From Riding My Bike To Focused Training

This week marked a shift from riding my bike to focused training as I returned to the turbo trainer.

Why Focused Training?

Racing at Crit On The Campus 2018
Criterium racing in 2018

I have actually been looking forward to getting back on the turbo. Other priorities got in the way and I decided in January to give up the training plan and take a year off racing. I’ve still ridden my bike plenty this year, but without the focus of a training plan. I’ve missed racing this year and I am determined to get back to it in 2020.

It’s not just the racing I’ve missed. I’ve missed feeling strong and fast on the bike. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not all that cycling is about for me. I love riding for the sake of it, and to get where I need to go. To find new places, and to regroup my head and find my calm. But it feels good to get on a bike and feel strong.

So, back to the turbo. It’s not the only way to train, but I find it the easiest way to do intervals and focused sessions.

Getting Prepared

Much as I  have been looking forward to hitting the training plan, I am enough of a realist to know that after about three months, I start to get a bit sick of riding indoors, so I didn’t want to start too soon. In lieu of actual training I have therefore spent the past couple of weeks getting my kit in order.

On with the turbo tyre. I often just leave the existing rear tyre on and wreck it – I do enough miles each year to justify a new set in spring. However, this year I acquired a ‘proper’ turbo tyre so thought I might as well use that.

With a fair bit of rummaging in boxes, I found my Garmin speed and cadence sensors, changed the batteries and fitted them to the road bike.


So far, so good. Then I discovered that the screen on my Tacx Flow turbo had finally given up the ghost. It had gone from patchy to illegible. I have had it for years and I bought it second hand for about £80 so I will forgive it. However, this was my means of (innaccurately but consistently) measuring power.

I have used a number of training plans and aids over the years and Power is by far the most effective way to train. It is the one bit of data that I cannot do without.

I think it’s great how much technology has moved on over the past few years. When I bought the Tacx Flow, this was the cheapest way for me to measure power, as power meters were very expensive. This was before smart turbo trainers, Zwift, and lots of means of adding power meters to your bike.

Where to find your crank arm length
172.5 is the crank arm length.

So much choice. This was going to take some Googling!

To cut a long search history short, I opted for a 4iiii power crank. Cheaper than most Smart Trainers, more durable than pedal-based power meters, easy to install and decent reviews. Not cheap, but since pretty much all my cycling will be based on power zones for the next few months, well worth the money for me. If you decide that power cranks are for you, make sure you get the same spec as your existing crank (105, ultegra, dura ace, etc) and the same length as your existing crank (this will be printed on the inside of your existing crank arm). You will also need to check your bike has a hollowtech 2 bottom bracket – there will be two bolts at the top of the crank arm to attach it to the bottom bracket if it is.

That was the bike all set.

Ready To Go

I had already decided to use the British Cycling training plans again this year. I’m not sure if these were always accessible to British Cycling members only. As a Breeze Champion I get my membership free so I don’t really give it that much thought. However, I was disappointed to find that all the British Cycling plans are now members-only and you have to pay for them and link them to Training Peaks. I rather liked the downloadable paper plans and BC membership isn’t cheap after all…

Still, I was all set.

Off I headed to the turbo, and why not jump in at the deep end and start with a Functional Threshold test.

When Reality Kicks!

Ten minutes later, and still on the warm up, I felt dreadful.

I had forgotten just how tough turbo sessions can be. I also had to adjust my expectations from where my fitness was at the last time I was on the turbo. My enthusiastic bubble was in danger of bursting.

I made it through the session and completed the test, but at that ten minute point I was about ready to quit.

What kept me going was my very clear aim of being ready to race by spring 2020. Without that I think I would have stopped and headed off to cry in a corner.

The Importance Of Mindset

That first session reminded me just how important mindset is to cycling performance on all levels. There are three important points to note if you are just getting started:

  • Goal setting is vital. You need to know where you want to get to in order to keep going when it’s tough. If you are planning to follow a training plan this winter, make sure you have done the groundwork first.
  • During that first session – and quite possibly many of the sessions which follow it – you are going to struggle. This is not because you are rubbish. It is not because you are not a ‘real cyclist’ (whatever that is). It is not because you are kidding yourself thinking that you could enter a race (or whatever your goal is). It is because focused training on a bike is tough. It is because you are just starting out – of course you’re not that good at it yet, that is what training is for.
  • Moving from riding a bike to focused training requires a shift in thinking because sometimes, in fact quite often, focused training feels frankly horrible. It’s a bit like racing – for most of the race it feels awful, yet half an hour after the finish you find yourself talking about how great the race was and planning for the next one.

Tomorrow I start week two of my training plan and I am looking forward to it.

I am also re-reading ‘The Brave Athlete’. I have read lots of sports psychology books recently – for my own development as a coach and as an athlete – and to me this is by far the best. It’s easy to read, funny, and a great source of advice on what to do about it all.

I have read comments from professional cyclists about finishing intervals and falling off their bike in exhaustion. I have never hit that point (although I did feel a bit sick after that first session!) and I am not really sure I want to if I’m honest. But it does bring it home that your body can always give that little bit more…but not unless your mind tells it to!

In the words of Jens Voigt, ‘shut up legs‘.



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