So, how fit can you get in six weeks? That’s how long I’ve had to prepare for the East Surrey Hardriders Time Trial, under the guidance of Professor Greg Whyte of 76 Harley Street.
Race day dawns bitterly cold, with a chill wind blowing. At least there’s no ice on the road this year, which made last year’s race very nervy. Greg has advised me to allow plenty of time to get warmed up, and to put in some hard efforts to wake up my legs before the start. Much better to arrive at the start with the body primed and ready to go than spend the first part of the race warming up.
It’s a relief to get under way. Pre-race nerves disappear and I concentrate on getting up to speed and finding a rhythm. I always use a heart rate monitor in racing and training, but perhaps surprisingly, Greg hasn’t given me a target heart rate to aim for. “An experienced rider should learn how to judge their own pace without relying on a heart rate monitor,” he says. “So many factors can affect your heart rate beyond your effort level.”
I follow his advice and glance at the HRM from time to time to make sure I’m neither slacking off or about to blow, but for the most part I rely on gut feel to hit the right level of effort. After a couple of miles I turn away from the wind, and can immediately feel the benefit of the breeze at my back. On one of the flatter sections of the course I average around 30mph. I start to catch earlier starters too, which is always good for mid-race morale.
When the road turns south at Dorking it also heads up, driving down the average speed. Still, I’m quite happy with the pace. Roadworks force a slight detour from the usual course just south of Capel, but the distance is almost unchanged and apart from a short section I know the revised route. The biggest test in the whole race comes at Hurst Hill. I hate this climb. Every year I grovel up it and spend the next half-mile trying to catch my breath while getting back to speed.
While I haven’t transformed into a mountain goat in six weeks, I do notice how much quicker I recover at the top and find my rhythm again. I check my bike computer and do some quick maths. Unless something goes badly awry, I’m on for a personal best. In fact, I shave just over three minutes off last year’s time. That’s an improvement of six seconds a miles or around 0.8mph faster. Slice of cake and a cuppa well earned, I think.
A few days later I go back to the 76 Harley Street for another ramp test on the CPEX machine. Greg had told me not to expect a big change in my VO2 max, and sure enough the result is identical: 58 ml/min/kg. However, my power output at VO2 max is up to 465 watts, an improvement of 30w (7%). My power-to-weight ratio, helped by losing 1.7kg, now stands at 5.7w per kg, up 9%. There’s been a bigger improvement in my power at lactate threshold. This has jumped from 210w to 260w, a stonking 24% increase.
Greg describes himself as “pleased but not surprised” by the numbers. I expected to improve with expert guidance rather than doing my own thing, but not this much in such a short space of time. Training like this isn’t cheap, though. Each CPEX test at 76 Harley Street costs £350, although this includes a complete report and a six-week training programme. After the initial test, further sessions cost £250-£350 depending on the nature of the consultation.
However, compare that to the cost of go-faster kit like a disc wheel, and professional lab tests and coaching start to seem better value. It’s been a long time since I’ve bought a new component which saved me six seconds a mile...