Work rate or fitness?

A while ago I questioned whether my fitness had fallen and tested myself by applying more effort during my next ride. I looked at the app. Strava after my ride and could see a distinct improvement in my performance. I concluded that my fitness was good and only my work rate had lagged. More recently I tried to ride a circuit, which should have taken me under 15 minutes, and found that my time was not encouraging. At first I blamed the bike, to which I’d fitted a new and very chunky rear tyre, but on a lighter bike I was even slower. Yes, trail conditions might not have been perfect but after a long, dry period this seems unlikely. My conclusion therefore must be that I’ve lost some fitness and I’m now resolved to do something about this.

It isn’t particularly important for me to maximise my speed on a mountain bike, since I don’t compete and have nothing to prove to anyone. My worry is that if I allow my fitness to dwindle, I might not be able to ride some of my favourite trails anymore. Clearly I’m not getting any younger so I’m not only being tested by the amount of training I do, but also by natural aging. I know that I’m slower on some trails which I’ve been riding for many years but I think it’s important in my position not to be deterred by a gradual slowing. I am happy to accept this as a natural consequence as long as I still get excited by my riding.

I’ve looked back at Strava from the last couple of years and noted that I had a very good period in the middle of last year with an improvement of my speed on many parts of oft used trails, commonly hill climbs. This highlights why the annual challenge which I was unable to beat was so difficult. During my good period last year I set some great times and expected this form to continue but it hasn’t. I only need to look at my times from this year to see that I wasn’t showing anything like the same form as I had a year previously and this is surely due to my work rate. I know I might not have got out quite as many times as I did last year but now realise that when I did get out I wasn’t getting the same training value out of my rides. I’ve now decided that the best policy is to treat each ride as if I am training for something important, and I started today.

We’ve had some rain after our dry summer and today was rather gloomy. I walked the dog this morning and thought that I’d be better off waiting until tomorrow before I rode, since the weather forecast is promising a new dry period. We didn’t get wet and I saw a few people cycling along the canal bank so returned home with a renewed enthusiasm for a ride. I initially rode along the canal bank but was tempted by a cloud topped Healey Nab to ride up the hill to use the purpose built trails. I thought I might ride 3 laps but in the gloom reduced this to 2. I rode in a “fartlek” style which means that you choose, by plan or on the spur of the moment, how quickly you will ride the various segments of the trail.

I especially put the work in on the climbs because I know that this particularly helps to build muscle strength and power. On top of the hill I decided to ride a circuit of the Top Loop where Strava would record my time and leave no hiding place. My time of 1 minute 54 seconds was encouraging. I rode the loop 3 seconds quicker in May but I’m sure that the ground would have been much drier at that time. In the dampness today, splashing through several puddles, I would have expected to be slower and I think that I put in a good lap. I then rode a full lap of the red graded route from the trail head and my time was much better than the average of my incredible 172 previous efforts!

I completed another downhill and rode home, anxious to check my performance on the app. I was pleased with my riding but know that this will not be a quick fix. I need to continue to work hard throughout the forthcoming winter to hopefully emerge in a better position next year. I’ll set some new targets in late December or early January to encourage me.


  1. crustytuna says:

    I too train in part to ensure that I won’t become frail one day. I want to be climbing my own stairs and carrying my own groceries and independent for as long as possible! What better way to maintain than on a bike, having fun no less? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kirkmtb says:

      Frail? I’m not quite that bloody old😂


      1. crustytuna says:

        I wasn’t referring to you!! You’re out there riding motorcycles across the country and such!
        I meant in future! To not be a little old lady with a walker.. 😝


      2. kirkmtb says:

        I’m just hoping that my last scooter isn’t battery powered and restricted to 4 mph!

        Liked by 1 person

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