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Posted by Coach Carter in Untagged
The current weather in the UK is proving to be VERY testing for all the PBscience athletes. Its not only the environmental challenge of keeping warm that puts people off going outside on their bikes: predominantly, its the safety of the road. Only today its been reported that top Ironman athlete Chrissie Wellington has come a cropper whilst training.
In the call time I have shared with my athletes this week so far, the conversation has been dominated by how hard it has been to train: everyone is being forced inside to use the turbo trainer: what some liken to being Chinese water torture! Some are more mentally geared for it than others - some just see it as a job that needs doing. They have goals they want to hit this year, and to achieve them, they need to get the hours in. If you can't go out, you just have to grind it out. I don't think there are athletes who actually LIKE turbo training, but there are those that just see it as necessary, don't question it, and just do it.
OK, maybe I did LIKE turbo training when I was competing. It never took much of a turn in the weather, and I was set up in the lounge in front of the TV (or now, its iPlayer, what an invention?!). For me, turbo training gave me ultimate control - I knew that once I had made a decision a session was going to be done on the turbo, it felt like the job was done - nothing could stop me from achieving the session goal. Going out on the road always came with an element of uncertainty that my mathematical brain couldn't (didn't) want to contend with. Also, I had a session aim (a power output, a heart rate, a time) and doing a session on the turbo would bring me back 'full marks'. Out on the road, there was always a chance things would not go to plan - and I think at times I couldn't deal with that stress alongside the training stress: what if I puncture, what if the weather gets worse, what road will I use to ensure a good training effort etc (an interesting aside here, but I remember arrving in Toulon for a warm weather winter training week and being SO stressed by the week ahead - because I didn't know the roads and I was just entering in my view, a critical training block).
Many athetes I coach have a structured plan to follow. And even the most committed are now finding it harder to look ahead at maybe 4 turbo sessions in a row - I have one athlete who has had to train exclusively inside on the turbo for the last 2 weeks. Whilst structured training plans are a functional tool of a training athlete, at times like this they can become a pressure. The thought of doing your prescribed training to the letter, and the hours required at this time of year to establish an endurance base can be overbearing. So, how can an athlete cope with the turbo experience? Here are some tips:
- Acceptance - don't lose energy to thinking about it; it is a training session in your plan, and its there to be done. Don't put it off, don't get into a debate with yourself about how unfair it is, how hard it is. Instead, focus on getting the job done.
- Realisation - that there are a lot of people in exactly the same position as you, but YOU have decided to make the most of it. Its a bit like Daley Thompson's theory on training on Christmas Day - he knew it was giving him an advantage over his competition.
- Preparation - if you know there are a few days ahead where you are destined to be inside, find a place you can keep your bike set up. It adds to the impending doom if you have to go outside, get your bike, change the back wheel, set up the turbo, go get a fan etc etc.
- Consistency - if you can, allocate the session to a known starting time. This makes it a contract with yourself. Even tell other people so they can help you get on the bike on time. It helps even more if, for example, at a weekend, the starting time can be the same day.
- Reward - have something post session to keep your spirits high. Mark (the same athlete who last week was thankful the silly season was over and is now wishing this silly weather was over!) discussed with me that his treat will be coffee in Cafe Nero (my kind of reward system!).
- Sharing - there will be a lot of people in your position, so why not cash in on that and organise a "turbo party"? It sounds ridiculous, but having a friend with you really breaks the monotony. Its something I did a fair bit during my competitive days: my then training partner Julia and I would spend 4h at a time in the basement of the TriStore doing base miles - we started at 6am, finished by 10am, in Costa Coffee for breakfast by 10:30am :-) My SIS team mates were also great training partners - one 'camp' in Guernsey with Annie was SO windy, we were inside for 3 days. Coffee was again our reward, but actually, the laughs we had during the session made it too. We also took it in turns to suggest the next 'drill'
Those are some tips to get your frame of mind right, and get you onto the turbo to start the session. You might also like to consider these points, as they will help fuel your motivation once you are going, and also help you get the most from the session:
- Compromise - of course, you have a training session on your plan, but be prepared to adjust your expectations. Turbo training is very different to training on the road - there is no free wheeling, descents, junctions, drafting. Every pedal stroke is one of quality. I explain to my riders that you get about 10 to 15% more riding on the turbo rather than out on the road. So, if you have a 3h ride in the plan, know that 2.5h is enough time to equate to the road.
- Gain - in fact, I would go as far as to say that you get MORE from turbo training - even with taking some time off to equate duration, training on a turbo is more stressful to the body than being on the road. Even the best turbo trainers in the world cannot give you a fly wheel big enough to mimic the 'roll' of the road. With each pedal stroke on the turbo, you have to accelerate against the resistance - this makes the dead spot bigger. Its very common for athletes to comment to me about power loss (against a given heart rate / effort) when training on the turbo. Know this, and don't get too fraught - you aren't less fit, its the mechanics of system - you ARE still putting out the same power, but you lose it being captured on your cycle computer power reading.
- Repetition - with the repeated, similar pedalling action, it will be the same muscle fibres that get a hammering in turbo training: repeated contraction in the same position - its no wonder people often report getting off the bike and complaining of sore legs (more so than the equivalent session on the road). Get out of the saddle a little, change gear - just change things a little.
- Variation - because of the repetitive nature, its your chance to be inventive! Rather than that 3h zone 2 ride being about hitting your target power for 180 minutes, why not add in some variation within the session?
- Cadence blocks: perform 5 to 10 minute blocks at low (50rpm), medium (80rpm), high (>100rpm) cadences
- Cadence pyramids: move from low to high cadence by changing a gear each minute and then return down the pyramid too
- Power pyramids: work in 5 minute blocks starting at the lower end of your training zone, and moving up by 10W until the upper border of that zone
- Deceptive - probably pretty obvious, but you do get hotter on the turbo: you are not travelling forward, so are not generating your own cooling wind. At this time of the year, heading out in to a garage in the morning can present you with sub zero temperatures (one of my duathletes, Stewart, documented it was -6 yesterday morning!), but you will get warm over the course of a 2h session. So dress in layers so that you can strip off during the session. Please don't assume you will be okay because you will soon warm up - its a fast track way to having problems. The body is very good at holding blood within the core of the body when it is cold - and this will impact not only on the quality of the session (muscles with no blood don't like producing power!) but also on your health (lacking blood at the extremities can lead to chilblains or worse). Richard, another experienced turbo user, was telling me this is the first time he has turbo trained wearing overshoes and gloves!
- Hydration - People often use (and benefit from) using a fan to keep them cool. However, this can disguise how much they are sweating. When training outside in normal conditions, you could assume taking on board ~1 litre of fluid per hour is enough to maintain hydration. Under conditions of a 'thermal challenge', you will need at least 1.5 litres per hour, if not more for perfuse sweaters. I would suggest you have your 'normal' drinks bottles for the ride time (with your carbohydrate solution in) and extra bottles of water to top that quota up. Even better is to switch your normal carbohydrate solution to one based on electrolytes (like Science in Sport's 'Go'). Electrolytes help maintain hydration better than pure water.
- Fuelling - alongside my point about turbo training being more stressful, we need to take this into consideration with fuelling too. We know that our body' carbohydrate store, the muscle glycogen' is bound with water. What will the body do when trying to liberate more water? That's right, release more of that stored carbohydrate and burn it as a fuel. Like for like, a turbo session will probably take more energy from carbohydrates than an equal time on the road - so up your CHO solution a little. Remember, its better to preserve the session quality than to worry about the extra calorie intake.
- Recovery - again because of the stress, recovery is probably harder post turbo work: the dehydration, the changes in the body's core temperature, the extra stripping of the muscle glycogen stores - these will all leave you a little more vulnerable post session. Your immune system will have taken a hiding: so make sure you have a recovery drink already prepared, grab it on your way to the shower where your warm clothes are already waiting having prepared them BEFORE the session ;-) Give your body chance to return to normal before heading out for that post-ride reward, or meeting others.
So, there are some ideas - I have done a few turbo miles in my time. However, you might have some ideas too, so please feel free to add some comments below - after all, we're all in the same boat for the next 5 days or so according to the forecast....good luck!
Posted by Coach Carter in Untagged
In Roman mythology, Janus (represented with two faces looking in opposite directions) was the god of thresholds, presiding over beginnings and endings. Before writing this week’s blog, I took time to look back at the first post of 2009. Writing about ‘goals’ is always easy (and relevant) at this time of the year – even those of us who don’t make / believe in New Year’s resolutions can see the merits of how using the year turn to start afresh. Goals are ‘better’ than resolutions – whilst resolutions can feel restricting, goals can be exciting and even liberating.
On New Year’s Eve I sat down and reviewed by goals for 2009 – interestingly, whilst I have achieved and even surpassed many of my milestones (starting my own cycle coaching business for one!), some I have not been as successful at. It would be easy for me to now feel downbeat about that: and indeed, I have had conversations with athletes I coach who fear goal setting because they feel it sets them up for a fall – no goals, no chance to fail. However, as I went down my list, I simply reflected on the “why” of not achieving them – some I never got started on probably because they didn’t inspire me enough; and then others are more ongoing – attitudes I want to keep adopting, systems I want to keep improving. Goal setting doesn't work because of achieving the goals; it works because it stretches you outside your comfort zone, and onto better things: regardless of whether you "succeed" or "fail".
One of my “life wishes” (an exercise I was inspired to do this time last year when I read Gay Hendricks book, Five Wishes) is to be the best coach I can be to all the athletes in my charge. As you can imagine, it is quite a hard ‘goal’ – I think I have asked before what makes a great coach, and although I can come up with a list of good attributes, measuring if I am hitting my mark or improving is tricky. I know I want to be a visible coach, one with a very hands on style, accessible and very present – I love being at races, I love meeting with my athletes for rides, coffee etc. It is at the very core of my desire to be a cycling coach. Communication is a big thing for me, and although again its hard to measure, I have given a lot of thought about how I can spend more time speaking with, meeting up with all my athletes. I have recently updated the process by which I speak with my athletes, encouraging them all to now speak with me at least once a week; I’m also now using Skype, so people even get to see me if they so wish!
I’m speaking with most of my athletes next week, so I am excited to catch up on the past two weeks of their training. Although I have been keeping an eye on training diaries / data, over the Christmas period I have been working on tasks that normally fall lower on the list of priorities. For example, I have returned to search engine optimisation, and also learning about some new training analysis software. In between my own bike riding, I have been doing more than enough to keep me busy, but this week sees me returning to my normal working patterns. Like most of my athletes, although I have enjoyed Christmas, it is now time to end the ‘silly season’ (as one of my athletes Mark referred to it!) and get back to normal. I think most of them are also hoping that the New Year will bring a different weather system to the UK – I am impressed how many miles have been clocked up on the turbo these past 2 weeks; but also, how many of them have continued to get outside....a group of VERY inspired athletes in the PBscience camp!
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A thought for Christmas – I have received many emails from PBscience athletes this week on the difficulties of being an athlete at this time of the year: the pressures of socialising, feeling the odd one out and isolated at Christmas functions, the temptations of rich food and drink, fitting in training around family / friends commitments. If I had a pound for each time I have read / heard “I wish Christmas was over so I could get back into the routine”, my Amazon shopping list would be very big (and its big already!).
Some of the more common pitfalls / challenges are:
- it feels like every other day is a social engagement - late nights, a lack of sleep, mixing with people who are ill: an athlete's worst nightmare!
- too much rich food on offer: often compounded by the popularity of buffet style food (portion control goes out of the window)
- the weather - we have gone from wet / windy to ice cold
I came across this related story on "Discipline" from the Velonews website.
Even the most goal orientated, motivated athlete finds it hard at this time of year: so be gentle on yourself if you do get waylaid. Just remind yourself of the bigger picture, weighing up the short term pleasure vs long term gains. Beware those people that rise to the role of being your saboteur though - if you know who these people are, avoid them; or even better, laugh their attempts off and show them how much you enjoy being disciplined rather than moaning about having to restrict yourself.
It is tricky – our loved ones expect more time with us, yet we see the week off work as a way to clock up more training and benefit from the rest alongside it. I know when I was competing, Christmas was like a mini-training camp: morning rides followed by big lunches and a sleep, then an afternoon in front of the television. I was fortunate that my friends and family understood my ambitions. And, I think this is the key to survival – share with people what your real desires are. Of course, not everyone will understand your ‘madness’ in enjoying a 5 hour ride in the freezing cold! But, if you open up and explain why its important to you (note, "opening up" is NOT screaming at them in anger or resentment!), they may begin to cut you more slack. Frustration from others often comes from a lack of empathy or understanding: their frustration can be seen as difficult behaviour by you: so help them understand you, and try to understand them in return. Even better, discuss how you can achieve what everyone needs / wants at Christmas – maybe training earlier, or how about making ‘appointments’ in your diary – training time, family time. It sounds too easy, but amazingly, it works!
But, before you can communicate what you want, you need to KNOW what you want! Like any time of year, set some clear goals as to what you want out of the next 2 weeks:
- By January 2nd, where do you want to be with your fitness?
- What training do you need to be there?
- What other strategies do you need to employ to ensure you attain that level?
- What are the main obstacles to achieving those aims?
- What solutions can you put in place i.e. the 'Plan B' or contingency?
You might find an even bigger buy in from your loved ones if you involve them in this goal setting process.
Posted by Coach Carter in Untagged
50 hours of lactate threshold and VO2max testing; 176 blood samples; 148 pages of lab reports from data taking a total of 53 hours to analyse; Grand total = 23 athletes all set off on the winter training journeys; and 870 miles covered in Mobie whilst out on the road: the closest being a test parked up the visitor car park area outside my flat, the furthest away being Cambridge (one total I daren’t sum is that of how many coffees in motorway service stations!). This weekend saw the last of the lab tests for the post season period.
Not all my tests have been in Mobie. Dan, my assistant, is finishing his MSc at the University of Brighton. As many of the PBscience athletes have volunteered to take part in the study (or Coach has volunteered them!), seven of those lab tests have taken place in the University labs. Also, with my teaching commitments at the Uni, I have presented lab testing work within lecture sessions. This week, I invited Rachel down to be the star turn in front of the MSc group. The group really valued the chance to watch an elite performer undergoing these tests: its one thing to read about the values athletes can produce, but so much more impressive and impacting when you see them in the flesh. They also enjoyed being able to ask Rachel about her Hawaii Ironman experience.
I keep saying to people how ironic it is that at a time my links with the University have diminished, I am doing more lectures than ever! Its not that I don’t like lecturing: its more that I would never want to spend all my time in that role. In fact I have found the last few weeks of interaction with the sport scientists of tomorrow very interesting. I feel I have something to give back to the next generation of graduates: for instance, through work experience modules on both the undergraduate and postgraduate courses, PBscience will take on between 2 and 4 students and provide them with opportunities to work with the athletes we coach. This was in fact the way my present coaching assistant Dan came to work with me. The students get experience (from resource development through direct lab testing with athletes or presentations at workshops), and in return, Dan and I get valuable help ‘on decks’. I’m pleased to have retained the University link for this purpose.
So, testing block 1 complete – I’ve learnt a lot about how well the mobile lab concept has worked: including that tests in December present the challenge of keeping equipment warm enough! “Mobie” has lived up to the challenge, so for now, its all looking very positive. The next batch of testing will be in March, so I know this is the calm before another storm! I’m looking forward to the Christmas break, with accumulation of miles on my bike this time....but also, accumulation of rest. I’m learning to appreciate that the real rate limiter in the growth of PBscience is keeping myself fresh: Just like the training athlete in fact, going through the cycles of stress and recovery in order to build.
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Saturday was the first PBscience event since the service became independent from the University of Brighton. Bringing together the majority of the athlete group I coach was a really enjoyable and rewarding experience. One of my main aims with PBscience is to grow a community of athletes: people that not only want top quality coaching, but also athletes that enjoy a sport science based approach and sharing their sporting journey with others. I am now coaching 25 athletes across the road, time trial and mountain biking disciplines of cycling, as well as multisport athletes in duathlon and triathlon. Each of them has accumulated a breadth of experience in their chosen events – workshops, training camps all can benefit from exchanges of ideas and stories.
During the day, Dan and I explained a range of concepts: from whether cyclists can benefit from strength training through to a post season review and pre-season preparation. We were also fortunate to be joined by Phill Sykes – gym manager at the David Lloyd, the event venue, but also a top time trial cyclist himself. Phill was able to bring practical insight into the weight training question as well as taking the group through a sample core stability training session. From the post event feedback, it seems a great time was had by all 18 participants: and not just because there was Costa coffee available at the venue!
Time with my athletes is something I love, so I find such events energising. It was also a time to reflect on how far the business has come in the 2 months so far. To see the group in front of me; to look outside in the car park to see “Mobie” parked up; to see the PBscience logo everywhere – a brand I am proud of.
I’ve recently taken delivery of the PBscience cycling kit – a few of my riders have chosen to ride under the colours for next season. So, the launch of “Team PBscience” is another milestone. The kit was a fair few months under development: it was important for me to get the look just right. It takes time to find the right supplier too, and I feel we have achieved that using Bioracer – the company that supplies the national teams of Germany, the USA, Holland and Belgium. The kit is great quality – and I think its been a great motivator to get me back out on the road: I’ve even been out in the pouring rain and howling wind this week since getting the kit! Having Dan, Juliette and Craig to ride with - all Eastbourne based, all joining the team - has also given me a buzz.
I need it – Juliette and I are entered into the London 2 Paris event...yikes!!!
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Its been another week on the road for me and Mobie - Thursday morning saw me setting out at 8am to make the 130 mile journey to Cambridge. One Dartford traffic queue and one much needed de-stress coffee stop in Thurrock services (!), and I was meeting athlete Tom in another supermarket car park: this time Tesco...and this time happy to see an instore Costa (much preferred to Starbucks contrary to popular opinion).
This was the first time I had met Tom, even though we have been working together for a couple of months. So, it was exciting to sit down after the tests (in the aforementioned Costa) and talk about his aims and aspirations for 2010... and beyond. I said in last week's post how much I enjoy the one to one interaction with my athletes at these lab testing sessions. And, I think the first meeting is one of the most important, setting the basis for the whole relationship. So, aside from the excitement of getting started on a new project and athlete journey, I also find them the most energy consuming. Not in a bad way, but I am aware how tired I am from this particular round of the "Mobie Road Show". You see, as well as testing Tom, I tested another 3 athletes while in Cambridge - and all 4 this time round are new recruits.
I am fortunate that most of my work comes through referrals - in fact, since starting PBscience as an independent business, I have not set about doing any advertising - my belief is that my athletes are my best advertising boards - if I do my job properly, their experience of working with me should be good enough for them to tell their friends about PBscience and what we can offer. And, they do! In fact, the trip to Cambridge, and starting with 4 new athletes, all stemmed from the work with one of my existing clients Tony. Therefore, it was great to also have time to spend with him, plotting his own pathway to the Etape 2010. As well as taking a look at his scalextric set (Dad, you would have loved it!), we also had time to take a look at his training set up in his garage - the real video link to his turbo was amazing, and considering all the turbo rides I am doing in this weather, I was very jealous!
Technology is coming a long way in helping athletes train and perform - from simple examples on the commercial market (like Tony's virtual training world) to those used in organisations like British Cycling. After leaving Cambridge on Friday afternoon, I drove over to Loughborough to attend a workshop on Saturday; the theme "working with high performance athletes". One presentation showed how cyclists preparing for Beijing used virtual reality training - just like Tony's but on a grander scale: the staff of British Cycling had driven the course with video cameras, and then technicians had plotted the route data using GPS and linked this to a treadmill big enough to riders to cycle on. So, riders could look at the roads, see the course profile, but best of all, the course profile would change the gradient of the treadmill while the cyclists pedalled on it: allowing them to practice the gear changes and understand the speed needed for different sections; what attention to detail - no wonder medal targets were hit with such regularity in this sport!
These workshops are about more than picking up anecdotes and getting a chance to see huge lab numbers for elites - for me, they are a good opportunity to reflect on my coaching practices. The workshop was aimed at sport scientists, helping them form teams around coaches and athletes. Of course, I'm in both roles: although I may avoid possible conflicts between sport scientists and coaches, often a challenge for both parties (for example, who is the lead in the team? who organises the athlete's training plans, their races), its still not an easy process of guiding the athlete. We all face challenges, and meeting at events like this helps discussion and sharing of ideas on how to best navigate around the world of sports performance. At the English Institute of Sport, people responsible for 'making the best better', they have this mantra on the process of athlete preparation:
- coach led
- athlete centred
- performance focussed
On my 4 hour journey home, I had chance to reflect on this - how similar is the work of the EIS and UK Sport to my own? The majority of my athletes have full time jobs. Cycling is their passion yes, but it falls between work and family commitments. Are their challenges the same as elites? Do I as coach / sport scientist have to think differently to those in the EIS when working with my group? Maybe, but in speaking with my colleagues at the EIS, they are more similar than one might imagine. The same issues crop on regardless of level, regardless of financing, regardless of age. And I love that challenge. I came back with a real commitment to "being the best I can be".
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Busy, busy, busy! I’ve spent a good proportion of the last week getting together all my athlete’s yearly plans: something in sport science we would call ‘periodised’ plans – consider it a road map of how to get from where we are at now, to where the athlete wants to be by the goal event(s) in 2010. I’ve taken each athlete’s goals for next season, compared that with existing form and planned the type of training they will need to do, and when. Feedback to my distribution of each individualised plan has been great – athletes appreciate knowing how the steps of intensity, volume, frequency build towards the season...and of course, where they are now in that plan. It really aids motivation, especially when the immediate term feels like endless hours of ‘steady miles’ and the race season is so far away.
A key step in building a periodised plan is the laboratory test – the months of November and December are fast becoming a “Mobie road show” (I'm currently thinking about approaching Sainsbury's for sponsorship!). I spent Friday and Saturday on the road, testing my athletes Steve, Stewart, Oli and Dani: four athletes in 2 days – its intensive work, as its not only the physical doing of the tests, but making sure I am capturing all the information in my one to one discussions with each after the tests. It is that time, being in one to one dialogue with my athletes which is one of the most fulfilling aspects as a coach – the depth with which they open up and share with me always touches me.
Being ‘blown away’ by that and by the winds in the south east of England right now means a very apt title for the blog post this week – its been incredibly windy this weekend, and I am finding Mobie to be quite a wind catcher! As you might expect, driving him around to the test venues has been ‘interesting’ in the gusts of 60 mph. However, what really amazed me was how much it added to the rocking motion during a test. I have started to get used to the sensation of swaying as a rider pedals on the Wattbike at 80 to 90rpm - in fact, Friday I felt a bit like a sailor must after time at sea. Whilst standing in Stewart’s kitchen as he and Rachel cooked a chilli con carne* I felt like I was still in Mobie! On Saturday evening, that feeling was somewhat worse....the high winds buffeting the side of the motorhome caused me and Dani to become quite perturbed: I think she was relieved to have a distraction of going to max! Next time, maybe I should park behind the car wash for shelter?
This week sees another 4 tests, so back on the road. The forecast is for continuing high winds, which considering I’m sure in Cambridgeshire is a little worrying – certainly no hills to hide behind!
*Note: despite it being a dinner in honour of Rachel’s amazing debut Hawaii performance, she ended up being the virtual host: whilst Stewart was going to max in Mobie, his carefully laid out ingredients were being put together by Rachel...AND she brought the dessert!
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I returned from my training camp reccie in Girona with a realisation, and with a decision to make – a decision that could alter my working pattern, and impact on my lifestyle, as a person, as a coach and as a business owner. It all sounds very dramatic doesn’t it? Not really, but I am considering if I should be back in training....
You’ll remember from my post last week that I had a Day 3 collapse – my "doors fell off": the consequences of 3 days of cycling, something not done that often since I stopped my competitive career in 2008. In fact, it was this time last year when I had last been in ‘training’, anything since has been ‘just riding my bike’. So, having felt so unfit in Girona, this is where I felt a decision had to be made – as a coach, how essential is it to be endurance trained?
A few factors have fed into my thinking the question in this past week: Firstly, I know that I have an aim to ride the London to Paris event in June 2010. The event is 3 days in length, where we will need to cover ~170 km per day. This event appeals to me on a personal level (for a start, its a reason to stay / get fit!) but also, in building brand awareness, I would like the PBscience logo to be out there in the cycling environment. A few of the riders I coach are keen to participate too, so it should be ‘fun’ (can someone remind me of this when they peel me off my bike come June 27th!); Secondly, last year’s training camp resulted in me riding 20 hours in 6 days – in the build up to that camp, I was cycling 15 hours per week. Twelve months ago, I was starting from a reasonable baseline as I progressed my mileage up over the autumn, Christmas and then New Year. I was coming off the back of my cycling career – and like most ‘retiring’ athletes, there was a need to slowly release myself from the structure of life as an athlete. I’m not at that level now – Girona showed that! There is one final factor I am mulling over... I am mid post-season review of my athlete’s reflections on 2009. In that process, I have post-season questionnaires returned to me, and one common theme is how athletes appreciate my ‘hands on’ approach to working with them: they like me being at races, they like me going on training rides with them. There probably are benefits in riders seeing their coach practising what they preach, but more so, the rides together allow me to see the rider in action – its amazing what you pick up riding with a cyclist. But even more so, its about the time you end up spending together, bonding the coach-athlete relationship: I can’t emphasise enough how much I value those opportunities. Some of my athletes have found it amusing I am considering training for a motorcycle licence – not just for motor-pacing, but in order to spend time on the roads with them!
So, you’ll get the drift of what decisions I am having to make: to be fit ‘enough’ to perform my job, I will have to commit to proper training (i.e. not just riding my bike). Training takes time. I’ll make it clear, I’m not saying a coach HAS to train in order to be a good coach – but for me right now, the benefits it brings me are ones I have to weigh up against the time it takes, how that training time will eat into my other tasks as a coach. Since Girona, I have clocked up 11 hours of training (7 of those on the bike). One thing I have noticed is how the goal I have set is not as motivating as being a competitive cyclist: it still feels like I can opt out of the ride if its wet, if its cold. When I was competitive, it was never a choice: 3h on the plan, 3h is what I did. Now, it ‘doesn’t matter’ yet this makes it harder!! Saturday was fine, as I went out with my friend Andy in the winter sun (the post ride croissant and coffee was my reward for enduring the cold feet!). Sunday morning though was challenging: it was wet – so I called in the turbo option, promising myself that 1.5h was good enough. Now, considering I was known to regularly tick off 4h on the turbo, this should have been child’s play – needless to say it wasn’t! And, although pleased to be holding around 180W at a heart rate I would hold in my endurance rides of old, being able to hold this for longer was NOT an option! The realisation that my commitment to getting fit was going to be challenging added to my post ride fatigue.
During my turbo ride, I watched a DVD from my library of cycling DVDs. You may remember how I raved about a book I had read detailing the career of Canadian cyclist, Lori-Ann Muenzer? This DVD was a follow-up on her Olympic gold, when she was attempting to capture the World champs title a few months hence. When I read the book, I resonated with Lori’s journey – and the documentary was equally as touching – in hindsight, probably not a good turbo watch! There is a 5 minute segment in which she breaks down, explaining the loneliness as a rider – I remembered those days....even with friends, family and a coach to support you, it isn’t an easy road. Lori was going through a tough time, and her coach was unable to be there. It made me contemplate a lot about my role as coach – I play different roles in the lives of the athletes I coach, but to each one, I take my responsibility VERY seriously: watching this documentary consolidated that commitment as we enter a new training year. I’m so glad I have been an athlete to have experiences both side of the fence.
So, as well as planning the training programmes of 6 athletes this week and 12 the week before, I have added Helen Carter to the list. Its not as detailed a plan as I prescribed to the PBscience athletes, BUT it took as much thought – I want to be fit, but I'm also realistic, recognising where it lies in my priorities. It helps that my assistant Dan feels a similar pressure to be fit for camp in February: it means we will be holding our coaching meetings on the bike as well as in Costa coffee each week!
Posted by Coach Carter in Untagged
....just for my athletes! This past weekend I travelled to Spain to look at a possible training camp venue. Girona is a very popular training location for many European and US Pro Tour teams: Team Garmin are based there, and it used to be the training ground for pro cyclists like Lance Armstrong and Discovery team mate George Hincapie. So, when I discovered a new camp was being set up out there, it didn’t take me too long to organise a visit!
I’ve been fortunate to go on several training camps in my career as a cyclist: Toulon in southern France; the islands of Lanzarote and Majorca; and mainland Spain near to Sierra Nevada. It was also great to have my bike as an excuse to visit new places, and Girona this weekend was no exception. It was beautiful: the roads were ideal for cycling training: the variety in terrain they offered, the road surface quality, the numerous route possibilities, and the lack of traffic to name a few. The weather was also very kind: temperatures of early to mid twenties – in November! It therefore sound an automatic choice for a camp venue – but providing the ideal environment is a little more complicated.
The athletes I coach will all hear me speak of the “performance triad”: that its not only the training stress that needs to be prioritised to improve performance, but also the aspects of recovery and nutrition – all 3 are essential, none more so than the other(s). The same principle applies to training camps. The main objective of a training camp is to provide a period of time (normally a week) where the athlete looks to make a ‘step up’ the level of fitness or in other words, the amount of adaptation. Traditional thinking would see this through increased training volume / intensity / frequency or all three. There are no ‘limiters’ – the athlete enjoying the absence of work or other life commitments (family, domestic chores, social life). Good weather, good roads = good training....simple. However, if we look at it from the performance triad perspective, we also need to factor in that training adaptation will come to an athlete more readily if the camp environment also optimises nutrition and recovery.
As a cycling coach, I need to assess how a particular camp might facilitate nutrition. What kind of breakfast is available? When is breakfast served? Are sports nutrition products included, or must athletes provide their own? Will athletes get a lunch on return from their ride? If so, what is it? Or, do they have to get to the nearest shop / town before they can eat? What about the evening meal? Is there a choice of food? Is it a buffet? Or, are athletes tied to a set menu? Are the portions suitable for an athlete? How is the food prepared? What time is the restaurant open? Then, in between meals, is the location near to shops?
Again, I also have to ask similar questions with regard to rest and recuperation – ultimately, does the camp environment provide a relaxing experience outside of training hours? Hotels can often be noisy, so sleep may be disturbed (I can re-count a few experiences of being disturbed by room parties – and that was whilst staying at a so-called athlete centred venue: watch out for venues frequented by athletes out of the training season!). You also have to factor in that not all athletes relax in the same way: a quiet environment suitable for the bookworm, or the afternoon nap taker may not appeal to someone who socialises to switch off. Some venues that are peaceful and idyllic to some may feel isolated to others.
Recuperation is not just about the physical environment either – decreasing stress can be just as important: is there a washing machine on site? Where do we store bikes, are they safe? Does the facility provide bike tools, or do we need to take our own? Another aspect I need to factor in is whether there is a suitable space for evening presentations / discussions. Last year, we squeezed 12 of us into my apartment each evening for talks on various topics across training, nutrition and recovery – with the PBscience community growing, I might need a bigger room!
So, whilst you may not feel sorry for me having to spend 3 days in the sun, clocking up 7 hours in the first back to back riding I have done since July* BUT, spare a thought for my attempts in trying to choose the best venue for the PBscience Spring camp...its proving tricky. Is it a balance, or is it a compromise? How does a cycling coach find / select a venue that presents a “win-win” scenario for an athlete group that may be 20 or in size? What do you prioritise? Is there a venue that is not only all things to all people, but ticks the boxes for practicalities and budgets? With there being only 3 months until we go, decision time is nigh.
* Day 3, the “doors fell off” on the penultimate climb – example of non-ideal nutritional conditions / poor glycogen re-loading maybe? Or more likely, just an “unfit coach” scenario! I’d better get in shape for February!
Posted by Coach Carter in Untagged
In between the admin of post season reviews and winter programme planning, I've had the pleasure of starting work with two new PBscience athletes. Out of coincidence, both riders have signed up to the platinum package offered by PBscience. This package offers the very best in cycle coaching and sport science support as all our clients have come to expect, but in addition, the rider gets to work with a nutritionist, and also gets extra support from me, their cycling coach.
Although the package is aimed at any athlete wanting to leave no stone unturned in their approach to training and performance, it so happens that both riders we tested this week in the lab are elite - Richard is a top time triallist in the UK, being the first rider to win the 10, 25 and 50 mile championships in one year back in 1995. My aim? To help him return to those heights. Nic, athlete number 2, on the other hand is at the start of his career but is certainly as impressive in his commitment to the sport: a pro based in Clermont Ferrand, central France, he made a 12 hour trip to come to Eastbourne for testing (I know, the mobile lab WOULD have been fun!). Nic saw "Mobie" at the Duo Normande a few weeks back, and contacted me soon after. Like with Richard, its an honour to be attracting riders of this class - and testament to how PBscience is becoming perceived.
With both athletes, the structure of our meetings was the same: a lab test to determine current fitness and establish training zones; and then a 3-way meeting with myself and Lucy-Ann, the resident nutritionist for PBscience. Working in a team brings so much more benefit to the athlete: a real team is formed; but also to me as the coach. Another perspective, new ideas, the enjoyment of a common project: its hard to put a worth on the shared energy created in such circumstances.
An athlete working with a cycling coach / sport scientist, and a nutritionist is able to address their training and performance more completely. As a coach, I often speak with my athletes about having a balance across the triad of training, nutrition and recovery - sports performance depends on all EQUALLY. Whether it be a need to consider the underlying health before adding the performance layers on top (i.e. nutrition for health then sports nutrition strategies); helping the athlete makes steps towards a leaner physique if performance is dependent on this (hill climbing, road racing); or developing fuelling strategies for races and recovery, both consultants ensure everything is optimised.
Adding Lucy-Ann's input has allowed me to grow the team at PBscience. I've already been experiencing the team work approach having had Dan on board for a month now. His help in the lab testing has been invaluable - as it allows me to take a step back and be more 'present' during the tests. Whilst he does the hands on work, like lactate sampling, equipment prep, I can really immerse myself in connecting with the athlete; watching them during tests gives me a lot of insight - it would be easy to approach lab tests on auto pilot, but if observe, you can pick up additional information not always obvious from the data collected and presented in a spreadsheet. Again, take Richard and Nic as examples of this - I might call them the PBscience twins, as their data was the same this week: same 'threshold' same 'maximum'.....but as Dan commented, two completely different styles of getting there. Richard was smoothness personified, hardly any upper body movement even at high intensity - as you might expect of a time triallist used to sustaining a high percentage of his maximum. At maximum, he simply stopped - sometimes these athletes catch you by surprise! Nic on the other hand fought all the way - in true road racing style, on the drops, edge of the saddle: in this instance, Dan and I felt like we were shouting 'Allez' for ages, expecting him to cave in - but no, he kept fighting, as if getting back onto the wheel in front.
Both athletes have amazing fitness, some of the highest numbers you will see.....my job now is to make them even more amazing - I'm excited by the challenges ahead, not just with Nic and Richard but with all of the athletes I coach - I feel very privileged to be working with them all....and its all about to kick off again in the journey towards 2010!