26 weeks to go: Training for Race Across America

I’ve never trained harder. I thought I’d trained hard before, but actually I just fitted my training around my life. When life got too busy, my training had to take a back seat. It has to, most of us are juggling busy lives, families, kids, social lives, kids social lives! Where’s the time? So how did we make the change? Pretty simple…. Pure FEAR.

Race Across America is just that. It’s a race. The time to finish is under nine days and is very tight. We have to average 16mph over all the terrain, in wind and rain, day and night, over mountains and through deserts without slowing. And I ain’t no cyclist. Well, I guess there’s a correction there, I wasn’t a cyclist. After clocking up over 5,000 miles on my bike this year and having a room in my house dedicated to bikes and training, I cant really escape the reality that I am a cyclist. I still feel a fraud though when I go cycling with someone like Tom who actually knows what he’s doing on a bike and also knows how to fix it!
My training plan for Race Across America has been pretty simple. I know from running the Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc, which took over 30 hours solid, that my endurance base was pretty good. The key point for me to start was with improving my weaknesses (well one main weakness), my little skinny runners legs. They are good at moving my lightweight frame up and down mountains on foot, but no good for powering a bike along. From a bit of reading and discussions with Tom it became clear that my main limiting factor was power (Watts) ,which many of you may be familiar with. As Tom said in his last blog, power to weight is important, but the weight only really becomes a factor when you are going uphill. Most of our ride will be flat roads. I needed more power.

Training started in the early year and I focussed on just riding my bike, into and out of work just to get the miles in. This helped build muscle but we needed to measure how we were doing. One of the great things about cycling compared to running is that it is much easier to measure how hard you are working and how much power you have and how your training goals are progressing. I invested in an indoorWahoo Kickr bike trainer and linked it up to Zwift. For those who don’t follow these geeky things, it means I can use it to measure my fitness (FTP) and to do controlled interval training. And you can’t cheat it. When I was doing running training if you felt a bit tired you could just back off and cruise about, it was very pleasant. Zwift is a virtual training world. It knows how fit I am, it sets the power I have to produce for every session `I do and it controls the resistance on the machine. So once you start a session, you can’t back off. Its utterly horrible, but at the same time incredible quality training.

When the weather got a bit nicer in March/April I started to do some rides out with Tom. I should come clean about these rides with Tom, I was scared of going out with him because he is ridiculous on a bike. Tom’s slowest efforts were stupidly hard for me. He would ride 15 miles to Tatton Park and I would meet him there (to save my energy) and then we would do 2 laps around Cheshire. About 25 miles. It always followed the same pattern, he would chat, I would pretend I wasn’t dying ha ha . I remember at the end of the first rides that we would part about five miles from my car; he would cycle home, I would cycle to my car. I would already have given everything to keep up with Tom and as soon as he’d left I didn’t have to keep up the pretence anymore. I literally crawled home through Tatton Park on my bike, just managing to overtake the little kids on stabilisers. I even turned my Strava off by this point so Tom had no idea id completely died ha ha But that is the benefit of having Tom on the team, we kind of compliment each other. He drags me along and my power increases to a point when I can occasionally lead him along now. He has learnt about endurance and about going long.

When I started in Jan I set myself a power target to achieve before Race Across America, last week I achieved that target. It’s pleasing, but it was just a number, we still have a long way to go in our training. It just means now I have a new target. The FEAR is still there and still driving us both on. The next two months will be about increasing my power as high as I can and then in the 4/5 months before the race, we will build our endurance ready for the 3,000 mile race. We figure we can race at 50-60% of our maximum speed (FTP), so the more powerful we are, the faster that speed will be.

Any regrets? No not really. It’s a great challenge for a great cause and nothing is achieved without hard work. Training 5 days a week is hard but it has to be done to complete this challenge for Prevent Breast Cancer. My only regret is that we haven’t dome time lapse photography of my skinny legs as they have grown to become more appropriate for cycling!

If I had any training advice I’ve learnt it would be to set yourself a bigger challenge than you thought possible, if you work hard enough you can do it. The second piece of advice that I hope is going to work for Tom and I is to be honest with what you are bad at and what hurts the most in your training and to concentrate your efforts on improving the things you naturally avoid.

Tom and James will Race Across America in June 2019 to raise £125,000 for Prevent Breast Cancer.

If you are interested in the campaign then Tom and James could really use your help. Giving your time is the most valuable help you can give, giving your time to do a charity event for the campaign such as a Cake Sale or a Bag Pack would make a huge difference.

27 weeks to go: Our meeting with a Nutritionist

Tom here, so this week has been a busy one for me and it’s the last week off the ‘Off Season’ for me. This week I’ve been to two charity events with work, done one of my fitness tests and met with our newest sponsor, Olly Howarth, a cycling nutritionist and all round top bloke.

Olly has agreed to become a sponsor for RAAM providing us advice on nutrition in training, the lead up to the race and the race itself. This is something that is incredibly important to us.

This brings me onto the subject of nutrition and weight management, specifically the “importance” of weight which is a difficult subject in cycling and especially ultra endurance. So, after speaking to Olly he has roughly told us that we should be eating around 4,000 calories a day when training, especially when we are completing multiple sessions in a day, like 3 hours on the bike and then an hour in the gym to maintain a healthy weight. That’s just to maintain your weight, not put on weight – we’re just breaking even.

I know that personally, my ideal weight is around 72kg, as someone who is almost 6ft this is still pretty light. I know I have taken my weight obsession too far in the past, with my lowest weight being around 62kg. I had just been accepted onto a world-class development squad at Newcastle University, started training lots, not eating properly and started drinking sparkling water instead of eating after training. It took me a year of bad results, getting constantly ill and taking a year off the bike to really realise that I’d taken it too far. Meeting Olly and speaking openly about nutrition has been amazing – essentially being told eat what you want, drink protein shakes, snack, have hot chocolates is incredibly liberating.

Interestingly, the best ultra-athletes don’t look like the Chris Froome’s of the world, they almost resemble sprinters, not world tour cyclists, even though they are doing nearly double the distance of a grand tour in half the time.

There is a brilliant video that highlights this. At the end of the day, the way I look at it, I know I’m going to be more much more powerful being heavier, being stronger and being more robust.

 

 
 

Training: Strength and Conditioning

Find out how the team are training for Race Across America. Strength and conditioning has always been an imporant element in my preparation for most cycling races and events. S&C work helps keep the body strong and robust and helps improve bone density, which is especially important in none-weight-bearing sports like cycling.

I’ve found that S&C work also adds a lovely bit of variety into my training – as they say variety is the spice of life. It’s not all bike, bike, bike.

Here are two of my favouite exercises.

Leg Press

Leg Press is a brilliant and pretty safe exercise to do. The motion is controlled by the machine and because of this it is a brilliant exercise to do to build pure strength. It also really isolates the legs.

Deadlifts

The deadlift is a brilliant compound exercise that engages pretty much every muscle in the body. It builds hamstring, quad and glute strength as well as core and back. This can be quite a technical lift and one that should be built up to slowly. It is the exercise that I find has the biggest positive impact on my overall on-bike strength and if I could only do one exercise in the gym it would be deadlifts.

Revolve 24 Test Event

Revolve 24 was probably one the hardest things I’ve done in a long time. Who stays up for 38 hours straight! The answer is no one in their right mind. Now how rides 300 miles and over Everest in a day… again no one in their right mind. The first 6 hours were nice and easy, dare I say the first 12 hours on the bike I felt brilliant. The next 6 hour block was probably one of the worst moments of my life! My brain had turned into mush and I had forgot how to eat food. 3 hours later, I’m being sick and can’t hold down any food and wanting to throw in the towel. 1 hour later, I’ve managed to keep my food down and I’m back on the bike feeling like a new and slightly exhausted man. Revolve 24 taught me a lot about myself, how I manage fatigue and what tired really is. 

We thought we’d give you all a bit of an insight into the horrible and beautiful world of ultra-endurance cycling. 

 

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How do you want to see us get up Winnats Pass?

Winnats Pass is probably one of the hardest climbs in the UK. I (Tom) have been very close to walking up it on my all singing and all dancing race bike. I also have some not so fond memories of approaching the climb after 5 hours on the bike in 35 degree heat, already cramping, thinking how am I going to do this – James on this occasion absolutely bladdered me up the climb like he does on most climbs in the Peak District. 

If you don’t believe how hard the climb is check out this video! 

So, as a little treat to you we’d like to make this infamous climb even harder and we’re giving you the chance to let us know our fate. 

So how will this work? 

Which ever result comes in first we will do. 

After voting if you could donate to our Just Giving page that would be amazing! None of these options are easy and it WILL hurt.

 

Be kind! 

How do you want to see us get up Winnats Pass?