A question I am commonly asked: “How do you motivate athletes?”
You must have an ability to say what you want, to make clear what you want to achieve, and it will happen. I guarantee it.
The goal is to become the best athlete you can be. Championships, reputation, prizes, trophies do not matter. You are committed to the path. If you want to know what you are about, look yourself in the eyes — the eyes never lie. Take a close look. Tell me what you see.
The morale is very high because you are strengthened by your development as a bike rider and an undeniable ability to dig deep and search for something new.
The battle is already won. You are winning. I am winning.
Is that motivating? Motivation? How about something far more interesting: desperation.
“Racing is war,” my friend Rob tells me. “You are preparing to be your very best so you can perform optimally on race-day when it counts.”
I agree with that, but “when it counts” is a lot more than race day – it’s every day. You need to earn confidence. Training is training. And racing is training. Miracles don’t happen on race day. Performing in a consistent manner is the #1 name to this game.
I coach Laura Slavin. We are planning a heavy 2016 race schedule for her. Laura is going to Florida in January and February to train and continue to push her proprioception as a competitive MTB racer. She is light. She is strong. She is young. She is tough. She is willing. She is committed.
She is unbreakable. She is just getting going. My vision for Laura Slavin is to see her gain confidence in racing — we will prepare, I will tell her how the race will go, and then it will happen. We will move forward always, the reality is a simple one. Laura will use superior pedaling style to push the pain. I can see her competitor’s belly breathing in, her body screaming for oxygen, and Laura will be right there, attacking the climbs, butchering the descents, jackhammering flat terrain with perfect flow in the turns, we are programming her for these sequences.
These next 9 months will be very interesting.
Racing bicycles is addicting. I feel I will enter a few endurance MTB events in the next year. I find the entire discipline and atmosphere very, very interesting. I have been working out consistently since early-September. I am well over one year away from racing, and I do miss the thrill of competition, the thrill of preparation. The preparation is rewarding, you can sit and plot and maximize your time. The anticipation of your future is fun to think about – how the training will go, seeing how races can potentially play out. Everyone has same amount of days to prepare for an event. I love playing this game.
I loved TT racing. I felt ready to go up against anyone. You pedal forward, and you go at them. It’s a fight in there, with TT riders blazing up and down the roads at demolished velocity. Who is your rival? There is no rival, there’s no no one – you’re against yourself. And I felt I was able to beat myself, I could beat my mind. You believe in yourself so much, you feel like nothing is going to stop you.
TTs enticed me because you need to perform perfectly for the short maximal race effort, operating in a vacuum. If you prepare to potential, pain you feel in the race tickles you – you can keep pushing through and pushing for more and you feel unbelievable. The goal is to build yourself into a competitor you would not want to race ever.
Endurance MTB racing, racing at 37, two years away from competition, racing in a Pro category where I’ve got zero experience, I must push my baseline of fitness higher and keep it there. I must limit my weakpoints while maximizing my strength – this is my first plan of attack. My weaknesses: raw leg strength and negotiating MTB terrain at race speed. My strength: a turbo-diesel engine, good power-to-weight ratio.
Attack your weakness in the foundation months: in a race to the sky, your foundation is not laid flat like a pyramid on a desert – your foundation runs deep, driven into the ground, enabling an easier build of the skyscraper. You do more work now to reap the rewards of priceless race-season training. Racing is training — you need to be prepared to push to new levels on race day, and you go home with this training stress that you earn.
Many riders can train well, but in competition they are not as sharp or strong. They have left their best in training. I build an opposite phenomenon: I want to be very good in training, and then up a level when I am racing. The longer and heavier foundation training enables the body to take on new challenges during race season.
Since early-October, I have been hitting the gym twice a week. Planet Fitness in Riverdale NJ is 100% perfect training grounds — I love to train there, it is home off the bike. One session is brutal leg work supersetted to failure, followed by a 90-minute circuit of core, stretching, balance, and strength movements, all fatigue aimed at improving performance on the MTB and TT bike.
The second gym session is designed to keep the week fun and to develop more core and hip strength, a weakpoint. I have long femurs – on the bike, this helps me apply consistent torque during TT performance. When I am overgeared, I fade more quickly than my rivals, and in the gym I am not comfortable doing squats or leg presses. My hip region needs more development. I am getting stronger now and these secondary gym sessions feel phenomenal as I continue to do new things. I leave these secondary sessions feeling incredible, the body is just conditioned to fight fatigue, to push pain, to push forward. I plan to train like this well into February, maybe March. Right now, I am only spinning after one of the gym sessions, but once the weather is awful I’ll be spinning moderately after every gym session.
I have been following gym days with PowerCrank rides of varying intensity. I am conditioning the legs to pedal in a fatigued state, on a heavier bike, where you have to pedal in complete circles the entire ride, and still attain active recovery – this is my vision of PowerCrank workouts right now. They are a very useful training tool, and I really get the most use out of them in December through April. Riding PowerCranks is like legal doping. I will be progressing use of this bike to masochistic terms come the dead of winter.
Hopefully winter will allow for plentiful XC MTBing and fatbiking. In the winter, along with indoor PowerCrank suffer sessions, I do enjoy training on the TT bike, almost like my indoor dyno. I do see myself racing that bike again in some form, so I will be riding it again at some point in January, peppering in long lower and upper sweet-spot work in the tuck, just superior bang-for-my-buck training and use of my limited time.
January and February training loads will be important for me — the body will be ready and the mind will be fresh to push a bit on the bike, explore some lactate territory and see how I feel/respond. Right now in late-preparation training, I’m hammering aerobic endurance, the road bike is an awesome tool for this job, while also mixing in loads of steady gray-zone force work – I have been loving the brisk tempo and endurance road rides lately, training and weather have both been ideal. I will use every bike in the stable in a unique way as race season approaches.
I plan to hit 3-4 Endurance MTB races. In the book I’m writing, one chapter is solely a list of commandments an athlete should follow for successful training. The list is getting longer and I plucked 10 random ones to see how/if they applied to my current program and approach:
CONSISTENCY IS #1 – I am on-point with training. Working out almost every day is not an issue. All my rides weekday are under 90 minutes and I rarely do a long ride on the weekends. I try to make getting to the workout and being able to work out as easy as possible for each day, planning logistics and preparation the day before. Every single day is connected.
BE GOOD TO YOUR BIKES, THEY WILL BE GOOD TO YOU – You must maintain these machines in professional manner, always making sure they are clean, dialed, race-prepped. 24/7, 365.
DIET IS LIFESTYLE – I am eating a diet devoid of sugar and processed foods, am finding it easier to just live that way. I typically have fruit and water in the morning, will train mid-day, a fruit smoothie will serve as post-ride recovery fuel, and then dinner is a large salad. Diet is an awesome responsibility. I want to have an effortless superior power-to-weight ratio, and I control what I can.
VOLUME: LESS IS MORE – With endurance MTB prep, I must hit my workouts consistently without feeling fatigued or overtrained. My week: Monday is intense leg-strength gym session + 40 minutes aggressive tempo riding on spinbike. Tuesday is a brisk 50min sweet spot PowerCrank ride. Wednesday is 90min aerobic endurance ride. Thursday is OFF. Friday is light leg-strength and core workout at gym, shaking legs loose. Saturday I am taking off. Sunday I am doing a fun MTB ride with friends at Blue Mountain. The average MTB race will be around four hours.
RECOVERY IS NAME OF GAME – When you train smart, you recover quickly and properly. The body recovers, you can push to new levels. Recovery is the #1 training stress that must be perfected in the program and is often the least-addressed. All days are connected to the next, and you never want to have any setbacks. Always remember that. When prescribing training stress, all riders can train hard, not all can recover just as hard. Train smart.
BANG FOR YOUR BUCK. Everyone has the same amount of time to prepare. With busy schedules and lifestyles, the body responds best to sweet-spot training. Two vital training zones are Tempo and Subthreshold. Athletes underutilize or misuse these thresholds. Nearly all year you can hold power at tempo, pushing a comfortable brisk pace. And “subthreshold” is, as Guimard once said, the most important place to spend race-prep training.
BALANCE – If you can string together 2-5 years of commitment to your goals, you’d better set your bars high. A key to linking days together without burnout, injury, overtraining, plateau, inactivity is to keep training balanced. You must be honest with yourself, training with periodization and addressing strengths and weakpoints all year. You find ways to achieve goals and build fitness off the bike or outside your goal discipline. A candle that burns twice as bright lasts half as long – no. If you balance your season, you will be faster for longer periods of time. #eliteendurance
TO LIFT OR NOT TO LIFT, THAT IS THE QUESTION — Athletes I coach complete off-bike strength workouts and they are faster on the bike because of it. I lift weights like a cyclist preparing for competition, not as a bodybuilder or weightlifter. Just as in training for specific race goals, in the gym I address weakpoints in cycling performance. I consider a smart off-bike strength program to be like legal doping.
A DETAILED TRAINING DIARY – I enter all power data and personal ride feedback into WKO+, always noting the workout protocol, how I felt, what the conditions were, what I weighed pre and post-ride, what I ate, how I fueled on the bike, a complete diary for that day. Go through this process every day.
VISUALIZING GOALS – In order to know the beginning of the story, you must see the ending. You have an objective, a goal – you want to lose weight, you want to perform better, you want to earn a top result. Along the way, there are setbacks, and riders can get hung up on the negative rides, failed objectives, wasted workouts. Remember that positive emotion trumps negative emotion every time. Every day, work hard to make your training session successful.
Your visions of success are crystal-clear. You move forward in training, tons of mini-celebrations along the way but never feeling satisfied. See yourself operating at prime race weight, see yourself performing to full potential, see yourself up on that podium, ready to raise your arms — I tell you right now to set your goals with zero fear.