For the last few months we've been following the progress of Andrew Kennedy as he prepares for his first crack at a competitive Cross-Country Mountain Bike season. Last time Andrew introduced us to his new steed, a rather splendid and rapid looking Giant Xtc (check it out here). This week he's going to take us through his physical progress, and also recap on this months race day experiences...
The start of my main series of important races also marks 6 months of structured training for me. It is a lot longer than most racer's off-season but I have had a lot to do coming off the back of an injury; carrying too much weight and having no real aerobic base to build on. I thought that I would take a look at how training has gone and what my starting condition is for the racing year.
I have used strength training to complement mountain biking for a few years so the only break in this was for the 6 weeks or so when I couldn't load my left shoulder due to the broken bone. Some of the exercises in my routine are still progressing, some have reached a plateau either because I don't think I need to do more (press ups) or due to lack of equipment (dead lift). I didn't have any particular goals in mind but I am quite pleased I have managed to achieve a 4 minute plank and overall I am at least as strong as I have ever been.
I have dropped 10kg of weight in 6 months to get to my current 81kg and 15% body fat. I was expecting to hit 12% body fat at 82kg so either the scales are no use or I have lost a few kg of non fat weight which is a bit of a mystery. In any case I have exceeded my target and have no real negatives to report. I am a bit more bony than I was before, need another layer outside in the winter and I have definitely gone down one clothing size which is a bit awkward when you are very tall as for some reason they make they assumption that tall=wide. I can't report that the change has made me quicker on the bike - it's all theoretical just the same as making a bike lighter.
I have been working on the assumption that I could lose weight and gain power during the same training phase. I still think theoretically it could be done but I have slowly come round to the opinion that I have failed and have lost power. It is probably in the region of 10w but I am not certain as the 'Trainerroad' tests are scheduled for you assuming you have gained 2 or 3% and setting off at that pace leads to complete failure if your power is down. There are a lot of factors in play which could lead to power loss but I think principally I must have lost muscle mass as part of my unexplained weight loss. So there is a bit of disappointment there, it's a lot of training to have gone through to have moved backwards. I am attempting to turn it around with a daily whey protein supplement so we will see how that gets on.
Well this is the principle subject really, how all of the work has translated into performance. Here is a quick run-down of my 2 races this month:
Southern XC round 1 at Black Park – I rode the practice lap too gently and so didn't realize that my tyre and fork pressures were too low which caused many issues in the race. The course was both flat and bumpy which I did not really care for. I started almost last and didn't make up many places in the first 2 laps, after that there was nobody in sight to chase down and I had Elites and Experts coming through frequently which cost a bit of time. I had good tyres for the first time but my lower back ache persisted. Aside from the problems I just didn't have enough overall speed and I was 24% behind the Sport category winner.
Offcamber round 7 – I raced here in December and wanted to return in warmer and drier conditions, I managed to make the last round although it was still pretty chilly! I had a good race really and the lap layout just seems to work. The racing field sorts itself out quite well on lap 1 after which I spent 2 laps following an Offcamber blue jersey who I would see at the end of every straight but made no progress towards him. On the final climb I stood and gave it 100% and overhauled him only to lose the place back on the runout after the downhill – it was worth it though to see what I could do. I still had the low back pain which I am sure restricted my seated power. I finished outside the top 30 again so still no series points but I was only 30% behind the winner which is better than in December.
I know that I have been guilty of looking for marginal gains before maximising my fundamental performance. It is also true that my race bike has been exclusively that for too long and the weather until recently hasn't encouraged any actual riding which is an obvious handicap.
Overall my 2 areas I think I need to address to improve are bike fit and pacing:
Riding a turbo trainer for a long winter forces you to confront bike fit issues head on – I have been through every variation in saddle height and fore-aft position, had saddle sore, knee pain, changed pedal type, shoe and foot position. I now have a road bike setup roughly in line with Steve Hogg, with flat pedals and a mid foot position. I don't get back ache on the trainer, I did when racing my Banshee and now also my Giant. The seat layback is almost the same, the height is only 5mm lower on the mtb which I understand is generally preferred so that just leaves the bar position which is a bit of a mystery. Currently it seems like a lower bar is more comfortable which I do not really understand, to get any lower now I will need a flat bar.
The thing about pacing is that when I do ride it is generally on my own, and when I train I have a little graph to tell me how hard to pedal and for how long. I am a faithful little hamster and I generally will do what I am told if it is possible, but in races it seems that I am too soft and don't put out as much effort as I could. I don't think I am as far behind the race leader's fitness as my times would suggest, I am just (unconsciously) not pushing myself hard enough. Of course if I can fix the bike fit issue then I would at least be useful for endurance events!
If you have any advice for Andrew as he readies himself for a big few months of XC racing then please feel free to leave a comment below, or why not give him a follow on twitter - @MTB_Akak