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Too scared to skip Zuurberg

Too scared to skip Zuurberg

Well-known cycling coach John Wakefield reveals how he got suckered into riding this year’s PwC Great Zuurberg Trek – and how he is preparing for it.

“Hello, how are you?” the voice asked at the end of the phone. “I’m good and you? What do you want?” was my reply.

“Great Zuurberg Trek,” came the retort from Anriette Schoeman. I went silent for a moment due to flashbacks of last year’s day two.

Anriette said she was keen to defend our mixed title and to move up on GC this year.

Although I feared that stage, I was even more scared of saying no to her. After all, who can say no to Anriette in full sales mode?

So there I was, getting my ducks in a row to get some form for Zuurberg, which is an amazing event. I loved it last year – once the first 45km of day two were done and dusted!

Training wise I have been a little up and down. I came off a great December, one of the best training periods I have had since 2012.

I had put a lot of focus on strength work – on and off the bike – while incorporating eccentric strength work on the Grucox machine.

When performing eccentric training the muscle elongates while trying to resist or slow down an opposing force.

Studies have shown that strength training involving both eccentric and concentric contractions is about 30% more efficient compared to training that involves only concentric contractions.

I felt a significant increase in overall and sustained power on the bike after that block.

Then I had a recovery block planned for the first week of January, which somehow lasted all the way to February 20.

I rode my bike but I became so busy with work and athletes that I didn’t want to have to suffer on the bike during intensity sessions as I had enough stress in the office.

It’s a poor excuse, but that is where I was mentally.

I knew I had to get my butt into shape and thought that entering the Bestmed Tour of Good Hope would be a great way. My goal was to ride into some sort of form by the end and to use that as a springboard.

Those five days were rough and I ate a lot of humble pie, but achieved eighth on the last day up to the Taal Monument, which was an end goal.

I’m sure it was longer and steeper than last year, but I was happy.

Coming home, I had a short recovery block and then started training. I soon realised that all the work I had done in December was still there – I just needed to get it going again.

My goal now was to get quality and structure back into my training. I needed to make sure I turned it into a habit, regardless of my personal situation.

To keep building on my fitness from the Tour of Good Hope, I continued with intermediate intensity during my training.

The objective of this mesocycle (or microcycle) was to increase my lactate threshold.

The intensity required to increase lactate threshold equates to the maximal intensity you can maintain for one hour.

The key sessions in this training block, therefore, include long repeated efforts such as 10, 15, 20 and 60-minute intervals.

During this mesocycle the intensity should be progressively increased, while the volume is progressively decreased.

Something I also did was put my Garmin in my pocket so I could not see my HR or power.

If these weren’t what I was used to, it would mess with my head – which was exactly what I didn’t need. So outta sight, outta mind.

Three weeks later I could definitely feel an increase in fitness and power. This motivated me to keep at it and riding my bike became fun again as I became fitter.

I have been averaging about 10 to 12 hours a week, which is a small volume compared to many of the riders I will be racing against in the coming weeks and months.

The quality of the sessions, however, have allowed me to maximize my time and to get out of the training the significant gains I needed.

The last piece of my puzzle is a series of races, all coming up at specific times during my training.

At the end of April, I finished off a block of training with the Panorama Tour in Nelspruit. This helped to give me some explosive sessions and to build speed.

Next, Anriette and I are off to sani2c. If we survive that and I don’t get left behind in the Umkomaas valley, we will head to Zuurberg.

One really important part in my training I did not do was to make sure my training was polarised as best as possible.

I will cover this in my next blog but, just to touch on it, it does not involve the words “sweet spot” I hear so much when people talk about their training.

There is nothing sweet about it.

John is a director and coach at Science to Sport and competes in cycling events as one of the country’s top age-group competitors. He has coached several riders to national and world titles.

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