Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, tips, training, turbo
So, winter. Proper winter, too, with snow and ice and freezing winds and two and a half hours of daylight* and all that. Around this time of year, a young [cough] cyclist’s thoughts turn to staying inside out of the ruddy weather, FGS, thank you very much, what do you think I am, crazy?
But sitting around eating cheese footballs and watching Masterchef only appeals for so long. While Christmas is traditionally a time for getting our fitness baseline right down so that we have something to work on in the New Year, by February most of us are surveying our rears in the mirror with growing distaste, unfriending people on Facebook because they’re on holiday in Tenerife, and biting anyone who suggests we might just go out for a little walk, you know, to clear our heads?
The solution, of course, is folded up in the corner of the spare room: the turbo. I’ll confess to a bit of a love-hate relationship with the turbo. I owe it a lot. My first winter of turbo training** revolutionised my cycling. The following summer, instead of trailing up French climbs throwing mental grenades at @spandelles as he disappeared over the horizon, I actually beat him up Mont Ventoux. (‘I’ve created a monster,’ he said ruefully over pizza that evening.) The turbo kept me sane during pregnancy, when I was dutifully trying to keep my HR down so as not to boil the baby, or whatever was supposed to happen if I exceeded 135bpm. When I gave myself an arch strain jumping around the kitchen in my socks to LCD Soundsystem*** and couldn’t run for nearly a year, the turbo saved me from going postal.
Despite all this, turbo-ing can be a depressing prospect. However, with a few tweaks to your routine, you CAN enjoy your turbo session. Based on extensive personal experience, here are my top tips. You’re welcome!
1. Have a playlist with some fast tracks on it, and some REALLY fast tracks. Choose ‘shuffle’, and try and keep up with the music.
2. Do 20/40s, or 30/30s, or 10/10s, or whatever other heinous alternation of sweating and wheezing you can muster.
3. Sing. This is the one time that singing along to your ipod is completely acceptable. (If you can sing along to ‘I Will Always Love You’, mind you, you may not be working hard enough.)
4. Take advantage of those inevitable trips to go to the loo/ answer the door/ get your towel/ check your @mentions by honing your cyclocross skills: dismounts, remounts and getting your feet in and out of the pedals at speed can all be practised on the turbo. (Well, maybe not the remounts. See ‘wonder why your arse hurts’, below.)
5. Fine-tune your raceface. Take a few pictures on your phone, to check yourself out. Make sure that your raceface is sufficiently distinct from your sexface. You don’t want your race pictures showing up on those sites, again.
6. Observe the functioning of your body under stress. Wonder why your elbows/ wrists/ knees sweat so much (delete as applicable). Try to get your HR into zone 5. Try to get your HR back down out of zone 5. Wonder if anyone will miss you if your drop off the turbo stone dead, or if you’ll be discovered three weeks later with the cat eating your face.
7. Think about bike fit. Does your arse hurt because your saddle is too high, or because you’re wearing your shortest shorts? When you’re in TT position, can people see down your top? (You’ll need a mirror, or a friend, for this one.)
8. Have a really brilliant idea for a blogpost/ million selling book/ dastardly world domination plan that you can’t write down. Forget it by the time you get in the shower.
* I may have been watching a bit too much Borgen, here
** by which I mean, riding my bike attached to the turbo; ‘training’ is overstating it a touch
*** When I told the doctor this story, she looked at me and went, ‘Idiot.’
Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, tips, training
Guess what? I’ve been doing some ROAD biking. I know! I’m as surprised as anyone. And I’ve been enjoying it! And getting better at it (these two are not unconnected, naturally).
Avid readers will remember me: I’m the one who took up cyclocross as a way of avoiding road riding. Road riding was dull, cold, depressing and dangerous. So whence the volte-face?
It’s not the weather, for sure; that’s been as rubbish as ever. No new steed: I’m still riding my ‘cross bike (complete with mudwrestlers, despite @spandelles threatening to put road wheels on it. I’m not keen; I like a bit of off-road optionality). I HAVE got some new kit, which is clinically proven to make you ride up to* 53% faster: I am looking the part in new (bargain) shoes and new (half-price) shorts. I even have a jersey with some pockets in it, for my tracker bars and lipsalve.
But the real reason it’s all going better is I’ve discovered the SECRET of TRAINING. Yes! Really. Get a pencil! It can be summed up as follows:
Try A Bit Harder.
To be more specific:
- Try and ride faster, all the time. On the flat? Change up a few gears, get down low and pretend you are Michael Hutchinson. Uphill? Someone shouted at me from a car as I was grinding up a hill, ‘Pedal faster!’ He was right.
- Pretend you are Emma Pooley, or Ellen van Dijk. Attack your imaginary bunch relentlessly on climbs. Try to pass someone in real life. Try to stay away.
- Do something counter-intuitive. When the going gets tough or you start feeling tired or bored, don’t slow down. Try harder. Up the pace. Get out of the saddle. Change up a gear.
- Don’t pace yourself, or worry about running out of steam. Just go for it as much as possible. I was stunned to see that I could completely bury myself on a short effort, then be ready for another one a minute or two later.
The completely unexpected side-effect of this approach is it is RIDICULOUSLY good fun. I ride around grinning like an idiot, puce in the face, sweat dripping off me. I shout SHUT UP LEGS! at myself, and sing going downhill (usually just as someone awesome on a Cervélo is passing me). I beam at other cyclists; they give me almost imperceptible Yorkshire head nods of recognition. I no longer feel like a fraud when pro types wave at me, because I am trying really hard. I can’t walk down the stairs when I get home, but I feel like I could conquer the WORLD.
I just need a bit of lunch first.
* statistics experts will note that the term ‘up to’ includes the number 0**
** this joke (c) Monty Python
Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cold, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, doctor, headache, illness, tips
So. I was all set! Then an unscheduled visit to the doctor put paid to my racing plans. I’ll spare you the details, but antibiotics and painkillers are on the menu, and riding is off, for a bit.
Nevertheless! All clouds really DO have a silver lining: I have secured a medical expert* to illuminate our kvetching about minor illnesses. Below, she answers some common questions put to her by anxious athletes. Mahlzeit!
- Am I getting a cold?
- Can I stop myself getting colds?
Probably not. Washing your hands a lot is supposed to help. You could try a Neti Pot, though this carries a small chance of your brain being eaten by amoebas. Don’t bother with squirty First Defence-type stuff; it’s so horrid, you’re better off with the cold. (See also: indigestion, and Gaviscon.)
- I feel terrible. It’s flu, isn’t it. Oh, god.
- Can I still ride my bike with a cold?
Received wisdom states that if your symptoms are above the neck only, you can go out and exercise. In real life: STAY IN YOUR HOME. It won’t kill you to have a couple of days off. If at all possible, stay away from work too. And public transport. WE DON’T WANT YOUR GERMS.
- Can I make my cold go away more quickly?
No. However, fun cures are 43% more likely than sensible ones to give you the illusion of getting better. Fun cures for colds include:
- Sitting on the sofa in your dressing gown, flicking through Vogue and eating Mini Eggs;
- Hiding under the duvet, reading something by Michael Hutchinson;
- Spending an entire day on Twitter, trying to get @cyclingweekly to RT you;
- Drinking hot milk with whisky in it;
- Watching films, as long as they are the kind your partner doesn’t like;
- Eating raw garlic, and opening the door to the postman with an enthusiastic ‘HHHHALLO!’
- Herbal tea
- Daytime television
- Healthy people
- Is this headache a migraine?
If you have tunnel vision, or a flashing viper is coiled around the side of one eye, take two paracetamol, turn off your phone and go to bed IMMEDIATELY. Other migraine symptoms include feeling like your scalp is a Medium while your skull is a Large; bursting into tears when asked anything complicated, like whether you put a wash in; and an inability to string a, you know, what do you call those things. Sentence! An inability to sent a stringtence together. Yes.
- Should I see a doctor about this scratch on my leg?
If you can see bone, or it looks green, or black, yes. Otherwise, wash it and put a plaster on it, and hope for the best. Note: if you are from Yorkshire, go to A&E immediately so they can sew your leg back on.
* Well, she SAID she was an expert**
** This joke (c) Monty Python
Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cross, cross-training, cycling, diary, tips, training
So, remember all that remounting practice? I bashed my shin pretty hard on the pedal a couple of times, and thought that was why my lower leg and ankle hurt while walking afterwards. But I went for a run on the Sunday and ouch. Ow, ow, ow. Ankle pain. Had to walk home. Iced it and strapped it up and, well, it’s getting better slowly I think but, urgh. Very frustrated as I don’t dare to run or jump, so ‘cross practice (never mind racing) is off the agenda for a bit. Bah!
And what of you, poor blog readers, anxious for the next instalment? Well, it’s a well-kept secret, but if you look away for a moment while I nip into this Portaloo, I’ll emerge as… Training Tsarina! Here, this week only, to answer your training and injury queries*. Fire away!
Dear Training Tsarina: I know everyone says cross-train, but do I have to? I’m a cyclist! Running is for nutters! And if I swim, people might think I’m a triathlete! Thanks, @HeadDownIntoTheWind
Dear HDITW: Think again. Not only does monomania make HDTIW a dull boy, cross-training lessens your risk of overuse injuries. It also means that if you pick up an injury that stops you cycling, you may still be able to run or swim instead, so you won’t go nuts. And I know you hate the gym, but if you can find something you can bear to do indoors this is a real bonus, as you can still do it when it snows.
Dear Training Tsarina: Stretching is for wusses, isn’t it? Yours, @BunchedCalves
Dear BC: Many people shun stretching, thinking it is only for hardbody gymnasts and attention-seeking minor celebrities. But stretching helps to avoid weird aches and pains brought on by tight muscles pulling your body about, and also means you decrease your chances of having to walk sideways down the stairs the next morning.
Hey, Training Tsarina! I’ve discovered running! It’s brilliant! I’m doing fifteen miles a day! I feel great! Marathon next week! Love, @KeenAsMustard
Dear KAM: For you, the golden rule of training: Try harder, but just a little bit harder. The guy who ran my Uni circuits class used to bellow at us, ‘If you want to get FITTAH, you will have to work HARDAH!’ This is true. But suddenly doing loads more than you are used to ends in tears and pulled muscles. Add a little extra loop to your run; do a few more lengths of the pool. Don’t go mad.
Dear Training Tsarina: I’ve got my routine down pat now. Treadmill Monday and Wednesday; weight training Friday; long run Sunday. Trouble is, I’m bored stupid. And I don’t seem to be getting any fitter, or losing any more weight. Yours, @CreatureOfHabit
Dear CoH: Surprise your body. If you always do the same stuff, week in, week out, your body gets good at it, and stops adapting, and you stop getting fitter. Do something different: go for a hike. Or a swim. Or try yoga, or Pilates.
Dear Training Tsarina: Pilates? You’re joking, right? @NotGwynethPaltrow
Dear NGP: Be open to ideas. One of the best things I ever did was take up kung fu. I was the only girl in the beginners, and I had somehow overlooked that the main point of martial arts is hitting people. Ouch. But it was brilliant: I got stronger, and faster, and had a laugh. Even just a small change can be fun, like leaving your iPod at home and reading on the cross-trainer instead. Give it a go: it might work.
Dear Training Tsarina: All the training manuals say you should get out first thing in the morning. Trouble is, I can’t function before I’ve had poached eggs on toast and two cups of tea and read the paper. Do I have to? It’s making me miserable. Love, @NotAMorningPerson
Dear NAMP: Here’s the most important principle bar none. Work out what you and your body like, and do it. Don’t feel like you have to go running every day if it makes you grumpy and tired, even if Shirley from no. 42 does it and she seems fine. If you like short bursts of effort, but keeping going for hours on end makes you sad and lonely, don’t feel you have to do Audax riding. Be nice to yourself. Enjoy what you do.
*Of course, you are thinking to yourself, ‘Why should I take training advice from @accidentobizaro? Isn’t she, well, a bit crap?’ This is true. But as @spandelles points out on his blog, Proper Training Advice from Successful Athletes can be enough to make you hang up your SPDs in despair. No doubt you have lots of tips for me, too; I’d love to hear them. There’s a comments box just down there for them. Ta.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to my virtual training buddies, @mmmaiko, @CycleHermit and @stuckinoregon, for fun and thought-provoking conversations on these topics. All errors and idiotic pronouncements are my own.