Improvement is hard work. But it starts with some basics:
1. Decide on some targets. Without these you are completely aimless. It can be a benchmark time at a distance, or an event with a pre-determined date. Either way, you need at least one of these.
2. Work out the calendar. This is more important if you have an event in mind – but even if you don’t – you still need to have some kind of structure to what you are doing to make the most of your efforts.
3. Find out where you’re coming from. This means testing. Which hurts. Errr, which way is the exit again…?
1. Is easy for me – I’d like to ride the Little Mountain Time Trial in 2016, ideally in a sub-2 hour time. I’d also like to get inside 1hr for a 25 mile time-trial next year. Both are going to be hard work – and will take me beyond what i’ve achieved in the past. I will also be trying to do this on a road-bike, rather than the dedicated time-trial bike I had in the past. On the LMTT this probably won’t be such a hindrance, the challenge for me there will be loosing weight and improving my climbing. The sub-hour 25 may be slightly more hampered…
2. Is also fairly straight forward – the LMTT will be at the end of April 2016. The 25 I can do anytime, although i’ll probably want to seek out an event on a fast-ish course and, unwilling to trek about the country to do so, I may need to scan the East Anglia events list for 2016 carefully.
3. Now, this is REALLY simple. All I need to do is ride as hard as I can for 30 minutes – and record my average heart rate for the last 20 minutes. And I don’t mean ‘a bit out of puff’ or ‘ooh – I might feel that a bit in the morning’, I mean properly hard. As hard as possible. ‘Probably going to vomit when this is over’ hard. Because there’s no point in fooling yourself, and when it comes to race day – that’s how hard I will try.
The intention is to establish the heart rate that relates to my Lactate Threshold, which is an important number in working out what sort of intensity my training sessions should follow. Over the last few years training using heart rate has been somewhat surpassed by the use of power meters (which measure the actual power that a rider is producing, rather than the rate that their heart is beating). But I am not interested in spending more money on technology, I know that following any sort of structured regime yields results for amateur athletes like myself, and – if heart rate based training was good enough for Big Mig – it’s good enough for me.
So this morning I rode steadily out to the start-line of a local ten-mile time trial course. I held a brief track-stand for a few seconds, just before the line, then pushed on. Thanks to the proliferation of GPS into mobile phones I had Strava recording in my back pocket all the way (so i’d find out my ‘actual’ time over the 10 miles too) and after about 5k I pressed start on my Garmin to capture the 20 minute effort.
It was hard work. Within the first few corners i’d completely misjudged my line, been ruffled by a patch of sand inside a bend and run wildly onto the wrong side of the road. Luckily nothing was coming. From there on I concentrated on pushing the pedals and keeping on my side of the road. One of the commonly cited flaws of heart-rate based training was evident, a steady tailwind pushing me up the road for 8 or 9 minutes, then a hard headwind back the other way – and my heart rate did fluctuate across the effort somewhat. But, evidenced by the extensive and violent retching that I did after passing the ‘finish line’, I did lay down something close to a peak effort. And I got the data – average heart rate 167bpm. Armed with this knowledge I can sit down and do some planning to work out how to pace some of my training sessions over the next few weeks.
The real joy of the matter is, lactate threshold responds to training. So it shifts. Which means I need to do some more testing, probably the same again in 6-8 weeks time.
P.S. Of course, the number I was really interested in seeing was my time over the 10 mile course. For a course with something around a 22-minute record, I managed a forgettable 30:27 / 30:34 (depending which of the 3 different Strava courses I take the time from). Looks like that training is needed after all…..