With the 2016 edition of the tour of Bright done and dusted, I had a nice chance to reflect on some of the changes that have taken place over the last year. As many of you would know, last year’s Tour of Bright marked the beginning of my cycling career. After requiring a LOT of convincing from my friends, I lined up for my first ever race, in C grade, full of nerves, on a 7 year old bike, sporting some very functional and glamorous ankle socks. I’d practiced some skills with my riding buddies and I’d learned a few tactics in my time working as a soigneur, but for the most part I had no idea what I was doing and absolutely loved the whole experience!
Fast forward one year and so much has changed. While the nerves stay the same, this year I was lining up in the Elite Women’s Grade, on a brand new top of the line S-Works bike, with a team of talented girls around me, and most importantly, I was wearing appropriate length socks (albeit under duress). So how did this happen? Firstly, with a combination of some hard work, some luck, and a lot of help from the people around me, I managed to secure a contract with the Specialized Women’s Racing Team and was given the opportunity to race my first NRS (National Road Series) season. So of course the first, and one of the most obvious changes to note is having the support of a professional team. Through generous support of our sponsors particularly Specialized, CartGis, VTWO and local legend Peta Stewart, we are lucky enough to ride and race on the best equipment, and have financial backing allowing us to pursue the sport we love. This is something we all appreciate very much!
Pre TT ‘game face’
The second big difference I noticed was the contrast between riding as an individual and racing as part of a team. I like to think our team works really well together; we always go into our races with a plan, we ride together as a unit and each person has a particular role to play. Last year racing for myself, I came second on the Hotham Stage, in a hotly contested hilltop finish. In contrast, this year I was well off the pace of the pointy end and eventually managed to roll through midfield on the climb. However, as I was about 2km from the summit, I was informed by a spectator on the side of the road that one of my team mates, Kate Perry, had just won the stage. I have to say that the elation I felt at that moment far surpassed what I felt getting on the podium myself the previous year. There is definitely something very satisfying about riding as part of a team.
A final change to be noted is the improvements in physical form and performance and contemplating these made me consider the question of how this was achievable. Looking back to where I was this time last year, there is no way in my wildest imagination that I could have conceived of being where I am now. Which begs the question – to what do we attribute these performance gains? Because quite frankly, I refuse to believe that it was the socks.
Finding out Kate won the stage
Before I started racing I did a lot of slow long distance cruising. I could roll around for 8 hours at a slow pace no worries, because I loved riding my bike. But I did no intensity training, never went hard, couldn’t ride up a hill fast and would be dropped from bunch rides very quickly. What amazed me was how different this became once I actually started to do some structured training. After completing even a couple of months of specific sessions I found I was climbing faster, hanging on to bunches and actually even developing a little bit of speed!
Now, this is all starting to sound suspiciously like the blaring tone of the Maddy trumpet being blown at full volume. Let me be clear – this is not a story about me being some kind of sporting hero – quite the opposite! This experience highlighted to me what an incredibly adaptive piece of equipment the human body is. It’s dynamic and changeable and responds quite profoundly to the forces and stressed we place upon it. When I compare my performance at Tour of Bright 2015 to that of 2016 there are many improvements to be seen. Average speed over the race distances was faster, power testing numbers were up and times on climbs were coming down. Less tangible things like the ability to punch and recover and stay with the peloton, or to follow moves off the front of the race all became much easier. And the reason for these changes from punter to racer? It’s not because I’m super talented; I’m not. It’s because I train to change my body: to strengthen it, to increase cardiovascular capacity, to improve control and to activate neuromuscular pathways.
Okay, so I hear you asking – what does this have to do with my physiotherapy or osteopathic treatment? Well, surprisingly, quite a lot! Here’s the link – what this made very clear to me is the huge importance of the specific exercises you are prescribed by your therapist. In the same way that we must specifically train our bodies to make adaptations for sporting gains, we must train our injured bodies to return to normal function. It’s a common misconception that post injury just returning to normal activity is enough to allow injured tissue to heal. This is not the case, as muscles, tendons and ligaments require quite specific loading to allow for rebuilding and remodelling of cellular networks. If we continue to place the same forces through the same structures, nothing changes. In addition to this – quite often when we have tissue pathology, we actually change our biomechanics and adopt compensations to avoid using injured tissue. By continuing to move in this way, what we end up doing is strengthening supporting and surrounding structures without actually targeting the injured area. So, when injured – think like an athlete – in the same way that we train for sporting events, we need to train injured soft tissue structures to restore them to healthy tissue. Basically, the moral of the story here is that if you do your prescribed physiotherapy exercises, you may just win the Tour of Bright in 2017!
So in summary, there are a lot of things I’ve learnt in my first season of racing. I’ve learnt just how much capacity we have to improve and change our physical function, I’ve learnt the huge impact specific training has on performance, I’ve learnt racing in a team is far more fun than racing as an individual and finally, I’ve learnt that having a sock tan is just as bad as I thought it was going to be, if not worse.
Enjoy the festive season and I’ll see you all on the road in 2017!