By Bruce Hendler
With another season of racing just starting, it’s time to look back at last year, review our accomplishments and determine whether it was a successful season or not. Did we achieve our goals? Did we have fun? I want to repeat that – Did we have fun? Was training a chore or a thrill? What were your highs and lows? The majority of us are in this sport to improve and when we don’t show the amount of improvement we wish, we look to understand what happened. This leads back to my original question and the answer I was looking for, namely: it’s all about trends.
So, what can the stock market teach us about our season? The stock market is about trends. It’s not about day to day changes (or, preferably, gains); it’s about a long term return on our investments (historically 11%). This is the same way we should view our riding seasons. The important question to examine is which way is the trend moving? Are we improving? Are we accomplishing our goals? Are we learning new aspects of the sport? Are we learning something new about ourselves?
Let me give you another analogy. When we are trying to lose weight, we are advised not to weigh ourselves every morning, but to only jump on the scale once a week, at the same time of the day (e.g., Monday mornings). It’s the overall trend of your weight, not the day to day fluctuations (which can sometimes vary by as much as 3-5 pounds) that matter. The same goes for us in our training and races. We all have down cycles, we will have days or even weeks when we don’t perform as well as we want. So, in keeping with the stock market analogy, it’s not as important to look at a single “window” of training and competition, but to look at the big picture and the overall trend of improvement.
Let’s ask some tough questions:
1. Have you gained fitness?
2. Have you gained confidence?
3. Have you gained new skills?
4. What has been your level of improvement?
One understanding that is important to develop is the reality that as we become better cyclists, our rate of improvement will slow. A corollary of this truth is that the better we get, the more hard days we have. The good news is that our good days will be at a higher level than ever before, but they may be more infrequent than they were when we were less fit. This becomes even more true the older we get.
If we don’t understand this phenomenon, we may view our lack of progress as “failure.” Of course, it is vital to understand when we have genuinely plateaued, which means that we likely need to change our training regimen in order to continue our improvement. It is important though to be able to have enough perspective on where we are at in our development as athletes to be able to view these difficult days and (occasionally) weeks as part of moving the trend upward.
How can we track these all important trends? How do we know if we are improving and really moving in a positive direction?
• To track our physical progress, we can set up periodic physiological testing. Testing is a great way to mark improvement. The lab setting allows us to eliminate external variables and track progress in important markers (such as watts at threshold, a measure which changes with fitness). With my athletes, I like to set up two types of goals, lab goals and competition or event goals.
• If testing is not readily available to you, set up field tests. Pick a course and test yourself on it periodically throughout the year to see if there is improvement. If there’s not improvement, ask yourself some hard but necessary questions about your training habits.
• Find a good coach! Find a coach that not only send you workouts, but also “coaches” you. Someone you can sit down with and discuss all the other aspects of the sport beyond just the specific workouts. Set goals, track them and have a relationship that allows for open discussion of many issues ranging from weight management to life stress. The physical workouts (training program) should only be one portion of what a coach helps you with.
• Accept the reality that your lifestyle, training time and competition success will all fluctuate and likely eventually plateau over time. We only have a limited amount of time available to train, given the fact that this is just a hobby.
• Monitor your self talk. What are you truly saying to yourself? Is your attitude good or is it bad? Are you saying encouraging and realistic things to yourself? Remember, how you view yourself is pretty much the direction you will take yourself.
• Always think of the big picture. Remember the positive things that happen, the days you felt great, and just be aware that you will have down days and races and know that the true challenge is the overall journey you have taken. Your growth as an athlete and a person comes from persisting during the difficult times and maintaining awareness that challenging moments are only temporary.
Taking on the challenge to become a better athlete is a huge commitment. One of the most important things to remember is that it is all about the journey. The training, the tracking of trends, the ups and downs are all about the journey! You should pat yourself on the back for taking on this challenge of moving the trend of improvement in an upward direction. And one more thing, if you do have a good stock tip, PLEASE pass it on!
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, <span