Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Don't Listen to Bike Races or Gordon Ramsey

Nick Sachanda's post over on Nick vs. Gravity got me thinking about goals and focus in training. Nick had a breakout season in 2010, attracting a lot of attention, first, for being huge, and second for being fast--his solo winning move at Reston was jaw-dropping.

Since then, unfortunately, Nick's had a rougher time. He's struggled to avoid being dropped, and when I saw him at DCCX, he seemed downright discouraged. As he states in his blog, "8 weeks of being really excited about cross and yet showing up and getting mercilessly beaten force doubt and introspection." He's clearly re-thinking his approach to training ("I've been doing it wrong. All wrong."), and has decided to switch focus from losing weight to gaining strength. "Maybe," he continues, "I ought to focus on getting better at what I am already good at, rather than at what I am no good at."

I don't know if Nick's changed focus will make him a better racer. I will agree that bike racing is unrelentingly unforgiving. And I don't know if the message he's been getting from getting his ass kicked in 'cross is the right message to be heard.

I imagine bike racing like Gordon Ramsey.

Sometimes it should cause us to rethink our plans, but usually it's just giving us a hard time because it's its nature. We should not take what a single bike race (or Gordon Ramsey at any age) tells us as if it's the word of God.

Nick's experience reminds me of Richie Porte's experience, as profiled in Cyclingnews article. Porte's 2010 was breakout; he won the TT at the Tour of Romandie and wore the pink jersey at the Giro for much of the race. Everyone expected even more of the 26 year old in 2011, including Porte himself. But Porte suffered a poor Spring and Summer, the result, he says, of "trying to re-invent the wheel. All I had to do, really, was maybe improve in a few areas when instead we tried to improve on too much. It just got a little bit too much. I got sick, and through no one else's fault but my own, I kept on training and that led to us chasing our tails a bit."

Porte took the wrong lesson from his 2010 season, and in shooting for unrealistic goals he ruined most of his season. I'm not sure what's realistic for Nick, but I hope he sets goals that work for him and that are not purely the result of the consistent pummeling that CX has been giving him.

Our desire to do too much, or to adjust our goals with every setback, is even more true of those of us with less divine genes and masters racers. Says well-known coach and three-time Olympian John Howard, "It's a staggering fact that most of the masters cyclists that I have coached who have interests outside of cycling are the ones who end up on the three-tiered podium."

Start with clear, achievable goals. I'm glad Nick is circling races on the calendar. That's the place to start.

Next, determine what is needed to do well in these races: top-end speed, breakaway power, or climbing ability.

Determine your training by the requirements of your event.

Lastly, judge your progress by your movement along milestones toward achieving these requirements.

These milestones should be entirely physiological: power, power/weight, average heart rate, average speed up Anglers, average speed/two laps at Hains. Anything measurable that is not interrupted by that crazy, irrational Gordon Ramsey of a sporting event: the bike race.

Good luck, and happy goal-setting.

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