It’s nearing the end of September, and as things are beginning to turn a bit more autumn-y, another XC season has already come and gone. Time seems to have flown by, and as I sit here sipping a latte enjoying the start of my off-season, it seems like only last month I was sat down plotting out my 2016 events and training. It’s been a pretty non-stop year, having entered more than 20 events all over the UK, and with each one proving to be a learning curve in one way or another it’s the perfect time to reflect on the last few months to help shape this winter’s training and to plan next year’s goals.

The past year has been my first attempt at taking training a bit more seriously and rigidly sticking to a training plan. After deciding to step things up at the end of last year, I spent as much time as possible reading up on training, periodisation and tapering/peaking so I could give self-coaching my best shot. Whilst having a dedicated coach would have been the better option, spending out several hundreds of pounds over the course of the year wasn’t really justifiable – I’m hardly the next Nino Schurter! It wasn’t long before I came across TrainerRoad; cycling-specific training software which gave me some structured training blocks to work with for a fraction of the cost of a coach. I’ll be going more in depth and doing a full review of TrainerRoad on my blog in the next few weeks.

This became a pretty familiar view throughout the winter!

This became a pretty familiar view throughout the winter!

So, combined with the help of TrainerRoad’s fantastic workouts, plans and software, I soon found myself entering all of my events and workouts into TrainingPeaks. Scheduling and looking over a full year’s worth of planned training sessions was somewhat daunting, but at the same time, seeing predicted fitness going up, and up, and up on the Performance Management Chart was a real motivator to knuckle down and make the fitness gains actually happen!

Following a good few months of winter base training, I stayed local at the start of the year, with a few pre-season races at Newnham Park for Fully Sussed’s Soggy Bottom Series. After a pretty bad race my result from the first round was disappointing, but come the second round, the training finally seemed to have started to show it’s worth. I managed a 3rd place finish, my first podium and a huge improvement on the sub-20th place finishes from the previous year. Gaining a nice haul of British Cycling points early in the season, my motivation grew even further and maintaining a top 15 Sport category National Ranking became my main focus, in the hope of ranking up to Expert for 2017.

Post-race team photo with trophy. Finally, signs of some improvement!

Post-race team photo with trophy. Finally, signs of some improvement!

In April, the main races of the season started, with the first round of the National Series in Pembrey, Wales. It was certainly an eye opener, racing against a much higher level of riders than I had done previously at local races. This was closely followed by the first round of the South West XC Series at Woodbury Common, before the second round of the National Series at Newnham Park.

For the remainder of the season I continued to enter as many races as possible; another National round at Fforest Fields, all 5 rounds of the South West Series which I managed a 2nd place for the overall series, as well as heading a bit further afield for the Southern XC Regional Championships at Crow Hill, all in an attempt to gain as many National ranking points as possible. Whilst I didn’t manage any more podium finishes, on several occasions I only narrowly missed out, and my results were still a significant improvement on the previous year.

Unfortunately as the opportunities for points became less and less, I wasn’t able to commit time to travelling to the last few rounds of the National series, and as a result slipped down to 20th in the National rankings.

As the season began to wind down, I shifted my training focus towards longer endurance and marathon distance events. Starting with the infamous Pivot TwentyFour12 in July at Newnham Park, together with team mate Ben Farrer, we managed a 3rd place finish in the 12hr Pairs category. Enjoying the pain of longer duration events, I followed this with a trip to Brighton for the Brighton Big Dog 6hr Solo race just a few weeks later, to Llandovery in Wales for the National Marathon Championships, and then the final round of the Scott Marathon Series in Ruthin, North Wales at the start of September.

On the podium at Pivot TwentyFour12. 3rd Place 12hr Pairs with teammate Ben Farrer

On the podium at Pivot TwentyFour12. 3rd Place 12hr Pairs with teammate Ben Farrer

The main thing I’ve learned this year is exactly where my strengths and weaknesses lie, with some events really exposing the areas I need to improve upon. I’ve always been a much stronger climber than descender, but when rain has been pouring and the technical courses have turned into a greasy, no-grip-mudslide, I’ve really struggled. The conditions at Fforest Fields for Round 4 of the National XC Series, and at the British Marathon Championships in Llandovery were crazy, two events in which the course conditions defeated me and resulted in the dreaded DNF. Whilst pulling out of a race is never an easy decision, on these occasions I knew when I was out of my depth technically, and after several crashes, limiting the risk of injury had to become top priority.

Utter filth after the Wild Welsh Marathon Championships. Too many crashes happened that day!

Utter filth after the Wild Welsh Marathon Championships. Too many crashes happened that day!

Whilst on the whole my technical abilities have progressively improved through the season, this has definitely given me something to focus on over the winter, and instead of shying away from a cold dark evening ride and opting for the turbo, I need to make more of an effort to get out into the woods and throw myself down some steep slippery descents and hopefully improve my confidence in those conditions.

So on reflection, how has my year been? I’d say pretty great. It’s been a great experience, visiting new places and racing/riding in some awesome locations around the UK. Sticking to a structured training plan has certainly proven effective, and I’ve definitely seen fitness gains and improved race results, but also learnt how I need to adapt for the upcoming year to further improve my performances.

Although a lot of events are yet to be announced for 2017, my calendar is starting to take shape with some great events already lined up. After enjoying and performing better in the longer duration events this year, my focus next year will be much more endurance based. I’ll be starting the year off with my first international race in Lanzarote for the Club La Santa 4 Day Stage Race, before the Scott MTB Marathon Series, Pivot TwentyFour12 12hr Solo, Brighton Big Dog 6hr Solo and a whole host of other events and local XC races. I’m already excited and looking forward to getting back to training hard… just right after I’ve had a bit of a break!