A Woman’s Guide to Racing – Part 3
What training should I do?
By now, you may have joined a club, maybe obtained British Cycling membership and even bought a licence and perhaps you’ve had a look at the various events that you are thinking of entering. The next question is: what training should I do? This is a “BIG” question! So with that in mind, I have enlisted the help of a couple of cycling coaches who can help you in your hour of need.
Michelle Bergstrand-Evans, She Cycles Coaching Limited
First up is Michelle Bergstrand-Evans of She Cycles Coaching Limited who is a British Cycling Level 3 coach and who has over 23 years of racing experience. I asked Michelle for her top tips for women and this is what she had to say:
“There I was, sat in my favourite ‘post ride’ café, devouring a well-earned slice of cake and savouring a lovely frothy, warm cappuccino, when, one of the café’s employees asked if I was a cyclist. I figured the fact I was dressed from head to toe in my finest cycling attire and having minutes before left my hefty winter road bike lent against the café frontage, was a slight clue, that, yes, I was a cyclist….a female cyclist at that !!! We engaged in conversation. The waitress explained very enthusiastically that she was on a post-Christmas fitness regime and had a love of cycling, but wasn’t too fit and wanted to enjoy riding her bike faster, longer and harder…..What could I advise her? Well, I came up with five training tips for the female cyclist (well six actually, as you’ll see!)
“A hugely important issue which is so often is overlooked when starting out as a cyclist is the fit of one’s bike! A correct fitting machine allows for comfort, performance, safety and reduces the risk of injury. 85% of cyclists experience some form of pain in the knees, neck, shoulder, and wrist, hand, posterior or back. If the bike is the wrong size/ set-up, the rider will end up trying to fit their bike, rather than the bike fit them, which will compromise performance. An inefficient and uncomfortable position can lead to permanent injuries. Also, a proper fitting bike is easier to handle, reducing the risk of crashes.
“Another important issue relating to female cyclists and comfort is the choice of bike saddle. The correct saddle is so important for the enjoyment of an enjoyable, ride to the result of a race. The wrong saddle will cause all sorts of issues, basically it’ll cause untold pain that only a woman would understand:-/ So, which saddle? To be honest, it really is down to personal choice; however, I would suggest to any female cyclist that a female specific saddle really is the way to go, as they take account of the female anatomy (wider sit bones). There are so many out there, and time spent researching will be time well spent. I would suggest popping into your local bike shop and asking to try out the female specific saddles they have.
WHAT TO WEAR!
“There is nothing worse than setting off on a training ride/social ride and realising, within a few miles that you have over or under dressed. I have a rule of thumb when it comes to deciding what to wear. Firstly, CHECK THE WEATHER FORCAST! Then, if it’s chilly, layer up. A good base layer is so important. If you really feel the cold, wear a set of arm warmers under your base layer. If it’s really very cold, I wear a skin suit. This really does bring an extra layer of warmth. Ensure you wear a good pair of Roubaix thermal tights and wind proof soft shell jacket. I’ve discovered the benefits of two pairs of overshoes in the cold….marvellous! Not forgetting thermal gloves. Its best to buy a pair a size too big as this allows for warm air to circulate around the fingers to keep them toasty warm. Finally, the head, a buff to cover the ears underneath your helmet works a treat. Not so good for the hair, but it will keep you warm. As for warmer weather. I will tend to put on what I think is necessary, then stand outside, If I feel warm before I’ve begun to ride, I have too much on. Unless it’s 40 degs, then wear enough to be decent and don’t forget the sun cream! Remember, ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET and gloves or mitts.
HAVE A GOAL
“Why do we set goals? Well, goal setting, whatever they may be, is the first step towards improving as a cyclist. Goals will give you direction and purpose to what you are doing, this in turn enables the rider to define their training strategy and plan. Your goal may be to finish a Sunday club run for the first time. It may be to podium in a National event.
When setting your goals, they must be:
- Realistic – the goal must be something that is possible for you to achieve, otherwise you’ll become de-motivated if you’re unable to achieve your desired goal.
- Measurable – You must be able to quantify your goal. For example, you must be able to say ‘I did X, so I achieved my goal’.
- Challenging – your goals must stretch and push you to greater heights, otherwise you won’t see any gains. Goal setting is there to improve you as a cyclist.
- Yours – your goals are personal to you, they are there to motivate you. A common mistake from riders is to set the same goal as that of their training partner/team mate. Furthermore, when setting your personal goal, think of a long term goal, maybe two years hence, such as ‘in two years I will be fit and confident enough to finish a National Women’s Road race’,or finish a particularly challenging sportive. The long term goal setting will enable you to set short term objectives, such as entering a Sportive for the first time, or completing a session you’ve never been able to complete before. These short-term goals will enable you to attain your long-term aims. Finally, setting and achieving goals has a huge impact on motivation; regular success = lots of smiles.
” Cycling is fun….competitive cycling is a blast. However, as you improve, at times, you’ll find your desire to improve will overtake your ‘common sense’, as many riders make the mistake of riding too hard, mistakenly thinking that continuous hard training will result in improved results. This may be the point where the rider decides they need someone qualified to guide their training to enable them to continue to achieve their goals. The best resource is a coach, someone who can get to know you over time and you get to know them. A coach will devise a training plan according to your goals and lifestyle and will communicate with you on a regular basis, as communication is the corner stone to an effective coach/rider relationship. The coach will prepare a plan with the correct level of endurance, interval and conditioning work, as well as advise on nutrition, psychology, recovery and sometimes the shopping! A coach does cost money, but is often money very well spent. If the cost is too great, joining a local cycling club and picking the brains of experience riders is always a good start….
FIND A GROUP
“Cycling on your own can be a very peaceful experience, particularly if you work in a pressured environment or have noisy children, however, one of the benefits of cycling, is it is, at times a very sociable activity. I would suggest that any rider wanting to improve or even just make friends with like-minded people joins a local cycling club. Not only will riding with other riders develop your social side, but it will develop your riding skills as you will be mixing with cyclists of various abilities and experiences. Riding in a group will also improve not only your handling skills, but being able to ride ‘further/faster/longer’ will do wonders for your fitness and confidence. One word of warning, beware of the ‘weekend warrior’, someone who takes any training ride as a race, to the detriment of other riders and sometimes your training aspirations. Or failing that, start your own group!
THE GUILT BOX
“Now this point is an extra and aimed at those riders who have families/partners/children. As a female cyclist, at any level, you will find at times, when you’ve planned to ride, you may battle with a ‘guilt trip’ as your position of mother/wife/girlfriend has been put to one side. I would suggest, when it is your cycling time, or ‘me’ time. Imagine you have a ‘guilt box’. Remove the guilt from your head, put it into the box, put the lid firmly on the box and put to one side. You are entitled to ‘do your thing’, without distraction. Think only about completing your session and worry about nobody but yourself….HAVE GUILT FREE FUN, ….when you’ve finished your session, your partner, boss and kids will have you back….everyone’s happy then! And just remind your kids what a fantastic role model you are. Remind your partner/husband how fit you look and mention to your boss how motivated you must be to want to train and improve yourself!
“To be honest, the above list only scratches the surface. However, I think the above six points cover the important factors that will make cycling far more enjoyable for the female cyclist. As with many activities/sports that are entered into as a novice, there is a huge learning curve to scale. This shouldn’t put you off. It’s exciting, learning new skills, making new friends. Even the most accomplished cyclist will learn need to revisit their skills and continue to develop them. So, off you go…….ENJOY ….”
Huw Williams, La Fuga
Next up is Huw Williams, who has been organising the sessions at the Cyclopark venue in Kent for women, under the #fanbackedwomenscycling umbrella. Huw is a British Cycling Level 3 coach, and is a director of La Fuga Cycling Academy (lafuga.cc). As Huw has been helping women start out on the road racing scene, I asked him to give you an insight into what happens in the race and what you can do to keep up. Here is what Huw has to say:
“If you’ve been reading the previous posts in this series you’ll have a good idea about the way in which cycle racing in the UK is structured, what kind of races are available to you and how to go about setting some ‘SMART’ goals in order to prepare for them. For the novice racer though, that first event can be more than a little daunting and the small step onto your first start line can be a massive leap into the unknown if you don’t know what’s coming. So in this short article we’ll take a look at what a typical first race looks like, what you can expect to happen and how you can prepare for it.
“In your first race you’ll probably be riding with 3rd and 4th category racers on a closed-road circuit and it’ll last anywhere between 40 and 90 minutes. In your mind you probably envisage a race which looks like a mini Tour de France stage with a perfectly compact peleton of riders winding it’s way around the various laps until the bell goes and there’s a mad sprint for the points at the finish. I hate to be the one to tell you that this is not going to happen. What’s going to happen is that the gun will go and the stronger riders will occasionally attack, winding up the speed when you least want them to, and splitting the pack until there are only a few riders left capable of contesting the sprint at the end. This will happen repeatedly until there are riders strung out all over the road in ones and two’s, many riding individual time trials to the finish. So a novice race often more closely resembles a disorganized club-run than a stage of a grand tour and the reason this happens is that so many riders despite being reasonably well trained, are unprepared for the intensity of the attacks, get dropped and quickly end up riding on their own.
How fast is FAST?
“Consider this fairly typical question recently posted on a women’s racing group forum page; “I have never raced before and would love to start but have no idea how fast I need to be. What sort of speed do the cat 3/4’s go at?” This typifies the problem. The question is miss-directed as the speed the 3/4s go at can be anything from moderate club-run pace to eyeballs out sprinting. And therein lies the problem, it can go from one extreme to the other several times in the space of a few minutes and if riders aren’t prepared for it your race can be over in the first couple of minutes. So more realistically the question should be; “How fast do I need to be able to go for short bursts in order not to get dropped?”
“From our example of a typical race scenario, you can hopefully see that training which targets a uniform speed is not what’s required in this kind of race. More realistically, what’s required is the ability to go VERY fast, repeatedly, in order to stay with a given group. It’s not uncommon for a rider in a one-hour circuit race to have to produce as many as 20-30 efforts of around 80% of their maximum power in order to stay in touch with the leaders. So it’s a question of going VERY hard, then recovering quickly in order to go VERY hard again. Suddenly sitting on a turbo trainer or in a group of riders at a steady ‘x’ mph doesn’t make a lot of sense does it?
“The good news is that as we know this is going to happen, we can train much more specifically to prepare for it so that it doesn’t come as so much of a shock when it does, and you have the tools to deal with it. And remember, if all this sounds like its going to be very intense (believe me it is), it’s going to be just as intense for everyone else in the race. So if you’re training specifically for the requirements of this kind of racing, and others in the race are not, you’re going to have a big advantage when the gun goes.
“So here are a list of the key elements needed for your first road race and how to go about training for them.
What is it? Firstly you need to be able to complete race distance, and an ‘endurance’ event, as opposed to a ‘sprint’ event is anything that lasts over a minute.
How do I train it? Simple, This is where your longer rides either with a group or riding solo at moderate pace are necessary in order to develop a good ’endurance’ base.
2) Short Term Muscular Endurance
What is it? Think of this as an extended sprint, when riders attack, and try to break away, you need to be able to sustain a hard muscular contraction for a minute or so in a big gear in order to stay with them.
How do I train it? Practice 1-2 minute intervals on the turbo or on the road in progressively bigger gears, with several minutes easy-spinning recovery between them. Try to get your cadence up to around 100rpm and match it each time you increase the gear.
What is it? The initial jump when an attack goes – you need to be able to get up to top speed, fast. As an example, if two race cars each have a top speed of 180mph, the one that gets to the finish line first is the one that REACHES that top speed first as it spends more time AT that top speed – so even though you might have the ability to ride as fast as the other rider, she’s going to ride away from you if you can’t cover that initial burst of power.
How do I train for it? Practice very short, explosive sprints of just 10 seconds. Ride along at 15-20mph then jump out of the saddle and drive the gear up to full speed as quickly as possible but ease off after just 10 seconds and ensure at least 3 minutes of easy spinning recovery between intervals. Use a variety of gears for these, you never know what point an attack might go at in a race and might not be able to select your desired gear. These intervals are great to include on longer rides on the road.
4) Lactate tolerance?
What is it? When constantly being asked to ride at high pace, as well as repeatedly going close to max for short bursts in order to cover attacks, your heart rate remains very high even when you try to recover by sitting in the bunch. This means high levels of lactate accumulation and high levels of discomfort.
How do I train for it? Unlike the previous intervals, where you allow several minutes for recovery in order to produce the next hard effort, lactate tolerance is about making near maximal efforts with minimal recovery periods. This is ideal for 60 minute turbo training sessions. To start with, to a good warm up and simply ride at 90% effort for 30 seconds followed by one-minute recovery easy spinning. Keep this going for a 15 minute ‘set’, recover for five minutes then do two another set. This develops both your physical ability to recover from the efforts and psychological courage in the face of repeated hard efforts. Progress this session gradually by extending the length and number of sets, and/or reducing the recovery times between intervals.
5) Warm up
What is it? The process by which you ready your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system for the effort that is about to follow. The warm up is hugely maligned by inexperienced racers who make the cardinal sin of believing that they need to save every ounce of effort for the race proper. The result? Someone makes an early attack and riders are not sufficiently warmed up enough to be able to cover it. It’s called oxygen kinetics – the speed at which your cardiovascular system can deliver oxygen-rich blood to muscles that suddenly demand a huge amount of it because you’ve asked them to work so hard, so quickly. If you’re not sufficiently warmed up the speed and amount of oxygen moving to your muscles is compromised and you’ll be playing catch-up for half the race while your body tries to come to terms with the intensity of what you’re asking it to do.
How do I train for it? Simple, formulate a set-warm up which you implement before every race and training session. A good rule of thumb is ‘the shorter the race, the longer the warm up.’ You need to put in place a series of ‘steps’ designed to rasie your heart rate to very close to the kind of intensity you are going to experience in the early part of the race as well as turning the legs at similarly high cadences. Do this very gradually and finish the warm up with some 10-second maximal sprints with 3-minute recoveries between them.
“Hopefully this gives you an idea of what goes on in a race and as if that wasn’t enough we haven’t even touched on the tactical elements of race-strategy and positioning [that will be covered next week], the technical elements of bike handling and the psychological elements of getting your head round all of these things and being able to put them all together. Those are things we’ll cover in future articles but for now you at least have an idea of the physiological demands of a road race and some ways in which you can prepare for the intensity of it.”
I am grateful for both Michelle and Huw’s assistance in helping with this article. Hopefully, you will now feel more confident in that racing is something you CAN achieve – so what are you waiting for? Get entering those races, ladies!
Next week, I will be concentrating on how to prepare for your first race, including what to pack in your kit bag.
In the meantime, keep riding and stay safe!
Click below to read:
Part One – Where Do I Start?
Part Two – What Do I Enter?
Part Four – Practice! Practice! Practice!
Part Five – Are You Ready To Race?
Part Six – Race Day
Part Seven – Circuit Racing