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Expert Blog: Project 2014

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Article posted: 03/12/2013

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In his last blogNik Cook was getting over the disappointment of crashing out of his target event for the year, defending his age-group title at the World Long Course Duathlon Championships at Powerman Zofingen in Switzerland. With road rash healed, he’s now ready to embark on a new challenge that he’ll be blogging about exclusively here.

What?

I’d given a hint what Project 2014 was at the end of my last blog but now it’s time to lay my cards on the table. The main goal of the year is to compete in the Masters World Track Championship Individual Pursuit in October 2014.

With thirteen years of training for ultra long distance events, including the six day 150-mile Marathon des Sables Saharan run, an 120-mile Arctic ultra run and long course triathlons and duathlons, making the change from events lasting hours, or even days, to one lasting three and a half minutes is a challenge that I’m really excited about.

I’m definitely noticing changes in my body and how it performs on the bike and am really enjoying the challenges of this new project.

Why?

In focussing on long course duathlon for the last two years, my cycling has become far stronger than my running and all of my aches, pains and niggles flair up after long or hard run sessions. I won’t be knocking running on the head completely, as I find it brilliant winter cross training, love getting out on the hills in the mornings and my dogs need the exercise but I’ll be dialing it right back and just doing it for variety and fun.

I’m forty in February, so move up into the next age band and am aware, from a health perspective, that a decrease in training volume and some emphasis on developing strength and power after years of long and slow work, could be a good idea. From the age of approximately thirty, all men will tend to start to lose muscle mass unless it’s kept stimulated. This can have a negative effect on metabolism, make weight maintenance harder and can be compounded by large amounts of endurance exercise. Some form of resistance training, such as this routine from Phil Burt, Lead Physiotherapist at British Cycling and Consultant Physiotherapist to Team Sky, and Martin Evans, head of Strength and Conditioning with British Cycling, is advisable for all men.

I’ve been through similar annual training plans for the last two or three years and am really in need of some variety to fire up my enthusiasm. I’m not any illusion that the training for this goal is going to be any easier but a change from long and slow to shorter and harder is, at the moment, appealing. I’ll let you know if that changes once the really horrible interval sessions kick in.

I’ve been riding the track once a week for the last year and really enjoy it. I’ve gained my accreditation at Manchester and have been putting in some reasonable performances at the SQT (Structured Quality Training) sessions I’ve attended.

I’ve always found that, if I’m going to have to find the motivation to train hard, I’ve got to be inspired by an event and more than a little bit scared of it. This goal certainly ticks both of those boxes and, being around for some of this year’s World Masters Track Championships, felt a few butterflies flitting in my stomach.

Although this is going to be a big change in training emphasis for me, it’s not completely left field. Many top riders, including Sir Bradley Wiggins, make the switch for track to road and vice versa. I’ve already got a well established and deep endurance base and, even for a relatively short event such as a 3 km individual Pursuit, having this foundation is key to success as the higher end levels of fitness can’t be built without it. I’m basically going to try and bolt a turbo on my big old diesel engine. I’m 190 cm tall and tend to hover around 80-82 kg, so I’m never going to be the greatest climber but I can put out decent power on the flat.

How?

I’ll be blogging about all aspects of my training and progress and passing on the training tips and technical advice I get from British Cycling’s World beating coaches.

I’ve already set a few stepping stone goals. The first, and potentially last depending on how it goes, is to ride a test 3 km Individual Pursuit. This is pencilled in for January 2014 and hopefully will show that I’m not going to make a complete fool of myself and we’ve got something worth working on.

Then, through March, April and May, I’ll be focussing on 10 and 25 mile time trials, seeing what times I can post and also trying some closed circuit road racing.

June will see my first big test on the track as I take on the Masters National Track Championships and, from that, see what I’ll be aiming for at the Worlds in October.

Weeks 1-6

Having taken a couple of weeks off to heal up after Zofingen and wallow in a bit of self pity, I was ready and raring to go for Project 2014. Although I already had a solid base of aerobic fitness, the main weakness to address was, well, my weakness. Strong on the bike for 150 km bike leg in a duathlon or a long sportive is one thing but the strength and power required for and explosive start and then sustaining a hard effort for 3 km is entirely different. I hadn’t been near a gym in years so, in consultation with Martin Evans, head of Strength and Conditioning with British Cycling, a solid 3 month block of strength work through to the end of 2013, was prescribed.

Focussing on movement such as squats, dead-lifts, Bulgarian squats and single leg presses, my body was in for a rude awakening. The weights I was initially lifting were truly pathetic and I’d wobble my way through sets looking like a newborn giraffe. The day after my first session in the gym I felt quite smug though. My legs felt tired but I’d been expecting horrendous soreness. Maybe I wasn’t quite so weak after all? Forty-eight hours later though my smugness was gone as it felt as though someone had taken a baseball bat to my legs and backside. This was the pattern for the first couple of weeks but, by the third week, post workout soreness was diminishing and my weights were steadily creeping up. I knew that these gains were just due to the link between my brain and muscles and my technique improving, rather than my actual muscular strength, but there was a satisfaction about adding a few plates to the barbell and I was no longer getting the same derisory looks from the well muscled gentlemen in tank tops.

With my legs in a state of shock most of the time, recovery and maintenance were the main objectives on the bike. On the turbo I’d go through the British Cycling Warm-up three times to spin my legs out and use the rev-outs to develop leg speed. On Sunday club-runs, I’d sit in and wouldn’t get sucked into the inevitable surges and village sign sprints. Even on our club Saturday morning Smackdown session, I’ve been measuring my efforts and not hammering myself. The only real quality bike session of the week has been SQT on the track on Tuesdays and, despite staggering off the track a gasping wreck each week, I do seem to be getting stronger and faster. I’ve been really careful about monitoring intensity on the bike, maximising recovery and have been stretching and hitting the foam roller every day.

It seems to be working and I’m managing to balance training and recovery well. I’m in my sixth week of the gym work and, although I won’t be featuring on Worlds Strongest Man quite yet, I’m managing 115 kg for my three sets of eight reps on squats and 110 kg on straight legged dead lifts. My weight has crept up to 83 kg but I haven’t been massively diet conscious since Zofingen and I’ve definitely developed a new lump on the front of my thighs and feel fairly lean. On the bike I feel great on the flat and on the track and, although I’ve probably lost a bit of uphill zip, I feel really strong sat in the saddle and putting down the power.

For November, I’ll be tweaking the gym routine, switching on the main exercises to four sets of six reps and upping the weights. I’ll keep on with the SQT sessions on the track and my turbo work will include both Sweet-Spot and Threshold efforts. I’m definitely noticing changes in my body and how it performs on the bike and am really enjoying the challenges of this new project.

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