When is it time to say when? At what point should that towel be thrown? Sometimes, knowing when to roll away is just as important as knowing when to keep going.
We have limits. Denying limits is – frankly – stupid. The only way to push beyond your limits is to know them, to test them; to elucidate the border between the possible and impossible, allowing yourself a chance to redefine that border.
Denying that you have limits is a great way to get into trouble. If you sign up for a double-metric for next weekend and your longest ride has been 50 miles? There’s a chance you might survive, sure. But more than likely you’re setting yourself up for failure (or at minimum, a horrible time).
So why am I bringing all this up? Well, we often hear things like “just push through” and “keep pedaling” and “you can do anything you set your mind to,” yada yada yada. Velominati would quote Rule #5 – “Harden the fuck up.” All those are great. Seriously, I applaud those who continually challenge themselves: more miles, more climbing, faster speed, bigger events, tougher competition. The only way to get better is to push out of your comfort zone. But that comfort zone has a purpose, and one of the biggest purposes is to keep you safe.
Tulsa isn’t a big town. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot bigger than some microscopic towns I’ve ridden through whereby your mere presence increases the population 10%. But in comparison to most metropolitan areas, it has far more land than people.
For all that, it does have a decently sized cycling population. But again, you’re talking maybe thousands of cyclists out of almost a million people in almost 1,000 sq. miles. And out of those thousands of cyclists, maybe a few hundred racers.
Why do I bring all this up? Because I wanted to show that we’re a rare breed. Just as a cyclist, you’re already in rarefied territory. So when it’s race time, guess what? The majority of your competition is going to be made up of not only people you know, but people you probably ride with on a normal basis.
In larger metros like LA, NYC, etc., there’s hundreds of teams and thousands of racers. You could ride for weeks if not months without needing to ride with a competitor. In the Midwest, it’s more like dozens of teams and hundreds of racers, and you see your competition every other ride.
You ride again, you don’t crash, you’re happy, but… you start to wonder. Is my number almost up?
The more miles you ride or race without a crash, the more you might think, “It’s gonna be my turn soon.” The longer you ride, the more inclined you might be to think this way.
This is what’s known as the gambler’s fallacy. The idea is that given a repeated outcome, you start to mistakenly believe that this outcome is less likely to happen again. Like riding without a major incident: it’s easy to start thinking that the longer you ride without crashing, the more likely it is that a crash will happen.
You want me to tell you you’re the best, that you’re gonna win? Sorry, I got nothing.
You want the truth: here it is. There are people who are better. Faster. Stronger. Hell, they even look cooler. That ain’t mean. That’s life. But their success does not diminish you. Their speed does not make you slow. Their strength does NOT make you weak. Their win DOES NOT equate to your loss.
You. That’s it; beginning to end. You want to be better? BE better. You want to get faster? GET faster. It hurts? Push harder. You’re done? Do it again! Leave it all on the road. Tear. Yourself. Apart! For there is NO tomorrow. There is NO woulda/shoulda/coulda. There is only NOW. And now will not come again.
Sweat. Break. Bleed. And be better for it. There is only one opponent. One competitor. There is no one else. They don’t matter. It’s you. It’s only you.
You are what you are. Now go become what you want to be.
First and foremost, there is no one thing that holds true for everyone. No magic bullet. No “perfect practice.” The only way to learn what works for you is to try it.
Want beats need.
Your mindset towards training can be as important as the training itself. Don’t think of it as “I need to do my intervals.” Think of it as “I want to do my intervals.” Don’t think of it as “I can’t eat that cheesecake.” Instead, think “I don’t want to eat that cheesecake.” (Okay, that last one might be extremely difficult). When you associate words of choice rather than words of requirement with an action, those actions are taken (or not) with a more positive attitude, yielding better results.
“Cycle” also means “repeat.”
It’s the name of what we do. We cycle – we repeat what we do over, and over, and over. That’s how we get better.
The more you do it, the less special it is (I’m talking about focused training, of course). Whatever you start to focus on will show significant increases at first, but will eventually level off. However, it’s the minute increases at the top of this flattening arc of improvement that will set you apart from the field.
Food is fuel.
Remy’s dad in “Ratatouille” said it best: “Food is fuel. You get picky ’bout what you put in the tank, and your engine’s gonna die.” I don’t mean that you can eat Twinkies all day and go climb the Alps d’Huez. But you also don’t have to eat kale chips and deprive yourself of a cookie once in a while.
You are not your results.
It’s only too easy to get caught up in the end-game: complete a century; do a sub-5; podium. Cyclists are nothing if not obsessive. If you train for months and don’t make your goal, what then? Was all that training wasted? No. There are all sorts of reasons for not making a goal. As thousands have said before me, shit happens. You could be perfectly placed one moment for the sprint, and the next you’re spit out the back. You can get 90 miles into your century, and suddenly you’re out of gas and cramping. Don’t let the achievement – or not – of your goals define who you are.
Rule #5 is more of a guideline.
You can’t be bad ass all the time. You are not made weaker by saying, “I’m not riding today.” You choose, and should never feel bad about choosing. Riding is a luxury, something to be enjoyed. If it becomes a hardship or requirement, then seriously, what’s the point?
“Ride the damn bike.” Whether you’re new to cycling, or a multi-century-per-day monster, doesn’t matter. You want to get better? RTDB. You want to go faster? RTDB. You can’t afford expensive gear – doesn’t matter, RTDB. You think you might be dropped? RTDB. If you add saddle time, you’ll improve. That’s it. No fancy intervals or meal plans or ultra-pricey gear. Just ride.
When it’s windy out, I try to train anyway. And in Tulsa, we know all sorts of wind: breezy, gusty, OMFGsy, etc. If you don’t train in the wind out in the Midwest, you might as well not ride your bike.
By now, most of you have ridden in a group ride, or a mass start tour ride. Your skills have improved, you’ve got thousands of miles under your belt, and your speed is starting to really climb. So, you want to jump into a race. But what is it like within that peloton? How does it differ from a group or tour ride? What should you look out for?
The more you know going into that peloton, the safer you – and everyone else – will be.
When I first wanted to dabble in racing, I was given exactly zero advice. In fact, the only thing I was told was, “Hey, you should race.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming my teammates at the time. I didn’t ask a lot of questions. At the same time, not much was volunteered. It’s just how it is.
That doesn’t work for me, though. I’m a planner. The more I think and know and analyze going into a situation, the more comfortable I feel. But what I found was that those who are racing tend to speak in racing terminology, to others who have already raced.
So, for those tour riders who have been speeding up and enjoy competition (and a lack of elbow room), I’m going to go over some of the things that I know now that I did not know before I started racing. Think of it like an IFAQ – Infrequently Asked Questions – for getting into racing.