The Hard Road – Part 3: 2008, A chance meeting
I have now had 2 seasons racing locally with a few interclub events. I was firmly positioned in A grade but still far from comfortable. My progression the previous year paled compared to 2006, I had improved a bit but was still up against it on most race days. This year the Masters National Championships were to be in Sydney in April. Up until that stage I didn’t even realise they had a National Champs for Masters or a state one for that matter.
A few of the local riders were keen to go and with Bruce the defending MAS 5 Time trial champion several of us were keen to give the TT a go. Bruce had acquired a training program online for $100, supposedly for time trials, and he kindly offered it to those who were interested so I put my hand up to give it a go. It was an 8 week program based on power. I had my Merida alloy TT bike, but due to the current UCI regulations I couldn’t get a seat short enough to make it legal. The Merida was predominantly a triathlon bike where none of that mattered. I basically couldn’t get my seat behind 5cm behind the bottom bracket. I settled on a BMX saddle in the end noticeably shorter and actually not too bad.
I got to work using the training plan, but it was difficult to see what the intent of the plan was, the sessions seemed to have very little continuity and there were no longer, sustained efforts. Looking back and knowing what I would program these days I would do it very differently. At the time it didn’t matter, it was a plan, we had for the first time a real target race and i was keen to test myself at National level. I entered all three events something I would do for every Nationals that followed, but the TT was to be my focus.
It was about two weeks before the event and I was heading into Doug’s for something when coming out of the shop was the Pom who i have mentioned previously. The Pom was of course Mark Fenner. Mark was still firmly fixed on his enduro Mountain biking which was why we saw so little of him locally, I knew little of him at that stage but we stopped and chatted, realised we were both going to be in Sydney competing and in the same Masters MMAS 2 34-39 Mark is one year older than me which is relevant down the road. Before that meeting I had heard that he had written a program for Adam Rourke for track Nationals that year so I quizzed him on coaching and if he coached locally or wrote plans for anyone. He said he did and was looking take on more clients. At that moment we agreed after Nationals that I would come on as a client and see what we could do.
My knowledge of Mark at that stage was limited, you could never miss him when he was around, always full of beans, loud but happy and never down, the centre of any room. He had an energy that was infectious; he has what I think is the rare ability to make you believe in yourself and could motivate you to do anything, Mark was the kind of guy you wanted to do well for!! He was a world class 24 hour MTB rider, having had a few tilts at the unofficial world title, I think it was that year 2008 he went to Canada for a full tilt at the title coming in an excellent 3rd place. But for now he had also entered all 3 events and would be my opponent.
The 3 events at Nationals were the 20 km individual time trial, a 45 minute criterium and the 105km road race, contested over 4 days.
Time trial day came and it was raining…anything but ideal conditions up at the Calga course north of Sydney. I had acquired a skin suit but the rules state unless it is registered kit it can’t be worn unless it was a plain colour. It was an old Nowra Velo skin suit given to me by Doug, so fearful of being asked either to remove it or being disqualified I opted to go with my standard kit. No TT helmets in Australia by this stage, none legal were readily available, so guys resorted to putting glad wrap over the road helmet. I had acquired some booty covers and I had my Spinergy 44mm wheels, Compared to TT rigs of the future she was a bit, well, average. But it was all I had at the time. I ran without the Powertap as it was this race that made me decide it was not suitable and needed to be replaced, to do 8 weeks of training with power only to take the power meter off on race day was absurd.
So I rolled down the ramp for my first ever National Time trial in pissing down rain, as hard and painful as it was I loved it. I was passed by the eventual winner like I wasn’t even moving lol but it didn’t matter. I crossed in 11th place 3min down, it was the one and only National Time trial I would race and not podium for the next 5 years. Mark was hopeful of a podium this year but a dropped chain cost him dearly and dropped him down the field. Bruce tragically punctured on his title defence, the wet roads doing his silk tyres no favours.
The weather for the criterium the next day didn’t look much better, on a very tight and twisty track next to Dunc Gray Velodrome. I opted not to race for my own preservation.
The road race was at Eastern Creek raceway. An awesome circuit to race on; fast, wide and flowing. It also flowed on to the drag circuit next door adding length and some technical parts. Mark and I spoke before the race his plan was to go up the road early so to be ready.
So at this point it’s important to note I was still around 320 watts and 76kgs and had never raced at this level before, so in my mind “going up the road” sounded easy enough, surely I was fit we were all the same age how good could they be…True to his word Mark attacked with the eventual winner in the first km and in a moment of insanity I choose to go across. They were about 200 m up the road going hard, I chased almost the entire first lap HR 185…again no power wheel, it seemed like an eternity, I finally made contact as we approached the end of the first lap. No sooner had I joined on the back the detonation occurred, in cycling we refer to someone blowing up, this means you have expended al your energy in a very short space of time and you now have nothing left in the tank. I dropped the wheel and started to drift backwards unable to maintain the pace. I realised quickly I was screwed so sat up and waited for the peloton to catch me.
I drifted back to the bunch yeah no worries, just sit on for a lap, get my breath back….nope, straight through the peloton and out the back powerless to hang on. Finally was caught by a smaller third group when my legs came back to life, so with them in tow we chased for another lap. When coming into the fast entry behind the pits my rear tyre blew at 50km/h I skated on the rim for a few meters then finally landed hard on the left side losing significant skin off my right butt cheek. My first real crash on the bike but unfortunately not the last. Now sporting my first ever dinner plate sized gravel rash, I was tended to by the first aid guys who had no idea how to properly deal with it. I would become an expert in tending to my own wounds over the next few years opting to avoid casualty in favour of my own dressings. I suppose for the all the pain I did develop quite a knack for it.
Mark had stayed away with the eventual winner for most of the race before eventually dropping off the pace, unable to sustain the incredible pace he was holding. So a very uninspired beginning to my National career, I had been found wanting in several departments but also left determined to come back.
So in the aftermath I resolved to do two things, I needed a crank based power meter, and I was woefully unprepared for attacking style of cycling. This mindset would plague me for the next 3 years as I battled to decode the art of winning. I resolved the bunch was the safest place to be and if the bunch would work then breakaways would always fail. The flaw in this plan was I couldn’t sprint!!!More on this later.
I resolved the power meter problem when Mark sold one of his wired SRMs to me. The training plan started a few months later as we targeted that years club champs in 3 months’ time. My first training plan from Mark was a bit of a shock. At the time, I was riding about 10 hours per week, 6 days per week. My weekday sessions were barely an hour or so join the bunch at 6 coffee at 7. Weekends were longer 3-4 hours on weekends. Marks plan required up to 2 hours each weekday and 4-6 hours Sat and Sun. It had progression so I didn’t do it all straight away but I could see what was required. Plus the sessions had to be done alone. No bunch riding except the Saturday. This plan turned my mindset upside down, Tempo, SST, Vo2s 30 min efforts x 3!! Mountain repeats!! Building to 3 x 20 up Cambewarra…this guy was crazy. No one in the club was training like this, I honestly thought he was nuts. Back then it was in delivered in a PDF document, no fancy Today’s Plan or Training Peaks online calendar then, everything uploaded to WKO with data sent weekly to Mark for review. I was a bronze client, so theoretically limited contact lol sorry Mark no chance.
So I started what I now know to be a pretty basic and straightforward plan but also completely determined to make it work. The excitement of that first plan I will never experience again because I had no idea what it was going to do. I was now completely obsessed with my cycling. Up at 4.30 most mornings, home by 7 except on coffee days, no week was complete without multiple ascents of the mountain or numerous tempo cadence efforts out on Braidwood Road. 8 weeks of steady solid build work focusing on Tempo and SST finished off with Vo2 sessions and sessions called “drive for the line” and “Anaerobic capacity”. Quite relentless but I was determined to nail every session, hit every target. Why pay for a program if you weren’t prepared to do it exactly as written?
It was during this first plan that some of the terms in WKO actually started to make sense, my weekly progression was lifting my Chronic training load CTL, but my recovery weeks allowed my Training Stress Balance TSB to respond, soon I realised my CTL directly related to my daily training stress score TSS, a CTL of 100 meant I could cope with a daily TSS of 90-110 with minimal effect on TSB and so on. Whilst the plans weren’t written at this stage based on TSS it made sense when the tools became available we could us the TSS rather than time or distance as our measure for load and or recovery, but that was still a few years away. For now at least I was simply focussed on doing what was written.
As I wasn’t riding in bunches the impact of my training wasn’t instantly noticeable, plus I was rooted most race days due to the heavy training load, but as the weeks went on a change started to occur where I wasn’t struggling on the wheel anymore, I could pull even turns and finally have some legs for the finish. My focus week to week also shifted. Local races were now simply training days building towards a greater goal.
With my prep phase done and tapering into the first of that years club champs I was pretty confident. The end result would prove rather frustrating but also justified the work that had gone in. 2nd in the Hill climb to Gareth Barnes, 2nd in the time trial to Mark and 2nd in the road race to Matt Carmelotti. A jack of all trades but a master of none. I had added 15 watts to my FTP in 3 months holding 335. Mark only rode the Time trial, in a bit of irony after last year’s spiteful club champs I voted for the winner of the road race would be the overall club champ, so in a year I would have been undisputed it was the red ribbon for me.
I finished my 3rd season stronger than ever happy, with my progress and keen to continue to push my boundary. The program from Mark had shown me a whole other approach, I was convinced when I started the plan he was nuts, but as time went on I simply found a way to get it done. My knowledge of power and how to use it had increased significantly and I began to see the previous 2 years of training, whilst not a waste, was clearly insufficient to take me where I wanted to go.
Whilst my Nationals experience wasn’t great I now had a new focus and goal for the future. I didn’t know if I could reach that level or how long it would take but I was very motivated to find out. 2009 would present my first full year involving both NSW State Masters and Nationals in with the added incentive of the world Masters Games in Sydney.
Weekly Hours 10-14
Weekly kms 300-350
Typical weeks training on Mark’s Plan (Build Phase)
Tuesday 2 hours with 2 x 20 mins SST 88-92% FTP (2 repeats of Mt Cambewarra)
Wednesday 2 hours endurance 70-75%ftp
Thursday 2 hours with 3 x 30 min Tempo 80-85% FTP with cadence drills
Friday Recovery ride 30km
Saturday 3 hours endurance with 2-3 x 20 min SST (3 MTNS RIDE)
Sunday Race day + 2 hours easy endurance
Time Trial 11th
Road race dnf
Hill climb 2nd
Time trial 2nd
Road race 2nd
Stay tuned for part 4 – the 2009 National podium…
Being both a multiple NSW Master Time trial champion and a former National Masters Road champion, combined with my knowledge of heart rate and power based training I feel I am well placed to offer my clients only the best possible guidance and support with their training needs regardless of level.