We live in a society where you are constantly watched. We analyze and scrutinize each other with easy armchair criticism and comfortably comment without recourse using tools like social media as a barrier or protector. Professionals live in the spotlight with very little place to hide. This counts for the good and the bad unfortunately.
This weekend we will watch our favorite warriors race up close and personal at the World Cup venue in Stellenbosch for the first UCI XC event of he season. I love racing, seeing the ebb and flow of momentum as each rider will show what how their preparation has worked, or on the flipside, how they have come unprepared for the beast that is racing.
I’m not sure of the outcome for most, but I know this: In order to have success of any kind you have to be very critical of yourself and your performance. That is indicative and a necessary evil of the process of learning. However, take no notice of anything or anyone outside of your own work, as it is your voice, your way of expressing your art.
It is the best season down South right now. Sun is shining and we are back riding and training after a short winter hibernation. The first races have started and we are have dusted off the cobwebs, looking forward to better and faster results than last year.
This time of the year I have numerous requests for shortcut tips for getting better and faster. I also have many parents asking what their kids can do to improve their performance. The pressure of modern society creates a need for a structured and measured approach to everything we do. So we want to short cut the real lessons for the biggest possible engine in the shortest possible time. We do forget the vehicle that houses the engine all too often. Those of you that remember Mr Myagi from that movie in the 80’s will understand the importance of ‘wax on – wax off’. There is no crane kick without a clean car. First the basics, then the showstopper final.
So what does this mean for a beginner and or junior rider? Well, the most important gains in performance in the beginning phases of a sport comes from neuromuscular improvements and not from increased capacity. So you just need to learn how to use muscles and the tanks that fuel them more effectively before you try to increase the size of capacity of the body. Only after 2-3 years of riding will you get significant long term adaptations to training. A junior starting off shouldn’t accumulate more than say 150 hours of riding a year, and no more than 200-300 even after riding for 2-3 years. I believe that too many beginners and juniors get pushed too hard to perform and therefore never learn the basic skills to be a better rider. Or to enjoy the bike you ride.
So the take away message is this: spend your time and money on skills improvement, leave the performance training and bike upgrades for last in the queue. You will get better results, I promise you. Ride the bike, as often as you can. Challenge yourself without losing enjoyment – because that’s why we ride in the first place.
I ask myself this question regularly. Can we actually find peace when we are moving? I often hear people saying that they need exercise. It’s their church, the place where they find their flow.
Last year around my birthday, Bronwyn asked me if I ever plan to fulfill my dream of completing an Ironman. You see, ever since I was a schoolboy, I had this morbid fascination with the Ironman distance. Being the mindful partner that she is, she remembers things like this. She also realizes that I’m not getting any younger, so without hesitation, she said I should go for it.
In pursuit of perfect parenting, she seldom misses a step. We have 4 kids, and training for an Ironman event takes significant sacrifices. She knew this and still encouraged. Did the first few months of training with me, just in case I lacked the ‘motivation’ needed. I have completed the training, registered and sit on the eve of a life long dream, but also one of the biggest physical challenges. I hope to complete it, not just for my own goals, but also to honor her and to show my kids that the impossible is likely when your spirit is strong, your body is well prepared and your mind can imagine it.
Back to the original question, is exercise a good method of catharsis? I think the answer lies in the direction you are looking. If you are running away from something, it’s almost always going to catch you, but if you run towards something, you can find the most amazing peace.
I love mountainbiking. I am very privileged to make a living from it and enjoy every second of being involved with it. Whether making a sale, sharing some advice or discovering a new place to ride, it gives me a sense of joy and a freedom that not too many other activities other than when my heart skips a beat when I see my wife walking into the room or hearing the little footsteps of my kids running down the hallway. These are things that I feel passionate about.
In the last while I have discovered that there is a different aspect to my life that I have not given enough attention to. This is my purpose. What would I like to achieve in life, what motivates me to keep going? I have done some serious searching in these areas of my life, and have come to the conclusion that the difference between my passions and my purpose hinders on the following basic rule. No position nor possession can deter me from my purpose, whereas my passion relies on it. To be a better father, husband and ultimately person should not depend on what I have, but who I chose to become. I have a clear vision of my calling, please come and ask me about it if you see me around…
With the biggest race of our team season starting tomorrow, I am confident that we are ready to serve our purpose, to align our passion with this and ultimately to represent mountainbiking for what it is. Freedom, adventure and a shared vision.
South Africans have this curious habit of using races to train for other races. It is a strange occurrence, but might have something to do with that race we all love in March. I totally agree that you should create race mileage, test equipment and all at the same time asses your general conditioning for race-ready status as part of a periodized training plan or blocks of training load to prepare for a race or season of racing. But you would be mistaken to take the results of that “preparation race” as an absolute in context of your training plan and a reflection of your possible performance in future races.
We use training blocks to stimulate the body in a certain way, whether it is to create a strong base to platform other training systems from, or to increase strength or speed, the best way to test the outcome is in race day performance. It is imperative to keep this goal in mind when you test the outcome though. Your performance on this day should indicate improvement in the sections you were training for, and should not reflect too much on future races. Too often I have seen riders change specific training into panic mode, driving extreme distances and intensities to ‘catch up’ for time lost or sessions missed. You should trust your plan, give every race day its merits and start fresh tomorrow. Today is hard enough without stressing about what challenges tomorrow might bring. Take every day as it comes and trust that you have done enough homework to pass the test.
December is a special month. We force 2 months into November, only to attempt to take most of December as off time, then only to come back in January and try to pick up the pieces from the mess we left before we went on leave. No real recovery there, just a break in a broken system.
Training and preparation for the following race season follows eerily similar formula. Race for 11 months in a season, take 2 weeks off, start slowly for a week or two and then put the hammer down again! There is simply no sustainability in it. Apparently in business there are some clever folks in HR that have systems to monitor burnout, but in sport (even for weekend warriors) we simply do not apply those systems effectively. The easiest way to see if the system is broken, is when the athlete fails. This can range from muscle soreness right through to more serious issues like heart complications or metabolic dysfunction.
December holidays are great for training, the weather is good, there is ample time and the atmosphere for training is optimal. The risk for overdoing it like a bad 6 course family meal is just too great. Just like you exercise portion control with Christmas dinner, make sure you do the same in training. Enjoy every workout, but make sure you measure the distance and intensity carefully. Less is more, not more is more. You can create a great base for the coming season, but you can also build a wobbly platform for a disaster of a year. If you miss a training session, forget about it, there is not catching up. Loading it later in the week is like pouring concrete in a half dug foundation. You are permanently messing with the way the building can carry load.
My advice, switch off your phones, stare at the braai fire for a little longer and make sure you rest well this festive season. Spend time with your loved ones. Next year will be long and hard. But we will be ready and rested. Merry Christmas everyone.
I’ve always liked science. Not so much the theory, but the application of said theory. I like the cause and effect application of science. The human body is a fascinating machine. It responds to stimulus in a simple and effective manner in almost all circumstances. Good coaches have a fair understanding of how to prod the machine into action. Great coaches have a sense of timing to that stimulus that defies logic.
You see, timing with training is everything. Every person responds in the same way to training, they just vary in time to the response. Elite athletes have a short response time as a result of long term adaptations to exercise, the fitness is not so much the challenge, but more the shape of their fitness. This is the topic of long conversations: the true difference in shape – from one day to the next – and how this determines successful results. What makes an athlete ‘dig deeper’ than another on any given day and how can we quantify that success? How do we bottle a result and repeat it?
I have a habit of debriefing with athletes and management after stage races. Simple things like how we rated our performance rather than the result. This gives a fairer reflection of the success and then how we can improve on the result, or replicate it.
Over the years, there has been some constant factors with successful results, which led me to this simple formula that I keep in mind when approaching a season or race:
B = BODY
M = MIND
So let us break this down…
Body: If you want to learn to play the harp, then you must practice to play the harp. You see, the harp is one of the most difficult instruments to master. But you cannot play the piano and hope that would make you a harp player. To be successful at sport, you have to do physical training. That means you have to overload the body in a specific and constructive manner over time to adapt to the competition environment, including effective rest and recovery from the overload to give your body the time to recover before you stimulate it again. This is pretty hard, but the easy part of the formula. There are plenty of people that can help with this, they make their living from it. Or you can try the school of life method, trail and error. I’ve come to the stage in my life where I’m happy to learn from others, I have enough scars from the school of life version… J
Mind: To endure any kind of suffering, especially the physical kind described in body, then you have to be motivated. Motivation takes all kind of shapes or forms, but the lasting and most effective ones are those that come from the inside. You have to love what you do, otherwise there is very little longevity to it. That little bit of overflow ‘love for the game’ will go a long way to pushing your body that little further when it feels like stopping. To be passionate is a requirement for success.
Spirit: The unexplained shift of performance that comes from somewhere else. Sports commentators like to refer to it as momentum. I prefer grace. You see, grace by definition is unmerited favour. Not something you can plan for, but as an athlete or lover of sport, something that I am very fond of. The sense of peace that comes with it is indescribable and something that I embrace with open arms and show great thanks for. I know where my grace comes from. Do you?
Fear: One of the most powerful motivators, but never for a very long time. You see, if you don’t overcome your fear, then it will most certainly overcome your performance. This can be fear of failure, fear of competition, fear of discomfort or many other forms of this dreaded disease. Finding an effective way to deal with fear is crucial to success. Don’t be scared to seek professional advice here, many people study for a long time to help you in this area. If you don’t like the first person that advises you, then find another opinion.
In conclusion, success should be measured with the whole person in mind. The truly greats have a different approach to measuring performance. They want to better themselves rather than just beating the opposition. The journey to get to the event as a whole person is as important as the actual competition result.
Yesterday we celebrated 100 stages at the Absa Cape Epic. I was reminiscing with some friends about the early years. Hardtail 26ers over 160km, cooking, cleaning, shopping, treatments and moving day every day. That last factor means very little to the newbie, but for the seasoned supporter this is the back breaker. Long days can become very long.
Packing, stacking, moving. Simple things can be life changing for supporters. A simple beer or chocolate can make a hard day easier.
Which brings me to showers. I firmly believe that a good shower can change your mood completely. The first years of the Absa Cape Epic was always a chase for the showers. Limited time and poor habits from riders made the simple task of getting clean a real problem. 48hrs of protection was not just another marketing gimmic, it became a lifesaver.
The folks from Hansgrohe took this to heart and have created a little luxury in an otherwise unforgiving environment. If I had to compare the early ears of the race to the luxury we have now, I leave the 48hrs of protection behind me and make sure I make the cutoff time for showering on moving days by some time. The hot shower is my game changer. Here’s to Hansgrohe and my hot shower! Cheers!
In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterised by complete absorption in what one does. (That’s what Wikipedia says anyway)
The day before a stage race, I try to find a quiet place and pray. Its my way of finding peace and preparing for the flow of the week. Stage racing is not undo-able, its just continuous. Every day is busy and long. Finding a good race rhythm early puts you in good stead for the race. And because everything in stage racing is cumulative, what you do well on day 1 and 2 will save much energy and time on day 4 and 5.
So my advice before hitting a stage race? Find some time to hit your favorite trail. Move away from the circus, the stress that we call the race village and go and find your flow. Remember why you do this thing called cycling. Put it in context to the priorities in your life, go home and thank your support structures, after all, they allow you the space to do it. And then make your peace. Because once you strap that number on the front of your bike, the war begins…