Toolbox: Time – The Great Teacher
As we conclude the 2010 road season in the northern hemisphere, now is a good time to look back on this past season and start looking forward to 2011. Notice I said “road season” and “northern hemisphere.” With cycling being so global and having multiple disciplines, some athletes are just beginning their cross season! The point is this exercise can be done at any major time of transition.
And as you look back on your season, no matter what the outcome, there is one particular aspect of your program I would like to discuss: The fitness and knowledge required to be successful in bike racing takes time. I know that may sound obvious, but it’s very important to understand this simple concept and gain perspective on it.
I guess most things in life take time to accomplish. But something as unique as bike racing, with its demanding physical and mental requirements, as well as the strategy and tactical aspects, it is without a doubt, one of the most difficult sports to master. I can’t tell you how many riders I have seen come and go, because they don’t grasp the concept of time or they simply don’t have patience.
So, when I begin working with athletes at any level, one of the first things I convey, no matter what their background, is that this process will take time. If they are expecting immediate results, well, they may be misinformed or in the wrong sport.
Let’s take a look at some of the components of the sport that take time, so you can have a better grasp of what you, as an athlete, may need to focus more on during your training program in the upcoming years:
We all start at different levels and gain fitness at different rates
I think one of the first and most important concepts to grasp is we all start the process of improvement at different levels with different athletic backgrounds. From that point forward, we all improve at different rates. Why? Difficult question to answer. You can definitely look to some of the universal physiological parameters that are measured in the lab like VO2, economy and/or efficiency, lactate threshold, muscle fiber type, etc. But there are just as many things that cannot be measured, like emotions, pain threshold, and desire to name a few. The point is we all start at a different place and adapt to training at different rates. This is precisely why individual programs guided by qualified coaches are so much more valuable than following books, formulas, or computer generated programs.
Changes in physiology take time
We are not machines. We are human and our physiological improvements as a result of training and racing take time.
What exactly are we talking about? Let’s call it a “body remodel.” Better lungs that deliver oxygen and remove CO2 from the blood. A bigger, larger more efficient heart that pumps more blood per beat. A better capillary network that delivers more O2 and removes CO2 from the working muscles. Better blood with more volume and increased red blood cells to deliver that needed O2. So, as you can see, these changes just don’t and cannot happen over night, they take time.
The learning curve, both tactical and physical
What makes cycling so unique while at the same time, a major challenge is that once the clock starts, there are no time outs, half times, quarters or any breaks until it’s over. So, unlike most other sports, where the coach can gather his/her team and discuss tactics and strategy, the bike racer has to make split decisions during the race and almost instantaneously. It’s this characteristic of bike racing that may make it one of the most difficult to master. Gaining the experience to be successful in this environment can take years. You basically have a hundred riders out there and you can only control yourself. Even the communication amongst teammates is difficult. You can see where it’s hard to master.
The nature of the sport is that you get fitter within your category, move up, and have to go through the whole process again. You can see why it is so important to be successful from a racing results perspective before moving up in the ranks. Moving up to just move up without good success is a recipe for disaster. Learn to race at your level and take that confidence up to the next, harder level, as that confidence will help carry you through difficult physical times.
Paying your dues – the team thing
Bike racing has teams working for the success of one individual. Not many people can list the last five teams that won the “team race” at the Tour de France (I have no clue.) The reason I add this is because it can really wear on a developing rider. Wondering if they will ever get their chance or will they be strong enough to be a team leader at some point. Or will they be destined to be a role player throughout their career. It’s a difficult situation and one as a coach I sympathize with. There has been many a rider that have quit the sport for this specific reason. It’s just something that has to be dealt with by every rider in their own way.
Within the amateur ranks, teams give different individuals at different races opportunities to win. But how many times have you sat there with your team, listing your “A” races and 10 other teammates have that same race! At the professional level, it’s much different as they are paid to do a job. We all love the super domestique from a fan perspective, but you wonder how happy they are playing that supporting role all the time. You either accept it or move on. So, as you can see if you can be patient and understand this unique situation a lot of riders are thrust into, it may help you over time be more successful.
When you think it about, bike racing can become a life lesson. It’s about asking yourself why you are bike racing in the first place. It’s about being persistent and patient. About having both short-term and long-term adjustable goals and plans. It’s about flexibility and perspective.
It’s really important to also track your progress. There will be many times when your progress stalls and you question your sanity. Having something like performance testingresults to look back on and gain perspective on your racing career is very important, at ALL levels. And remember, there will always be ups and downs in your cycling career. It’s about having an overall trend upward in results and progress. Think of it in terms of your career being like the stock market!
Ride safe, ride strong
Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past 10 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.