So, this past weekend marked the third week of racing in a row for me, and basically the first racing of the year, not counting the 15 minutes uphill at the San Bruno Hill Climb on January first.
A few things have struck me after racing the Madera, San Dimas and Redlands Classic stage races…
1) After feeling a little nervous about racing, I was pleasantly surprised at how decent I felt racing after having done no local “training” races.
2) No matter how much I debate in my mind whether I’m getting better or by how much I might or might not be improving, I can always trust in steady, smart training to pay off in the long run. And, I can rely on occasional maximal efforts in training to find and expand my personal limits.
3) Having high expectations of yourself and others having high expectations of you can yield good results, as long as you know and believe that you are capable of meeting them.
To expand a little, if you feel like reading more,
1) In previous years I’ve tried to ease into racing and at least do a handful of local races (both crits and road races) as a means of warming up for bigger races. I absolutely think this has been worth while. I’ve always felt that it was a good way to get hard workouts in the schedule that require higher intensities than I might focus on in my day to day training. Basically, racing has seemed like a good way to get some extra snap in the legs for racing better in subsequent races. It also seems like a good way to get once again used to fast group riding. But, now that I’ve been racing for maybe 5 years now, I feel as though maybe my body is more readily able to remember old race-preparedness that I’ve had in the past with fewer high-intensity workouts. I also feel like it’s easier to integrate into pack riding now than in years past.
As far as fitness is concerned, that was my main interest, and I think my lesser need for using racing as training for more racing comes down to the fact that it’s probably easier for your body to do things that it’s done in the past, even if you haven’t been training for it as much, versus training to do it the first time around. Also, in my case, I think it is also largely due to the fact that I’m not a very snappy rider and developing the small amount of snap that I have probably takes less work than it would take a proper sprinter or crit rider to prepare for their best performances. With that in mind, I would bet that most sprinters would need more racing and hard workouts to get into good sprinting form.
2) I’m always hoping to get to the highest level of fitness that I can for a given point in my development, but since I’m still developing and seem to be getting a little stronger each year, it’s hard to say exactly where I should be at a given point in time. Should I be 1% faster than I was last year or two years ago? 2%? 3%? 5%? It’s hard to say. Also, each year the gains may be smaller and smaller, so it becomes harder to identify those gains. And, each year, it may be one or two things that get a little better, but not every component of my riding. So, where do I look for improvement?
I’m once again reminded of my belief that hard training is the best way to find, explore and expand your limits. Every year, I’ll do a lot of hard workouts over the course of my preparation for specific races, and most of them are just that, hard workouts. But, sometimes, the hard workout I do seems to work out just right so that I can see that I’m somehow just a little better than I was last month or last year, because I went up a hill a little bit faster or set a new best power for 2 minutes or 5 minutes or 40 minutes or whatever. But, at the same time, as I get stronger, and presumably closer to my maximal potential, where the gains in fitness are smaller and smaller, it becomes less frequent that I see a workout that shows that I’m better. So, when I see those relatively rare occasions that my performance has improved a little, I begin to question whether or not it’s an improvement or just a fluke. Maybe the wind was better that day? Maybe my power meter wasn’t properly calibrated? Maybe the last time I did a maximal effort up this hill I wasn’t as well rested as I was this time around? It’s always hard to say.
But, when it comes down to it, even though I’m not sure how much stronger I am than last year, or two years ago, or whatever, I always want to give my best effort on any given race course. So, when I went to San Dimas and Redlands and did the uphill TTs, I wasn’t sure if I’d finish 1st or 10th, but I always know that I’ll deeply regret it if I feel like I left any extra time out on the course. So at the race, I forget everything and just focus on giving my best effort that day, and it usually works out. I was happy to see that I finished 3rd and 5th this year, better times and better standings than last, so it seems that I’m still slowly getting better…
But I think that each of those (confidence and questioning) things are key traits for a lot of successful athletes. It’s good to always be testing yourself and looking for where your limits are, because doing those workouts that test your limits will also expand them. But, I think it’s also good to question things, and always be looking for small changes to your approach. If you’re confident that you’re doing everything right, then you may stop looking for places to improve, and thereby limit your potential to improve. I’d rather be confident that I’m doing everything smartly, but question where I could tweak things to get an extra 2% somewhere in my training, racing, recovery, or whatever.
3) Lastly, there are a lot of studies that I’ve come across over the years that basically say something to the effect that if you don’t think you can do something, you’re usually right, but if you think you can do something, it greatly increases the possibility that you can. It’s good if you have the expectation that you can and will do something, or if someone else expects you to. Still, I think it’s necessary to look at it in a positive light. Sometimes people choke and give a sub-optimal performance when they’re stressed about performing up to their expectations and focus on the expectation and how hard it is to do the task at hand. In contrast, if the expectation is viewed as merely a expression that something can be done and no reason it can’t, then if you just give your best effort, you’ll have a good chance of meeting that expectation. If you’re focused not on how incredibly difficult it is to have a personal best performance, and rather just focus on the simple fact that it’s possible, then with the knowledge that you can, you can just try to realize that potential and actually do it. Even something as simple as tying your shoelaces is hard if you focus on each individual step, but if you just do it, focusing on the end goal and kind of zoning out in the process, then you’ll do it efficiently every time.
So, why not train hard to expand your limits and to know that they are expanding, and then when race day comes, you’ll just have to focus on doing your best with the knowledge that your limits are better than they were last time. With nothing else in mind, you’ll probably end up seeing just where your new limits lie.