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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Polarised Training

Having just finished reading 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald as well as a recent post by Joe Friel on his blog, I thought it would be worthwhile posting a summary on polarised training.  I would certainly recommend reading 80/20 Running as it is an intriguing yet easy read and has some nice training plans relevant to different distances.  Joe Friel’s books and blog are always a great reference for the novice to elite athlete.

Polarised Training.  What is it?

Polarised training refers to an exercise plan involving predominantly very low intensity exercise interspersed with a small amount of very high intensity training.  Advocates of such programs like Matt Fitzgerald recommend, on average, 80% of training performed at low intensity and 20% at a higher intensity.

Why would you want to train in this way?

Because it makes you fit!  Research has shown that polarised training is an extremely effective form of training in enhancing your VO2 max (your maximum oxygen consumption during exercise and common measure of level of fitness).  It is superior to regular moderate intensity exercise (which is how most people train) and high volume low intensity training.

How is intensity defined?

Athletes and coaches use various different tools to determine intensity including pace (running), heart rate, power output (cycling) and perceived effort.  If you are interested in the specifics of these measures I direct you to the above-mentioned resources.

But I want to start it NOW?

Whoa cool it!!  Most people embarking on fitness programs are fairly impatient.  “Too much too soon” is the most common cause of injury seen at our clinic and is far more relevant than most biomechanics factors.  Before considering any form of intensity, I would recommend working on some form of fitness base incorporating consistent easy exercise.  This is especially important for activities such as running involving repetitive loading to the lower limbs.  For semi-weightbearing activities such as cycling, intensity can be added earlier.  For those who have been exercising consistently for many months (or preferably years) and have a reasonable level of base fitness and have not suffered from injury over that period, some intensity can be added into their program.

How to get started…

If you want to start polarised training, and don’t want to use training tools such as heart rate and power, then you will need to rely on perceived effort and pace/speed.   A GPS training App is a handy addition and can easily be downloaded for your phone (e.g., cyclometer, strava).  When performing your easy training, you should be able to hold a conversation with a training partner.  Often the effort feels “too easy.”  Once finishing an easy session, you should feel that you could continue to exercise for longer.  By performing most of your training at low intensity, when it comes time to do your high intensity sessions, you really have the energy to put a lot into it.  Hard sessions are very difficult and involve extremely heavy breathing, lots of perspiration, burning muscles and high heart rates.  As these sessions are stressful on the body, an emphasis on quality rather than quantity is important.  If you feel like you cannot give a scheduled hard session everything then it may be better to replace it with another easy session.  Easy exercise helps athletes to recover from the hard sessions whilst also improving components of cardiovascular fitness.

Is polarised training everything?

No.  Specificity is.  Your training needs to be specific to whatever event/ race you are training for.  For example, if you are are training for an ultra marathon, low intensity volume will be more important than intensity when compared to shorter events such as a 10 km race.

Furthermore, the concept of periodisation is relevant.  This term refers to planning training over a period of time with an emphasis on building fitness by manipulating volume intensity for a specific race/ event goal.