Self-Justification

Originally Published Dec.2010

December is a time when students stress for fall semester final exams, when real people work their butts off to pay their holiday shopping bills and for a road cyclist, it’s a time when training for next season comes to the fore. Now a couple of months into the off-season, riders often plan out their next season by asking the BIG questions. Stuff like:

What went well, what didn’t?
What are my goals for next season?
How am I going to get there?
Am I going to get a coach or am I going to change coaches?
When am I going to start training intensity?

Since October, I have been working with five coaching clients. Each client has different time restraints, cycling abilities and long-term goals. I have also been coaching myself, which some may think is crazy or ignorant as next season is my first year as a professional and there is more on the line than ever before. However as a coach, both for my clients and myself, I have realized just how important trust is for any athletic success.

Regardless of everything that I have learned in terms of the types of workouts I need to do, the best stretching techniques or the latest and greatest in recovery practices, nothing beats trust. If an athlete knows that they are doing everything that they can to improve, they will push harder during their intervals and make smarter decisions during their recovery. There is no way a client will finish that last minute of a 20 minute interval as hard as they possibly could if they don’t believe, down to their core, that what they are doing is the right thing to do. This may seem very old hat to some of you, but just hold on.

Some cyclists, after reviewing their season and setting lofty goals for the next, decide that a coach is needed to guide them along. However there are different types of coaches.

If you want someone to suggest a training protocol for your next bike ride, you can get a “trainer”. This is essentially the lowest price point of any coaching program. It involves a generic training plan that accounts for your current time commitments and training availability at the outset of the relationship. Small modifications due to unforeseen stress and lack of sleep are usually made by the athlete and once a week to once a month, a rider will check in with their “trainer”. This can be a very beneficial relationship if the workouts are completed. However, it can be extremely destructive if a client has trouble finding time or motivation to change their training or lifestyle habits. The classic example is missed workouts, which often culminates in the compounding and psychologically dangerous situation of attempting a planned workout without finishing those that precede it. Since the workout was a lot of harder than the rider expected, they may start questioning if there is a better way to reach their goals. Essentially, they stop believing in their “trainer” and their fitness program.

The next level, which should not be confused with a ‘trainer’, is a “coach”. Often more accessible with a greater vested interest in the success of their client, a coach is there to suggest small things like race strategy and recovery techniques, as well as emotional support. The personal relationship is often much more significant which greatly lends itself to the formation of trust and an athlete’s belief in all their training exercises. Anyone can be a trainer, but not everyone can be a coach. I don’t know if I am a good coach. You’ll have to ask my clients. But I do know that if your coach believes that you can do more than you ever thought you could, it shows and sooner or later, the client starts amazing themselves.

However, having a coach that believes in you during the good times, is like getting flowers on the podium. They are nice, but you don’t really need them except to make a nice picture. You need a coach when you want to quit. When it’s January 20th, the season is two months away, you are stressed, on the verge of getting sick, it’s been raining or snowing for three weeks, you don’t believe that the types of workouts you are doing will get you to where you want to be and if you don’t get some answers quick, you might just do something crazy like coach yourself. In such a case, you better hope that your coach is a hell of a good friend and mentor that will help you dig yourself out of this massive hole you created for yourself by a lack of communication with your coach over the past few weeks. Trust and honesty are critical. Ask the tough question. A good coach, mentor or advisor will be able to answer these questions. You know you found a great coach when they say: “your training for the week is the sleep! or to take a week off! To write your damn thesis! Or finish those wicked hard intervals that you think might be easy but won’t be, especially on Sunday as the season’s peak event is only two weeks away.”

In October, when I was making this decision to coach myself, I had a lot of doubt in my mind. What if I mess it up? What if I burn out? It wasn’t until I MADE the decision that I got rid of the doubt. I knew that it would be very important to be objective during my program scheduling and just as subjective as I have been in the past when I train on or off the bike. And as a result, I have made small changes to my training plan over the past eight weeks to accommodate unforeseeable changes, but we are not here to talk about my training plan. The point is that I believe that what I have set out in front of me is realistic, completable and will get me to my goals by the spring. Of course if it is very important to have a mentor or an advisor so that a self-coached athlete can check in with a supporter for a completely outside perspective. I have been fortunate to find such a supporter and am very thankful for their insight.

So if you are having trouble looking at your training schedule and fathoming how you are going to complete it, then make changes! Cut out stuff! Make it manageable! Be proactive! Include enough time to guarantee that when you get on your bike you want to be there! That you want to crush this interval and that maybe, even though you know at some point it is going to be uncomfortable (like sitting on a couch for five days without riding because you need to get hungry to ride!), that it will take you one step closer to your long term goals. The most important part of your “training” is that you believe that today’s “training” is productively building your capacity to crush fools and “take it” come race day, no matter what the “training” consists of!

If you don’t believe, change your plan.

 

Skillz

Cycling is a combination of physiological talent (ability to utilize oxygen and go up hill) and skill (ability to manoeuvre one’s bike along the course and through the pack). One cannot improve one’s talent; one can only develop their physiological and psychological potential over a long period of time.  However, one can improve one’s skill set very quickly; therefore it becomes a rider’s obligation to become as skilled on their bicycle as possible prior to racing season.  

This is one of the final challenges I designate to all of my new Toque Coaching clients. Whether it be through grass practice with friends, racing cyclocross, or practicing wheelies in the park with street shoes during your rest day, learning the skills to handle your bike with ease and precision during unexpected moments of danger can mean the difference between winning a race or wasting all of your countless hours of training. 
 
In a race, conditions can change quickly leaving one to deal with over-pumped tires on oil-covered roads. Take this year’s Boise Twilight criterium race for example. We started in 100 degree temperatures but  within minutes it was an all out war of single-file riders split apart by crashes, panicked mechanics, screaming fans and stressed team managers. You can read all about my account of the race (Target Races) or check out the newest article by Manual For Speed: Dry and Warm to an Ice Rink in 20 minutes

December Cycling: Mini Camps

December is a tricky time of year for cyclists with too much time on their hands. How hard should I train? I don’t want to burn out! But I don’t want to waste my time! What to do?

Step 1: Look at your race season. How many days of stress are you going to be dealing with? Multiple days in a row?

Step 2: Create your own training camps/mock stage races.  Shoot for 3-4 days in a row, followed by 2-3 days easy. This way you can usually target good weather and weekends.

Step 3: Plan it out, make it hard, get it done and then take Christmas off. Place more emphasis on the recovery portion of these “on days” than on the rides themselves as it is by monitoring differences in sensations due to changes to nutrition, sleep and general stress that will provide the most long term benefits. Learn your body. Take notes.

Step 4: Realize that each day is a notch in the tree, and only in time can it become a canoe. Precision and patience today = perfection tomorrow. So do as Krogg would do, and go swing that axe. Then have big caveman nap!

Finding a coaching style

If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” (Ken Robinson)
MUSIC
As both a coached cyclist and a coach myself, I have the unique opportunity of experiencing both sides of the objective/subjective dichotomy. As a rider, I ask questions of my coach that are based mostly upon subjective feelings and comments; his answer is based around keeping my mind focused on what is important…extracting the best performance out of my ability. As a coach, I answer my clients’ questions with information that will help that manage their situation and simplify their total stress level, again in an attempt to help them extract their best possible performance. Thus coaches don’t always tell the client everything! They tell them what they need to know!

When I worked as my own coach during my neo-pro season of 2011, I had to have objective AND subjective discussions with myself. I found the best way to plan and complete my race season preparations was to sit down for 1-2 days at the beginning of each month to objectively analyze my previous training and establish goals and protocols for the coming weeks. If I wrote it down, I would do it! Those were 1-2 days of stress! Then come a training day, I would revert to the subjective rider, how do I feel? Am I motivated? Recovered? If not, I will modify the plan slightly, but not totally toss it aside. This way I could take solace during my rest days and satisfaction after completing my hardest.

So how does a coach keep it all in order? Coaches should build checklists! And for that matter, so should teachers! There was a great piece by Dan Coyle (one of my favorite authors) recently discussing this. Plus, with checklists that bred a means to an end, what can instill an atmosphere between the client/student and the coach/teacher that fosters communication, trust and eventually creativity! Building a lifetime appreciation for learning either through athletic pursuits or artistic journeys.

Find Your Own Style