In the first part of this series I talked about using online training tools to coach yourself. This time I’m going to discuss training yourself from scratch.
This year I’ve thrown myself in the deep end, but not without a lot of preparation. Here’s what I found most useful.
Know the Basics
Before you start you’ll need a good understanding of your training zones, your power zones (if you have a power meter), your weaknesses and the specific demands of your targeted events. You’ll also need to appreciate that training needs to stress your body to a certain degree but that it’s fatal to your season to push it too far. You’ll need a real respect for how vital recovery is, incorporating proper sleep and nutrition into every day.
Read a lot
Once the basics are covered, a great place to start is with self-coaching and endurance guru Joe Friel’s book The Cyclist’s Training Bible or The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible. While probably due for a new edition pretty soon, the training bible books take you through designing your own training program step-by-step, and will answer all the questions you should be asking about training. If you have a power meter try Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Andy Coggan and Hunter Allen.
Most people will get a lot of information not from books, but online. The most important thing to pick up is how to sort the good from the ugly. There is a lot of terrible advice out there. Most of it is found on forums and most of it concerns nutrition. Steer clear.
By far my favourite blog is Joe Friel’s. He regularly posts about new research and his writing is incredibly clear and always stripped of jargon. Searching his blog’s archives has provided answers to almost all the questions I’ve had about training so far.
Both the Training Peaks and Today’s Plan blogs post interesting stuff from a variety of coaches and athletes. Hunter Allen’s website is another great source, and all the above are interesting to follow on Twitter as well, where the infographics by Yann Le Meur @YLMSportScience condense a lot of information into bite-size packages, too.
If you live in Australia or New Zealand, Aussie elite MTB racer Jenni King (@pedallab) writes regular features on training for Australian Mountain Bike magazine (full disclosure, I also write for the mag and am engaged to the editor). Her articles are concise, genuine, and careful insights into various aspects of training, and the workouts she suggests are some of the best I’ve tried.
Many mountain bike and cycling mags publish great articles on training from reputable coaches, nutritionists, and expert tech riders. Just be sure you know how to incorporate this valuable advice and workouts into your program based on periodisation and the specific demands of your target event. Reading The Cyclist’s Training Bible and some of the blogs I’ve suggested will help with that.
Know your body
Reading all the books and blogs in the world won’t help you if you can’t read your body, too. It’s important to know when you’re fresh, when you’re tired, and when you’re too tired, as well as to understand how a workout should feel. The former is something you’ll have to learn for yourself, although monitoring sleep, mood, muscle soreness, fatigue, and motivation will give you good clues.
As for developing a ‘feel’ for exertion, this is particularly important if you’re not training with a power meter, which turns your effort into numbers. Get to know the RPE scale (rate of perceived exertion) – it can be more accurate than heart rate. There are also some great videos available on YouTube such as this one from Today’s Plan on the how the excruciating (but achievable) V02 effort should feel:
Analyse, analyse, analyse
Just because you’re coaching yourself doesn’t mean you can necessarily get away with jotting things down on a piece of paper. Athletes you’ll be competing against might get the edge on you if they’re using powerful software to monitor their fatigue, freshness, and form over long periods of time – the kind of data that you may not be able to hold in your head or gather entirely from feel, and the kind of data that’s much more revealing than Strava achievements. I covered the excellent and user-friendly Today’s Plan and Training Peaks software in part 1 of this series, but there are other options as well, including the data-heavy (but free) Golden Cheetah.
Hang onto all the good stuff
If you’ve had coaches before, like I have, I hope you’ve kept all your old training programs – with about eight years of back catalogue, I’ve really enjoyed going back and getting re-acquainted with some of the workouts my coaches had me doing, understanding where they fit in, what systems they’re training, and re-working them into my own program. One of the big limitations of starting with Joe Friel’s Training Bible is that the suggested workouts are limited and can get a little boring. I’ve enjoyed rediscovering my favourite anaerobic torture sessions while coaching myself.
Block your ears
Stop listening to your mates! I often see terrible advice handed out on Facebook from people who mean really well and speak with great conviction but frankly have no idea! The purpose of doing all that reading and analysing I’ve suggested is to learn what works in theory, what works in practice, and keep building on that knowledge. It may even be the case that you need to train alone a lot. Do you know any riders who smash themselves on every training ride but never really seem to get any better or worse, and whose race results have been about the same for years? Don’t be that guy and don’t go training with him!
If you’re stuck and in need of advice, consider approaching a qualified coach or a friend with a lot of knowledge and ask them to run their eyes over your program for a coffee or a fee. You’ll get some great feedback that’ll give you more confidence in what you’re doing.
Never stop learning
Sports performance still holds a lot of mysteries and new research into what works and why is being published every day. Keep up-to-date (the blogs above are great for this) and if you’re really enjoying yourself, consider a training course. In Australia, MTBA are running regular NCAS level 1 coaching courses in all states and doing one could provide you with an opportunity to share your new skills by helping out your local club, school, juniors, and new riders of all ages.
Coaching yourself will give you endless flexibility and you’ll be able to tweak your program whenever you need to. I know that my coach cares about my performance 100%, and I know how much time she puts into my training plan (a lot). It’s also made me a better athlete because I have first-hand respect for what I’m doing and why.
More than anything else, the rewards I reap from mountain bike racing have doubled, because any success I have as an athlete I also have as a coach.