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Midseason Lull

I have been criticized at times for writing about things that have already happened and teaching things you have to wait an entire year to use. In other words: timing is key. This greeting takes that into consideration, offering advice about something that will most likely be experienced by all of us in the next few weeks.

For endurance athletes, August can be a difficult part of our seasons. Many of us had a huge summer and are tired and spent from the stress and training for our “A” events that took place in July. For bike racers especially, since July is the peak of the season, motivation in August is tough! For those who have big goals in early- to mid-August, like Ironman, Leadville or other “A” events, this time is nerve-racking while you hope and pray that you have done enough or, in some cases, not too much! Either way, there isn’t much you can do now…so you start to get nervous!

Those with great fitness and big July events may start to experience some symptoms of “burn out”. This often happens after a big event or season goal has gone by. You feel physically tired and the motivation to train is starting to dwindle. Many of us have been going at it hard since May and are just plumb tuckered out, needing a break. For me this is the part of the year that I call my “midseason lull” and I have experienced this almost every year since I started cycling. My motivation to train and eat right and do intervals seems to fall sharply during August and I have had to learn how to manage this change. About 20 years ago, I started to take 7 to 10 days off at this time and reduce cycling and training. During these 10 days I do other things to stay fit and freshen my mind. I play a few rounds of golf, go for a wakeboard, take a family vacation…and when I do ride, I do not do intervals! With all this fun comes a slight decrease in fitness. Losing some fitness is much easier to swallow when my early summer goals are behind me and my fall goals are far enough away that I have time to get it back.

The key to that statement is “fall goals”. Picking events in October or November are critical to bouncing back and getting remotivated to train after that August break. Let me reiterate: always have a fall goal! The biggest problem I see for endurance athletes is a post-event mental and physical nose-dive in the fall and then having to spend the entire winter digging out of a hole that does not need to be there. I say this now because there is still time.

Pick an event in late-September, October or November that excites you. After your break in August, get excited to get in great shape for your late-season goal. If you have a big event in mid-August, take 10 days or so in early-August and get after it in mid- to late-August. Either way, allow yourself a break, then put the next goal on the board and go for it. The goal does not have to be nearly the size or scope of your big mid-summer event, but it has to have enough substance to stimulate/motivate you to get back on the horse.

The key here is to be okay with losing a little fitness. Knowing that will provide some mental and physical rest that will bounce you back to a higher peak than if you would have just kept grinding all summer and fall. The loss in fitness that a mid-summer break costs you is not that great if you have had a great spring and summer of training and events. In fact, I would bet that some of the lack of motivation and stagnant fitness is caused from your body’s inability to stay on good form for such a long time.

I am not saying to take the month of August completely off, but rather a short, unstructured break from training, hard group rides and events. You can still ride a couple times easy when you feel like you “want to” but also do some others things to keep you occupied that do not involve measurement, stress or extreme fatigue.

I just did a week trip to Italy and I probably don’t need to state the obvious: I ate and drank way too much; however, I really unplugged mentally from the day-to-day schedule, structure and stress. That allowed me to return home motivated and excited to work hard with the VQers to get them ready for some great later-season event goals. I am doing the Levi Gran Fondo with some friends on October 4th and am now excited for and focused on this event. It will be great to connect with my old teammate Levi Leipheimer and some of the beautiful roads of Santa Rosa. I also have some smaller goals like the Sub-5 Century in September and Rebecca Rusch’s Idaho event. These are measuring sticks for me to use along the way, but are also events I will enjoy and use to help tune the motor for Levi’s event in October.

For now I suggest you do the following: grab a calendar, your significant other(s) and a glass of wine and figure out what you can agree to for a fall event. If you have big events in the next couple of weeks or have finished your big events already, understand there will be some post-event blues. Have some fun, take a break and recharge the battery. Your fall event will have you back on track and enjoying the process once again.

Ciao~

Robbie

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Potential

We all have more potential than we are aware of, that is for sure. Maximizing that potential can be dangerous. Often times the juice is not worth the squeeze; requiring too much time, energy, cost and thought.

At VQ we try to find the balance in uncovering as much of that potential as possible without throwing the athlete’s entire life out of order. This can be done through effective training and education that teaches the athletes about their bodies.

The process always starts with an evaluation and a goal. Once these two things are in place, the process of uncovering your natural gifts can begin.

Many of you reading this are at different places in your potential discovery, but please read on. See how far into the process you are and get a glimpse at how to keep on rolling.

After you have a goal and a general idea of needs for achieving that goal, you need to develop a consistent training routine. The routine might include working out every TuesdayThursday and Saturday for 30 minutes. This routine will become part of your weekly habits and you will see tremendous growth as your body starts to adjust and accommodate this new consistent weekly stress. The key is consistency. Making the routine doable is very important. It needs to reflect what is realistic.

To take your growth a step further, you may want to slowly increase the intensity (how hard you go), frequency and duration of training within that routine; thereby increasing your volume of work and adding more stress to the system to further elicit a stronger training effect. Now here is where it gets tricky: at some point you will no longer be able to increase your duration and frequency since you have no more time available to train. Many of us find ourselves in this space at one time or another–“stuck” in our progression. Once you are here, you need to start doing the following to further the process of uncovering your potential:

  • First, record your training and how you feel during and after your workouts. Once you start doing this you will want to move to stage two.
  • Next, while recording how you feel, also include other information gathered from your training tools. You may want to invest in tools that monitor speed, heart rate, power, distance, calories or kilojoules burned, cadence, etc. Many of us do both of these things pretty well, but the most important component comes next…
  • Finally you need to analyze this information. Looking at your data and your comments about how you feel and then comparing that to your outputs, helps you learn what workouts are the most effective in making you better. Looking at trends in your training and trying to determine when you need rest and when you need to push it will further help you dial in what types of loads will help you maximize your improvement.

Over time this process helps you learn your body and how it responds. This is key because once you learn your body and its responses you can work so much better with a coach or training program.

At Vision Quest one of our big goals is to create an environment where all these things are easier. We do performance evaluations and goal-setting sessions before athletes start to train with us. We have some really great VQ event goals for them to engage in if they do not have specific goals of their own. We have a variety of workout offerings to fit various lifestyles and we try to get people in training routines that do not disrupt the balance of life. We have swim, bike and strength workouts at all times of the day to make it easy for all our athletes to find a consistent training routine. Our cycling software allows them to keep track of a ton of information and auto-upload to their e-mail or TrainingPeaks account (online software used to track performance and input comments on how they felt). The analysis is the toughest part early on, but over time as you learn from the VQ coaches, staff, data and other athletes, you will find what works best for you. This is an ongoing process that changes as you change from beginner to expert, younger to seasoned, low stress to high stress. The process needs to be meaningful and reflective of the realities of your life.

This process of maximizing your potential is part of the joy of training and getting fit. It is not about winning or keeping up with the guy that trains 30 hours a week. It is about being the best you can be with the time you have. And, through it all, really enjoying the process of learning more about your body, how it works, what makes it tired and how much training intensity, time and rest are needed to optimize your fitness!

Ciao~

Robbie

El Tour de Tucson Recap

Greetings to all,

I would like to focus my greeting on a magical moment many of us had in Tucson, AZ recently. VQ had the pleasure of taking 40 campers to the El Tour de Tucson for the 30th edition of this incredible event. Every November, 9,000 riders descend upon Tucson to ride/race around the 111-mile perimeter of the city. There are a couple of sections where riders must dismount their bikes and run through sand. These sections are called washes and having washes within the event makes it an interesting challenge that differentiates this from every other century or gran fondo across the country.

We had a very diverse group of riders at this camp, all with very diverse goals for the El Tour. Even though very few were technically “racing”, I decided to take a professional cycling team approach to getting everyone ready before the event.

We started with a course preview the day before the event. We previewed the start, the first technical wash and the finish so we were able to experience the key areas of the course. Through this process we discovered that the wash was actually more technical than in previous El Tours and we all noted the perfect entry point, positioning and conditions of the wash itself. There was a section of sand that was unrideable–regardless of skill level. Some of us learned this the hard way by doing “endos” as our front wheels hit the soft sand. Getting off the bike and carrying it was the best way to get through it. Along with the wash knowledge, we figured out the best place to move up at the start and after riding the finish we learned that the finish banner was over 200 meters in front of the actual line. Therefore, we noted that if a rider sprinted for the banner he/she would get passed before the actual line. Being extra patient when timing the final kick is always crucial to having your best finishing place!

After the preview ride we held a team meeting, talking for over an hour on the best pacing, drafting and overall ride strategy for everyone doing the event. We talked our way through the challenges of the day, ride pacing, conservation of energy techniques, critical safety tips, wind direction, hydration/fueling strategies and how these could be adjusted based on the rider’s finishing goals. This process was an exercise that I encourage everyone to do before any big goal event or race. It helps visualize the perfect race execution and allows the rider to feel more confident heading into the event.

For me, 7th place was not my best race result from a placing standpoint, but from a race/ride execution point of view: I nailed it! I can honestly say I received more satisfaction from this year’s El Tour than I did from winning this event in previous years. I am older, less fit and not nearly as prepared as I have been in the past. For me to get a good result, I needed a perfect race where I was luckier and smarter than the other more fit riders in the group. I discovered after my 7th place finish that I have never felt more content with an event in my life. That’s right: IN MY LIFE. My nutrition, pack position, aggressiveness, suffering and final sprint were executed to perfection. I am not bragging about this because, if you have raced as much as I have, you could assume I would have done this in at least a few of my nearly 5,000 races, but I have not. I could always find an area where I could have been smarter, could have saved more energy or could have been a little more aggressive. But on this day, I did not leave one ounce of energy out there and I over-performed my physical capabilities. When you do this as an athlete, it feels incredible. Many of the VQers did the same thing. They placed better than they usually do because they executed better and were more prepared from a strategic standpoint even though some were not as physically prepared as in years past. This allowed all of us to perform at a much higher level than others with similar or even higher fitness levels.

I have said in the past that the finishing place cannot define the success of an event and this is just more proof of that. You can place well with a bad race or place poorly with a good race and unless you’re making money, the feelings are not much different. But if you performed at your maximum and did everything right on race day, you will feel great about your performance regardless of your time or place! That is a fact!

I have thought about why I was able to have my best race ever after all these years of racing, at the ripe age 41 and on the downslide of my power and fitness. I believe it was because of the VQ crew and what I shared with them in the pre-race ride and talk. Going into this, as a pro I assumed I knew everything about the event because I had been there year after year. But because I wanted to make sure the VQers did their best, I tried to look at every detail in depth. Then I also had to convey those details to the campers. Through this process there were a few things I was able to learn myself–and those things made a huge difference! I think the old adage says it all: “it is in giving that we receive”.

So in closing, as we head into the holiday season, we remind ourselves that it is more important to be thankful for the gifts we have rather than constantly focusing on the things we want to achieve. I hope everyone has a magical holiday season. I know this holiday season will be marked with memories of those friends and family who are no longer with us. I will forever remember the spirit of two very special VQ athletes who we recently lost: long-time friend and VQ legend, Gene Nozica, who was always there to help others and lend his incredible cycling knowledge to better the sport and those around him, and an original VQer, Franco Panvino, who taught us so much about being comfortable in our own skin. Franco was a true character who brought energy and life to everyone and everywhere he went. Gene and Franco had a loyalty and passion for our sport that touched so many of us and was felt in a huge way throughout the cycling community. They will be incredibly missed!

Ciao~

Robbie

Off-Season and Out-of-Season Goals

The weather might be tricking us into thinking that winter really isn’t on its way, but by looking at the event calendar we know that it truly is the off-season. Unless of course you’re heading south to race in Florida, Arizona, Mexico or the like. But for all of us who are settling into the off-season, it’s time to re-evaluate the previous season and figure out where you want to go next year. As you start to do that, check out this article that VQ coach Jason Schisler wrote about goals:

Training for any race or event goal is complex. There are some significant additional factors to consider any time you have a goal on your calendar that falls outside the traditional “season” for endurance sports. Depending on your location, the season usually begins in March or April and continues until September. For the sake of this article, we’ll consider anything outside of this timeframe either off-season or out-of-season.

There is a crucial distinction between these two terms and, as a result, each will need to be approached differently. Off-season goals are those that are not central to your overall training and racing ambitions. In most cases, these goals simply fuel the competitive fire. Such goals are worthwhile because they make it easy to get a dose of high-intensity training without the psychological stress of an interval session. While it is important that your training be at a level to support your participation in the event, in general there is no need to make any modifications to your regular training routine. Continue reading

The Rationale for Increasing Pedaling Cadence

Here’s an article written in Vision Quest’s December 2010 newsletter by Coach Jason Schisler. If you’ve ever questioned increasing cadence, he lays out the science behind doing it.

One of the central components of off-season training is improving your technical skills. On the bike, this includes looking at pedaling economy and potentially increasing cadence. A common mistake among new cyclists, and some more experienced riders as well, is a pedaling cadence that is too low. The aim here will be to offer insight regarding why increased pedaling may be beneficial to your performance and how you can go about spinning faster. Continue reading

Start your season slow

The weather is completely to blame for me addressing this idea of how to set up your season. Is it just me, or have you felt like you can’t win with your riding? One day it’s 70 and sunny, the next it’s pouring rain and you’d be sorry if you stepped out without a jacket. And while we all want to take advantage of these nice days–maybe even cram in more miles than our legs are necessarily ready for–it’s not always the smartest move to go full speed ahead at the get go. Here’s a newsletter article I wrote before the start of a previous season explaining why:

It’s difficult to maintain motivation for training when all you see outside is cold, wet streets and gusty breezes.  As the weather starts to turn, most people start to get excited to go outside and start putting in lots of miles.  Their first goal events are just around the corner, they want to prove to themselves and others how effective their winter training routine was, or for some, they just want to start training again!

However, this time of the season is a key time to make sure that you don’t get overly ambitious and jump into a big volume week right off the couch.  Doing too much too soon, could lead to a rapid build up of fatigue or an overuse injury, even if you’ve been training consistently over the winter months.  There are a few reasons for this which we’ll take a look at below. Continue reading

Spring signals mean spring training

The temperatures, not the date on the calendar, might be fooling me into thinking that spring is sticking around for good, but a few warm weather days here and there have gotten me excited for the season ahead. And they’re reminding myself to put in the proper training before the race season hits. In this respect, cycling is a lot like baseball where we lay low in the winter (for the most part), then head into spring training in February and March to dust the cobwebs off our playing/riding for the season’s debut in April. And as the weather starts to improve ever so slightly, it is getting to the time of year where we really want to start ramping up total training volume. The intensity will be increasing a bit as well, but try to make the last weeks of March and April your biggest of the year unless you are on a rest week. Here are some things to think about going into the next phase of training:

Threshold work

Regardless of what your goals are, everyone can benefit from training the threshold system.  This may come in different forms, some will be doing 3×15 minute intervals, others 2×20’s or even 2×30 minute efforts.  Whether you are racing Ironman, road races and crits or even just gearing up for local group rides and centuries, these intervals will be very effective for building the lactate threshold component of your engine, which is a key piece in your ultimate success.  The only reason these types of sessions won’t valuable is if they completely destroy you and prevent your from getting your other required training in at the appropriate intensities or durations.  Being a little tired is OK, even if you have some races coming up, since for almost all of us, these are just races, big goals for Midwesterners should be falling in the July to September time frame.  Below are some tips to ensure you are getting the most from your threshold training. Continue reading