It is January and I feel different. Usually at this time of year I am overwhelmed by the sensation of searching. Searching for energy to maintain a hefty training load and a new semester of studies. Searching for the elusive building blocks of good form amid setbacks of illness and fatigue. And searching for precious sources of confidence for the cycling season looming ahead. Looking back, this time of year is typically unsettling and even a bit manic for me. I always want success so badly and feel the need to dispense every ounce of energy preparing for it.
I would deliberate endlessly on my training and nutrition approaches. I would psyche myself up for workouts designed for optimal physiological stimulus. I would then abort most of these workouts soon after starting because “the legs weren’t ready” or “the body wasn’t recovered”. No sense doing intervals if you can’t hit the wattage targets and appease your insecurities, better to just pedal an extra hour as punishment and call it good.“Maybe I should go a bit further on my easy days to help me lean up?”–“Maybe I a hard effort or three on my recovery week, just to check the form?”–“Maybe these numbers mean that I am guaranteed a win?”
It ended up being a mess and my fitness and eventual results reflected it. If I had one good training day in 5, that was lucky. And low and behold, come racing season 4 out of 5 races were a disappointment. They say winners are made in the off-season and I suppose inconsistent performers are too. All considered, it is a good thing I feel different this time around. It’s a good thing I have a little help.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been working with my new coach Chris Baldwin at Day By Day Coaching since August. I hired him (and fired myself) because I wanted to eke some semblance of a good ride out myself at the Tour of Alberta. Embarrassing myself with a bad performance in B-F-Nowhere Quebec was one thing, but doing so on Sportsnet One was something I wanted to avoid. It was a hesitant decision born out of fear but it forced me to change a lot of bad habits and perhaps change my direction in the sport.
The Right Motivation/Type A is Not Enough
When I reflected and tried to make a list of the important changes I have made based on Chris’s coaching I came up with over a dozen. Cycling is a game of inches and the little things add up. But taking a closer look, really it all comes back to a common thread: Motivation.
A lot of athletes say that their coaches help to motivate them and push them forward. This isn’t the case for me. As a certified top of the range, 100th percentile Type A personality I am teeming with motivation but it wasn’t getting me anywhere in cycling. I wasn’t steering my motivation towards the right things.
In a somewhat subconscious approach was making it my goal to produce superior power numbers in training and empty myself with unrelenting high-zone 2 slogs. This, in my mind conclusively proved my capabilities and my commitment. And then with my Type A personality already appeased, I would passively let races slip through my fingers with little motivation left in my tank.
Chris has helped redirect my motivation and reminded me (and I need a lot of reminding) what should motivate a professional cyclist. Professionals train to win races and get results. That’s it. They don’t train to battle inner demons or for a daily self esteem boost. As I came to realize, in order to dig myself out of my rut I would need to tame the petulant Inner Chimp managing my and let my logical mind manage my training and racing.
At first this meant motivating myself to “Do The Work” everyday in training no matter what the power meter was saying or how I felt. One coaching mantra I go back to is that “some workouts are diamonds and some are stones but they are both good training days”. I still surprise myself with what I can do on tired legs and even more so with the improvement to be had by doing every last painful, Goddamned interval.
Motivating myself to go further in training meant straightening out my terrible Type-A recovery habits. Uploading to my workouts to Training Peaks meant I could no longer get away with turning my easy days into mini-workouts. When I overdid it on an easy ride I was greeted by a nasty yellow-flag on the workout and a gentle chastising from Chris. In addition, in my first week being coached I was force to take a real day off. I hadn’t done that in years and it was kind of hard. But I practiced my off day routine every week and by September I was able to take about 30 of them in a row! In the past 6 months, these off days have helped me recover better, finish a dozen books (up from around zero) and feel like a normal person once in awhile. Sitting on the coach is hard work but it is worth it.
Finally and most importantly I reworked my motivation to race. I was used to trying to prove myself in training but Chris reinforced the old adage of “saving for race day”. That was a start, but even with great form and a hunger to succeed I found myself getting pushed around and feeling competitively inert racing the Tour of Alberta. Chris helped me see that it wasn’t enough to want to win; you have to believe you deserve to win. You have to get a little angry when a rider gets in your way regardless of who he is and what jersey he is wearing. It is all to play for, every time the commissaire drops the paddle to start the race. I took this attitude to Buck’s Country a week later and I ended up sprinting narrowly outside the top 10…in the Crit! In the last 500m I thought I deserved to get a result 900 watt sprint or not. That is the right motivation and it makes all the difference.
So here I am in January and I don’t feel tired or scared or unprepared. I am not searching for anything but a few extra watts and a little patience to tide me over. I am on the right track, I feel different and I think it will be a different kind of year.