Back in the Lab – Focus

I got back into the lab with Paul at Cardiff Metropolitan University today. This was the second time I’ve been there, and it was just as useful as the first visit, but in many different ways.

 

Along with a couple of on-bike tests, I had the chance to catch up with JP from Help for Hero’s who has previously given me some training advice. We had a good discussion about the techniques for the challenge and how to approach it on the day(s), as well as covering some training concepts and other perspective to consider including performance psychology.

 

Fittingly, we also had a gentleman in the lab who is a PhD student working on Sport Psychology. We chatted about a few ideas as well and it fits nicely into a more encompassing training regime that could be developed for work further down the line. It’s well known that psychology has a big impact on your physical performance and how you can extract the most out of yourself. But, it seems that this more than any other aspect, has the potential to be the most fragile of all the process for it’s incredibly easy to go off track with it, and can be quite difficult to get back on track.

 

Case in point: While Paul and JP developed a plan for my testing today I had the simple task of riding. As an experiment, the plan was to ride the two courses of the challenge: a 5-mile run-up followed by a 200 metre max power timed section, or a 2.5-mile run-up followed by a 200 metre max power timed section. Simple as this is, there’s a lot of strategy and a lot that can influence it.

 

For starters, my training is predominantly on my own. When in the lab previously, Paul was present but he was going about his tasks so I could largely ignore him and any potential influence. But today, I had an additional three people the lab and it had a noticeable impact. When it came time for the sprint, there was a lot of cheering and encouragement, and while that was great and supportive, I later realised it completely changed how I performed the sprint.

 

Normally during a max power sprint, I’m quiet and focused, but this time I was just the opposite, shouting, growling, and without realising it, putting my focus on elements other than putting power into the pedals. Normally, my sprints have largely been what I might surprisingly call, “meditative.” They are simply a single task that takes all my focus, challenging all my energy into one specific process and disregarding all others. Today it was just the opposite.  All around, today was a day of opposites. I didn’t ride the way I normally do and it showed.

 

But all in all, the hardest part of today was the second test, where I hit the wall and couldn’t keep going. Normally, no matter how hard a sprint would be I’d churn through it, for better or worse. I picture riding on a burning bridge over a lake of lave: There’s no other choice but to keep going. Today, I couldn’t do it, though. But, as we talked after the ride, that to be honest, made me feel like the most novice of amateurs, there’s no point in thinking about the “fail”, you can only learn from it, and that I will. The day could’ve had the most perfect results, but, I’ve probably gained far more from a less than perfect performance, and that’s worth it.

 

Now, I was fortunate to be in the lab today as I was slipped in between the testing that Steve went though. Steve is a nice gentleman who transitioned from handcycling to skiing. So, today was his day to go through his own testing. It was Impressive seeing his performance levels as well as his training rig. Given that he was kind enough to let me slip in while he was resting, I thought the least I could do was be dead weight to help brace his rig so he could focus on applying power.

 

Lessons learned today: Even being dead weight can make for a useful contribution in the right life environments and, find where you need to focus and how to do that, and don’t waver. No matter what, stick with the focus you’ve found.

Back in the Saddle and How Many Wheels Does a Bike Need?

Well, after a week and a half of the flu, I’m back in the game at the gym and on the bike. It feels great to be on the go again. But, not all was lost with the week. A catch up with the university of Liverpool team leader lead to some equipment changes and I’ve discovered the new book I’m reading is quite fascinating, and useful.

 

Just as my coaches and I were about to lock into a plan for a final push into the last three months of training, I got hit with the flu. It’s a bit of a minor setback and I’ll freely admit that I was clawing at the walls with the urge to ride. It took about as much power to resist riding as it did to do a max power 20-second sprint. I kept telling myself, “If you take it easy now and get better, you’ll be back on the bike sooner.” And I kept saying it over and over while I hid under a blanket with endless cups of tea.

 

But, with today’s first visit back to the gym, it seems that the break was well worth it. The training has been fairly intense over the last few months and having a few days off to let my muscles relax was quite helpful. Surprisingly, doing a similar weight session as my last one proved to be far easier than expected.

Variety pack of wheels
Variety pack of wheels

Along with the time off I caught up with the University of Liverpool team leader to discuss gearing. It’s no simple task as the strategy for approaching the land speed challenge has a number of factors that haven’t been isolated yet. So, we’re looking at a narrow range of possibilities for gear choices depending on what we find in pre-event testing. This has resulted in getting situated with a new set of cogs to match what will be on the Uni’s bike. So, training will now be more focused on a matching equipment setup. Mind, I now have a plethora of wheels and gears for any possible riding situation. Special thanks to Chris at Draft for the help getting those situated as well as loads of technical advice and training tips.

Further, if you’ve seen the recent post on the ULVTeam Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ulvteam/), you’ll see the fantastic gold hub from Royce that will be on the bike. Surely it’s destiny as just a few weeks ago I added gold pulley wheels to my derailleur. Gold now, gold later.

Gold jockey wheels
Gold jockey wheels

To top off the week, I’ve made some great progress in the book, “Endure Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Human Limits of Human Performance” by Alex Hutchinson. It’s an intriguing insight into the mind and body connection in various physical endeavours. From running, to free diving, to traversing the Antarctic it looks at a number of concepts of how the human body might be limited well below it’s potential, simply by our own minds. The basic theory, it seems, is if you can control how the mind blocks the body, you can unleash far greater physical potential.

 

It’s not altogether too different than one of the concepts that I’ve been working on for years managing what “helped” me get into handcycling. It’s just a similar concept with a different application, but I can tell you from experience, the concept is far easier to understand that it is to apply. But, only halfway thought the book, I’m sure there’s still a lot to pick up from it. Throughout my training so far it’s been abundantly clear that the mind is just as powerful as the muscles, tapping into it is the challenge.

 

This week, we’re back on the go with some longer high power sessions on the bike as well as some high weight/ low rep sessions at the gym. If all goes well I’ll also be doing a short presentation at Edfoc, the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. Rest time is over, thank goodness.

Washout and the Start

So, you’ve just created a website and figured out how “the Facebook” works so that you can tell the world about your grand adventure. What to do next? Share stories about the weeks achievements? Sure!

OK, I caught a cold that turned into the flu and the week has been a washout. So much for grand stories of prowess.

Coincidentally, with both my coaches, this week was supposed to be about upping the game with the strength training and cycling. With three months to go, we’re looking at the nitty gritty the fine details and we were all set to jump in with a new plan. Then life happened.

But I’m not down and out.

Yes, it’s a horrible struggle to not be training. Mentally I want to charge in but I keep telling myself, “deal with it now, rest, and it’ll be wrapped up sooner and then you can give it 110% and other clichés.”

In the meantime, I’m visualising my weight sessions as well as my rides. I’m seeing myself hurtling down highway 305 at breakneck speed. As much as it’s a physical challenge, the ride will be a mental challenge so I’m kicking that in now while I can.

Along with that, I’m starting a new book that was recommended to me: Endure Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Human Limits of Human Performance. I’ll let you know how it goes. So far it looks inspiring but considering that bright lights keep throwing me into sneezing fits, I’ve not gotten too far into it. I should be able to see properly tomorrow though, fingers crossed.

So, with a new post flu start coming up, I thought I’d share my start with handcycling.

Where I’m based, there haven’t been a lot of opportunities for handcycling.  certainly couldn’t find them a few years ago when I was looking at getting back into cycling. But, as fortune would have it, my friend Anthony stumbled across some information about a handcycling event at Castle Semple, in the Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park.

So, I popped over to this session not knowing what to expect and ultimately had a great time and met some folk who now make up a local riding club, handcycling Edinburgh, that I am the Secretary for. Some of us go back every now and then to help with their riding sessions as well. With the amazing work that’s been done at Castle Semple, they’ve now become Scotland’s first and only Disability Cycling Hub in Scottish Cycling (British Cycling).

What a difference time makes. I was wowed by the by the racy position of the Force 3 and the ease of getting around, and the speed, oh the speed! Luckily, I met one of the gents I ride with now and he caught up with me on the cycle path and rode back with me, giving the occasional push back from a 3-5 mile ride. From that day, within about six months, I embarked on a relay ride of Land’s End to John o’ Groats pushing about 65 miles and continued on and on. It’s amazing how quickly your fitness and skill build up when you put your mind to it.

But, without Castle Semple, I probably wouldn’t have gotten started in handcycling. Having the equipment available to try and the coaching was invaluable. That actually got me hooked, and then I started getting bikes… and parts… and spares… Oh my!

But, from humble beginnings that sunny, but freezing March day, something rather big has happened.

Where to begin?

Where to begin?

Given that I’m well into my training and we’ve hit crunch time looking at finessing the training elements, the question remains; how do you tell a tale more than halfway through a journey, especially when the journey lasts far longer?

I’m not one to brag about myself but ask anyone who knows me they’ll tell you I ramble and go off on tangents; often so much so that I lose my point and the return to the point is yet another ramble unto itself.

So let’s begin with a tangent; the sacrifices of training. Because today, for the first time, I had to, regrettably, sacrifice the training.

I woke up yesterday feeling the hints of a cold coming on. I took it easy yet still ran a few errands and had some of the little medicine I can tolerate. After all it was only a hint of a cold. I also thought that a workout might be good to help it, so I did my bike session. The session went surprisingly well and while my numbers weren’t as high as I would’ve like, they were much better than I thought. The big surprise was that, after 11 sprints I was exhausted and struggling to keep things together, but surprisingly, my strongest effort was on the 15th sprint. Even feeling under the weather, and exhausted, I still managed to find more power than I had all day. The curious power of the mind.

But alas, yesterday proved not to be the most sensible day of choices as today, I was still under the weather. But, as my nature is; I got up and ready, had breakfast and prepared to head out for my strength training session even though I know I was drained. Typical me, take on things even when it’s not sensible. But I had a flash, a number of flashes actually with all the words of my coaches and advisors coming back to me: Sometimes, recovery advances your training more than working. With that, I made a last minute cancellation to my strength session.

Yeah, I’m gutted. Since I started training for Battle Mountain, it’s the first session I’ve had to miss. Sure, my coaches and I have adapted sessions for testing and my own coaching, but that was working as a team, and this is the first time I’ve had to bail. Physically, I know it’s the right thing to do, but mentally, it’s a challenge to accept that the sacrifice will pay off in the long run. With the target approaching quickly every day counts, and if I can turn a cold into missing only one or two days early on, that’s better than getting more since and losing a week or more.

Working toward Battle Mountain had been a lesson in sacrifices. I ride with a group do handcyclists in my area and there have been a number of times where someone in the group has asked, “Weather looks great, who wants to go for a ride today?” I started out saying I might be able to if the training went well, even though I knew I shouldn’t sneak in extra rides, but in the end I was always exhausted after training. Then it got to the point where I’ve just had to admit I wasn’t going to be able to ride with the others. The same hold true at the coaching session I’ve helped out at. With my scheduled training maxing me out, there’s no room for extra fluff. It’s a bit of a sacrifice and I do miss riding with others, and being able to be outside having a nice relaxing ride, not worrying about intervals and power levels. But sometimes you have to give up a few things in the short term to hit that long term goal.

Riding outside; another sacrifice. Yes, all my training is indoors. Some will argue that riding on the road is more important but that’s a debate for another day. But, the loss of a cool refreshing breeze and the smell of cut grass and the outdoors on back country lanes, that too is a sacrifice. Never, ever in my riding history have I enjoyed riding indoors but I do now. Never would I have given up the option of riding with friends, riding with new people coaching. But I’m sacrificing that now to hit that ultimate speed target. And never would I have given up an opportunity to train towards such a goal, unless it finally clicked that sometime you have to give up a little bit now, to get what you want later.

Then there are the Time Trials. Last year, a friend of mine, Mike, and I took up a series of 10k Time Trials with West Lothian Clarion Cycling Club. WLCCC welcomed us with open arms and it was quite the challenge always working to outdo Mike. One of the targets I’d set for my cycling coach was a specific time on the 10k TT’s. But when it came time to start the series, I noticed that the prep and recovery rides were going to detract from the specific training needed for the speed record. So, reluctantly I’ve put the TT’s on hold for now. I’m certain that the training we’ve done would have allowed me to meet the target I’d set, but it’s not quite worth sacrificing the effort that’s built up for the record attempt to find out. Not just now at least, but maybe a late September TT will be in order so that we’ll finally have the answer.

Mentally, it’s torture to have missed my strength session today, especially as I really enjoy the max weight low reps we’re doing this week. But I keep telling myself, there’s a reason, and it’s the right choice.

Breaking the Handcycling Land Speed Record

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am pleased to announce that University of Liverpool Velocipede Team – ULVTeam have selected me, Ken Talbot, to ride as part of the ARION4 team attempting the world speed record at the World Human Power Speed Challenge (WHPSC) in Battle Mountain, Nevada, 2018.

Expanding on their previous experience and success, ULVTeam are diversifying by entering and competing in the “Arms Only” category with a newly designed handcycle. Pushing the limits of design and fitness, together we will be attempting to break the current men’s record of 45.68mph/ 73.51kph, a record that’s been standing since 2011.

The World Human Power Speed Challenge is a long-standing event where Cyclists and Engineers from a variety of backgrounds, and from all over the world join forces with cutting edge designs to see just how fast a “bicycle” can go.