Spin faster! This is what I see flashing on my laptop screen as I pedal in the TRAINING section of Zwift. I’m scheduled to pedal at 95 revolutions per minute at 105 watts for two hours and 40 minutes! That’s not much resistance and LOT of pedal revolutions! It’s like pedalling air! I think to myself as I start. But somehow I did it. And in the process, my concept of what constitutes a coach-designed training plan changed. Significantly.

By Sean Badenhorst

Let me rewind a bit to where this all started. I had accepted a media entry to the 2021 Momentum Medical Scheme Tankwa Trek, presented by Biogen. It’s a tough four-day mountain bike stage race in South Africa’s Cederberg mountains. In the peak of summer. It’s a team event and I wanted a teammate that shares my level of skill and performance ability. I also wanted a teammate that could push me to my limits.

SPIN FASTER! Something I’ve become pretty good at over the past eight weeks.

After thinking about it for a couple of days I decided that Lance Stephenson would be ideal. I have known Lance for almost two decades. In that time he’s become a qualified, experienced cycling coach with Daisyway Coaching. He’s also a mountain bike skills coach and an accomplished bicycle repairman. He lives in the Western Cape and knows the Cederberg really well. He’s also got a sense of humour. Lance didn’t take much convincing. Like me, he relishes a fresh challenge.

But before we even got into a proper training routine, the 2021 Tankwa Trek was cancelled by the organisers, who had no choice as South Africa was moved into a Level 3 lockdown, which basically makes it impossible to organise a stage race. I rode regularly through the summer and a couple of months later asked Lance if he was keen to do the 2021 Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen – a seven-day stage race in the Garden Route and Klein Karoo regions of South Africa. He said yes.

Lance, who is 43 (I’m 51) offered his professional coaching service to me to help me prepare properly. It was also a way for him to know if he needed to train harder or not as he’d know exactly what my physiological condition is – and would be. We agreed we wanted to race the event, so we wanted to be in as good a shape as possible. Lance has a UCI Level 2 coaching licence. He has more than 10 years of professional coaching experience and more than 15 years experience training with power. He specialises in mountain bike coaching.

My coach and eventually my stage race teammate, Lance Stephenson. | Photo: Ray Cox

Lance uses an app called Today’s Plan. I pay a monthly fee of R120 for access to the app, which has my athlete profile and which stores all my planned sessions and records all my completed sessions. Lance also uses an app called Intervals.ICU, where I have registered and where my training sessions data can be analysed by Lance with clear, graphic displays. Normally I would need to pay Lance’s monthly coach fee too, but he’s waived that for his, er, um, teammate.

I hesitantly wrote ‘teammate’ because last week, the 2021 Cape Pioneer Trek was also cancelled. With five weeks to go to the event, I had started to build some decent form and was really looking forward to racing hard at one of the few South African events I haven’t done. We were both disappointed but not defeated. We will still do a stage race together some day. In the meantime, Lance has found a goal marathon race to aim for, the Montagu Marathon on 4 September.

I also looked for a marathon around that period and have decided to aim for the King Price Trailseeker Marathon at Van Gaalen on 11 September. It’s 65km long with about 1200 metres of climbing. The route is mostly rugged singletrack. So the training will continue and will become more analysed in a series of articles I’m going to call TRAINING WITH A PLAN.

The last time I trained properly, with a coach, for an event was the 2015 Absa Cape Epic. | Photo: Dino Lloyd

So far, I have been given six riding sessions a week by Coach Lance, with a rest day on a Tuesday (my busiest work day). There have also been some off-the-bike strength and flexibility sessions, most of which I haven’t done. Partly because I have a chronic left shoulder dislocation that makes most upper body exercises painful; and partly because I don’t get excited about that off-the-bike stuff. But at some point I will start incorporating what I can do (core and flexibility) it to see what difference it makes.

Anyway, most of my training rides I have done on a road bike on a smart trainer in the virtual world of Zwift. I don’t own a mountain bike (I test ride various bikes) and so I don’t have a power meter. Training on Zwift, my heart rate, cadence and power are all measured and recorded and to be honest, that suits me as it takes a lot of guess work out of my training rides. If I do an outdoor training ride, I need to try and stick around a certain heart rate, so there is some process to follow, but heart rate is a very rough effort measure compared to power.

My rides so far are categorised into Recovery, Endurance Tempo, Low Cadence Strength Work and SST (Sweet Spot Training) in order of intensity. I asked Coach Lance why I have always felt fairly composed on my sessions so far. It’s never really felt like I was being fully tested. He said it’s because he was training me for a multiday marathon event, which requires longer power durations and not explosive, short-effort power. Makes sense.

The most difficult thing for me so far has been getting my cadence higher. As someone that intuitively opts for a harder gear in which to pedal (cadence usually around 80 rpm), riding at a high cadence in easy gears is far from natural for me. That first three-hour recovery ride at high cadence and low power I mentioned earlier had me wondering if Coach Lance had got something wrong. Surely nobody can pedal that light a gear at that cadence for that long? It took a few minutes but I managed to find the required rhythm and complete the full session as per the schedule.

It’s still my least favourite session, but judging by the progress I have been making (I’ll cover this in Part 2), it’s working. Not only am I improving physically, but ‘pedalling air’ for almost three hours every now and then has certainly strengthened my mind. What I thought was a coaching error initially has definitely started to make sense. I think Coach Lance is going to bring out the best in me yet.

In Part 2 I’ll go into some detail on my progress with some of my stats from the start to my first big test, a climb up the bitch-hard Alpe du Zwift.

To find out more about Lance’s coaching, head over here.