Toolbox: Questions to Ask Yourself
Training preparations for a strong cycling season: As we enter the New Year and rapidly approach the 2014 race season it’s important to ask yourself some guiding questions. These are three questions I ask my cycling athletes every year and are a crucial factor in their performance. Be honest and give them some thought before answering.
First of all, Happy New Year from AthletiCamps and Pez! We wish you and your family health and happiness!
What type of rider am I?
A couple months ago, I sat down with one of my athletes for his end of year wrap-up of the season and discussion as we looked forward to 2014.
He is an accomplished rider in multiple disciplines: MTB, road, cross. He races all year long and wins some along the way. He has a positive, upbeat attitude you want in all your athletes, he lives and breathes the sport, he enjoys the camaraderie of friends, and loves to train hard year round.
As far as training and racing goes, California is definitely idyllic, especially the last three years (one benefit of a drought is that you don’t have to worry about inclement weather.) We can pretty much ride outside all year (in the lower elevations) with only the slightest inconvenience of rain and shortened daylight during the winter.
This kind of training environment, coupled with the magnificent riding often tempt many riders to maintain a high level of fitness all year long, which is both good and bad. While an athlete’s condition can remain fairly high throughout the year, their peaks are muted and never reach as high as they could.
And this is exactly what I wanted to discuss with my athlete.
We sat down and I asked him a simple question, given the above description. Do you want to “do well” all year long or do you want to be “unbeatable and super fit” for shorter periods of time, peaking for your key events?
To my surprise (and hope), he couldn’t immediately answer the question, responding “I don’t know, I have to think about that for a while.” With my encouragement he took the question away to really think about in more detail.
A couple days later, I got a text from him and a request to meet. He came into the office and said he had talked it over with his wife (another good sign of the seriousness of the question) and although it was a difficult decision he wants to pursue being “unbeatable and super-fit” for a shorter periods of time.
He had concerns of course, because learning to be “unbeatable” at specific times takes practice and is a bit more risky. It’s much easier to “do well” all the time, versus learning how to peak at the right times. To do that, he must be very single-minded and do what’s right for him at the right time, sometimes sacrificing some of the elements of cycling he loves, like doing long rides with his teammates and friends.
We have a challenge upon us that we are both looking forward to and planning carefully.
So ask yourself the same question….”what kind of rider do I want to be?”
How much time to spend on training my weaknesses?
A common theme among cyclists training to race (or other goal driven events like Brevets or Gran Fondos) is improving weaknesses. Though there are multiple types of weaknesses (e.g. mental – lacking the mindset to win and be aggressive, or technical – pack positioning, cornering,) I want to focus on physical weakness. Experience in events, in training, and relative to your peers (think of those hard group rides) will clearly point out these areas of weakness. Chances are that an 80kg rider will not win the Tour de France. And, if you weren’t born a “sprinter” you most likely won’t be contesting for the green jersey.
The key question to ask yourself is – how much time do I spend training my weakness? Well…it depends. If you are a pure climber it may not make sense to spend significant time working on your ability to wind it up with the big boys (though there is a valuable place for some sprint training in every program.)
By doing so you are taking away valuable time from the areas of cycling that are your strengths or other areas that can be improved upon.
Conversely, a natural born sprinter (think Cavendish or Kittel) may devote significant time (comparatively) to developing leg speed and raw power at the expense of longer more sustainable efforts that would get them over the iconic passes of the Tour with the leaders. Someone in between a climber and sprinter might devote equal time to both, because they want to get over climbs with the lead group and be able to outsprint the reduced field.
The following guidelines can be considered:
• Sprinter – more sprint training, less focus on climbing at or above threshold
• Time trialist – heavy threshold training, little sprint training
• Break away rider – heavy threshold training with some sprint interspersed
• Climber – heavy threshold training with hill repeats, little sprint training
Of course, consult with your coach to determine what is right for you. But consider whether improving your weaknesses is worth the trade off with focusing on your strengths.
Why do I do this?
It’s funny how when a person who rides a bike (and doesn’t race) comes across a group of ones that do, perhaps in training rides, the first question the racers ask is, “Are you going to race?” And the answer can obviously go many ways.
Have you ever truly sat down and asked why you race? Why do you spend the time, effort, money and risk to do it. Personally, I think bike racing is without a doubt the coolest and most brutal sport out there. The feeling of being fit relative to your competition and playing the chess game makes you feel good about yourself and is just a ton of fun!
Perhaps the answer is similar to above, maybe it’s that pretty standard answer you hear, “I am a very competitive person.” Well, we are all competitive to some degree, so go deeper than that. Jimmy Connors, the great tennis champion once said, “I hate to lose more than I love to win.” He also added, “I can’t stand the looks on their faces when they beat me.” At least he was honest!
Remember there are no right or wrong answer to any of these questions. It is what it is. You are who you are.
But I think it’s important. And when you figure out why you travel hours each weekend to go to battle, it’s important to understand exactly why. Once you determine why, I believe it will make your approach much easier and allow for more success.
Ride safe, comfortable, and strong,
Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past 11 years, he and his experienced team have helped athletes of all levels achieve their goals in the great sport of bike racing thru cycling training camps, cycling coaching and performance testing. To contact AthletiCamps, visit their website at www.athleticamps.com or follow them on Twitter.