and attacked it, slipped and took a chunk out of my knuckle on the cadence sensor! Right that does it…I asked my Dad to do it. (Again, Stu, Nick I can hear the laughter…) 

 

Once everything was synced and responding properly I was ready for my first turbo workout of the year and boy oh boy was it tough: what was comfortable and efficient last season now seemed horrendous, how on earth did I push that big gear, how on earth did I sit on that saddle and how on earth did I spent any period of time in that praying mantis position! I started off with an Hour long session including three 10 minute efforts close to race pace. My new toy was up and running with all data fields pouring data out, I set a page on my Garmin dedicated to Power Data but in all honesty it was overwhelming. There was so much different data to look at that I didn’t give anywhere near an accurate reading. I would stare at the power numbers, then look at my heart rate then speed then time left of the interval, It was up and down and far from the smooth line I’d thought it would show.

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Rather than aimlessly pedal, a few clicks on the Internet and I easily found a wide variety of free to download power training workouts to follow, including a whole host of week-long plans specifically designed for the aspiring time trial enthusiast. I scribbled down a few workouts that appealed to me, at this point the numbers all meant very little to me, I was just collecting as many relevant workouts as I could find so as not to get bored with repeating the same over and over again. A couple of workouts later and my mind is wandering all over the place, I need some visual stimulation as the numbers make for very boring reading and serious mind numbing. I need something…like Zwift?

I did it, I finally did it. I bit the bullet and against all previous things I’d ever said and written I signed up to Zwift. I fired up my recently upgraded iPad, loaded up the Zwift, Tacx and Trainer Road app and Synced the turbo to it. Easy as that, or so I thought. I started my first few pedal strokes on the streets of London (The London map on Zwift) and I could instantly see the attraction; the like-ness and graphics were very good and pretty accurate. My first thought was “wow thats a lot of people”, the virtual roads were heaving with different riders, from individuals like myself to others in fully fledged pelotons acting out chaingangs and training plans. My first ride was very much experimental, cruising around the streets of London transfixed by the screen, watching the kilometres tick by. This was perfect, exactly what I wanted from it initially, some visual stimulation to take my mind off the task in hand. Once my warm up spin was over I started my efforts, the wattage, speed and heart rate on screen gradually increasing with my real world effort. I was so deep in the interval with my head in my hands that I didn’t see the Watts creeping over 1000! Im a reasonably fit guy with reasonable power but according to my post-ride analysis I’d averaged 550 Watts for an hour!? Didn’t Wiggins average 440 for the Hour Record? Amateur.

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Im sure you won’t be shocked to find that it was incorrect; It turns out all the Power, Cadence and Speed readings were being taken from my Tacx Trainer and not from my Garmin sensors or even the Power Meter. The iPad was only picking up Bluetooth and not ANT+, I’d need to get hold of a dongle or an adaptor to make the data correct. Everything on my Garmin display was correct but the data displayed on Zwift was not. Much to my embarrassment I’d even won some virtual KOM and sprint Jerseys by quite a substantial margin, I felt bad so didn’t save my ride and just uploaded the Garmin file instead.

I called upon a few of my friends who were more experienced in Zwift than I to say the least, they talked about re-calibration and system updates to no avail. Simon volunteered to update my laptop and Stuart made a “James Does Zwift” checklist for me. I still rode on Zwift I just didn’t save my Virtual rides as before, I did however enjoy customising my Avatar, opting for the Garmin Kit with a much more acceptable sock height and fitting some deep sections to my virtual Specialized Allez.

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Turns out my Laptop was un-salvageable so a new plan was hatched; Stuart had recently upgraded his Computer so donated me his old one –what a legend- along with all necessary cables, adaptors, screen and keyboard, my high-wattage problem was soon resolved with ANT+ rectifying all the data to finally read correctly. No more sky-high watts. Unfortunately.

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The Zwift display is easy to use and clearly shows all the necessary data in a sort of Heads Up Display. In the top left hand corner; Power, Heart Rate and Cadence. In the middle of the screen there’s your Distance, Speed and Elapsed Time along with your XP bar so you see how far or how close you are to the next level. On the right hand side is a map of where you are riding along with all the “dots” indicating other riders, this is great as you can see prospective turnings and route changes should you want to explore the maps further. Zwifters’ in your immediate vicinity are displayed in an ever-changing column on the right hand side, each riders name shows nationality, watts per kilo and distance they’ve ridden. There’s a leader board on the left hand side of the screen showing you comparative efforts between yourself and others for different sections or segments, such as the climbs or the sprints. One thing I did notice was that there appears to be a lot of riders’ names followed by the team or club name they ride for, I seem to ride for anyone and everyone so I took a diplomatic approach to this and decided upon starting my own; Levy Thundercatz CC… A pretty rad name I’m sure you’ll agree!

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In addition to the freeride option there are hundreds of pre-loaded workouts tailored to your FTP, previously I thought the workouts were self imposed or pre-planned with friends and acted out on Zwift. There are Races too, again your FTP decides if you’re a category A, B, C or D. For now I think I’ll do the social rides and the training plans and  leave the races for a few weeks just until I get used to it all.

The Zwift companion app lets you befriend other riders, see both your rides and your friends, compare your stats and see how many slices of pizza you’ve burnt! It allows you to send a “Ride On!” which is sort of like a Kudos on Strava. You can arrange to meet up and ride with your friends too and select what type of workout or race to do.

 

 

This is in no way a replacement for “Real World” riding, I’ll still do all of my commutes and try to get some longer club rides in too. There are a lot of variables in the real world that are out of our control; weather, traffic, terrain and other road users just to name a few, having Zwift enables me to alleviate these variables and follow a training plan without interruption. Zwift also lets me complete beneficial workouts within tighter time frames, for example if I only have an hour after work I can easily throw on some shorts and shoes and jump on the turbo ready to go, rather than having to kit up which, with the inclement Cornish weather is more of an ordeal than it sounds.

To conclude, Zwift doesn’t replace road riding but accompanies it to enable riding to work for everyone regardless of time available or even ability. If you’re having doubts about jumping on the virtual bandwagon, don’t. Don’t be like me, I poo-poo’d the suggestion of it for a long time without really looking at it in depth, I’d advise you to have a go first. You never know, you might like it and if you do give me shout and let me know how you find it. Thanks for reading,

Now, Just Go Ride!

James Grogan (LevyThundercatz)