In my last post I covered my desire to improve my bike racing performance and the goals to do so. If you have ever set goals for your self you may be asking the question now how do I get there?
In my day job I am an Information Technology Consultant and I am confronted daily with all kinds of challenges that I may or may not be familiar with. When I am confronted with a challenge that I am not familiar with I will do one of two things. If the time permits I will educate myself but if the time does not permit I seek the advice of those with more experience than my own.
So I looked at my goals and I determined that I needed to educate myself on racing tactics, strength development for cyclists, nutrition, speed and force based training. I chose to educate my self on all most everything in my list rather than hire coaches, at first.
In the fall of 2008 I found myself highly motivated and biting at the bit to improve. I decided from all of my reading that my climbing weaknesses were attributed to form/technique, attitude and plain old strength.
Rather than just jump into how I set about making my improvements I will tell you the work paid off with some surprising results. I was on a club ride with some old friends that I had not ridden with in a couple of years and some of these guys are excellent climbers. We were in to the longest climb of the day and I was asked by one my fellow climbers what had I been doing to improve so much. Man did I feel good about that question.
The first step I took was to lay out my periodized training plan using Joe Friel’s excellent book The Cyclist’s Training Bible. I then started to read everything I could get my hands on about strength training and really got confused. The coaches I talked to were split on weight training or no weight training. So I fell back and read what Joe Friel had to say on the subject and he recognizes that adults start to loose muscle mass after the age of 40. I need to do what I can to minimize this loss and to do so means weight lifting year round instead of just in the off-season.
The thought of that much time in the gym and off the bike concerned me so I sought out the advice of an expert.
A coworker of mine is a strength coach and former bodybuilding champion. While as a cyclist I don’t need bulging biceps but I still thought he could help. He agreed to help me as long as I would follow his plan and be open to new training ideas. The training was not overly complicated but it did require some mental toughness when every couple of weeks I had to add weight to workouts I was not excelling in. My strength coach also introduced me to supplement cycling, training nutrition and plyometrics to develop explosive power.
I also took up running to help jump start my aerobic capacity and burn fat. This along with following Joe Friel’s Base training allowed me to shed 10 lbs just before the beginning of the Spring Training Season. After three months of this I hit a personal goal of being able to squat 300lbs. While to some this may sound like quite a bit of weight and to other not that much. Five years prior to meeting this goal I was regularly squatting almost 400lbs and hurt my back.
When I hurt my back I had just gotten back into cycling and thought that it would work itself out. It didn’t. I saw two different chiropractors and finally on the advice of my wife (a Physical Therapist) and my strength coach I saw a highly recommended Sports Medicine Doctor. I went through 4 months of rehab and worked with my strength coach to get a severe muscle imbalance worked out. Now I have no acute pain just tightness from time to time. This became a huge confidence builder on and off the bike.
My off-season training had begun in October of 2008 along with rehab and I concluded rehab in January and major training efforts by the end of March. I was starting to get dangerously close to burn out. I trained in the cold and wet with new and old team mates and I decided something was wrong. I raced in a circuit race where I felt that I should have placed in the top 20 and didn’t. I then raced in the first criterium of the year and it was a bit warmer but it poured down rain and I did very well and came very close to a top 10 finish. Then I competed in a local road race and did lousy. I had had it and was cussing my training and doubting myself.
I spoke with one of my teammates who is becoming a cycling coach and he thought that I had not spent enough time working on leg speed and explained that I needed to “unlock all of the strength in those legs!” So I became a cycling coaches first guinea pig.
I did all kinds of very short high intensity intervals focusing on breathing, cadence and form.
Well after all of this work I entered my second criterium of the season. I know to most seasoned veterans this doesn’t sound like much but I had developed a phobia of doing criteriums because of the tight packs, bike handling requirements and my inability to keep up with the flood of lactic acid. I had done the skills work, strength training, endless intervals and my bike was dialed in. So off I went to race a flat, fast downtown 4-corner crit and my family were going to be there.
My family didn’t make it to the race until the 3rd or 4th lap but it was like getting a boost of rocket fuel. I was already doing well in the race when they showed up but seeing them just made me that much more determined to do well. With 4 laps to go I was in 4th place and felt like I could have kept the pace all day when a younger rider wrecked and took me with him. After taking longer than I would have liked to shake the cobwebs out of my head and get back on the bike I did get back on the bike and finish the race strong.
So the surprise of 2009 is that I now like criterium racing because I no longer fear them and actually have been excelling at them.
So to wrap this up:
* I set goals
* I educated myself
* I sought out expertise to structure my training around my goals
* I put into practice what I had been trained to do
* I train my to my limiters and my strengths
In my next post I will cover how to structure training and what skills I needed to develop to overcome some of my fears.
Train hard and smart.