Frustrating, disappointing, upsetting, the list goes on. After a long wet winter, the racing season had just started, events were being scheduled, the diaries filling up and BOOM!... everything cancelled. As Meatloaf once said ‘All Revved up with no place to Go’.
Here's a few headspace things that may help.
Time spent training is NEVER wasted: Your training is an investment in your physical health and mental well-being. Your goal maybe to race or compete but part of the reason for a goal is to keep you motivated, committed and your training on track – sometimes the journey is as important as the destination.
Perspective: Remember we ride for fun. It’s not life and death, but events unfolding out there now really are. It's made me get some perspective about how fortunate I am to be healthy enough to train and race at my modest level. I'm an intensive care veteran so standing upright and breathing without a machine is a bonus for me and I suspect you'll all have your own shit-nasty experiences to relate to. There’s nothing like having something you love taken away to make you appreciate it. Let’s look forward to getting back to riding and, when we do, value it a little more.
Re-frame your emotions: It would be inhuman not to feel irritation, frustration and anger at what’s unfolding around us but it’s unhealthy to stay in that hole for very long. What’s happening is unfair, but then so is life. The rider you regularly put 10 minutes in to probably thinks it’s unfair you’re faster, fitter and better looking than they are. Suck it up buttercup. Unfairness is ultimately a building block of evolution so it’s fine not to like it but you might as well recognise its existence. If it helps, set yourself a time limit for allowing yourself to be pissed off, then move on. A little bit of self-talk may help as a reminder of what you’ve achieved, who you really are and how important it is to focus emotional energy on constructive progress. We can't control the situation unfolding around us be we can control our reaction to it - it's our choice.
Set some new goals: If your goals revolved around timings, dates and events have been torpedoed, don’t leave them hanging around. Adjust, move or re-set them quickly and ensure they are in your control to achieve, not reliant upon the action of others. Identify the next opportunity.
'...Every Saturday night I felt the fever grow... All revved up with no place to go...' From 'Bat out of Hell'. Written by Jim Steinman, sung (loudly) by Meatloaf
Use your training time effectively: At the time of writing in the UK you can still ride outside on your own – not a privilege extended to some of our European friends. Be careful, but there’s nothing to stop you getting out there for a ride. In fact, the case for 'state mandated exercise' is an easy one to make - it helps prevent us from putting pressure on the NHS by staying physically healthy and psychologically it helps stop us from going nuts. I guess we should just ensure we don’t take the piss by riding in groups and observe the social distancing rules because there's a lot of families and people on shed bikes out there right now.
Physiologically you might want to think about going in to a holding pattern by build a higher base and being ready to ‘peak’ later. Right now, a lot of my riders were/are making the switch from the preparation to the pre-competition phase with lower volume but higher intensity sessions aimed at racing. If you’re in the same boat, it might be worth thinking about putting another ‘build’ phase in to increase your aerobic endurance by balancing volume and intensity around sweetspot and FTP. It should mean when you do get to deploy your Z4 and Z5 you’re going to be putting out even more watts for longer you total machine.
If the thought of training at all in these strangest of times is too much, or 'delivering the plan' seems utterly pointless (and it might, particularly if you're trying to push yourself hard), knock it back, just go and have a pedal for an hour when you feel like it. It's likely your fitness will have built up over a long time, you might lose a bit of top end but you'll get it back soon enough when you need it.
Stay strong. Stay safe.
Rich Smith was a big Meatloaf fan when he was 11. He has coached the GB Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach, a mature psychology student and has 30 years’ experience working in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property.
I spent quite a lot on my childhood playing bikes. I have memories of jumping off planks propped up with bricks in my very young years and then, still under 10, riding a 3 speed Raleigh ‘racer’ all over the place practicing skids and wheelies. I could never do much of a wheelie, still can’t, but that didn’t stop me practicing.
Before I get too misty eyed about the whole thing, I do remember seeing my next door neighbour catastrophically failing to jump an up-ended oil barrel on his Raleigh Chopper and I suspect it was only his youth that prevented an impromptu gear shifter enabled castration. Who the hell thought putting a gear lever between your legs on a bicycle was a good idea?
I’m prompted to write something down about 'playing bikes' because I’m running a skills session for novice bike racers next month. One of my greatest coaching pleasures is getting the cones, chalk, whistle and clip board out and doing some cycling skill coaching – particularly group riding skills. I’ve never come across anybody, no matter how experienced, who hasn’t learned something from having a crack at this. As an adult, you’re not allowed to just ‘play’ on your bike are you? You can’t just get it out of the garage and do some skids in the drive - the neighbours will think you’re a right knob. And that (finally, I hear you say…) is my point. If you’ve come to cycling later you might have missed the ‘play’ part and that’s the bit where you learn a lot of fundamental bike handling skills - how to stay on it and how far you can push it before you’re not on it. Getting a feel for that grey area between being the pilot of your machine or simply the passenger in an environment when you’re not going to be rolled into the tarmac by a passing truck is a useful confidence builder.
If you've got a bit of skills gap or you're not confident in riding close to others, you can put a lot of this right by getting on to a traffic free circuit and doing some skill work with a group of similarly motivated riders. Group riding is arguably the most essential skill set for a cyclist to master, it makes you more confident, safer, faster, more efficient, more relaxed and fundamentally ‘less shouted at’ by others you ride with.
So, call round for your mate and see if he or she fancies going out playing bikes or come and join me at a skills coaching session.
Rich Smith has lost many lumps of skin out playing bikes, favouring his left elbow to land on. He has coached the GB Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach, a mature psychology student and has 30 years’ experience working in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property. He still can't do a decent wheelie.
This is important. No really it is. It might even be worth reading
It is well recognised we have growing worldwide crises in mental and physical health. Modern life sees the world getting increasingly sedentary and fatter whilst at the same time being less fulfilled, satisfied or happy. The dubious silver lining to this malaise is that modern medicine now means we get to enjoy ill health and depression for a lot longer. Thanks a lot Doc.
If only there was something out there, available to everyone, without prescription or unwanted side-effects that could alleviate our growing mental and physical health. It wouldn’t be popular with the drug companies; they invent new diseases and conditions for their new drugs to treat, but what an amazing discovery that would be.
So, good news…
The benefits of exercise on physical health are well established. Improvements in cardiovascular capacity, increased bone density, decreased blood pressure and blood sugar levels mean by taking regular exercise we reduce the risk of dying from our most popular killers – heart attack, stroke and cancer. What is less well known is that physical activity has a similarly positive impact on our mental health.
In the short term, exercise increases levels of the brain's neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin and noradrenalin) which elevated mood. Simply put, exercise makes you immediately happier. In the medium term, exercise promotes a measurable shift in brain function that leads to enhanced attention and improvement in reaction times. Longer term, it provides a significant measure of protection against developing degenerative brain diseases in older age, notable Alzheimer’s, by altering brain physiology. New brain cells grow in the hippocampus, strengthening the brain and protecting (potentially even reversing) cognitive decline and memory loss.
A seminal 1999 study (Blummenthal et al) showed that regular planned physical activity is at least as effective as our most potent anti-depressant drugs in alleviating clinical depression over 16 weeks. Equally importantly, the results were longer lasting – perhaps unsurprisingly as only about 30% of patients prescribed anti-depressants take them. Blummenthal’s work has subsequently been supported by numerous later studies. It’s proper science.
How much exercise, how long and how hard? Research suggest about 150 minutes of aerobic exercise at 75-85% of maximum heart rate per week will do the job. So, 30 mins five times a week. Whilst I would strongly recommend cycling as your drug of choice, pretty much anything will do, including brisk walking, swimming, team sports etc. The gym works too apparently – the current thinking is that a combination of aerobic and weight bearing exercise is, in fact, ideal.
Why isn’t everybody doing it?
Well, increasing numbers of people do use cycling as an enjoyable adjunct to their health, fitness and well-being regime but there are barriers to starting any kind of exercise regime. There are also excuses – lack of time, facilities, motivation, self-consciousness, body image, laziness, the list goes on. However, the growth in the number of cyclists who don’t want to race but do want to ride in social groups has been significant, often helped by HSBC Breeze and growing local cycling clubs and triathlon scene. There’s a growing Strava community and more people engaging in static bike work using turbo trainers, Zwift, Peloton, Wattbikes and the like. However, the barriers to cycling are perhaps even harder to hurdle than for somebody brave enough to take on a park run. Newcomers to the sport are often nervous about riding on public roads and, before you even get to be told to ‘get off and milk it’ or answer questions about ‘road tax’ to drivers who have lost their shit, you have to sort out equipment, deal with bike shops and ingrained outdated attitudes of some.
Should you choose cycling as your therapy, I can help you jump the barriers. More importantly, I can help you leap gracefully over two of the biggest fences – motivation and adherence. Having a program designed for you, that you’ve invested time and money in and knowing that every session you do will be reviewed and feedback given will keep you going. It might even make you happier!
If you don’t fancy taking to two wheels (or the indoor equivalent), maybe choose something, anything, that gets your blood pumping a bit. The long term physical and mental benefits of regular aerobic exercise are proven.
Rich Smith credits cycling with keeping him comparatively sane. He has coached the GB Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach, a mature psychology student and has 30 years’ experience working in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property. Those 30 years didn't make him that happy.
About half my UK based riders (and me), have picked up a cold bug that seems to the doing the rounds at the moment. Now, I’m a bloke so when I’ve got a cold I don’t like to go on, and on, and on and on about it. Typically, I’m stoic and don’t like people to make a fuss… ahem.
However, in the interests of ‘Bro-Science’ and at the risk of severe criticism for the total lack of either medical knowledge or peer review I thought I would, indeed, batter on about it for the dubious benefit of fellow sufferers. There is, at least in part, some good reason to my droning on in addition to just reaching for non-existent sympathy. I always tell my riders to rest when they’ve got a cold. I’ve never seen anybody improve their fitness training with a bug but I have seen it demolish hard earned fitness when people have trained whilst still showing symptoms. It risks increasing the chances of post viral fatigue and all sort of nasties. In addition, I coach the GB Transplant Team who are purposefully immunosuppressed to mitigate organ rejection so I’m naturally cautious.
I’m as sure as I can be that the ‘it’s fine to train if the cold is above your neck’ trope is bollocks – a virus doesn’t know or care if it’s affecting just your head or not, you feel shit because of your immune response to the virus, not the virus itself, it’s almost certainly resident in the whole of your body. The same virus can effect two people in different ways.
Colin has given me a right battering. I did an FTP test just before it got hold of me so I know where my aerobic endurance level was before being infested with this vile pathogen. I’ve tracked the time its taken me to get back to what I laughingly refer to as ‘fitness’ using power (output measure) and HR (input measure) data for the middle 8 minutes of a sweetspot session (88-93% FTP) interval (table below). The good news for me, and you if you’ve picked up the same bug (and it’s affecting you in a similar way), is there does appear to be some light at the end of the dark snotty tunnel.
So, it’s taken me the best part of 4 weeks (25 days) to go from picking up the virus to being back to where my FTP test indicated I should be pre-cold. Fundamentally, whilst I felt okay but was seemingly recovering from the bug on 19th January, I needed more input (164 bpm) to produce less output (215w). I was trying hard but getting nowhere. By 30th January, less input (153 bpm) was resulting in more power output (245w). I was, at least by my standards, getting there. Interestingly, after I'd caught the bug but before I was symptomatic, I needed a fair bit more input (166 pm) for the same output (245w). I say it's 'interesting' but you'll be the judge of that.
Not remotely representative I know (52 year old, reasonably well trained if immunosuppressed male) and you can’t generalise anything from this anecdotal ‘evidence’ so I will do just that, generalise…
Thanks for listening, sniff… Rich
I nearly tied myself in knots defining this. I mean, we’re all getting older aren’t we? I’m older now than when I first started writing this piece. Verbally untying myself, I’m referring to riders over the age of 50, irrespective of sex, skill level or previous training history. Cycling is a sport you can enjoy into genuine old age – there are 70 and 80 year olds on the same start sheet as 14 year olds at my club time trial. The days when you retired at 65, played two rounds of golf and keeled over are, thankfully, long gone.
However, whilst age is not usually seen as a natural performance enhancer it shouldn’t be viewed as something stopping us from getting faster on the bike. It’s achievable, it just takes application. The Principles of Conditioning (adaption, overload, progression, recovery, reversibility and specificity) apply to older riders as much as younger ones, as do the components of fitness. The effective application of these principles lies in their thoughtful, sequenced deployment to the individual.
I’ll explore the specifics with reference to older riders in more detail another time, but for now it’s worth looking at some broad areas.
This is a much neglected area, and getting it right can give you more sustainable, long term satisfaction and fulfilment out of your riding. There are many commonalities around why people ride but the fundamental drives are often different with older riders. I’m risking over characterising here, but younger riders often want to race although they might not be entirely sure (or even care) what they want to compete in. The primary drive is to win. This is natural, they’ve got the time to discover what they’re best at and they haven’t had the chance to experience the whole of the competitive playing field. They calculate risk in a different way. Sometimes, they don't calculate risk at all. Some older riders want to race, but the drives may be different e.g. fitness, weight management, riding in sportives, social, getting in shape for a week’s riding abroad – the list is endless. Having a few years under your belt can bring a clarity of focus about what you want to get out of your cycling and it’s worth spending a bit of time exploring this. Conversely, if you’ve forgotten why you ride and your motivation, commitment and enjoyment of the sport has ebbed, maybe it’s time to find where you left your mojo.
You might want some support in looking at the pillars of sports psychology notably, goal setting, imagery, self-talk and anxiety control/stress re-framing if this is an area you feel has been holding you back. With some work, this could improve your results or, equally importantly, your enjoyment of cycling.
Older riders have different types of engines. Some well trained and tuned, other less so. The adage that riders don’t train hard enough when they train or rest well enough when they rest becomes more relevant to the older rider. Your ability to train hard when needed coupled with effective rest is paramount to developing and building resilient rather than transitory fitness. It needs careful analysis of your performance data and thoughtful planning. Fitness takes a little longer to develop with older riders and training needs to fit around real life, not supplant it. Your training will need to be specific, targeted and measured. The knowledgeable use of a power meter and a heart rate monitor is, in my view, pretty much essential.
Youth brings a natural ability to adapt and, at a pinch, young riders can cash in their genetic youth tokens and avoid doing the supporting activities that are so important to older riders. It’s the little things like active (as opposed to passive) recovery, developing your core strength, stretching, hydration, nutrition, weight bearing exercise, strength and conditioning and the like that become so important. An injury and illness prevention strategy will mean more consistent and effective training as will recognising the importance one of life’s most vital performance enhancers, good quality sleep. In short, do all the right things to support your 'on the bike' training and you will be a better, faster cyclist.
This is particularly important if you’ve come to cycling as an adult rather than as a child. As a kid, skills acquisition, balance and judgement come from playing on your bike, riding off curbs, keeping up with your mates, riding on different surfaces and leaving chunks of skin on them. As an adult you’re not allowed to get your bike out of the garage and play, you’re scared of what the neighbours will say. Youngsters who aspire to ride at elite level often ‘play’ by spending hours training and racing on the track – this can be an intimidating and unforgiving environment for those of us with a few years under our belts. But finding the right environment to develop your skill level will ultimately make you a more efficient rider and can be a rewarding experience. There’s a lot of satisfaction in mastering and executing a new technique.
If you think I can help you get more out of your cycling then get in touch – if nothing else, age brings a little wisdom and we might learn something from each other.
Rich Smith is quite old and knows a few things about getting older after practising for the last 52 years. He still ascribes to his father’s view that whilst getting older presents certain challenges it is better than the alternative. He has coached the GB Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach, a mature psychology student and in a previous life, has 30 years’ experience working in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property.
Goals - ‘The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result’*. Snappy eh?
You’ll see lots of stuff about goal setting for the upcoming season and the importance of making them SMART at this time of year. At least, I hope you will. Goal setting is 1.0 on the Level 3 Cycling Coaching qualification and, collectively, we coaches bang on about them a lot. And rightly so, goal setting works because at a psychological level they direct attention, they mobilise effort, they increase persistence and they encourage the development of positive responses to obstacles in our training.
So, sure, they’re important, but we can miss a couple of fundamental things right at the beginning of the goal setting process.
Make them yours. Your goals have to be your goals, not just the ones that fit neatly into what your coach wants them to be because they are measurable. Setting measurable goals is easy but if they don’t match what you, in your heart of hearts, actually want to achieve, they’re going to be ineffective. So, spend some time with them, sleep on them, get comfortable with them and develop them with a mind to their resilience. Goal setting is best if it’s an iterative process, so don’t be afraid to ask your coach to challenge you on them, try to find weaknesses with them and thereby improve their quality and resilience. Do this, and they will serve you well.
Most riders can find the motivation to train in early January. We’ve demolished the last of the Roses chocolates and the remnants of the blue cheese has gone in the bin, but by the end of the month things are looking a bit tougher and motivation tends to fade. At this point you’ll need to rely on commitment rather than motivation. If you’ve set goals that overemphasise their SMART characteristics but underplay what actually gets you on the turbo after work, they’re not doing their job. Training hard for the sake of training hard is rarely tolerable in the long term and commitment to your goals is vital in the moments your motivation heads in the same direction as the blue cheese.
Get in touch if you want to talk your goals or 2020 training through…
*OED definition. Anecdotally, whilst I was eating the corporate sandwich for one the big banks, a colleague set a work related performance goal of ‘doing away with his earthly body by turning in to a pure form of energy’. Disappointingly, this was deemed unacceptable by the powers that be.
An introduction to the Shropshire and South Staffs Road Race League.
What is it?
Started 30 years ago as a training league by Wrekinsport’s John Churm. It is now a series of handicapped road races open to junior and senior men and women of pretty much all abilities from novices to Elite and, on occasion, professional riders. It is formed of 12 rounds held on Thursday evenings; you ride 11 and marshal the one your club organises which is not as difficult or as scary as it sounds. There is a maximum of 80 riders allowed in the race with priority given to riders of affiliated clubs who have entered the series. If the race is not filled then unaffiliated riders or those who have not entered the series can sign on ‘on the line’. It is held on open road circuits over 36 miles or 50ks or so, often 5 or 6 laps of a circuit, varying from hilly, to undulating to flat – something for everyone.
When is it?
Broadly speaking, it’s during what us Brits refer laughingly to as ‘the summer’. Opening round on Thursday 7th May 2020 at Knighton, Newport final round Thursday 23rd July 2020 at Charlton, Telford.
Where is it?
Basically, around Shropshire and South Staffs. You can find the courses and the HQs on the SSSCCRRL (catchy huh?) website here. Briefly they are Knighton (Newport) Cannock (Huntington), Enville (Stourbridge), Charlton (Telford) one round is at Swinnerton (Stoke) and there might be a circuit race at Stourport. There use to be a couple of rounds on the Bridgnorth course but traffic lights have just been installed on it so the league committee are considering alternatives.
It is handicapped and, as such, riders are divided in to 4 (occasionally 5) groups based on an assessment of your ability by the appointed handicapper. Many riders return regularly to the league and are known quantities. As a new starter you are almost certainly to be placed in Group 1. This is the ‘slow’ group (the term is relative) and will set off first and will usually having something like a 5 min gap over Group 2. Smaller gaps are usually left between Groups 2 and 3. Group 4, containing the faster riders, will be set off last.
If the handicapping is ‘right’, the groups should come together somewhere near the finish. More often than not the scratch group (the fastest riders) will catch the other groups and take the top placings. Sometimes the slower groups do manage to stay away. Whatever happens, somebody gets upset. The handicapper has an impossible job but is rarely shown any mercy.
You will need a British Cycling race licence which is 40 quid. The catch being you will also need to be a gold or silver member of BC which will set you back £40.50 for silver or £69.30 for Gold. In 2020 the series will cost £165 to enter the whole thing or you can pay £20 on the night. At circa £14 per race, it’s as cheap as road racing gets. If your club is affiliated to the league, you are guaranteed entry to the races.
Entry is open on the British Cycling portal (link here) you can pay for the whole series or four 'stage' payments to spread the pain a little.
There are some small cash prizes for the winners and British Cycling points for the top 10 finishers (10 for a win down to 1 point for 9th and 10th). All riders who finish are allocated league points for club competitions and for leaders jerseys (Vets, Women, Juniors etc).
How ‘good’ do I need to be?
In the olden days when I started in the 90s (that’s the 1990s, not the 1890s) Group 1 would ride at about 22mph before it got caught. There were more older male riders but fewer juniors and women back then. That’s changed quite a bit in recent years. Now, physiologically, starting in Group 1 last year I did the following. Knighton (undulating) 24.1 mph for 1hr 27mins. Huntingdon (undulating) 24.9mph for 1hr 20. Enville (Hilly) 23.2mph for 1hr 27 mins and Charlton (flat) 1hr 15mins at 25mph. This represents finishing with (or near) the bunch, not sprinting it out with the fast lads. For reference, I’m a 52 year old 3rd Cat road racer of modest ability.
If you get ‘spat’ from the bunch (and many do), it’s sensible to look for other riders in the same predicament and finish off the race together – slowing up and letting other riders catch you rather than pressing on on your own if usually the most satisfying way to get over the line. I’ve made a lot of mates this way!
Technically you should be confident in riding safely in a bunch at speed. Just starting out, you at least need to be able to hold the wheel in front of you safely so you can draft. Many riders start out not understanding ‘through and off’ – the principle technique that allows a group to move much quicker than an individual – but get it with experience. Some riders frankly never get it. The best way to learn the technique is to be coached on a circuit before you race. However, if you don’t seek this out, in order that you don’t endanger yourself and others you must, as a minimum I would suggest, be able to hold your line at race speed, particularly when cornering whilst not overlapping wheels. Riders need to look after each other and safety is paramount.
British Cycling have done a useful introduction to road racing you can see here.
There are risks, crashing being the most obvious. I can’t recall any last year but it does happen occasionally. If you’re going to get involved in bunch racing you must understand and accept this as a calculated risk whilst doing everything in your power to keep yourself and your fellow riders safe. It’s not the World Championships and most people have got work to get to on Friday morning. Recently, the racing has, in my estimation, got faster but safer.
The league is supported by NEG motorcycle outriders for each group, a lead car for each group, experienced British Cycling commissaires, and advanced first aid. Frankly, it’s as good as it gets from an organisational perspective.
Hydration and nutrition
You’re going to need to drink safely at speed – one bottle will probably be enough as long as you are well hydrated to start with. You’ll need to eat something pretty quickly after you’ve finished so bring a banana (other fruits are available) and some extra fluids so you don’t either cramp or go to sleep in the car home. Some people use gels during the race – all good, just be careful how your dispose of the wrapping. Oh, and try not to pee in sight of other road users, neighbours etc. If you must and you can’t get back to the HQ, be discrete.
Dropped handlebar race bike in good condition. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just working and safe but maybe treat yourself to some really nice new tyres. Some people ride with compact chainsets (50/34) on the front. I can’t, I ride a 53/39 with a 28/11 on the back which means I can hit 40mph at Huntington (not bravado, I need this to stay with the bunch) and still grovel my way up Six Ashes at Enville (just – and slowly).
Wear gloves (short fingered track mitts), make sure your lid is up to date, stick a base layer under your race jersey (which will need to be your club’s jersey – the colours of which will be registered with British Cycling). Personally, I wear glasses for protection but that’s your choice of course. On some night’s you’ll need arm warmers and possibly leg warmers and a gilet. Come well equipped.
Bring some spare safety pins for your number. And some dry clothes for afterwards. And a towel!
On the night
Racing starts with the first group off at 7 o’clock. Get there as early as you reasonably can. Changing rooms of some shape and form may be available but learning how to get kitted in the front seat of your car is a handy skill to acquire. Sign on, hand your race licence over and you’ll be given a timing chip and a cable tie in return. Put the timing chip low down on your front forks and trim off the tail. On the first night your race you’ll be given your allocated number if you’ve entered the series. You will keep (physically keep) the number for the duration of the series. There will be a rider briefing by a BC commissaire a few minutes before the race.
When the race is over, get the chip off your bike (bring some clippers) and go get your licence back ready for next week. Or, chuck the lot over the hedge and vow never to do it again, but do hand the chip back in first.
Why should I consider doing it?
It’s very tough but great fun. You’ll make friends. If you’re currently a fairly fit guy or girl with a bike you’ll likely end the season being an amateur racing cyclist – there is great satisfaction and some justifiable pride in that. You’ll be faster, fitter and you’ll have learned some stuff that will serve you well as the rider in the future. You will discover how you can push yourself harder on the bike than you imagined – the frustration of losing the last wheel in the bunch is worse than the suffering of digging in one last time. Trust me!
We’re fortunate to have the league in our patch. A huge amount of effort goes in to running it and, if it’s not well supported by riders and local clubs, we’ll lose it. It’s a valuable resource we should cherish in my view.
Any questions, drop me a line.
It’s a loaded title containing loaded words isn’t it? Nobody likes to make mistakes and nobody likes to fail – it’s far more satisfying watching others do that from a position of safety – but failure and mistakes are utterly essential to us as athletes, coaches and, well, human beings if one has a desire to improve.
We need to reframe mistakes, to embrace mistakes, value mistake and make them much more huggable. They are, after all, our broken friends.
One of the most impactful quotes I’ve come across, and something that helped me view mistakes not as embarrassing little blighters to be hidden away but as a vital component for advancement in pretty much any sport involving technique, comes from Matthew Syed’s book ‘Bounce’. In it he says ‘purposeful practice is about striving for what is just out of reach and not quite making it; it is about grappling with tasks beyond current limitations and falling short again and again. Progress is built, in effect, on the foundations of necessary failure.'
In short, to improve you must try to do things you can’t already do and be prepared to get them wrong. By doing so, and by watching others try the same thing, you either learn how to do them, or how to do them more effectively. The coach’s job here is to ensure a technique is described and demonstrated correctly, broken down into its component parts if necessary and athletes are given the opportunity to practice, to make mistakes and, critically, learn from them.
Creating that ‘free to fail’ environment is way harder than demonstrating a technique but, I would argue, equally important. Of course, one way to start is by reframing mistakes using Syed’s terminology. In addition, something used frequently in business in Change Management is the concept of a ‘rubber room’ – anything that is said or done within the confines of a coaching session, does not leave the room – it stays confidential to the people involved. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, right?
Mistakes aren’t bad – they are an essential pedagogical ingredient and creating an environment in which riders feel comfortable enough to try new things and ‘balls them up’ is crucial. In my experience this can be more of a challenge when coaching those who have come to cycling ‘late’ often after having reached a level of proficiency in other sports when they were younger. Adults tend to be more self-conscious than kids and less likely to lose their limiting inhibitions when indulging in ‘play time’ on the bike.
Once you’ve got a group of people comfortable with asking ‘stupid’ questions and happy to try new things in front of others knowing they may balls up, you’ve created an environment of openness, trust and platform to learn. That is a truly beautiful thing. A state where people feel free to express themselves and try things that are new to them in a supportive environment is a great platform for progression. It works with a bunch of riders on a cycling circuit, just imagine what could be achieved in business or politics if people felt free to say what they thought and try new things? Crazy thought...
So, the next time you make a mistake, don’t try to marginalise it, pick it up, give it a little squeeze and see if there’s maybe something you can learn from it. And remember, if you’re not making mistakes, there’s a chance you’re not trying hard enough.
Rich Smith has made many mistakes, amongst them congratulating a women on being pregnant who had merely gained a little weight and attending the wrong funeral. He has coached the GB Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach, a mature psychology student and has 30 years’ experience working in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property.
I should start by pointing out the trouble is with me, not you…
Whilst giving cycling coaching presentations, I’ve often been posed questions by triathletes about their training that I’ve not felt fully qualified to answer - particularly in relation to ultra or Ironman distances. I’m entirely comfortable coaching somebody to ride a 112 or 200 mile bike race, and I’ve coached a rider to complete the route of the Tour de France. However, that’s not after a swim and before running a marathon. I don’t know enough about the bio-mechanical, physiological and psychological demands of the non-cycling events or how they interact with each other in a triathlon sequence to comment with any real authority. I can swim a bit, but I run like Phoebe from 'Friends'.
To plug some gaps in my knowledge, I took the chance to sit down with a few Ironman distance triathletes in Mallorca recently to try to understand a little more about how they fit training around their everyday responsibilities of life, family, work etc.
A few anecdotes I picked up…
From this I’ve observed
I'm beginning to understand why I get asked so many questions but triathletes – anything that’s going to make training more effective means you save time and energy. However, there’s only so much cycling you can fit to a program that involves two other sports and you don’t need me to tell you to do a couple of 45 min spins on the turbo at Z2 in the week and a long ride at 65-75% of FTP because you already know that. Conversely you could probably save yourself a chunk of time on the bike leg by concentrating on technique and getting more aero – there I really could help but, have you got the time?
Comments and observations very welcome
For many of us, the cycling season is over and sooner than we might like, autumn will fade into winter in the UK. Not only does the light disappear but it can be twilight period for riders struggling to know what to do on the bike. If you’ve had a long season of riding and racing, you’ll rightly feel like a rest to recharge the mental and physical batteries is in order, but when do you re-engage in training? Is the thought of aimless turbo sessions staring at the garage door or the washing machine filling you full of dread?
Here are a few things that might help keep you going towards Christmas (I can’t believe I’ve invoked Christmas already…sorry)
Set some goals for 2020 now. Make it something you can commit to so, should your motivation wane a bit over the winter, you’ve got a target to look towards. Motivation comes and goes but commitment is the thing that will help pull you through those tough sessions.
Focus on strength. Now is a good time to get into the gym. There are some exercises that are specific to cycling and others that can help build a solid platform. And SSSTTREEETTTCCCCHHH! Long, strong, lean muscles help pretty much every aspect of physical performance.
Engage your core. Cycling benefits from a strong core but does nothing to develop it. Again, there’s some straightforward exercises you can do at home or incorporate into your gym sessions.
Understand your technology. If you’re training with a power meter on your bike, or have a static trainer that calculates power, you can save a whole load of time and ensure you get maximum bang out of your training sessions by using it productively. Otherwise it just produces pretty pictures on Strava and Training Peaks.
Introduce some variety. Get the rollers out or learn to use them (I’ve got access to some good British Cycling instructions videos), dust off the mountain bike, book a track session (they all do ‘tasters’ where you can hire a track bike etc). If Zwift or Peloton work for you, great. Maybe cyclocross is your thing. I’ve even heard of some cyclists going for a run…
Keep an eye on your weight. My own progression from eating healthy raisins, to chocolate covered raisins, to just eating chocolate is both rapid and linear at this time of year. Everybody is different but maintaining a weight that is healthy for you is important. And, like it or not, weight is an important component in cycling.
Have a plan. A framework, any framework, to keep your training focused may help. Finding ‘the’ framework – one that is individualised physiologically and psychologically for you – will ensure you exceed your 2020 goals. If I can help you with that, get in touch.
Rich Smith has coached the GB Transplant Cycling team for 10 years, is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach, a mature psychology student and has 30 years’ experience working in senior roles for Barclays, HSBC, British Waterways and National Grid Property.
The ramblings of a cycling coach...