Finding Time To Train Image ©Huw Williams
Moving from recreational cyclist to racing cyclist.
Planning time to train.
So, you love riding your bike. You’re definitely getting better at it. You’ve joined a club, you’re enjoying club rides and your fitness is improving. You’ve been chatting to a few Time Triallers and Road racers and think you might like to give it a go. But where do you start?
If you have been looking round on the internet you will have come across reams and reams of conflicting advice and if you have dared to venture onto a cycling forum well you probably ended up with your head spinning from all the differing opinions. People can be very persuasive when they actually believe what they are saying, and, you in turn, believe what they are saying as they are so persuasive. It’s a no win situation, and it will probably have ended up putting you off rather than spurring you on.
The thing is, with training, is what works for one person, won’t necessarily work for another. Some people can happily train for 20 hours a week, work full time, fit in numerous family activities, cook, clean, keep house and still look as fresh as a daisy at the end of it. However, most of us work in some capacity, whether it be at home or at a work place, juggle bike rides, kids, pets and husbands. And spend most of our time looking like death warmed up! (I hope that’s not just me!)
What you need to do is work out exactly how much time you actually have available for training.
It’s no good looking at your schedule and thinking hmm maybe I can get up at 6.30am on a Sunday morning to fit in 2 hours training before the household wakes up. Chances are, if you love your Sunday lie in till 7.30am you just won’t use that time, so you’re automatically down on your training time by 2 hours.
I’m very lucky in that I generally have one day in the week where I can go and do a long ride, while the kids are at school, all other training takes place either when the kids are in bed or on the turbo. So it is doable. Sit down look at your life. Plan the time you realistically have available. If a family member suddenly breaks down in their car and you can’t fit training in, don’t be hard on yourself. Family comes first, it can be disheartening missing training but maybe you can squeeze that training in somewhere else in the week?
You have sat down with pen and paper and worked out that you have 6 hours a week available to train. What you then need to do is factor in an active recovery week. So allow yourself every four weeks a low intensity week, the recovery week can be the most important part of your training and will help keep you motivated.
We then start to formulate a four week plan with week four as recovery. This means that week three will be your 6 hour week. Week two may be slightly less than 6 hours, say 5- 5 ½ hours and then week one will be 4 ½ – 5 hours. So you can see, steadily over the four week period, we are building your training load with your available hours being your maximum available of 6 hours. Active recovery on week four could be anything from 3-4 hours.
When you look at it like this doesn’t training seem a lot easier to fit in your life? When you start to plan like this, your idea of doing a TT, or road racing, seems so much more achievable doesn’t it!
Back by popular demand, the women’s race training sessions are returning to the North West in the New Year, with sessions being held at Tameside, Rhyl (Marsh Tracks) and Blackpool (Palatine Leisure Centre). Hosted by Huw Williams, me and Carley Brierley, the sessions are designed to offer women who are either relatively new to cycling or are third/fourth category riders the opportunity to develop their confidence and skills so that they will have the tools available to embark on a competitive cycling career, up to whatever level they wish to attain.
Session 1: Tameside Cycle Circuit, Manchester OL7 9HG
Sunday 5th Jan 2014 9am-1pm
Session 2: Marsh Tracks, Rhyl, LL18 2AD
Sunday 19th Jan 2014 12noon -4pm
Session 3: Palatine Circuit Blackpool FY4 2AP
Sunday 2nd Feb 2014 12noon – 4pm
Each 4-hour session will be progressive, on a dedicated, traffic-free cycle circuit where you will learn the techniques, skills, tactics and group riding etiquette needed to race, as well as advice on training theory and practice that will allow you to prepare for the coming, 2014 season. Each session is structured in a way that allows all riders to participate at their own level of ability and there will be no instances of novice riders feeling ‘out of their depth.’
The sessions will be delivered by Carley Brierley, British Cycling level 3 road and TT coach, Heather Bamforth a level 3 ABCC coach and current 2nd category racer and Huw Williams, a British Cycling level 3 road and TT coach. We also have guest riders from two of the UKs leading womens’ race teams, Epic Scott Contessa WRT and Matrix Vulpine, on hand to answer questions and offer tips and advice during the training.
£20 per rider per session payable on the day
You have to be female and wearing a helmet at all times when on the track.
How do I enter?
Please email me at [email protected] for more details and to register your interest. Spaces are limited, so please register early.
Last year, Huw Williams initiated a number of race training sessions for women at Cyclopark in the South, with a view to providing specific training for women who were either complete novices or were third or fourth category riders. They proved extremely popular and many women wanted to attend a similar set up in other places around the country.
For women riders who are able to get to the Tameside circuit in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, Frances Newstead, a level 3 British Cycling Road and Time Trial coach has worked with Huw to deliver a number of similar sessions up North on 18 & 25 August 2013 followed by a race (restricted to 3rd & 4th category women riders) on 8 September 2013. Places will be limited, so if you are new to racing or are maybe thinking of racing for the first time next year, get involved with Frances’ session. She will be covering a variety of skills and topics, including what type of training to do over winter. Further details can be found in the flyer below:
A Woman’s Guide to Racing – Part 6
Finally, we have come to the last in our series of racing guides, and you’ve woken up, opened the curtains and race day has dawned. I could go on for hours about this topic, but I will refrain from boring you all too much. Instead, I will endeavour to explain some of the jargon that you will come across, with the help of a British Cycling Commissaire. I will also try to guide you through what to expect at the race headquarters (“HQ”) and I have also enlisted the help of a couple of top female riders to give you their tips on what to do when you get to the event. So, without further ado…
When you arrive at the HQ, the first thing you have to do is “sign on” – this is regardless of whether you have entered a road race, time trial or any other event – and (in the case of British Cycling events) it is here that you will have to hand over your racing licence. You then get to pick up your number (make sure it is the same number that your name is allocated on the signing on sheet). If you remember, in one of my previous guides I mentioned about safety pins – this is when you will undoubtedly need them, unless you are going to have a flapping number (which is NOT cool)!
In order to perform to your best ability, you should ensure that you warm up properly. Some people take rollers or a turbo with them to warm up on, others content themselves with a ride around the circuit or a 10 minute spin up the road (don’t go too far though!). Keep warm and drink fluids (but not too much that you’ll end up needing the toilet half way through the race). Some people also put embrocation on their legs to warm them up, which can help especially early season, BUT bear in mind that embrocation tends to stay on your hands unless you wash it off PROPERLY (with soap and water).
Cycling has a lot of jargon and one of the main words that you may come across in your racing careers will be “commissaire”. A commissaire is the race referee and there is usually a chief commissaire and an assistant commissaire on most road events. The chief commissaire will be in the second car behind the bunch at a road race, with the assistant commissaire in the vehicle immediately behind the main bunch (some events also have commissaires on motor bikes, called “Moto Commissaires”). Before the start of the race, the Chief Commissaire will give a rider briefing, which all riders have to attend.
The Start of the Race
In events which are held on a closed circuit, the start will be on the finish line, with everyone setting off once the flag is waved or the Chief Commissaire tells you to go. However, on road races, it is quite normal for the HQ to be away from the actual circuit, which means that you have to ride out as a bunch from the HQ until an appropriate point on the circuit. This section of the race (from the HQ to the circuit) is often “neutralised”. This means that the racing does not start until the race is “de-neutralised”. Cycling uses a number of flags to communicate things to riders, and the neutralised flag (a red and white checked flag) is held out of the assistant commissaire’s car until the race proper. Having said that, it can be difficult to determine at what point the race actually starts if you are in the middle of the bunch, but a rule of thumb is that riders will generally ride close to the commissaire’s car (who usually does around 20 mph in the neutralised section) during the neutralised section but will accelerate quickly away once the race starts.
The “Race Convoy”
That sounds very grand, doesn’t it? But yes, in every road race (as opposed to closed circuit race) there is a race convoy. This includes a lead car, which usually maintains a distance of around 1 minute to the lead riders, to warn the marshals on the circuit that the race is coming.
Next is the Assistant Commissaire. This official is the eyes at the front of the race to ensure the riders are racing to the rules of the road as well as the rules of road racing under British Cycling ( if it’s a BC event). This vehicle will slot in behind any break away that reaches over 1 minute gap. They will also move forwards again if this gap is closed so as not to interfere with a chasing group, so be aware that they may pass you again. A simple ‘toot’ of the horn repeated rhythmically will warn riders that they are coming past. Normally on the right hand side of the riders but may also pass on the left if the riders and road allow.
The third vehicle will be the Chief Commissaire, who is essentially the overall ‘manager’ of the race. This person is in radio contact with all vehicles and is in charge of their movements. They keep the timing of break aways, with the assistant commissaire calling time check points that are landmarks on the route. This is also the person who has the authority to impose penalties for any racing infringement.
The next vehicle will be neutral service, if it is being provided (usually only at bigger events), who will offer a wheel if you puncture – but beware that the neutral service will generally follow the lead riders if the race splits, so if you puncture and you’re at the back of the race, it may be the end of your race.
The final vehicle will be the first aid provision.
There is also the National Escort Group (“NEG”) on some road races, who are the outriders (on motorbikes) that guard side roads and assist in making the roads safe for you to ride and will, if asked, act on the commissaire’s behalf to supply riders with information such as time gaps or even disqualifications.
Top Tips from Top Riders
I have asked a couple of ladies for their top tips for those of you new to racing.
First up is Lydia Boylan, elite category rider for Team CTC, who is the Irish National Track Sprint, 500 metres and scratch race champion:
“My best advice would be to have your race day planned in advance so that you won’t panic before the race has even started. If you know where the HQ is, know when the race starts and what and when to eat, you’ll feel more prepared.”
Second up is Karla Boddy, winner of three stages of the Ras na mBan (stage race for women, held in Ireland every year):
“I started racing 2 years ago this March, I remember turning up for the race and struggled to write my BC number on the sign on form as my hand was shaking so much in fear of what to expect! It’s that unknown part which is, and still can be, quite daunting. I would say my top tips for racing are:
- Always give yourself plenty of time to get ready! If the race is at 1400 then get there for 1300 at the latest. I made the poor mistake of leaving too late for the SE Regional champs last year and almost missed the start! It is not a good way to start your race and leaves you panicked and rushed!
- Always check your tyres for any little flints etc. A lot of punctures are caused by flints already embedded in your tyre already so if you can get them out it lessens the risk of a puncture in a race. In a crit this is not so much of an issue (as you can take a lap out), but in a road race you set yourself up for a harder ride in trying to get back on.
- Be ready to go hard off the line. There will always be someone who goes ballistic off the start (it might even be you!) and it will mean your body needs to be primed and ready for an early intense effort. It is worth having a decent warm up, get out of breath, get warm and be ready to race from the whistle.
- Think about your own food and nutrition; don’t listen to other riders who say ‘you don’t need a bottle for a crit’ or ‘you don’t need a gel the race is too short’….you do exactly as you want until you find what suits you. If you want 2 gels in an hour’s race, you have two gels! Part of starting to race is learning what suits you; not what suits others. There will be a lot of opinions/banter but if you have more confidence in following your own regime with this then do so; confidence is key. No point being on the start line worrying that you haven’t had a gel because someone else has said you didn’t need one. For reference I always have 1 gel in a 1 hr crit and take 1 small bottle….and people still tell me ‘you don’t need a gel!!!!’
- When you have your first race you don’t need to try and be a hero and break in your first race. You may actually benefit from sitting in, watching the wheels, watching for who is strongest etc. Even if you feel stronger than the pace suggests, perhaps hold back and get used to the bunch. I know plenty of people where the excitement of racing has overcome them in the early days, they feel strong, attack, die, blow, out the back. To be fair, this is usually men and us ladies are a tad more sensible! But, it can happen to the less experienced. Just keep it in mind! And if something does pull off then great, but realise if it goes wrong it can back fire!
- Everyone will tell you to keep near the front; it’s safer, there is less surging effect at the front and less chance of getting caught behind someone who leaves gaps you can then not close. However in reality this is not always possible as you yourself may be suffering. If you get dropped then don’t be demoralised. Use it as a time to work with others who may be in your position. And if the bunch lap you, keep out there way, technically you shouldn’t jump back on but I would and just keep at the back out the way!
- Finally, you never stop learning so don’t ever start being complacent about how to race, it requires 110% concentration at all times, ultimately your safety is paramount to yourself and everyone else so keep focused in every race you do. I have been racing for 2 years since March, year one I think I only did about 15 races, and last year I did about 40/50 races. And I still have so much to learn.”
Hopefully you have found my articles of use and hopefully they may have inspired you to have a go at road racing. If you want to try some road races, Cycling Development North West have a women’s road race league, aimed at second, third and fourth category female riders, whose first event is on 1 March 2014. They are aimed at women trying to get in to racing for the first time, and the distances range from 30 to 40 miles. For more information, visit http://www.cdnw.org/road_race_league.html
My thanks also to Ed Rollason, of Ed Rollason Photography (www.edrollasonphotography.co.uk) for the kind donation of photos, Jon Taylor, Lydia Boylan and Karla Boddy. Also my thanks to Huw Williams and Michelle Evans for their contributions on the coaching side of the guides.
Enjoy your season!
Click below to read:
Part One – Where Do I Start?
Part Two – What Do I Enter?
Part Three – What training should I do?
Part Four – Practice! Practice! Practice!
Part Five – Are You Ready To Race?
Part Six – Race Day
Part Seven – Circuit Racing
A Woman’s Guide to Racing – Part 5
Are you ready to race?
So, you’ve done the training, entered the races, got your licence (if required) and your first race is fast approaching. But how do you prepare for your first event? Here is my survival guide to getting ready for racing…
1) “No Licence, No Helmet, NO RIDE!”
Those words never fail to fill me with fear – I go into a massive panic and start searching through my bag about five times to check I’ve got both of them. It’s a bit like going on holiday when you’re rushing around at the last minute looking for your passport and tickets. Take it from me – do as I say, not as I do – and get a list together (see below).
Obviously, if you’re riding a time trial you won’t need your British Cycling licence (unless it’s the National Championships), but I keep everything together so that they go everywhere with me – I get too confused otherwise!
2) Packing your bag
So, we’ve got two essential items for your list already – helmet and licence – but what else should you take? Here’s a few more items that you should always have with you when turning up for a race:
- Cycling kit for racing (if you’re going to get changed when you arrive)
- Long sleeve jersey to warm up in (sometimes called “track tops”)yc
- Leg warmers
- Arm warmers
- Rain cape (or jacket) – these three items are to help you in inclement weather – I’ve seen far too many people turn up to races in short sleeves and shorts when it is freezing – look after yourself and invest in some arm warmers – you’re worth it!
- “Start sheet” – if there is one available – print it out off the internet if the organiser doesn’t send you one in the post so that you know where the headquarters are (it does help!)
- Cycling shoes and socks
- Track mitts or full gloves (depending on the weather) – you want to ensure your hands are protected in case you come off
- Safety pins – for the race number that you will be given (trust me, you can never have enough safety pins!)
- Food for during the race – whether this be energy gels, energy bars or sweets!
- Drink for during the race
- Drink and food for AFTER the race – remember you will need to rehydrate and refuel before starting the journey home
- Hair bobble and a brush (if you have long hair)
- Towel and toiletries for getting changed post-event
- Plastic bag for your used kit
- Clothes for post-race (can be forgotten if you’ve travelled in your cycling kit!)
- Change for donation box for post-race cake and tea
Whilst I am at it, you may want to have a think about the bag you’re going to use for your kit. I spent 18 months lugging a 90 litre cargo bag to races with me, but I could never find anything as it was all dumped in the one compartment and it was also pretty heavy. In the end, I swapped it for a holdall with wheels (I couldn’t afford a posh one) but it has loads of pockets and now I can find everything!
3) Check out the Race Headquarters in advance
The beauty of living in the 21st century is that you can look at where the race HQ is in advance, using the internet. Some headquarters are better than others and unfortunately, some can be somewhat lacking in space to get changed. So, it can sometimes be worth being at least half ready before you set off to the event, depending on how far you have to travel. Otherwise, be prepared mentally for the concept of having to get changed in a toilet cubicle, or in the car under a towel. Luckily, some places have really good facilities nowadays where that isn’t a problem, but there are still some village halls that are a bit worse for wear.
In addition, if you plan your trip in advance, so that you know where you’re going and how long it will take, that will take a lot of anxiety away so that you can concentrate on getting totally psyched up for the event in question instead.
Finally on this point, and this is especially important if you are riding a time trial – check out how far the HQ is from the circuit! The general rule of thumb is that you must sign on at least an hour before you are due to ride, but if there is a 20 to 30 minute ride from the HQ to the circuit (which can happen a lot in time trials), make sure you factor in that time in addition to the time it will take you to get ready – the last thing you want to do is set off too late and miss your start time (yes, I learn from my mistakes)!
4) Check your equipment in advance
The last thing you want to do is travel all the way to a race, only to find that your gears don’t work/you’ve got a flat tyre, etc. So check your bike works properly in advance. Either pump your tyres up in advance (one of the last jobs before putting the bike in/on the car) or take the track pump with you if you have room in the car and pump them up when you arrive (make sure you have enough time to do this). If you’re using a computer or heart rate monitor which needs to be charged, make sure you charge it in advance and don’t forget your heart rate monitor belt if you are going to use one. Make sure all the lids are on your bottles properly (you do not want half a litre of energy drink spilling over the back of your car, trust me).
5) Are you mentally prepared?
Good question. You may think that you are, or you may be absolutely bricking it. In any case, I have drafted in Huw Williams of lafuga.cc to give you some advice on how to prepare yourself mentally for the race:
Where’s your head at?
“Psychology has long been known to be a key factor in athletic performance but recent successes by our cyclists at elite level in the Olympics has fired it into the forefront of our thinking. High profile wins by riders like Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton have highlighted personal mental issues overcome on the way to hitherto unconquerable targets and British Cycling’s chief sports psychiatrist Steve Peters has received almost celebrity author status for his work with metaphorically mental chimpanzees that all too readily pop out of their cages when you least need them too and scupper your best laid plans.
“At more modest grass-roots racing level, psychology is more often overlooked, but along with the other key demands of racing, physiological, technical and tactical conditioning, Developing riders’ confidence so that they can manage performance states successfully is an important objective.
“When it comes to a race you can be the most skilled tactician, best bike handler and the fittest rider on the grid, but if you’re a quivering, nervous wreck when the gun goes, and can’t implement any of your skills in the race, you aren’t going to perform. So whatever level you race at, psychology should play an important part of your training. In the same way that your climbing technique or your power or your tactical awareness needs to be trained, so does your mental state. Think of it as developing ‘mental toughness.’
To help you do this here are a few basic truths:
1) Sports Psychology is not Witchcraft or some new-age magic
2) Mental skills, like physical skills have to be mastered over time
3) Mental skills, like physical skills need to practiced in training before being implemented into competition
4) Mental skills, like technical skills are an integral part of training and preparation
“As stated at the start of this article, there is a much greater awareness of the role that sports psychology plays in sporting achievement these days but success is not exclusively the preserve of riders with a strong mindset. Many other factors, some listed above, might contribute to the fact that even the most mentally tough rider might not win a race on a given day. What we concern ourselves with when looking at mental toughness is our own ability to perform at the highest level we are capable of and to do it consistently. Much else is beyond our control and not worth worrying about (and that in itself is a concept that many riders find it hard to get their heads around). For this reason, developing control of the emotional state in order to be able to perform optimally is often of more value than setting specific event goals. “I am going to win this race” is a positive mindset but any number of factors beyond your control might make this unachievable, whereas “I am going to perform the best I can” is completely within your control.
“Sports psychology is a vast area of study. As an example, pride of place on my bookshelf at home are two excellent industry standard textbooks published by Human Kinetics. The first is ‘The Physiology of Sport and Exercise’ and the second is ‘Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology.’ The psychology text is three times the thickness of the physiology text and also has an extensive online ‘further study guide’. I mention this as an example of how understanding the human mind and how to train it is a vastly more complex issue than understanding the human body and how to train it. There are no quick fixes here and given the individual character traits that differ widely from rider to rider, you’ll understand the complexity and scale of trying to cover the subject in great depth here is next to impossible. Instead we’ll look at a couple of areas most likely to be of benefit to the novice racer and how you can improve your mental state. The first is preparation and the second is performance.
“Observing the pre-race ritual of a road race is a coaches’ dream. You get to witness a myriad of different responses to what is about to take place indicating the different emotional states of the riders. At a recent race in Kent there were girls staring fixedly down the track lost in their thoughts while others were laughing and chattering away at high speed to anyone who would listen. One girl was nervously sipping form a bottle every 5 seconds barely returning it to the cage long enough before taking it out again for another drink. Some were even doing last minute stretches while straddling the bike, waiting for the off. Clearly the emotional states of these riders was hugely varied, each had their own ways of preparing and coping with the anxiety of what was about to come. So what’s right?
“The key to consistently performing well is preparation. You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ a number of times and although it’s something of a cliché its certainly a reasonable mantra for a novice racer. And although we’re talking primarily about mental development in this feature, ‘mental toughness’ isn’t just mental. It’s also being physically prepared and emotionally in control. If you’re on the line knowing that you are in peak physical condition and you’ve practiced all your technical skills then you know you are in a position to perform at your highest level. You can use this knowledge to control your emotional state in a number of ways.
“Firstly is the use of imagery or ‘visualization’. Imagery is a highly powerful tool in developing confidence and you can use it boost your performance. Let’s say you’re working on your bike handling by doing cornering drills. You work at it by repeatedly cornering at increasing speeds until you develop the ability to do it well over and over again. Before each pass, stop and take a few moments to ‘see’ yourself doing it properly. What’s your perfect road positioning and line through the bend? What’s your ideal bodyweight distribution like through the corner? Where are your optimal braking and acceleration points? Are you looking ahead through the bend. Ingrain this image of what you, doing the perfect corner looks like, and visualize yourself doing it perfectly before each time you practice a corner.
“Let’s face it if you see somebody on the start line of a race staring fixedly down the track and talking to themselves you’re probably thinking they’re a bit nuts and one to avoid when the gun goes. But far from being the first sign of madness, whether you do it out loud, under your breath or in your head, talking to yourself can be a great way to focus the mind. Negative thoughts, distractions and Steve Peter’s chimps invariably start to infiltrate your thoughts at times of high stress like before a race, but self talk can be a great way to turn your thoughts back to positives. So you might look apprehensively at the rider with full aero-wheelset and tanned legs next to you and instead of the negative thought that “she looks a bit good” tell yourself “I’m looking forward to the challenge of competing against this rider as I have prepared well and if I concentrate on doing what I need to do I will be fine.” Or another example, we all have a particular section of road (usually a hill) or element of a training session that we struggle with, so instead of saying to yourself “I’m coming up to the part of the ride that always defeats me” say to yourself “I look forward to another chance of beating that hill/interval whatever.” Self talk is a highly valuable method of turning negative thoughts that can undermine your emotional state into a very positive mindset.
“Both Imagery and self talk are great techniques to get into a positive mindset pre-race, but even if you are the best rider at controlling your emotional state and getting your mind attuned to what is about to take place, if everything falls apart when the action starts all those pre-race coping strategies count for nothing. Racing, especially in the grass-roots categories is a very chaotic affair. To the inexperienced rider, the constantly changing shape of the peleton due to random attacks, riders getting dropped and high intensity surges, is highly confusing. The lack of any recognisable pattern often leaves those unprepared for it unable to make any conscious decision as to how to react to any given situation until its too late – they’ve missed a break or are in totally the wrong position and unable to contest the final sprint. It’s option paralysis, a state where when faced with so many choices you are so confused that you make none.
“There is a lot of very fast decision-making to be done in road racing so remaining calm amidst this chaos is essential if you are going to be able to make the correct calls and this is something that needs to be learned. Force yourself to look at yourself when you are racing and examine your emotional state. Are you so tense that you’re bending the handlebars in a white-knuckle death grip in anticipation of the next attack – or are you so laid back rolling along in the middle of the pack that you wouldn’t even notice if a break went let alone be able to respond to it. Your mental state is key to how well you perform and the decisions you make during the race and if you’re overwhelmed by the chaos around you, you won’t perform at your best.
“One coping strategy is implementing the classic “if, then” strategy, a simple but effective means of pre-identifying certain scenarios (the problem) which you then react to in a pre-determined way (the solution). So you might have identified a strong rider in the early laps of a race or from previous events and your strategy would be “if that rider attacks, then I will go with her” decision made, no confusion. Likewise if you know you are going well on a certain day your strategy might be “If I am in the lead group with 5 laps to go, then I will launch a solo attack at the top of the climb.” Again, all confusion about if and when you should attack removed. Having a few of these pre-ingrained strategies in place can greatly reduce your state of anxiety during the race. The chances are that some completely unexpected scenario will occur to scupper your intention and make you revise the plan but that in itself could be part of your “if, then” coping strategy; “If something happens that I am not prepared for, then I will not panic but remain calm and quickly re-evaluate my race plan.”
“Practice the above techniques in the areas of preparation and performance and instead of worrying about what the race might hold and underperforming you now have a preparation strategy whereby you visualise yourself doing the right things and can talk your mind into the correct place, as well a good basic race-plan that anticipates certain scenarios and how you will react to them, your first small steps to improving your mental toughness.”
Thanks to Huw Williams for the above, it is useful for every racer – male or female.
Finally, my thanks to Ed Rollason of Ed Rollason Photography www.edrollasonphotography.co.uk for the photos.
Next week will be my final article in the series – Race Day! In the meantime, enjoy riding your bike and stay safe.
Click below to read:
Part One – Where Do I Start?
Part Two – What Do I Enter?
Part Three – What training should I do?
Part Four – Practice! Practice! Practice!
Part Six – Race Day
Part Seven – Circuit Racing
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….
Competitive cycling can be fun!
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.
(c) Huw Williams
“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.
(c) Huw Williams
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.
(c) Huw Williams
“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!
To contact Michelle, you can email her on [email protected] or visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SheCyclesCoachingLtd for more information.
To contact Huw, you can email him on [email protected] or visit lafuga.cc
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