Australia’s criterium champion schedules training around her 40-hour work week, yet wins races against full time pros. TWC contributor, Jessi Braverman, spoke to her about how she does it - even asking her for a sample week in training that you can follow!

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It was widely billed as a “surprise victory" when Sophie Mackay took hold of the Australian criterium title last month. The 30-year-old who juggles full-time work with domestic racing beat full-time, paid professionals and pre-race favourites to the coveted green and gold jersey. Mackay rode brilliantly to put herself in the nine-rider breakaway that would contest the finish.

“A lot of the commentary during the race was about how the smartest sprinters sit in and hide themselves," said Mackay. “That’s essentially how I conducted myself in that race. It was almost like no one knew I was there."

No one could deny her commanding presence at the finish. Mackay was late to start her sprint but a quick turn of speed allowed her to edge out Lizzie Williams (ORICA-AIS) and former criterium champion Lauren Kitchen (Hitec Products) to the line.

“I couldn’t believe it," said Mackay. “I was absolutely astounded that it had all come together on the day."

Yet it was exactly what Mackay and her coach had planned. Riding for Specialized Women’s Racing, Mackay contests Cycling Australia’s national calendar called the National Race Series (NRS). Following what she called “a bit of success" in intermediate sprints in NRS races during the first six months of the 2015 season, Mackay sat down with her coach to outline her objectives for the next six months. With plans to aim towards success at the National Criterium title, training had a large focus around sprinting - explosive efforts, repeated with short recovery in-between. It worked.

It was a win for the working woman who juggles training with, well, everything else.

Mackay, who logs 40 hours weekly as a finance clerk at Charles Stuart University, parlayed her understanding of her strengths and limitations, consistent training tailored to her specific goal and a strong support system into a national title against riders whose primary profession is behind the handlebars. It was a win for the working woman who juggles training with, well, everything else.

While you might not be coveting gold against your nation’s best, chances are you’re chasing dreams of your own. Mackay shares her tips for pursuing objectives on two wheels alongside the demands of daily life.

goal calendar

Schedule work-outs that fit with your schedule

Pros have all day to train, but Mackay works, minimally, from 8am-4pm Monday - Friday. While her employer generously accommodates leave when she needs to race, Mackay can’t afford to take time off to train – which means her training is very focussed and very intentional. Training sessions may be short and sweet during the work week, but every workout has a purpose.

“Working full-time, in terms of training, means a lot of early morning starts," said Mackay. “I’m getting up at a quarter to five if I’m riding in the morning. When I train in the afternoon, I keep the sessions very sharp and short. It’s a lot of intensity during the week, so I try to get the longer rides in the weekends – simply because that’s when I have the most time."

Train for your specific goals

Mackay knew that the National Criterium Championships required a fast kick, so she replicated the effort that she’d need for the race in her training.

“I had never focused on my sprint in the past," Mackay noted. “When we decided to target the criterium, we had to adjust my training."

Listen to your body

Mackay pays attention to what her body is telling her. She has weeks where she feels great and weeks where she feels flat – and she doesn’t hesitate to back off when she believes that’s what she needs.

“There are weeks where I feel flat, but I know I can push through," said Mackay. “There are other weeks where I feel flat, and I look at my training program and I know that pushing through will result in a set-back. It’s a matter of knowing your body."

“Usually a couple days backed off or an extra day of recovery is all I need," Mackay added. “If I don’t take that time, and I get sick or over-train, I would lose much more time.

Get involved with the local community

Mackay is involved with her local cycling club in Wagga, New South Wales. She trains with the club’s junior cyclists and credits them with helping her keep her motivation high.

“I love being involved with the local scene," said Mackay. “It’s really helped my passion and commitment, especially over the last 12 months. There’s not only the training aspect but also the social aspect. It makes it a lot more fun."

“If you consistently ride with the same group, you develop friendships," Mackay added. “And then it becomes more than sport, it becomes community. When you become move involved in the community, your passion grows."

A week in training

Here's how Mackay makes the most of the 10-14 hours of training she could successfully juggle each week. She calls the schedule below "a fairly typical training week from the six months leading up to Nationals."
  • Monday: Recovery ride or skills session. Skills may involve cornering, riding with no hands, one-legged pedalling or physical contact with other cyclists.
  • Tuesday: Rest day.
  • Wednesday: Home trainer. 4-6 intervals of 10/20s or 20/40s (10 seconds on, 20 seconds off or 20 seconds on, 40 seconds off). This is an all out effort for the 'on' period and I am completely worn out by the time I finish. Total session time is 60-75 minutes including warm-up and cool down (ideal training for criterium racing)
  • Thursday: Home trainer. 5x5min threshold efforts OR 8x5 minute intervals building in intensity to a sprint at the end. Total session time is approximately 60-70 mins including warm-up and cool down
  • Friday: Group recovery ride or skills session.
  • Saturday: 100-120km of which 85km is with the fast local bunch (every town has a weekly World Champs, including Wagga - where I live).
  • Sunday: 120-150km bunch ride. Include a race if possible, if no racing is available try to get some climbing in (no easy feat around Wagga!).

Mackay said: "The length of the sessions and intervals on the home trainer increased as my fitness improved to encourage continual adaption. The most important part of any training program is to tailor your training to your target event and don't go in too hard. You want to enjoy your training and be looking forward to the challenge of the next session - even if it is brutal. My coach and I worked on the best program for me over the course of six months, and it was a process of continual adjustment, improvement and feedback. We had to keep communication open and regular in order to ensure the program had the desired results.

Thinking about planning your own training? Check out this post on how to build a successful plan, and stick to it. If you want to try your hand at crit racing, but don't know where to start - check out these top ten tips.