Fitness starting point – As you begin your quest for a higher level of fitness (versus last year), know your starting point. Ask yourself this question. Was your training and racing season successful and if so, do you feel like you can build upon last year’s fitness and stress you put on your body? Defining successful is, of course, a subjective term, but can be as simple as a program that allowed you to feel good, not get sick, and in general enter races with good energy and focus. Remember that every year, your fitness can build upon itself and you need to reassess your starting point. Performance testing can be a valuable tool in determining your starting point of fitness and training zones.
Know your end point – How many times have you heard about having attainable and realistic goals? An athlete without specific goals is like a ship without a destination or rudder, where the wind current just blows the ship any which way. Discuss goals with your coach and teammates. Use last year’s goals to define this year’s. Having specific goals is more than just saying you want to peak or win a particular event. It’s about taking yourself through a process or journey that allows you to understand your body and mind and how it reacts to specific issues during the season. In other words, it’s a learning tool and road map in addition to a destination point.
The time factor – Understand that true improvement and changes in fitness take time. Every athlete is different and every athlete responds to different stimuli. Improved fitness as an endurance athlete is NOT like changing your grip on the golf club to eliminate a hook or slice. We are talking about the development of better physiology (heart, lungs, muscle) and gaining race experience that can only be achieved through a lot of training and racing. Realize that there’s lots of room for improvement over the course of an individual year and over a number of years as you gain physical ability and experience. Therefore, you may not get there right away, but you can go farther than you think!
Tactics and strategy – While a basic level of physical ability allows you into the door for athletic success, experience and tactics often define who wins from a group of equally-fit cyclists. Make it a point this season to really focus on the tactical side of the sport versus just the physical training. Ultimately, it’s the tactics and strategies you employ that will lead to your success. As mentioned above this takes time at races. Set a goal to work on tactics and strategy a certain amount of hours per week or month. I can tell you if bike racers spend just a fraction of their time focused on tactics as they do their physical training; they would be much better bike racers. Consider the AthletiCamps race school as an option also!
Do you need help? Perhaps this is the year to hire a coach or get some feedback on your specific training program that a book or computer program cannot provide. I know for a fact that there are four qualified coaches that write for Pez that take their athletes very seriously. It’s what they do for a living and have been doing it for many years with a lot of success. For some athletes, it may be that you just need someone to hold you accountable or to bounce ideas off of. A good coach will help you do that and find the proper relationship that will lead to success over time.
Education – A well-educated athlete is a successful athlete. Read, explore, and question new training techniques. Be a student of the sport and of the sport’s incredible history. Attend camps and clinics, talk to other successful racers. Find out what makes them tick. It’s not just a coincidence that they succeed or they are just “strong.” Racers that win work hard to do so.
Art or science – Remember that training is more of an art than a science. Expect the unexpected in terms of designing and implementing a program. Start out the year by defining what would be a successful year by your standards. Remember that there will be speed bumps along the way and everything may not go according to plan for a variety of reasons (sickness, work, travel, family.) Have a positive attitude and be flexible in adjustments to your training. If it were as easy as following a book’s plan, everyone would be successful. The human body is a very complex system and requires trial and error to figure out what is going on. And I can tell you, as soon as you think you figured it out, it throws you another curve ball!
Balance – Training techniques have changed a lot over the years, especially for amateurs. Master’s bike racing is quite popular now all over the US and Europe. This is a good thing. I certainly couldn’t have imagined my father’s generation being so serious about an endurance sport at my current age! An additional piece to think about is how to develop balance by doing some form of cross training, and possibly engaging in an additional activity like yoga, pilates, or stretching. These can have a positive impact on both your physical and mental abilities. Does it directly impact your fitness level? Probably not, but I can tell you that you will go into the season a much more balanced athlete with a solid mind and body.
Take care of yourself – Take care of yourself starting now. It will have a huge impact over a very long and difficult season. Proper rest, good nutrition, and things like scheduling regular massages will help you through this year’s ups and downs. Trust me when I say that it’s the little things that you do that make the difference, and that going through the year with a priority of taking care of yourself will pay big dividends over time.
And most importantly, enjoy the sport and the journey of training. I cannot say this enough. It’s only a hobby for most riders. Keep everything in perspective. Realize that we are fortunate enough just to be able to ride our bikes and improve our fitness!
Ride safe, ride strong and Happy New Year!
Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past 9 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.