This week has been week one following the British Cycling 8 week pre-season training plan.
In a Nutshell
Week one went well. I completed all the sessions I intended to do. The Sunday session had to be modified, but I always knew this would be so. Sitting writing this on Sunday night, my legs are tired. They feel like they weigh about a tonne each. I am definitely ready for a rest day. I am taking this as a good sign that I have worked hard this week.
I have always just pedalled fairly easily for 10 minutes as a warm up on the turbo. However, British Cycling suggest 20 minutes and have their own warm up session. I thought I would give this a go.
It was not as easy as pedalling easy for 10 minutes!
It took a while to settle on a gear to do this in. The session plan suggests using the big chain ring, half way up the rear cassette. This was actually quite tough and I had to remind myself that this was just a warm up. I backed down a couple of gears and all was good.
It did feel a bit like the warm up was a session in itself and I was a bit worried that I would be too tired to complete the sessions after it. However, it did seem to work well. At the end of the full sessions I felt like I had pretty much given as much as I could. The structured warm up also had the great advantage that it made 20 minutes feel like quite a short time. The changes in cadence kept the warm up interesting. On the turbo trainer this is half the battle!
Tuesday’s session was a threshold test. The aim of this test is to establish the highest physical intensity a rider can sustain for around an hour. This is your ‘functional threshold’. Heart rate and (ideally) power data is recorded for the test. This information allows you to set personalised training zones for heart rate and power. Since the rest of the sessions in the plan use these zones, this is pretty important.
Threshold sessions have been a central part of my time trial training over the past couple of years. In these sessions I would warm up, then ride at my threshold level for 50 – 60 minutes. In the past I have done this at least once a week. However, I have never been all that scientific about it. I have always just picked a power value which I think I can sustain for that time and tried it. If I could not complete the session I would repeat it another day at a lower power level. If I finished the session feeling like I could have done more I would repeat it at a higher power level. Over time, this gave a pattern and enabled me to get a sense of when it was time to repeat the session at a higher power level and reset my zones accordingly due to improvements in my fitness. Once I got a reliable heart rate monitor I used heart rate zones to back up my power data.
Not very scientific but it worked for me and I definitely improved.
This time I thought I would use the proper session plan and be a bit more scientific.
It was a huge advantage having done this type of session recently because I started out with a good idea of what power I was aiming for. If fact, I made a slight error which proved to be very useful. I didn’t bother checking my records because I remembered doing a turbo session recently with intervals aiming at 330w. I knew that I had completed it and that it felt tough so I decided to aim at this again.
15 minutes into the 30 minute hard effort, I was struggling. It was then that I realised that 330w had been my effort level for a 20 minute interval. I also remembered feeling pretty wrecked after that 20 minutes. Oops. 300w should have been what I was aiming for.
This left me with two choices:
- Fire on anyway and hope my legs and lungs did not explode before the 30 minutes were up
- Give up and start again on a another day.
As I have said before, I don’t give up easily!
I made it through the whole 30 minutes at 330w without my power tailing off at the end. I felt pretty broken by this point, but that is kind of the point.
Armed with my heart rate and power data from the test, I could use the British Cycling online calculator to work out my training zones.
I am now scientifically zoned. Bring on the intervals!
One day a week (Monday) is a rest day on the plan. With four training sessions a week the remaining two days are rest days or cross training on the plan. Both cross training and rest days for me involves ferrying the children about on the cargo bike. This is my version of ‘active recovery’. It’s not optional because attending school is not optional!
Thursday’s session was 2 x 20 minutes. This meant:
- A 20 minute warm up
- 20 minutes at threshold power and heart rate
- 10 minutes easy pedalling as recovery
- Another 20 minutes at threshold power and heart rate
- 10 minutes easy pedalling as recovery.
Having done my threshold test on Tuesday I felt confident in the zones I was aiming for.
This time, I found the warm up easier. Hurrah! Then I realised that I was in the wrong gear. Oops! Once I switched onto the big chain ring where I was meant to be, actually it still isn’t that easy. That said, the warm up time does pass much quicker with the changes in effort to break the time up.
I found it easier to use the numbers from my power meter during the 20 minutes intervals. It is well known that heart rate lags behind effort. This means that during a 20 minute effort, it might take the first 5 minutes to get my heart rate up to threshold levels. If I absolutely gun it when the interval starts, I can get my heart rate up the the level I am aiming for much quicker. However, I know for a fact that I will not manage the full 20 minutes. Gunning it from the start to get my heart rate up quickly would also mean that I am working above the target power zone which means that the 20 minutes will not be the steady hard effort it should be. This does not mean that I don’t use heart rate during the interval. The power I am aiming for is a range, so I used the heart rate information to check I was working hard enough. If my heart rate wasn’t well into the threshold zone by 5 minutes in, I upped the power and watched to check that my heart rate was then rising, but not rising too much.
The first interval felt far too easy when I started out. Thank goodness for knowing my power zones because the same effort soon started to feel pretty tough. I made it through the 20 minutes but I don’t think I could have done much longer. The second interval was tough too. Strangely, the first 10 minutes felt worse than the second 10 minutes. I think it just took that long to get my legs properly shifting again.
So, another session successfully completed.
On Saturday the plan gives the option of a ‘bonus ride’. Since I do have time to ride each day most weekends I am planning to do these sessions when time allows.
This week’s bonus ride was VO2 efforts. This is supposed to be an outdoor session but I find it much easier to complete structured sessions on the turbo trainer. I can just never seem to get my head around finding a suitable course on the road. I also find it hard to monitor heart rate data because it comes from my watch which is not the easiest to see on the road in full winter kit. I do not have a power meter on my road bike and I am also not a huge fan of the state of the roads for riding in January. Doing this session on the turbo also meant that it didn’t matter that it was going dark as I was riding it.
This was a long session; 1 hour 45 minutes in total. It really didn’t feel that long though. Because I am used to time trial training which often involves doing the same thing for fairly long periods, the relatively short intervals in the session helped to keep my interest (as did season 8 of ER).
I completed the full session. It felt pretty tough, especially the last few intervals and my legs are feeling it now. I hit the target power zones in all the intervals and aimed towards the top of these zones. However, my heart rate never quite made it above the zone below. My heart rate was certainly going up so I’m not concerned that this is a sign of overtraining. I also felt like I was going as hard as I could during the intervals. I am therefore just not going to worry about this. To me this shows why it is so useful to have power and heart rate information during these sessions.
I also hit on a useful trick during this session. I sometimes find it hard to keep track of how many intervals I have done, especially as they get harder. This session called for 6 x 3 minute intervals with 3 minutes recovery in between and 4 x 2 minute intervals with 4 minutes recovery in between. I cannot be the only person who finds it hard to remember if I have done 3 or 4 so far surely? I happened to have a jar of glass beads on the shelf in the garage (primary school teachers hoard all kinds of weird and wonderful things!). I put these next to the bike and took one out of the jar after each interval. Genius, if I do say so myself.
Sunday: Not a Day of Rest!
On the plan for today was a 3 hour + endurance ride which was to include tempo and threshold efforts. In the diary for today was leading a Breeze ride in the morning, checking a venue for a club coaching session next week and a ride planning meeting with my club. This meant that I was going to get a fair bit of time on the bike for the day, but that I was highly unlikely to include a 3 hour endurance ride. As I have said before, these long Sunday rides are the ones I am going to struggle to do.
Over the course of the day I did just over two and a half hours on the bike, at varying speeds and effort levels. I am actually happy with that and not worried about not completing the planned session. Especially so because I did the ‘bonus session’ on Saturday. As I have already said, I find it very difficult to do structured training on the road and am happier doing these kind of sessions on the turbo.
I was really good to get out on the road and on my road bike. It was a lovely day and it was great to be out.
It also reminded me that it takes time to get the hang of any particular bike. I found that I misjudged my gear choices and didn’t handle the bike all that well. This is hardly surprising since I have not been out on it for a couple of months!
So my plan is to carry on doing the midweek turbo sessions and the Saturday bonus sessions on the turbo. On Sundays I am going to aim to get out on the road bike, even if it is for just an hour. When I am out on the road I am going to focus on my bike handling. I am also going to aim to push my effort on the hills as climbing is not my strongest point.
Bring on week two!