If you follow my social media and Strava, you may have noticed that I've been trying to ride and train with more consistency recently. I'd say it's been over 4 years since I trained.
2014 was a hard year for me - I pushed myself past my limit in the ABSA Cape Epic and I spent a week in ITU in Cape Town recovering from Rhabdomyolysis. Then I had to deal with the reality of not qualifying for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. I'd gambled for over 3 years to try and make what I considered to be a successful, International pro and it hadn't worked out.
It was time to set new goals, focus on coaching and developing a career. I was fortunate to work alongside two of the best in the business at Dirt School with Andy and Chris.
I didn't completely stop riding - I've raced, ridden and gone to the gym in this 4 years. I've raced Enduro, XC and 'cross. I even captained a team across America to win Race The World! I was lucky that I got to ride a bike when I work, but it wasn't training. As a coach your job is to be athlete focused and to ensure that your riders are working on their goals and training, not the other way around!
Earlier this year I realised just how much my body and mind missed exercise and training. Training makes me feel better physically and, more importantly for me, mentally. The turning point for me was getting out and riding my road bike earlier this spring. I'd been struggling with depression and Leanne said to me 'take some time for yourself and go for a ride'. I took out the Stig and rode some roads and gravel to the south-west of Glasgow. It was the first time in a long while that I'd gone out on the road. I'd been putting it off with silly excuses. When I got home from that ride I simply felt so much better. It was like I'd rediscovered a forgotten secret.
What Next and Why Now?
A lot has changed for me this year. The biggest change for me is that I have a new job and my work commute is now around 10 minutes and not 1 hour 30 each way... I have the best part of 3 hours of my day back and I'm less stressed. It's given me the opportunity to train again.
I don't have any aspirations to 'turn pro'. I just want to be healthy and feel good. I'd like to go on big adventures, ride cool races and compete to the best of my ability. I want to ride a variety of events too.
I've been getting some good work done and I definitely know how to to train - I'm a coach for god sake! However, I think it's good to work with someone you trust to help you stay focused and to create a plan. That's why I gave James at WhatsyourM.E.T.A a shout.
Who is James?
James McCallum, or Jimmy Mac, has been one of my closest friends for around 14 years and I've called him Uncle Jimmy for about 10 of those! I don't see him very often but our friendship doesn't grow apart.
The first day I met him I smoked him and the rest of the field at a criterium on the outskirts of Edinburgh... He must have gotten better because he went on the win the British Criterium championship and become the 'Don' of the Tour Series with Rapha-Condor-Sharp. He's a ruthless Boss on a bike.
James went on to be a DS and coach for pro road cycling teams and now runs WhatsyourM.E.T.A providing training services to 'build better humans'. I almost forgot to mention he holds the record for cycling the North Coast 500. He rode 517 miles around the north coast of Scotland in 31 hours... Unreal.
I trust James to be able to help me identify where I am weak and he will tell me what I need to do. He aspires to be at the forefront in sport science and knows how to apply this science in the real world. I hope to work with James on strength and conditioning as well as on bike work outs. However I draw the line at turning vegan... First up though we needed to set some baseline numbers.
If you hope to reach a goal, you need to know where you are starting from. Jimmy said to me recently 'You can't base your training zones on memories and ego'. He's not wrong!
I've done a whole lot of fitness tests before though my time on the Scottish and British Cycling performance programmes. The first test I was doing with James was a Max Aerobic Power test, or MAP. These tests start at a set power output and increase watts each 2.5 minutes until failure. Once you have the results of this test you can calculate MAP, Vo2 Max and Lactate Threshold.
Ego and Memories Veruses Reality
Since the age of 16 I have been doing fitness tests. Firstly on a King Cycle in Edinburgh University, then an SRM Ergometer at Manchester Velodrome, and most recently on specialist equipment at Edinburgh Napier University. The test I usually complete is a ramp test to determine maximum 1 minute power. Typically I hit 420 watts - 440 watts and have even pushed towards 460 watts. My 'race weight' is around 66kgs.
Right now I weigh about 69 kilograms and I know my power output isn't a good as it has been in the past. However, I would still estimate pushing towards 440 watts for the minute... The big difference with the MAP test was that the ramp steps are 2.5 minutes long, not 1 minute at a time. I didn't really think about this before the test, but this makes a big difference and adds a huge variable!
Another variable that came with this test was that I was using new equipment. I rode my own Santa Cruz Stigmata on a Wahoo Kickr direct drive trainer and the test protocol was set through Zwift. I completed the test at Jimmy's home M.E.T.A cave. In the lead up to the test I eased up on my training and have taken it pretty easy since the Dukes Weekender.
I went through a steady warm up before some short efforts for activation before the ramp test started. We set the ramp at 140 watts to start with and the ramp increased 20 watts every 2 minutes 30 seconds. During the test I could see my heart rate and James would also ask me what my RPE (rate of perceived exertion) was - essentially how hard it felt out of 10.
Things started well and to be honest I felt pretty chilled. I have a big aerobic base due to years and years of riding. Where things started to get difficult were around 300-320 watts. I started to struggle and it took me by surprise. In my mind I was still thinking I would push beyond 420 watts. I did everything I could to power through but I failed as the test ramped up to 380 watts.
If I'm honest, I was disappointed. It took me until late on in the evening to really understand that the test I did was different to what I have done in the past! For me, it's really difficult to distance myself from memories of what I could once do. Even though the test protocol was different to what I was used to, and it had been a long time since I have done a test, I still expected to hit 440 watts!
With some consideration and hindsight I needed to remember that I was completing a test to set current 'numbers' ie. power output at given heart rate intensity, so that my training can be smarter. Test aren't the main event. They are a tool to help you gauge progress and to get better. I have my training zones set and my plan is being written. It's time to start doing work!
What really matters
When we finished up the test it was time to get kit on a head for a ride outside. James and I don't hang out anywhere near as often as we should.
He took me for a tour of the lanes near his new house. He's always keen for a gravel sector or lane with grass growing up the middle of the road! It was flippin' keen to just head out, talk shit and ride bikes. He's a GC for sure.
If you're interested in seeing my test results and the ride we did you can check them out on my Strava here and here.
I'm now chilling for a big weekend on the bike hitting round 1 of the Scottish Cyclocross Series on the Isle of Bute followed the next day by the finale of the Scottish Cross Country mountain bike series at Glentress! Wish me luck.
'til next time...
Over and out,