Winter Reflection - Rebecca Richardson
Looking back on my winter training.
The racing season is here, and yet the UK weather and coronavirus outbreak seem to suggest otherwise.
However, March is here. There have been glimmers of sun and warmth and longer daylight hours. Which, being optimistic, I thought it safe to reflect on my winter training.
I finished last year's season at the end of October 2019, with the National Hill Climb Championships. It had been a three-month campaign of hill climb competitions, driving up and down the country every weekend. So, for the first two weeks of November, I took a break from biking and travelling.
I am self-employed, and whilst this has many benefits, it also has equal pitfalls. The benefits are flexible working, which is perfect for optimising weather windows for training. The pitfalls include no holiday pay, sick leave pay, and alongside being a single household income it means that all eggs lie in my basket.
So, whilst the two-week break from the bike was all well, the external pressures of continuing work and playing catch-up from a financially exhausting three-month hill climb campaign created quite a bit of stress. In addition, November - February ended up being an unusually busy period for work, with a lot of my architectural design and planning projects coming into fruition at the same time, and everyone wanting to start construction this spring. So, whilst good for catching up on lost income, it also meant I had no real time to recover from an exhausting hill climb season.
During the October - December period I was also trying to establish my 2020 season. It was fortunate to be accepted to ride for On Form cycling team for the road race calendar, whilst having autonomy to ride for Brother UK. during the hill climb season, which runs August to October.
Support from Brother UK. Cycling; my coach Liam Holohan; strength and conditioning coach Tony Brooks; and Lee from Zed Wheels, made the 2020 cycling season look feasible from a financial perspective. The combined support towards my 2020 cycling season made the difference in considering if I could continue training and racing to target National races. It was the grain of motivation I needed to see this initial period of work and financial stress through.
Between work I fit in the school runs and after-school clubs for my son. A few bouts of colds hit us both quite hard in the first period of the winter season. In November-December I had some colds, and my son also suffered badly from asthma this winter. This resulted in broken nights of sleep. In addition, I think my body was still playing catch up following a bad viral infection I caught two weeks before the National Hill Climb championships at Haytor. It is all too easy to overlook the recovery from viral infections, and an overall fatigue lingered.
Liam was concerned over my general well-being, as he emphasised, “without mental and physical health adaptation cannot occur”. He offered me some good strategies, which along with other advice, started to help. At one point, I had a mental low, and he gave me freedom to ‘just ride you bike for enjoyment’. Fortunately, I live in a beautiful rural area in Wales, and I am someone who enjoys riding my bike combined with training, so a few off-road fun sessions, and a few rides exploring new roads was enough to give me the mental space I needed.
Sleep debt from my sons asthmatic nights, really caught up on me in January - February, and my motivation to train was waning. Again, this was something that Liam picked up on. He gave me some strategies to improve sleep quality and duration. We used sleep tracking data and other metrics, such as HRV (Heart Rate Variability), to ensure the interventions were effective.
I have always been quite good at taking a 15minute naps in the daytime, usually after lunch. But, because of the increased workload from November to February, I realised I had been foregoing these naps. After listening to my coach and a numerous podcasts on the matter, such as the ‘Feel Better, Live More’ podcast show by Dr Rangan Chatterjee, I started to re-prioritise sleep. Now that March is here, I can say that for the last two weeks I have been getting consistently 9hours sleep each night. It makes a drastic difference to my overall feeling, both mental as well as physical.
Mental strength was another area that we sought to seek improvements in. I started seeing a hypnotherapist in January and feel the sessions very beneficial. Not only to find breathing mechanisms alongside the mindfulness that I practice, but also to focus on some aspects of my racing performance. It will be very interesting to see how this develops into 2020.
All of this focus on improved recovery and the reduction in external life stressors has had a very positive impact on my performance as well as work life. Underlying that coaching is far more than the prescription of intervals. A healthy and happy athlete, is a fast one.
I love riding my bike. This winter I made the decision to not go away on a training camp. It is always possible to get cheap flights and accommodation but combined with the loss of income from being self-employed, it seemed a better idea to grin and bear winter in Wales.
In order to break up the winter monotony, we implemented some fresh new training strategies; Zwift (virtual racing) has been a bit of a lifeline at times, as has some gravel riding. It has seemed very windy this winter, with a series of storms affecting training sessions. However, with less hours completed this year, the quality has been much higher. I have turned bad weather sessions into opportunities to improve skills and technical aspects of riding in more challenging conditions, which one will always encounter in races.
The quality of riding completed within the set hours has meant that my overall fitness is on track. Liam is good at setting ‘quality over quantity’ rides, especially important for a busy working Mum. It is easy to trust his process when I know that most of his clients and himself are mostly self-employed, and with families too. This year I particularly enjoyed the “progressive endurance” sessions, working from bottom end endurance to top end over a period of 4 hours, it’s had a very positive effect on my stamina.
Liam has been careful to make sure that other stresses in my life are being managed before adding bike sessions that will push my body towards the edge, and so between us we have navigated a tricky winter. He has given me much more recovery and adaptation weeks, and I am pleased to say that my numbers (power and heart rate), and my fatigue resistance is all on track for the season ahead.
Strength and Conditioning
One aspect of training this winter which has given me tremendous satisfaction is the progress I have made in the gym and my overall strength.
Gym sessions with my s&c coach, Tony Brooks, have become small havens of time in a nice warm indoors environment, where I have seen great progress in my abilities to lift weights, my techniques. It has also been a stress reliever, giving me 2 hours a week away from the clamour of work and life.
In previous blogs I have said that time + consistency = success. This winter has been a good example of this. Whilst there hasn’t been a massive quantity, there has been consistency over the three months, even against some difficult weather conditions, work, illness and slept debt.
I have worked hard to regain balance in the last month and feel that the break-through is there in the nick of time. It is so important that I have had Liam and other people to talk to and share common stresses and realities of life that can hit us all. Life is not perfect, sometimes training/life/work balance is great, and sometimes, such as this winter, it requires more careful management.
Into March 2020, I am really feeling good and looking forward to the first set of races starting this week.
Thank you to everybody who has supported me for your kindness.
Note: Rebecca competed in her first event of 2020, the Magnificent 7, a unique event that features 7 mass start hill climbs in one 50km loop. I’m proud to say that she stormed to victory, winning 6 out of the 7 and taking the overall win.