When I was in my youth I used to do athletics fairly seriously. For a few years I trained up to 5 days a week, trying to build strength and speed to enable me to run faster and, in particular, jump further.
It was an exciting time for me. I was blessed with the physical attributes to allow me to compete at the National level. It helped me build self-confidence and it also taught me that the world (or the UK at least) isn’t that large a place. Being the fastest runner in my school, or even my home town suddenly wasn’t such a big deal. I was very lucky.
As I was growing throughout this period, my athletic development was also assisted by my physical development. As a result, I was almost guaranteed to improve year on year. If all other things had stayed equal I should improve over time because I was getting bigger and stronger.
If I had been competing continuously throughout the year it could have resulted in a slow, steady improvement requiring patience on my part. As it was, the annual cycle of training and competition created natural breaks that generated the potential for “Step Changes” in performance. A few months could make a big difference.
There were some key milestones during the year that were always eagerly anticipated. They included:
- My first competition of the season – always a highlight although it was slightly nerve-racking as my expectations were always set on the high side,
- The major competitions / events (notably County & National Championships),
- My final competition of the season. The last chance to make an impact, and the start of a well earned rest. The final effort before a few weeks off training. Often the relaxed atmosphere produced unexpectedly good results.
Possibly the most notable, and least heralded milestone was the start of “Winter Training”. This marked the end of the “rest” and the beginning of a long, cold and often miserable period of training that had the potential to make all the difference to performance levels for the following season.
Winter training was different from the summer. It was much more focused on strength and endurance rather than speed and technique. “Favoured” sessions included Circuits, Weights, Hill Runs, Fartlek Runs, 300m Repetitions. Most of this was designed hurt, and it was often completed in cold, miserable weather adding an extra reason not to do it.
We worked in a tight group. Pushing each other to dig deep and push harder. You had to believe you would reap rewards for the effort you put in, but there was also the sadistic satisfaction of completing each session.
Today, for the first time in twenty years, I started a Winter Training campaign. Having returned from work and changed into my cycling kit, I left the warmth of the house and braved the chill of the garage to get on my bike.
It was a low key event, but significant. A strong winter’s exercise will play an important role in my on-going rehabilitation. Given my general physical neglect over the past few years I have high hopes of significant improvements in strength and stamina. I don’t have any real points of comparison against which to measure performance, however I have a clear goal… to cycle into Brussels on 11th May 2014.