Tips for cat 4 fathers

I’ve been meaning to do this post about balancing family with training/racing but ironically I haven’t had time to write it. It’s a situation I’m sure lots of other guys are in so I thought I’d share my experiences and also those of a few people who told me how they do it.

I’d summarise the key points as: realistic (but specific) goals, smart training, a supportive partner and being the best Dad/husband you can be during the time you’re not biking.

Road racer John Gartland explained to me how he got the bug:

I started racing this year at the tender age of 39. I had taken up cycling 2 years previously with the challenge of riding the Etape Caledonia and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the training. This led to riding in other Sportive events such as the Fred Whitton and La Marmotte in France last year. During spring of 2011 I met Paul Hornby from Glasgow Ivy who I got to know and who introduced be to chaingang riding. This seemed the perfect step from the Sportives and I spent the remainder of 2011 learning how to group ride (a broken collar bone last July was a painful lesson) and at my first race, the Billy Warnock in August, I placed 9th and was hooked!

John (in black and white) at the sharp end of the Gifford B race in March

For me, ironically, I only started riding seriously the year my first child was born so it was not an ideal start. Previously to that I enjoyed nights out too much, and could never get myself out of bed in time for bike riding. Following a similar path to John, I enjoyed the challenge of sportives, and progressed my fitness with my club, before taking it up a level with chaingangs. My progress has been more gradual though, with my first races in 2009, and having been dropped from the bunch on many occasions I finally placed in a race- 10th in the Lothian Flyer 2012.

A supportive partner
Both John and I have a similar situation: we have come to cycling and racing relatively late in life, at about the same time as we are starting to raise our family. This makes balancing the time difficult, as I will go on to discuss.

Cyclocrosser, grass trackie and former MTB racer Craig Hardie had raced for many years and as he is not a novice the arrival of a wee one, born in December 2001 perhaps didn’t interrupt his racing form too much. The following year he won the Scottish MTB series and Scottish championshps, as well as a new Hardie Bikes shop opening in 2001. “Nutty busy” he described it as, but paid respects to a great wife.

Craig Hardie showing his cyclocross skills. Image: Fraser Waters

It’s clear that an obliging partner is a key ingredient to enjoying your training, racing and being successful. This is something that coaching expert Joe Friel has mentioned in his Cyclists Training Bible book – the ‘support network’ of friends and family being essential part of a succesful racer. To be fair, he is probably referring to racers at the higher levels, but even for 4th cats and novice racers, if your other half isn’t willing to indulge you, your relationship is going to break down pretty quickly.

Around the house
John Gartland spoke about fitting his training in around the family schedule, and while there are good tips below about finding the time, what stood out for me was how conscious he was about getting home in time to help out with the kids. This is really important I think- as you ‘justify’ your time away (and if you have more than 1 child, it can be a hard shift for your other half on her own).

My wife Victoria has always been supportive but with a 2 year old son, I was mindful that time had to be managed to keep everyone happy. I started training more seriously in January this year for the race season but with Victoria 7 months pregnant with baby number two it was going to be a tough schedule.

The long winter training runs were limited to 1 day on the weekend with the other day spent either taking my son to the things he enjoys and giving Victoria time off or collective family days out. I used early weekend mornings and evenings for Turbo sessions but most importantly kept my cycle commute (c100 miles per week) going throughout the winter months.(more on that later- O.P)

John training with Glasgow Nightingale CC. Image by Paul Hornby

James McPake reckoned he found the first 6 months to a year with a new baby were easy to fit in his training and racing but felt bad going out on the bike as the kids got older. Mine are 1 and 3, and I certainly found that during the first year of my first child’s life it wasn’t too bad, so long as you can get some sleep- when baby is “static”, it isn’t as chaotic at home for  1 parent on their own. Now that my second has learnt to walk, whenever I am out the two of them reduce the living room to rubble with DVDs, toys and crumbs all over the place, the second my wife turns her back to keep on top of household chores.

My tip for cycling Dads is to bust a gut at home just as hard as you do in training – if you put in a shift over a hot stove, at the washing up sink, at bathtime or with the hoover then it won’t jar so much when you go out to do your miles.

The commute
The commute is a good way to do your training – if you can ride to work, you can extend the route. This is all about motivation and being organised- mundane things like having clean kit and bottles ready, and getting to bed early enough to get out of the house at 6 or 7 can be the difference between getting a 2 hour session in or not.

As John mentioned: As the nights get lighter I tend to use the commute home as a springboard for longer runs/ intervals on local hills but try to get back in time to help with bath and bedtime. I’m also fortunate that my teammate at GJS Racing, James McPake also has a young family at a similar age and we try to get out together with the big halogen lights for training later in the evenings.

Specific goals
Smart training
Training preferences vary– some people like to go pretty hard all year, race into form and keep going all year. I don’t have the time to race even twice a month, so I try to build up gradually then do a few events within a 2 month period, then step back for a while and then have another crack later in the year. I may be ‘wasting’ good form but in my situation I can’t justify taking Saturdays out to race too frequently.

I enjoy the Saturday club run a lot but during my midweek sessions I will train on my own and do specific work outs using heart rate. Some say this takes the pleasure out of riding for riding’s sake but I see these rides a bit like gym sessions. When I want to ride for the fun of it I’ll stay in normal clothes and cruise round town on the upright bike. I was lucky enough to get some specfic training plans from a coach who used me as a “guinea pig” while studying for his British Cycling level 3 qualification. Anyone who has a local pro or experienced coach nearby, I would recommend using them.

It can take discipline and faith to go slow in winter to build your base, and during March this year, I was nowhere near fit. A spate of colds and viruses (those kids again!) had slowed my progress over winter but I stuck to the plan and moved on to the high intensity work only after a steady buildup. It can be disspiriting to see your peers riding away from you once the racing season starts but come May and June I was going well myself and just got my best race result ever. It might not suit everybody but I found this worked for me.

Knowing what you are training for is important, if it’s TTs, crits, road races or cyclocross, all will need slightly different work.

John talked about his goals and I think having something in mind if you want to train and race on limited time:

My target for 2012 was to place in some races and achieve my 3rd Cat license. With a busy family life, planning races hasn’t been easy. The races may only be around 2-3 hours but a race day, as those who participate, is an all day affair. Lots of brownie points, schedule re arranging and calling in of baby sitting favors need to be bargained for. I’ve tried to limit it to no more than 2 races per month, which given commitments is actually quite good.

Thankfully the training has paid off and I’ve had some decent results this season, attained my season goal 3rd cat and hoping to stay in the bunch in the higher category races coming up.

Smart training
Joe Friel says 8 hours is the minimum amount of training you need to compete at any level and I’d say this is pretty much true. Franco Porco, road and cyclocross racer from the Falkirk area reiterated this and said a structure and plan was important so that every pedal stroke counts. Again people might see this as too serious but if you are training to race you have to make best use of your time, especially if its limited.

Franco Porco on the front of this group in the Falkirk APR. Image Ian Henderson

Franco was a 2nd cat license holder before he had his family and fell out of the racing habit. In recent years returned to ,emcompetition and said it was very tough getting back to the level he was at before. Before family he; admitted that time spent away taking part in your sport can take its toll a little but later on, once your kids are grown up they are often out doing their own activities and this can be when you find the time to get back into cycling again. So for some, a break might be the right thing to do.

John estimated he did 10-12 hours training in the winter, with extended base mile rides, and 8 in the summer, made up of 5 hours commuting and 3 hours of chaingangs or intervals. This has been enough for him to compete at 4th/3rd cat level.

For me I manage 1 club ride of 3-4 hours at the weekend, and 2 or 3 rides of 1.5 hours during the week. One of those is often a chaingang and the others are structured sessions- hard interval sessions when it’s time to focus on high intensity, or ‘build’ sessions as winter moves into spring. On a good week I will get 8 hours but often it is more like 6.

I have focused on road race training- making sure I have the foundations to do top-end training, andthen doing the high intensity work, but in repeated bursts rather than pounding out long miles at a high average speed. I’ve managed OK in the road races I’ve done but the two 10TTs I raced were terrible- I couldn’t hold the pace for long enough and my times were poor. So keeping in mind the type of event you are training for is important if you have limited time.

Summing up
John commented: So far having two small children hasn’t been a noticeable difference from one, but as my new born son gets to the toddler stage I can see my time being even more crunched. As long as I’m still enjoying it and most importantly it isn’t affecting my family then I hope to be in the bunch for a few more seasons to come.

In the years to come it may be more of a challenge but with 2 young ones, you can still compete if you manage your time carefully and wisely.