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Article posted: 22/01/2014

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Nik Cook’s goal for 2014 is to convert his forty year old ultra endurance physiology to the higher end demands of Individual Pursuit on the track with an end goal of competing at the Masters World Championships in October.

Goodbye to 2013

Just as I thought I was getting used to the gym routine, not suffering from horrendous muscle soreness and able to pedal without legs of lead, a subtle switch in set and reps number, from 3X8 to 4X6, knocked me back to my previous permanently hobbling self. Despite knowing that constantly giving my body new stimuli to adapt to is the only way to maintain progress and seeing a satisfying jump in the weights I was lifting for the lower rep range, on the bike I seemed to be going backwards.

On the road, it’d take an age for the soreness to ease, I’d get a woefully short window of my legs feeling half decent and then the deeply fatigued ache would return as I grovelled home. I don’t think I was convincing my club-mates of my World Championship credentials. Oddly my legs felt best during my weekly SQT (Structured Quality Training) session on the track. Once the perpetual stiffness had faded during the warm-up, the high cadences seemed to inject some life into my legs and gave me the few glimmers of encouragement during this period. I was able to ride strongly off the front and even contest a few sprints.

Unfortunately the lure of the track was probably to blame for me ending the year without the training consistency I’d hoped for. On the day of the session, I’d been feeling a bit under the weather but, with no symptoms below the neck and desperate to get my track fix, I decided to ride. Through the warm-up I was sweating profusely and in hindsight I should have binned the session then but I stupidly ploughed on. During every drill I convinced myself that I should sack it but inexplicably I’d get back on my bike and I rode the whole session.

The next day I had full-on flu and the rest of the week was a complete training write off. Belatedly my sensible side took control and I rested well. I didn’t rush my recovery and stuck to the sensible maxim of, once you feel okay to train, give it another couple of days. Half baked sessions that you heroically struggle through won’t achieve their objectives and will only prolong your illness. The rest seemed to do me good and, despite the onset of the Festive Season, I managed to get in some solid gym work and rides before the demands of Christmas really kicked in.

I was fairly chilled about being bike-less for a few days as we made our tour of the country to visit friends and family. I knew we had four days booked in a Peak District cottage post-Christmas and should be able to get in some really solid rides. Unfortunately storm force winds made riding impossible and, without access to my turbo and not having packed my running kit, it meant more enforced rest.

It was frustrating but looking back, apart from the December blips, my gym work had been really consistent from mid-September and I’d definitely achieved the main objective of the 3 month block. This was to develop strength as a foundation for the demands of the training to come and I’ve definitely become significantly stronger. I’d also ridden some really solid sessions on the track and was becoming more comfortable, confident and faster on the boards. Apart from some trouser fitting issues due to my expanding thighs, the only downside has been reduced performance on the road but sometimes you have to take a step backwards to go forwards.

Identifying the demands of the event

Despite the fact that I’m going from long course duathlon, where the bike leg is typically 2-4 hours long, to an event lasting nearer to three and a half minutes, Individual Pursuit is classed as an endurance event with aerobic fitness still the main determining factor for performance. It’s too easy to be tempted to rush ahead and start working on hard intervals and neglect the vital aerobic base that will be vital for success. The strength work that I’ve been working on can be thought of as the pilings than underpin my fitness and give me robustness. Through January and February, I’ll be adding the foundations of endurance fitness, moving into the ground floors of tempo and Threshold work and then, in March and April, adding the upper floors and roof of VO2 and anaerobic capacity. This approach of building layers of fitness is fundamental. Although the quick hit gains of higher intensity training are appealing and will be required later in the training year, for now I’ve got to remember that my first competitive pursuit will not be until Master’s Nationals in late June and not rush the process. With the base I will have developed, I’ll still have adequate time to work with a coach on pursuit specific fitness and skills.

On the British Cycling Plan

For the next 12-weeks I’ll be following a slightly modified version of the British Cycling Advanced Plan that will be available to all members, along with an Intermediate version, from January 30th. I’ll be substituting one of the mid-week workouts for my SQT session on the track and using the cross-training session to perform a once weekly maintenance strength workout in the gym. The key sessions will be identical to those in the Plan though and, having been lucky enough to have a sneak preview, I’m 100% confident it’ll put me exactly where I need to be at the end of the winter.

Looking ahead                                             

Considering how tough it was to begin with, I’m going to miss my three times a week visits to the gym. The scary muscly men had begun to chat to me, I was lifting halfway respectable weights and not having to battle the elements certainly has an appeal. Once a week should keep my strength ticking over though and I’m hoping that I’ll start to get a bit of spring back into my legs as I ease back on the weights. Depending on when my pursuit bike arrives, maybe for my fortieth birthday in February, I’m hoping to post a time on the track to see just how much work needs to be done. Apart from my weekly track session and scheduled turbo and roller sessions, most of my training during this block will be on the road. Hopefully we won’t get the Arctic cold snap we had last year but I’ve got my mountain bike standing by and ready to go should the roads become unrideable and my turbo and rollers as a last resort. My first competitive outing will be time trialling at the beginning of May after a training camp in Mallorca but, until then, it’s a case of staying healthy, following the plan and hopefully getting a solid 12 weeks of training in the bank. 

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