Author: RadGrandad

We’re nearing the third week of ‘lockdown’ and self-isolation. For many active athletes it is a difficult and stressful time as we come to terms with many new aspects of life and how it will change.

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to talk to your Coach about your future training and skills development.

Whether you have a Coach or not, now is the time to take stock and evaluate your options for 2020.

Up until this time you may have been following a training plan assuming events will happen this season. Some of you may be completing a training block and about to enter the next phase of training perhaps leading to an event in July or August.

Let’s think about 2020 events for a moment

This realisation may hurt a bit but there is not going to be any racing any time soon. At the time of writing, the earliest potential for events is going to be July but it’s very doubtful (in my opinion) that regulations will be sufficiently lifted to enable events to go ahead much before the Autumn 2020.

There will be no series of events as we have known it in the past that will have any real meaning or comparison with years past or future.

International events are also unlikely to happen this season for the same reasons as for the UK. Also, consider that many countries have restrictions that are more severe than here in the UK and, in many instances, borders are closed and likely to be very controlled for the foreseeable future.

It’s not all doom and gloom

OK, time for some perspective, context and evaluation.

The lack of competition for many is going to be a real hit both mentally and physically and it’s important to recognise that strategies are necessary to minimise the detrimental effect.

If competition is not your thing, there are still going to be the same issues to overcome.

It all comes down to the goal setting you engaged in earlier this year.

Each of us will have specific goals for our season. It doesn’t matter what those goals were. They could be to ride your first 100 miles, to break through a PB barrier, to race your first enduro, to race your first Ironman, to ride for more than two hours – it really doesn’t matter, a goal is a goal.

To achieve your goal there will be a plan of what you need to develop in terms of fitness and skill. Some plans will be very specific and others much less so. Each plan, whether an informal plan from a mate or a plan from a Coach or other source, is designed to help you achieve your goal.

Therefore, if our goals are no longer valid, then our plans are also invalid.

Time for re-assessment of our goals for 2020.

But, I don’t want to change my goals or plans to achieve them

I get that, I really do and so here’s a couple of things to consider.

Training for any goal is about preparing the body and mind to achieve that goal. This applies to competitive and other goals.

Preparing the body

Goals, by their very nature, tend to be something beyond what we would normally do physically. Therefore, our preparation will add a level of stress to help our bodies get used to the demands we expect to make in order to achieve the goal. This stress also puts pressure on our immune system and our ability to prepare for the next stress in our preparation. With training intensity comes a more intensive pressure on our immune system which, in turn makes us less able to fight infection – not a happy scenario at present.

Preparing the mind

Possibly the most important aspect of achieving a goal is adopting an appropriate mindset. A particular focus is required to complete specific training for the goal. Also, training the mind to cope with physical stress is an important part of the whole process.

The difference between achievement and failure is rarely to do with physical preparation but more to do with mental preparation. The constant pressure to achieve can be invigorating as each mini-goal is met. However, without the purpose of a goal, the training becomes less meaningful.

At best, in those circumstances, the mind can accept a temporary lack of goal or reason for physical preparation but there will come a moment when that acceptance descends into a feeling of training without purpose and, potentially, into a lack of motivation and hopelessness.

New goals required!

OK, time to move forward if we’re going to make the best of 2020. In fact, there’s no time to lose. This is an important moment so let’s focus!

A, B, C Goals

Many regard a goal as their main objective in the year and often, in their mind, have just one goal. If you’re like that, you’re missing a trick here!

Your ’A Goal‘ is the one major goal you want to achieve. It’s the one where you’re going to be at your peak of physical fitness and mental preparation. It’s the one single objective of the season/year. In 2018 my ‘A Goal’ was winning my age category in the Medio SuperGranFondo starting in Valloire, France and finishing on the summit of the Galibier in the Alps.

‘B Goals’ are significant events (competitive our otherwise) that are tests of fitness both physical and mental. These are the events that tell you that you’re on track or the need to re-evaluate so you can still hit your ‘A Goal’. My ‘B Goals’ in 2018 were events in The Vosges and from Morzine, France.

‘C Goals’ are the identifiable steps required to achieve your ‘B Goals’. They could be other events or training goals such as an improvement in FTP. One of my ‘C Goals’ was to improve my FTP, another was to lose some weight!

Eight months training and I improved my FTP from 197 watts to 283 watts and my weight from 79 kgs to 71 kgs on my ‘A Goal’ race day – I came 1st in my age category at the summit of the Col du Galibier.

The training (physical and mental), the ‘C Goals’, the ‘B Goals’ are all steps to putting you in the best condition to achieve your ‘A Goal’.

Shifting the goal posts

So, what is going to be your ‘A Goal’ for 2020?

Whether you’re focussed on competition or not, you’ll need to pick a goal for the Autumn in the UK or perhaps August at the earliest.

Also, let’s assume competition will return to some normality for 2021. At the moment we do not know if there will be any events later this year but we’re hoping it will be the case.

I’d suggest picking an ‘A Goal’ with perhaps an earlier ‘B Goal’ for 2020. If the ‘B Goal’ doesn’t happen then switch the ‘A Goal’ to a ‘B Goal’ and identify an ‘A Goal’ in 2021.

It’s all about having a plan and the flexibility of mind to evaluate and change if necessary.

Planning to hit our goals

Let’s assume we’ve found an ‘A Goal’ for early October, 2020. Our ‘B Goal’ is about four weeks before.

The time between the goals we can use for ‘sharpening’ performance and ensuring we are fit for our ‘A Goal’. So, what do we do in the time before our ‘B Goal‘?

Of course the answer to that question will depend upon our current preparedness and where our fitness need to be for our ‘B Goal’. Given those two parameters we can flesh out a plan.

However, we live in pure centred times and we will need to think creatively about how we can prepare to meet our goals. We can only do this in the context of our restrictions of movement placed on us by ‘lockdown’ and this is the context in which we can prepare.

In the UK

In the UK we have regulations about our movement outside of our homes. Compared with other countries we are fortunate to be allowed one form of exercise a day including a run, walk or cycle.

However, there is little additional guidance about how long we can exercise other than we “should minimise the time spent outside of the home”.

There have been variations on the theme from #StayAtHome to ‘close to home’ to a politician’s suggestion that up to an hour would be appropriate.

Firstly, the fundamental message is ‘Stay At Home’. That seems to be the bedrock of the regulations.

Secondly, we “should minimise the time spent outside the home”.

It is within this context in the UK that we can prepare to achieve our goals.

It’s all about perspective

With the change in our goals comes a different perspective and the need to become more creative about how and where we prepare ourselves. The following will not suit everyone’s preparations but are meant to serve as ideas to consider by athletes and coaches alike.

Train more than once a day

In normal times the pressure on available time to train is extraordinary and is often crushed into a relatively short period in the day. Currently, some are able to enjoy the gift of time. In those circumstances two or three or four separate but shorter training sessions in the day become possible.

Mix it up

Like many I belong to Strava and my Strava feed often shows athletes engaged in various activities each day. Walking, running, indoor rowing, virtual rides, HIIT, body weight exercises, stretches, balance drills, circuits, etc. – the list is almost endless.

Exercise outside the home

For cyclists this is a great training opportunity but, remember, (at the time of writing) you should minimise the time spent outside of the home. Therefore, make good use of the limited time you have, ensure you remain focussed on your session whether it is something intense or more relaxing say, a recovery ride. Crucially, make sure it is not the only session you do that day – refer back to the section ‘Mix it up’ above.

Regular evaluation and flexibility

Be prepared to be flexible. Evaluate your training and approach every 7 to 10 days and make adjustments based upon availability of time and current regulations. Being flexible is an excellent quality, the ability to think and adjust ‘on-the-go’ will be invaluable as you in achieving your goal. Flexibility helps keep you fresh and alert and see any changes in restrictions as an opportunity rather than a threat to your performance.

Get creative

Move that turbo trainer out of the garage and put it outside. Body weight exercises can be done outside or in a different room. Create a circuit of activities around your home and garden if you have one. Vary the time for each activity you create.

Change the mindset

Key is the mindset you adopt during the new reality of lockdown. Sure, you can continue focussing on your pre-isolation goals but just reflect on where that might lead. You won’t be hitting your ‘A Goal’ because it no longer exists.

I guess the real change for most athletes, especially competitive ones, may revolve around the idea of a loss of hard won fitness – a very real concern. However, studies show that fitness will be retained through a much reduced level of training. It won’t be a level of fitness where you can go and race immediately but it will be a basis for ‘sharpening’ and ‘honing’ fitness prior to an event. It is a level of fitness that you would expect with about four weeks to go to the event.

Finally, have confidence in yourself and your fitness. Have confidence that a change in regime will contribute to well-being and provide a new focus. Have confidence that your preparation will be sufficient to achieve your goals during 2020. Be flexible and adapt, greet each ‘difficulty’ as an opportunity to embrace and develop. Most of all, don’t forget to have some fun!

When someone says, “Let’s go to Grogley!”, my immediate reaction is “Yeh, let’s!!”, followed by ‘Err …, why did I say that?” 😂

I guess it’s the reputation of the venue that tends to cause pause for thought but there are so many trails to choose from that there’s something for everyone well, almost … me, I’m not so sure about. But, the way I look at it, if nothing ventured, nothing gained so it was with a glad heart I went like a lamb to the slaughter! 😂

Basically, there are three gradients in Grogley. The top sections are benign, pedally, some roots, twisty in parts. The middle section between the two fire roads is similar but with steeper sections, nothing too drastic. The bottom section is just steep, I mean really steep, with some tight corners and, quite frankly, beyond my current pay grade!

I guess it’s all too easy to ride the same trails and locations. It all becomes familiar. Bike setup and skills are not tested because you’ve done it before. Those sort of rides are great though for a bit of relaxation and chance to be in the open air enjoying the advent of Spring and promise of Summer.

However, sometimes, it’s good to be challenged and tested, to find your limit and explore beyond. It’s a way to discover new horizons and set yourself new challenges.

For me, I discovered in Grogley that my bike handling was lacking in a number of areas, not least of which was conquering steep chutes. As you roll into something steep there’s a feeling of, ‘I’m going over the bars!’ so, you try to get your weight further back to balance the bike but somehow I was never able to get far enough back to be comfortable and focus on the ride.

Chatting about that feeling and lack of control afterwards (we’re prone to yap a lot after a run 😂) we came up with a plan and a change of bike setup. Coincidentally, I needed to change the dropper post anyway so a 150 mm dropper was already on order. Next step, order a shorter stem and an opportunity for some subtle bling from Gussett was taken.

Both parts now fitted and (very) early testing suggests these small changes may be a good move. I’m finding it so much easier to move back on steeper descents and the bike feels more balanced but the real test will come when I visit Grogley again and session a few sections. Roll on the weekend.

Special thanks to Cranked Bikes of St Austell!

BTW, I found this video – the woods seem familiar somehow!! Thanks PinkBike 👍😂

https://www.pinkbike.com/video/512955/

In a recent article I asked the question ‘Are You an Active or Passive Rider?’ and you will probably have some thoughts about your answer.

The concept of active riding is not often considered but it is one of those foundations to off-road riding alongside Core Skills. If you come from a road riding background or you have just started riding, the idea of being active around the bike rather than on the bike can be a little alien.

I’ve highlighted two words – ‘around’ and ‘on’ in the previous sentence to focus on the difference between activity and passivity while riding. Keep those two words in mind as you absorb the following benefits of being active around the bike.

Riding on a bike 👎

Specifically, I’m talking about riding a bike seated on the saddle.

On smooth surfaces this is not an issue unless you’re taking your riding to the next level and slaying an alpine descent or powering up the next monster climb!

Normally, the inputs from a bike on a smooth surface are minimal and easily counteracted. Although, there can be circumstances where the experience can be a little unnerving, for example, riding over a pothole!

Inputs from the bike are felt through the contact points of handlebars, pedals and saddle. Let’s think about each contact point in turn.

Handlebars

Hands on the handlebars, whatever their position on the bars, rarely support any body weight when the rider is seated. Therefore, control of the handlebars requires little effort from the rider and the input through the bike to the rider is minimal on a smooth surface.

As the surface becomes less smooth the inputs through the bike to the handlebars become more pronounced but rarely are these inputs so violent that the rider has to counteract those inputs.

Pedals

Feet on pedals will support a portion of your body weight but on smooth surfaces they’re the contact for transmitting power through to the drive train and ultimately the rear wheel.

Inputs through the bike from the surface when seated are minimal in terms of disruption to the rider’s control of the bike.

Saddle

95% of the time when riding, your entire body weight is supported through the saddle and as such becomes a pivot point when considering bike and rider as one. In addition, the centre of gravity of the combined mass is at that pivot point.

Small inputs from the riding surface are significant through the saddle and any violent inputs will disrupt control, balance and grip to a significant degree becoming, potentially, catastrophic.

Riding around the bike 👍

Of course, there are many times when you have to ride seated but there are also many occasions when you can reduce the inputs from the riding surface by riding unseated.

Let’s take another look at the contact points.

Handlebars

When riding out of the saddle, handlebars become one of just two contact points between rider and machine. Their importance for directional control is, of course, paramount although additional directional inputs are possible using body movements.

As riding surfaces become less smooth and more challenging, the need to become more aggressive with inputs rises. The result is we need to ensure that our ‘cockpit’ (handlebars, gear levers, brake levers, dropper post control, etc) become hugely important in helping to control the bike not just in terms of direction but also aiding stability.

Pedals and cranks

The pedals become the significant point of contact When riding out of the saddle, especially downhill. The pedals and cranks become a stable platform, not just for our feet, but for our whole body.

When climbing, a shorter crank length becomes especially important to conquer technical climbs where we must manoeuvre the bike over rocks, steps and other surfaces.

When riding on the bike, 95% of our balance and control is centred on the saddle. When riding around the bike especially downhill, our balance and control comes from using pedals and cranks as our platform with inputs from the trail surface through our feet and legs rather than our hips.

Plus, transferring the platform for balance and control from the saddle to the pedals and cranks lowers the centre of gravity which is a huge bonus when negotiating difficult trail surfaces and features in downhill sections.

Saddle

Climbing hills in the saddle is inevitable but descents while seated are often disastrous partly due to the raised centre of gravity and partly because the saddle position on the frame is only suitable while riding uphill or the flat. Riding downhill on rough surfaces requires the rider to move back on the bike to maintain longitudinal balance and lightness on the handlebars.

The result!

An Active Rider has a stable torso.

By using handlebars and a stable platform of pedals and cranks as contact points, the bike has freedom of movement underneath the rider. Arms and legs act as shock absorbers and flex to allow the torso to remain stable which enables speed and control.

A Passive Rider has an unstable torso which encourages a lack of control of speed and direction. Plus, as the bike receives inputs from the trail surface and features, those inputs are immediately transferred to the rider causing instability to be compounded rather than allowing the arms and legs to absorb those inputs.

Riding a bike should be an enjoyable, fun activity but for many who perhaps do not ride regularly, it can be a stressful experience!

Usually, this is due to the relationship between your body and your bike.

The Passive Rider

Most bike riders especially those who ride road bikes (sharp intake of breath) are passive riders. Now, that’s a statement I need to backup! 😂

What do I mean by a passive rider?

A passive rider is someone who rides their bike 95% of the time, if not always, seated on the saddle.

Most of us learned to ride our bikes on smooth surfaces. School clubs, Cycling Proficiency, Bikeability, generally, use smooth surfaces. It’s sensible to do so while learning to control the bike.

In these circumstances, riders learn to balance their bikes using a combination of steering and movement of hips aided by the gyroscopic effect of the wheels turning.

Ultimately, this technique limits the progression of riding skills and prevents many riders from enjoying other forms of riding.

The active rider

Most off-road bike riders tend to be active riders.

What do I mean by an active rider?

An active rider is someone who is comfortable riding their bike out of the saddle. While most of us learned to ride on smooth surfaces, some to to riding their bikes across the park or into the local woods and quickly learned that riding seated had the potential to cause injury.

What are the benefits of being an active rider?

This could be a long list but I’ll keep it focussed:

  • You control the bike rather than the bike controls you;
  • Faster reaction to changes in riding surface;
  • Lower centre of gravity;
  • Easier to maintain balance;
  • Enabling momentum.

We’ll visit each of these benefits and others in subsequent articles

First things, first!

It doesn’t matter whether you use clipped or flat pedals but if you’re learning a core skill, using flat pedals are best. So, swap out those clips and get your flats on.

Why does foot position on your pedals matter?

Getting this right can be the difference between riding through a feature successfully versus being tipped off the bike. So, this is one of my core skills – simple enough to do but with, potentially, huge ramifications!

I bet you’re thinking that’s all a bit dramatic and anybody can get their feet on the pedals OK and you’re right to an extent but if you get foot perfectly located on the pedal, it can open a whole new world of flow.

Continue reading “Getting Your Feet On The Pedals Just Right”

It was a good day for riding but … for some reason, nothing seemed to flow. I had no momentum, I couldn’t relax, simple features in the natural trail seemed almost beyond my capabilities.

What was the matter with me?

Yes, we all have good days and bad days and some are just mediocre and in-between. Our skillset seems to desert us almost on a whim so what’s going on?

Just a few days ago I had some fantastic rides at Bike Park Wales with flow and momentum but now that all seemed such a long time ago because I just couldn’t settle and put any sections together. What was worse I couldn’t work out what I was doing that was so different but it must have something.

Time to stand back

Sometimes, as in life, we get so wrapped up in problems that we don’t give ourselves some time to stand back. Time for a ‘time-out’!

I realised that my problem was not about my own head space or a skillset that had vanished but more about my preparation.

I’d been to Bike Park Wales. I use higher tyre pressures at bike parks than I normally use on our local wooded and wet local trails. Here it comes – light-bulb moment!

I reduced the pressure in my front tyre and bingo on the next run over slippery roots, rocks and gravelly chutes, all was well. Lesson learned until the next time I forget of course!

Make sure your bike setup is appropriate for the conditions and your riding style people! 👍😎

I’m probably thinking about this too much but it fascinates me!

The fact that your mind controls your body is one of those obvious things that, perhaps, we don’t acknowledge unless faced with a challenge. In mountain biking it can have an enormous effect on how you approach those challenges and try to overcome them.

A little while ago, I was riding on a very enclosed, tight twisty trail surrounded by rhododendron bushes and trees.

I had ridden here once before very shortly after I started riding MTB and at that time the trails were way above my comfort zone. Like yesterday, the trail surface was wet and slippery. Strangely, all those earlier concerns from my previous visit leapt to the surface and my skill set vanished – weird! 🥴

So, there I was in the middle of the trail facing a 12 foot roll down (which I have done many times before in different circumstances) and I froze – yes, froze. I had no way back and seemingly no way forward. I stood there, anxious and trying to formulate a plan to get me out of the situation but nothing came to mind.🥺

A helicopter lift was out of the question but would have been very welcome! 😂

After overcoming that initial panic, I began to think more rationally so I could plan my line down the roll-down which helped me focus more and, of course, successfully move forward.

Reflecting on that situation I discovered that the initial cause to my frozen state was the lack of vision of the trail ahead which was blocked by a bank in the turn and the vegetation. When I know what to expect I’m more confident of using my skills to overcome the challenges of the trail. Basically, I can’t just ride the bike and hope that I can react and overcome what’s coming up.

I suspect it’s partly to do with confidence in my skills and my bike. My bike can easily handle whatever the trail presents so it’s all down to me. Which begs the thought that whatever your skill level from beginner to expert, there will be those moments when confidence is at a low and you need to be prepared and have strategies to bring your confidence to an appropriate level for your riding.

How do you control your mind to help you overcome trail features and experiences with confidence?

How often do you hear that when you get a little frustrated because you can’t seem to progress your riding? If I had to guess, I suspect it would be quite a lot and usually from riders who have already acquired the skills you’re trying to develop.

“Just ride!”

It might work to a certain extent but for most of us just riding does not usually help us develop our skills.

Think about it – if it did work, footballers would not train or be coached, they’d just play football and every week they would get better and better. So, let’s agree that riding on its own is not about developing skills but it is about having fun out on the trails.

“Ride as much as you can!”

Now, that is good advice if it is coupled with purpose.

For example, watch a pro rider, such as a downhiller, on Red Bull TV and check out what they are doing during practice. They don’t just ride from the top of the hill to the bottom. They stop, session sections, walk to find the best lines and identify features, etc..

Take that same approach back to your core skills Development and turn “Ride as much as you can!” into “Ride every day!”.

“Ride every day!”

Yes, ride every day. Just 15 minutes, maybe 30 minutes at most, every single day practicing core skills using Skills Drills. Amazingly, that’s all it will take to see rapid improvements in your riding and the Skills Drills can be done on the road outside your home or your driveway or your garden or a car park or your local park or … you choose wherever to suit you.

Just 15 to 30 minutes every day. Just imagine what that would do for your skills development but also your well-being.

👍😁