Looking Back on 2019

Looking Back on 2019

It’s the end of the year 2019 and it’s the time when everyone starts looking towards how they’re going to reinvent themselves with unrealistic resolutions in the New Year. Perhaps you’re planning on getting down to 5% body fat, running an ultramarathon across the Outback, or looking to finally get spotted by a pro-cycling team for all those Strava KOM’s?

Scepticism aside, goal setting is actually a really important step towards progression. It puts purpose behind all the training and is what helps motivate you to push yourself. However, before you come to setting yourself some new goals, you may find it helpful to first look back over your year.

Reflecting on the past year before setting your goals for the new season is a really beneficial method for ensuring that your new goals are realistic, but also suitably challenging. Remembering the high points of the year is also a great way to motivate yourself into pushing new boundaries, whilst proper consideration towards what might’ve been improved is a powerful tool for determining suitable goals.  

For myself, I initially thought that 2019 had been a little bit of a slow year, with only very modest progress. Mainly due to a fair bit of down time from illness, an accident, and a lengthy holiday. Yet when I look back over the year it’s still clear that I’ve achieved a lot, which makes me genuinely excited to get into the New Year and start making progress towards some new goals.

10% FTP increase

Perhaps the most quantifiable change in comparison to last year is the increase in my threshold power. My best FTP test of 2018 was in November, following my first season of hill climbing. It was perhaps the fittest I had been all year. It was a classic 20-minute test and I measured at 250W, 3.6W/kg.

In June of this year I took part in my first 10-mile TT, the Team Bottrill Open 10. During which I managed to sustain 302W over 20 minutes, putting my FTP at 287W or 4.1W/kg. Of course, this wasn’t at all a fair test given one was performed indoors on a Wattbike and another was on my road bike, outdoors, during race conditions. Although it certainly pointed towards a significant increase in power.

The most recent FTP test I carried out was at the beginning of my current Zwift training plan where I measured 274W, 3.9W/kg. Again, this wasn’t exactly a fair test because rather than the dreaded 20 minute test, I performed a ramp test. However, regardless of the slight variation in testing conditions, the numbers all point towards an increase of at least 10% over my previous year.

Ramp Test image from Zwift
The Ramp Test: It’s really not the friendliest looking workout. (image source: zwift.com)

That may not sound like an enormous improvement over the course of a year, but given that my training has been fairly unstructured, with the turbo trainer being a recent investment, this improvement must just have come as a result of another year of riding in the legs. For me, this is hugely promising leading into the new year, as I’m hopeful that with the assistance of my turbo and some structured training I should be able to continue to see significant improvements to my power.

Rode into unchartered territory

2018 saw me ride my first Century. A distance that, at the time, felt monumental. As the year progressed however, 100 miles slowly lost its status as a distance of epic proportions to the point where it became the new standard for a long ride in 2019.

That meant a new endeavour was required, to redefine my own personal view of what an epic one day ride was, and this came in the form of a 250km, 155 mile ride.

The beauty of cycling is that you make your own adventures and define your own challenges, and it’s completely unique to each rider. For some a 30 mile ride along the Tissington Trail may be an all-day escapade, whereas others may not consider a ride to be truly epic until they’ve covered 500 miles over 24 hours.

For me, covering 250km in a single ride felt like a crazy undertaking. The plan was to head out to Mow Cop to tick off another one of Simon Warren’s Top 100 climbs. It was a ride that I had prepared for like no other, with careful consideration to carb loading and hydration days before, taking great care to get good quality sleep and leaving at a ridiculous time in the morning. But then I did it. I got on the bike, rode 250km, and finished feeling surprisingly strong. Just like with the 100 miles, 155 miles felt like a distance of epic proportions before I had completed it but I proved that I could do it, and importantly, I could do it without destroying myself.

That can only mean that the “big” ride will once again have to be redefined.

New Clubs, New Challenges

My confidence in my cycling abilities grew quite substantially during 2019, and because of that I plucked up the courage to ride with a few different clubs to push myself that bit further. I rode a number of Saturday morning rides with some of the strongest riders in my area, and after successfully just hanging on during the first few, I eventually saw myself taking frequent turns on the front. In addition to that, I also got started with my local chaingang and was able to just, by the skin of my teeth, hang on to a couple of the “fast” group ride.

An average speed is, of course, relative to the terrain, wind conditions, road surface etc, but going into 2019 I didn’t anticipate just how much my concept of a “fast” ride would be redefined; sometimes covering 100km in under 3 hours.  

On top of all that I took part in “proper” time trial! Just the one mind, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Hills, Hills, and more Hills

Seemingly opposite to the general population of cyclists, hills are my favourite part of the sport. There’s a certain exhilaration to reaching the summit of a hill after going full gas which becomes addictive, and I can’t be alone because there are plenty others that take part in the hill climb time trials  each year.

Summit of Sa Calobra
40° up Sa Calobra made for an interesting challenge.

2019 definitely gave me some good opportunities to take on some new gradients, from Park Rash to Sa Calobra, whilst also ticking off a further 7 climbs from the Top 100. In addition to that, I once again took part in the hill climb season and after a slow start I did eventually manage to get a respectable PB at my target event as well as a placing that I could be proud of. I also learned an awful lot this year which I feel can only benefit me next time round.

A little too much adventuring?

The reason I love cycling so much is because I enjoy getting outdoors and seeing different sights and having a different experience with every ride. I also love riding fast and pushing myself to the limit. For those reasons, I very rarely struggle for motivation to actually get out and ride.

However, I’m now starting to get to the point where just getting out and riding alone isn’t enough stimulus to make big improvements in performance. It’s getting increasingly more difficult to get PB’s and improve my power, yet looking at the numbers alone I should still have a lot more room for improvement.

As previously mentioned, my training over the past year has had little to no structure. It’s just consisted of riding my bike as fast as I can. Introducing structure to my training with training plans, strength exercises, and stretching or yoga, would help to add consistency to my training and hopefully introduce some additional training stimulus to further improve my performance. All of which I emphasised the importance of in my winter training post, and I have now finally started to include this sort of training into my schedule. I just need to now maintain that and build on it in the new year.

But 2019 isn’t over yet

There may only be less than 12 days left in the calendar year, but that doesn’t mean the cycling challenges are finished for the year. This year I’m hoping to complete the Rapha #Festive500 for the first time, and then after that we’re into the New Year, when the training plan will resume.

Christmas break? Never heard of it.

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