What’s The plan?
I recently publicly committed to having a go at road racing this year. So, I thought I had better get thinking about a training plan.
Before I could really decide on a plan, I needed an honest assessment of where I am now.
Where Am I?
I ride a bike pretty much every day of the week, and have done so for more than two years. I am currently a stay at home mum with one child in school full days and another in nursery half days. This means that I spend much of my day ferrying my children about. We live about 2 miles (by cycle path – not the most direct route) from the school. I am fortunate enough to have a cargo bike which means that I spend a fair amount of my day cycling, albeit very slowly. This adds up to around 70 miles Monday to Friday. I then usually ride for an hour each day at the weekend. In addition to this, once a month I go out for a long ride (around 50 miles) with my club, Hervelo. Over the Christmas holidays, I got reacquainted with my turbo trainer and started training with a bit more focus
On the subject of the cargo bike, we recently upgraded to an e-assist cargo bike after my problems with my knees got worse. This is fantastic, but it does mean that I am not working quite so hard when I am cycling. The cargo bike used to be all the strength training I needed – you need to be pretty strong to shift a massive bike loaded with a 5 year old and a 3 year old and all the stuff they seem to need to be able to leave the house.
So, I am reasonably fit but I have no great speed or ‘top end’ fitness which I think I need to be able to race. Endurance wise, it’s hard to say. I am on a bike eight to ten hours a week, but this tends to be in 15-30 minute bursts. I do not have a problem riding 50 miles once a month so maybe my endurance is all good.
Last year I used my lack of a race bike as an excuse not to race. It really was an excuse to be honest. I was never going to win races if I entered them, so what did it matter whether I rode a carbon bike or an old aluminium one? This year, I no longer have that excuse!
At long last I have a heart rate monitor which is reliable. My Garmin Vivoactive HR allows me to set zones and see all the data I could possibly want to see about what my heart is doing when I am training.
I have an old Tacx Flow turbo trainer which also measures power. I bought it second hand years and years ago and they don’t make them anymore. I have my suspicions that the power measurements are not all that accurate, but for the purposes of training sessions that does not really matter. If I know that 300w (as measured by the tacx) is about as much power as I can sustain for a 20 minute interval, then that is all I really need to know to be able to use the power readings to help my training. It doesn’t really matter if the tacx reading of 300w is in reality 100w or 500w, as long as 300w on my turbo today is the same as 300w on my turbo tomorrow.
So, I have a decent bike and all the training and monitoring aids I need to be able to follow a training plan.
I do have time to train. But I do not have time to train excessively.
The cycling I do for transport is fantastic. It gets me (and the kids) out in the fresh air, it is the most incredibly efficient form of sustainable transport and it is wonderful daily exercise. But, it’s not training. It keeps me fit but it will not help me to keep up in a race.
So I need to find time to actually train.
I have four afternoons a week when my son is at school and my daughter is in nursery. However, because of the timing, this is actually about an hour and a half a day for those four days. And this is the time when I cook the dinner, do a million loads of laundry, and lead Breeze rides. It is a bit tight for time to do a training session and I’m not sure I can turn up for school pick up un-showered after a turbo session! So that leaves evenings and weekends.
Evenings are not too bad in our house at the moment. Generally the children are settled in bed by 7pm. Friday and Saturday nights are date nights so they are out. Sunday I normally get out on the bike during the day That leaves four evenings – two for me and two for Mr Mummysgoneacycle. Perfect.
Weekends, I generally get out for an hour each day. Sometimes a bit more, but reliably an hour. Once a month I get out for a longer ride at the weekend.
I could, in theory, go out on my bike for longer on the weekends. However, much as I want to race, I also want to be a part of my family. I want to go out for family days and spend time the four of us. I want to be fair to my husband who also wants to train. This is part of my theory of finding the time. Point 3 – don’t be a dick.
So, I have two evenings a week and about two hours at the weekend. Plus a lot of slow hours on the cargo bike. Not all that much time, but possibly enough.
At this point I think my options are;
- Find something to fit in with this and see if it can be done. Or,
- Give up now and use lack of time as an excuse.
I tend not to give up easily.
Time For a Plan
There are hundreds of training plans out there. It’s a matter of finding one which works for you. I have used training plans in the past but I have always been aiming to time trial. I have also used training plans for focused running. This leaves me with a good idea what to look for in a training plan and the practicalities of using one. I still needed to find one which suits me.
I actually believe that, at my level, the detail of the training sessions is not as important as the knowledge that I am pushing myself. So, I could just make up sessions as I go. However, I know from past experience that following a plan works for me. Without a structured plan to follow, I tend to either do far too much and burn out, or repeatedly give myself excuses why today’s session shouldn’t be too hard.
My Past Training Plans
When I first got into time trialling, I used The Cyclists Training Bible by Joe Friel. This is a comprehensive approach to planning assessing and training for cycle racing. The book takes you step by step through questions to assess your strengths and weaknesses in order to focus your training. It then works through how to create a training plan based around the races you are targeting. I believe that this is one of the widest used training books for cyclists. Joe Friel is also one of the driving forces behind the training peaks software which is widely used by coaches. Joe Friel’s popularity is testament to how good his training principles and plans are.
At the time I used it, I loved The Cyclists Training Bible. As I have said before, I am a bit of a data junkie and I love a good spreadsheet. I spent a few happy hour pouring over race diaries and creating an amazing plan. I enjoyed doing the plan too and I definitely did get much faster. In fact, flicking through the book right now reminds me that I really must read it again as there is always something new to pick up from these books. When I find the time to do this, I will add a review to the Books About Bikes page.
There are two reasons why I am not going to use the Joe Friel Plans this year. One is simply that I fancy trying something new. The other is that I found the Joe Friel plan very involved. You follow the steps in the book to personalise your own plan so I suppose the plan is as involved as you make it. When I used it in the past, I was doing a lot of hours on the bike and other than work and husband, my life was all about cycling. Since Mr Mummysgoneacycle and I both cycle, I didn’t really have to fit cycling around time together as our weekends were normally centred around going out together on long rides. A great deal has changed for me since then, with the addition of two young children. Joe Friel also asks you to identify and prioritise the races you are going to enter. This is also a slight problem. While I do have a list of races I am considering, which races I actually make depends on family commitments. It is very hard to set anything in stone for the entire year.
The other plan I have used is from Time Trialling by Adam Topham. I really liked this book and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who competes in time trials or is considering doing so. I have used this book to plan my training since I have had children (despite never actually making it to a race!). What I really like about it is that Adam Topham is a fantastic time triallist but also clearly a very busy man. He takes the approach that whatever you are doing on the bike has to be a highly effective use of time so that the amount of time needed can be realistic. From the book I basically took three key sessions which I prioritised and then tried to complete each week. Very simple and very effective.
My reasons for not using the plan from Time Trialling this year is simply that I am not planning to time trial. Time trialling is all about getting up to a certain speed / pain level and sticking there for the distance you are covering. Also, the majority of the time trials I have targeted in the past have been 10 miles and 25 miles. Road races tend to be longer than this.
So, I need something between the all-consuming approach of my Joe Friel days and the bare minimalism of the Adam Topham approach.
Last year, Mr Mummysgoneacycle used The Time Crunched Cyclist by Chris Carmichael. He really liked it and said that it definitely worked and that it was easy to fit in around a busy family and work life. I do keep picking up the bool and meaning to read it. But something just doesn’t quite sit right with me about the fact that Chris Carmichael was personal coach to Lance Armstrong. I do not doubt that Lance had a fantastic training plan, but I am not sure that was the only thing that helped him…
My New Plan
The obvious place to look seemed to be British Cycling. Surely they must have a fair few experts on training working for them.
It turns out that there are all sorts of training plans freely available on the British Cycling website.
Ideally, I would be working towards the end of the 12 week off-season base builder plan right now. However, I am not. I am going to have a go at the 8 week pre-season training plan. The first events I am thinking of entering are actually 11 or 12 weeks off, but I am going to start now anyway. Past experience has taught me that there is always a week in a training plan when it all goes wrong. Whether this is down to illness or busyness doesn’t really matter. The advantage of having more weeks than you need for a plan is that you can afford to ‘pause’ the plan if it all goes horribly wrong for a while.
The plan looks pretty good. It is really well organised with lots of information. There is a two page overview document and a week per page expanded document. There are links to downloadable pages for each session. I have printed all this out and spent a happy half hour making a file which I can take out to the turbo with me.
The plan does have long rides scheduled for Sundays. These are down as 3+ hours or 2 hours on a rest week. This is not going to happen.
So, my aim is to find out if it is possible to follow a plan without the long rides (with endurance coming from cycling for transport instead) and still be capable of racing (and reaching the finish line) at the end of it? For anyone who is interested or considering trying the same thing, I am planning to post weekly updates on how the training is going. Keep checking under Mummy’s Training.
A Note About Coaching
I am a qualified Level 2 British Cycling Cycle Coach. You may therefore be wondering why I don’t just create my own training plan. Level 2 qualifies me to coach groups on technique. Level 3 qualifies coaches to create individual plans. While level 3 is my aim, I am not there yet.