That’s torn it, I’ve gone and said fat. The klaxons go off and everybody runs for cover because fat and cycling have been mentioned in the same breath. However, it doesn't hurt to have a dig around perceptions of appearance and performance in cycling. Humans are social animals and, like it or not, how we look and how we identify is important. We judge, and are judged, at least in part by our own perception of aesthetics. This is particularly true of cyclists where ‘skinny’ has been seen as interchangeable with ‘good’. How true is this? The way competitive cyclists should look is culturally ingrained and whilst preconceptions are being broken down, there remain unanswered about how weight, aesthetics aside, impacts performance.
Body image is a sensitive topic. The social pressure to look a certain way or be a particular size is pervasive. It used to be a something that was thought to effect women way more than men but that perception is changing. Mainstream media, social media and advertisers have got a lot to answer for in cementing images of what purports to be ‘ideal’ because, in the process of making a great deal of money, they’ve caused a great deal of misery. In elite competitive environments the pressure to look a certain way can be intense, commonly in those sports that emphasise aesthetics like gymnastics, but also in endurance sports like triathlon, cycling, running where ‘thin’ is often seen as a prerequisite. It continues to lead to, amongst other horrible things, disordered eating and poor mental health. It is the cause of much angst and unhappiness.
How you identify and whether you are comfortable with the way you look in regard to weight and body fat is very much a personal matter for you. However, like it or not, how you view yourself will be informed by what you think others think of you. It's uniquely human. My observations here are addressed at riders who are within a couple of standard deviations from the mean and not suffering from disordered eating, physical or mental illness. I’m not here to add to the misery. If you want to be a 120kg climber or a 55kg sprinter you can be. The 'type' of cyclist you want to be is what you chose to be, not what the power profiles tell you.
I'm acutely aware that I bring my own cultural prejudices to the discussions so, for the purposes of self-disclosure, I self-identify as a tubby cyclist. I’m 180 centimetres (5’11) and weigh 76.5kgs (about 12 stone 2lbs) at the time of writing. This is pretty much as light as I get, and I’ve been over 80kgs (13 stone plus) in the last 2 years as you will see from the pictures. I routinely view myself as carrying more weight than I want and ideally, I’d like to be 73.2kgs (11.5 stone). This is an arbitrary figure and, as an adult I’ve only weighed this once and that was when I’d been in a coma for two weeks. Effective but wholly inconvenient.
‘...How did you win that you fat bastard...?’ Said by a Danish 'friend' after a race.
Body Mass Index
Calculated as Kg/m², the authorities say a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) is 18.5 to 25 for an adult human. 25 to 30 represents overweight and 30 plus is obese. At 80kgs I would just, by the skin of my teeth fit in to ‘normal’ (BMI 24.7). At 76.5kgs I’m still on the high side of mid-point of normal at 23.6. Like many of us I’ve done the old ‘yeah but BMI is bollocks and I’ve got heavy bones and carry some muscle’ but it’s there or thereabouts as a measurement. The WHO and NHS are sticking with it so maybe we should too? As an aside, I was once criticised for describing myself as ‘a bit fat’ by somebody who was fatter than me but didn’t consider themselves to be a bit fat. Seemingly, I was oppressing them with my identity. I did say it was a sensitive subject.
This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about...
I should say that I’m not a nutritionist, nor am I an exercise physiologist, I’m a cycling coach with an academic interest in psychology. However, I have been eating food all my life, I do exercise and have experience of being a bit fat. I’ve been coaching cyclists for over 10 years, mostly competitive amateur riders as well at the Great Britain Tx team. Although it’s not a specific question I ask when I gather data on riders, a comment about maintaining or more often losing weight invariably comes back. Like it or not, weight is important to cyclists so maybe giving the subject a wobble in the open is a healthy thing?
Will losing weight make me faster?
Depends. If you’re a 65kg elite racing cyclist with normal body fat almost certainly not, in fact losing weight will make no difference or might even make you slower, worse still, it might make you ill. However, if you’re, say, an 85kg or 95kg cyclist with frame designed to carry 75kg then yes, it almost certainly will.
First, is it true that power to weight ratio is most critical when the terrain goes up. So, if you’re not riding or racing in the Alps, maybe weight doesn’t matter? Aligned with this it is often said when it comes to steady state endurance events, time trials in particular, that weigh doesn’t matter because once a mass is up to speed, maintaining it takes no extra effort. All true, but there’s no such thing as flat in cycling. We’re always going up or down which, in turn, means the mass (that’s us on a bike) is constantly being accelerated or decelerated – it’s the nature of turning the pedals and making the bike move forward. Think about racing a crit and the multiple efforts involved in accelerating out of dead corners to stay with a bunch. The news gets worse. A smaller rider is likely to present a more effective aero dynamic profile to overcome the resistance of forcing bike and rider through the air. Not only that, but fat carried around the belly, chest and arms can restrict a rider from getting into an optimal aero position – important to time trialists or those looking to get the most out of an aero road bike.
I’ll make the point again, if you’re at a healthy weight, losing it will not make you faster. It risks making you not only slower but ill. And unhappy. In addition, if there is some 'excess' weight around but you're not racing, how much does weight really matter to you? It may be about body image than performance - both can be valid considerations. Conversely, if you’re carrying much more than your body frame should, it could well make you faster, more comfortable and improve your health.
Can you use cycling to lose weight?
Yes, any exercise with an aerobic component can help lose weight. Nutritionists, weight loss experts and physiologists will have a field day with this but, in order to lose weight, the body needs to be in calorie deficit, simply meaning more calories have to be expended than taken in. A heart rate monitor or, better still a power meter, gives a very accurate measure of energy used when riding. This is how the maths is supposed to work.
This is broad and the figures that apply to you will be unique, but in order to lose weight/fat, measuring what goes in and what goes out in calories is helpful. The one common denominator of ALL diets is that they aim to achieve calorie deficit.
Fat myth busting
Why is it so difficult to lose weight?
The maths is straightforward, achieve calorie deficit for a few weeks and, hey presto, a slimmer version appears. It makes one wonder why, according to the NHS the majority of adults in the UK are overweight and 25% of adults are obese, as are 20% of children aged 10-11.
For many, trying to lose weight is a miserable failure or procession of miserable failures over time. It’s so hard because the human brain is stuck in our evolutionary hunter-gatherer past. Its 200,000 year old circuitry considers high calorific foods like fats and sugars, to be scarce so we are driven by powerful survival instincts to eat them. Not some of them, but all of them if nobody is looking. What’s more, even though we know food is instantly available and plentiful, we’ll eat it when not hungry because our ancient brain thinks it might be a while before it’s available again. Humans have an efficient storage system for calories not immediately required for survival – body fat. This efficient storage is matched by a process of miserly release, which is why riding a bike for an hour is worth less than a single chocolate muffin. Riding is hard, eating muffins is easy. Sweets, crisps and sausage rolls taste great, kale, broccoli and cabbage taste like grass. Ain’t evolution a bitch?
Like saying maths is fun, there are those that say you can diet without feeling hungry. I don't think this is true. It takes a great deal of willpower, motivation and commitment to lose weight sustainably and then keep it off. Those of us who eat mindlessly for entertainment might not actually be ‘hungry’ when we consume calories, but we eat anyway. The diet and weight loss industry would like us to believe weight loss leads to ultimate happiness and spend millions on advertising to convince us being slimmer is the answer to all our problems. The industry is currently worth £2bn a year in the UK alone much of it made from those who have tried to lose weight multiple times before and are looking for a more 'palatable' solution.
For what’s it’s worth, I’ve found it helps to keep a food diary and to get familiar with what foods contains what calories. I weigh myself no more once a week at the same time on the same day. I try to stick at it and try not to lie too much on the diary – mine makes Lord of the Rings look factual. I’ve achieved partial and temporary success in managing my weight but the struggle is real and on going.
'...if you reckon you're so good, how come you're, you know, a bit fat innit?'... my old boss
It’s about WHAT you eat, not how much.
Yes and no. The human body has evolved into an efficient multi fuel engine. It can survive on very little food for a long time even if the food is crap. If the daily calorie consumption is made up entirely of Cola and chocolate it won’t be great but it’ll stumble along for a long time before something horrible happens. However, the age old advice of sticking to a healthy balanced diet including protein, carbohydrates and good fats still holds true for us cyclists. Leafy greens, colourful fruit and veg, lean meat, good quality food that is minimally processed, low in refined sugar and not mucked about with too much is best. I think most of us know what we should be eating by now, implementation is often the downfall.
Alcohol is a fitness and training killer, nutrition free calories that break down it to acetate in the body – only handy for cleaning white boards with. My poison of choice is refined sugar. I can eat sweets like a kid and, of course, if I don’t burn off the excess glycogen it creates, it is gratefully received by the fat storage system around my middle. Damn my 200,000 year old brain.
Am I eating enough?
A body holds between 1600 and 2000kcal of readily usable glycogen in the muscles and liver. At the 500kcal per hour Z2 estimate, that’s enough for 3-4 hours without having to top it up. Anybody who has hit the wall (it used to be called ‘bonking’ in the old days) will know how unpleasant it is to run out of glycogen. Dizziness, narrowing of focus and barely enough energy to turn the pedals. Of course, at Z2, fat is also being burned as an energy source along with carbohydrate (praise the Lord). However, to avoid running out of glycogen for a ride of 3 or more hours, start taking on carbohydrate well before this this time, probably no later than after the first hour of riding. Carb drinks and gels work well but bear in mind the body cannot physically absorb more than 60 to 80 grams of carbohydrate per hour (that equates to 240 to 400kcals per hour), take in more than this and you’ll just excrete it if you’re lucky or store it as fat if you’re not. My preference is for small bits of solid food, nutty bars, bananas, sometimes a proprietary energy bar.
If you’re trying to lose a few pounds, a 4 – 6 hours training per week is unlikely to indicate increased calorie consumption, at 6 – 12 hours per week it will and 12+ hours per week it will require more food and probably calorific supplements. Longer training weeks (12 hours plus) tend to be the preserve of professional riders and ultra-distance athletes. As a point of reference, during a Tour de France stage, a rider will burn between 6000 and 8000kcals. It’s hard, if not impossible, to eat this amount so whilst their rides include consumption of whole foods where possible, they are supplemented with gels, bar, drinks, and the like. Even so they are starting out at a body fat figure of, say 8%, and can end up at at sub 4%. That’s probably as unhealthy as the 25% body fat average of the non-cycling fraternity.
If you go for a calorie deficit of more than 500kcals per day (on average) you risk starving your body of the fuel it needs to burn fat – it’s counterproductive to losing weight AND to your training. At best you’ll feel tired, irritable and constantly hungry and may struggle to sleep. Without sufficient calories the body shuts down the systems it can do without (for example, normal periods for women) as the metabolism slows to survival mode. Any food it does get is likely to be stored as fat rather than made available for exercise. At its sinister end, this can be a starting point for disordered eating and RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport). This is an awful place to be and can lead to diagnosable mental illnesses. Don’t skip meals and don’t starve yourself!
Phew, well done for sticking with that. It might raise as many questions as it answers but I’d be fascinated to hear of your experiences and perception about weight and cycling if you’re willing to share them. Thanks for listening. Next, the Middle East crisis…
Rich Smith, an inveterate eater of sherbet lemons, coaches UK and internationally based riders and has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 12 years. He is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a final year psychology student. He spent 30 years responding badly to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching in 2015.
I have the privilege of coaching the Great Britain Transplant Cycling Team: The most exclusive cycling team in the world that nobody actually wants to be a member of. You see membership is free, but to qualify you need to have had a life supporting organ transplant. The riders you see above comprise a mix of heart, kidney, liver and bone marrow transplant recipients, none of whom would be alive without organ donation and transplantation. There's over 100 years of extra life in this picture alone.
After a Covid-19 induced break of over two years, we managed to put the band back together for some skills training at the Stourport cycling circuit last Saturday.
'We are the only group of cyclists who face a lifetime ban from competition if we test negative for drugs...'
Since our last major competition at the World Transplant games in Newcastle 2019, the team, like the rest of the world, has had to cope with the Covid-19 induced hiatus. Additionally, as all the riders (and their coach) are immunosuppressed, we’ve had to have a stab at some form of shielding too, meaning the group events that are so vital to keeping team recruitment and momentum up have been impossible. Also, In the immediate aftermath of a very successful games in 2019 the team sadly lost Simon Batch and Tim Jenkins, two of our younger riders who had both achieved medal winning performances at world level, to aggressive forms of cancer. We had not come together since the loss of these lovey guys. Tim and Simon were great friends and great rivals on the bike, and are much missed by the team.
There is much talk of ‘skills fade’ in the coaching community - a lack of competition and events over lockdowns leading to some rather hairy moments on the recommencement of group training and racing. Honestly, I was more concerned about my coaching skills fading as I’d not delivered this type of coaching session for over two years. Fundamentally, coaching in this context is about trying to impart some useful information whilst keeping everybody safe. Happy and warm helps too but those are optional extras!
Skill levels vary in any group but these guys dropped back into ‘thru and off’ very quickly and confidence levels came up rapidly. We did some shoulder to shoulder riding and did a ‘stop box’ competition as our 2 hours came to a close. It was great to see the two less experienced riders in the group came up to speed very quickly, mainly because the other seven made it so easy for them to see what good form looks like. Riders learn more from watching each other than they do from a coach but don't tell anybody: it's a coaching secret. Their ability to do this so quickly is testament to the quality of riders in the team as much as the talent of the newcomers. Classy bunch.
In common with the real world, Planet Transplant has seen our significant competitions cancelled or delayed due to the zombie apocalypse. Notably, the 2020 European games (Ireland) and British Games (Coventry) and the 2021 World Games in the USA were canned. We are now targeting the 2022 British and European games (Leeds and Oxford respectively) and the World Games in Perth (Australia) in 2023. Much as biblical rain was followed by beautiful sunshine on our Saturday at Stourport, we look forward to next season's competitions with hope and optimism.
So, I have some favours to ask...
Rich Smith's sorry ass was saved by an emergency liver transplant in Feb 1993 and he's been banging on about it ever since. He coaches UK and internationally based riders and has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 12 years. He is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a final year psychology student. He spent 30 years responding badly to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching in 2015.
I was fortunate to get the first two weeks in October over in Mallorca. It’s work (of course) but as it involves cycling, it’s a pleasure too.
During the pandemic, trips to cycling paradise have been limited although when I was there in September 2020 and June 2021 it was so quiet it was like walking into an empty football stadium. The roads that are usually so busy with riders at peak times were pretty much deserted, the cafes closed or empty. Lovely in some ways but eerie in others and it was certainly not lost on me how much the local businesses were suffering.
What a change this October! It felt like there was 18 months of missed cycling and holidaying being crammed into a few short weeks of decent weather. Puerto Pollenca saw the resident retired pro cycling expat community return and it was nice to bump into Sean Kelly in the mountains. A fully fledged and unfailingly lovely legend.
For me the trip combined meeting clients and riders (new, old and prospective) and catching up with some old friends. Getting some easy base miles in in the sun before the UK based turbo trainer comes out was very welcome indeed. Thanks must go to Ottilie at OQ Service Course for hosting RideFast Coaching at her shop in Puerto Pollenca once again!
I tended to stay away from the ‘monument’ rides – Formentor and Sa Calobra and the like – they are beautiful but I’m fortunate to have done them before (and I’ll do them again for sure) but there are a wealth of little known lanes to explore that show a slightly different side to the island. Also, I seem to have inadvertently mislaid my FTP at the end of August so something a bit gentler reflected my current aerobic status…
During the pandemic, organisers in Mallorca, in common with pretty much everywhere else in the world, pushed events back into October so, during my 2 week stay there was the Mallorca Masters race (3 stages), the European Masters (I day), two Ironman events (a full length one and a 70.3) based in Alcudia and two ‘Challenge’ events of the same length on the same day from starting from Palma. The weekend of 23/24th October sees the delayed 312 take place. Like I said, it was properly busy.
So, other than me crowing about getting a Mallorca trip on expenses, what's the point in this blather? Good question. Well, subject to a successful end to the Zombie apocalypse.
Whether you get to train aboard or not, November is probably as late as you can leave it and still have a successful season in 2022. Get in touch here if you want to get your winter training structured and effective. Remember, you win your medals in the winter, you just go to collect them in the summer.
Rich Smith was once, harshly in his opinion, accused of doing nothing more than 'swanning around' in Mallorca by his ex partner. He coaches UK and internationally based riders and has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 12 years. He is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a final year psychology student. He spent 30 years responding badly to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching in 2015.
Transitions - not the triathlon type ones characterized by hoping around on one foot trying to put running shoes on, but transition in the sense that the autumnal equinox sees us lose available light signifying the drawing to a close of evening rides leaving only a smattering of weekend events. It can leave us in a bit of a training quandary. There's no calendar to give us structure but it’s too early to start winter training. My default – and anecdotally this seems to be shared by some others – is to look back over the achievements of the season whilst peeling the wrapper off a box of delux chocolate biscuits. The next thing you know, it’s Christmas and my feet have disappeared.
So, if you find yourself quandrified and in danger of slipping into a chocolatey abyss, here’s a few ideas.
Have a break – Training and racing is physiologically and psychologically taxing so it’s definitely worth considering taking a break from the bike. If you force yourself to ride when you really don’t want to you it risks damaging enjoyment and motivation. It’s in the nature of endurance athletes to feel guilty when not training, not moving forward, but rest is a critical part of the process. The need to recover mentally as well as physically, is vastly underplayed – there’s a long winter ahead and to make the most out of it training needs to be approached with intent and purpose. Regenerating a bit of desire to train is no bad thing.
If (like me) you think 'drifting' is a danger, or the concept of a break seems unconscionable, set a date for the break to end. That way, you're more likely to enjoy the break safe in the knowledge you have committed to recommence training at a fixed point. Looking forward to a re-start of training with enthusiasm is a powerful mindset.
Cyclocross and track - Of course, racing does continue over winter should you wish to pursue it and there are weekly opportunities to indulge. The cyclocross season start earlier these days – often September – and viral apocalypses aside, indoor racing at velodromes abounds (3 nights a week at Manchester for example). Just check in with yourself that it is something that you actually want to do (rather than feel obliged to do) and that it fits in with your seasonal objectives.
A change can be as good as a rest, but the change, I'd suggest, needs to be well considered.
Strength & conditioning - It's hard to find evidence that going to the gym makes you faster on the bike - track sprinters, BMXers & increasingly team pursuit riders aside – but strong muscles work better, burn more calories and are less prone to injury. Also, importantly for older athletes and women, weight bearing exercise is good for bone density, as a low impact sport this is one of the few things that cycling doesn't help with. Training with weights is great for mental health too. It has been established that moderate aerobic exercise is at least as effective as anti-depressant medication for mood enhancement, this is only trumped by evidence that weight bearing resistance exercise is even more effective in improving outcomes for those suffering low mood and depression.
If you’re fancying giving this a go, drop me a line because there are some cycling specific exercises that may help. Bicep curls isn't one of them.
Learn a new skill - It's entirely possible you've heard enough about 'new skills' over lockdown so, on the assumption your sour dough bread is already on point, I’ve got some good resources (that’s code for ‘videos’) on getting started on rollers – great for variety and introducing abject terror into training sessions. Also, maybe worth looking at a taster session at a velodrome? If you’ve never ridden a fixed wheel bike on a velodrome before it’s a valuable skill to acquire – as well as being great fun, it will improve bike handling skills no end. Well worth the investment.
And there's always pottery of course...
Sort your plan and goals for 2022 – if you’re suffering with the curse of the endurance athlete - the combined feeling of dread, guilt, impatience and fear that you’re not doing enough exercise - settling on a structure and date for the recommencement of training can be just what the head doctor ordered. It can give the mind a little space to relax.
If you’re struggling with setting SMART goals, here’s to a link to some helpful hints and information about how vital they are. Alternatively, here’s to a link to a blog telling you what a waste of time they are. Take your pick.
If you’re starting to plan what winter 21/22 might look like for you, get in touch. It's a vital period and will go along way to determining your performance parameters for the 2022 season. Whilst September and October are often transitional – a time when structure is not at a premium – I reckon you’ll need to be starting winter training proper at the beginning of November.
Rich Smith, an inveterate eater of chocolate biscuits, coaches UK and internationally based riders and has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 12 years. He is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a final year psychology student. He spent 30 years responding badly to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching in 2015.
Many of you will be familiar with the process of goal setting. If you’ve eaten the corporate shit sandwich for a living at any point, you’ll be no stranger to the annual ritual of mitigating the preposterous demands executive management puts on you to deliver implausible targets a year hence. As an aside, during my corporate years a colleague once submitted his inner most business related desires as (a) doing as little work as possible whilst securing maximum personal return and (b) doing away with his earthly body and evolving into a pure form of energy. His efforts where, regretfully, deemed ‘unacceptable’ by the body corporate and he was asked to re-think. Whilst hopelessly misguided and career limiting, I'd suggest his goals were at least honest and meaningful.
Of significantly more importance to us here are goals relating to our cycling performance rather than an outside shot at pecuniary gain from the world of commerce. Goal setting is sports psychology 1.0. Out of the four tools regularly deployed by sports psychologists, it’s the one that gets drilled into aspiring coaches before we are let loose on riders. I guess it’s become a bit trite or old hat. Even triter if you conjure up the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) acronym, but without doubt the riders who I coach who’ve done best through the Covid experience are the ones who've set meaningful goals.
By ‘best’ I mean they’ve managed to remain committed to consistent training. By ‘meaningful’ I mean the goal has real relevance to them.
The key to kick-ass goal setting is not whether they are ultimately achieved – if you ‘smash’ all your goals then they’re too easy – but whether they are sufficiently meaningful to keep you training when times get tough. Hitting 4w/kg at FTP by 4th Feb 2022 is beautifully SMART but probably not smart enough to get you out of bed on a wet Sunday in December to do 4 hours in the rain. Alternatively, you may find visualizing gliding up the Tourmalet next summer with the sun glinting off your well-honed tanned calves is more likely to rouse you from your slumber. Whilst it doesn’t have the SMART credentials of a power to weight target, a goal such as this is capable of being made SMART enough to satisfy the textbooks. More importantly, if it’s genuinely meaningful for you, it’s more likely to keep you on plan when transitory motivation dips. Of course, everybody is different, and one man’s Tourmalet heaven is another man’s vision of hell on wheels, so pick goals that mean something to you, not just your coach or ones that fit conveniently into the SMART shaped box.
‘Wait a minute’ I hear you say. ‘You’re not interested in helping me achieve my goals, just keeping me training you crafty bastard’. To which I’d say, ‘Easy Tiger, keeping you motivated to train with purpose and intent is the way to get you to your goals, not just this year, but for years to come as you get fitter and faster’. The right goal gives meaning to all the hard work so you train with intent and purpose rather than just going through the motions – simply, it makes training more effective and that's what ultimately makes you faster.
We are living in uncertain times and the timing of events change. The temptation is to set goals that cannot be impacted by external events such as, I dunno, viral pandemics perhaps, but I don’t believe we should do this at the expense of making a goal less meaningful. Dates change, events get cancelled, but training plans can flex to accommodate changes. The meaningfulness of a goal should always trump it’s measurability in my book.
Goal setting represents an investment in your athletic future and demonstrates confidence and optimism about your ability to improve. This self-belief sits beside oxygen and carbohydrates as a vital training ingredient. Set your goals with this in mind.
So, with light still in the sky and events running, it might seem a little early to start thinking about next season but meaningful goals take a little time to come together, you might dismiss a few before you settle on what will keep you motivated and committed over the coming months.
However, don’t be tempted to do away with your earthly body. You’re going to need that.
If I can help, get in touch here.
Rich Smith coaches UK and international riders and has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years. He is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a final year psychology student. He spent 30 years failing to meet meaningless corporate targets and responding badly to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching.
I was a long way into my psychology degree before I got to the sports bit. I was interested to understand why participating or watching sport is so ubiquitous and what parts of the human psyche make us think sport is such a great idea. I’ll confess to be slightly disappointed to find that sports psychology is heavy on how to make competitors more effective or how to make reluctant exercisers stick to their plans, but light on why we bother in the first place.
Thinking about it, cycling is really hard. Training and competing seems like an enormous investment of energy and time in playing risky, expensive games. So what motivates humans to invest so much effort in to sport and why do we seemingly get so much enjoyment out of it? And could understanding this help us to be better sportsmen and women?
Ask a regular competitor why they do it and ‘I enjoy it’ is often the first response. Yeah, but why? Most things humans really enjoy, like food and sex, have a pretty clear link to thriving, surviving and an unwitting but inescapable adherence to ensuring our genes are passed on, but can the same be said of a 10 mile time trial?
What possible psychological explanations are there for our addiction to these bizarre but seemingly essential sporting rituals?
Evolutionary psychology - If you’re a Darwinian, these are behavioural products of natural selection that support reproduction and the continuation of our genetical material. Our brains were wired up some 200,000 years ago and the circuitry hasn’t been updated since, so the theory is the ability to compete, show strength, mastery and self-control makes you more attractive to the opposite sex and therefore you are more likely to pass on genetic material. Doesn't sound very romantic does it? Also, if you’ve seen a bunch of middle aged club cyclists in skinsuits, seemingly unlikely, but looking at all the other peculiar ways humans seek to demonstrate status, perhaps not so farfetched.
A demonstration of strength also makes you more useful to a tribe for both your own survival and mutual protection. The drive to be part of a troop is very strong – it’s why we like to be liked. In evolutionary terms, we’re still on the lookout for nuts, berries and the occasional mammoth steak so finding fit and brave compatriots to help us do this is important. Relating this to finishing 36th in a local road race may seem like a stretch, but think about what the ability to participate in an event like this means when judged against your peers sitting on the sofa. There is a strong evolutionary pressure to demonstrate value and usefulness to both for our own self esteem to others who we may rely on for help, support and protection. Sporting prowess in a modern demonstration of genetic fitness in its broadest sense, cycling is just our chosen medium.
Biological psychology – The brain communicates feelings and emotions via chemicals and electrical impulses. It doesn’t need us to understand them, just respond to them to ensure survival. Our brains aren’t interested in making us happy without a good evolutionary reason which is often why we sometimes find it hard to rationalize our behaviour or express our feelings. However, studies have shown exercise stimulates the production of ‘feel good’ brain chemicals like noradrenaline, dopamine and serotonin to the extent that regular moderate exercise is at least as effective in treating depression and is longer lasting than anti-depressant drugs (Blumenthal et al, 1999). We cyclists recognize this as a feeling of exhilaration while cycling or racing and as contentment and fulfilment on completion of a ride or race. It makes us feel good for a reason, our (chemically unaltered) brains rarely make things feel good without good, solid survivalist reasons, it just doesn’t feel to need to tell us about it. For example, when hungry, we can smash down a 12 inch pizza and a couple of cream buns and it feels great, satisfying and necessary - irresistible in fact. This is because our 200,000 year old brain circuitry considers high calorific foods like fats and sugars, to be scarce so we eat it, not some of it, but all of it. What’s more, even though we know food is instantly available and plentiful, we’ll eat it when we’re not hungry because our ancient brains think it might be a while before we come across it again and we have an on-board storage system for calories we don’t immediately need – body fat. The rational part of the modern human brain can distinguish between chancing on a bees nest full of honey and the sweets & treats counter at Sainsburys, but our evolutionary brain can’t. Anybody struggling to cut down on calories will attest to which part of the brain most often wins.
Psychologically we’re still chasing mammoths on bikes* and feeling great about it. They might even taste good, but we’ll never know because we’ve eaten them all.
*It's us riding the bikes, not the mammoths.
Cognitive psychology – One of the things that has made us humans so successful as a species is the ability to believe in fictions. As part of our social evolution, we have become adept at making things up and then believing in them so hard they become ‘true’ or real (money, nations states, religions, law, limited companies and the like). The power of belief is extraordinarily strong and I'm not suggesting we are kidding ourselves but, if we believe we’re doing the right thing by riding, training or racing then we are doing the right thing. This is important. Believing you have value and purpose is fundamental to humans being content, satisfied and, dare I say it, even happy? By choosing to train and race you’re giving yourself a valuable expression of worth, self-belief and esteem.
Within your ‘cognitive self’ you’re dealing with the rational, conscious brain that knows riding keeps you fit, keeps you interesting and recognizes the value of reaching goals and the worth of committing effort to achieve them. The ability to use the conscious mind to moderate fast reacting, strong evolutionary impulses requires focus, courage, resilience and determination. These most admirable of human qualities need to be brought to bear to achieve best performance because your evolutionary brain is aware it’s not being chased by a sabre toothed tiger and what you’re asking your body to do is essentially unnecessary for survival. It would very much like you to slow down, better still, stop and conserve precious energy. This ability to exercise control under stress is often referred to as ‘T-Cup’ in team sports – Total Concentration Under Pressure. It’s a learned skill and the meat and drink of sports psychology. The better you are at it, the faster you will be.
Social psychology – Self-identity is an important psychological component for humans, and we commonly identify by reference to membership of groups, and the traits groups show. Cycling means different things to different people, but it might be fitness, freedom and healthy competition to some. Equally it might relate to appearance via dress codes, body shape, equipment and the like. Amateur racing cyclists, time trialists, downhill mountain bikers, gravel riders all have subtlety different identities. For some it’s about beards, tattoos and an obsession with coffee. Whatever it is, we’ll identify as part of a tribe and, often, a tribe within a tribe. We know the power of tribe membership and we feel the need to conform with the unwritten rules of the group of which we are a member to show what we are, and what we definitely are not. This goes some way to explaining why people become as passionately involved in watching sport as they do participating in it. Look at how quickly football supporters switch from ‘we’ to ‘they’ when a team stops winning – group identity is a powerful but malleable concept. I’d suggest the traits and behaviours that comes from being a cyclist of any type requires a significant investment of resources and will therefore likely be a strong part of one’s identity.
So, what does all this mean for you as a rider? Some riders don’t feel the need to get under the skin of why they ride or race, they just do it, and that works for them. For others, understanding the motivation and the mechanics behind their riding, racing and training are vital to goal setting and remaining committed to a training plan. It’s a cliché, but whilst everybody is different there are some helpful psychological commonalities worth considering. Simply, if you’re looking for an example of the power of mind and how important understanding your own psychological drives can be, think of the difference between performances achieved in training as opposed to those in racing. The highest power figures, max heart rates and quickest times are almost always achieving in a competitive environment - same equipment, same physiology but vastly different mindset. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from using this knowledge, in fact, if you are elite, you’ve almost certainly gone some way to capitalizing on it already – it’s one of things that makes you elite. Who doesn’t want a boost in performance simply by unlocking the power of the mind?
I'd love to hear what you think. Get in touch here if you feel the evolutionary urge.
Rich Smith is a final year psychology student and it aware he might of overcooked this one - but then people laughed at aero gains too. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach. He spent 30 years responding badly to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching.
Who wasn’t looking forward to seeing the back of winter 2021? That’s right… nobody. For 18 months all we saw was hope running towards the horizon with its arse on fire. We’ve all been looking forward to a spring where Covid restrictions are being lifted and something approaching normal life can return. What did we get? Variants of Concern, a freezing cold bone dry April and a May that’s been wetter than a haddock’s bathing costume.
Despite the challenging meteorology and uncertain virology across Europe, the unlocking has meant an opportunity to train with friends, enter events and, for those so inclined, to race. We’re getting there aren’t we? Event calendars are filling up, groups rides are happening, the club time trial season is in full swing and the pros having been doing their stuff. Even the Giro d’Italia started on time and has been a welcome addition to our TV screens. We’re still missing anything approaching a normal domestic road racing scene in the UK now but signs of its revival are showing. Some say, with a smidgen of justification, the road racing scene in the UK was dying on its arse irrespective of the emergence of vile pathogens, but hope springs eternal.
In my little patch of England, there was much excitement about the first mid-week club time trial on the 31st March. The lack of light in the evening meant a 6.30 start and just 5 miles but the maximum field of 50 riders filled up immediately on release of the event. Never underestimate the drawing power of Telford I say. Obviously, being Britain, that evening was a balmy 22 degrees and sunny, fooling us in to thinking that was spring and summer set fine. The following Saturday it was 4 degrees, and the ice warning light came on in the car on the drive home. Bloody weather.
The theme of rapidly filling start lists has continued despite the frankly shocking weather, there’s been a palpable sense of relief and excitement amongst the guys and girls I race with and am privileged to coach. The chance to pin a number on and hurt a little gives meaning to an extended winter of training – it makes it all worthwhile. Sports psychology 101 is all about goal setting. It is genuinely important to have a targeted outlet for all that hard work. More broadly, the return of events indicates the end of the zombie apocalypse and something looking a little more like normal life providing hope for the psychology of those not in to sport too. Bloody virus.
Sadly, my club has had an all too literal ‘bloody cyclist’ moment when one of my club mates was hit by a car during a time trial – he was hospitalized but thankfully has now returned home. There’s a heady mix of pent up adrenaline within riders keen to press on and drivers keen to get where they’re going right now. The lockdown has had a significant psychological effect on many – there’s a good deal of frustration out there. You only have to ride the roads to witness the inattention, impatience and aggression of some of those we share the roads with. There’s a limit to what we can do to reduce our personal risk as cyclists because we're are so reliant on those in fast metal boxes paying attention - something many seem unable or unwilling to do right now. Fundamentally we have to trust in sturdy underwear and a polystyrene hat for safety. One thing we must do is make sure we keep our heads up and our senses in tune with the environment we’re riding in.
In other news, I’ve had 3 new riders join me in the past few weeks – always an exciting time. There are challenges to programming training when the racing season has already started. From a purely selfish perspective, it’s much easier if I’ve been able to prescribe a program over the winter months immediately preceding the season because ultimately that informs the likely ceiling of success for the year. With race targets approaching, there needs to be a careful balance – it’s tempting and easy to over prescribe to show you’re ‘doing something’ rather than follow the principles you know work. Sometimes ‘rest’ is the hardest session an endurance athlete can do.
Stay frosty out there - literally and figuratively, and if I can help you ride faster, get in touch via the contact form here.
Rich Smith has had enough of being bloody wet and/or bloody cold. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a psychology student. He spent 30 years responding badly to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching.
You would be forgiven for thinking there are few useful parallels to be drawn between the Giro d’Italia and racing your bike along the A442 between Shawbirch and Hodnet but bear with me for a few minutes because there are actually some helpful take-away lessons for us mortals. Stage 1 of the Giro took place 8th May and it was particularly useful to have the input of Dan Bigham and Bradley Wiggins during the TV analysis as they offered useful insights.
The 2021 Giro started in Turin with an 8.6km prologue time trial (that’s about 5 miles in old money). Filippo Ganna of Team Ineos won it in a time of 8.47 beating his closest rival by a massive 10 seconds. My own – much less glamourous – experience of international time trialling has been riding and coaching others to compete in the World Transplant Games since 2003. Initially this was a 5k event (3 miles) where the faster riders there were around 7 mins. More latterly this was extended to 10km, which at least gave riders a chance to breathe, taking 15 mins or so. The shortest standard distance TT in the UK is 10 miles (16.2km) and forms the meat and drink of the mid-week club TT scene. Times vary from 45 mins to sub 20 mins but a mid-marking competitive male club rider on aero equipment is going to be around, say, 25mins. Terms & conditions apply of course.
So, can we learn anything from the pros and apply it to make us ride faster?
Optimize your equipment Ganna was riding the latest version of the Pinarello Bolide which is a super fast machine, but bearing in mind the drag offered up by the human sitting on top of the bike is 80% of the aerodynamic conundrum, the shape of bike frame and what it is made from, is relatively unimportant. However, the wheel and tyre combination is important from a drag, control and rolling resistance perspective. Current thinking is that clincher tyres with latex inner tubes are faster than tubulars or tubeless set ups for time trialling and it looks like Ganna was running these on a rear disc and a deep sectioned front wheels and had departed from Ineos sponsor standard Shimano offerings. Reportedly he used a Princeton Carbonworks disc on the rear with an Aerox Titan up front on Continental Grand Prix TT clincher tyres. This stuff is available to the market but, of course, at a price and bear in mind Ganna’s team will have optimized this equipment for him. Leaving helmets, skinsuit, shoes cover, chain rings and other consequential but peripheral aero aids aside, Ganna’s handlebar extensions were Pinarello’s in house ‘Most’ branded – your guess is as good as mine as to who made them – but they are non-adjustable and formed specifically for him to keep him in aero position. Some of this translates to the amateur scene, and you can get a very aero front end with a number of after market systems without going to the trouble and expense of getting your own extensions built. It is about developing a sensible compromise between cost and marginal performance gains. If, for example, you are racing week in week out, how many times can you put a pair of paper-thin clinchers around gritty roundabouts before one blows? What’s more important to you and your racing? A 90% solution that’s consistently reliable or a 95% solution that could get your that extra few seconds but might not get you there at all? Very much a personal decision dependent upon your individual attitude to your racing and riding.
Optimize your position Most of the effort you put in to pedaling goes to overcoming resistance as you push through the air, so the size and frontal shape you present is relevant to how fast you can go (see CdA or coefficient of aerodynamic drag). The gold standard approach to optimising an aero position is wind tunnel testing with a variety of positions, helmets and skinsuits until the best one crops up. Most professionals and those at the pointy end of time trialling have been through this but at 500 quid an hour, it’s not realistic for many, nor is it guaranteed to provide the best solution. I have seen a couple of riders put in to very slippy positions where they are struggling to push the pedals hard enough and have lost so much power they are slower overall. Bear in mind that young Filippo and his contemporaries could probably bend into most aero positions and adapt to pushing the pedals hard and fast whereas I can say from experience there’s only so many places a 54 year old, 78 kilo body will go before it blows a gasket - see below. It’s about finding the right compromise between an aero position and one that you can make best use of the power in your legs. The benefits of an experienced eye and some trial and error may well get you an effective usable position without a visit to Silverstone or a chiropractor.
Optimize your preparation and recovery I was interested by something that Wiggins said about the differing approaches the time trial specialists and the riders aiming for GC might take to this very short prologue. He suggested that Ganna and the other specialists in with a shout of winning would be using a 20 - 30 min structured warm up before hitting the race as hard as they can. They will have tapered their training and prepared for this level of effort. While the rest of the race is more than an afterthought, both rider and team will understand the consequences of this kind of effort and have legislated for it in their planning. Wiggins suggested the GC riders would be fitting their race effort around 2 hours of road work before, then a warm up and probably another easy hour after the prologue. It might seem counter intuitive to reduce the maximum capacity of the effort, but it makes sense within the context of a 3 week stage race. Those who have done short distance TTs know, you can really hurt yourself in a short space of time. A flat out effort of a few minutes duration will cause damage and the light riding the GC guys do before will prevent them from going as deep as they could. It’s important they don’t lose time over their rivals, but going all in at the beginning of a 3 week race could adversely affect them later. By way of example, if you’re a data driven rider, you’ll be familiar with the concept of a Training Stress Score (TSS). Training Peaks data analysis works on the basis that an hour at FTP equals 100 TSS points. So, a 10 mile time trial will register say 45 TSS points and a 3.5 hour Z2 ride at something like 200TSS. Try doing four 10 mile time trials in a week and see how you feel against a single 3.5 hour ride – actually don’t – but you see the point. Short intense efforts inflict damage and the consequences of this need to be explicitly built into your preparation, rest and recovery whether you’re in the Giro or racing down the A442 if you want to perform at your best.
Optimize your ‘threshold’ - You’ll hear commentators say, ‘he’s going in to the red’ and ‘he’s over threshold here’ coupled with helpful red/green graphics on the screen. However, there are so many different casual definitions of ‘threshold’ it can become misleading. Probably the most usable and widely understood definition of threshold is Functional Threshold Power (FTP), an estimate of the maximum power you can hold for 60 mins. So, would Ganna be ‘in the red’ and ‘over threshold’ for the prologue using this definition? Yes, if he’d ridden at his FTP, he’d have finished 2 minutes behind his mates. Would he be ‘in the red’ if he’d been riding at his threshold for an 8.47 min burn time? No, by definition he’d have been bang on it because his ‘threshold’ for 9 mins is about 550w, that’s why he won. If he'd set out to hold 650w then he'd have been in the red and would have blown his chances. For us mortals, whilst everybody’s physiology is different, your threshold for a 10 mile time trial is going to be around the top of Z4 (using Coggan’s 6 zones), if it isn’t, either you’re not trying hard enough or, more likely, your FTP settings are wrong, either way it’s unfortunately not likely to be a Ganna sized wattage.
Optimize your mental preparation - Ganna was targeting the prologue. He’s an Italian, riding in his hometown, wearing the rainbow stripes of the world champion, I think it’s fair to say he was motivated to go all out to win. He also had something to prove after some less than stella performances (is his terms) because his previous results show he wasn’t quite at 100%. Us amateurs may not have the sunlit streets of Turin, rainbow stripes and cheering crowds to push us on but it’s important to look for what does give us that extra psychological push when approaching target events. How do you frame that feeling before an event, it is nerves or excitement? Chemically it’s the same thing in your brain, it’s down to you whether you chose to interpret that as a positive push or an anxious block.
Balance your approach to risk - Ganna bent that bike into every corner – he was going all out to win and everything, including his approach to risk, was turned up to 11 because nobody really cares who finishes second in something like this. Just like adopting a compromise that suits you with equipment, position and training it’s important to reach a spot on your personal risk register that comfortably accommodates your approach to riding and racing. Amateur time trialling takes place on open roads and the consequences of a head down position that inhibits vision or a rush to get on to a roundabout trying to gain an extra few seconds can be serious. Adopt a balance that suits you.
Enough optimizing and balancing already, there’s another TT in the Giro to come! Get in touch if I can help.
So here we are then, spring. It's been a long and difficult winter like no other I've ever seen. Hopefully you've made it through in one piece and have either avoided or recovered from this awful bug.
If you're a regular visitor here you'll know I've been doing a month by month 'guide' to training over the winter. This is the last of the monthly based updates for the time being because, praise be, winter is finally over. I hope you’ve found these things useful or at least pleasantly distracting whilst the world has been in such an unfamiliar and unsettling place.
With both cycling and pandemics it appears data is critical. All other things being equal, if the UK COVID-19 figures continue to trend downward, we have the reward of a return to outdoor sport to look forward to (in England at least) from the end of March. Quite what this means for mass start events like road racing, sportives and the like we don’t know yet but British Cycling are on the case so we'll know as soon as they do. Fingers crossed. However, the Cycling Times Trials calendar is already well populated for those of an aero disposition, clubs seem to on the ball and the diaries are becoming populated with events from 29th March onwards. I guess we’ll have to wait to see what the devolved administrations come up with, but I know the riders I coach in Scotland are growing weary of sitting on the runway, engines running, all ready for take-off.
'...Oh shit, it's March...'
Over the last 6 months, I’ve based these brief articles around training through winter for a season that starts in April. If this timeline is relevant to you, you’ll probably fall in to one of two camps. Either you've had a winter’s worth of riding ready for the application of the finishing touches or you’re currently spraying chocolate digestive crumbs out of your mouth whilst muttering ‘oh shit it’s March’ and easing yourself off the sofa. So, this month let’s focus on approaches for these eventualities.
The chocolate digestive scenario
We’ve all been here to a greater or lesser extent and, if you’re just getting in to this cycling malarkey, you’ve got to start somewhere. Now is as good a time as any. It’s easy to be tempted to do too much too soon if you’ve left things a bit late. But ‘a bit late’ is a relative term. With a fair wind, there should be races and events all the way through to October in 2021 and, because of the pandemic, a lot of these are late in the season so there’s still plenty of time to get in to shape. You just may have to accept you’re going to be at 60% at the start of the season and you’ll need to use the first couple of months to judiciously build form, using racing as part of your training. Not exactly the end of the world, and don’t apply pressure to yourself to ‘perform’ try to focus on ‘build’.
The same principle applies if you’ve been out of the game injured or ill. One of the very few positives of the last 12 months is there have been far fewer cold and flu viruses in circulation (because we haven’t been circulating) but whatever the reason for time off the bike, the way to return to fitness involves pragmatic, progressive and appropriate training to get you back in to shape. Don’t rush it and don’t be tempted to take short cuts. Crash diets and 5 hour bike rides don’t make great bed fellows
The finishing touches scenario
Well done you…!
Broadly speaking, you should be dropping the volume and increasing the intensity. However, this should be in a way that is relevant to your level of fitness, season’s targets, current training load and, critically, your data. You probably want to be spending more time in Zone 4 and Zone 5 if that’s where the important bits of your racing happen, but bear in mind we are talking about building up minutes, not hours, in these zones. Time spent up here is physiologically and psychologically extremely demanding and repeats in these zones have to be carefully measured and combined with the right amount of rest. Undoubtedly, you’ll need to monitor recovery to understand when you can go hard again without blowing a gasket. Be cautious if you’re using a TSS score to balance your training load, it’s a reasonable way of judging training load if there’s lots of Z2 but when you hit the intensity button, it’s not always fully reflective of physical input.
'...your body is like day-old rice. If it ain't warmed up properly, something real bad could happen...' Ted Lasso
Training doesn’t stop when the racing starts but it does need to be adjusted to make the most of the increased demands placed on your body. With careful measured application of overload and recovery, this is where your largest physiological gains can be made. It’s where the work you’ve put in to lay the foundations for spring and summer will pay off and where you can see the benefits of proper rest, active recovery, structured warm ups and tapering on your cycling.
I hope to see you on the lists in 2021 and do get in touch if I can help you with riding faster.
Rich Smith has had enough of winter. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a psychology student. He spent 30 years responding badly to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching.
There's a rhyming mnemonic to help remember how many days are in each month, '30 days have September, April, June and November, all the rest have 31 apart from January which has 438. But, hey, we've battled through another bleak January, so what should February be all about?
Transition – a gradual increase in intensity and a reduction in volume if you’re going to be competing over the spring and summer is probably in order during February. If you’re only just clearing the Christmas decorations away, it’s probably your last chance to start training with any realistic hope of seeing performance improvements in time for spring. If you have left it a little later than normal - cut yourself some slack – the world’s in a funny place, just don’t be tempted to increase the intensity and volume of your training at the same time as you risk overtraining and fatigue. You may have to accept that early season racing is going to be part of your training program and target events may have to move to a little later in the year - during the pandemic, this doesn't seem to be much of a problem sadly. If you’re aiming for summer or autumn fitness, there’s plenty of time, but there’s no time like the present to start.
Be specific – whatever your choice of cycling poison, time trial/triathlon, road, MTB, track, etc the more time in position, towards race intensity and with ecologically validity in February the better – this means training in your race environment whenever you feasibly can. Fundamentally cycling is an immersive experience in the real world, not one endured through a screen. Turbo trainers are glorified exercise bikes, we use them because we have to, because it’s too dangerous, dark, cold or unpleasant to ride outside. Too much of it and you become conditioned to be effective at riding an exercise machine, not effective at riding a bicycle. Humans are mentally happier and physically healthier when they’re outside and exercising – fact. If you want to interact with your natural environment via a machine, I’d suggest a bicycle rather than a computer screen. Push something hard with your feet rather than tap something gently with your fingers. After all, fast or slow, riding a bike is what we enjoy doing, right?
Fitness testing - If you tested around Christmas or early in the new year, you might want to repeat that testing around the end of February. First, it will give you a good indication whether your efforts during January and February have paid off - 8 weeks is a realistic time over which it’s reasonable to expect detectable fitness improvements. If you’re not seeing the signs of improvement, you’ve got time (and the data) to implement some changes. Secondly, testing will give you updated figures on which to base your race or event prep during March.
The little things – they used to be called marginal gains but that was before marginal gains became a euphemism for testosterone patches. As intensity increases so does the need to look after yourself – when you train hard, as a minimum make sure you’re hydrated, you’re fuelling appropriately during and after exercise, and you're keep an eye on resting heart rate as this might indicate you're over doing it or you've got the start of a bug. When marginal gains was a thing, hand washing was there in the mix (really). Hand to eyes, nose and mouth is a principal route for viral infections and, for obvious reasons, never has avoiding this been more important. The less time you're ill, the more time you have to train.
Have faith – I’m not invoking the power of God here, I wouldn’t dare, particularly as my garage has been BlasphemyCentral during turbo sessions this winter – but mindset is critically important. Belief is a powerful thing, powerful enough to make people think it’s a brilliant idea to strap on explosives and blow themselves, and anybody unfortunate enough to be near them, up. If one is prepared to believe in immaculate conceptions, fiery talking bushes and vaccines containing a 5G tracking chip, a passing belief that we may get to use our hard crafted training during something that looks like a racing season shouldn’t be much of a stretch. Confidence and belief that training tailored to you represents a worthwhile investment in your future means engaging with your sessions and rides with purpose and intent. Simply, this means your training will be more effective. It ensures you will be as fit and fast as you can be. Importantly, it should also give you a personal sense of identity, value and direction. Having said that, my firm view is that it may be appropriate to blow up at the end of one of my time trial turbo sessions, but not whilst shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and rattling off a Kalashnikov. Everything in moderation, including belief.
Until next time peace, love and cycling.
Rich Smith has been in trouble before for reasons that are probably becoming obvious. He has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and a mature psychology student. He spent 30 years responding irreverently to people in authority in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property before launching RideFast Coaching.
The ramblings of a cycling coach...