Updated: Jan 1, 2021
In this article, coached rider Rebecca Richardson, gives us an overview of her winter training so far.
Winter training 2020
This is a short piece about the type of training that I have been doing. I live near the small rural town of Llanfyllin in Mid-Wales. The county of Powys is sparsely populated and my particular small area is typified by a network of small lanes which are undulating. There are wooded ‘dingles’ rising upto moorland and mountains to the north and west.
(Image above: riding up Bwlch Y Groes, I grew up at the base of this climb)
This period of training is all about Strength and Endurance and using the less intense period of training to practice any technical skills.. The principles of training are quite simple, put your body under stress then recover, adapt and repeat. The process gets harder through the season. I love this time of year, the type of training suits me. In the first few weeks Liam sets rides that are progressive in time and generally Z2, in the last 4 weeks we have then stuck at a set volume (hours) and ramped the amount of tempo work in my rides.
Strength training has also been ramped. In the first two weeks I adapted my body back into weight training, with low weight and low reps in the gym. I then completed three weeks of hypertrophy, which is generally low weights but high reps to attempt to force muscles to grow. On the bike I find that off-road riding on my gravel bike is great to reinforce the gym work.
Gravel rides - Endurance and technical
“What would be great is if someone could get a puncture and a couple of shots of someone falling off. We will probably need to stage this' ' somehow I agreed to writing an article for Bike Mag, and now here I am playing choreographer for a gravel ride . Typically Wales has delivered a notoriously bad winter day. Oliver Harrison, sports photographer, is keen to see the scenic landscape of Wales, and I guarantee him that there will probably be no views today. What a shame. Feeling a bit dejected as I wake up on the Saturday morning, I wonder if this plan I have hatched will work. I have managed to convince four people to get up at 6am and hurl themselves with enthusiasm onto gravel bikes in abmissal conditions to get some photos for the article. My plan is fairly far-reaching, as usual I have set myself a rather high limit.
Not only will Oliver take photos, but I convince him to borrow a bike and ride the moorland route I have planned. The night before, checking the weather forecast, I see the 40mph westerly winds forecast, I picture the bleak moorland routes I have planned for the ‘photo shoot’ and think, as I quite often do, “what is wrong with me?” I think this, because I have already done a quick assessment in my mind and decided that “it will be alright”. Luckily Rick, Lizzie and Tom, all experience outdoor folk (climbing, fell running, mountain biking) and, myself. Between us we have outdoor leadership qualifications (mountain bike leader, mountain leader, and I have some of my sea kayaking stars, all four of us have at some point completed the two day outdoor first aid) this is all quite amazing considering none us really had much of plan as we rolled out the door, and within 10 minutes Lizzie got her first kosher puncture, and then 10minutes later fell off her bike. This was all perfect for the photo shoot, things were falling into place.
Well the ride was falling into place indeed. The 40mph winds and lashing rain really created an opportune effect, and none of us had to pretend that we were cold and tired and ready to get moving off the moor, it was just all so genuine.
Several days later after editing the 250 photos and editing my article it gets submitted to Bike Mag and makes the front cover courtesy of Oliver's fantastic pictures.
DOMS (muscular fatigue) and the joys of riding with them - Hypertrophy Phase
“Oliver, you must see Bwlch Y Groes road climb before you leave Wales, it is the hardest climb I have ever ridden”, another brilliant idea. Tired and exhausted from the moorland epic, sitting in a cafe, we chat about going to Bwlch Y Groes the next morning. Cogs quickly whirl in my brain, “what is wrong with me” as I hear myself agreeing to take to the QOM Strava Record the next morning. I don’t tell anyone about the serious muscle pains I am experiencing from the gym session on Friday or my overwhelming fatigue. “It will be alright”.
(Image - prepping string wheels with new tubs the night before)
7.45am, Sunday, November morning, sandwiched in the middle seat of the van between Rick and Oliver, we drive to Bwlch Y Groes, giving Oliver a brief history of my childhood in places. Oh look, there's a track I used to live up, oh here is Mallwyd where I used to swim in the river; ah, Dinas Mawddwy school and this is the lane I used to bike when I was 9-11 years old, funny really only 1⁄2 mile from the base of Bwlch Y Groes (Hells Fire Pass).
They dump me at the bottom of the climb with the hill climb bike and string wheels. I will need all the help I can get with the legs clamped in DOMS and a freezing sunday morning. I allow myself 10minutes rolling up and down the road, waiting for the van to get almost to the top, which is now a speck in the distance. I seriously doubt this plan. Bwlch Y Groes is no easy feat. The only climb I have failed to bike up (twice) I was 5months pregnant the second time though. However, it is a very long 2.6km wall. Persistently horrible. The top third of the climb as you get onto the section of road protected by barriers is grim. Body hanging over the handlebars to keep the front wheel from jumping, body pushing to keep moving forwards.
Standing at the bottom I am a bit jittery with the cold, but relish this moment a little too. Here I am now a 34 year old woman. How could I tell my 10 years old self who grew up staring up at this climb that hey, I am still here, still staring up!
Unlike a hill climb, there is no 3,2,1 . So, I just rolled to the start of the Strava Segment (I checked its location on strava before I left home). I have no bike computer, no HR strap, no power. My phone in my back pocket and has strava on record. At the brow of a small hill I look at the little bridge that marks the start of the climb and think, pick up speed, hit the bridge and then switch your brain. Oliver afterwards remarks how relaxed I am, I think it is more likeable tiredness. But, there is something in it, as I stare at that bridge and in the lead up to the attempt, I observe how my mind and body have shifted slightly. I am in a ‘competitive’ mode, and I am also in a place of habit and routine. I have learnt how to prepare my mind for hill climb competitions. As soon as I hit the bridge my tiredness vanishes, and it is like a focus and meditation begins. The pedals turn with a different intent and my breathing becomes very calm and controlled. 10minutes later as I hit the barriers, my mind is going a bit mad, my body hurts and I have no idea what time I am on for the QOM.
As I pass Oliver and Rick on the climb, I want to stop because after all this isn;t a hill climb competition, the energy bank is completely empty. It is 8.40am in the morning. Something keeps me going and as I leave them and round the last section of the climb the most glorious sunrise pours over me, and a mountain wind rustles around my clothing. A massive sense of gratitude and peace sweeps over me. A pure joy to be here, on this mountain, me, and my bike and the beautiful sunrise. I take the record and feel happy.
Testing - power curve
In the third week of the new season training Liam set me a bunch of maximal efforts to establish my power curve. All very important to make sure we are training in the right power zones. The three hour test, on the Friday before the moorland epic (saturday) and bwlch y groes climb (sunday), is about establishing my aerobic efficiency. I need to sit at 155bpm for three hours. The route needs to be rolling , no major descents and limit junctions. Well, the weather is awful. Wet rain. The light levels are low.
As I trudge up the road to the watershed to Dinas Mawddwy I find myself thinking how boring this ride is. “What is wrong with me” 70km of practically empty roads through the beautiful welsh landscape. Back home I am freezing and wet. Jump in the bath and struggle to get out, even though I’m running late for gym. Jack arrives with a delivery of organic veg, a beautiful box of seasonal produce grown 2miles from my place.
A testing puncture - realities
One afternoon I hop on the gravel bike, the snow was on the tops. Grim, grey, wet day. Quick 1 hour mooch over the back lanes. At the high point of the climb I hear a scuffing. Look down and see the mother of all thorns in my front tyre. I pull it out “hisssssssss”. Not good. Only two weeks earlier I watched Rick (bike mechanic) grapple with intent to get the tyre on these very persistently tough rims. I am already cold. My brain does some quick assessments, and I decide in a rather dramatic way that I need to get that tube replaced and very rapidly due to the minus degree conditions. Something benign is escalating.
I whip off the tyre and get the new tube in. Then I grit my teeth and with intent stamped in my brain, “I WILL get this tyre on. I MUST get this tyre on”. 5minutes later and lots of swearing the tyre is on. I decided to sample the gas canister for the first time. I know they get very cold when they pressurise the tyres, so I make sure to keep the mini neoprene cover on. Holding the valve in one hand I press the button to release the pressure and instantly the valve freezes where my hand is!! Ahhh! Thank the lord I am wearing my gloves as I look at the freeze burn on the fabric!
Back on the bike, teeth chattering and the freezing rain whipping in my face, I curse the long descent. When I finally get home I am shredded. Just so cold. I sit in the bath again. I have never bailed from a ride. Point of pride. I always get myself home. Fact :)
Dyfi Forest makes up for ALL - Enjoying riding your bike
A beautiful ride that I will never forget. The day promises its usual ingredient of welsh winter weather. As we drive to Mallwyd at 8am in the morning the sky shows very promising patches of blue. For the next 60km of forest tracks, mountain tracks and glorious scenery, we are blessed with sun. A huge endurance ride, made up of three main climbs all around 1450ft each.
Stepping into a forgein land, although only a handful of miles from home. Lucky lucky lucky. You just never know what is around the corner. Every ride is different if you make it so, and absorb your surroundings.
Strines - Love /Hate - Technical
Improving technical skills and working on weaknesses is a very uncomfortable thing to do. It will be the days that you ‘opt’ out. However, knowing how the chimp works, I always over-ride this feeling and “opt in”. I have been embracing testing conditions, and over that last year I have gradually raised my comfort levels riding in uncomfortable conditions. Strines was recently voted the toughest area to ride in the country, and for good reason. It has steep technical descents (and ascents), there are always strong cross winds and quite often rain which comes off the mountains and fells. Initially I hated riding in Strines, I appreciated its beauty, but I felt so uncomfortable and inadequate on the bike. It would make me anxious, then mad, then scared! Generally I just wanted the ride to end.
But, then I worked on my mental game and thought about how these technical descents and cross-winds could help me. Once my focus shifted to this I started riding out into Strines (Peak District) with purpose. I have spent over a year studying how others descend in cross-winds, or how best to descend on steep, fast descents. In the summer I used the back lanes around Wales and took my cyclo-cross bike out to practice on steep rougher road descents but with the comfort of disc brakes and grippy tyres. I then went back to Strines this winter and utilised the skills and body positions I have learnt to start getting quicker on Strines descents, but with the same level of comfort. I will never experience this level of riding in races, but it is faster and there are many riders around you. So my theory is to at least adapt to harder technical conditions to enable me to focus on the other aspects of riding fast in a peloton when the National Series starts next year.
That is the interesting thing is that as your skills improve your sense of comfort improves too. It isn’t a case of ‘battling’ your fears, but rather learning skills that will help you be proactive in the conditions. Mostly I found (something I learnt in sea kayaking) that getting out in difficult conditions often will help raise your comfort levels, so conditions that used to be scary get outweighed by worse conditions. In other words, by getting out often and building up your history of riding in bad conditions that you understand more your limits.
Not every day is an adventure
My winter bike is a lovely steel framed Genesis, which has been lent to me. I am lucky to ride it, it has mavic aluminium rims and absolutely dream like ambrosio hubs, which make riding so smooth. The slightly more upright position and triple cassette is brilliant for longer endurance hilly rides, and I have opted for Pirelli competition 25mm tyres for grip and suppleness. I practice all my road skills on ths bike. At the moment I choose routes to achieve my tempo work and also a bunch of other things like descending, cornering and keeping on top of small things like riding no hands, making contact with other riders.
When I get back from a ride my new habit I am trying to form is to give the bike a wash down. This is working very well. I keep all of my bike cleaning products and brushes on the porch, so as soon as I arrive home there is no excuse. It gives me great satisfaction to achieve this 5minute job at the end of each ride. I use a basic bike wash, a degreaser, and brush and water for the daily clean. After I apply either wet or dry lube depending on the forecast for the next day.
Most days I nip out on the bike between work, and I have two / three routes that I choose as my go to rides. These are good as I know exactly how long they take me which is very useful to making sure I can hit the training session hours and get back in time for school pick-ups. At least once in the last six weeks I have been jumping off my bike, running to the van in all my bike gear, driving to school still with my helmet on, running out to collect little Arthur. I have to laugh :)