As a novice MTBO athlete some years ago, it was suggested by many people that I should have a time trial route to test myself once every month or so. ‘It’ll be good to see your improvement and how training is working’ they said. I never really latched on to the idea. Testing myself, on the same course a) boring, and b) what if I got slower?
I never had one. Until I started to make drastic changes to my training plan and racing with Hans Jørgen’s help. I created a route around the ‘doorstep forest’ with various sections in. Technical singletrack climb, fireroad climbs, fast descents, technical descents, flat sections and a final sprint. I needed to know how I was improving and where this improvement came from each time I rode, in order to fix the weaknesses. The time trial route is designed to test me, to ensure I give my maximum each time but while providing constructive feedback as to my current performance level.
My mentality had completed changed from previous years. Where before I relied on ‘feel’ during training, now I needed to have a real world test. No more numbers from physiology tests that were just that, a number. I wanted a time that showed exactly my improvement (or not) with training. I can see how the improvements I make in training, translate to a race situation, and that gives me confidence. Additionally, I can focus my training more specifically on certain weak areas that are highlighted; technical sections, climbing, descending etc. I wouldn’t get this on a physiology test.
At the end of May, I rode my race bike (my first TT was on my ‘then’ race bike T29.1, and the second on the same set up but when I called the bike my training bike). Naturally the race bike is faster, but I didn’t expect to take 4 minutes out of my time that I set pre-WOC 2013. I was riding well then, and had similar times in early April this year, which although didn’t show an improvement, it showed I had maintained fitness and capacity over the winter. For pre-season, that was no concern as I knew with speed work that time would come down. In May, with 4 minutes taken out of my previous time, on an 11km course with 250m climb I was anxious about the time trial ‘pre-Sweden’. The distance is kept short but the climbs are tough with many varied sections and some long descents. It sounds easier than it is!
Hans Jørgen decided to join me, and we decided he should set off 3 minutes after. My goal was to go maximum (as per usual) and not get caught. His was to catch me. I sprinted out of the start and by the first checkpoint had already taken 10 seconds. I rode harder and at the top of the first climb I was 30 seconds up. After this I lost track of my split times but knew if I kept the pace high I should have a good time.
I’ve been injured lately. Since a few days before the World Cup, so I actually rode in Denmark carrying an injury and in mild pain. It got worse and worse and I couldn’t figure it out. Strengthening my hip didn’t seem to work, so after quitting an XC race a couple of weeks ago due to mega pain levels, I ‘physio’ed’ myself. I settled on the most likely issue that would explain the pain, burning, fatigue and stiffness in my hip (that had progressed to both and my back) and started stretching and trigger pointing. I could barely self massage my muscles were so painful! A few days later and the difference was noticeable. A week and I was riding pain free. While the injury hasn’t affected training too much, I did miss some intervals sessions, and cut down the duration of some training sessions if the pain was too bad.
On the descents in the time trial I could barely see, I was just pointing at the blurred mass of track ahead and hoping to not hit anything. Later, I was struggling to brake enough and just had to go for it. Riding up ‘Ulven Hus’ I was expecting to hear HJ breathing down my neck. Nope. Down Dahlenmoen north … nope. Two bridges. Nope. Extra Triangle. Nope. Finally, on the last twisty singletrack I thought I heard a gear change behind. I beat him to the finish line with two seconds to spare! And straight into a new PB, 2 minutes faster than last month. Okay then!
I’ve used the same training principle since my first WOC medal in 2012, but each year it has developed and evolved to meet my needs and enhanced training capacity. This year, three new aspects have been added. Two of these were a new concept to me, and have taken a while to get the hang of. The third is an evolution of an interval session that is designed to strengthen my weakness. Clearly it’s worked because I keep getting faster.
Time Trial map can be found here: Map
Admittedly, I do wonder if the paint fumes and sawdust I’ve been breathing in the last few weeks while working on our house are having an effect! Either that or all the bike grease and oil from my mechanic work has been absorbed by my body to make me more at one with my bikes … The alternative is sleep walking and fixing an engine to my race bike so it’s well hidden, but that seems to be an unlikely scenario.
With the second World Cup event just 2 weeks away these gains are important. Riding faster now is a good thing, but I hope my intensive MTBO period has pulled my navigation up to speed, so I can ride fast and orienteer well without the need to slow down. The competitions will tell.
The races themselves will be extremely varied with three very different terrains over the three races. Sand dunes, urban, and then a traditional Swedish forest. Some typical Swedish planning in the long would be interesting, it’s taken me two years to get used to the route choice decisions, and could make for some interesting results. But I hope for a fair competition, where the fastest is the winner, not the most experienced in Swedish terrains.
I’m riding strongly, and I’m ready to fight all the way. I’m hunting for at least one World Cup win in order to stay in contention for the overall title this year. It will be hard fought and easily lost, but I’m ready for it.