Article by Kate Allan
UK RTTC National 50-mile Champion 2017
Time trial cycling –a race against the clock; in a flat out, high intensity effort. There are few sports that hurt so much, and some may agree that it takes a certain amount of lunacy to give it a go. I remember reading a social post from a local resident in Hampshire, describing us as a ‘lycra wearing suicide squad’. And maybe they’re not too far off the mark, with races typically being held on fast dual carriageways, you take your life into your own hands in many ways.
But then it’s addictive. And lots of fun. And with good kit, preparation and practice of handling your bike safely, you can avoid a lot of these risks and go on to achieve some competitive results.
I’ve spent the last 12-months training and competing as a time trial specialist, and have learnt lots in this time. I’m by no means an expert, but have managed to have a pretty successful first season, by working strategically and methodically, and teaming up with some of the very best people in the industry.
Here are some of my top tips for anyone looking to give time trial cycling a go:
Train smart. The training routine you take on will obviously depend on the time trial distance you specialise in, but as a 10 and 25-mile rider I train no more than 7 to 8 hours a week, with tailored sessions lasting between 1 hour and 90 minutes. This has really helped to bring on my racing, I don’t fill weeks with junk miles, every session is designed with a specific purpose and builds strategically to match my key races in the year. Working with a qualified coach is a worthy investment – and it is worth considering this if you want to take your riding to the next level.
Look after your body. It’s a given. In order to get the very most out of your training, you need to make sure that you are functioning well on a biomechanical level. Drummond Clinic has become my second home in many ways, and the team have been great in helping to ensure that everything is in alignment, and niggles are picked up early, rather than having the potential to escalate into anything more. From backache, to tight glutes and everything in between – cycling can take it out of you if you’re not careful, so it’s very worth being mindful of this.
Prioritise rest and recovery. And don’t feel bad about saying ‘no’. In order to perform well, you need to make sure you are well rested, and optimise your recovery time in between races and hard training sets as much as you can. This can mean that it’s not possible to do every social engagement, so make sure you prioritise the important things and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t take on everything that comes your way.
Eat and drink well. Hydration in particular is crucial – and I make sure that I always have a bottle of water to hand at all times in the day. Refuelling post-workout is very important, so I will always take on a high protein snack immediately after I finish a set – be it whey protein mixed with yoghurt and oats, a STEALTH protein gel or a packet of beef jerky.
Under the guidance of my friend Alan Murchison of Performance Chef, I’ve also experimented with a gluten-free diet this year and have had really good experiences of this. Away from any dietary benefit of a gluten free diet, I have found that it encourages me to make more sensible food choices, e.g not having that massive slice of cake to go with my cup of coffee etc.
I understand this is very personal – and excluding such a large ‘food group’ is not for everyone, but I’ve benefited from it quite a bit, and as a self-confessed control freak it’s quite nice to be able to have the reigns on as much as I can in an otherwise chaotic day-to-day routine.
Invest in a proper bike fit. This is crucial, and kind of ties in with the ‘look after your body’ side of things above. In order to ride well you need to be optimised on your bike as much as possible. This is a compromise between comfort and aerodynamics, and something that an experienced bike fitter will be able to help with.
Get your race day routine nailed. Controlling the controllables is crucial throughout every component of training, and this is no more important than in the lead up to race day itself. I have a specific plan of action on race day – with a ‘tick list’ of things to do in the lead up to the race start, enabling me to feel as if I can at least control some part of the day – as what your legs/the weather/traffic decide to do out there is largely pot luck.
Write this down – along with your kit list for the day. It makes for a smoother, and more enjoyable race morning. Make things as simple and clear for yourself as you possibly can.
Don’t stress if things don’t go to plan. Remember that you will rarely have the perfect lead up to race day. Life invariably gets in the way, and can thwart even the best laid of plans. Don’t let this put you off. Tough episodes can actually help make you stronger on race day, if approached correctly and if the bad episode in question is not too extreme. Use any negative emotions to your advantage. I’ve had some of my best races after a tough line up of events.
And make sure you leave everything out on the roads at all costs – regardless of the distance; you should feel close to breaking point when you cross that finish line. If you don’t, you’ve simply not worked hard enough!