Dr. Hutch: interval training…

A good friend of mine emailed recently, in reference to the contents of these pages over the last few weeks: ‘You seem to be obsessed with turbo trainers and interval sessions. I can only assume that you’re quite rightly panicking about your form for the racing season?’

I suggested that maybe it was simply a lack of imagination on my part, compounded by two weeks of rain?

‘No, it’s clearly panic,’ came the reply. ‘And ironically the one way you won’t solve anything is interval training, because you’ve always been too much of a coward to actually try hard enough. You’re scared your little legs might hurt.’

This stung. Like a heavy drinker who sort of knows he has a problem, but can stay in denial as long as no one else intervenes, deep down I’ve always had a suspicion that I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to the soggy end of a proper effort.

I always start full of the best intentions. But somewhere around the point where it starts getting uncomfortable, the rising lactic acid levels trigger a switch in my brain.

A pre-recorded message from my sub-conscious suggests that really, honestly, this can’t be good for one: ‘One really ought to back off a little, lest one do some permanent damage. 80% is nearly as good as 90%, and, hey, that’s nearly as good as 100%, so honestly why can’t we all be grown ups and just ease back a little. And maybe stop 30 seconds early as well. There. That was much better.’

Wheels on fire
I can remember the days before this moral weakness set in. Like the day my turbo trainer (and I swear this is true) caught fire halfway through a one-minute sprint. These days I’d probably chicken out when I smelled burning. Back then I had the commitment to complete the effort with flames licking around my back tyre.

So, spurred on by my friend’s accurate assessment, I determined to do a proper interval session. The session would, I decided, be five two-minute efforts. To be performed as if I was young and stupid all over again.

I warmed up, with a feeling of trepidation. I attacked my first two-minute effort. And it was fine, for at least the first 40 seconds. At that point I’ll admit it started to be unpleasant. The next 20 seconds took at least a minute to seep past. My skin started to tingle. The pre-recorded message started to play. My legs filled with horror, and my scalp went numb. But I was man enough to ignore it.

I might have been able to bear all of this with more serenity if I hadn’t had another 40 seconds remaining. I tried to remind myself that lactic acid, far from being a simple waste-product, is turned back into glucose in the liver by the Cori cycle, and that therefore the agony in my quads was something to be cheerful about.

Then I decided that applied physiology was bunk, and tried instead to think of a song to play in my head that might drown out the pain in my everything. I only got ‘Please Release me’ by Engelbert Humperdinck, which was appropriate, but not really what I’d been hoping for.

In the midst of the chaos, my legs made it to two minutes, with almost no help from me. I was delighted.

I realised, however, that the 5 minutes recovery I’d allocated was not going to be nearly enough. I spun easily for 15 minutes, which wasn’t enough either. Then I remembered I was expecting an important email, and got off to check my inbox. While I was at it I sent my friend a note about my great success. And decided to have a shower, and some lunch.

I’ll do the other efforts sometime, though. Maybe next year. Maybe the year after.

How To… Corner in the Wet
Recent weather conditions have placed a premium on wet cornering ability. The secret is to ride with smooth gentleness, and to think ahead.

It is essential to brake with much subtlety. Happily, in the wet, the water acts to lubricate the brake blocks on the rim, and reduces braking action to almost nothing, making subtlety very easy to achieve. Many professionals emphasise the need to use a slightly more rear-ward brake balance in the wet. If this kind of thing takes your mind off the impending impact, feel free to do the same.

You need to spot your line early, to ensure that it’s as consistent as possible. In the wet, a change of mind in mid corner tends rather towards the disastrous.

Cornering speed is easy to judge. But only in retrospect. Either you stay upright, in which case you were too slow, or you fall over, in which case you were too fast. Experience will help immensely, because at the very least, you’ll become much more used to falling off.

Remember about the possibility of diesel or oil on the road. This is the best excuse to explain falling over on a wet corner, and should be deployed shamelessly on any occasion when you are perpendicularly challenged, whether there was anything on the road or not.

Finally, be assured that with age comes the wisdom to realise that there is nothing on earth wrong with going very slowly as means of staying upright.

Acts of Cycling Stupidity

Another reminiscence from the old cycling friend I had dinner with a couple of weeks ago. He reminded me of the occasion when he persuaded a mutual acquaintance to put Red Bull energy drink in his bottle to give him a bit of a boost for an early morning time trial.

All went well till just after the start, when he heard the hissing of a puncture.
Disappointed, he abandoned the race, and returned to the HQ. He removed the bottle, only to find that the lid was hissing softly as the carbon dioxide from the drink escaped.

This article was first published in the May 3 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio and download from the Apple store.

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