Steady progress is boring isn't it?

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

About 6 years ago I got one of those genetic tests done through 23&Me. I needed the results for a presentation I was giving about personal data. In all honesty, it didn’t tell me a great deal that was completely new apart from the fact I am 2% Neanderthal - I assume these are the genes that explain my inability to do DIY because I am rubbish with anything that involves tools.

What the test did show was that I have a predisposition to be a high reactor to physical exercise or by the same token, to a lack of exercise. This confirmed what I had long suspected through my years of yo-yo dieting: I lose weight quickly but put it on just as quickly. So it hasn’t surprised me that in my first four weeks under my new programme I have already lost over 5kg and now weight just under 91kg. I still have 3kg to go to get to my fighting weight. Actually fighting weight wouldn’t be accurate, because 88kg is more like a non-fighting weight/run away weight at my height. Essentially I have always believed I was a skinny bloke hiding in a fat blokes body and I as lose weight you can see this. A bit. In a certain light. With one eye closed.

In any case, the empirical number itself doesn’t matter. It's only there as a guide to prove the diet is working. The thing is, my desire for fast results still leaves me frustrated with this progress. Once you have made up your mind about a training plan and are committed to it, you want the changes to take place faster, but of course, adaptation takes time. Slow adaptation is boring though, most of us want to see big gains.

Managing weight loss is not science: it's pretty simple. You need to be in calorie deficit, burning more calories than you put in. That deficit can be achieved by putting fewer calories in, by burning more of them through increased activity or hopefully through a combination of both.  Personally I have cut out alcohol, chocolate, desserts and managed my portion control. I am training more of course, of which more in a moment. I also take every chance I get to burn extra calories. Seriously, take the stairs, get off one stop early, walk your 10,000 steps. Whatever. Just find a way to burn more.

Managing nutrition pre, during and post rides is a science though and that’s something I am still working on. My natural approach has been to eat pasta the night before a big ride and then eat when hungry and drink when thirsty on the bike, then eat everything in sight when I get home. Surprise surprise, all of that is wrong. I am trying hard to fuel better and even took the unprecedented step of eating while doing an indoor session last week.

The biggest change I have made is getting a coach, Rob Tottle of Hillside Coaching. No scratch that. The big change is actually listening to what the coach says and then doing it. No, that’s still not true because I have actually been listening to what my coach has told me to do, recording it and not bullshitting about it. Most notably in the past month that has meant working on my core. (Somewhere in the distance I can hear my physio Charlie Ward and my wife shouting “We’ve been telling you this for years” ). Yes, yes it's blindIngly obvious that if I have a stronger core and upper body conditioning that my back is better able to cope with the stresses and strains of cycling and of life in general. Knowing that you should do something is not enough. We all know we shouldn't eat a family sized bag of Kettle crisps on our own, but we do. (No? Just me? OK Move along, nothing to read here).

A bit of psychology.

You could argue that as people we have three basic needs in life;

  • The stuff we WANT, exciting things, fun things, recognition, rewards.

  • The stuff we know we SHOULD do like save money, eat better, drink less alcohol. 

  • FRICTIONS - The stuff we want to avoid. Things in our lives that take time, increase risk, that sort of thing.

The trouble is that many of the things we want, require us to do the things we know we should do and don't want to. On top of that, we have to stop avoiding frictions. Sadly we are poorly motivated to do that and instead, we just hope we can jump straight to the fun things. More than a decade of avoiding the hard work to build up my core has resulted in the boom/bust cycle of health and fitness I have experienced. The really sad thing is that it's only taken four weeks to notice the difference. Oh well, perhaps it goes to prove that there is truth in the saying that when the student is ready the teacher will appear.

Another more simple way to look at the need for a coach who can help you plan is that a goal without a plan is just a wish. I have a goal, it requires a plan, plus commitment, effort, sacrifice and discipline. These are all capabilities I have, sadly I'm not good at using them all simultaneously. Rob is managing a plan for me that balances indoor and outdoor riding, weight training, physical therapy and yoga (stop sniggering at the back). I can feel I am making progress and the numbers back this up: a ramp test last week showed that my Functional Threshold Power (FTP) has gone up 4% in the past month. 4% doesn't sound a huge amount but it will be if I can repeat that every month until I go. FTP is a measurement of the highest power that you can sustain over an hour. OK technically speaking it is more a measure of the highest power output you can sustain without gradually blowing up on lactate overload (just to prove I am listening to my resident sports scientist). Once you know this you can base a great deal of your training around it. It’s a more accurate measure of bike fitness than heart rate (HR), as HR can be affected by lots of other factors, diet, sleep, hormones, infection etc, so can vary more from day to day. Again the empirical number doesn’t matter much to anyone but me, so I won't bother sharing it. Many peoples’ value will be higher, a few would be lower than mine.

What Rob’s plan shows is that gains can be made on and off the bike. My previous strategy has just been to go for increasing the volume of kilometres I am riding, following the Eddie Merckx training principle of "Ride the bike, ride the bike, ride the bike”. There has still been a temptation to train more. I realise that sounds unlikely, but the trouble with training early in the morning is that you think you could double up later in the day. I am also holding back slightly from riding longer distances until the plan tells me to. This is hard when friendly club mates invite me out at weekends. This is my excuse for repeatedly turning down the offer to ride an Audax (200km). 'Honestly guys I'd love to but my coach says no'

All of this training has, of course, left me tired all the time. But even so, I had a health check and my blood tests showed I have a level of vitamin D deficiency which can cause fatigue.  I am hoping this can easily be fixed through taking cod liver oil supplements. This is great because I love things that can be fixed through almost zero effort.

Rob and I have agreed on a few checkpoints in the plan. One of those is in 6 weeks time. If I can hit that and the goals associated with it, then maybe I will start sharing the end goal. But maybe not. It still sounds far fetched to me right now. Of course, if the coronavirus keeps going I will be completing a short ride home this summer on Zwift at the bottom of my garden.

Note I interviewed Rob Tottle in Episode 3 of my podcast and it was that conversation with him that inspired me to hire him as a coach. You can find it on iTunes Spotify and other places.

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