Monday, 27 February 2012

A typical training week

It’s now Sunday evening.  Half an hour ago I was outside enjoying a Chinese fry-up in the lovely company of my wife, with the sun shining and tuis crashing noisily from tree to tree.  Helen, busy woman that she is, soon had to leave to continue with “The List” (for those who don’t know, this is an endless set of unfinished tasks that many women are burdened with from birth).  Just as typically, I stayed a bit longer, indulgently living in the moment.  Jeez, I thought, I feel buggered.  Nothing unusual there; this is how I usually feel on a Sunday.  Really, it’s been just another typical training week.  Wait a sec!  What a good subject for a blog!

My typical training week has much to be desired, but it is probably good enough for where I’m headed at the moment.  It generally consists of 4-5 days of the working week doing lunch-time gym work.  Then it’s a long ride on Saturday, followed by a day off on Sunday.

The gym work tends to be pretty regular: stretches/weights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and spin-bike on Tuesday and Thursday.  For those interested, I’ve put in detail at the end of this blog what these might involve.  The intention is that, by the time I get to Saturday, I feel as though I’ve done some good work but still have enough for that long ride.

So, it’s Saturday at last, the highlight of the training week.  The day is mine and mine alone.  The aim is to do 6-8 hours riding and to be pretty exhausted by the end of it.

My ride yesterday was typical.  The day began fairly leisurely and I didn’t start the ride until 9 am.  Helen had left for work a bit earlier, so I had the loud assistance of the pumped-up songs of Led Zeppelin 4 to lift my sagging enthusiasm and put me in the right frame of mind.  My plan for the day was to spend around 8 hours cycling the local roads, including 2-3 ascents of the 450m high Akatarawa Road.  The intention was to try and emulate the terrain of the Graperide Ultimate, a race that I will be doing in exactly 4 weeks.  My plan was to start the ride quite hard so as to get myself in a sore and tired state as quickly as I could, although without overdoing it.  I would then settle into an endurance cycling pace.  It was the second part of the training session that was the key one.  I wanted to get my mind into the right mind-space for the race.  I wanted to be knowing the hurt and tiredness, but to be focussed on spinning those pedals, keeping the speed up, riding efficiently and fast, and keeping my mind positive and focussed.

So I was out the gate at 9 am, having left a food kong for the dog to distract him and salve my conscience.  I headed north, with the route being towards the Otaihanga Domain, over the Waikanae River foot-bridge, to Peka Peka beach, Te Horo beach, Hautere Cross Road on the Otaki Forks Road, Te Horo, then down the number one highway to Waikanae, a distance of around 40 km that would leave me ready for the first assault of the Akatarawas.

It’s great starting a ride, especially when feeling fresh and travelling on nice, smoothly-sealed road.  I quickly caught up to a sole rider, slightly older than myself, and slowed down for a chat.  It would be a long day and I do enjoy these brief encounters with fellow riders.  I then sped off and soon caught up with another couple of riders.  They were chatting between themselves, so I paused only enough to say “Gidday, how’s it going?” before speeding off again.  “Hey, you’re going too fast!” they yelled as I took off.  They looked pretty fit, so I half expected to see them catch up with me, but no such luck.  While heading up from Peka Peka beach, the fast group of the regular Saturday riders of the local bike club passed me going the other way.  Another wave and “Gidday”, with a few returning it.

At this earlier time of the day, I was to pass quite a few riders coming from the other way, which nicely broke the ride up and kept my spirits high.  But the main focus for me was high cadence, a highish gear, and getting that heart pumping strongly.  I also focussed on my riding style, something that is vital for long-distance riding and in which I am very much in need of improvement.  For the first hour of the ride, I was fairly upright on the saddle, focussing on keeping my arms very relaxed, supporting myself with my core muscles, but with the main muscle action being those pumping legs.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve become very used to using my aerobars and have a fairly efficient style with them.  Training with them is important, because I’ll probably be using them for much of the Ultimate – it is flat, I’ll be riding by myself most of the time, the aerobars get you in a more aerodynamic position where you can also use your leg muscles more effectively, and I find they take a lot of pressure off the arms.  However, several rides ago I got a fright at just how out of condition I had got with the more upright riding.  It was a 7-8 hour night ride where I set out at midnight to get used to dealing with no sleep.  Because there were quite a few hills and fairly poor visibility, I spent most of the time upright so as to have greater control of the bike.  By the end of the ride, boy were my arms sore!  Lesson learnt – don’t forget the upright position when training!

So, 40 km later, I was at Waikanae, cycling towards the Akatarawas.  I didn’t charge up the hill, but rode at a faster pace than I would in the event.  It’s a wonderful ride up the Akas.  I love it.  There must be about 7 km of continual climbing along a steep, narrow, windy road twisting through wonderful NZ bush.  This is generally done head down in a sort of trance, just focussing on rotating those pedals and keeping that momentum going.  It is not until you descend that you realise just how high the hill is.  The descent just goes on and on, one blind corner after another.  Finally you think you must be at least fairly close to the bottom, but a quick look at the view shows that there’s still a hell of a way to go.  The ascent and descent are a great combination – heart pumping determination charging you up with adrenalin for the upward bit, crowned by intense satisfaction upon breaching the hill, with this to be followed by speed and intense concentration, as you fly down the road, taking wide angles approaching the corners then cutting them as sharply as possible, ever alert for that 5-10 metres warning of an oncoming car when you have to zero in on that cycle width space that will allow you to pass safely and at speed.  What a joy and what a feeling of absolute freedom as you manoeuver and swing the bike around with your weight.  Sometimes I suspect that I’m more exhausted when I reach the bottom than when I top the hill.  The intense concentration, the adrenalin keeping the body ready for instantaneous reaction, the sheer length of the descent, and often the coldness of travelling at speed for an extended period with little muscle action, frequently leave me quite drained.

Well, that all took me back to Waikanae, my first circuit completed.  My intention was to do another loop, then return home to restock before continuing onwards.  The only problem was that I was already getting low on fuel.  I tend to combine drink and food, in the form of Hammers Perpeteum, a powder-based, liquid food designed for endurance athletes.  For this trip I took 4 full bottles of the stuff, with the intention of going home and restocking with another four when they ran out.  Because it’s a food source, it’s important that I continue to sip it throughout the ride.  After all, it’s the energy that will keep the endurance Energiser Bunny going and going.  However, I had gone through it a bit faster than planned.  But, despite my on-board stock being low, I wanted to complete the second round, so thought that I would try and conserve my drink, supplementing my intake with a One Square Meal muesli bar.  Probably not a good idea – another lesson learnt!

As it was, I only managed to complete the flat part of the circuit (now about 50 km, with extra bits added in) before working out that I should drink the remaining few drops of fuel and head home for restocking.  This part of the ride was hard going.  I was no longer in the zone.  Partly it was because I was beginning to feel uncomfortable, with sore legs after the climb and the week’s work, and with the general exertion of my first circuit.  But the real issue was that this was bothering me.  I think that part of the story was that I was not replenishing my body with enough fuel, so did not have the full energy required.  Another thing was an realisation that I needed to go to the loo – something that I could hold off for a while, but enough to increase my comfort.  So the wise decision was made – refuel time!

But, don’t forget, there’s still that negative frame of mind that I’m in.  Can I be bothered to continue?  After all, I’ve already done 100 km, I’ve had a good workout, one workout alone is not key to training, and I know that I have the will-power to complete the whole race.  But no, none of that was good enough.  They were pretty poor excuses.  So, it was home; lean bike against the fence; grab the two bottles from the bike; clip-clop into the courtyard; pat the dog; open the door and turn off the alarm; drink a glass of water and chuck a Leppin energy sachet down my throat; quarter fill the 4 bottles, add Perpeteum powder, shake, then fill; clip-clop to toilet, have a shit … ah, sweet relief; back to the kitchen; write note for wife (soon due home from work); do some quick stretches; grab bottles; lock door and reset alarm; another pat for dog; bottles back onto bike; and then I’m off again!

No time to think at all during the transition and I’m already back on the road.  And, this time round, I’m really in a positive frame of mind.  I’m fairly sore and tired, but ready to hit it for another 100 km.  And now I’m ready to go into the endurance race mode.  I’m going to feel the tiredness and discomfort, but will just keep going and going.

So it was up the Akas to complete the second circuit.  Not much fun and I was tired, but I didn’t allow any negative thoughts to enter my head.  Cheerful hullos to the few riders tearing down the road the other way, and just keeping those pedals moving.  It seemed slightly longer than usual, but I was at last at the top and back on the descent.  With this second time down the hill, it was even more important to keep alert, as tiredness can easily make the mind wander, with potentially fatal consequences.  But I was soon back at Waikanae with no dramas, and on my way up the number one to Te Whatua road and Te Horo beach.

The last 50 km was great.  Sore, tired, but focussed.  I was now down on the aerobars, being careful of my posture and position, and travelling at around 30 km/hour a lot of the time and doing so comfortably, which is good for me and promising for next month’s race.  Finally, the telling thing – how was I feeling at the end of the ride?  Knackered!  But I knew that I could still keep going.  It would be hard, but I had enough fitness and determination to make the full distance when the need came.  I had done just short of 200 km in just over 8 hours, including my transition break.  Given the week’s workout beforehand and the fast pace of the first part of the ride, I was probably feeling like I will be about half way through the Ultimate, i.e. the 250 km mark.  So it’s looking good.  It looks as though I’m likely to have the physical and mental power to get around the course and even to make the cut-off times.  Still some unknowns to deal with, but I was pretty happy.

Happy yes, but also knackered and exhausted.  Still enough energy to have a yarn with the neighbour pruning his fruit trees; grab myself a feed; fold the washing; and march myself up to a shower and de-grime.  But not enough energy not to spend most of the evening on the couch, with nothing much on my mind, shifting from one sore position to another sore position, and trying my hardest not to let out any heartfelt sighs.  And, as is now usual for me on Saturdays, it was a pretty broken, fitful sleep.

So we now come to today, Sunday.  Sunday is my rest day.  A rest day from training anyway.  However, in that other, more important sense, it’s my make-up day!  I’m blessed with a hard-working wife who is also driven, but driven in more practical, less self-indulgent ways.  Driven in things such as keeping a house and family together, looking after a large garden, caring for sundry pets, writing bills, checking bank statements, organising plumbers and electricians, etc. etc.  I owe her a lot and am in a huge deficit in terms of (not) sharing equally in things.  Frankly, I blame it on “The List” and that higher sense of responsibility that many women seem to be unfairly given.

So this Sunday was also like most others.  It begins with the dog making his first tentative moves into our bedroom around 7 am.  By lying as quietly as I could, I managed to forestall him until around 7.30, when he leapt onto the bed and lay on top of us both.  Finally, at about 7.45, I struggled from under his weight, snuck down to the kitchen to put the kettle on, called softly to the dog and fed him, staggered down the driveway to get the Sunday Star Times, then took newspaper and tea to Helen, who was already sitting up ready, with a great hefalump of a black dog firmly planted back on her lap.  After a civilised cuppa, we continue with shower and breakfast, then it’s on to grocery shopping.  This time Helen came with me as she had other shopping to do, which was a great chance for me to beg coffee at a café, which would give me the chemical stimulus I so needed, as well as some more down-time with my wife.  Then home, pack the groceries away … and … God, I feel buggered.  Do you mind if I have 40 minutes lie down?  Forty minutes and several winks later and I’m again staggering up the drive-way, this time to find Helen weeding.  The time is 1pm.  First chore of the afternoon – move the dry firewood to one side, so that it is not blocked when we get the next load in.  Lots of physical work, throwing the wood to the side then restacking it.  Next chore, cut all the branches over the driveway, which make it hard for trucks or cars with bikes to get in.  And then, of course, all the mess needs to be tidied up.  Then it’s on to cleaning my bike, which hasn’t been cleaned for 3 weeks and has an especially filthy chain.  Now it’s about 5.30 pm and, lo and behold, there is the magical smell of sesame oil and green ginger wine wafting from the kitchen.  Before I know it, we are both sitting in the courtyard, our oldest son and his girlfriend having just left for some socialising, and about to begin a wonderful meal together.

And now?  The time is 9.45 pm.  I’d better sort things out for tomorrow, grab some more food (the hunger demons are busy for quite a while after my long rides!), and begin relaxing for bed.  Tomorrow it all starts again.

Ta da!

For anyone strange enough to be interested in my week day training, this is it:

  • The stretch/weights sessions are all the same.  They start with about 5-10 minutes stretching my legs.  Then about 5 minutes waving my arms in the air, warming them up and getting my heart beat up in preparation for some weights.  Then it’s 3x10 crunchies combined with 3x10 leg-rises (on back, legs straight and vertical, slowly dropped to just above floor, and then lifted again).  After that, 3x45 second holding the plank position (toes and elbows on ground, with straight back).  Then 3x10 doing the bridge (lying on back with knees at right angles and tightening the glutes to lift the pelvis into the air) combined with 3x15 pressups.  Then it’s 2x7 shoulder shrugs with weights, holding each for 6 seconds – apparently good for posture in front of a computer.  Then 3x10 on a machine where I pull weights by taking my arms from an open to a full closed position.  And finally 3x10 squats.  The latter are done carefully with only 25 kg, mainly because I have trouble with my knees.
  • The spin sessions are 40 minutes, although maybe up to 50 minutes on the Thursday.  They start with a 10 minute warm-up, gradually getting faster and faster.  Then, from there to the end, it is five-minute repetitions consisting of 2 minutes hard and 3 minutes recovery.  Three quarters of the 2 minutes hard is sitting on the seat, but 30 seconds is standing on the pedals pushing an even high gear.

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