I am going to admit now that I can tend to over-organise a little. I am one of these people who loves a spreadsheet and a training plan. I also love ‘to do’ lists. My desk is currently papered with post-it notes which map out all the things I need to do, and what their priority is. I have a notebook for every occasion and I hate to be late.
This degree of organisation amuses some of my more laid back friends. Some of them do not even have one colour of post-it notes at their disposal, never mind three. I worry about them.
I am also pretty good at laughing at myself.
Amusement aside, when it comes to planning what I want to achieve on my bike, my need to plan ahead comes into its own. Personally, my aims for my cycling in 2020 are linked to racing. You might be the same or you might be thinking of a sportive, a tour or just going that bit further or faster.
The trouble is that it takes time to prepare. It takes time to prepare yourself physically, that much is obvious.
But there is more to it than the physical, especially if you are going to try something new and challenging. It takes time to prepare yourself mentally. In particular, it takes time to deal with all the excuses you are likely to come up with to convince yourself that while you would love to take on that challenge, and you are definitely going to ‘at some point’, you can’t do it ‘this year’.
In this article, I want to persuade you to start thinking now about your goals for 2020, even though it may seem ridiculously early.
Excuse The Excuses
If at any time you have thought, ‘Perhaps I might try a sportive / criterium race / road race / time trial’ (delete as appropriate), then I want you start (over)organising yourself now. Because the thing is, if you wait until the spring, you are setting yourself up for a whole array of excuses.
- Not this year, I’m not fit enough…
- Not this year, I haven’t lost that bit of weight yet…
- Not this year, my bike isn’t right…
- Not this year, I want to watch a few races first…
- Not this year, I don’t have the right kit…
- Not this year, I missed the entry cut-off…
- Not this year, I’m not good enough…
Any of them ring a bell?
If like me, you love a post-it note, it is worth spending a moment now writing down any excuses you make to yourself why you shouldn’t do that thing you keep thinking about doing. Write one excuse per post-it note, and under the excuse write down what you can do to deal with it.
- I’m not fit enough – I’m going to follow a training plan over the winter.
- I haven’t lost that bit of weight yet – do you really need to? If so, take it slow, give yourself time, try to eat natural food as much as possible, and – above all else – be kind to yourself.
- My bike isn’t right – are you sure? Set up a Gumtree alert and see if you can pick something up second hand. Remember it’s not all about the gear (see my cautionary tale below).
- I want to watch a few races first – there are still a few races to run this year – go along and watch now!
- I don’t have the right kit – are you sure? What do you really (I mean really) need? And if you really need it, start dropping hints to your friends and family in plenty of time for Christmas.
- I missed the entry cut-off – find out where to find out the cut off date and write it in your diary (or on a handy, colour coded post-it note!)
- I’m not good enough – read a book on sports psychology and work on your confidence (I would highly recommend The Brave Athlete)
Whatever it is you have been thinking about doing, make 2020 the year it happens.
A Cautionary Tale
I first raced criteriums in 2018. I had been thinking about doing so for two years by then. I might still have been thinking instead of acting if it hadn’t been for the frank talking of a fellow coach.
When I had my children, I sold my beautiful carbon bike. It wasn’t that I was giving up cycling. I reasoned that I had too many bikes (what was I thinking?!) and cycling was not going to be quite so central to my life for a while. I decided I would sell the bike and buy one with all the latest kit when the children were older and I got back to it.
I still had a road bike, but it was my fifteen year old aluminium bike (my first love!). I couldn’t possibly race on that.
I explained all this to Amanda.
The conversation went like this:
Me: “So that’s why I can’t race at the moment, my bike isn’t right.”
Amanda: “So, are you going to win when you race?”
Me: “[hysterical laughter] No! Of course not. I’m just going to give it a go.”
Amanda: “So, does it matter that you’re bike isn’t quite right?”
Amanda: “So, is that just an excuse?”
Suffice to say, whenever I tell myself I can’t because… I hear Amanda’s voice in my head saying, So is that just an excuse?
Thanks Amanda. Best advice I ever received!
Back to the present.
I love the thought of training for events. I love the training plan, the feeling of getting fitter, the focus, the routine. But at some point – usually in the depths of winter for me – a glass of wine on the sofa seems so much more appealing than heading out to the garage to sweat on the turbo trainer. Sometimes, 6 minutes into a 20 minute interval set (it’s a classic – it works but it’s tough!) I frankly can’t be bothered any more and I want to stop and get off.
When the sofa is beckoning you need to take your mind back to what it was that inspired you to start training in the first place.
Find that motivation now and remember it for when you focus slips (and it will at some point – training is tough).
Start At The Start Line
Next, decide when you need to be ready. For me, my main aim for 2020 is criterium (crit) racing. I quite fancy getting back to time trialling too and would like to do a couple of road races, but crits are the biggie for me.
The Scottish Race Calendar for 2020 is currently a work in progress so I can’t find out exact dates for races. However, I know from previous years that the first series locally is usually the Edinburgh Road Club series, and this usually involves four evening races in May.
So, May it is then. I want to be ready to race by then.
Decide when and where your start line in 2020 is now.
Find a Plan
There are lots of training plans out there in books and on the internet. You also have the option to sign up with a level 3 coach who can design you a personalised training plan and support you through it (this is not something I can offer through Active Cycle Coaching at present).
Before you can start to follow a plan, you need to find one. And since most of us – sadly – have a limited amount of time to dedicate to cycling, this can take a while.
What training plan is right for you will depend on your own personal circumstances. How much time can you dedicate to training? Are you going to train entirely outdoors or do you have a turbo trainer for indoor sessions? Do you use Zwift or Sufferfest or anything similar? Do you use Heart Rate or Power in your training?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, especially if you are just starting out training for something new. After your first season you can assess how effective your chosen training plan was and refine it for the following year. For your first year, the most important thing is that you choose a plan which you can fit into your lifestyle and that you can follow. If you look at a training plan and think how on earth am I going to fit that in around work / family / papering my desk with post-its or whatever other commitments you have, then chances are you won’t follow it.
Personally, for the moment I quite like the British Cycling online plans. I used these in 2018 and am planning to do so again this year. You do need to be a British Cycling member to access these now, although I’m sure you didn’t in the past. In the past I have used the Cyclists Training Bible and Fly Through the Pain Barrier (for time trialling). My husband swears by The Time Crunched Cyclist.
As the long light evenings start to get shorter, spend some time now reading different plans and find one which appeals to you. Remember to be realistic about just how much you can do.
All The Gear….And Getting An Idea
Next, think about your kit. Do you have everything you need, and if not can you make do without it.
Check your training plan first. If your chosen plan calls for power or heart rate readings, do you have the equipment to measure them? If you are going to train indoors (and I would highly recommend you do…unless you live somewhere with a more forgiving climate than the UK), do you have a turbo trainer? What kind do you want / need? Where are you going to put it?
It is worth thinking now about whether there is any kit you want / need for your chosen target, such as club jerseys, aero-bars, skinsuits. After all, it’s not all that long until Santa comes…
Look at your deadline, that start line you want to get to. Look at how long your chosen training plan takes. Now work out when you need to start the plan.
A few points of advice for whatever plan you are following:
- Life never goes quite to plan. It’s worth allowing yourself a few extra weeks. So, if your plan takes 12 weeks, give yourself 14 weeks, or even 16 weeks. If you know you are going on a family holiday in February where you won’t be able to train, add on a week so you can take that week out. Having a couple of weeks to spare also means that illness, injury, other commitments, or a week where the call of the sofa is just too loud is not a disaster. A week off training will do you no harm and might well do you some good.
- Don’t forget to rest. It is worth remembering that it’s not the training that makes you stronger, it’s the recovery from training. If life gets in the way and you miss a session, don’t stress about it. If you can rearrange your week and fit the session in somewhere then great. But avoid doing tough sessions on two consecutive days – one quality session is far better than two half-hearted ones. Equally, cutting sleep to fit in training is unlikely to end well.
- Keep it in perspective. Remember that cycling is a hobby and it’s meant to be fun!
I am passionate about getting more people on their bikes. I am particularly passionate about getting more women on their bikes. Women are still under-represented in cycling at all levels and I refuse to believe that this is because women are not interested.
I run confidence building free Breeze rides for women, I organise a bike bus to my children’s primary school, I run puncture repair courses and all kinds of coaching sessions, and I run all my sessions as women-only at least once a year.
I also really want to encourage more women to race their bikes. I believe that there is plenty of interest from women, but that women often lack the confidence to enter.
The Active Cycle Coaching Pathway To Your Start Line
If you are interested in racing your road bike and you are able to get to the Fife Cycle Park, I want to provide a safe, supportive and enjoyable progression pathway to take you to the start line in 2020.
The pathway starts right now and you can join as much or as little as you like.
- Step 1: On Sunday 15th September 2019 join the Road Bike Race Skills Race Inspiration session. This will give you a feel for what racing is all about and a chance to test your skills on the track where many of Scotland’s criterium races are run. You will meet others who are thinking of racing and find out what skills you need to build on. After the coached session, join the FREE ‘Get Into Racing’ and Winter Training talks with everything you need to know, lots of time to ask all the questions which you might think are daft (they aren’t), and biscuits…there will be plenty of biscuits!
- Step 2: Over to you – find that training plan, get what you need together and train.
- Step 3: (WOMEN ONLY) In March 2020 come back to the Fife Cycle Park and join the Road Bike Race Skills Early Season evening sessions. These will run on a small section of the track to allow lots of coach input.
- Step 4: Practise those skills and keep training.
- Step 5: On Saturday 25th April 2020, come back to the Fife Cycle Park for a half day Road Bike Race Skills Skills Sharpener session on a longer section of the track to practise your skills in a group.
- Step 6: RACE! Get yourself entered in the Edinburgh Road Club / Harts Cyclery criterium series in May or the early season road races and put it all into practise!
- Step 7: Evaluate how you got on and set the bar higher with a new goal. Join the second Road Bike Race skills Skills Sharpener sessions on Monday evenings in June and work on the skills you have identified in your evaluation.
- Step 8: More racing!
Over to you.
Where is your start line for 2020?