Stop/don’t stop????

I had the privilege of sitting down with three amazing ultra-cyclists recently to talk about what keeps mad endurance athletes going when ninety percent of your head is saying STOP – quit, go home.

There were some common threads and some opposing thoughts but hopefully we have increased our pool of strategies to help keep us going for a bit longer. All these strategies can be applied to ANY event which is a challenge for you, be that a 25 km sportive or a 400m pool swim, it doesn’t matter. Everyone has their challenge level, anxieties and chimps in their heads. Although one is slightly less likely to hallucinate on shorter challenges I guess.

The company was – Jill Dawes, a client and experienced ultra rider going for GBDuro this year. That is an off road Land’s End to John O’Groats ride covering 1223 miles and 87600ft of ascent. You must finish in ten days.

Mike Pezet – Paris- Brest-Paris veteran, 1,200km with a 90 hours cut off.

Shaar Dixon – Audax rider, 1000km ride in 2021.

And myself with a slightly different take on the endurance experience with five ironman finishes.

In over an hour of discussion nobody once mentioned the pain. How did that happen? I think it’s just one of the multitudes of reasons to stop.

We all agreed we need a plan and a schedule which breaks the challenge down into manageable chunks. We then spend hours trying to work our timings out and inevitably failing but it occupies our brains. It also keeps us going. If the deal is we ride for three hours until a stop then that’s what we must do. If we must shuffle to the next feed station before a ten stride walk then that’s the deal.

Celebrate – the plan for an event has several aims. Normally one aim is to arrive at the start in a condition to take on the challenge. So, rather than bemoaning what you haven’t achieved celebrate what you have achieved, how far you have come and the obstacles you have overcome even to arrive.  Whatever you are doing it is more than the person on the sofa and you are the richer for it.

Retain the sense of awe or wonderment – this was important to everyone. Focus on the amazing flowers, the moon, that fantastic dawn at 4am that only you are seeing. Mike loves the dusk when everyone else is going home, the wind has dropped, the world feels at peace and he gets to celebrate this. Jill finds this time really difficult, she wants to go home along with everyone else. And Shaar just wishes to be in the warm houses with cups of tea and funny wallpaper. We all have a sense of the privilege it is to be able to do our sport. Acknowledge that, celebrate it and keep a child-like sense of wonderment at the world.  

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Treats were also great. After three hours riding the treat is to stop for perhaps ten minutes. Not to rest but to find a loo, refill water bottles, find food. And start again on time! Don’t lose the focus. Treats also take the form of special food such as one whole bite of a Snickers.  Offered as reward for perhaps getting up a big hill. Food in general on such rides is a necessity but not usually a pleasure and fuelling is one of the hardest disciplines to master in the ultra world.

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Re-frame – harder and harder to do the tireder you get. If you are looking in enviously at people’s homes at dusk try to reframe to how lucky you are to be on this adventure and seeing things no one else does. If the shop has the wrong sandwich reframe to ‘at least it is open and has something.’

Hallucinate – some of us do, some of us don’t. Once you have worked out what is real and what is not its ok, you just talk to them.

Ask the question – ‘What can I do right now to help myself?’ Just asking that question turns a negative state of mind into an enquiring one and then into a positive position of self-help. This can easily be used on any challenge.

SMILE! – physically smiling causes physiological changes which cause you to feel happier. Try it.

Talk to yourself – both internally and externally. We all encourage ourselves to ‘Harden the f*** up’ and get on with it.’  Some of us do this out loud, finding that verbalising things makes it more concrete and real.

NEVER quit at night – When we discussed times we had stopped it was always at night and there was always a get out – a nearby lift or hotel. Also it was possible to see the chain of events which precipitated the final decision including the loss of focus or motivation in the preceding hours. this might not be an option for most athletes doing more rational challenges!

Just keep moving – this was powerful. It didn’t matter how, riding, walking, pushing, carrying. Just MOVE inch by inch.

Break it into Small chunks when the going is tough. ‘Just twiddle for ten minutes and see what happens.’ Then another ten, and the twiddle tells the head that it’s easy, providing reassurance. An Ironman marathon is NEVER  marathon, its often four 10km jogs.  That seems far more manageable.

Other people were a divided issue. I feel that I have to keep going for those who have supported and helped me, that acts as a motivator. I know it’s not true. People only really mind if you are safe and have a good time. For others outsiders were a distraction or a threat to personal safety, the journey was a very personal one. A whatsapp group with messages of support popping up on the handlebars was helpful for one person, someone else would hate the intrusion.

With all these suggestions it is horses for courses, you have to find what works for you. But for any event mental training is as important as the physical.

Inevitably this list will not be exhaustive but if one thing resonates for a reader then it’s been worth sharing.  We all gained something from our meeting and are slightly better equipped to ‘Just keep moving’ ….to the end, wherever that may be.

How do you plan your own training?

We can and do ride our bikes all year round, but if we wish to train to improve our performance, instead of ride purely for fun, then we need to understand the training process.  Endurance training is cyclical and is composed of periods differing in volume and intensity. Hence the term ‘periodization’ which was originally coined by the Romanian scientist Dr Tudor Bompa.

Before you start to construct your plan you need to know what you are aiming for and when you are starting. That gives you a date and a timescale. Your goal might be an event, a cycling holiday, a race or just being fitter than last year by the start of summer riding in May. It doesn’t matter. You also need to know where you are starting from, which can be hard. The best way perhaps is to look at how you were riding at your fittest this year and start by aiming to do about 60 – 70% of that in base phase.

There are at least five phases to the endurance training cycle as seen in the diagram – base, build, peak, taper, race, recovery. As it is presented here, it is circular so after recovery you start again. Similar to heart rate zone discussions you may find different terms and sub divisions used but the general principle holds good. In each of these phases what you are doing alters. Base is steady, easy stuff, general technique training, endurance rides. Build is where specificity starts to enter the picture and training increases in volume and intensity depending what your aim is. Annual strength training is maximised in Build phase. Time trials, audax events or hilly sportives will all require different approaches at this point. Peak is where the final hard work is done. Taper means everything reduces back so that you arrive at your event fresh, with good form, so that you can perform well. the length of taper will depend on the length of event. This is also true of the length of recovery which may take anything from a day to well over six weeks for a multi-day enduro event.

Continue reading “How do you plan your own training?”

The Golden Rules of Training

Training is a complicated puzzle and it is very hard to be objective about one’s own performance. Staying safe and getting the most out of our training process is a constant balancing act.  Here are some guidelines to help –

CONSISTENCY

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Consistency is key. The route to healthy, sustainable fitness is through the consistent application of the minimum amount of effort to produce the desired adaptations in our bodies. The boom and bust model so many of us find ourselves caught in does not produce long term, sustainable results. We should be aiming to see year on year improvements up to ten years after we start focused training. So if your heart rate is up a bit one morning take a couple of easy days until it balances out again. You could save yourself three weeks out with a chest infection. If you don’t have much time, or can’t be bothered, 20 minutes on the turbo spinning your legs out is better than nothing. Do that twice a week for a month and you have 2 hours forty minutes of training you wouldn’t have had otherwise. As a bonus you may find once you get on the turbo it’s not so bad and you can manage 45 minutes instead.  Just keep chipping away.

Continue reading “The Golden Rules of Training”

What is fitness?

‘I’ve gone to all this effort and I’m not even fit enough to achieve xxx’

This upset statement from one of my athletes on a downer really made me think and question ‘what is fitness?’

How do we measure it? What do we really mean when we think someone has a high level of fitness? Was it rational for the athlete to expect to achieve xxx? 

‘I want to go faster.’ Perhaps this seems a simple enough statement and is probably one of the ones we hear the most often.  But does that mean measuring and working to improve our FTP ( Functional Threshold Power) and successfully time trialling, or practicing VO2 max intervals to improve our ability to go with a break, or doing lots of endurance work to go faster over an ironman bike course. All valid aspirations, all variations on going faster and all need training for in very different ways.  Success at one will mean failure at the others….. so we need to be very clear where we are heading.

Continue reading “What is fitness?”

Fuelling on the bike

People often ask me how much they should eat on the bike when on a long ride. When I tell them they usually then say – ‘HOW MUCH!!?? I can’t possibly eat or drink that.’

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So here is a guide to fuelling on the bike – all I can provide is some basic guidelines and then you have to work it out for yourself through trial and error. Nutrition is complex and very individual; what works for one person will make someone else feel ill.

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Practice is crucial. Your body needs to practice being able to absorb nutrition and it needs to work out what it likes and doesn’t like.  It is not fun discovering what it doesn’t like on the day of an event.  So long training rides are about practicing nutrition as well as developing your aerobic base. If you constantly get it wrong in training you reduce your body’s ability to recover, compromise your immune system, potentially lose too much weight, lose power production, feel cold, lose your mojo, get sick. In an event you may vomit or just bonk – that means run out of energy and feel like the guy in the photo – not the feeling you have trained for months to attain.

Back to the question of HOW MUCH?  Ingest between 40g and 90g of carbohydrate an Continue reading “Fuelling on the bike”

Cycling Technique hints

Pedalling 

Aim for a cadence of between 80 and 100. Therefore if you are cycling inside I suggest aiming for 90. Just in case you have forgotten, cadence is the number of times you turn your pedals over in a minute. Cadence will fall when riding outside due to variations in the terrain, so practice higher cadence inside to accommodate this.  Practice cadence and variations in cadence. Pedal at a high cadence (100 – 120) in an easy gear to refine technique and train your neuro-muscular system to be more adaptable.  This makes holding a cadence of near 90 for general riding easier.

Think about more efficient pedalling. This is how you propel the bike and you do an awful lot of it, so the better it is the better your cycling. A two hour ride involves turning your pedals over 10,800 times if your cadence is 90. Think about pushing across the top of the stroke to improve the force in the drive downwards. These two are the most important parts of the pedal rotation. In order to put the power on early you need to have flexible joints so don’t forget that yoga and mobility work. Also don’t forget a decent bike fit.

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Position

Elements of style – toes pointing more or less ahead, knees pointing forwards, sit bones on your seat, bending forwards from hips, not middle of your back. Engage your core to hold a good position, this also takings strain off your back. Shoulder blades are down and shoulders relaxed, elbows slightly bent to act as shock absorbers and hands covering the brakes but relaxed. Look forwards to where you are going. Continue reading “Cycling Technique hints”

Heart Rate Zones Explained

 Heart Rate Zones for Mapdec Cycle Studio 

Within three minutes of a question on heart rate being asked on the Mapdec weekly check in we had neatly demonstrated the complexities of the subject. We had 3, 5 and 6 zone models, all developed by different people such as Friel and Steiler, and all in use. Not to mention those models which have 4a, 4b or 5a, b and c….I could go on. So we have taken a bit of a mish mash and come up with a working  Heart Rate Zone model.  This model uses the Sufferfest model used at Mapdec with one or two tweaks – no 4a and b zones, that’s just splitting hairs and I know no garmin which uploads 4a and b religiously onto Strava.

The takeaways are –

Continue reading “Heart Rate Zones Explained”

Training Stress Score explained. TSS

So far we have just been using Training Peaks as a diary of sessions. This is absolutely fine and this programme was set up to support people to exercise and stay healthy. However now we are starting to get a lot of questions around training to be fitter instead of purely exercising. The difference is outlined nicely in an article on the Mapdec App. If you are interested in the training aspect then please read on.  If not – STOP RIGHT NOW…. and continue to enjoy lots of varied exercise.

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Base training explained…

Why are we doing what we’re doing at Mapdec?

We are to some degree following The Training Cycle…..several of you have mentioned that you haven’t ever trained ‘properly’ and would like to know more about the process. So here I have tried to construct a thumbnail sketch.

You don’t have to consider yourself ‘an athlete’ to benefit from this process, many of us don’t hold that as a self image. You also don’t have to be heading to a main event such as the woman’s Kendal Cycle Club trip or the Kendal Cycle Club Mallorca trip to benefit from using the training cycle. You may just wish to arrive at the British summer feeling ready to enjoy your cycling, gardening and walking.

So, in outline, the training cycle lasts all year. It normally looks very roughly as described below. It should be noted that this year, due to the current situation, the Beginner’s Group is currently working in the Base phase. (May 2020) In a normal year people may well be in ‘Build’ by now and we may progress there, depending how long Covid 19 lasts. Continue reading “Base training explained…”