5:25am and my alarm goes. No time to think about going back to sleep, instead my thoughts turn instantly to the gruelling two hour training session that awaits as I instinctively swing my legs out of bed and leave my wife in a blissful slumber. is this what it feels like to be a professional cyclist? At least the mornings are getting lighter and the temperatures a little milder.
Ever since beginning to work with a professional coach my life has been a series of early morning training sessions, borne out of necessity given that I must balance preparing for the Three Tours Challenge with being a husband, a father and running my own business. However, I have actually come to enjoy that feeling of being deep in a training session in my garden shed (my Tacx iGenius was evicted the moment our little boy took over the spare room), heart pounding, lungs fighting for air and sweat running off my face, when all around sleep. I know that every session takes me closer to the start of the Giro d’Italia, the start of a summer that any professional cyclist would be . For the record I am not a professional cyclist, although at times it has felt like I have been living like one.
In my fledgling cycling career, a little over two and a half years ago I hadn’t even completed three laps of Richmond Park let alone contemplated a Grand Tour…or three, my training philosophy has always been fairly simple, go hard until you have to go home. That was until Matt Green, my aforementioned coach, came in to my life. Since then training has become a science, a world of numbers, zones, heart rates and power readings, all recorded and fed in to his computer to track and prescribe every session needed to ensure I am in the best possible condition to take on this crazy challenge.
To go from an all or nothing approach, to every session being carefully monitored based on data was, at first, a shock to the system. If I am being totally honest it didn’t feel like I was working hard enough in the early days, riding for 90 minutes at a heart rate of 140 bpm was hardly taxing, although that feeling is very much a distant memory with almost every session now pushing me in ways I have never experienced before. To be where I am now I had to put a huge amount of trust in Matt and the process, something I am grateful that I did as four months later and the results have been incredible.
The initial goals of the training plan were simple; lose 7kg of lean upper body muscle (I came in to cycling on the back of a year of lifting weights for aesthetic purposes) and build base fitness. This meant a fairly controlled approach to food and nutrition, without ever sacrificing the enjoyment in eating but all the while ‘embracing hunger', and a lot of steady state cycling sessions. With those goals achieved by the end of January the focus has since switched to maintaining weight whilst increasing power and improving my FTP (functional threshold power) score. This has meant an increase in food, which was music to my ears, and a bigger focus on varying interval sessions.
In keeping with the feeling of living like a professional cyclist I was fortunate enough to enjoy a week-long winter training camp in Mallorca in February, the sunshine something of a luxury after a long winter spent in the shed and doing laps at Richmond Park. That is if you can call cycling the islands toughest climbs, resplendent in my Huez Champ jersey and bathed in sunshine instead of rain for once, a luxury. What it did do though is give us, there are five of us taking on the challenge, a chance to ride together as a team. The greatest goals in life are never achieved alone, and if we are to achieve ours it’s crucial we work as a team.
I mentioned earlier about food and nutrition, something that is not only close to my heart but hugely important when it comes to cycling. Over the coming months each blog will not only chart my journey over the Three Grand Tours, but also share a series of recipes ideal for cyclists at any level, starting with this flapjack recipe that provides an ideal ‘on the bike’ snack to maintain energy levels.
Carrot and Walnut Flapjacks
275g jumbo oats
100g Medjool dates
2 large carrots
40g coconut oil
Juice of one orange
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.
Place the dates in a pan with 50ml of water and allow to gentle simmer until the dates begin to soften and the water is absorbed. Now add the coconut oil, stir and take off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
Add the oats to a food processor and blitz for around 15 seconds until they are broken up, this will give a more even consistency to your flapjacks. Empty the oats out into a large bowl.
Now add the dates to the food processor with the bananas and blitz until you have a smooth paste.
Peel and grate the carrots and roughly chop the walnuts before adding to the bowl with the oats, along with the date and banana paste. Mix thoroughly until the oats are evenly covered with the mixture.
Place the mixture in a non-stick baking tin, spread out evenly and cook for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before cutting into pieces
Written by Marcus LeachMore stories