As Matt Rowe explains, “It’s important to build a strong base, the very nature of Zwift is that the racing is hard and fast and largely explosive. Without a strong base, you can peak very quickly but the peak doesn’t last long.”
I was very conscious that I had made substantial gains in form, but was in danger of doing exactly what Matt had outlined. I needed to continue building a strong base, but week 11 saw me both over train and over race. I deviated from the plan and paid for it. I tried to balance training and racing but got it wrong.
Monday 27th December saw me tackle intervals but I also took it upon myself to undertake a long ride to build endurance. This was the first mistake of the week which I would pay for later.
The intervals consisted of 10 x 30 seconds at 435 watts, followed by 10 x 30 seconds at 135 watts, 3x. After each set, there was a 5-minute rest. It took me 6-7 seconds to reach the desired wattage, and the intervals were relentless. I was struggling by the end and had to over-exert myself to complete the set. By the end, I was drained as I was working at 130% of my FTP.
Conscious that I needed to “build my base” I thought it would be a good idea to gain a few extra kilometers by joining a group ride after my workout. I joined the Invictus Games Foundation ride, a well-attended event with close to 1000 people. The plan was to simply sit in a group and complete the distance of 105km. However, the group I found myself in was going quick and I noticed that I had become caught up in the ride. I feared easing back and losing the group.
This was the first mistake of the week, when I first realized the pace was too quick, I should have eased off and rode at my tempo until a suitable group caught me. Instead, I made the decision to stay with the group for an hour! By the time I had stopped, I realized I had expended too much energy and the data showed that I had worked harder than intended.
Tuesday’s interval ride was difficult due to the overtraining of the day before. This session saw me undertake 40 repetitions of 40 seconds at 355 watts or 102% of my FTP, followed by 20 seconds at 140 watts. The 20 seconds recovery was not substantial enough and like the previous day’s intervals, this soon became painful and I started to become desperate to finish. This session was both mentally difficult and physically tiring. The 20 seconds recovery disappeared before you knew it whilst in contrast, the 40 seconds of effort felt neverending.
Despite what can only be described as torture, I did complete the set and was left drained and jumped into a ride with Castelli to cool down, turning my training into a 2-hour session.
The plan for Wednesday was to race, so I decided to participate in the Race3R Championship. This was an event reserved for 3R club riders, and it was an iTT on Bologna TT. I fancied my chances as the fastest time from the session in the morning was 15:21, with my fastest being only 10 seconds slower. (My time of 15:31 was set long before I had found this new level of form as a result of training with Rowe & King.) But in retrospect, I was being naive.
Knowing I have the capability to climb for 5 minutes at 5.8 w/kg, I opted to keep the first part of the ride steady and then push on the climb. I executed the plan, I kept around 4.9-5.2 w/kg on the first flat part but as I hit the climb, I had nothing. And when I say nothing, I mean the legs felt literally empty. As opposed to being focused on catching the riders ahead of me, I was fighting to defend my position. I finished in 16.08, which although respectable is a long way off from what I was hoping for.
My poor performance in the race highlights the problem of training and racing. Logically, it was evident that I was not going to perform well in the race because I had done two days of hard training. For many of us, this sort of logic is discarded when we enter a race. Somehow, we almost convince ourselves that come race day, we will magically hit the wattage that we expect and deliver a stellar performance. I honestly thought that despite the event being only 8km in distance, I would not be impacted by my training and have “enough in the legs” to produce a good ride.
If you are wanting to get a good result in a race, you have to target a specific event and be clear on your objectives.
Thursday – Testing
My scheduled rest day did not really happen as planned because I ended up undertaking some tests on my trainer for a potential article. One test included climbing the Volcano, which I did relatively steadily, taking 7:12 minutes.
Friday – Travel Day
I missed my 2-hour scheduled interval session due to travel. This left me battling the guilt of a missed session. On the other hand I wasn’t sure how I could have fit it in, since due to the intensity of the session (3 x 20 minutes at FTP), it was not possible to undertake it on Thursday.
Saturday – Zwift Fondo
The first Zwift Fondo of the year was an event not to be missed. Conscious that I had two races the following day, I opted to ride the shortest route, the Bambino.
Like Wednesday, I expected more from myself and found myself in the second group on the road as the race split at the start of the Epic KOM reverse climb. A group of 13 formed after pushing watts in excess of 500 for a minute or two. I’ll confess, I wasn’t expecting the ferociousness of the front few riders and I was too late in my response. Tactically, I was a second behind where I needed to be. This mistake would be repeated at the end of the ride.
The front group formed a small team of 13 and worked together to pull away from our chasing group, which soon grew in number. The group was too large to work effectively and the front kept a fast pace and by the start of the Volcano climb probably a 3-minute advantage.
Then I misjudged the finish of the climb and as we hit the 10% steep section, I was in too high a gear to maintain my speed and watched as riders from behind zipped past.
Psychologically, it was hard to take. But more disappointment would follow the next day as I started the Flamme Rouge Race series.
Sunday – FRR Race Series
I enjoyed the Flamme Rouge Race series and was looking forward to riding, especially as the first event was an individual time trial up the Volcano climb.
However, this was a repeat of Wednesday’s disappointing ride that left me deflated.
I paced the first part of the ride well and out of a field of 127, found myself in 65th position at the base of the Volcano climb. But just like the Bologna race a few days before, instead of finding myself overtaking racers on the climb, it was I who was being overtaken, dropping to 80th. I reached the top in 7:35 which was slower than when I rode the climb several days previously. I was passed on the descent and felt completely dejected as I finished near the back of the field.
The second race followed immediately after and I only managed to stay in the main pack for 20 minutes because as the course in Neokyo hit a few steep sections, I found myself unable to keep pace.
It got worse as 6km from the end, our group got caught and I didn’t even have the strength or enthusiasm to push to stay in the group.
Week 11 was nothing short of a disaster. I tried to do everything in terms of training and racing and achieved nothing. Trying to maintain training, whilst simultaneously trying to keep my commitments to my racing team, meant I did not perform and was left disappointed. Lesson learned.
If you are going to use races to help with training, you have to try and change your mindset. You can’t expect a good result if you have undertaken multiple days of training, so you have two choices. Either don’t do the race, or do it but be prepared to not be competitive and accept the poor placing that you may end up with.