Disclaimer and Government Health Warning: this is going to be boring. Do not attempt to read without mind altering drugs or your brain will atrophy.
I'd like to think I'm reasonably methodical about my training, especially when I've got something to aim for. Over the years I've gotten a reasonably good idea of what works and what doesn't, but not really how much to do.
When I actually look back on my training log, I realise it's all over the shop. I'm consistent within a given week but not so much from week to week. A few things can affect this - illness, injury and work being the main ones - and they did in a big way this year. Also, it's fairly easy to maintain fitness once you've got it. It's getting it in the first place that requires a bit of planning.
I more or less got it right at the start of this year. I'd done a month of 'base' work in December, did bugger all in the first half of January because it was cold and I got sick, then built it up through February and was flying in March. And, unfortunately, injured.
The injury was the result of a combination of a lot of hours in the cold, badly set up cleats and what should have been a minor crash. Cleat position is important. I run them so that the ball of my foot is well in front of the pedal axle. But if it's too far in front and it's cold then I get tightness in my achilles and hamstrings = first step towards injury. If it's warm, it doesn't seem to be much of a problem.
I got some new shoes recently that will see me through winter - they're too big so I can wear a couple of pairs of socks underneath and stave off cold toes. But after swapping from my summer shoes (annoyingly too small) I've had to fiddle around with the cleats a lot to stop the tightness coming back.
I've also got some Sealskinz socks and gloves. Very good so far, but it's not properly cold yet.
Back to the program.
I've never been that fit in March before so I must have gotten something right. And when I looked back on things it was clear. I'd basically doing more and more, right up until I started racing. Interestingly, it's still a lot less than I used to do.
It worked because of the ol' stimulus-response thing. You push yourself a bit, you get fitter, so you push yourself some more. Repeat until you are a) fit b) injured/sick c) bored. Then back off and enjoy being fit for as long as you can maintain it.
You can either do this by adding more volume or more intensity or both. And it's a wonderful thing when you get it right, because you can see yourself getting faster every week.
The traditional approach to cycling training is do loads of miles in winter then back it off and do more intensity when you're approaching race season. The idea is that the miles conditions your body to handle the harder stuff later on. I have to say that it's never worked for me.
Another way is to jump straight into training and hammer yourself into the ground. Then do it some more. This might get you fit for a week but then you'll fall in a heap. I've tried this too.
So this winter, I am going to try a slow but steady build up, starting last week. Like this year, I still want to be increasing the stimulus by the end of February, but I want to do it on the back of what I manage to accomplish in January. This way should take all the panic and randomness out of early season training.
I might even buy or rent a PowerTap to train with, because this enables you to track how hard you're training and how fit you are. Average speed and heart rate are pretty useful too, as long as you know their limitations.
From a fitness point of view, I want to be able to average 340W (normalised) for an hour. I did it in 2008 with a fairly random approach to training (ride lots) - which was reflected in the results.
I got to 333W at the start of this year but was injured and 2kg over racing weight. Later on in the season when I was at racing weight, I got to 325W. In power/weight terms, that meant I was slightly fitter at the end of the season.
340W at racing weight with my current setup would knock another minute off my 25 mile time...
Now I've just got to do the training :-) It was -2 this morning so I wussed out of a bike path pootle with John and Liz. I did get out for an hour later on and it was still bastard cold. Tomorrow it's wet so it'll be warmer. I actually prefer that, most of the time. This November was apparently the wettest UK November ever.
Addendum: According to the Latest Science, the stimulus-response approach to training is now outdated - it's a bit more complicated than that. Given that it was proposed in 1975 and I'm just getting it, I'll stick to it for the time being.