A number of MGCC members have quizzed me on the preparations I made for the 2011 National Masters Championships last weekend in Burlington. The answer can be summed up easily - MGCC. Tempo on the Bridle Path, hills on Brimley and the longer Saturday morning Bagel prepared me well for the 113km race last weekend in Burlington.
This is an opportunity to share with the group how some members with a racing mind-set can use the weekly MGCC rides to prepare for a race or an entire race season. The goal is not always as simple as getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
My experience with Nationals has been a race that starts relatively smoothly and evolves into battle of attrition. The quality of the field is high and filled with riders whose skills and fitness are unfamiliar. If you can???t confidently gauge the strength of the riders around you it is best to leave a little extra in the tank. When racing with a group staying in contact is the most important thing. Gaps will open up and it is in your best interest to close them as quickly as possible. Riding with a group that is setting a hot pace is difficult. Riding on your own is much harder.
The Bridle Path is where I train myself to hang in with a group. Some people may notice I vary the timing and level of my effort. Sometimes I accelerate on the Crestwood hill to try and open up a gap on the group. I might rest at the top and try to jump on the group as it passes by. That simulates a race situation where a rival attacks and I have to chase hard to close a gap. The rival might look behind, see that he is not alone and decide to take his foot off the gas and return to the shelter of the group only to try again later. The key is to recover quickly enough to have the strength to latch on to the speeding group that will soon overtake us. I put more effort in accelerating up the climb at Nationals than any other single effort I made in the race with the exception of the finish. The training on the Bridle Path loops gave me the speed and recovery to remain safely in the confines of the group. Stamina is important but if you don't have the speed to remain in the safety of the group, you better have a lot of it! I will try the same thing at various points on the Bridle Path Loop but the goal is always the same. Attack and train myself to recover fast enough to grab that wheel as the chase group catches me and goes by.
The training done on the Col de Brimley gave me the strength to remain comfortably in the saddle as the Nationals race climbed up. My general goal is to ride a steady pace on Brimley. I keep a careful eye on my speedometer and try to hold my speed steady as the hill pitches up. That gives me something to focus on rather than the burning in my legs. It may appear I am accelerating but the fact is that I am holding steady. Drafting on a hill is minimal due to the relatively low speed. That means I can ride my own pace without concern for paying a steep price for taking the lead. Brimley is long and steep enough that there are few hills in Ontario that you would find yourself unprepared for. Stay in the saddle, work on developing power, stand with conviction when you are ready to push over the top. 5 times up Brimley gets my heart rate higher than any climbing I did at the Nationals.
The distance we cover on the Saturday Bagel is less important to me than the time spent in the saddle. The Bridal Path prepares me to the surge-recover-surge-recover cycle of racing. Brimley gives me the power and confidence to climb hills efficiently. The Bagel prepares me to do it all for 3+ hours. I make sure I am comfortable refueling while on the bike to keep the tank topped up as the race wears on. You don't need a huge tank if you can effectively fuel up while you are underway. The longer rides helps me to develop muscle memory and comfort on the bike while keeping my heart rate in an effective fat burning range.