Toolbox: Are you Ready to Race?
I’ve been in California many years. I have never seen such a dramatic change of weather from one spring to the next fall/winter. Last winter was wet, cold, and continued into June. It was the reason for the cancellation of 1.5 stages of the Tour of California and probably why the organization didn’t go back to the beautiful Lake Tahoe area this year. This year, they could’ve had the race in December! So with all this good weather both here and across the country, it seems this year will be optimal in terms of rider preparation for the race season. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as to whether you are ready to race in 2012:
Are you physically ready?
One of the main reason riders do not perform consistently throughout the long season is a lack of physical preparation during the offseason. What does that mean? Simply that the off-season is a time where riders are not interrupted by weekend races and events. Once the season begins and you are racing a lot, that becomes your focus; focused training and self-care can take a back seat at times. There are several significant aspects to this question. First, on the bike, during the off-season, it is important to have a time period of uninterrupted training during the winter and early spring months. This allows you to create a true base of fitness that can last a good period of time. You can focus on improving different aspects of your cycling capacities, particularly technical ones like bike-handling and descending skills and do extended rides in the sub-threshold zones to improve your aerobic capacity.
Second, there are many things to do during the off-season that are off the bike. Have you been fit properly on your bike within the past year? If not, this would be an outstanding time to make sure that your comfort on the bike is optimized, allowing you to perform to your maximum abilities. If you have gained weight over the holidays, the first couple of months of the year, PRIOR to racing, are an excellent time to lose that weight and reduce your fat composition (weight and fat loss are related, but unfortunately, independent variables). Looking at your nutrition, both from a weight/fat loss perspective, and more importantly, from an optimal fueling perspective, can be done during the relative quiet of off-season. Proper nutrition is analogous to having a high performance sports car that requires premium gas, but only giving it regular gas. The car will run, but will have significant performance issues. If you have questions about your nutrition (notice I’m avoiding the word “diet”), then the off-season is a great time to get a nutritional consultation that will help you to develop an optimal “fueling” plan for your year. Finally, spending time focused on your flexibility (either through a dedicated stretching program and/or in Yoga class) and core strength (core exercises and/or Pilates) will greatly aid you in all aspects of the sport and your life.
Are you mentally ready?
The cycling season is extremely long. Physically, it’s actually pretty easy to get though. As long as you don’t overtrain, you can pretty much recover after a few days off the bike or taking a truly easy recovery week. The main issue is maintaining your motivation and desire to compete with everything you have, leaving nothing left on the road. This is a much bigger challenge, as most riders don’t structure their mental approach to the sport like they do their physical one. The solution to approach this side of the sport is much the same way you approach the physical training. Plan times when you will be able to be 100% committed to the racing and training you need to succeed. And, plan down times when you give yourself a break and focus on other areas of your life. Perhaps you can coincide this with a work schedule or family events. Bottom line is that it is not possible to commit 100% all the time and be on top of your game. You need down time, both physically and mentally.
Have you set your goals for both individual and team?
Quite simply, having no goals means you probably won’t achieve much this year. It’s like a sailboat without a rudder, which just goes in the direction of the wind with no specific target. It’s such a clichй, but over the years it’s been obvious to me that athletes who set specific goals and create plans to get there, usually achieve those goals! If you don’t have goals, ask yourself why? Why is something so simple not part of your program. It’s an interesting question most likely without an easy answer. Goals can including particular races you’re targeting either as leader or domestique, particular types of events in which you are trying to improve (e.g., crits), or specific measureable/ quantifiable improvements such as increases in your watts/kg at lactate threshold. Cycling is also difficult in the sense that team goals will often override individual goals. Cycling remains the only sport in which a team works for the glorification of an individual. So, you must be prepared to accept that and find an area where you can work for yourself. Perhaps that is in time trialing. Any discipline where an athlete can focus on themselves and still benefit their overall fitness and contribution to the team will be useful. There are few things more helpful to a team than a good time trialist who can go to the front and pull for longer periods of time.
Take advantage of our terrific weather (this year) to get out on the road more frequently, but also remember that success during a racing season comes from more than just training ourselves on the bike. Decide to create goals for yourself on and off the bike, and come up with concrete plans to achieve those goals. To the degree that you are able to do that, you will have a successful and enjoyable season. Good luck out there.
Ride safe, ride 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.