Burn Out to All Out
Strength & Endurance
“Time may change me, but I can’t trace time” David Bowie
It was a June day, it was 2017, I was lying in hospital, drugged up to the heavens with morphine and codeine. “Yes, no problem, I will be fine, I will be back at work tomorrow”, a true reflection of my inebriated state. This may sound strange, but the overriding feeling I had was of gratitude. Thankful for my crash, my broken elbow, thankful for this external force (namely tarmac at 30mph in a bike race), that had brought me to this contrasting sanctuary. Shrewsbury Royal Hospital.
The truth was, I was burnt out. The same had happened the previous year (2016), around May-June. That time it was a lung infection. See the pattern? So, this crash was a blessing. I pretended to be gutted to not race the national road race and time trial, but, in reality I was glad to injured. Being my own worst enemy, unable to recognise when to stop. I had ‘peaked’ too early in the season, and watched as other athletes seemed to get stronger, whilst I started getting dropped in races.
Back to the hospital and the three months recovery. My dad always told me, ‘don’t keep pressing the same button if it isn’t working’.
‘Trying to coach myself was evidently not working.’
Six months prior to the crash I had seen Liam Holohan compete at my local hill climb, afterwards one of the Holohan Race Team ‘tweeted’ “beaten by coach tonight”. A little thought triggered in my brain, and by the end of phsyio and recovery and a lot of self-reflection, my outlook on cycling had changed. It was less emotive. I now saw a series of steps ahead, one of these was to find a coach. The link to hill climbing, and a local race team, naturally led me to Liam.
I remember our first telephone chat, Liam asked what my goals were. All I knew at that point was I want to improve my performance. Liam helped me add a couple of goals into that. Two months later, we began training. The Base Period.
‘Straight-away I over-did the endurance Z2 riding. Ah, so this was where I was going wrong. Too much intensity too soon.’
Liam asked me if I could do strength and conditioning at the gym, I said yes, and went along to the gym each week by myself. In 2018, my first competitive season, I saw gains. By June, miraculously I wasn’t burnt out. So much so, that we ramped up the intensity and hit my first big road race (the second one completed that year), the Welsh Road Race Championships. I came second. All good.
The next winter, 2018-19, I had a chat with Liam, and I asked what can I do to build my lactate threshold. Two main aspects stood out. Strength and Endurance. Back to gym. But, this time with a specific strength and conditioning coach, Tony Brooks, a qualified level 4 S+C coach; National Masters Olympic weight-lifting champion; and World Masters cycling medallist. I couldn’t believe my luck, living in rural Wales, and not with huge financial resources, this opportunity was brilliant, especially as Tony was keen to slot into Liam's programme.
‘I fully understand the benefits a base period brings to the competitive season.’
Parallel to strength work, I focused and committed to the winter training more than I had the previous year. Doing more endurance and building in tempo work. I saw big gains in road races, including my ability to climb hills, with 18 unbroken hill climb wins and 13 course records. I also finished every single National Series Race I competed in, as well as a 60min solo breakaway in one race, where I set a new 1hour Threshold Power. My 20minute threshold power increased as well as my 5min power.
Now as I head into the 2019-2020 Base Period (winter training), I go in confident of the process. My training zones are higher, but also, I am understanding another important aspect of endurance training, that they shouldn’t be seen as ‘cafe-stop’ rides.. Take a 3hour ride from December 2018, I was spending about 30min in my recovery zone, 10minutes of which I wasn’t even pedalling. In December 2019, my goal is zero time in recovery during my endurance rides. In addition, I now primarily do endurance rides using heart rate, compared to power.
‘It has been a process of building physiological data with Liam over the last two years, to know what works best for me. He will discuss and point me in the right direction.’
In addition, I have continued my gym work with Tony, and in the last six weeks we have been in the hypertrophy stage. All of my techniques, and my overall mobility as vastly improved from 2018. All of my ‘starting’ weights for 10rep sets is up. I am already able to deadlift 70kg for 10reps, and bar squat 45kg for 10reps x 4sets. I never even got to 70kg deadlift last winter. Next week we will finish the hypertrophy stage with a pre-xmas 5rep bit of fun, with the aim to deadlift 80kg and bar squat 60kg. After Christmas we will begin the maximal strength phase, aligning with the next period of cycling.
‘Don’t waste time. Make good decisions for your cycling goals by finding a coach you can trust. Commit to the process, and understand that there is no quick win.’
I am so thankful for the broken elbow, and some hard lessons learnt. It enabled me time to reflect and through that I found a coach whose main prerogative is to see the longer-term picture, not a quick win that would result in a burnt out athlete. Winter training is a perfect example of patience, it isn’t glamorous, but it sure works! Time CAN change things. I am confident in Liams programme, therefore enabling me head-space to focus on my rides. The annual training plan clearly sets out the times of year that I will peak. And, I know that with time, my performance and physiological make-up will continue to change.