Saturday, 26 March 2011

What is Paracycling (Video)

Great little video on what Paracycling is. And I can be spotted in it in a few places (lots of footage from Road and TT World Championships last year in Canada).

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Me versus the World. Yet again.

Last August I travelled to Canada to participate in the Paracycling World Championships on the road and in the time trial. And it did not go well for me. The course was far too hilly for someone of my size and I came home bitterly disappointed. Furthermore, I had failed to achieve a good enough result to guarantee me a spot on my squad for the upcoming year so it was of paramount importance that this time round I rise to the challenge and put in a worthy performance.

Over the past year I have come to realize that I am well suited to track cycling. I am able to maintain the power needed to go fast for the short duration of the races and as the track is flat – my weight doesn't hinder my performance to the same degree as it does on the road.

And so, a few weeks ago, I travelled to Montichiari (in Italy about 50 miles from Milan) to participate in the 2011 Paracycling Track World Championships. My last post details the training I did to prepare for these games – a 6 month long process that had me in peak condition just when I needed to be.

I competed in 3 different events: the Kilo – a 1km (4 laps of the track) race against the clock, the Pursuit – 3km (12 laps of the track) and the Team Sprint (where 3 riders set off together, dropping one rider per lap). My best event is the Pursuit and I had high hopes of possibly winning a medal in that race.

We travelled to Italy about 2 weeks before the actual racing began to make sure we were settled and to get our final preparation done. This also allowed us extra time to train on the track that we would be competing on to make sure we were very comfortable with it (as every track has a unique shape and rides slightly differently). We were fortunate to stay in a beautiful hotel on the shores of Lake Guarda – a very picturesque part of the country And while we spent most of our time time indoors riding on the track, we did have a chance to get out on the local roads for a few rides.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I was well-prepared for these Championships. I had done the hard work and just needed to put the finishing touches on everything. The final days leading up to competition were all about staying fresh and squeezing every last second out of us that we could. And that is exactly what happened.

First up for me was the Pursuit – 12 laps of the track as fast as possible. 2 riders set off together on opposite sides of the track. In the qualifying session it is all about your final time. If you catch up to the other man – you have to pass him and keep going. The 4 fastest riders then ride off for medals (1st and 2nd fastest ride for gold and silver, 3rd and 4th fastest ride off for bronze). In the medal ride-offs, if you catch your man, you win.

I had a time in mind that I had been training towards for the past 6 months. I thought if I did this time I would be in the medals. In the Pursuit, it is all about pacing – go off too fast and you will 'blow' and lose lots of time in the final laps. Too slow and your overall time will also suffer. So it was all about settling into a pace that I could maintain all the way through the race.

Things did not get off to a good start for me. I climbed on my bike in the starting gate and waited for the clock to count down to zero – releasing me and the bike t start the race. As the gate opened and I pushed down on the pedals to get underway, my foot popped out the pedal! Oops. That meant I was charged with a false start. One more and I would be disqualified.

I composed myself and got ready to go again. This time I got away cleanly. I settled into my pace nicely and as the laps started to count down, I felt great. The adrenaline surged through me and I felt no pain at all. I just focussed on the track in front of me and kept my ears open each time I passed my coach as he called out my lap times. I was riding better than I had in training and was perfectly on pace.

And then I caught sight of my opponent. He was significantly slower than me and I had managed to catch up to him. As we came up to the bend in the track I started to go around him. This meant I had to go higher up the track and use more energy. No problem as I was feeling so good. But as I was trying to pass, he dug in and sped up – keeping me on the outside for just a bit longer than I wanted.

Still – I powered down and got around him with minimal damage. And got back to the task at hand – focussing on the track in front of me and keeping to my pace. But I was a little TOO focussed! Next thing I knew, the bell was ringing alerting me that there was only 1 lap to go! In passing the other rider, I had lost track of how many laps were left. I had planned to make a big final push with about 4 laps to go and had been saving a bit of energy for this. With just one lap to go it was too late to dig in and make my final push. I finished with just a little too much energy to spare. 

Nevertheless, I had hit my target time. And knocked a whopping 9 seconds off my previous personal best! I looked up to the scoreboard to see my name with number '1' beside it. I was leading the standings – but there were still a lot of riders to come.

As I cooled down I was able to watch the rest of the riders do their heats. My number 1 placing slowly dropped down the standings. One rider even managed to shatter the world record while I watched. When the last 2 riders had finished, I had ended up in 6th place. But just a miniscule 7/10ths of a second off 4th place and the medal ride-off! My mental blunder had cost me as I know I could have gone faster if I had been paying attention.

Still, 6th place is nothing to sneeze at. Especially when the other riders ahead of me are so very, very close. Furthermore, 6th place is enough to guarantee my spot on the team for the next 2 years – right up to London. There's still no guarantee I'll actually GO to London (that will depend on how many spots were earn and how many riders on the squad are competing for them), but it's a big step forward.

I'll fast forward through the rest of the competition as day 1 was really the highlight for me. The next day saw me compete in the Kilo (4 laps). Once again I finished in 6th place and took 3 seconds off my personal best time. But was further off the medals this time. It's a sprinter's race and I excel in the 'endurance' events.

And the final day saw us compete in the Team Sprint. Despite high hopes for this race, we only managed 10th place overall. Still, we had a young lad in the team with us who had only been riding on the track for a few weeks prior to this events and he did brilliantly. If anything, I let the side down with a slow performance on the day.

Any result in the top 10 earns valuable ranking points towards London 2012, so I managed to score points in all 3 events. I set 3 new Irish records in my category, set new PBs in every event and came home with supreme confidence that I will soon be making the final step up to getting on the podium.

In the coming weeks I will finish construction of a new cycling-specific leg which will make me faster and more efficient on the bike. Add another year of training and expect to see me on the podium next year!

And now my training shifts back to road and time trials. Many long hours on the road lie ahead as I prepare for my next major – winning a medal in the World Cup races and if all goes according to plan – in the road and time trial World Championships this September is Denmark!

The Building Blocks

Whew. Finally a chance to catch my breath and relax a little. It's been a tough and intense few months but the hard work has paid off.

The Paracycling Track World Championships finished up for me just over a week ago in Italy and it was something of a bittersweet experience. But before I recap the competition itself, I would just like to outline some of the preparations that went into it on my part.

I started preparing for this competition almost 6 months ago. After a good month off the bike due to injury, I started back training – just building my base fitness over the winter and trying to lose some of the weight that I had gained while not riding. If you've read some of my previous posts, you'll recall my winter rides (even Christmas Day!). 

Taking a break from training in Majorca
As the calendar changed to the new year, myself and the rest of my squad met up for the first of several training camps in Majorca (Spain). As I arrived at camp in decent condition, I was expecting things to go smoothly. But as I hadn't been on a track bike for almost a year – this couldn't be further from the truth!

The excitement of sunny skies and warm temperatures quickly turned to concern and a touch of desperation as I hit the track for the first few sessions. I had high hopes and expected to go fast. I did not. In fact, I was downright slow. The short, sharp efforts unique to track racing were a shock to my system. Furthermore, I was riding a new bike and was unable to get comfortable on it – meaning I just couldn't get the power out that I needed.

But I stuck with it. Day in and day out. Adjusting to the feel of the boards and getting used to contorting my body into the low aero position on the bike that aids speed. We split our days between long rides on the road and daily sessions on the track. It was a very tiring trip – designed to wear us out but build our fitness for the months that would follow.

After 2 weeks away at the first training camp I went home with a glimmer of things to come. Once home, I was able to make many adjustments to the bike – new bars, saddle, position, gearing, etc. And suddenly things started to fall into place.

I spent the next few weeks training at the velodrome in Manchester – fine tuning my position on the bike. Session after session my lap times began to drop – split second by split second. By the time the next training camp started in mid-February (back in Majorca again) I had regained some of my confidence and was ready to work hard once again.

The second training camp was easier on the body – focusing on specific efforts rather than general fitness. My lap times continued to tumble and while I was still a long way off my target times, I wholeheartedly believed that when the competition eventually began (still several weeks off at this point), I would be able to achieve my goals.

Back home again and many more track sessions in Manchester – just focussing on my event. Normally I would show up at the track, do a warm up, then a maximum of 3 efforts of 8 laps each. Not bad for a day's work!

Mixed in with all these track sessions, were daily road rides, gym sessions, core work, turbo sessions and just trying to recover! Had some excellent guidance from my coach, constantly monitoring my performances and pushing me to improve. And so... the foundations were laid and it was finally time to head off to Italy to compete. 

But that's a story for another time...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Less is More

Try telling a competitive cyclist that by riding less, they will get better. It's not an easy sell. But that's exactly what I've been doing for the past few weeks – riding less and not more.

As I sit here writing this, bags and bike all packed and sitting by the front door, waiting to be piled into the car for the drive to the airport and the eventual flight to Italy for my participation in the Paracycling Track World Championships, I find myself rested and chomping at the bit. And why? Because I've actually done very little training over the past month or so.

Don't get me wrong – the training I have done....has been HARD. But it's been short, sharp efforts (often on the track) and not the hour after grinding hour on the road that I'm used to. And in that time, I've watch my personal best times drop. And drop. And drop.

I will still have about a week and a half in Italy doing final preparations before that actual competition. But this will be what we call 'tapering' – more short efforts and lots of rest – building the speed and strength in the legs so that come race day, I will be in 100% peak condition and ready to go. It's just very odd to be asked (or forced) to do less riding and still watch the performances improve.

I think most cyclists (at least the less-experienced ones) have the instinct to try and do more leading up to competition – thinking that they must get that 'last long ride' in to get better or that some extra long road miles will help their fitness. It's not always the case.

And so.... I am off. Off to Italy and to the track to put my best efforts up against the best efforts of the premiere disabled track cyclists in the world. Not to put too much pressure on myself, but this competition will largely determine my cycling future – do well and I'll be on the fast track to London. A poor showing and I may be back to doing my local races in club colours and my International career will be over.

But I've done the work (and very little of it!) and am ready. I have confidence that on race day I will be the best I can be (sorry to the US Army for stealing their slogan) and will be ready to show the world what I can do. And so.... I will see you all in a few weeks!

*Link to event website: