By Fortrin coaching, Mar 9 2015 07:12PM
Beep beep beep…the alarm goes off at 5am as I am fumbling to switch it off. I get up, get changed, hastily make a coffee, then make my way out the door into the darkness. Burrr its cold- a frosty mid-winters ride today. After warming up at little…. boom into 5 minute hill intervals dodging frozen puddles with laboured breathing fighting the cold air. Gotta be mad to be doing this….
What gets you up on days like this is a burning desire to accomplish something, be it getting faster, losing weight, or generally getting fitter. I am not the only one out there at that time of the morning, darkened figures of runners on the footpath greet my headlight at random points. So I am not the only crazy person.
This burning desire is very different for everyone- and not one of the reasons are better than others as long as it is making you happy. For some, winning is the main motivation- what gets them out there is the desire to win/succeed. For the others, the motivation is just to be accomplished/proficient at their sport, with overall placing a minor aspect in their motivation as completion/fun is their goal. It may be that this second reason is “healthier” and more sustainable, but whatever floats your boat and gets you out there is the important thing.
No-one can tell you, or force you to be motivated- it may be that your family/coach/peers can provide support for your goals, but in the end it all comes down to you. I have covered in previous blog posts the importance of having fun with your sport- because for the majority of people, fun is the drive to go out and exercise. If you really don’t enjoy getting out there, in the end there is no chance of meeting your goal.
Goal selection needs to be optimistic and realistic. I would love to win a World Cup race- but that will never happen- for obvious reasons, but dreams are free. However, careful selection of events that suit my abilities, mean I can have competitive goals that are attainable if I work hard and things go well on the day. Sometimes these goals may be ever so slightly beyond what I am currently capable of, but it provides something to aim/plan for. Within these “competitive goals, I personally aim to be the most proficient I can be at the various aspects of the event. Maybe I have been struggling on gravel road descents, so within training and on race day, I set myself the goal of making it through that section as best as I have ability for.
For the participatory events I enter (the ones there is no chance of “winning”) all the goals I set myself are based upon putting in my best effort. I am more disappointed in myself on the days where I know I didn’t do my best- and this is not about just flogging yourself inanely- we know what makes us disappointed when we do events. It is not just missing target time/placing, as a lot of the time those things can be out of our control. It’s when you have missed those goals AND are disappointed about the effort you put in.
So what goal gets you excited enough to get out there??
It's not all about the bike
By Fortrin coaching, Mar 1 2015 09:39PM
So you immerse yourself in full-noise training, working at enhancing your strengths/reducing your weaknesses. Every workout is accurate down to the minute- every interval is at the correct intensity- every gram of food has been measured and calculated- money/time is spent on the best resources- and you get A LOT of improvement.
But it is unsustainable….
Hardly any of us are professional sports people. Some get there, but most of us will only have the chance to end up as Elite/sub elite with some good solid hard work. Good solid hard work means being consistent with training, eating and resting well, having good solid goals, and keeping an eye on the details. In the last blog post I talked about finding “your thing”- the sport/aspect of sport that you are best at-so you can have a greater chance of enjoyment/success. Now I am going to slightly contradict myself- once you have found your “thing” keep on doing a variety of athletic/outdoor pursuits…
Yes it is important to be consistent with training, having a plan and working towards a goal. But it is not wise to do this at the expense of “life”. Even if you plan things exactly, your mind and body need a rest. For pro athletes, they have a definite “off-season” and take proper time away from their sport by taking a holiday in the same way non-pros take a three-week trip away from work each year. They get paid to participate, so their sport IS their job- it is not ours though. Sport and sport competition is completely voluntary, so to work full-time and then train in a similar manner to pro-athletes does not work out well in the long term for the majority of people.
Take time out
We don’t need to wait for the “off-season” to take time-out. Time-out can be anything from being a vegetable in-front of TV for a week, or something like going on an epic adventure. For most people interested in being fit- TV time doesn’t really fit into their idea of “fun” so epic adventures or other fun outdoor things are a better option.
You can plan a fun trip away that includes what would be called “training” or just do something completely different from your sport. We know of (and done ourselves) people doing multiple exploration days on the mountain bikes, searching out new trails/experiences. Sanne and I personally go for an overnight tramp somewhere at least once a month.
Can’t do that- I will lose form
For all intents and purposes- no you won’t. Sure it will need to be worked into the overall training plan time-management wise. But “missing” some training and doing another activity isn’t going to make any difference to non-pro athletes. Why? In general, because of work/life commitments, we aren’t training enough to maximise our potential. So why not have fun?? I personally do Duathlons, even mid-season, even though I am a MTBer.
I don’t run very fast, but they are fun and different to the day-in day-out repetitiveness of cycling training/racing. The tramping Sanne and I do? It is done whenever we can organise to go- and that can be in the middle of an “endurance block” or “speed block”. It doesn’t actually matter- sure I won’t go for a big tramp the day before an important MTB race- but what is important is spending time with the most important person in my life.
So what does this mean for you?
At a minimum, put the Garmin in your back pocket (or at home) on occasion and enjoy your sport without speed/heartrate/power. You will still get a training effect without staring at numbers all day.
Plan to do events that are not your strongest- it will take away the pressure of competition so you can enjoy the activity for the fun of it. And definitely go and do an epic adventure of some sort- you will find that you will garner more fun memories from that than just about any race/competition you do.
I do ok for an old guy: Choices, fun, and finding your niche
By Fortrin coaching, Feb 19 2015 06:55PM
Sport (and sport competition) is for most people 100% voluntary. There is no one turning up at your door toting guns and forcing you out to train. Turning up to race has to be fun - because there is only one winner - so motivation has to come from other things than winning. Fun, personal bests, satisfaction of meeting a goal, health, the social aspects of sport, are some of the things that drive people to get out and be active.
But what if you want to be successful??
Well it depends of what you call success. Given good genetics, a good mental attitude, the right environment- there is the potential to be world class. But even with these things, an athlete needs to find their niche- something that fits in with their physiology, mental attitude, and practicality. And this flows on to someone trying to do a PB around Lake Taupo or finishing an Ironman.
Find what you are good at.
It is well known that Mark Cavendish is underpowered aerobically compared to his peers on the World Tour- but that doesn’t seem to stop him winning. He doesn’t have the most absolute power for his sprints (but by no means is he bad), but he has worked out how to get to the end of a race and use his ability to pump out the maximum he has got after riding 200+km. Plus he has tweaked things to maximise his finishing speed: great lead-out train, positioning in the bunch, super aerodynamic sprinting position, and a sprinters “attitude”
So sure, a lab test wouldn’t even get him onto a low level pro team- but he has won numerous times.
There are so many factors in finding out what you are good at, that if you want to do well, you need to try lots of things. Successful athletes at world level have done this. There are stories of people growing up skiing, being moderately successful, changing to cycling after been injured, and going on to be one of the best cyclists in the world. It is unlikely that the first thing you start doing is what you can end up being good at. And that includes events within your sport. Someone may love training and competing in Triathlons- but there are events from under an hour to potentially over 12hrs- so something will fit that athlete best.
For a non-professional, there are other factors other than pure ability. Finding time to train around work/family commitments means that even if someone is perfectly suited to an Ironman, the training required to even just complete one, is beyond most people’s time management. And for all athletes, previous/current injuries can restrict training in their chosen sport- or in some cases- force the change of sport. Recently Penny Hayes (a really really good triathlete) has changed sports to try to qualify for Rio 2016 in open water swimming after a nagging foot injury completely stopped her triathlon career.
In my case, cycling is ‘my’ thing. And although I have had “success” it has been limited to lower levels of the sport. Aside from cycling, I have tried many many things. If it involves hand-eye coordination and/or aerobic ability, I pick up things quickly- but this doesn’t mean I am any more than reasonably proficient.
I love the freedom of cycling training/riding and how you can see a lot of the countryside within a ride, but still be “in-touch” with the environment. Even if I never entered another race, I would still ride, try to be as fit as possible, and keep on gathering those great memories. But it just happens, within my niche of the sport, I do ok for an old guy.
In the lab, I test well-really well- but like Mark Cavendish, that doesn’t translate to real life. For the numbers nerds, my VO2max is between 73 and 77 depending on weight and my most recent max 5min power is 462W when I was 70kg. But what those numbers don’t show is my lack of ability to ride at a high percentage of my VO2max at threshold (60min power); my lack of muscular endurance (and injuries) which rules me out of long road races; and my seemingly complete lack of sprinting ability. Sure these things can be trained to a certain degree- but for proper elite+ racing- I have never had that extra “something”.
For the numbers nerds again. My best threshold power is @80% of VO2max (370W). Pro cyclists have the ability to operate at 90% of VO2Max which would mean @415W for me. For anything over 3hrs my power drops over 20% for the same heartrate. Pros (and some of the people we coach) don’t drop power at all over this time. My best sprint effort in isolation (and fresh) is @1300W for 5secs- which is not bad compared to my weight- but combined with my lack of muscular endurance, I have never seen more than 900W in a sprint in a 3hr race.
Boohoo for me lol. Sucks I cannot be a pro cyclist! But neither can just about all of us. But I found my niche…
In general, mountain bike performance can be predicted by physiological characteristics such as anaerobic capacity and 5-20min power/weight, and other factors such as bike-handling and start position. If you look at the application of power in a MTB race, there are massive spikes/dips of lots of power/no power. This helps someone like me who has a really good anaerobic capacity, so lots and lots of little spikes of 5-10 pedal strokes at 600W+ don’t seem to hurt me the same as trying to hold 400 watts constantly. Most MTB races are under 3hrs and although I have done well at longer stuff- the courses need to be technical and there is some strategy involved. Although the very best mountain-bikers have similar characteristics to pro roadies- for age group and national level stuff it is possible for me to do ok.
So what does this mean for you?
If you want to be competitive, find your “thing”- then within that sport, find what suits your physiology/head the best. And if you knowingly compete outside of your niche area- give yourself a break and have fun competing without the added stress of trying to “win”
Coppermine: Take a concrete pill and harden-up
By Fortrin coaching, Feb 16 2015 01:20AM
So….. some days you just never know how a race is going to go- toss a coin- ‘heads’ your legs turn up at some point during the ride, with fun and fast used in the same sentence. ‘Tails’ and you are relegated to the fun pile, which the majority of the time, hurts waaay less than ‘heads’. ‘Heads’ is what it looked like I ended up with for the Coppermine Classic- but nothing is THAT easy.
The week preceding Coppermine was not ideal preparation wise with riding time severely reduced from not being well. So taking this extreme taper into the day, my legs were rested, but were made of slightly soggy cardboard. Having done a Duathlon on the Sunday morning a week before- then driving to Nelson to do a near race-pace circuit of Dun Mountain in that same afternoon- I was intimately familiar with what it was going to feel like going fast on dead legs. So armed with this thought, and the fact that a bad day will still provide a super fun ride down from Windy Ridge- we loaded up the car and drove the 1.5hrs to Nelson.
It was nice and cool in Nelson upon arrival, especially compared to St James 34 degree baking two weeks before, and the weather gods provided the 8th year in a row of dry conditions. After registration and catching up will all the other Blenheim riders, I went for a good warmup to see if I could find some stirring of good sensations. “Nup, nothing” I actually said out loud after cresting the first pinch of the day. Oh well…at least I always start well these days…
When I first started mountain biking, my starts were horrible. If I managed to get my foot into the toe-clip fast enough, I would ride so hard, that five minutes into the race I would blowup and get passed by what felt like every person in the race. And for years I didn’t learn: Start-Blowup-Recover-Ride hard- Finish ok (ish). Adding to that list was bike handling which didn’t look too dissimilar from watching a Bambi on ice.
Eventually, I worked out something consistent that works for me, managed to somehow stay on the bike (luck), and the results started coming. A big part of the learning curve was pre-riding the start and working out if I even need to go that hard at the beginning. St James was one of those situations. There was plenty of time and plenty of places to pass- so no stress. Coppermine? well that was a different story. First rider into the singletrack got to dictate the pace and ride un-encumbered- so that’s what I did…
On the start line was this young dude in Giant-Swiss kit looking lean and mean with not enough body weight for gravity to have any interaction with. Oh yeah, he will go good. So first into the singletrack would also mean not trying to follow someone well and truly faster than me for the first 6-7mins. And if I was going to have to find my legs somewhere out on the course, there was no way I could do my old blowup trick.
Lining up on the left hand side to get to the first left corner in good position, I smashed my foot onto my pedal perfectly and hauled to the first corner taking holeshot. Then I sprinted full-noise into a couple of nicely designed CX styled chicanes before the single-track. YES! First into single-track, but I was hurting, and shut it down slightly to ride super smooth until the first open climb. Cresting the top of the climb Lars (the swiss dude) seemed happy with the pace, so sat on until the next section of single-track. I gapped him slightly through this section, but when we came out onto the bottom of Tangatree saddle climb, I knew it was time to let him go. “Maybe I will see him before the finish?”
By this time, I was feeling very very bad and had to shut it down properly- because at this stage, there was still over an hour of pretty persistent climbing to get to the top! I stuck it into my easiest gear and spun the best I could the 6 minutes left to the top of Tangratree saddle and the start of the Dun Mountain track. Kiel had had a great start too and was third out to the bottom of Tangatree, and promptly passed me on the climb. “I’m no good!” I said as he passed.
Words can’t fully describe how painful the first 20 minutes of the Dun Mountain climb was. Watching/controlling my heartrate was pointless with numbers like 191bpm (my normal 10 minute max heartrate) flashing up at me constantly as I waited for the effort I was putting in to show itself with some actual speed. My lungs felt like someone had taken to my ribs with a baseball bat, and legs were in so much pain that telling them to shut-up was falling on deaf ears. But with the occasional glimpse of Kiel further up the climb… “Am I catching him???” the distance was closing even though the pain in my legs was increasing by the minute.
“I am!” I said to myself trying to stop passing out whilst making progress up the mountain. Over the next few minutes it seemed like all the miles/races over all these years came back to help me at a point I needed it most.
Riding up to the back of Kiel’s wheel with a small sense of relief, I sat on for all I was worth. Sure I’m going faster now, but a cloud of extreme pain still hung over me. Riding with someone you have coached, who was doing so well, will be one of the best memories I will ever have from racing, and the sense of discomfort lessened slightly.
Chatting to Kiel, we set a good solid pace knowing there was 40 minutes to the top of the climb. I kept an eye out behind to see if anyone was catching up, with the plan to protect Kiel so he could attack up Windy ridge if we were caught. At this point I the speed was 100% back into my legs and when the 4th place rider who was doing the Epic (longer version of the race) merged back onto the climb behind us, I was able accelerate and keep him in sight until the top of Dun Mountain. The unfortunate casualty of this increase in speed was Kiel, who was doing a fantastic job of looking after himself to consolidate 3rd place.
Boulder valley was really straight forward- don’t crash, don’t puncture, keep it crisp and clean. It felt like I was creeping, but no-one was catching and I wasn’t bouncing off stuff trying to stay upright. Making it to the tree-line was a relief and with new found energy I got into smashing it as hard as I could to the end of the Pipeline singletrack. At this point it was looking like finishing under 2:05 (current record) would be possible, and I ramped up the pedalling pressure to nausea levels and held it.
“We are going the wrong way!!!” Tristan yelled at me whilst riding back towards me on the track. “What??” my pain riddled brain struggling with this new information as the track turned into an overgrown dead end. Bugger! I stop and turned around riding slowly to get my bearings trying to find a path back to the trail. “Oh no Im losing time, damn damn” I was saying as I tried to get myself down to Matai rd without incident. Confused as I hit the tar seal, I regained my bearings and I started making my way back along the singletrack we started on at the beginning of the race. “Did we lose any places?” I shouted to Tristan. “I don’t know” was the reply as he ramped up the pace with not far to go. With all the confusion and lack of momentum whilst getting lost, the slim chance I had of breaking 2:05 was well gone- but considering how badly I felt most of the race, I was happy to be able to finish.
Crossing the line, Tristan and I found out that almost everyone who had finished before us took the wrong turn (piece of course tape went walkies)- including U23 World Cup rider Lars who got fully disorientated like me and was in-line to completely smash the record for the Coppermine.
This race reminded me of how hard it is to be a good cyclist- the difference between a good and bad placing dependant more on who can suffer the most, than any metric of ability. Doing that day in and day out provides me with a re-ignited sense of respect for the pros that make this their living.
Final results Overall
1st- Lars Hubacher 02:07:57
2nd-Yours Truly +2mins 44sec (1st Vet 2 40-50)
3rd- Kiel Boyton +10mins 27sec (1st Vet 1 30-40)
Soooo hot!! St James 65km MTB race
By Fortrin coaching, Feb 14 2015 10:46PM
"It won't be long until the downhill" I was thinking as I crested the top of the climb, the nicely surfaced 4WD track flattening to give a small respite from the exertion. Almost without warning the road dropped away at a rate that made my stomach drop in contrast to the last twenty minutes of gentle climbing. My view dominated by scenery five kilometres away as the road plunged steeply into the valley with the first left hand corner fighting to stay attached to the side of the hill. The road surface changed from smooth to something which resembled a 4WD track in a war zone. Continuous stretches of fist sized rocks, off-camber corners, natural water bars and sections of -40% downhill, made this descent slightly more ‘intense’ than expected - glad I was doing a recon before race-day.
Doing a blog post about a mountain bike race is a little daunting…yes I did ok, and, yes, it hurt… but conveying the experience of the day, and the days preceding, is harder than riding the bike. So here we go…
As much as the first paragraph of this post sounds overly dramatic - and in ‘technical’ terms the Maling Pass descent isn’t that technical - but the feeling I had the first time I went down it was of the extreme contrast to the smooth 4WD track we had just climbed. When previewing the course profile on Strava, I knew that it was steep in places, but it never conveys how intense that experience is at full race-pace. More than anything, this descent is a “bike eater” and I am sure it took more than its fair share of casualties on race day.
Part of being successful in a mountain bike race is to be prepared. This is just not being fit enough, but doing everything you can to make sure the stuff you have control over, is 100% dialled. You pretty much have no control over whether someone is faster than you on the day, but you do have control over what you know about the course, selecting equipment properly, nutrition, and race/pacing strategy. It reduces the stress of competing significantly, and means that you can enjoy the day more.
I did some research online, prior to pre-riding parts of the course, the weekend before the race. All of the course descriptions I found didn’t give much detail and at one point I was considering taking the cyclocross bike, as it has proven very speedy on less tech courses (I’m so glad I didn’t though!). Training has not been too smooth over the pre-Christmas period, so I was hoping my base from last season would get me through 3 hours of racing at threshold heartrate.
Needless to say, the first recon ride of the last 20km of the race course proved eye-opening, and I was glad I had my Anthem 29 to get me through the day. I had the opportunity to ride the last climb of the day, out of Bulls Gully. In isolation on an easy day, it is a little bugger of a climb, which is REALLY steep, loose gravel surface- just ride-able traction wise, but comfortable. But on race day, after 60kms, it would not be so straight forward.
The second recon ride was of the first part of the course from Lake Tennyson and down Maling pass. Walking/riding back up Maling pass helped me work out the smoothest way to get down the descent without a puncture or incident.
In relation to some previous years, race day bought us a cloud free day and what ended up as a 34 degree average temperature for the race - so quite warm. Kiel (a good friend and Fortrin coached athlete, who had also come down from Blenheim) and myself, are both pretty accustomed to being poached slowly in this type of heat so were not too concerned.
On the start line, I noticed some interesting choices in equipment - with the most intriguing being a very fast looking dude racing on Schwalbe Thunderburts - very very fast tires, but not the best choice for the terrain of the day, and it would cause him issues later.
The whip cracked (yes the organiser cracked the whip) and fellow competitor Andrew Ware set the pace on the gravel road from Lake Tennyson towards the turn off to Maling pass. I sat in the first group and relaxed a bit letting him set a hot pace. I thought that it would be unlikely that organisers would open the gate at the junction of Maling pass road so coming down the hill towards the gate I attacked to get to the gate first. This was so I could open the gate and stop people from jumping it and be first onto Maling Pass road. Although I got a good gap, I cruised to wait for the front to regroup slightly. The gate thing wasn’t to attack and get away, I simply wanted to make sure I got through unscathed and in good position - it also saved me some precious energy.
Once back together, Andrew started driving the pace again with Brent Parrant on his wheel as we started climbing. Listening to Brent’s breathing, he was finding it quite a lot easier than the rest of us, and I knew he was on a good one, who would be hard to keep up with. As it was a solid headwind down the valley, I was hoping a group of us would work together to bring him back.
The front group split up over the steeper part of Maling Pass climb, with Brent putting a minute into Andrew and Sven Zaalberg, and a further 45 seconds to me over the top. Halfway down the Maling Pass descent I came across Andrew who ended up losing 12mins to some punctures. By the bottom of Maling pass descent I was chasing Sven down and caught him on a river crossing. After a quick chat about who was where and what age-group we were in, (I’m vet 2 so not in Sven’s age-group), we joined up trying to make in-roads into Brent’s lead. We worked away through some pretty fast, fun and technical bits for the next 1.5 hours. I had made notes on climb lengths/distances on masking tape and put them on my top tube, so was giving Sven the rundown through the middle of the race, as we had both not ridden that section of the course. Sven did have a moment where he was going to have a wee lie-down at 40kph, but otherwise we were ticking along well with Brent nowhere in sight.
After the swing-bridge at 43km there was a rocky loose climb that was unridable (at least for Sven and I) and my day turned to the worse. After jumping back on the bike after 5 minutes of pushing, my hamstrings started to cramp and I slowly lost time to Sven on the next climb - about a minute once we were into Edwards River Valley. After 20 minutes of dealing with my cramps, my legs came right and I made it to the part where I had done the recon ride. “Yay! I know this” I said to myself and powered through the valley the best I could.
Before the race, I made a promise to myself that if I could get up the last climb out of Bull Gully, it would be a successful day, regardless of placing. Easier said than done…by the time I got to the climb, I was deep in the hurt box. I could see Sven riding a quarter of the way up the hill, and there were two riders ahead of me, who were doing the 106km version of the race. They were walking and I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t say that it was much faster staying on the bike, but I was sooo relieved to ride it to the top and power down to the finish a couple of minutes behind Sven and a whopping 20min behind Brent who smashed us and nearly equalled the course record. So in the end I was 3rd overall and first vet with a new vet’s course record of 3:17:08 (previously held by Al Killick in 2014 with 3:25:00).
Although my form wasn’t up to my normal level, planning out the race and doing the recons helped get me through to a point where I was competitive and had a fun day.
Thanks to St James Mountain sports for organising such a great event - I look forward to next year!
Sanne and I will be posting pretty regular posts on a variety of things in the future- so check back in when you can