Despite my previous postings about how I was now 'back at work' and knee deep into my training again, there is nothing that compares to actual track time doing specific efforts in the events you compete in. You can ride around on the roads for hours on end, but until you get on the track and start doing race-paced efforts, you don't truly get to experience that special kind of pain and suffering that helps you win races.
I am fortunate to live close to an indoor velodrome so that I can get valuable training time on the track. It still requires an hour-long drive each way, but it's worth it. I have much respect (and envy) for the GB riders that live virtually across the road from the track – and get to spend as much time as they want there. And from what I can see, they are out there training on a daily basis (or sometimes twice a day).
In recent weeks I have taken part in several 'general public' training sessions – sprinting around the track doing drills with other riders. It's great fun and definitely gets the body used to the feel of riding a fixed wheel bike on an indoor track. But the efforts are never specific to the type of racing I do, and are not done at a full-out pace.
That is, until yesterday. Yesterday I started my event-specific training. That meant reconfiguring my bike from a sprint set-up (standard road handlebars) to a pursuit set-up (aero bars that you lean your elbows on like in a time trial). Also have to tweak other things like saddle height and even change the saddle to time-trial specific one. And it also means that I no longer ride in the group sessions, but instead do specific solo efforts whilst the rest of the group is off the track taking a break.
I have high hopes for my track events this year. I had a chance to do some track work back in August when the squad was in Portugal and we had access to a velodrome there. It was the first time I had been on a track bike for months, but as soon as I got out there I was whizzing around the track as super speeds with what seemed like little effort. I was riding laps at close to world-record pace and it seemed like things were going to be quite easy for me when it came to training and competing on the track next February.
Of course, at the time I was in peak fitness and preparing for the road World Championships. I found the efforts easy because I was in very good shape and had been training and racing for several months at the time. Right now I haven't raced since September and my training has been focussed on longer distance endurance and getting a good base – and not the short, sharp efforts needed in track racing. So it's no wonder that when I got out there yesterday to do some specific race efforts that my body got a bit of a shock!
Pursuit training at race pace
I managed to get three race-paced efforts done yesterday – and whilst that may not sound like much, those 3 efforts are about as hard as riding around at a steady pace for two hours! Race efforts are hard and painful. They make your legs burn and your lungs work overtime to suck in enough oxygen to power your muscles. When you're done, you feel like you've just run a marathon. Your throat is sore (what we call 'track throat') and your legs feel like someone has beat on them constantly with a large stick. At least... that's how I feel afterwards!
Nevertheless, my laps times were good. Not world-record good, but good enough for a first effort. And that's the key thing: it was just my first effort. I have 3 more months of this before I have to race. 3 times a week – getting out there and battering myself, but each time getting just a little bit faster and a little bit better. I have every confidence that by next February when the World Championships get underway in Los Angeles, that I will absolutely flying. I can't wait to compete again and show the world what I can do.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: pain today means glory tomorrow. When I was out there and felt the searing pain in my legs and lungs, there was a brief moment when I wanted to just pull off the track and go home. It hurt so much but I KNEW that this is the gateway to bigger and better things. The person that can suffer the most is usually the one that will win. Because track cycling is all about suffering. It may only take 4 minutes or less (or about a minute-20 for the Kilo) but the pain involved during that brief time is extraordinary.
So... much respect to my fellow competitors that manage to get out there day after day and suffer like I do. It's the price we pay to keep doing what we love – and chase the dream of winning medals. I am glad that I am starting early this year and am confident that I will get all the training in that I need to do in order to win medals next year.
And one last thing that makes it a little easier: training indoors over the winter (no matter how painful the efforts) is a lot better than rolling around outside for hours on end in the freezing cold! A quick video of me racing the Kilo (1KM TT) last March in Italy. I finished 6th overall – just 2 seconds outside the medals. But this year will be different.