Thursday, 24 March 2011

5 lessons

I could write a standard race report from this weekend’s Scottish XC race at Kirroughtree but it’d probably just end being either a boring and dispassionate narration of the race, or a list of excuses as to why I was 20 minutes off the pace. But for 2011 I am trying to think about races in a different way. I have never been very good at analysing my racing – I tend to either ignore errors and tell a positive story no matter what, or collapse into a depressed stupor about how badly I am doing. So... here is my attempt at avoiding these traps. 5 things I am taking away from the race.

1.      You can eat too many carbs!
Because we had to set off at 6am in order to get to Kirroughtree in time to pre-ride and race we had 2 breakfasts – one before we left and one at the venue when we arrived at 9.30. I then pre-rode the course (boy was I glad of my full gore-tex outfit given the rain of the previous night) and had some energy chews. After a less than auspicious start but a good first lap I started to feel really full. I have never been very good at drinking enough during races, so knowing this was going to be a long race I conciously guzzled energy drink down on every climb. However I clearly took in too much carbohydrate and my stomach was unable to do anything about it. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, but it’s normally a 12/24 hour race problem and I just stop drinking energy drink and take all my carbs in gel/bar form. Unfortunately on this occasion there was no water in the pits and I was getting cramp from all the climbing and running (well walking, I need to do some running training) through one hideously muddy section, so had no choice but to keep on drinking. All I could do was stop taking gels and hope I felt better as the race went on. So, lesson to take away from this, have some High5 zero (no carbs) in the pits as well as standard High5 and High5+. Hopefully this would help with the cramps too.

2.      Steep and techy – less brakes = more control.
Rocky descent on the Fife coastal path near Elie - the scene of one of my attacks of nerves!
Recently I’ve been struggling. When training on the MTB with Chris I often get to certain sections of trail which rationally I know I can ride, and have ridden harder sections in the past, but something clicks and I just cannot make myself go over the edge. It’s all in my head and I’m freaking out. This weekend I didn’t give myself any options I just rode my bike. It felt great, natural and I realised I’ve simply been worrying too much. You just need to let go of the brakes and let the bike do its thing. I fell off a few times on the slippy steep descents and it was uncomfortable, I’m a bit scratched up, but didn’t really hurt and I know that if you hang off the back of the saddle enough you can’t go far wrong anyway. Lesson #2 – I can ride steep stuff and if I do fall off I know how to stop myself getting injured. It’s all about that safety position.

3.      Start fast, get faster.
There aren’t many photos around of the Kirroughtree race but I do have a video Chris took of the women’s start. Looking at this video I realised quite how slow I am out of the blocks (I’m the one in the yellow and blue). This is relatively new, a couple of years ago I used to storm off and get the hole shot without much problem. Last year however in my first elite national race I was racing with new pedals, missed one off the start and was immediately 100 metres behind the rest of the girls. From then on at every race I was always 100m off the back. I now think it was probably a confidence thing and over the winter I did a bit of practising clipping in and getting up and going. I plan to keep doing this when I’m out riding my mountain bike. The video shows me in the pack, but I missed the split and didn’t make the leading group so plenty of work to do. Not such a problem in hilly Scottish races but for the BMBS this is much more crucial.
4.      Motivation brings determination (and a faster lap!).
As I came round to start my final lap Chris said “If you want some company there’s a rider 20s ahead”. I wasn’t sure how helpful this was, as far as I was concerned I couldn’t go any faster up the hill than I was. However, when I started to see another rider up ahead I realised I had nearly made up that 20 seconds in the first quarter of a lap. Once I came up behind her I remembered the lesson I’ve always been taught about overtaking: if you are going to do it, go full gas and make sure the rider you are overtaking thinks you are finding it easy. So I gathered myself, paused for a minute and went for it as hard as I could. I thought I’d have to stop after I was out of sight but I kept going harder than I thought I could for longer than I thought I could. Yes, I was going faster on the steep descents so I slid off, but I simply got back on again and rode it like I stole it for the rest of the lap to make sure I didn’t get overtaken again. Thus I now realise that I could definitely have gone harder for my middle 2 laps. It might hurt more but I could do it and did on that last lap. Time to stop being a pansy! As the saying goes “pain is temporary, failure lasts forever”.

5.      Lovin’ them hills.
SXC courses are fab and are clearly going to be hilly - not something I felt very positive about last year. But... I’ve been doing the right training and it feels good to be climbing okay. I remember what it feels like to be riding uphill hard and my Giant Anthem is the perfect machine for the job. Careful set-up and comparison with my usual training bikes, as well as the shorter cranks that Giant kindly supplied with my bike mean that I’ve managed to get the perfect position (I no longer feel like I'm pedalling a reclining bicycle). The suspension is also adjustable enough that it doesn’t sag loads whilst climbing but soaks up the bumps in the trail and allows for speedy descending.

And my final conclusion? It really is worth thinking about the positives and negatives of a race. I already feel inspired to work on my weaknesses and to try and get the most from my training and racing. I’d advise anyone to make this an exercise that follows every race.

If anyone is actually interested - I was 4th Elite behind Lee Craigie (Torq Performance), Elke Schmidt and Leslie Ingram. I'm actually quite pleased with that result especially given everything I've been thinking about!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Interval training - indoor trainer or out on the trail?

With the race season fast approaching most of us have started moving away from base training and started doing more anaerobic and lactate threshold intervals. I've been spending one or two evenings a week on the turbo trainer doing just this for about 3 weeks now. I get quite a lot out of these sessions - hard at the time, hard to motivate myself to get on the bike but I feel fabulous once its done! The joy of training indoor on the turbo to do such sessions is their replicability and fact that you can maintain a very steady and consistent power/HR. But it is mentally tough to push through the pain, especially for me since I find it very hard to get a comfortable cadence/gear indoors and even with 2 fans get significant heat fatigue. With this in mind I decided to try some hard efforts outside.
Indoor trainer workout

Same session outdoors
Rising up from one end of our village is a steady climb of around 130m vertical gain which seemed perfect for the sort of session I wanted to do. I repeated the intervals I had done 2 days previously indoors and the difference was noticable. There was less pain in my chest than on the indoor trainer and I could breathe more easily and most importantly perhaps, it took much less mental toughness to get through the session. In addition it is probably more like the feelings I will experience on the race course. There were some downsides however, it was much more difficult to sustain a consistent power and I also have a tendency to initially massively overshoot the power I am aiming for out on the road.

My conclusion? I plan to do a mixture of indoor and outdoor sessions from now on. Indoor hard efforts are good mental and physical training but it is good to mix things up and make sure you aren't so burned out from training that there is nothing left for racing.