Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's nearly D-day

Well, it's been 19.5 weeks since I started cycle training again and I thought I'd take a minute to reflect on where I'm at and how I'm feeling now that the Tour of Bright (ToB) is only a couple of days away (before my feelings are influenced by the results of the ToB).

During the middle of the program, I felt stressed and anxious that I would never have enough time to get properly fit. I thought that in the week leading up to the ToB I'd be going a little bit insane with stress about the looming race. But instead I feel strangely serene, resolved even. I think this is for two reasons: I've done the best I could possibly do in hitting the training sessions over the past 20 weeks; and I'm aware that the training is done and there's nothing I can do now to change my riding to influence the results this weekend.

Thinking back to where I was 20 weeks ago I can only describe myself as proud of what I've achieved over the past 20 weeks. I had a pretty low-level of fitness after an extended period off the bike, was a nervous nelly in a bunch and bike generally and didn't know whether or not I'd be able to commit to the training due to competing demands on my time. But I think I'd now describe myself as probably the fittest I've ever been, comfortable in a range of cycling situations (including descending and cornering at speed) and proud of my training strike rate (although my boss may use a difference adjective to describe my commitment to my training...). I know I've still got a lot to learn (like Rach I'm waiting for my hotdog turn epiphany) but it's still nice to know I've improved during the program.

Gamin Connect provides me with the following rough stats of what I've been up to since I started training again on 19 July:
* I've spent over 223 hours riding (lucky Garmin Connect doesn't provide me with a stat for how much associated time I've spent having cycling-related coffee, or beer for that matter!);
* I've ridden approx 5,700km, which included 67,684m of elevation; and
* I've burnt nearly 90,000 calories.

But what Garmin Connect can't portray is how much fun I've had riding over the past few months. Here's a snapshot of some things that I am now recalling from the program:
* epic 4 hour ride to Corin from SFP with Andrew, Brad and Tim, where it rained for 3/4 of the ride and we all ended up slightly disoriented (probably hypothermic!) and all conversation ended up consisting of words ending in "y" (eg, Brad being pleased to have fixed his weird "squeaky, squeaky, rubby, rubby" bike);
* coached session with Jason Mahoney (also in the rain), with half the squad singing as we were going up Red Hill;
* chilled out E1 Wednesday sessions, where it's all about the company and catching up in a relaxed atmosphere;
* getting stuck in a hail storm on the return journey from Collector;
* turning up to ANU for another coached session with Jason Mahoney to find him doing his best impression of a commando with chain grease all over his face (yes, I honestly thought he was instigating his own "boot camp" style of training and was most disappointed to find it was just from a mechanical);
* doing a coached session while suffering from food poisoning, and leaving a trail of fluorescent green vomit on the lawn of a random embassy on Mugga Way;
* head / shoulder butting a car in O'Connor on my way to a training session and not getting completely freaked out about it;
* doing Red Hill repeats without closing either of my brakes and doing Stromlo repeats with my back wheel rubbing (yes, it appears that I haven't learnt much mechanically while doing the program - might try and rectify that for the next program!); and
* changing a tyre all on my own on the side of the road for the first time ever (even if it did take roughly 25 minutes).

Some of the above would have been absolutely horrendous if not for the awesome group of people I've been training with. Everyone is fun, quirky and entertaining, and they've all pushed themselves to their limits over the past 20 weeks. We've gotten to know each other and respect each other as individuals and cyclists as part of the program, and I know this is a group of people I will stay in touch with forever (and yes, I am getting soppy and sentimental with old age, or maybe it's just cycling-related fatigue). But what's so awesome about cycling is that we're all equals: as one squad member said, he knows pretty much everyone in the squad's heart rate zones, their climb times for local climbs, grades they race, what their cycling goals are, etc, but doesn't necessarily know what they do for employment. I kind of like that about cycling (although that's probably because I'm a lawyer and everyone generally hates me for it). :-) I hope everyone in the squad (including Jason M) knows how grateful I am for all of their support and friendship over the past 20 weeks (if they don't now, I suspect they will at post-Bright drinks on Sunday afternoon ;-) ).

I'm not sure what I'll be doing after the ToB. At some point (generally before I fell in love with training again) I thought that completing the ride would be enough for me, and I'd retire from cycling (or maybe more from training) and get back to the reality of being a lawyer-mum-wife-friend-occasional cyclist. But I'm pretty sure I'm going to miss it (and the squad!) when it's over and done with. I will enjoy easing back the training a little from next week and into Christmas, but I love the discipline, pushing myself and getting fitter and faster (not to mention being able to eat anything I want!). And I'd miss all my cycling buddies way too much to not train with them as well.

But I guess I don't need to worry about what I'll do post-Bright just yet: I should really focus on achieving my ToB goals. What else is there to say but thank you and bring on the ToB!

Monday, November 21, 2011

ACT Hill Climb Championships 2011

On Saturday I competed in my first ACT Hill Climb Championships. The format for the race was basically an individual time trial, where competitors ride off at 30 second intervals within their relevant race category and go as fast as they can to the top of the climb. The race course was from the bottom of Corin Road to just past the Corin Forest Recreation Centre, which is roughly 12.5-13kms, with an average gradient of approx 4.5% but with some steeper sections getting up to 12-13%.

Most of the Vikings met up at Point Hut Crossing and rode up to the start line / registration desk together (we call this the race bus). What was clear from the start was that it was going to be a pretty warm race - it was already over 22 degrees when we were riding in at 8am (and given recent temperatures in Canberra it felt all the warmer).

Some of the girls and I had been chatting on the race bus about what category to enter: the usual grades weren't being run as it was the ACT Championships, so those under 30 would all be racing each other in the "Elite" category, and those over 30 could either enter Elite (if their licence had the option) or their relevant "Masters" category. This is quite significant as there were medals up for grabs for each category (and what girl doesn't love a bit of bling!?). After a moment of indecision I decided to bite the bullet and enter Elite, despite me being more than old enough to race in a Masters category. Most of the Valkyries that raced had to enter Elite through default (due to them being under 30) so we were all going up against each other in the fight for bling.

We did a bit of a warm-up up and down Corin Road waiting for the start, checking out the wildlife which included a flock of emus! I've been down to Corin quite a few times and have seen quite the array of wildlife, but never emus before. It was pretty amazing.

And then it was time for the Elite women to start (both the men's and women's Masters categories started first). It was a held start (where someone holds your bike so that you can clip both pedals in and push off as fast as you can). I found it a little disconcerting as it was only my second held start and it did feel a little bit like I was going to tip over on the start line, but fortunately it went off without a hitch. I was the 3rd rider to go, so the first girl had a minute head start on me, and the second 30 seconds.

I kicked it pretty hard from the start, as I know I'm not as strong on the lower flatter sections of the climb as I am when the gradient becomes more consistent so I wanted to minimise any advantage any of the more powerful girls would have had on me over these sections. But it's always a fine line between kicking it hard v kicking it too hard (particularly too early). I think I may have been borderline going too hard too early, as my heart rate spiked pretty quickly up to 185+bpm, and once it goes up it's hard to get it back down again in a race situation.

I caught the rider who started 30 seconds before me pretty early on, and then focused on catching the rider who started a minute ahead of me. I passed her at about the 3km mark, and then focused on trying to maintain my momentum, keep my heart rate consistent and catch some of the Masters category men who had started before the Elite women.

I know the Corin climb quite well, having done it quite a few times recently, and I think this definitely worked to my advantage. But it doesn't meant the climb didn't hurt any less! The conditions were really not optimal: my Garmin was telling me the whole way up that the temperatures were pushing 30 degrees and it only seemed to be getting windier and windier (typically of the headwind variety!). I had a few moments during the first 5kms wishing, almost praying, for a mechanical or even just a flat tyre so that I would have had a legitimate reason to quit.

Fortunately I kept going as the second 5kms didn't seem to hurt quite as much as the first 5km. I was watching my 5km splits closely and trying to gauge how I was going speed-wise for achieving my goal of doing a PB. Unfortunately where I usually measure my splits from and where the race started were at different points so it was hard to compare times directly, but I could tell that I was struggling to achieve my sub-36 minute goal, particularly when I hit the steepest part of the climb (just past Billy Billy Creek) where the wind seemed to be howling down and doing its best to push me back down the hill.

The only saving grace of cresting the Billy Billy Creek climb was that I knew it was the last big climb of the course: after that the terrain is really only undulating for the last 2kms or so. I took a moment to recover at the top of Billy Billy Creek and then kicked the gears up and tried to push towards the end, still fighting the headwind. Competitors that had already finished and spectators were on the right-hand side of the road just before the finish line (it was an uphill finish) and it was great to hear them cheering for me as I was going past. And then it was over - hoorah! I hopped off my bike pretty much straight away and desperately hoped no one expected me to be able to speak anytime soon as I could barely breathe. I wasn't sure if I wanted to lie down or keep walking (I was feeling a little nauseous at the time!) so I compromised by leaning on my bike and puffing frantically, using hand gestures to try and communicate with anyone who seemed inclined to talk to me at the time.

Once I'd sufficiently recovered I wandered down to where everyone else was enjoying an ice cold soft drink and some lollies to watch / cheer for everyone else as they finished their races, and to debrief our own races. And that's one of the things that made the slog up the hill worthwhile.

Presentations were held not too much later, and it turned out I'd won Elite women in a time of 36:23. I was obviously very pleased to have won, but was also a little bit disappointed not to have achieved the sub-36 minute time I was hoping for. I know the conditions were against me in going sub-36 with the wind (and heat to some extent), but I'm still a little disappointed and even frustrated with myself. Oh well, I'll just have to get back out there and have another go some other time. :-)

All in all it was a good day of racing for the Valkyries (in our new Siren kit!) with Deciana also winning Masters Category 1, and Tegan coming third in Elite (with Ches and Anna finishing not too far behind her). Top effort ladies!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Determination and Practice: the keys to success (who would have thought it?)

So I was reading this book the other day in the library (because that's what us librarians do all day ;) ) called 30 Second Psychology: the 50 most thought-provoking psychology theories, each explained in half a minute, edited by Christian Jarrett (2011, Murdoch Books).

I found this interesting entry entitled 'Ericsson's 10,000-hour rule':

'It's tempting to look at truly exceptional achievers - such as Olympic athletes and celebrated musicians - and conclude that they must have been born with a unique gift for what they do.

According to influential research by psychologist Anders Ericsson, however, the path to expertise is available to anyone who's prepared to put in the necessary levels of practice. How much? Studies of elite musicians, athletes and chess players suggest at least 10,000 hours of practice spread over a period of more than ten years.

What's more, not just any kind of practice will do. Ericsson says it needs to be what he calls 'deliberate practice', in which you don't just repeat what you know but instead constantly seek to stretch yourself. This inevitably involves forensic self-criticism, repeated failure and a dogged ability to keep dusting yourself down and trying again - a process that's not particularly enjoyable and quite distinct from leisurely practice.

Although Ericsson's perspective argues against the idea of innate gifts, his concept of deliberate practice does of course require a rare mix of motivation, good health and opportunity.' if we all give up our full time jobs and practice lots, we can become elite cyclists and compete in the grand tours or Olympics? Maybe not - I suspect that physiological giftedness does count for quite a bit, plus that 'opportunity' that is mentioned, such as racing cyclist parents, getting an early start as a junior in competition and training etc.

Where this theory IS useful for the rest of us though, is as a reminder that we shouldn't get down on ourselves so readily for not being the fastest, most skilled cyclist in our group (something that I need to repeat to myself regularly). We so quickly jump to the conclusion that we should be as good as that person we are riding next to, or behind (sometimes a fair way behind!), when all of us have had different amounts of time or opportunities to practice those skills and develop that power and speed.

I thought it was also valuable to read that we shouldn't expect that those hours of practice will always be easy or fun. It helps a lot to know that 'failure' and determination to stick with it even when it's hard and scary - to 'constantly seek to stretch yourself' - is key to improvement and success, even for elite athletes.

Of course, it shouldn't always be challenging - if every single training session is seen as a chore or 'hard work' rather than an opportunity to have fun, motivation to continue soon peters out - but it seems that a balance between the two is vital to improvement and success. And ultimately that's what gives long lasting satisfaction and a sense of achievement that keeps us all coming back for more!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Not training....Something's gotta give.

Well it seems I've hit another training fail. Pretty disappointed not to be on the bike but work and a pretty high level of bike-xiety about my impending move interstate is just getting the better of me.

It's funny because I think of all those freezing cold winter days we got up at 5am and rode in -4 in the rain, hail and snow and it seemed so easy to get up then but right now I'm shattered.

I know Lisa K is also not on the bike this week, although I'm hoping she is having better luck getting on the trainer. My messy little shoebox isn't particularly conducive to hardcore windtrainer sessions.

I looked at a calendar of the weeks til christmas finally (after basically avoiding thinking about it) and theres only one week between now and the big rides where I don't have to travel interstate. Travel for work is going to basically knock any of my training efforts out of the water.

I'm having trouble psyching myself up for any hills at all, training sessions I would normally relish (as you all know).

Anyway, I think the point of this post is that it does often get the better of you, trying to work and juggle commitments and also get on the bike. I wish this low point which is translating into three fairly restful weeks in a row, had come in the middle part of the year or the early part of this ToB training cycle, but sadly its come right at the end when i have only a few weeks left to prep for the Hartley 300km ride and the Tour of Bright.

I'm working on not beating myself up about it though (actually I'm just a bit too tired too) and hoping to have a fun race with KateH tonight. It's been pointed out to me that just getting on the bike for a ride, no pressure, might actually make me feel better (as it tends to do) so I'm just hoping to ride my bike.

I guess its proof that you actually cannot train and train and train and work and work and work and still expect your body to keep letting you. eventually it will say no, fairly loud and clear.

And now off to work to try and write a five year plan by the end of the day....