Tom Ovens, a cyclist on the rise

Background –

Tom is currently working as a Personal Trainer in Geelong as well as studying Exercise and Nutrition Science at Deakin University

Key Race Results-

11th Elite National XCO championships 2015, 1st Surf Coast 3hr 2014, 3rd You Yangs Yowie 99km 2014, 1st place Rd1 National XCO and Criterium Open men December 2014

Sponsors-

Cannondale-ENVE MTB team.  SRAM, Bell Helmets, Louis Garneau, Pro4mance, Premax, Rocktape and Swiss Eye sunglasses also support Tom.

 

Tom Ovens in full flight on single track is a a sight to behold!

Tom Ovens in full flight on single track is a a sight to behold!

Thanks for Chatting with us Tom.  What’s your background prior to cycling and what has drawn you to mountain bike racing?

No worries!  I started off racing motocross, which I did for nearly 15 years.  I started when I was 12 and ended up winning one National championship in 2006 in the under 19 category.  From there I moved into the Pro class and had some ok results.  It’s very hard to stay competitive in motocross, especially when you have lots of injuries like I did.  In fact, injuries are what got me started into cycling!  After one of my 3 knee reconstruction’s (the second one I think!)  I began doing some road riding for rehab, after a while I began to enjoy it and so I thought I would give mountain biking a go.  From there it was a natural progression and I finished up racing motocross at the end of 2012, so I’ve been focusing on MTB (mountain biking) for a bit over 2 1/2 years.

 

You’ve had a meteoric rise in success for both mountain biking and more recently road cycling.  What do you put this success down to?

Because of the motocross background I always found the skills side of things pretty easy.  I have never been someone with a naturally large aerobic capacity, but I am good at sticking to a training plan and I enjoy the process of improving my fitness.  I would say I am definitely still a work in progress though when it comes to outright fitness but I am getting there!

 

What are your thoughts on genetics vs training relating to performance?

I’ve thought about this a few times, especially in regards to my study in the field of exercise science.  I think there are plenty of people who have huge natural talent, but if you aren’t willing to put in the hard work it won’t be enough to produce results.  Sure you will have the odd good race, but over the long term I think someone a little less gifted who is willing to work hard will ultimately succeed.  Of course, if you are gifted AND put the time in you will really excel!

 

In terms of training, what has been the key types of training/ sessions that has resulted in gains in fitness?  

My training changes depending on the time of year and when the targeted races are.  I am continually working on my weaknesses but as a general rule long base km’s and strength work on the bike is done in the off season or during a break in racing.  As the races draw closer the sessions generally shorten up slightly and some intervals are brought in whether it be on hills or flat speed work.  I think for me a combination of all these sessions are what improve anyones fitness.  For me at the moment I am getting ready for quite a few Cyclocross races which are 60mins long and full gas the whole time.  In preparation for that macca has me doing lots of short max and sub max sprint/TT efforts to build up my tolerance to lactate and explosiveness.  I recently did another lactate test with Donna Ray and its great to see progression from these types of sessions.

 

Do you have a favourite interval session? Please give example…

Expanding on the sprint/TT efforts, it might be something like a 5-10 second all out sprint followed by 2 minutes rest x 10 reps, then 10 x 10sec sprint and straight into a  20-60 second TT effort.  It varies session to session but they are all aimed at improving that explosive power and repeated efforts.  I also quite enjoy doing some motor pacing.  I haven’t done heaps of sessions behind the bike but my coach macca has taken me out a few times and done some 5 mins “on” 5 mins “off type sessions.  The idea is to sit behind the bike and recover for 5 mins, then pull out to the side and maintain that speed for another 5 mins.  Keep in mind that the “recovery” phase is still well over 40-45km/h so its a hard session, but I like the feeling of going fast on the road bike!

 

What has been the influence of your coach, Craig McCartney? Have other athletes like your team-mate, James Downing,  been instrumental in moulding you as an athlete?

Macca has been great for my development as a rider.  He has a wealth of knowledge from his riding days as well as working closely with Donna Ray (who is a cycling coach and the VIS and Dan McConnels coach) and its been great to learn form him and have him write my programs each month.  I have only known James a relatively short time but I have learnt a great deal from him.  He has pretty much been there and done that in every discipline of cycling so its awesome to have him and the Cannondale team in my corner.  I would say on the local front Scott Nicholas is someone I really admire as an athlete and just as a great bloke.  His achievements in his running career blow my mind and to see him doing so well on the MTB is awesome.  I see him and I as opposite ends of the spectrum.  He has an amazing engine and came into MTB later in life which required him to lear the skills really quickly (which he has I might add!).  I on the other hand, have always had the skill but need to build an engine, the fact that we can cross the finish line at the Otway Odyssey this year with less than a minute between us after nearly 5 hours of racing goes to show just how cool and diverse MTB really is.

 

How important is technology such as GPS, heart rate and power meters to both training and racing?

I really enjoy all the data when it comes to training, and I think its a necessary tool especially to monitor training load and fatigue/freshness.  I use HR all the time and have had a power meter on my road bike for a bit over a year.  All my efforts are based off power in terms of training and I alway try to match that to my HR.  If my HR is ever low/high compared to power that can be an indicator of many things, good or bad!

 

Have you tried additional training techniques such as cold thermogenesis, heat training or altitude training?

Not a great deal.  I go up to the Victorian alps each year with a bunch of mates to do a training camp, although I wouldn’t say that there are any benefits in terms altitude adaptations in Victoria.  I have been involved in a couple of clinical trials on cyclist in hypoxic conditions however, and the results were significant so I am keen to try some more  altitude training if the opportunity ever arose.

 

Thanks for chatting with us Tom.  Good luck with your future endeavours.  

Not a problem, thanks for giving me the opportunity!

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Knee Pain

Knee pain is an all too common complaint in runners. There are many causes for this knee pain but one of the most common injuries is called Anterior Knee Pain (AKP) or patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). This makes up to around 25% of all identified knee injuries in runners. The interesting problem with AKP is that it is a diagnosis made from its only symptom of pain which is usually located around or under the knee cap. This condition is rarely associated with any structural damage.

Historically we used to think that one of the primary causes of AKP was due to the misalignment of the patella during running. Clearly there is an association between tight and overactive structures around the knee that can influence the position of the patella through its movement. Addressing these through a structured stretching program and a course of manual therapy can help. However, more recent research is shedding new light on the most common cause of AKP. Hip weakness and early fatigue during the stance phase of running leads to a valgus or ‘knock knee’ posture and this has shown to be a leading cause of AKP. Simply put, as your foot comes in to contact with the ground the muscles on the outside of your hip must become active to stabilise the pelvis girdle and to stop it tipping forward on the opposite side. If the muscles do not do this then your knee will turn in slightly (genu valgum) to compensate causing a change in the biomechanics and probable pain around your patellar! Studies have shown that by incorporating specific hip abductor strengthening exercises in to a rehabilitation program, not only does the peak hip abduction strength improve but stride-to-stride knee joint variability improves, a reduction in genu valgum is observed during stance phase and most importantly pain is reduced!!!

So what is a good exercise to improve your lateral hip muscles? Well my 2 favourites include the resistance band walk and the lateral shuffle. All you will need to do these exercises is a loop of resistance band and a bit of space. Loop the band around your lower leg or ankles and stand in a half squat position with your feet wide enough apart to feel some strong tension in the band.

  1. To do the resistance band walk all you do now is walk forward in the half squat position keeping the tension in the band by making sure your feet stay wide apart. Take around 20 steps forward and then 20 steps backwards.
  2. To do the lateral shuffle, instead of walking forward in the half squat you take a step to the right keeping the half squat and after planting your right foot you move your left foot equal distance to the right. Take around 20 steps in each direction.

There are many more exercises that can help improve your function and running form and so if you would like a comprehensive assessment and rehabilitation program developed using the latest in evidenced based research then please do not hesitate to contact us for an appointment.

 

Nick Williams