Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Must be doing something right?!

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For all my whining about having post-race blues, I neglected to mention that actually things haven’t been going all that badly lately!

In fact, I’ve managed to set both PBs for my 10-mile and 25-mile cycling TTs, as well as a new course PB on the 5km Newbury parkrun.   If I sound surprised, it’s because I am.  For various reasons – not least of which is the training program set by my coach – I’ve done little or no speed work lately; just a massive focus on steady-rate aerobic work.


Great for building my aerobic engine, I would have thought, but not sure great for giving me the edge in racing conditions.  Seems I was perhaps wrong.

On 21st May, I competed in the local 10-mile TT on the H10/1 course near Newbury.  Despite it not being quite perfect conditions (although far from terrible!), I recorded my first sub-23 minute time for ten miles (22:53, to be precise).  It’s not a hilly course (100m of climbing over the ten miles), but nevertheless I was pleased with the time.

Then on May 31st I recorded my first sub-19 minute parkrun at the Newbury course (18:58).  Again, not a particularly fast time in the grand scheme of things, and some 30 seconds off my overall 5km PB – but Newbury isn’t an especially kind course and in my previous four attempts I’d failed to break the 19-minute barrier.  Again, no speed work on the run recently, just a moderate amount of steady-state running.

And finally, on Wednesday this week I finally got a sub-58 minute time for a 25-mile Time Trial (57:49), despite encountering heavy traffic a couple of times through the ride. It was something of a breakthrough ride for me, although many things didn’t quite go to plan!

First I couldn’t get the Garmin Vectors to ‘talk’ to the Edge 500 head unit, resulting in a little roadside panic.  Eventually it worked –b2ap3_thumbnail_tt.jpg and, if I’m honest, I’m still getting use to riding to power anyway, so mid-ride they’re not much more than pretty numbers!

Second I developed some kind of creaking in the frame that made the whole bike sound like a bag of bolts.  Having stripped down, greased and re-tightened everything I can think of, I have a feeling it was actually the QR skewer on the rear wheel.  At least I hope so, as that’s a lot easier and cheaper to fix than a new BB86 bottom bracket. Either way, the noise was pretty distracting through the ride and I kept expecting something to break.

And finally, I was still riding the 12-28 cassette that coach had made me fit to the rear disc for the climb in Mallorca.  It turns out it was just fine for a long 14km climb, but the spacing between the gears was far too wide for the flatter sections of the HCC247 25-mile TT course.  I found myself having to choose whether to spin away at 104rpm or change up and bring the cadence down to around 90rpm.  Not great when my ‘sweet spot’ is 92-98!

Anyway, I finally relented and took a trip to buy a lockring removal tool and chain whip.  And with the (mostly-flat) Cotswold113 coming up this weekend, I have changed the cassette to an 11-23.  Hopefully that should at least keep me spinning in my sweet spot on the flats!

So what’s led to the PBs?  Well, like I say, it’s difficult to say. Maybe there is actually some truth in the philosophy that aerobic training is the most important part of the athlete’s arsenal. Maybe all my worrying about lack of speed work has been proven wrong.

As a side note, on the bike I have changed from 172.5mm cranks to 170mm.  The intention was to see whether I could stop my right hip from cramping when pushing over 300 Watts towards the end of the TT.  Well, it didn’t work. I’m still cramping.  But I also have two new PBs under my belt, so it would be difficult to say the switch has hurt me.  I think I’ll stick with the 170s for now!

For those of you out there who don’t TT regularly, I really would recommend it.  Even if you’re an Ironman triathlete, getting a feel for what it’s like to really push your bike power to the limit for a 10 or 25 mile TT is (I believe) a great training tool.  Not only are you developing your power, you’re also getting to experience and understand what your body feels like on the ragged edge. And that, in my experience, makes it easier to gauge your effort in a race, when you know you’ve still got x kilometers to cycle and then an x-mile run off the back of it.  Unless you’ve taken yourself to that absolute max, I don’t believe you can gauge it quite right (I’m sure some people who ride ‘to power’ would disagree, but then I’d find more reasons to TT, even if you just think of it as a kind of intervals session).

Lots of cycling clubs hold open TTs you can turn up, or joining a cycling club is rarely expensive (some clubs restrict all or certain races to members, like Clifton in York).  I think my local club (Newbury RC) costs something silly like £12 a year and then £3 per race.

So get out there while we still have light evenings; I promise you won’t regret it, and you might also find your bike times tumbling as you get stronger and fitter!.

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Matt Fisher runs - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a two-times qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs