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The road to Cape Epic 2012: Peak training

With less than three weeks to go before the 2012 Absa Cape Epic, there isn’t much left to do. Any training that needs doing has pretty much been done, save for a few big power sessions and some mechanical training.

We’ve made our big lists, checked them about a dozen times; race fuel has been purchased, our Scott jerseys have arrived, and with some luck, our 2012 Sparks should land in London this week as well.

Looking back, it’s hard to gauge if it’s all been enough. I’ve never really been one for numbers, but I know my power is significantly greater than ever before. I know because I’m not getting dropped anymore and with every turbo session my legs feel stronger. Yes, the numbers have gone up too, but the real result is what is now possible on a bike.

Just a year ago I could only manage 11 hour training weeks and at the time I was in the best shape of my life. In the last seven days I put in over 24 hours of training, something which will feel like a pithy little walk in the park after the Epic. Besides coma-like evenings, peak training seems to have re-wired my brain in some wonderful ways.

There is no more stress. Well, there’s still occasional neurotic fear; but the niggling worry has evaporated with every passing drop of sweat. In the late 90s there was a fantastic Nike Ad which I’d hung above my bed at school. The line read: “Sweat is just liquid weakness leaving the body.” I blame this single piece of copy for not only my career but also for every punishing turbo session I’ve ever convinced myself to do. By this time next month it will all just be tears in the rain compared to what we’ll have put ourselves through, but for now, it will have to do.

Until about 7pm, I’m a zen master of focus. Any task that needs doing gets done. I’ve stopped listening to music while I work. There are no more distractions. There is only laser-like concentration on the task at hand. I blame my lack of time, but perhaps this is just what happens when you’re staring down at 800 kilometres of blistering African singletrack. After 7, I’m somewhere between shovelling food into myself as quickly as I can and falling asleep.

I’ve stopped worrying about the size of my thighs. My mother once sat me down (I must have been about 10 years old), lowered her tone and gave me that warning every budding young athlete hates to hear: “Honey, you’re going to have thunder thighs, just like me.” Awesome, Mom. I appreciate that. These thunder trunks are what just got me up Box Hill five times. They just totally took me out on an 8 hour ride. Even the extra fat on me is a little bit awesome: I’ve got wicked reserves. Give me a marathon any day, I’ll have it.

So here’s what I’ve been up to. These are some of the training sessions which have gotten me here, both on road, on the trails, and on the turbo.

3 Hour Corbin

I stole this turbo session from one of my heroes, the American Scott-sponsored Ironman triathlete, Linsey Corbin (hence the name). It’s perfect for endurance training and keeping your mind, legs and heart-rate going when the weather is just too horrible to face. You’ll need a HR monitor, speed or power meter, at least 3 bottles of water and 2-3 gel shots to keep you going.

30 minute warm-up, building up to race pace HR.

35 minutes broken into 3×10 minute sessions: [email protected] 2, [email protected] 3, [email protected] 4 followed by 5 minutes active rest spinning the legs out.

35 minutes broken into 3×10 minute sessions: [email protected] 2, [email protected] 3, [email protected] 4 followed by 5 minutes active rest spinning the legs out.

35 minutes broken into 3×10 minute sessions: [email protected] 2, [email protected] 3, [email protected] 4 followed by 5 minutes active rest spinning the legs out.

45 minutes broken into 3×15 minutes: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], 5 min active rest.

Cool down, stretch, and you’ve just done a 3 hour turbo session. I’ve been doing this about once or twice a week for the last few months as an efficient mid-week endurance training session.


The name sort of says it all, but this has been a god-send for getting my power up. In some great advice from other racers, this turbo session shouldn’t be hell. It is two 20 minutes sessions at your lactic threshold, but no harder, and take 5 minutes of active rest in between.

If you feel like you can’t finish it, you’re going too hard. The key for the 2×20 is consistency: keeping your speed and power even throughout both pieces and from session to session, only increasing power when it starts to get a little easy and your heart rate starts to slow. It’s also important to do the 2×20 when you’re feeling rested. I tend to do this every Tuesday, or whatever day I’m freshest to ensure I’m really giving it my best effort.

The mountain bike ride out

I’ve been told “no Londoner rides out to Surrey”. Well, I do. It adds an extra 25 miles on the front end of the ride which means no matter the speed and route of the trails, I’ve already gotten a good work-out in even before hitting the trails. Add another 30 miles in the trails and you’re golden. I’ve never managed to ride BACK (I’ll leave that to the lunatics), but the fast train from Dorking leaves every 30 minutes most days. Here’s a brilliant and punishing route I’ve done a few times:

Negative-Split Hill Repeats

I tend to do this on a road bike, and it is best done on a mid-length hill of moderate incline. My weapon of choice is Box Hill in the Surrey Hills. Tacked onto the end of a 65 mile hilly ride, I take my first ride up the hill at a steady pace. I don’t stand up; I don’t let my heart rate go too high, I just spin. And when I get to the top, I take note of my time. Back down, and this time, I take it up a notch: I let my heart rate creep up and I can feel my face warming up.

I’m not trying to smash it, just take about 30 seconds off my last climb. And then again, but harder. And again. Not only do I get more exhausted with every climb, I force myself to go faster. By the end I am climbing at race pace and seeing stars, but it’s all worth it when I start passing people in both directions. Thunder thighs for the win.

These four training sessions have gotten me through the last few months. They’re efficient, they’re hard, but they’re also just the beginning.


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