We are now firmly into the new year, and according to a range of news articles, it’s highly likely that if you set yourself some New Year’s resolutions, you’ve probably broken them by now. And if you haven’t just yet, then Strava reckons that by Sunday 19th Jan you will have.
Deciding that you were going to wake up at 5am every morning to get a run in before work probably doesn’t seem as realistic now as it did at 11:45pm on New Year’s Eve after 2 bottles of prosecco. However, just because you’ve already given up on your “New Year New You” resolution there’s no reason to feel disappointed or unfulfilled, and it certainly doesn’t mean you now have to wait until the next time round to try again.
Goal setting is a powerful method of motivating yourself to continuously improve, as it gives you a target to aim for and a purpose behind your training. Having some realistic, yet suitably challenging goals, is one of the best ways to ensure that each new year is your best year on the bike. Although, it is important that you put some careful consideration into your goals, as overly ambitious or poorly defined goals can be demotivating and counterproductive.
What to consider when setting your goals
A really popular way of creating a clear and reachable goal is to follow the SMART acronym; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Bound.
It’s not enough, for example, to just say “I want to increase my fitness”, as it’s too vague and it would be difficult to actually say when you’ve achieved it. Whereas, saying “I would like to complete a century ride in under 6 hours in 2020” is much better, as you can start developing a plan to help you work towards the goal, and you would have a clear understanding of when it has been achieved.
It’s also important to set a goal that you can control. Winning the National 25mi TT is not controllable, because no matter how hard you train, there’s still a chance that Geraint Thomas might turn up and blow you out of the water. This is also an example of an “all or nothing” goal, which should be avoided because you’ve only got one shot to achieve your goal each year. Fail to achieve it and you can be left feeling demotivated; like you’ve just worked for a whole year for nothing.
On the other hand, aiming for a sub-50 25mi TT PB is controllable because no matter where you place in the race, if you achieve that time then you’ve achieved your goal. It’s also not dependent on one single event in the year, so if you do come down with a cold at an event you were targeting you can just set your sights on the next one!
How many goals?
In my opinion, it’s best not to have too many; just one or two big goals that you can really set your sights on achieving. From there you can break the goal down into smaller sub-goals, to define the steps that will be required to achieve your overall goal. You can then keep breaking the sub-goals down as many times as required until you get to a point where you know exactly what you need to do each day to make a positive step forward.
My Goal for 2020
Writing down your goals will make you more likely to achieve them. Of course it will. Just keeping a goal in your head makes it all the more easier to dismiss when the going gets rough, but when you write that goal down suddenly it becomes real. Giving up on the goal would mean hiding the evidence. You’ve got to shamefully admit defeat. You could also take it one step further and write your goal down on a blog post on the internet…
This year, my goal is to achieve an FTP of 4.5W/kg by October.
I don’t think it’s an unrealistic goal, as my 20min power PB last year was 302W with very little structured training, although it’s certainly still ambitious. It’ll mean that I’ll have to average 327W over a 20min period.
Why October? Because that’s when I’ll be in the thick of hill climb season, so it’s unlikely that I’ll be making an additional gains after then. The reason that I’ve opted to focus on improving my threshold power is because I want to make a big jump in fitness this year. My thinking is that I should then be strong enough to achieve good results in whatever race, event, or ride I take part in.
Breaking the Goal Down
As of the time of writing, my FTP puts me at 3.97W/kg. My goal for this year is to be a 4.5W/kg rider. There is obviously a difference between the two numbers, and in the watts per kg world, it’s a fairly sizeable difference. For that reason, I need some sort of plan for how I’m going to get there.
I’ve therefore come up with 6 smaller goals to focus on, and then broken each one of those down into targets that I can focus on either weekly or daily, which should all contribute towards that increase in threshold power.
Add Consistency to my Training
Consistency is the big one; perhaps the biggest improvement that I can make within my training. Over the past few years I’ve religiously ridden for at least 3 hours on a weekend morning, but that’s as far as the consistency goes.
Once I got access to a smart trainer, I became determined to use the winter to get faster and stronger which helped me to get into a good, structured routine. Continuing this structured routine will be essential if I am to achieve my goal.
Therefore, in order to achieve this goal I need to:
- Complete at least 2 structured sessions a week from a training plan.
- Recorded through chosen training platform (currently Zwift).
- Achieve a 6 hour cycling weekly target.
- Tracked using a Strava goal.
- Retest FTP once a month to ensure training plan is accurate.
- Add a date range within my calendar at a certain time each month to remind myself to retest.
Compete in 5 Open TT Events
Last year I only got round to one time trial, but I loved it. I also find it extremely motivating to have an actual event to train for, so aiming for 5 should keep me highly focused on my fitness, which will contribute towards my FTP goal. So a pretty self explanatory one, but this one can be achieved if I:
- Compete in 5 TT events.
- Recorded through CTT events calendar.
- Buy a dedicated TT bike.
Improve My Diet
When you first get into cycling, it’s quite easy to overlook how much your diet will influence your performance. This is now my 3rd calendar year on the bike, and for the first 2 I hadn’t at all thought about diet. My diet is something that I really need to focus on improving if I want to improve my performance, or so the podcasts, articles, and blog posts keep telling me.
I also recently watched The Game Changers on Netflix, which prompted me to do a little research into the benefits of plant-based diets. It’s been enough to convince me anyway, so for the while I’m cutting out meat entirely and avoiding dairy where possible.
This is definitely one that needs a little more research, but for the meanwhile I can:
- Avoid meat and dairy where possible.
- Drink 2 litres of water a day.
- Adequately fuel myself on the bike.
- Consume a gel or bar every hour.
- Use energy powder for all long rides.
- Always replenish calories after a workout. Ideally a full meal, but at bare minimum a recovery shake.
Last year I read Why We Sleep, which is an extremely interesting book that goes into great detail about the seriously negative effects that come from inadequate sleep. It also explains just how beneficial a good nights sleep can be, not just for athletic performance but for mental wellbeing and overall health. Quality sleep will result in positive physiological adaptations, and for that reason I will aim to:
- Allow a minimum of 8 hours for sleep each night.
- Tracked using Fitbit.
- Avoid high caffeine foods and drinks after midday (i.e coffee, caffeine gels).
- Avoid using screens after 10pm.
Increase Muscle Mass
During last year’s hill climb season I identified that overall strength, with particular attention to my core, was something I needed to improve on. It’s very true that my upper body has been neglected for quite a while, and whilst a low weight is of course beneficial to uphill cycling, I think that the benefits that come with an overall stronger body would outweigh (pun not intended) the benefits of being lighter.
- Follow up every indoor workout with a circuit of body weight exercises, involving a bare minimum of press ups and sit ups.
- Track using my own spreadsheet.
- Refer back to the improve diet point about replenishing calories… I won’t be able to increase muscle mass if I keep burning it off through poor nutrition.
Improve Mental Resilience
Sports psychology is something that really interests me. Having the mental willpower to keep on pushing when it hurts can be the difference between being a good rider and being a really good rider. It’s what enables you to turn up to an event and push out those extra few Watts when they’re really required, and it’s probably what will win you the sprint finish. Tyler Hamilton apparently ground his teeth down to the roots whilst battling through the pain of a broken shoulder in the 2002 Tour of Italy, where, through a serious amount of grit, he managed to finish 2nd.
I do believe that I’ve already got strong mental resilience; it’s perhaps a prerequisite for taking part in a hill climb. However, improvements can always be made. According to the generic max heart rate calculation my heart rate should be up in the late 190’s, yet I’ve only ever touched 190bpm a handful of times. A sign of giving in too early?
This is a goal that is difficult to quantify. However, I believe the following points should contribute towards achieving this goal:
- Read 2 books that cover sports psychology to develop my understanding.
- Tracked through Goodreads.
- Dedicate 10 mins of meditation time per week.
- Use an app to assist with this. Headspace has been recommended by trainer road.
Don’t forget to re-evaluate!
There’s almost no point in setting yourself any goals if you’re just going to leave your notepad under your bed and never revisit it. Make sure to allow regular time to re-evaluate your goals to understand if you’re making positive steps towards achieving them, or consider whether any of them need changing if they no longer align with what you’re aspiring towards.
Everybody has different goals, and everybody will have a different method for determining and recording their goals. This is just my way. What are your goals for this year?