Editors Diaries – The first Rule of Fitness
At the start of the year three ENDURO editors took on a challenge – to get Ride Fit for the 2015 season. At 36 years old, UK Editor Trev was keen to focus on race performance, but in reality knew he would have to spend some time on the foundations (you can read his statement here). It’s time to check in and see how he is getting on.
New year confessions
OK, before I start I need to make a confession, unlike many of the ‘new year’ starters at the gym the symbolism surrounding getting in shape in January was kind of wasted on me, and despite my best intentions it took me over four weeks to get a plan sorted, but I finally got the ball rolling around the start of February. Now, last season I raced a lot – the local and international enduro scene simply exploded and there were awesome events everywhere. I found myself bouncing from event to event, turning up, giving it my all on the stages and putting my bike away for the rest of the week before racing again the next weekend. Without a specific training plan I was making the same mistakes, feeling the same doubts about my fitness and spiralling into progressively worse results. I realised that at 36 years old, I could no longer just turn up and give it 100%, I was lacking a 5th gear and my sprinting was best described as comedic. Things had to change!
No turbo training for me
When it comes to fitness, if you have read this far then I am probably a lot like you, I ride a fair bit for sure, two to three times a week in the winter, but my riding has always been unstructured and a training plan has always been something “I will sort out tomorrow”. Working full time (and way beyond) has meant that there is precious little time left over in the day, and the last thing that I want to do after getting home is to sweat it out on a turbo trainer, staring blankly at the garage wall while the minutes tick slowly away. No way! I want to ride my bike – outside – in the mud! However, I know that to get fitter and healthier I need to train, but with limited time, I needed to train smart.
Motivation is key
Motivation had always been a tough one for me as I travel a lot, but this year I have some big races on the calendar, and the 30-31st May is marked in thick red pen, the Tweed Valley Enduro World Series Round 3, right here in my home town. I did not get to race it last year but this year I have an entry. The level will be super high and I want to do my best on home soil. My best ever result at an EWS was 130th and I would be delighted to finish higher than that, but to do so, I know I need to train and I know I need help.
It was time to call in the experts, so an email was sent to Dirt School Mountain Bike Coaching whose world class coaches offer training plans and consultation that can be tailored to any goal, and their ethos of training in the saddle rather than on the turbo trainer sat perfectly with my hectic schedule. My coach through the process was to be Rab Wardell, Commonwealth and World Cup XC racer, raconteur and lean mean fitness machine, who would also be racing the Tweed EWS. After a brief chat about my goals for the season and where I thought I needed work (I was all wrong), Rab was keen to find out what he had to work with so I was quickly signed up for my first fitness test – there would be no hiding now.
Hard numbers to swallow
Just a week later I walked nervously into the Napier University Sports Science suite, numerous items of scientific apparatus blinked and beeped around the spacious lab. I had never taken part in a fitness test before but I had heard the stories from those who had, and most involved pain and suffering. I was nervous, but also really keen to see how I would perform under pressure. The winter had been a hard one and my work/work balance had meant that I had not been out on the bike much. As I stood there in my shorts while skin fold measurements were being taken – the truth was in the readings, damn, I needed to sort myself out. I was quite pleased to find out that 58% of my 75.1 kilo mass was muscle, I did not ask what the other 31.3 kilos comprised.
The dreaded ramp test – no end in sight
PhD Student Lesley Ingram and Dr Geraint Florida-James were to be my guides through the process and first up it was a Threshold and Ramp Aerobic Power test. This test was designed to determine where my lactate threshold was, and how long I could hang on after it had been reached. We would be using a special Watt Bike that could precisely control the power output and I would be wearing a mask that would continually monitor my body’s ability to send oxygen to my muscles. The test started out easily enough, every three minutes a small blood sample would be taken from my ear lobe and the bike would get a little harder to pedal (in 30 Watt increments). As we completed the first part of the test I was feeling pretty confident, it has not been too bad, but then the ramp started! Increasing 15 Watts every minute, this process would continue until I could no longer hit a cadence of 60 rpm, or more likely – gave up or collapsed.
Taking it to the limit
For the first five minutes I was thinking “this is alright, I can hold on”, but as the power moved over 300 Watts it was like hitting a brick wall. My legs started to scream for oxygen, I started to try and breath through my ears and a mental battle to ‘not quit’ began. Without an endpoint to conquer it was all about hanging on as long as possible, Geraint and Lesley were cheering me on, shouting that I was doing well, would this be my moment of glory, would I surprise myself with unbeknown resilience? – No, after another 45 seconds I gave up! I simply had nothing left to give, I never train at this intensity and was amazed how fast I crumpled. 335 Watts was the ramp test maximum for me with a VO2 max of 52.1L not as bad as I had feared – but a far cry from some of the massive numbers my elite racer friends had talked of.
The dreaded ramp test was over and after a good recovery and some good natured banter it was onto Geraint’s Enduro Specific Power test, one that had been trialled by some of the biggest enduro names in the UK. The test was designed to measure my ability to put down repeated high power efforts, seven all out sprints ranging from two seconds to thirty, which would come thick and fast. The test was short but brutal, all out sprinting until I was told to stop – sometimes for an agonisingly long time and sometimes just two seconds. A high cadence was needed as the power was high and it was hard to accelerate from slow speeds. I went for it as hard as I could, sweating and swearing, and as the test rolled on I felt like I was just about clinging onto consciousness. On the first few efforts I was pushing over 1000 Watts which sounded impressive until I realised that was the same as a cheap kettle, and as the test went on my power dropped like a stone. From my experience of racing I knew this would happen – at the start of long stages I would be all power and enthusiasm, at the end I would be an exhausted mess. This was my weakness and hopefully where training would help.
And then it was over, I slumped on the bike and attempted to uncross my eyes and re-inhale my lungs, I could not move, I had never been so tired. Not only did I now know how fit I was, but these tests had opened my eyes to a whole new level of training, an intensity that my hamster heart had never even dreamed of. I was exhausted but excited to try and improve my fitness – especially now I knew what I was working with.
So that was the fitness test, I had my baseline data and would be returning in three months to retest and see if my training had any effect. It was time to get a structured plan so it was back to Dirt School for some advice. A week later I sat with Rab to discuss my results and together we started to formulate a training schedule that would help to boost my fitness in time for the EWS. I had a feeling that this was just the beginning – but that’s a story for next week.
I would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to the team at Napier University, Geraint and Lesley, and also Rab Wardell who I look forward to working with. Tune in next time when I dig into Rab’s training plan and race my first race of the season.
For more information about the Dirt School training plans, check out their new website.
Words and photos: Trev Worsey