Trans Alba 2020: Get comfortable being uncomfortable

When I finished the Trans Alba Race this year I was immensely happy to just have completed the ride. I’d never ridden so far and there was a huge sense of accomplishment as well as relief to be sat outside Holyrood holding that coveted hip flask in my hand know it was hard earned. 

Even in the first week after the race I wasn’t thinking of a next race or coming back to Scotland again but after a few days I realised how much I missed being out on my bike like that and even though I hadn’t confided in my wife or friends at the time I had already decided I was going back to race again with the aim of an improved overall time and hopefully a better managed ride.

I spent a lot of time looking back at worked well and what I need to work on ahead of The second Trans Alba Race.

I’m a kid 30’s relatively doughy guy who happens to love riding his bike so I won’t pretend to be an authority on training but I got through my first few ultra distance events with a degree of success. Well, I finished them both in a reasonable time and was happy(ish) with how things went. My expectations didn’t really exceed finishing to begin with but this year I plan on pushing things further and seeing if I can shave time off my two current results and better manage myself throughout the events.

One of the best resources I’ve found is the Ride Far blog which covers a lot of info, but what I did want to share was what I did last year, what I learned and how I am modifying my approach this year. 

Slow and steady

This time last year I opted for a more traditional base training methodology. Even though I wasn’t always riding outdoors, I pretty consistently rode longer steady rides on the rollers. Between 2 to 4 hours ranging between 45-65% of max power certainly built a good engine and I went into my full training block with a really deep base. I could ride really comfortably and tick off 200-300km with 3000 to 4000m of climbing and feel relatively comfortable. I say relatively as there’s always fatigue with endurance riding and after all this is pushing the endurance side of things further. 

One aspect I struggled with in 2019 races was repeated efforts and being able to recover and go again. I didn’t put enough emphasis on the higher end work this year and it came at a price. I still had to put in higher power efforts during my two races but physiologically I struggled with recovering from those efforts and often found myself staring down the next climb just as I’d gotten some recovery in and neither Wales or Scotland are exactly flat. There’s also the psychological struggle of being tired and grinding up a hill only to find more climbing awaits you before you’ve fully recovered.

With that in mind I’ll be religiously working through 3-4 indoors sessions a week using TrainedRoad to build up and then a minimum of one long ride per week. After all, I do this for fun and slot it in around work and family so being able to get the maximum gain out of my training with my time constraints is really important to me and from experience I know that working through the TrainerRoad Base/Build/Specialty phases will bring my fitness up in a manageable way working towards a “peak” in time for  the Trans Alba.

Whilst it won’t be a zone I spend too much time in during races working at Sweet Spot and even threshold builds some serious fitness but perhaps more importantly, in the past, it’s helped me sharpen the ability to block out the want to quit and nurture the muscular adaptation to repeat efforts even fatigued.

I’m not going to go into a load of detail on individual workouts as that’s a really individual need. What works for me might not necessarily work for you. Though I am a massive advocate of TrainerRoad and their podcast. I simultaneously love and hate coach Chad Timmerman for his amazing in depth knowledge and his ability to make me suffer on the bike. 

Practice makes perfect

With work and family commitments taking up the lions share of my time my weekend long rides will be fundamental in building on my endurance and getting used to those longer and longer days in the saddle. One aspect that does works in my favour is that the topography around me mirrors a good amount of the route in Scotland so I can happily spend hours out in the hills simulating the race conditions. I’m also an early bird so jumping out of bed at 4am and heading out the door 15 mins later suits me. It also allows me to get a good training ride in and still have some time with the family in the afternoon/evening. 

Really, you can’t beat those quiet roads in the hills when you get up early….

Looking back in my preparation for Trans Alba I didn’t necessarily put in enough back to back long rides. Again, this will be an area I dip further into in 2020. I don’t have the time and money to do many events in 2020 so getting out and simulating my strategy for the races I will be riding this year will count for a lot. Even though I limited my multi day rides in 2019 what I did love was the amount of new roads I got to see so those multi day rides are as much about having an adventure as they are about physical training. 

Obviously there is the physical benefit to knowing how your body will react to consecutive long days but I was not as well drilled or disciplined as I could have been when it came to taking on board food and drink or setting up and breaking down my sleep kit. Then there is the psychological side of spending long days riding in potentially less than ideal conditions whilst tired and dealing with a more competitive atmosphere on the bike. It’s one thing to ride for 3 hours in the drizzle on a training ride and then going home and getting warm and eating a good meal but it’s a whole different ball game having spent 15 hours or more in the wind and intermittent rain, eating sandwiches and oat cakes and then sleeping on a concrete floor for 4 hours before doing it all again.

For me, this is where it’s crucial to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m not talking about putting yourself into an aero position on the bike for 9 hours, but more around embracing the unknowns and being able to manage that. Whether that’s a lack of sleep, diet modification or managing ever increasing fatigue, one thing I did learn this year is that you have to manage that discomfort if you are going to keep going.

To me, the psychological aspect needs perhaps more work than the physical side ahead of racing in 2020 and I’ll be writing more specifically about that soon.

Race to race

So far my calendar is as follows:

  1. Trans Wales in 01-May
  2. Trans Alba 28-Jun

And so far that’s the it. A bit sparse but there’s a couple of reasons for that. Firstly I want to build on what I did in 2019 and not overreach and push too far ahead of Trans Alba. Secondly, racing isn’t free and when you look at the costs of getting to and from a race, food and accommodation before, during and after then those costs mount up pretty quickly. At the end of the day I do this for fun and slot my races in around work and family life. 

So, broad strokes, there it is. My holistic training plan for Trans Alba 2020. I know some people like to focus on distance but I went into the 2019 race with about 1000km a month plus some regular indoors interval sessions so I will build on that but I have no plans on doubling my distance each month just for the sake of it.

I am absolutely open to critique and suggestions for improvements, after all this is only my second season riding ultra distance races so there’s plenty of knowledge still to accumulate. 

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