What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: The Best Advice I Never Took

There is such a thing as being a bad client or a good client, even if you don’t have a coach who you pay to train you. I’m going to use the word “client” to refer to anyone who has ever read a training article or book and tried to follow the advice. For the purposes of this article, you are a client of whichever coach’s advice you are attempting to follow.

I’ve Seen The Enemy And The Enemy Is Us
So what does it mean to be a good client? I don’t mean paying your bills on time and tracking all your power data. There are riders who are coachable and then there are those who aren’t. Just as there is an art to being a coach, there is an art to being coached.

Much of it has to do with listening. With all the information about training out there and our preconceived assumptions about ourselves and how our bodies work, we often hear what we want to hear. There are riders who read a great coaching article, follow 90% of it and throw out the other 10% because it isn’t convenient, they don’t think it applies to them or they just don’t agree with it. The problem is that the 10% they are skipping is the difference between a training plan that works and one that doesn’t and it often nullifies the other 90% of the program.

Josh’s 12 Steps
This article could also have been titled, “do as I say, not as I do.” Yes, coaches are subject to the same pitfalls and mistakes that any other rider can make. Perhaps sometimes more so because we are so focused on the advice we give to our riders, we often forget to take that advice ourselves. Over the years, I’ve been trained by fellow coaches, followed pre-built training plans and coached myself. And I’ve made a few mistakes.

Think back, you’ve all done it. You’ve gone a little harder on a day you had designated as a recovery day because you were tempted by a training partner. You’ve started off a little too hard on a time trial because of the adrenaline of the event. Nobody is perfect but the first step to improving your “coachability” is to recognize what your faults are as a client and fix them.

Here is a list of mine.

Maybe I Could Just Go A Little Harder (Or A Little Easier).
When you are out on a training ride it is very easy to forget the “big picture” and instead concentrate only on that day’s ride or the week of training leading up to the weekend’s big group ride/race. We forget to look at the big picture which is our entire season. Many riders neglect their long term plan because they are feeling really good and want to go hammer with their friends. I’m the opposite. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made this year is to concern myself too much with recovery for each weekend’s race. I’m out on Thursday, pushing myself on a hard interval ride. I start thinking about the race on Saturday. Maybe my wife and daughter will be there. Maybe there’s some big prize money up for grabs. Maybe a sponsor will be in attendance. Maybe if I skip this last interval, I will ride just a little better so that I can impress my sponsor/wife/daughter/teammates and win some prize money to boot.

I skip the last interval, cut the ride a little short and head home to get some extra “feet up” time so that I can be fresh for the weekend. After all, I want to have a good race and one less interval is not going to make a difference in my fitness. The problem is that this type of balking piles up. One week of slack begets another week of slack. Soon you are falling behind on your training and your race performance begins to drop off. You get dropped at a local crit. How embarrassing. So what do you do to prevent another bad weekend like the one before? You skip that last interval on the next Thursday afternoon to get a little more rest so you can be fresh for the weekend. Before you know it, half the season is gone. You’ve been “peaking” for every weekend’s race and as a result, have not come anywhere close to your potential peak.

The solution is simple. Have a season long training plan and stick to it no matter what. When “reason” or “justification rears its ugly head, hammer it back down and stick to the program. You must trust your coach or your plan no matter what. Remember, a bad plan is better than no plan at all.

No Substitute For Riding
I was very busy this year. I bought a house, had a baby and am in the process of starting a new UCI Continental team. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have time to train, just that I felt like I didn’t have time to recover. I somehow got it in my head that perhaps instead of killing myself to keep up with the long mileage I usually do, I should spend more time focusing on recovery. I began to work with a chiropractor and a massage therapist on a weekly basis (thank goodness for comprehensive health insurance). I focused on stretching and relaxation. I cut rides short so I could get home and catch a quick nap before I began my day’s work.

Unfortunately, I spent so much time and energy on recovery that, you guessed it, I had nothing to recover from. The moral here is to ride. Ride. Even if you are not getting 8 hours of sleep and your job is exhausting and your baby is keeping you up at night. Ride, ride, ride. There is no substitute for miles. This is not to say that recovery is not important but it is not the end all be all. Your body is very efficient. If you are only sleeping 7 hours a night, it will figure out how to utilize those 7 hours. The body heals itself. It’s one of the things that it does best. As long as you give it a basic frame work to do its job, it will get done, with or without your help.

So the solution here is very simple. Just ride your bike. Try to get a good night’s sleep and eat nutritious food, but trust your body to do the rest.

Forget The Supplements, Forget The Lightweight Wheels
You should see the “supplement cabinet” in my kitchen. It’s embarrassing. Over the years I’ve tried just about every amino acid, vitamin, energy drink, caffeine source and nutritional concoction you can imagine. A lot of this came from my year long bout with chronic fatigue but many of these were purchased for performance and recovery reasons. I shudder to think about how much money is tied up in this cornucopia of pseudo-pharmaceuticals. In my garage, there is a similar scene. Carbon wheels, a Computrainer, carbon cages, tubular tires, a broken Ergomo.

The problem isn’t really the money that is wasted on all these gizmos and gadgets and supplements and vitamins, it’s the time and energy. It’s the staying up at night debating over whether it’s worth it to spend $500 to buy a stem that will save you 5 grams over your existing one. It’s the tinkering in your garage replacing parts and gluing new tubular tires. It’s the stress and worry that your opponent might have a better, faster rig than yours or be taking a vitamin that you don’t have in your arsenal. What if you guys are evenly matched right down to the line but he beats you because his helmet has two more vents than yours or his electrolytes are more balanced than yours?

All that time you spend tormenting yourself over supplements and equipment, you could be training or at the very least, kicking back with your feet up. Equipment and supplements don’t win races. Hard work and training does. Buy a multi-vitamin from CVS, chuck it in the drawer and go out and ride your bike.

Ride Early, Ride Often
This one might only apply if you happen to be a pro rider or are at lest self-employed. Perhaps I’m unique in this regard but often the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning is going back to sleep. Maybe not then and there but perhaps a nap in the afternoon or at least an early bed time that night. The last thing I want to do is jump on my bike while I’m still barely awake. So I go into my home office, send a few e-mails, work on a story, write some training plans. I look up. It’s already 11:00 am. Crap, I’ve got to ride! But by now, my head is a little fuzzy from sitting at my computer for three hours. How about a little snack and some couch time in front of the TV? I’ll gather my energy and then I’ll have a great, late afternoon ride. After 30 minutes of R & R, I’m feeling relaxed and sleepy enough to take a nap. Boy, if I take a nap now, I’m going to wake up rested and have an amazing ride! Sure I’ll have to cut it a bit short but…

You see where this is going. Studies have shown that mental work such as typing or reading can have similarly exhausting effects on the body as hard exercise. The rule of thumb when exercising is to always to do the most important part of your workout first so you are not too fatigued to do it later on. So if you busy yourself with tasks and errands before your ride, you will undoubtedly have less energy to devote to your ride.

Wake up and get on your bike. Do whatever you can to arrange your schedule to make this possible. If you are not a morning person, you can train yourself to be one. Try jumping out of bed and getting out on your bike in less than 20 minutes. It will be hard at first but the mind and body will come around in a week or two. Soon, not only will you find yourself waking up with more “get up and go” but your workouts and your fitness will come around quickly as well.

A Little Secret
So now that I’ve outed myself, I have some work to do. I’ll let you in on a little secret though. I’ve already started following my own advice. I’m training harder, even if it means I’ll be the first to get flogged on the next day’s group ride. Wait till they see me at Redlands in March! I’ve put a hold on my massages and chiropractor appointments (and I swear it has nothing to do with my wife’s company’s health insurance dropping out of network coverage). I’ve cut way back on my supplements and I’m back to riding my heavy bomb proof American Classic Hurricane wheels with the 28 mm tires. Who cares if I’m not the first up the hill on the Thursday morning world championship ride? And I’m out the door the first chance I get (after I’ve dropped the little Polly Wog off at day care). How much of a difference will these little changes make? Well, I’ve already gotten dropped on one group ride so you know the tide has turned!

About Josh:
Josh Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com.

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