Dear Diary – Preparing for Events

Willie Healy of Body and Mind Fitness, Ennis gives us some wise words of advice from his own training and cycling experience.

For more information visit

Dear Diary,

There’s a saying that I subscribe to that states “What Gets Measured Gets Done.” In spite of what we may think about ourselves we are basically goal-seeking creatures who thrive on seeing improvement in all areas of our lives. This leads us to another pearl of wisdom that says “Success Breeds Success”. So how do we apply these principles to training for a cycling event or, indeed, to any other sporting challenge? It’s very simple: keep a detailed training diary.

Studies have shown that those who write down their goals have a far higher chance of reaching them than those who don’t, and a training diary is an ideal way to make sure that you stay on target to achieve your particular goal.

In my own cycling training diary I record the following:
1. Time of day of the training session,
2. Distance covered,
3. Training route,
4. Average speed,
5. Food, drink and supplements taken, and
6. How I felt during the cycle (e.g. “strong”, “comfortable” or “wrecked”).

If the reporting is accurate and your training programme, food , supplements and recovery time are appropriate, then you should see a steady improvement in distance and average speed and your perception of training should be getting closer to the “challenging/enjoyable” end of the scale.
You will most likely find this to be a great motivation to keep training and improve times and average speed over set routes and to go for longer distances.

On the other hand if there’s little or no improvement, a quick glance at the diary should highlight the problem and you may have to increase (or in the case of overtraining, decrease) the amount of training you’re doing or you may simply need to improve on the quantity or quality of your nutrition. Either way a diary can take the guesswork out of training.

Stay Loose
When preparing for any type of long distance event it’s obviously important to focus on training and nutrition. The body needs to be well fed and the muscles as well as the mind need to be exposed to the type of pace and distance that’s going to be encountered on the event itself. However what is often forgotten is that although you will get faster, fitter and stronger you are also putting your muscles and joints under an enormous strain. Without proper maintenance these same muscles may end up very sore, cramped and even injured thus making your training unnecessarily uncomfortable or even forcing you to take time off.

On one occasion during a Tour De Burren, I had cause to regret not practicing what I preach. At about 120km into the cycle we were climbing the road from Liscannor to the Cliffs of Moher when suddenly both my calf muscles began to cramp up. Luckily there was a food-stop after the descent into Doolin where I was able to re-fuel and massage some life back into my tired muscles.

Unfortunately I had ignored warning signs during the week when my calves felt a bit sore and I had skipped the opportunity to have them massaged. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that I had probably not taken on board enough electrolyte-containing Sports Drink to compensate for the amount of sweat I’d lost due to the beautiful warm weather and the very challenging pace and tough climbs.

So please remember to learn from my mistakes:
1. Keep well hydrated at all times but drink even more Sports Drink and water when the weather is warm, the pace is high and there’s a lot of climbing to be done.
2. Have regular massages from a qualified therapist. Your muscles are taking a lot of punishment during long hours on the bike and you will perform far better if they are flexible and supple rather than tight and knotted.
3. Adjust your riding position regularly – cycle on the hoods, drops and top of the handlebars to avoid muscle fatigue and cramp in the arms, neck and shoulders.

Slow Down, Go Faster
When it comes to physical training for various types of events and personal goals I’ve noticed that many people seem to believe that More Is Better. This usually has its basis on the correct assumption that any training programme has to stick to the principle of Progressive Overload whereby you continually increase either the volume or intensity of training to improve your overall strength or fitness. While this is perfectly correct, it’s the application of this principle that sometimes leads to problems, most of which originate with overtraining.

Unfortunately what most people tend to forget is the obvious fact that immediately after a training session we are weaker than we were before it. The only reason we will end up stronger eventually is if we have given ourselves the correct nutrition but also plenty of rest in between training sessions. During long endurance or shorter more intense activity we put a lot of strain on both the Central Nervous System and also on the working muscles and joints.

Therefore it is crucial that we give these systems time to re-build and repair before we expose them to a similar load. Usually it is recommended that 48 hours should be left between weight-training sessions when involving the same muscle groups. This is because weight-training tends to cause more muscle-fibre breakdown than an aerobic sport like cycling.

Unfortunately anybody who is training for stage-racing or for multi-stage leisure events won’t have the luxury of having 2 days off and must be in top physical condition to complete such events. To ensure this happens and to avoid overtraining please note the following:

1. Aim for 7-9 hours sleep each night between 10pm-7am. It is only with quality sleep that the hormones that repair your body are released.
2. If you’re feeling very tired or have ‘flu’-like symptoms take a day or 2 off training as this is a sign that your immune system is under pressure.
3. If you notice that your performance in training is not improving then you may have been doing too much. Take an extra rest day or do a lighter session to give yourself a chance to get back on track.