Toolbox: Finish Prep
From last weekend’s Strade Bianche to this week’s Paris-Nice it is a veritable smorgasbord of racing; yet, for most, these races are used as tune up events, stepping stones to higher fitness levels necessary for the Spring classics and Grand Tours later in the year. It’s a chance to perfect not only their fitness, but also their support structure and process of racing so that it becomes habit. Now is a good time for you to do the same.
By Matt McNamara
If you are a regular reader of this column, then you have gotten a veritable road map for success this season over the past few weeks. From Bruce Hendler’s challenge to increase your racing IQ, to Marvin Zauderer’s treatise on knowing how much is too much, to my last posting on prioritizing spring racing, we’ve tried to give you the tools necessary to build success. So, of course, you’ve read every word, done the diligent training, monitored your mental state, reconned and prioritized all the crucial races, and are ready to hit the ground full steam for the next five months, but you’re still missing a few critical components. I like to call this “finish prep” and it could be the difference between success and despair this season.
Build Your Support System
The pros have it made, yeah? They have a big fancy bus to drive them around, soigneurs to hand up the food and massage the legs, and a team doctor or two to keep watch over their every sniffle and cough. A ProTeam (Pro Tour Team, who can keep up?) is typically made up of between 10 – 20 support staff, all with the sole purpose of helping the athletes arrive at the start line optimally prepared.
While you may not have a paid staff, you do need to define and engage the necessary support to make your season, both racing and training, a success. So let’s look at a few key components of your support system and how to engender their support:
1. Home Support – Everyone needs someone to help them manage the day to day of competitive racing and the rest of their lives. Most often this role falls to our significant other and it is vital that you manage that relationship with open and sincere communication. Tell them what you need, when you need it, and why. Remember, it’s not a demand, it’s a request! They love you and want you to be happy, so chances are they are willing to strive above and beyond what others might to help you achieve a good balance. A fair turn is to then ask what is needed from you in return, and to recognize that ebb and flow, give and take must co-exist equally.
2. Professional Support – while a supportive spouse or partner may be willing to cover most of the bases for you, you still need a small cadre of professionals to help with your “finish prep” through their services. A good massage therapist and an experienced coach are two pillars of support that should be on your list. Add a great, level-headed, and calm mechanic to that list if you are not inclined to do your own bike work. The peace of mind afforded by these professionals is worth the effort and expense.
3. Training and Race Support – here is where a good club comes to the fore. Joining an established club or race team is a simple way to deepen your support structure and entrenchment in a community. Of course, not having to wonder who’s going hand up water bottles at the next road race is also a wonderful thing! Having a directed group of training partners is nearly as important. Not every ride should be with the group, but the motivation to do and improve is that much greater when there is structure and accountability amongst peers.
Final Prep For Racing
Now that you have a good handle on your support structure you can turn your attention to the racing, or more specifically to the “finish prep” needed for the racing to come. Often this is thought of as merely the function of a well thought-out training plan, but I’m here to tell you there are easily overlooked nuances when building the perfect plan on paper.
One of these is the simple intensity of racing. If we know anything it is that training is not racing. At best, it is an approximation of anticipated physiological demand. At worst it is an overload that stagnates performance and limits progression. It’s the balancing act of these factors that makes art of the science. Unfortunately, every athlete is different so it is always a little bit of trial and error, but the gist of the approach comes down to racing days, hard training, and recovery.
Once you have built a foundation of aerobic fitness and added a few layers of threshold level intensity and above you will be ready to race. I’ve said previously that you shouldn’t enter a race until you are ready to race, but once you are ready to race you need to race often to continue to make gains. Those anaerobic surge-recover-surge efforts that define the selection are most readily accomplished by racing or motorpacing. There is no substitute for them. It is easy, however, to push yourself right to the brink doing VO2max and Anaerobic intervals that approximate these efforts. That is one reason I limit my riders’ total volume of high intensity intervals to a few weeks at a time. Perfecting the mix of racing and high intensity training (and requisite recovery) is a challenge.
Be open to modifying your plan and workouts to meet these elusive goals!
“Finish Prep” is the term I use to describe the work done to both standardize your racing process and optimize your race fitness. It is generally composed of developing your support structure and planning your training and racing schedule to allow for as much racing as you can, supplemented by high quality, high intensity work such as that achieved by motorpacing or intense group rides. While these elements are different in focus and intent, together they make you a stronger more focused competitor – and that is the bottom line goal of all racers.
About Matt McNamara:
Matt McNamara is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach with over 20 years of racing, coaching and team management experience. He is also a driving force behind the upcoming Athlete Forward Super Camp May 17 – 22nd and would love to see you on the roads of California! Learn more at the SuperCamp Blog. He is the President of Sterling Sports Group and races road, track, and cyclocross in Northern California.
You can find him on www.facebook.com..