When I first started on my journey with Rowe & King, the plan was to undertake structured training for 6 weeks. Such has been the benefit of having a coach, I was now entering my 12th week of training, double what was originally intended.
It’s incredible to think back over that period and realise the gains that I have made, and these gains can not just be measured in watts alone (although I am absolutely delighted with my new FTP of 349 and my PB’s for 5 and 20-minute power). I have also witnessed firsthand the negative impact of trying to do “too much” when you deviate from the plan and/or fall back into old habits, as witnessed the previous week. Fortunately, Matt has been on hand to highlight this and rebuild my confidence, which is another key positive point.
Along this journey, I have met new people and formed new friendships. This is why I have now linked up with Rowe & King and am launching a new Mountain Massif TT event, inspired by the results we obtained increasing my 5-minute power.
For me, undertaking this structured training became more than just increasing my watts.
Having reached my initial goals and peak performance with structured training after 8 weeks, Matt and I are continuing this methodical approach, but are now recalibrating our targets. We have now entered the phase where to maintain that high level, for a much longer period, a sustained period of base training needs to be undertaken. Base training simply involves longer, steady rides that are intended to build the aerobic fitness that enables you to train harder and absorb a greater workload, allowing you to build sustainably towards peak performance.
Matt explained to me that “base training improves your endurance, resulting in cycling at a lower percentage of your VO2 max which translates as riding at the same wattage for less effort, meaning you will ride faster before you get tired.”
I was able to identify with the fact that I was getting fatigued and hence need to build a base, which is effectively training my body to use its aerobic energy system more efficiently. The longer you can cycle in a race aerobically the better, because when you tip into using your anaerobic system, which is powered by glucose (which comes from glycogen stored in your muscles), there is only a finite supply and you run out of energy.
The end result is: to be a better cyclist, whether on Zwift or on the road, I have to undertake steady-state riding, with limited racing.
After the disappointment of the previous week, where I fell into the trap of training and racing too much, a much-needed pep talk was given by Matt where he reiterated the importance of limiting your racing. As a consequence, we ensured that in week 12, more rest days were built into the schedule and a frank and honest conversation was had about over racing and overtraining.
With that in mind, I withdrew from several races and took a more measured approach that included several rest days, which had positive end results, as I focused on Sunday’s final race of the Flamme Rouge Racing series.
Monday – Endurance Waves
1 hour and 6 minutes of riding that increased in difficulty, but nothing that stressed the body, with the highest power being 315 watts, well below my FTP.
Tuesday – Flamme Rouge Racing TTT
Having committed to this team event, I was obliged to do it. But like the races the previous days before, it was a real mental and physical effort. The race took place on the “Sand and Sequoias” course and the short, undulating climbs were challenging. We lost a team member due to a technical issue which meant the turns at the front came faster than I hoped. I kept it steady but my performance was average at best.
Wednesday – Rest day
This was most welcome.
Thursday – Endurance Waves
A repeat of Monday, but I only lasted 45 minutes of the 1 hour and 6 minutes routine.
Friday and Saturday – Rest days
I was desperate to deliver a strong performance on Sunday’s race, so I opted to rest in an attempt to rediscover some of my stellar form from 4 weeks previous.
Sunday – “Quatch Quest” race
I’ll get straight to the point: I had a 23 second lead on the Alpe du Zwift and my legs went. I blew the lead and finished 3rd. But how I ended up 3rd makes for an interesting and entertaining story but my collapse a few kilometers from the summit emphasizes the importance of a strong base – because perhaps with a bigger base, I could have held off the challenge and brought home the victory.
It was the final stage of the Flamme Rouge Racing series, the Queen Stage, and the route was “Quatch Quest”. There was very little drama at the start of the race, and we arrived at the base of the Epic KOM in a bunch. The ascent was steady but as we went through the Castle, one rider pushed the pace so I chased them down and together we started pulling away from the pack behind.
I was conscious not to go too hard as I wanted to be relatively fresh for the Alpe, however I did want to secure the KOM jersey over the Epic KOM. Together, we built up a 7-second lead as we exited the underpass and within moments, this was wiped away as the chasing group built momentum up over the bridge and we were caught on the short descent.
This disappointed me because I had wasted energy and gained nothing. I should have simply sat in the group. This meant that when we approached the banner for the Epic KOM, I wasn’t as fresh as the other riders and managed only 7th. And that wasn’t the worst part – because I got disconnected from the group on the descent, and before I knew it, I was isolated and watched as the group started building up a lead!
This meant that after the descent, the gap was something like 50 seconds and I had to ride hard to keep it from growing. I was pushing 4 w/kg whilst the group ahead was doing half that. That would cost me.
I wasn’t totally alone as I was with one rider, but he refused to work as his teammates were ahead. I didn’t mind as it made for more of a challenge.
As we approached the climb, I was able to catch the group by the first corner. This is where I made my second mistake. I should have simply stayed with the group, rested and pushed on later up the climb. Instead, I just carried on at my pace and built a 23-second advantage.
The lead never extended and I noticed that I was not able to push anywhere near the 340-360 watts that I normally do when climbing. In fact, I wasn’t even breaking 300 watts!
By turn 8, I was tiring and two riders were gaining and by turn 7, I had been caught. I knew I was done.
I battled to stay with the two riders the rest of the climb and on the last stretch to the finish line, when one accelerated, I tried to cover and managed for a few meters before I gave up and I was passed by the other rider. I finished 3rd and disappointed.
I appreciate I made some tactical errors, but the overriding point was that I was unable to generate the power on the climb to be as competitive as I have been in the past. My mistakes from week 11 caught up with me.
After 12 weeks of solid training, riding, and races, it’s clear that with structured training you can bring yourself into peak performance and achieve incredible results. My sub-60-minute climb up the Ven-Top will not be forgotten any time soon.
The challenge though, once you reach that peak, is how you build from that. Which is where I have arrived. Fortunately, I have Matt to supervise my next steps. As explained earlier, we are now building towards becoming an overall, better cyclist. Matt and I are going to continue our training program by adopting a longer-term strategy, where I will build a bigger base so my body is more efficient. This will enable me to work at a high level for longer and reach greater peaks because my body will be trained to be more efficient in dealing with a higher intensity of training. This will ultimately deliver an increase in performance.
The key takeaway for me is that without a structured approach, you are in danger of racing too much and not training efficiently. For me, too much racing on Zwift is actually detrimental to my form and I have to have a balanced program that has a blend of different types of rides from intervals to endurance and most importantly only a few races. Furthermore, I have learned I need to enjoy the process of training and not get too “hung up” if I have a bad session or the race doesn’t go as planned.
I can’t wait to see where we are in a few months time.