Saturday, 25 January 2014

Turbo trainer vs. Just man-up and get cold and wet!

I'm lucky enough to have a bike almost permanently set up on a turbo trainer in the warmth and comfort of a spare room at home (yes, my man cave, with the turbo trainer also joined by my weights bench!).  When you live in sunny Scotland, a turbo trainer becomes an essential piece of kit to keep your training going over the winter.  On those cold, wet, dark days and nights, knowing that you can still get an hour or two of riding done means you won't miss out on important base training.

But then there are other times when you just have to get out there.  Whether it's on the road or on the mountain bike trails, a turbo trainer will never make up for a proper ride out there in the elements.

Today, I thought about using the turbo trainer instead of the training ride I'd planned (which was part on-road / part off-road) but I'm so glad I got out there and got a good old soaking!  So, when should you stay in and when should you just get on with it and brave the elements?

To help with that decision, here are a few turbo trainer tips I've picked up over the past few years, some my own and some good advice from others:

Turbo Training Tips:
  • I realise not everyone is lucky enough to have a 2nd or 3rd bike, but if you do, get it on the turbo trainer in November and leave it there until March.  Having to go out to the garage or shed, change the rear tyre, drag the bike inside, and set it up on the turbo is just going to give you an excuse not to train.  If you can just jump on it anytime you are far more likely to use it.  I cycle to work most days and it used to be such a pain dragging the filthy wet bike inside to put on the turbo trainer so I now have another bike set up on the trainer to save me that hassle.
  • Use a turbo trainer tyre.  It'll save you wearing out your expensive "proper" tyres and it'll save you wearing down your partner/flatmate/family with the noise!  I use the Schwalbe Insider, and remember you can get road or mountain bike sizes so you don't need a road bike to turbo train.  Lock out your suspension and pop your mountain bike on there - it'll look ridiculous with a wee skinny tyre on the back, but you'll look far more ridiculous yourself once you get training, and nobody is watching!
  • It doesn't matter how many fans you point at yourself, you will sweat!  Keep the clothing minimal and a towel hanging over your handlebars - you'll need it
  • Use a bike computer with a cadence sensor and get a heart rate monitor.  Note when I mention heart rate zones, they are based on Lactate Threshold Heart Rate, not maximum heart rate. 
  • Mix it up.  It's really difficult to just sit there plodding away for hours on end, going nowhere, so mix up your workout.  The longest I've ever managed on a turbo trainer was 2.5 hours but typically I'm bored after an hour or so.  Try some of the following workouts, and always warm-up for 10 mins first and cool down for 10 mins at the end:
    • Spin-ups: Every few mins, spend 30 seconds taking your cadence up from normal to as high as possible without too much wobbling (perhaps 120 - 130rpm).  Keep it there for at least a minute and focus on pedaling technique (so a reasonably easy gear)
    • Isolated leg: Pedal with one leg only (resting the other on a chair or similar).   Try to focus on technique and avoid that dead spot "clunk" at the top of the pedal stroke.  If you've never done this before, you'll struggle to get above 70rpm without the clunk, but you'll soon be able to do 90rpm smoothly.  Alternate legs every 30 to 60 seconds
    • 10 mins 50rpm, 5 mins easy, 10 mins 90rpm with heart rate in Zone 3, 5 mins easy.  Do a few sets of this.
    • There are loads of other workouts you can do on the turbo, some of which you'll find on the British Cycling website or just by searching the web, but I'll post some more later in the season.  These are all base period workouts, so later on there will be more intensive intervals to build power and anaerobic endurance.
  • Listen to music or watch some TV to help keep you from going clinically insane through boredom . . . but watch you don't get distracted.  You won't get much benefit from just spinning away in an easy gear watching the latest episode of your favourite TV show.  There's nothing wrong with watching something but make sure you keep an eye on your watch, cadence meter, and heart rate monitor so that you don't miss out on the main point of the workout.  I've found that watching cycling helps, surprisingly enough!  For example, re-plays of mountain bike XC world cup rounds on You Tube.  I've tried the DVDs you get with some turbo trainers, where you watch a film of a road hill stage or similar, but I find that zones me out a bit and I stop working as hard.
  • Remember when you're on a turbo trainer, as long as you are working hard and not just spinning away easily, you are not getting any breaks to freewheel like you would on the road or trails.  So don't worry if your planned workout outdoors was going to be 2 hours and you only do 1 or 1.5 hours on the turbo.  You probably had fewer rests or easy periods.
Silly looking skinny tyre on a mountain bike, fan and towel for the unavoidable heat, headphones and tablet on the window sill for prevention of boredom:

So, why did I go out in the pouring rain today instead of staying in the warmth of my man cave on the turbo trainer and following some of my own advice above?  Well, first of all, I wanted to get a solid 3 hours of riding in and even 2 on the turbo can be tough for boredom.  Also, one of the workouts I was doing today involved sustaining a Zone 3 heart rate for a prolonged period and while this isn't too hard to do on the road, I personally struggle to keep my heart rate up at that level or higher for a decent length of time on the turbo.  It's not that I can't be bothered working hard - I just seem to struggle even with high resistance and high gears when indoors.

Finally, the reason I realised when I got home . . . Mountain bike training isn't just about the fitness or getting the kilometers under your belt.  Skills are a really important part of it and you're going to take a big backwards step if you spend the whole winter on your turbo trainer and road bike without ever hitting the trails.  Yes, they are wet, muddy and slippy.  Yes, you have to spend ages cleaning your bike, your clothes and yourself afterwards (and note, cleaning the bike always comes first before cleaning yourself!).  But it gives you a chance to hone your skills in those more challenging conditions.  We shouldn't just practice in perfect grippy dry conditions.  You never know when that summer race you thought would be dry and warm, is suddenly transformed into a river of mud by a heavy summer downpour.  And that's when you'll be glad you spent hours slipping and sliding your way around your local trails in the winter.

I had great fun over at Cathkin Braes today and I'm so glad I got out instead of sitting inside on the turbo trainer.  I stopped and sessioned a few sections, trying new lines, seeing what works better in the wet, and did it on my heavier  bike with chunkier tyres and laden down with all my waterproof clothing.  Just think how fast those sections will feel when it's warm, dry, grippy and I'm on the race bike.

So, do use your turbo trainer to build up those base hours and work on specific areas but don't always be put off by the miserable weather.  If we hid away from it in this country we'd never get out on the trails!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Excuses, excuses

Last week, after deliberating for several weeks, I decided to pull out of the Strathpuffer 24.  Well, would you want to see this guy more than 20 times over the course of 24 hours, most of it in the dark . . .?

Despite my fear of scary cycling skeletons, it may seem strange that only my second post on this blog is about a race I've decided not to do, but sometimes that's just the right thing to do and my excuses reasons are a key part of planning and prioritising an entire season.

Those who already know me will know I've got nothing to prove when it comes to 24 hour solo races and so despite the slightly damaged pride and guilt I'll feel this weekend when viewing the Puffer live results via UK XC News, it's absolutely nothing to do with fear of completing a 24 hour solo race.  Even this one, with its 17 hours of darkness and "interesting" weather conditions!  Those who did Relentless 24 in 2011 will remember the constant 24 hours of heavy rain and I personally think that's worse than ice and snow.  If I had been doing the Puffer, I'd have been hoping for ice over rain.  I'd much rather get the ice tyres and warm clothes on than trudge my way through mud for 24 hours, going through several sets of brake pads!

Someone suggested I could do it as a recce for next year, just go easy and check out the parking situation for the campervan, practice food stops, get to know the course . . . but I've done the 12 hour version (overnight) in the summer and do know the course.  A recce would have been good but not as the only reason to do it.

So, why not follow Rule no. 5 and just do the race?

Well, my main reason is simply that my heart just wasn't in it.  I realised I wasn't doing it for the right reasons.  I had a good season last year and decided to focus this season on the British and Scottish XC series.  I put the Puffer in there, right in the middle of my base training period, simply becaue I felt I had to.  Sometimes when I mention my 24 hour races to non-mountain bikers, they say "Is that the thing that's on the Adventure show?" and it would just nice to be able to say "yes" to that question for once.  But that's not a reason to do such a tough race!  Neither is trying to get on the telly!

I signed up because I felt I had to.  Because it feels like every 24 hour racer should do the Puffer at least once.  And if that's your reason, and you're not totally 100% focussed on an event like this, then you'll just be miserable the whole time.  I spent all of last season, building up to Relentless24 and it felt great.  I genuinely enjoyed it, even when it was really hard going.  There's no way I would have enjoyed this when I'd classed it as a C priority race and wasn't doing it for the right reasons.

The other main reason is that I just don't want to risk my main priority races this year - The British XC Series and Scottish XC Series, both kicking off in March.  Racers often use an A/B/C priority system to tailor their training plan and peak for their A priority races, with B races still being important and Cs being the ones you may or may not do, just for a bit of practice.  There's no point risking my A priority races for the sake of one I considered as a C.  It takes me a good month or two to fully recover from a 24 hour solo race and I just don't want to risk not being at full fitness for the XC season.

So, that's my excuses out of the way and I just want to say good luck to everyone competing in the Puffer over today and tomorrow - hope the weather is kind to you and take care of those brake pads!

Now, I'm not using this race-free weekend to sit around, so it's off out on the road bike today for some endurance training then some good hilly mountain biking tomorrow!

Friday, 17 January 2014

This year, I'll be riding for . . .

. . . the Trek Concept Store Glasgow.  And I'm rather looking forward to racing in this kit, since it is red, white and black and so perfectly matches my bike shoes . . . that's clearly the most important thing about racing!

Nice looking race kit aside, I'm over the moon to be racing for this local Glasgow store this year on my Trek Superfly, and that's really why I've started this blog.

As a wee bit of background, I've been entering a few mountain bike races over the past couple of years and gradually getting better results.  Until now, I've mostly focussed on the longer marathon and endurance events, culminating in a 4th place at Relentless 24 last season (beaten to the podium by none other than Guy Martin, so I'm not too disappointed to miss out on 3rd).  However, last season, I entered a couple of shorter events, including a 3rd place in one, and finally realised that I can do okay on the shorter, faster XC races too.  I therefore decided it's time to take my racing to the next level and enter the Masters category of the British XC Series and Scottish XC Series.

I'm delighted to be racing in that series for the Glasgow Trek Store and will be writing up my race reports here, not just to promote myself or the store, but in the hope that the journey I've been through to get to where I am might provide a bit of inspiration, or a few tips, or just a wee bit of encouragement for anyone else thinking of taking their racing to that next level and entering these events.  But more on that another time.

So, the race reports will begin in March once those two series kick-off, but until then, look out for some general ramblings about my training and other things mountain bike related!