It is 31st October 2014 and I feel on top of the world with regards to my cycling. I feel strong, climbs I used to have difficulty with are now feeling, dare I say it, easy and I ride with a feeling of positivity and enjoyment. Given, I was struggling on rides earlier this year, it is worth reflecting on exactly what has happened and how lessons learnt can be used to fuel further improvement, not only in cycling, but in other areas of my life.
What are the main reasons for the improvements:
- Weight loss – I now weigh 69.5kg compared to 74.5kg in January, a loss of 5kg or 6.7%. More impressive is my body fat has come down from 12% to 8%, a reduction of 35%
- I have used trainingpeaks.com to plan, monitor, and review my training sessions. I have consistently raised my total stress score (TSS) from an average of 38 per day in April to an average of 80 by the end of September. My Intensity Factor has remained around the 0.7 mark for most of the year so the increase in training volume has delivered the biggest improvements. I can now train more regularly than I could earlier this year. Last year I would have struggled to train more often than four times per week. In addition to cycling 3 or 4 times, I have also been going to the gym, typically twice a week but at least once. I have focused on building strength in my core, chest, back and arms.
- My heart rate has come down by 20 bpm across different exercise intensities but it has also risen into the high 170’s when I am required to make a big effort which is not something I could have done earlier in the year. Earlier in the year I could only last a few seconds when I hit 170 or higher. I can infer that either my heart is stronger, the stroke volume is greater, my blood plasma volume has increased, there is an increase in both mitochondria and mitochondrial enzymes
- I can cycle longer distances with less food which indicates that my body is burning more fat which means my metabolic system is more efficient at working aerobically and less reliant on anaerobic energy production
- I can cycle at a higher pace without my legs succumbing to increasing fatigue
- I can climb so much easier without breathing too heavily which again suggests improvements in my aerobic metabolism
- I can push bigger gears for longer periods of time without fatigue and cramps. There are still occasional niggles of cramps but nothing major. I have recently been working on improving my fast twitch muscle resistance to fatigue by doing sessions that focus on pushing big gears over sustained periods of time.
- I have been training consistently – I typically train 6 times per week with one rest day. In days between demanding workouts I do recovery rides rather than simply rest
- I rest fully when I feel tired. I use recovery rides to gauge my rate of recovery and when I feel fully recovered I increase the intensity. In my last period of R&R I took a total of 12 days off during my last recovery period. I came back from it feeling the strongest I have ever felt on a bike and definitely a level or two higher than I was previously.
- I have been adhering to a strict calorie-control diet to lose approx. 0.5kg per week. I have reduced the total weight of fats I eat and maintained carbohydrates at around 300-350g per day. I have matched calorie intake to training sessions, therefore, on demanding days I have eaten more and conversely on easier days I have eaten less. I have always eaten within 1 hour of a training session and I have consumed enough calories to replenish what has been consumed during the session. I have used myfitnesspal.com to monitor, inform and control my calorie intake.
- I now eat three times every day, breakfast, lunch, and supper. Occasionally, I’ll add a snack if I’ve done a particularly demanding session to help quickly replenish muscle and liver glycogen stores.
I definitely need to do some more objective-style reviewing of my performance improvements and try to understand more clearly what is having the biggest impact on my performance. I kind of have an outline idea but it isn’t certain but then again where the body is concerned there never appears to be any definitive arguments for one course of action as opposed to another. For every argument for one way of doing something there is a counter-argument professing the exact opposite. So, armed with more objective facts I intend to nail down what is behind my improvements in order of priority and contribution and then use this to inform, refine, and design my upcoming training programme.