Thursday, July 09, 2009

For 20 years I have approached cycling with the same philosophy. Miles = fitness. I dabbled in the science of heart-rate monitoring – measuring a maximum heart-rate – that which can be maintained for 8 minutes - and training at various percentages of it in order to achieve an aerobic performance (or otherwise).

Sitting in a pub (drinking orange juice) and talking to my team mates I heard them all talking about their lactate threshold which sounded like something terribly scientific that can only be measured in a lab.

When I proudly proclaimed I had measured my max heartrate, I was met with silence – not a stunned silence – but still an “Oh my god, max heart rate is soooo 90’s” silence. So I dug out a book. A book that I bought in February. And I gebun to read.

Accordindg to this book, my lack of energy and constant illness is not just brought on by me being crap but is as a result of me over-training. When I go-for-it hell for leather, I show a slight improvement then, oops – no brainer – I get sick or I injure myself, all the fitness is gone and… repeat for 20 years.

So finally the message has come across – stop over training and start training with a brain. The book is well written. The author makes an excellent case for his methods and reports that he has walked away from potential clients on the basis that they are unable to follow his regime - not because it's too hard but because they over-train and stress and beat themselves up when they are unable to train because the plan does not allow it. His book is littered with quotes from training manuals gone by, outlining the ludicrous ideas that we used to have in the old days. It is also filled with statements from today’s heros quoting that they “gave up 35 hours a week training years ago” (Phew).

Still, it doesn’t matter with this programme, whether you train 100 hours a year or 1000 hours a year, this programme is about distributing the efforts associated with training to build muscles, aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity and endurance to achieve an all-round cycling skill which can then be adapted to the type of cycling you do and the areas in which one needs to improve. 2 weeks ago I sat down all day Saturday and came up with a plan.

I – it seems – ride about 350 hours a year. From now on I will be varying the hours I spend riding depending on when I am in a Base phase, a build phase, a peak phase or a rest phase. I get two peaks in a season which I am planning on being the 3 Peaks cyclo-cross in September and the nationals in January. Which phase I am in determines what percentage of my time is spent on Endurance, Force, Muscle Endurance, Power, Speed Skills and Anaerobic Endurance. As I build towards the beginning of my winter season I am doing most of my riding as endurance which is what I’ve been doing for years but even so, the proportion of rides which I need to do to fulfil the rest of the training is beginning to define the shape of my body as I develop hip extensor muscles, arm muscles (where there haven’t been any for years) and my thighs and calves return.

The program has so far turned out to be an excellent driver. When I look at my plan on a Wednesday and realise I still have some ME hours and some Force hours to do, it inspires me to get out on my bike – if only for half an hour – and play catch up.

Thus I found myself on Saturday leaving the comfort of a cool house lacking in commitment and responsibility to head for the hills in an effort to develop my thigh strength and tick-off 90 minutes of ME training. It was perfect and I returned home feeling exactly like I’d been to the gym, yet full of the joys of never-ending rolling fields filled with blue cornflower, red poppies and yellow oil-seed rape.

So on Sunday, when TSK suggested we ride to Andover I could see 4 hours ahead of endurance riding and signing off the rest of my ME with a little force training. What he neglected to tell me was he was opting for the hilly route to ensure plenty of breeze all-round. Following a hardride on Saturday I hauled up the first hill then spent the rest of the day settling in to whatever I could be settled with – including granny gear. It didn’t matter, we had a great day out filled with coffee, fruit juice, a marching band and good lunch. There were many hills and many lonely valleys where we felt like the only people on the road and we enjoyed Andover – despite the poor signposting around the town. 9 hours later we got back to the house, seriously having overdone the training doses for another week (last week was truly gourmande as far as the training went).

All I can think is the author of my book would not be imipressed but hell, if you’re going to break the rules you might as well have fun doing it.

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