Competition, you’ve changed man: Why expanded opportunities to compete on our own terms have changed why we train.
The prevailing assumption for many years was riders trained to compete in races. Without race focused goals, it wasn’t training, it was just going for bike rides. Competition meant being viscerally compared to other riders by showing up on a start line in the same place and the same time and seeing who got over the finish line first. One rider wins, the rest get placed in relation to the winner.
There were, and are, categories that increase the options to race against a competitive cohort based on age, ability/disability, sex and the like but more recently, opportunities to compete on terms of our own choosing have greatly expanded. People can compete in the (relative) comfort of their garage with a link to Zwift. Riders still have to start at the same time, but they don’t have to be in the same place. Conversely, competition on Strava means riders can compete over the same course but at different times and, with the segmentation of routes, the number of available courses has increased exponentially. It’s even possible to compete by riding a segment more regularly than others and to create segments if it’s not possible to find one that suits. These mini competitions are further age and sex categorised.
With this in mind, perhaps we need to change our thinking about competition, training and racing?
It’s not necessary to show up on a start line to compete
Comparison is an essential element of competition and there are now more options to do this on terms defined by the rider. It’s now possible to choose when and how competition happens and even who the other competitors are, this is not something previously available and means not only are the opportunities to compete are exapnded but also they can be shaped to suit by the individual.
The barriers to traditional racing formats are high, insurmountable to many, if competition in its expanded format motivates a rider, it opens up a world of opportunities for competition and meaningful training.
If you don’t race, structured training remains valid
More and more riders are benefiting from structured training – or at least fitting an element of structure training into their riding. The technology available means putting aside a couple of hours a week to train to numbers reaps huge athletic improvements. A power meter and a heart rate monitor remove the guess work and provides empirical evidence on the effectiveness of training. It means a level of enhanced fitness can be maintained to be taken advantage of when opportunities arise – a tour, sportive, group ride or an attempt at a PR on Strava.
If engagement in the expanded world of competitive options provides a focus for structured training and motivates a rider to improve, surely that’s a good thing?
Training that isn’t goal focused doesn’t relegate it to ‘just riding’
Lots of cyclists ride for ‘fun’, but most enjoy the experience of pushing hard sometimes, to hammer up a hill and feel the blood flowing. If they weren’t doing this on a bike, it’s probable they would find another outlet for exercise. For many, training is part of life and valid in its own right, not just as a means to an end. If engagement with an online social network based on exercise is part of this, it’s likely part of the fun involves an element of competition or comparison within a supportive community. Consequently, if engagement helps adherence to a training program or encourages more regular riding, this is a positive.
There is a value judgement about whether the societal movement from analogue to virtual is a good thing or not but one positive is that it opens up opportunities to engage with a community of people for whom training is an essential part of their life. Using the digital world to enhance engagement in a very real physical activity like cycling is an attractive concept and there’s fun to be had out of competition where some of the parameters of that competition are user determined.
The best way of ensuring training isn’t a chore is to give it value and meaning, expanding how we frame ‘competition’ is an important part of this.
Mind how you go…
Rich Smith has nearly completed his degree in psychology and, damn, doesn't it show... He is a British Cycling qualified Level 3 coach and has coached the Great Britain Transplant Cycling team for over 10 years. 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 which is much more fun.
The ramblings of a cycling coach...