By Paul Hopkins
When I first started riding 23 years ago I was very fortunate to meet trainer ‘to the stars and F1 drivers,’ Bernie Shrosbree, and we soon became very good friends.
From the beginning of our training partnership Bernie taught me to spin my legs fast with a low power intensity during the off season and only then build-up the effort and pace nearer to my race season.
This simple training method has worked wonders for me over the years. As long as I was prepared to start the season conditioned, but not 100% sharp, I found that my speed would increase during the race season and then stay with me until the end of the year. Other riders who came to full racing fitness too soon would sometimes fade. This proved ideal for me when competing for an overall result in a long 8 month race series.
I like to think of base training as building my foundation. With each long, slow ride I am laying the building blocks for the race season ahead, and the more I ride like this, the stronger the foundation becomes and thus the higher I can build upon my fitness without it toppling over.
However, after racing for over two decades I have learnt many other things about myself and how my body responds to training and how I adapt my training. The key is; what may have been the best regime for me 10 years ago is not necessarily my best plan of attack now. I say that because over the course of many years training and racing my base level fitness and body have both changed.
Year upon year I train and race, and I firmly believe that my base fitness level is such that I pay less attention to the need of long-term base training. That doesn’t mean I forget it all together, far from it, but I rely more on holding my fitness for longer without months of slow, cold rides.
I also feel that the secret to getting the most out of myself is to keep the riding interesting. I find it pointless if having made myself go out for hours on end and didn’t enjoy the riding. I tend to put the bike down for a few weeks at the end of the year and not to ride for few weeks. This I think gives my body a chance to repair itself properly from a hard year, but most importantly helps to reset my mind.
If you were to get back on the bike and think ‘Where has my form gone’ don't worry, it doesn’t take long to get it back again. Often, when reaching full-fitness again it reaches an even higher plane.
Racing all through the year is fine and it may work for some riders, but the majority I feel would do better to take a break. 3 or 4 weeks tends to work well for me. If you must keep going then do something different such as gym work or gentle running.
This way, when you are halfway through a race season you are still feel keen and want to race. Having both mountain and road bikes helps a lot as, although you are still cycling, the two disciplines feel totally different and helps to keep the interest levels high and also means that many more route options are open to me.
I may not hold a fitness trainer certificate, but being around some very talented and knowledgeable people over the years has helped me find my path. If you have a full time job and a family, getting the best out of yourself can be difficult, but by training smart it is certainly achievable.
In short: have a goal, build your base training with higher cadence and lower intensity during your off season, then ramp up your intensity a few weeks before your race season starts.
Don’t be afraid to put the bike down for a few weeks at the end of the race season - it will probably do you the world of good!