Lessons learned in getting back in the saddle

On October 23, 2012


In getting back in the saddle, I’ve made mistakes and had the odd success. Here’s what I’ve learned on the way:

1. Listen to my body
Lets face it, nobody knows you better than you do. I used to work rigidly to a generic plan, and would stress if I missed a session. Now, I’ve learned to listen to my body and let it have the final say. When I don’t have energy, but the plan was to do an early morning training session, I stay in bed instead, knowing that the next session will be even more committed due to the rest. This I’ve learned,  is critical after serious injury, when energy ebbs and flows for no obvious reason. The trick is to not give yourself a hard time when you do skip a session.

2. Get there quicker by being specific
I had no time to waste in getting back in the saddle. Before my accident, I used to run, swim and cycle every week. Now running and swimming are occasional activities. I focus on the bike. Being specific about my training helped me achieve my goals quicker.

I realised that there is nothing to be gained, and plenty of valuable energy to be lost, by doing long hard rides that are over 3 hours when my races are typically two hours long. I save my energy for the high intensity sessions. I found that I need to train less, because my training is more specific.

3. Fast rides fast and slow rides slow
In the past I’ve made the most common mistake of cycling training; doing the long slow rides too fast, and the fast rides too slow. Once I established that I needed to leave everything on the hard rides and enjoy the slow ones, my training became more effective.

4. Pedal power
I’ve learned that pedal power doesn’t just come from pedaling. Under the expert guidance of Paul Millard in the gym, I’ve become more powerful. I dead-lift 90kg, not bad for a weedy, 60kg guy, with a double back last year. I’ve needed every muscle to work harder to compensate for being half-arsed. My cycling style has had to change. I need to power the pedals with my quads, rather than my glute, which means I’m out of the saddle more. Being powerful all round, has made this transition easier.

5. You can do more than you think you can
Mountain biking, like most sport, is a mental game. During the difficult sessions, when the little negative voice in my head would say “you can’t do this, stop”, I remember the Leadville moto – ‘You can do more than you think you can. You’re better than you think you are’. It seems obvious, but it works for me because I believe it.

6. Sleep is the new drug
Rob ‘Box’ Cooksley, who’s been a mentor to me, shared the idea that ‘sleep is the new drug’, while expertly fixing my bike in his bike shop – Bad Ass Bikes. I now know that if I’m not well rested, particularly as I get older or return from injury, I can’t recover and won’t perform well. When I’m training hard, boring as it sounds, it’s early to bed. Before a race, I never forget that it’s the sleep two nights before a race that really counts. After a race, when the racer inside doesn’t want to sleep, I take magnesium and zinc tablets to help sleep.  I’ve become a sleep junky, waiting for my next hit of Zzz’s.

7. Relax and enjoy it; you’ll do better that way
A sure way to unhinge my race day is to arrive stressed. Stress produces cortisol, which is a hormone that suppresses testosterone. Simply put, increased stress means reduced performance. This can be difficult to identify, but became clear to me this year, with my two worse performances coming at races with stressful run ups.  During these races, whilst I started well, I couldn’t keep it going as normal. It can also manifest itself mentally, by being more focused on the person behind you, instead of chasing down the rider in front like a dog. Now I try to keep the stress to a minimum in the run up, knowing I’ll race better that way.

8. You are what we eat
I’m a Coeliac, so I can’t eat gluten, which is in most carbohydrate foods. When I first started racing, I worried that not eating carbohydrates would loose me the edge. It hasn’t. In fact, I believe avoiding foods like bread, pasta and of course cakes and biscuits, has improved my condition. I’ve had to be creative at times and I always need to plan ahead, to avoid getting caught at a race without the right nutrition. During my recovery, I could have done with this from Oli Beckingsale.

Nutrition I swear by:
Sushi Cakes, with bacon and parmesan cheese
– Protein before a race, not just carbs
– Popcorn and Eat Natural Bars
Beetroot juice
– Raw Chocolate, which my wife expertly makes
– Chocolate milk after a hard session
– An oat biscuit, instead or protein or sugar in the evening, because carbs help sleep
– And more protein than you could poke a stick at

9. You deserve it
I still have such a long way to go. I’m learning all the time. On the starting grid of a race, I still find myself looking at the other riders, and thinking of reasons why they’ll do better than me. Then I remember to focus on my own race, forget my injuries, rely of my training and remember that I deserve to be there.

10. There’s always next year
Who knows what lies around the corner, for me it was a truck. Injuries happen, particularly when cycling on UK roads or hurtling at speed down a rock garden. Illness too can rob you of a seasons racing. For what ever reason, if you find you loose a lot of time, don’t worry too much, there really is ‘Always next year’. Surprisingly, you’ll find that your body will remember how you used to do it, and get you back there much quicker than you think. So, keep the chin up – you’ll also see further that way.

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