Saturday, January 25, 2020

Not your average training week

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With a large part of December written off from a training point of view, due to illness, I admit I selfishly wanted to use a planned break in January to try to catch up on some lost training time.  And so after much toing and froing with my partner, we eventually settled on a week in Mallorca.

What we hadn’t quite planned for was how dead Mallorca is in the off-season and how the weather in early January is not necessarily a good indication of what it will be like in mid-January!

Arriving in Palma on Sunday morning, we were quickly transported up the island’s main arterial route to the northwest region of Alcudia.  Our apartment for the week was very nicely appointed and right on the beach, but a good 4km outside of the next town, Puerto D’Alcudia.   To call the area a ghost town would be an understatement.  It was clear enough that in summer, the area must be hugely busy, with tons of hotels, restaurants, cafes and more.  The problem, as we discovered, is that none of them bother to open in January!

Anyway, after building the bikes we ventured out to scout out the local area and discovered quickly that the main roads are fantastic – surfaces we can only dream of in the UK and (by and large) a motoring community who actually give cyclists space on the road.  It wasn’t warm, but the broken sunshine was enough to lift our spirits as we found a few quiet roads including a long steady climb called ‘Formentor’.  A great training climb as its perfectly manageable seated and just long enough to test the legs or offer the chance for intervals.

That night we decided to go in hunt of a local restaurant, hungry for some authentic tapas.  But after walking a good 4km all we had found that was open was a KFC and a Burger King!  We pressed on ahead and finally found a restaurant open in the marina part of Puerto D’Alcudia.  Oh, and we found the Team Sky hotel, complete with very flash trailers and a fleet of Jaguar XF Sportbrakes.

Seeing as the trip was, in part, a recce for the upcoming Ironman 70.3 race in May, on Monday we headed out on the bikes towards Pollenca and then on to the monastery at the top of Col de Femenia, near Lluc.   The climb is a good one, again steep enough to provide a real workout if you want it to, but also not so steep that you can’t pace yourself.   What became clear to me, however, was that I doubt very much I will be able to stay aero all the way up.  Even on my best effort, I only averaged about 18km/h for the climb, way below the 20-22km/h required to make being aero worthwhile.  Maybe if I can lose a little weight between now and then I can improve my speed.

We then took the dive back down the mountainside towards Inca, again part of the 70.3 course.  I loved the switchbacks and think it will be fantastic fun on a closed road.  That said, I am a little concerned about running wheels with a carbon braking surface as I think the braking is going to be critical to a fast descent time.  I’ll have to think about this between now and May.   After reaching Selva, we detoured from the 70.3 route and headed back to Alcudia cross-country.

The afternoon saw a nice steady run up to Alcudia and back.   My orthotics do seem to be helping my right knee, but they are causing blisters on my right foot, so that needs sorting!  Finally, we rounded off the day with a short sea swim (it was cold!).

First up on Tuesday was a set of run intervals set by my new coach, Dave Newport.  Dave’s approach is new to me and is based much more on feel than clock-watching.  I have no doubt he’ll be pushing me to hit certain paces as we progress, but for the moment it’s more about feeling my way and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable – if that makes any sense!

After that, we headed out on the bikes again but were greeted with a 28mph headwind as we cycled to Pollenca and on towards Lluc (being on the coast, we had no choice but to go against the wind!).  I’m not sure I can recall ever being on a perfectly flat road barely able to hold a speed of 22km/h, that’s how strong the wind in our faces was.   It was a pretty dispiriting experience, to be honest.

About halfway from Pollenca to the start of the climb up to Lluc, my partner Sam had had enough and she signaled for me to go on alone. So I ended up making the climb up to Lluc and then on towards Sa Colabra.  Near the top, the weather turned and so I made the decision to turn back and managed to get back as far as Pollenca before the heavens well and truly opened.

On the plus side, the wind was now at my back and I was pretty much hurtling towards home at 40km/h plus.  Coming to the main roundabout outside Alcudia, I could see it was clear so made my way across, turned the bars and leaned in to take the corner… and suddenly I was sliding along the road on my left hip. Ouch.  The bike had completely gone from under me and ended up about 10 feet in front of me, in the middle of the roundabout.  Luckily, drivers had seen me come a-cropper and had stopped.  I moved as quickly as I could to pick up the bike and walk to the side of the road – the pain of embarrassment worse than any physical discomfort.

I could feel nothing was broken and my clothing all seemed to be intact, so I assume there wouldn’t be much damage underneath either.  So there I stood, soaking wet, cold and (if I’m honest) a little in shock.  I mounted the bike, just wanting to get home.  And despite riding about half the speed home, the back end of the bike stepped out again twice more (thankfully I did a better job of controlling the slides).  It seems that while Mallorcan roads are fantastic when dry, they are akin to skating rinks when wet!

Getting back to the apartment, I stripped off to find a nice patch of road rash on my left hip (surprising that the shorts didn’t tear) and my left pinkie finger had swollen to about twice its normal size.  Still, I could move it, so it wasn’t broken.  I had a small graze on my left calf, but apart from that was relatively unscathed.  There but for the grace of God went I….

According to Sam, it was karma for leaving her alone after Pollenca (she had arrived home just before the rain and unscathed).

Despite being pretty damned sore, we were determined not to miss the opportunity to get the training hours in, so Wednesday was declared an easy day and we rode across country to Selva (nice and flat, much less wind!) before taking a coffee stop in Inca.  The plan then was to find the second part of the 70.3 bike course and ride it back to Alcudia.  It turns out the second section of the bike course is great – flat and fast!  I think the main issue is going to be ensuring you don’t blow up on the climb up to Lluc, so that you’ve still got fuel in the tank to make the most of the fast roads back to Alcudia later in the ride.

We then stopped for lunch in Alcudia old town before realizing that somewhere along the ride I had lost the 20 Euro note I had in my back pocket. We didn’t have enough money to pay for lunch; oops!  So, I left Sam at the table and got into TT mode as I stormed the 5km back to the apartment for more cash.  Attempting TT-efforts less than 10 minutes after you’ve finished an anchovy pizza is not something I’d recommend… but I was back in less than 20 minutes and we paid for lunch before taking a more leisurely-paced ride back to the apartment.

A nice easy hour-long run finished off the training day before we rode back into Alcudia for dinner in the evening.

Thursday’s first session was another variable-paced run, this time building up to 1 minute reps at faster-than-5km pace.   I won’t deny I was feeling pretty heavy-legged after all the cycling of the last few days.  My orthotics were hurting the blisters again – and I was annoyed with myself that I had chosen not to bring the regular insoles with me.

In the afternoon, we headed out for a steady hills ride, making our way to Port de Pollenca via Sa Pobla and then over the 400m Coll de Sa Creueta climb to Formentor.  We headed down the other side, a fabulous set of switchbacks with a near-perfect road surface.  However, the further we went the worse the road surface became and about half-way to the cape, we turned back and climbed back up to the top again.  Back to Alcudia and that was a nice easy 61km of riding.

Friday started with another nice easy run before we headed back for one more charge up the Coll de Femenia to Lluc. My plan for this ride was to see how hard I could push the climb up to Lluc but still have enough in reserve to attack the downhill to Inca and then onto the fast second half of the 70.3 course.   In the course of the climb I learned three things:

1) I need to lose some weight!
2) I need a rear cassette with at least a 25, if not 27, climbing ring (my road bike has a 23-tooth currently)
3) I can push about 160bpm for the whole climb without killing myself

My current fitness levels, plus a heavy(ish) road bike meant that 160bpm for the climb translated to about 16-17km/h.  Not too bad, but again lessons learned included first that I need to be a LOT fitter on race day in May and that, friends who had suggested you could go fast enough to warrant staying aero for the whole climb were having a larf.  I seriously doubt even on my race bike I could make a 6-7km/h improvement.

At the top of the hill, we regrouped and then headed off towards Sa Calobra, since I’d been told it was both an amazing descent and a great climb back out.  As we neared the Coll des Reis, before dropping towards Sa Calobra, we got passed by one of the Team Sky jags (with that funny horn sound they use in the TdF) and figured the chaps must be out on a ride and coming up behind us.  We started scanning the road behind and sure enough there was a small group of blue-black figures climbing the hill behind us.  To our surprise, they hadn’t caught us by the summit, so we stopped and got a photo of them going into the descent.

We set off to follow them, but were then told the road was closed for filming! Apparently, some TV show or advert featuring the Sky riders was being filmed and we weren’t deemed photogenic enough to be extras (I’m joking about the last bit).  So instead we headed back towards Lluc and then had another recce of the descent into Inca before a cross-country jaunt back home.

Our last day in Mallorca was supposed to be sunny. Which of course meant it was grey and windy. But at least the temperature had risen to a balmy 16 degrees or so.  Warm enough for shirt-sleeves for a change (it was funny watching all the pros in the full winter weather gear while Sam and I rode in shorts all week).

I think we’d both had enough of climbing for the week, so we decided Saturday would be a flat ride down the coast towards Arta.  Again, the roads were great and despite a headwind, we were making OK progress.  Not far from Arta we caught a small peloton which turned out to be a bunch of 50-something local (riding some VERY nice bikes including a Di-2 equipped Madone) riders.  We joined the back of the peloton while getting some food and drink on board, then started making our way through.  This brought some kind-natured ribbing from the old boys, especially when they realized they were being overtaken by a girl!

About two or three minutes after passing the guys, it seems a small bunch of them had decided to play with the Brits and we were joined by five or six riders eager to press on. This wasn’t in our ‘easy ride’ plan, but what the hell.  We spent the next 10-15km having fun chainganging with the locals, sprinting up hills and pushing on the flats. It was a total blast and to give them their credit, the old boys were a lot fitter and faster than they first appeared!  As we waved ‘Adios’ at a junction, the guys all gave Sam the thumbs up; it seems they were impressed with her riding.

We then settled back to a more civilized pace towards home, enjoying the warmer weather and a little tailwind to keep our speeds up.

Saturday was rounded off with another run, this time building from an easy pace to progressively faster paces over the space of an hour.  Despite heavy legs, I felt I had more energy than mid-week, so enjoyed pushing on a little.

We were up early on Sunday to finish packing and then head to the airport.  Flying into Bristol it was surprising to see just how much snow had fallen while we were away.  Even more fun was digging the Evoque out of the snow in the car park!

A nice easy 60 minute run in the Snow in the afternoon and that was that, my biggest training week ever was done.  What a shame I can’t do that every week!

Over the Sunday to Sunday week (OK, that’s actually eight days), I did a total of 28 hours and 34 minutes of training. More than twice my normal training volume.

Cycling: 543.2km
Running: 76.6km
Swimming: 2km (erm, the sea was much colder than I expected!)

SiS WinterAcademy takeaways
With a 28-hour training week, the normal rules kind of go out of the window.  A conservative estimate suggests that I burned around 16,800 calories through training alone (plus the usual 2,000 or so calories burned daily as part of normal metabolism).  As such, I made it a point to get an SiS REGO Rapid Recovery shake into me after every ride or harder run – not only for the recovery itself, but to make sure I had fuel in the tank for the next session, which was often only an hour or two away.

I also took gels on the rides, at the rate of one every 45-60 minutes (unless it was a super-easy ride) and had a mix of SiS Hydro tablets in one bottle and a carb mix in another.  As I read in Bradley Wiggins’ book – eating on the bike is not so much about replacing carbs as stocking up for the next hour or more.  You need to think about eating forward, if that makes sense.

It was a shame I could not lay my hands on any of the SiS GO gels with Carnitine for the longer rides, as their increased fat-burning qualities could have potentially been ideal for the type of riding I was doing. As previously, I have found the SiS products to be good quality and easy on the digestive system.

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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