Cycling, what a sport. If you’re immersed in the sport, no matter the discipline, I feel it’s one of the best ways to live your life, virtually a superior lifestyle. I mean, so many positives associated with the bicycle, dunno even where to begin… Just imagine not only if your best friends got out and pedaled each day (or commuted to work via the bicycle a few times a week) but if most of the population rode their bikes every day — the world would be a better place, would be a silly difference.
Recently, two of my close friends have gotten bikes, and it’s turned their worlds upside down. Or, rather, downside up. Their lives are forever different, and for the better… Laura now commutes to work, is saving money, is changing her body, then went out and bought a MTB, is planning to race. She is 100% addicted. Will got into cycling because his short runs were too much for his body — so I helped him get a really rad road bike. And now he rides almost every day before work and it going out on long weekend rides, burning fat, attaining better energy levels, losing weight, building lean muscle — the transformation, since May, is amazing. And, yup, guess what? He just went out and bought a Specialized Epic 29er MTB.
I guess I’m a bad influence…
I mean 🙂
Last year, I had some screaming form early on in the year, set a few course records on the TT bike, helped the team win a few races, did a few MTB races… I locked up the TT Cup overall by mid-season, and after State TT, where I had my best ride EVER but came up a little short against Belgian-racing monster Thomas Gibbons, I was a little nuked mentally… I noodled through the summer and prepared for ‘cross — but it was more for professional reasons, to work with my athletes, to get to the races, to cheer everyone on, to pit for them, give them advice, go over the courses with them, etc…
I was training for these events, but it was more going through the motions — I wasn’t amped to rip workouts like I am for TTs… I kinda cruised through ‘cross season, raced hard but really no super high-end form, and took a lighter winter than usual… With the coaching really becoming a 40+ hour work week, and after racing at a high level for so many years, my head and body I think needed the break. My winter, now that I reflect, was ambitionless — less gym, virtually no volume, more pure fun riding….
Once spring came, of course the blood starts to heat up a bit again. Once I get on that TT bike, I just flip a switch, and I began to ramp up a bit for the early TTs — but the base I usually batter into my body just was not there… I won Readington but felt flat, not the sweet pain I usually feel there…
Oddly, at LBI TT, I really had a smokin’ ride, beat my course record there from last year by milliseconds. I won, couldn’t believe I had thrown down that hard, and felt GOOD doing it, but I knew my days were numbered… Here’s some truth: if you don’t have the proper base, aerobic conditioning, muscular prep in your legs before the season truly starts, your season never truly WILL start — your rev limiter, usually set at 7 grand, is now at 4 — you’ve limited how strong and how long this strength will stretch through the season SEVERELY.
I knew this. It’s all I do, dealing with athletes, preventing this from happening to them — I feel Elite Endurance athletes succeed out there (140+ wins last year, 14 State Champions across the disciplines, a National champ, a 3rd at Nat’ls) is we almost overdo the “base” period. The winter, or “whenever” you choose to do this type of training, it really is the cornerstone of where you will end up going. Elite Endurance foundation training is easily the most important phase of the year, and I knew I had shortchanged myself.
But, I almost didn’t care. Was almost indifferent, floating through the weeks… I skipped a few team races, skipped High Point. Heart just not in it. I really wanted to do well at Somerset, but after these years, having gone from 155 to more like 167 (I’ve become eons stronger in flatter, longer TTs, but my previous specialty, ripping shorter, hillier, technical TTs is paying the price because of my heavier weight), I no longer felt like Top Dog at these events.
In short, I took 2nd, lost to a good rival of mine, and I shook his head, was mildly disappointed after the race, at the palooka lunch, everyone swapping war stories… When I found zero anger or depression as I sat there, I knew immediately it was time to pull the plug on high-end racing for awhile.
In cycling, we deal in absolutes — black or white. You’re in, or you’re out. If you go gray, go 60%, you’re setting yourself up for black disappointment. There is no time for gray, not when you deal with true objectives.
I retreated to the woods for May, really just riding for fun, doing some specific hill work once a week, but really just riding. MTBing, to me, is the great escape. You feel good, you feel alive, you feel like a kid again. Remember when you were young, you would just climb a tree, and then just jump out? For no reason?
This, to me, is MTBing: just kids jumping out of trees. Endless adventure and joy. To me, thus far, there is ZERO novelty to MTB riding — and we have the raddest trails, RIGHT HERE IN NJ. I’ve ridden my MTBs all over the country, in VT PA UT ID OR CA UT CO — and I’d say we have, by FARRRRRRRR, the most diverse trail networks in such a small area. We truly are blessed. For all you roadies out there, if you haven’t tried MTBing yet, I highly recommend getting on some of these trails — you will not regret it. I laugh at myself now, wondering what took me so freaking long!!! (I was 100% pure roadie for so many years)
I raced a few MTB events this summer, getting a bunch of top-5s, got 14th at Bearscat 50 in a huge field (I think I could’ve been closer to top-5 had I not made monumental 20-minute turn OFF course, but let’s save that for a rainy sad day), and now am cruising through the summer…
With really an extended break from racing with high ambition, I now feel that hunger again… The pendulum is always swinging, and the best way to NEVER let either end hurt you too much is to find that balance in your life with the bike. Balance, for me as a coach, is one of the most important words I use. Riders who fully obsess about the bike end up burning out — the candle that burns twice as bright will last half as long. And those who don’t take the sport serious enough will drown in anonymity forever.
Balance. You need to find a way to discover 100% of your true potential by still keeping all other parts of your life in check. You need to be a happy athlete when you’re out there. If this novelty wears off, perhaps you’re overdoing something, or something in your world is nagging at you… Racing success is just NOT about the bike. Family, work, friends, etc etc, all of these things can stress you in a positive or negative way… I’ve learned a cold truth: a happy athlete is a better athlete. And I’m always searching for that balance, both with my athletes and with myself.
So let’s bring on the ‘cross season. I finished near-top-20 overall in the MAC Series last year (easily gets the biggest fields, makes for the most exciting racing) and am aiming to use my better starting positions this year and hopefully better form and sharper skills to finish top-10, maybe top-5, who knows?
All I know is I’m all in. Building now for a long, long cyclo-cross campaign of grassy and muddy war. And this commitment, it’s creating a new energy in me — I’m getting that feeling to get out there and suffer again, almost yearning for it… Been a LONNNNNNNG time since I had that drive…
One thing I should note is, after so many years of really training specifically for 20+minute TTs, then focusing purely on peak rides at our 40k State TT Championship, I’ve hugely flattened my power curve. My 2min and my 10min power curves are virtually identical :). Depending on who you ask, this is either impressive — or SAD.
In TTs, this really has helped me — I feel competitive in every event I enter, no matter who enters, and this is because of the specialization in my training, year after year after year — riding at or just over my threshold has become intrinsic, and year by year I’ve gotten better at it. However, in MTBing, in CX, this holds me back. If you look at a CX power file, it’s something quite helter skelter — it’s like a crit on crack, a super-uber-techy crit — on DIRT. NOT the linear efforts I am good at — you’re ON the gas for 8s, quick recovery, POWER CLIMB for 10s, etc — I just am unable to fully get on the gas with the best riders. Fast-twitch steps on slow-twitch in these battles.
But, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be any fun… I still love TTs, and will still campaign next year in the TT Cup for a fourth overall title, but I am going to really prepare more for CX and MTB — 1 because it’s such a challenge and 2 because it’s so much fun.
Because, remember, in the end, a happy athlete is by far a better athlete.
I hope to see many of you at some events this summer (have a bunch of team races, then some rad MTB races in H2H and NYS, then lotsa ‘cross!!!) and if you’re racing, hope you’re able to really feel like you’re racing to the top of your ability, something so few athletes actually get to experience…
That, what I just described, you never feel more alive. That feeling is fully electric, magical… Cycling, yup — no better way to live our lives.