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Gifts from two wheels

Everyone who races bikes, and even rides bikes, does sport, is a musician, or otherwise is highly invested in a hobby, has a motivation that drives them to continue the habit. I have talked about motivation and what it means on a number of occasions, and whether that motivation is positive or negative.

Closely related to the driving force behind our daily patterns is the rewards we get from habitually doing something that–at least in the case of sports and training–isn’t always instantly gratifying.

I have been thinking about everything that the world of cycling has given me in the tumultuous ten-year history I have been riding, and it’s far more varied than one may think.

There are some obvious external gifts we are rewarded with; increased fitness, new friendship groups via social groups on the bike, a literal vehicle to travel to work, in some cases employment through the industry, great glutes (lol), an extra 8kg or so of muscle mass…

The real gifts, however, are those that aren’t visible to the eye. Sorting through a seemingly endless bag of number plates from bike races long ago through to more recently, I was able to recall many races where events had happened that had challenged and changed me. I was literally able to put together a timeline based on cycling events that ranged from who I was 10 years ago to where I am now. From an awkward self-deprecating, ever striving, anxious novice; to the awkward, slightly more confident, always striving, experienced cyclist with a slightly healthier anxiety level, that I am now.

The path is never linear and always has some added challenges, see below. (Ie: two degrees, a child, 18months of chronic illness, some form of mental breakdown, blah blah blah).

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But what defines success? When I started riding years ago I didn’t even have an end goal, certainly racing ‘well’ at a national level would be a dream but not something I could ever envisage happening. But you continue riding and racing because of the physical, tangible things it gives you as well as the mental clarity, goal setting and achieving and ability to see progress.

And in parallel to your own progress, the goal posts of the sport continually shift. The standards are always changing; riders become stronger, courses get harder, athletes must either adapt and accept the increased speed and technicality required or be happy to stay where they are.

The greatest things that the bike has given me isn’t the opportunity to represent Australia at a world level on a couple of occasions, nor is it the privilege to wear the stripes. Though both of these are pretty great (and I would argue the shocker I had in Cairns last year definitely prompted a reset of values).

The greatest gift I have been bequeathed, not without a great deal of effort on my part, is the ability to know that I am actually an okay person with or without results. When you have been chasing, then have some form of success and you’re just the same old person it really drives home the existential questions…especially if the expectation is for you to change, or be different because of it. When you can turn it around and race and ride for love and not validation, it comes from a different place and a different headspace that is much sustainable for the long-term. You don’t fear competition, you can accept whatever happens on the day, and you know it has absofuckinglutely no effect on your worth as a human being.

So what has bike racing really given me?

-Perspective on what’s important (hint: not bike racing, though it is great),

-A relationship, husband and child (certainly didn’t bank on that when I picked up the GT Avalanche 1.0: rim-brake spec)

-Falling into a fiery pit of despair and coming out harder, better, faster, stronger….like a phoenix (or Daft Punk song, yo),

-An adequate sense of self-worth,

-A tenable ability to conjure watts and power and pain from the bottom of my soul, even when not fit, because you know what a pit of despair is like and you know how far you can push yourself. Sure the numbers may not always be pretty and you may not always be super fast uphill, but you can always delve deep into that pain cave,

-Self-enlightenment in how, and why I ride, and the ability to honestly appraise my own (and others…) motivation and drive to ride,

– The ability to accept and forgive and be kind to myself; no trading in self-flagellation. Nope the sun doesn’t shine outta my arse, but nor does it shine out of anyone elses,

-While it once gave me a sense of identity, coming full circle has meant that you can find yourself outside sport, and be happy with that.

So I am absolutely stoked to be riding and racing my bike. I mean…not today; today I have a rancid post-fever cough with chunks in it and I feel a bit how-are-you-going. But generally, i’m stoked. When you ask the question “what’s possible?”,  line up and have a go, and even if you fail you’re going to be ok; it’s truly liberating.

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This contains a selection of plates from my first few races to now (first few; Scott team of 4, Highland Fling Half), first Marathon (Boonah Marathon), The Full Highland Fling I did 6 months post-partum…singlespeed, The first national series races where I cracked top-5, the first Cycle Epic I placed third in full marathon, 8 weeks gestation (oops), first OS trip racing ProXCT, first Marathon Worlds, first national series race win, first XCO worlds and First National Champ plate. What a whirlwind ride!
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The long hard grind

I have never had a good race at Bayview. A few years ago, at the first event, I entered the 100km in the midst of quite a significant life funk. I figured if I could get through it it would surely pull me out of the life funk. It was a bad idea. I didn’t get through it and the funk stayed in situ.

Last year I did the teams event with Aido. I had just gotten back on the bike after my shoulder injury and wasn’t very fit, I wasn’t feeling great about myself as I had gained back some weight after being lean and fit for the national XCO season, and just….Bayview. Ugh.

For those of you who haven’t done the event, it’s 94km of sandy twisty trail, with 95% of this being singletrack. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE singletrack, but the sheer amount and profile of the event makes it a lot harder than it seems. While the whole event only has 1800m of climbing; not much at all for a marathon of that length, it is made up of hundreds of small 1min long climbs. There are no long descents for recovery. It’s a pedaller’s wet dream and an anaerobe’s nightmare.

This year I wasn’t going to enter the event. I swore to myself I would only enter events that I liked or were new or exciting. Bayview was none of those things to me, however, the organiser–Lonnie–changed up the race course; there was some new singletrack, and a bit more recovery and passing and drinking time with some sustained fireroad sections. All in all it was a great improvement.

Plus, how many events do you get to wear the green and gold in a year? AND only an hour away?

Off the back of a pretty harrowing 2-degree Grafton experience, I had taken a couple of weeks off the bike. It was fantastic and I was surprised at how damn busy I was even when you take out 12–16hours a week of training. Of course, I did some things, like embarking upon a strength program that consists primarily of picking up very heavy things and walking strangely for days afterwards.

The week before the event I get back on the bike and EVERYTHING is hard. Which is to be expected. I enter the race but know it’s going to be a struggle, as much mentally as physically on that course.

The rains had come a couple of days prior and a large deluge overnight meant that race day was set to be moist. The small elite women’s field headed off with elite men, up the first fireroad (which was pretty rude TBH) Holly and I had snuck in amidst the elite men and I believe were already away from the rest of the elite women.

We found ourselves with a group of two elite men, and that’s kind of how it was for the start loop (10km). One dropped off through the first main loop and so there were three of us, and we were hauling along at a solid tempo. We certainly weren’t racing out of our skins, but the constant pedalling and repetitive small inclines do take their toll.

Towards the end of the first main loop (the 52km mark) one of the elite men we were riding with, friend Andrew Crawley, began to pay the price for having his first mountain bike ride in three months, and took a break through the feed, and so it was Holly and I.

We started the second main lap. We had a chat up the first climb, and I was obviously more puffed then young Holly. I had missed a water feed on course in the first lap, and was feeling a little parched, and so I was expecting her to come around and put the jandal down. It’s what I would have done if I was in her position…stalk like a tiger then bam. Take the prey when you sense its weakness.

So when she attacked up the wall after a couple of little attempts before, I had nothing to answer with. I had a red hot go but hit the rev limiter pretty quickly, and then spent the next 30mins freewheeling and running into things. It certainly wasn’t my idea to go and blow, but in the case that someone is attacking do you give it a nudge and see, or do you just sit up and ride tempo because that was your plan?

In the end, it’s a race and you do what you can to win it. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t, but you gotta roll the dice.

Holly’s dice were pretty solid as she rode off into the distance. It was going to be a long sad 30km solo. Brad Babel passed me as a broken former shell of myself after the attack. He told Aido I was blown to smithereens and wouldn’t be making it in home for sunset.

Post-rev-limit induced mushroom cloud I knew I couldn’t catch her, but after a feed, some food and a guzzled bottle of hydration I was going to give it all I could, after all; it ain’t over until it’s over and MTB is all about the variables.

The rest of the race was difficult to get motivated riding by myself. I wished I had someone to ride with, but alas I don’t remember passing anyone and I don’t think anyone passed me. I willed my legs to keep turning, I cursed the pedalling, and generally coaxed my body through the pedally, sloppy mess of Bayview.

I was about to celebrate not crashing in the tight muddy singletrack, when one of the last grass trees of the event jumped in front of me and I scorpioned into the scrub. Ugh. I heard someone coming behind as I jumped back on my bike, it was Dave P. The saddle was sideways. I jump off and try to whack it back, but in the end I get my tool out and move it.

Gee whiz what a difference 90sec of recovery does to the legs! 90sec of not pedalling was like heaven on a course like that. The last 12km was fast. I passed Dave Penhaligon again and zoomed off home.

Not pedalling is bliss!

And so I came in second behind the super speedy Harris, who I wasn’t going to catch regardless, because she is waaaay to good at the pedalling right now.

But most importantly, I had a reasonably positive race. And I got back before sunset. Sure I could have done without the blow on the chase, but there were people in far worse condition getting home, and I still took a solid 8th or so in the Elite men field. It goes to show that no matter how slow you feel you’re going, you’re probably not going that slow.

Onwards and upwards, I was pretty happy with the result all things considered and am excited to launch into some training. I have a few upcoming events that I am really excited about, and am heading to Dwellingup for the final round of the XCM National Series as I find myself leading the Elite Women category!

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“With great power comes great responsibility” -Spiderman (and/or Voltaire)

I have spent a fair bit of time the past week, in between the soul-destroying forays into night shift, doing some navel gazing. The problem is I am really good at thinking about things and peeling the it all away layer by layer, each facet examined.

This is not always a good thing! In fact it often leads to uncovering more negative thoughts than the unexamined life would have one discover.

But regardless, I was thinking about the process of getting to this point, where I am very fortunate and humbled to be able to wear the green and gold stripes. It has been a long process, filled with ups and downs, mountains and valleys.

I thought back to my first season, where my third mountain bike race ever was a National Series race, where I finished about 20mins down (they didn’t use the 80% rule…obviously) and I was energized, disappointed and humbled by the whole race, and just so amazed at the girls at the front.

Star-struck, in fact!

I can’t even remember who won (I was, after all, snivelling around the back) but I have no doubt that Tory Thomas and Zoe King would have been battling at the front. Two amazing stars in my eyes for many years!

They surely didn’t even know it at the time, but for XCO the likes of Rowena Fry, Tory Thomas, Zoe King, Jenni King and Katherine O’Shea were just absolute rock stars of the XCO world. Rebecca Henderson was another; she was fast as soon as she was out of the uterus. When I raced my first marathon (also finishing at least 15min behind the winner!) I was introduced to some other names which I also immediately thought were just SO GOOD. These included Naomi Hansen, Imogen Smith and Jodie Willett. At some stage, a whole host of new riders burst onto the scene and were just phenomenal even though they were new, the likes of Heather Logie, Peta Mullens and Jenny Fay. So amazing! So fast! How the hell could I ever be that good?

And you know what made the difference? Almost all of these women were friendly and open to saying hi to me, some little ol’ skinny hurter who crashed every race, just riding out the back trying to get through it. Road racing, and running were different worlds in contrast, and all anyone wants is to be treated with respect and included and I guess that’s why mountain biking was a stayer. Even though I was crap.

The other day I was getting my knee patched up in the medical tent (because while some things have changed, having little naps mid-trail have been pretty consistent), these guys who didn’t know me from a bar of soap were asking about riding. Do you do many of these? How lonng have you done it? Are you any good? (Well the last one was paraphrased but you know you get that feeling when someone is trying to suss you out).

I was almost about to say “Ooooh no I am not very fast”. Then I stopped myself.

What utter drivel! Can you imagine what they would have thought if they found out I won the race and said ‘yeah, but you know I am not very fast’. What would my competitors further afield think if they heard me talking down my own speed at the front of the race? It’s utterly absurd; and certainly wouldn’t make them feel very good about their own achievements!

What would I think if I was talking to any of the girls I mentioned earlier, with stars in my eyes in total awe of their achievements, and they said, ‘yeah but I am not very fast’, after winning a national level race.

And that’s when it hit me…that perhaps other people see me in the way I saw all these amazing athletes throughout my development as a rider?

While the Green and Gold XCM jersey may mean fuck-all for many people, it is pretty special to me, and represents ten years of suffering, progress and self-actualisation. It’s taken a kid, two degrees, and a lot of growth and change to get here. Sometimes the things you work the hardest and longest for are the most worthwhile and I am very very happy to be in this position.

For some people, though, I guess I probably am seen as that fast rider out the front. And though the ‘power’ of a domestic champ jersey in an Australian fringe sport like mountain biking certainly isn’t on par publically with a footy grand final, or swimming gold, there is a certain responsibility you cannot simply opt out of when you are at the front of even a fringe sport like mountain biking. And it’s not just champs; it’s all the women and men who line up at the elite level.

The thing is, when you are seen as a high-performer in any sport, you are already a role model for others. Whether you like it or not, you set the standards for behaviour, eithics and sportsmanship in the sport.

And so, here’s the crux; if I hadn’t had good experiences with those in the sport early on, I wouldn’t be here now, and so I feel that when you’re that implicit role-model, you have a duty to be the person you needed when you were growing up/developing in the sport.

Sportsmanship has been defined as ‘an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect and a sense of fellowship for one’s competitors’.

The way one reacts to a game sport, race or player will either embody or reject the values of sportsmanship.

There is nothing I love more than smashing myself on the track with a bunch of other hitters, then sitting down and enjoying a milkshake and coffee afterwards. This is the awesome thing about our sport, and it’s something I want to continue for as long as I race.

Some examples of awesome sportsmanship I see in mountain biking include:

• encouragement of others in all levels of the sport;

• sense of camraderie, especially if someone is injured or distressed in the race;

• swallowing of pride and congratulating those who beat you on the day as well as showing grace in the case of winning, and congratulating your competitors;

• making time to talk to those newer to the sport; and,

• accepting and understanding the nature of mountain biking; there are many variables, and so owning your race experience is important.

Examples of poor sportsmanship, which are thankfully rare in the sport but still can happen include:

• Being a sore loser/blaming external factors for poor performance;

• Being an ungracious winner;

• Not embodying the friendly nature of mountain bike racing (ie: care and respect for one’s competitors);

• Cheating in any form; and

• Acting in any other manner that could be seen as unethical or detrimental to the image of the sport.

And these aren’t just for those at the elite level of the sport, it’s a trickle down effect. If you ride in any capacity, you need to be the change you want to see. You want to embody the values of sport, promote fair play and good sportsmanship, because without that mountain biking has the potential to lose it’s gleam, to become less family friendly and become representative of the tarnished culture that is represented in some higher profile sports in Australia.

So this year is about encouraging newer riders in the sport, getting women on the race track, embodying the vlues I hold dearly and generally being a good human.

The seeds of doubt don’t grow if you don’t water them

 

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Ow. Pic: Ruth Corset

 

 

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Green and Gold!

 

“Ugh” I said, chewing in the near-darkness of the early morning. Karen had the right idea, she was on the crumpet program; easy to get down, minimal chewing. I stoically continued chewing muesli, thinking ‘well I am going to have to be pretty determined to finish this thing off today, may as well get some practice in with the muesli’. It’s a mixture of nerves and excitement, little shreds of doubt creep in only to have to be swatted away repeatedly. And so it was for the morning of the 2018 Cross Country Marathon National Champs in Townsville.

So it’s been a long while since I have written intensively about a race. Race reports have kind-of left me feeling a bit flat since I stopped continually placing importance on bike racing in my life.

I recently competed in Lasseters Easter in the Alice, combining the first round of the Australian XCM National Series, and surprised myself to have some great form and took the marathon stage and overall stage race win, but most importantly I hung out with amazing people, enjoyed the trails and had a good time. Which is the number one priority nowadays.

I felt pretty confident to have a good race in Townsville, after all the endurance was coming on and the power was there, and it seemed to have a similar profile to Alice. Then the course changed locations, and though I was outwardly excited to try a different course, knowing that this course featured 4x30min climbs planted those little seeds of doubt; after all I had actively refused to purposefully manipulate my weight, instead working on power and consistent sub-threshold efforts, and I knew I wasn’t at the most optimal climbing weight.

But you ‘run what you brung’, and so while the seeds of doubt were there, I refused to water them. And for someone who is 60-61kg in a field of much smaller riders, I can generally hold my own. I just shut that thought down every time thethought of not being good enough, or light enough, to race well crept in. Cycling and endurance sports are so weight based it can do your head in, but I can take confidence from the fact that I have done well at races at a variety of weights and while where I am at isn’t the most optimal for uphill, I can still ride uphill; plus it fits with life and creates no neuroses’. Though weight-based demons were banished a long time ago from my world, when the seeds of doubt like to creep in, body image is the first chink in the armor they attack.

So we were at the start, all I wanted was a clean race and to ride as smoothly and well as possible, and stick to the plan. But marathon racing is a fickle mistress and plans are made to be adjusted and adapted, the win is when you can just roll with it.

I knew that Holly would be one to beat, and when I saw Tory’s name on the start line, I knew she would probably be hustling for a win on this particular course, too.

We lined up and I had one of my super soigneur’s, Shazzi, waiting in line to get me a coffee. Unfortunately, the coffee van turned up very late and had a very relaxed attitude to pulling espresso’s, and I went without prior to the race.

This was a new experience, and certainly lacked a little spark in the first couple of laps, but you need to ‘run what you brung’ and play the cards you’re dealt, so I focussed on trying to ride smooth and finding places to drink on the rocky course. I led out for the first part of the climb, and after a small descent Holly rode past and put some power down; I followed her with a small gap over the rest of the field. About 20min into the climb I needed to find my own rhythm, as I thought it a bit fruitless to blow up on lap one, and I watched her get some distance. After the first descent, she was right there again! This kind of happened the next two laps where she would be just ahead, with Tory Thomas just behind.

I had a cracker of a cartwheel on lap one, resulting in some claret and, now, much bruising, and Tory got a bit closer behind and I lost visual of Holly in front for a while.

Lap two was pretty uneventful. The legs didn’t yet hurt, just a little discomfort. No crashes or anything to write home about, but lap three is where it all started to unravel in the elite women’s field.

I stopped to take a pack in order to drain 1.5L in one lap to avoid the great heat-related illness adventures that I am renowned for, and also swapped a fresh water bottle out on my bike. With the power of hindsight I have left the bottle, as I was 2.5kg up with both, and with the pause to get this hydration sorted, I found Tory snapping at my heels. She was having a good lap, and we rode together from near the top of the main climb. I was really feeling the weight of a pack and a bottle.

Descending down the loose, rocky old-school Blue Ringed Octopus trail, all of a sudden we stumbled across Holly who was a minute or so up, flailing with a flat. I muttered something encouraging (or did I? I can’t remember!) then, with Tory glued to my wheel we headed up the nastiest firewood pinch of the race, searching for extra gears, I manage to somehow jam my chain between my cassette and spokes, and am wrenching it out for a bit, before having to run up the hill due to the inability to remount on a 30% hill. Tory was out of sight.

Bummer dude.

The gold was in sight, then gone again! But thinking about the outcome isn’t a good idea during a race, while keeping in the moment is pretty integral. I descended to the feed with Tory still out of sight.

Dumping the pack and downing a gel, I headed into the final lap, starting to feel good on the climb when unencumbered by the pack. Weightless! Tory was on the first descent as I climbed up, maybe 90sec up. I just kept plugging away and Dean, local rider and occasional ride buddy, passed me and told me I had ‘daylight…second’s yours!”. “I’ll just keep chugging away,” I said, or something similar.

Halfway up the climb, Tory was in view, only two switchbacks up, then one…I was closing the gap but didn’t want to get too ahead of myself early in the last lap, after all, it’s a course that can claim so many with flats and mechanicals.

The start of the second main descent I dropped it down low into the dirt (again) in a lapse of concentration, and–dusted up like a crumbed cutlet–hopped back on. I was pretty determined to maintain focus, and then to refocus asap when lying on the ground. I wasn’t sure how far Holly was…or how far ahead Tory may again be after I had hit the deck.

All of a sudden, towards the end of the final descent I see streaking red and black of Tory’s Trek team colours just ahead, I had somehow managed to close the gap.

The last few minutes of the race were fast and furious. Trying to think, evaluate options and ride towards a win is tricky 4 hours into a race.

I shot through the feed zone onto a few hundred metres on the road; Tory was just ahead, maybe 100m further up. I shut the gap down in record speed, it seemed Tory was toiling hard, perhaps the effort of her super fast third lap catching up on her.

The last kilometre of the race featured the road turning off onto a mighty short, sharp road berg, into a sketchy loose descent and this started just after I got on her wheel. I stayed on the wheel for a few seconds to pause, then as we turned the corner to the berg I launched out of the saddle putting out a 90sec-2min effort with everything I had. Nearing the top I looked back to see Tory nowhere near me, and so started the final anxiety-fraught minute into the finish straight. I rode the final bit fastishy-cautious, after all, a crash here and it would all be over again, I turned into the finish straight and without looking back rode through.

To a National Championships win! By 40secs, in the last kilometre! Wow!

I didn’t know what to expect to feel, you tend to have to push the feelings aside during racing in order to get the job done. I wasn’t bargaining on a win for 95% of the race, I had almost accepted second but continually pushed regardless. I was overcome with happiness, surprise, and sadness (that my family wasn’t in Townsville with me) all at once.

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Post race coke, magic.

I certainly didn’t have the ‘clean’ race I wanted, but in the end, I rolled the dice and played to my strengths, rode sensibly and was rewarded for it. I do feel for Holly who was on a blinder, she has so many good things coming for her, and Tory for the disappointment she would have felt being passed in the twilight moments of a national championship race.

So the book deals and sponsorship opportunities are rolling in, now I am going pro!

Just kidding.

I just dropped Elva off at school and I am back to work tomorrow. 😛

Huge thanks to my fam, for putting up with all my shit, and accepting me when I am in the foetal position after riding 4hrs in the driving rain, and then Aido has to fix my bike which is inevitably always f#$%ed due to riding in aforementioned weather. Thanks to Cyclinic for the bike-pimping, and especially to Matt from Cannondale for exceptional feed zone duties (pretty sure one time I made Matt stuff jelly dinosaurs directly into my mouth…sorry about that) and for my sweet bike, and for Shazzi for desperately trying to get me a coffee, and the fab moral support.

With Karen, Shaz, Les and Declan staying together we had a real Townsville ‘family’ happening, and such a good time chilling with some great people. Karen had a nightmare race with 4000 flats, and Declan ride strongly in one of his first races at this level.

Stoked is an understatement!

So in the end, the muesli really sealed the deal mentally. I just had to chew through it to get to the end.

Stats:

• 5 gels

• 3 electrolyte bottles

• 1×1.4L water pack

• 4 laps

• 68km, 4hr07min

• 2 crashes

• 1 mechanical (minor)

• 12 thoughts of ‘why am I doing this’

• 1000 thoughts to ‘look up’ and ‘focus’

• No heatstroke

2018: A list of broken things thus far

 

Rolling updates of my path of destruction throughout the year of 2018.

 

April:

Broken bird-flipping finger

 

March:

Bent fork lowers

IRD Battery Broken

Flat/Dead Tyre: MTB (mid race)

Flat/Dead Tyre: Road (mid miles)

Hydrapack bladder mouth piece failed

 

February:

Lost credit card

Lost child (found shortly after)

Broken derailleur

Broken Water tank pump

 

January:

Carbon Wheelset

Carrot speculation: on motivation and results

I am lucky enough to be able to coach an awesome group of cyclists. It’s a motley crew, with women and men ranging between junior to masters, I have a little bit of everything.

The needs of each different rider can be split into such broad categories (masters vs junior, mens vs women) but realistically, the individual differences between the rider are far greater than the difference between these constructed categories.

While one may be looking to complete an event, another may be hell-bent on a National’s journey; and that’s ok. We tailor coaching to both athletes.

The difficult part of it for me is to enable both these riders with confidence and a culture of success. Maybe it’s because I am not an innately confident person, it’s something that requires work for me!

Bike racing has always been 50-50 work and mental belief, and it’s in the 50% of mental belief that we can see the biggest leaps and bounds in terms of outcomes. I was having a chat to an athlete this morning and explaining differences in zones and their breakdown in max and threshold heart rate, and then how this is once again different to power-based zones. “but really, unless we are in a chamber doing a VO2 test with either gas exchange or lactate sampling, we are merely going off what is most likely numbers from the data from riding and testing you have done”.

The idea that coaching is anyway a precise science, especially for off-road events with the myriad of variables that are thrown at us, is a misnomer.

In so many ways, coaching is both an art and a science. We all understand the science, anyone who has successfully completed the Level 2 NCAS Coaching course has an understanding of anatomy and physiology in a way that a meaningful and successful training plan can be created. Sometimes I think I know too much; I head back through literature citing studies for whatever evidence I am looking for, when really the outcome would be no different!

The one thing, however, that makes the biggest difference to outcomes is motivation.

One athlete can follow a training program that is exactly the same as another athlete’s (BTW I never copy and paste programs…) and have wildly varying results.

Why is this? Well, there is a myriad of reasons. Genetic ability, social support, access to training sports and groups, previous training history, the ‘culture of success’, but I think the biggest one is motivation.

If you start training and the motivation is to complete a race, that’s very different to having a three-year plan to don the green and gold jersey. Neither of these is a poor motivation to take up coaching, but the passion with which you feel this, and the extent of vision and sacrifice you can make can lead to different outcomes.

For example, while I wrote a lot about ‘why do you ride’ in some of my earlier cycling documents for athletes new to coaching, it had always been a bit of an enigma when I asked myself that question.

I certainly didn’t set out to crush souls, that was never my intent, yet something pushed me to get up at ridiculous-o’clock every morning and train my guts out for years and years (ok intermittently for years and years between illness and kiddo’s but you know what I mean!) until one day the planets aligned and I got super speedy and had a whole bunch of great results.

Some say those in pursuit of endurance sports have a screw loose, and to be fair that’s more often than not true. Why else would people get up at 4am to train to the point of needing to vomit, for no financial or social reward (other than maybe a few Strava kudos and bragging rights)? It simply doesn’t make sense. Yet we still do it.

When I hear others talking about their motivation being ‘the feeling when i’m standing on the podium’ that really has a bit of a cognitive disconnect for me, just because it’s not been a driving force for me.

But that being said, I am not here to shame anyone who admits they have a desire to stand on the podium, if that’s a driving force then fantastic, we can definitely work with that! It is a competitive sport after all and we are trying to create the right environment (physically, mentally, socially) for success. It perhaps just requires a little deeper thinking in regards to what success means. Coaching is just not a one-size-fits-all approach, and I believe the process is more important than the outcome. You can have a successful race and not win, and a terrible race and take line honors.

ABRatsFiggy
An example of having a terrible race, yet taking line honors! I gave it my all, however I felt messy as I didn’t pre-ride the course, took many of the wrong lines, and cased 50% of the jumps. Still, it’s part of the process of having a more successful race in terms of the process.

I now understand that riding is important to me because it’s an area where I can set goals, achieve them, be rewarded for hard work, and literally see and feel strength and power. The reason I do it is not for the result but for the acquisition of mastery and a flow state. Thankfully, that in itself is linked to good performance, just a different way of getting compared to a tangible outcome-based motivation.

I am also old and maybe wise enough (well, or something) to know that in this sport there are many fish and many ponds, and being a big ol’ Salmon in a goldfish bowl doesn’t count for a lot in the big world; and that’s ok too!

Many sports institutes look for talent and quick results in a mechanised way, without thinking about the future or long term of an athlete. I would rather an athlete have a long happy life in the sport rather than go to hard (physically and mentally), blow up and turn away from it all.

So what’s your motivation?

Seeking: A life more adventurous

I just found myself consulting the magic 8 ball. The online version thereof. You know you’re in a quandary when you’re making decisions based on online images and java bots.

It was about a race. You probably know the one. I had decided to wait until an event piqued my interest before plunging in, because racing when you feel you ‘should’ rather than when you’re firing up, historically makes the whole fiasco harder to suffer through. But yet, there is a strong ‘should’ whenever an event comes up, even if my heart isn’t really into it.

Unfortunately my nihilistic tendencies can both help and harm life in the bike world: “it doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things” can either light a fire under; “go get it what have I got to lose?” or alternatively “it doesn’t matter, why do I do this again?”. Like the story of the good and evil wolf, the one that wins is the one that gets fed, but go-get-it-wolf has been going hungry recently.

It’s fine when you are enjoying racing, feeling fast and motivated, and want to be there. It’s a lot tougher when you would rather be at home, running the dog, catching up on work or doing a whole host of other things that aren’t getting up sub-5am to trundle out to a bike race.

When your attention is diverted from racing; (and it’s not such a bad thing really: it is what it is: life), it’s much harder to get excited about it. School holidays mean lots of parenting time and little opportunity to ride (or even do work; it’s busy!).

Plus, the goals I have ticked off in the past couple of years have been epic. I want to shake it up a little, still race and crush souls (eventually) but perhaps in a different manner. Right now, the only way that go-get-it wolf is going to get a meal is by chasing adventure.

Adventure inspires me to do the suffering and hard yards that are difficult to do without a goal.

It’s far from scientific, but my important multi-pronged attack includes:

-Adventure rides in new places

-With cool people

-To do events that I have not yet experienced

-And probably with not too much riding in circles, at this early stage

I am seeking: solid climbs and good descents, new trails, variety and good feels. Feeling strong is always a goal so I am hitting new routes on the roadie, without any specific efforts right now,  to challenge myself to push the physical and psychological boundaries without the routine of a general training plan. I want to be a trailblazer of MTB adventure!

I am happily accepting offers of ideas of excellent events and adventures to have!

 

One hot mess

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Poor preparation leads to piss poor performance. We all know the sayings and most of us are able to get organised to an acceptable level. I have not really self-identified as a hot mess until just recently, when in a very short space of time;

-my DI2 display broke on my XC bike,

-I sweated on my Garmin 520 on the ergo and it died,

-I crashed my road bike at 56km hr, and though I was incredibly lucky to come out with just a mass of scabs, I put a nasty dent in the top tube of my road bike and busted my hoods…

-…and a brand new kit I was wearing.

I thought that was enough; like it’s more than three things that have gone wrong; I have had my fix of misfortune for the next few years.

So with one bike that’s working properly, I headed down to Thredbo for the Cannonball Festival. Long term athlete and gravity shredder Ben Forbes was heading down as well, so we decided to make a trip of it. With the serious Josh Hooton we had a good crew.

During my plane flight I noticed there was some black stuff under the seat in front. Weird, I thought, maybe the underside of the seat has deteriorated? It took only a couple more minutes to realise my winter boots hadn’t lasted into this summer, and the entire sole had disintegrated. By the time we picked up the hire car the shoe was a remaining leather upper with some stitching on the bottom.

Never fear; I will pick up some shoes en route in Cooma. Josh, Ben and I all made a B-line for the bathroom, and I came out and had no idea where they were so headed down the road to Cooma’s best; Target Country. Featuring shoes for $10 in both a size 8 and 11 (I need a 9…) I purchased these super-tight beauties and found the boys chasing the trail of bits of sole like Colorado-branded boot breadcrumbs, to find me.

Perfect; it’s time for coffee. Grab some food and I was surprised that the coffee was BETTER THAN AVERAGE! I go to text Aido to let him know…and my screen had died. On and off and on and off again; it was the iPhone equivalent of the blue screen of death. I am a bit stressed at this point as I run between the three places that sell phones in Cooma; AusPost, the Newsagency and the electronics store, and try and pick something up. It’s a bit of a hustle and back and forth as I get a phone from AusPost then head back to the Electronics store to pick up a sim adaptor.

We head to Thredbo, the boys sleeping in the tight three seater van while I floor the van in third up the climbs at 60km/hr (a gutless wonder, don’t buy a Hyundai van). We arrive and head to the accom. Ben assured us that it would be fine for four people, and as we check in we are greeted with a single hotel room with two single beds…and two pull-out beds underneath. Even with two people it would be a squeeze but we were fitting in four…

The next day was full of runs, and the All Mountain Assault race. The course had gotten faster as the rain dried through the day and then slower as it loosened up. I played it technically conservative, what with my recent brokenness, but fanged the pedal bits and came away with 5th in Pro women, wishing I rode my gravity bike more.

 

Cannonball, All Mountain, Thredbo, 2017
Looks can be deceiving; definitely a hot mess here.

 

The next day was epic for practice, with around 40km of descending on my 7 runs. I felt fine but lack of sleep was catching up…without a race we headed for some beers instead.

Saturday saw the Flow Motion Cup, basically a DH race on a Flow trail. Without much pedalling to be done it was down to being steely and quick. We were scheduled to race at 330pm however it was 530 before our race kicked off! The course had disintegrated a lot since the morning runs which made me think I should have just entered an age group and had it over with in good conditions, and had the rest of the day! The braking ruts were huge and intense and the course much looser than earlier in the day. Alas, I pedalled where I could and tried to stay smooth but couldn’t match the finesse of the super quick girls ending up 9th. Goes to show what a difference a few little mistakes can make in a discipline that takes no prisoners for imperfection! Our number four, Rob, did the race on his hardtail 29er singlespeed. What a crazy guy!

With my DH run for the next day scheduled again late in the day, I realised I would miss my flight to race, so instead headed on a Thredbo Valley Trail return loop on the big bike with the old Sydney crew; Rob, Marti and her friend Emma. While I probably wouldn’t choose the 160mm 14.5kg bike for a trail like this again it was a couple of good hours with good mates and finished with coffee; the way all good rides should.

Packing up I was sad to leave the sweet trails but ready to see the family again. While I love racing my bike, the long days waiting make me more anxious than just getting out there and racing of a morning, like in a conventional XCO, XCM or Gravity event.

Heading home I was at the airport earlier than expected, and the airline was being a stickler for the weight limit. Fair enough, they have a policy. I take out my $10 target shoes, a couple of bottles and dump them in the bin. The new guy gets me to re-weigh my bike; it’s still over. I have nothing else to take out unless I can wrangle my dropper post.

Long story short, it takes me a lot of grunting, plumbers-crack and sweating, but I get the dropper out, and have likely completely fucked it in the process. I pop my bag to oversize and head to security screening. Security stops me and states that I can’t take my seat and post through, as they have deemed it a weapon (seriously fuck you Canberra!) and I have to check it in.

At this stage I am 98% beaten. Thankfully I speak to someone else and they get the bike back then lucking look the other way with the overnight luggage. I think I looked so bedraggled with my scabby limbs from the road crash, crusted sweat from the effort of taking the seat out, and bags under my eyes from a crappy bed, that they took pity on me.

I get a call from Aido; Elv had fallen over running upstairs at my sister’s house and perhaps broken her arm. Yep; she broke her arm.

So now I am home, which is great. I am exhausted, and I have;

-Three broken bikes,

-A broken garmin,

-A torn kit,

-Broken boots,

-A dead phone, and;

-One busted child.

So things are going well.

I am officially a hot mess.

 

CBFM17-0617
Boosting a double (yet still a mess; look at that number plate!)

 

The data only works when you do

As a Level 2 cycling coach, I get data. I have the ability to analyse efforts, sessions, weeks and seasons with the help of complex training software at my fingertips.

I can build to a CTL, daily TSS, weekly ATL and target a ramp rate. We can do power efforts in any of the targeted zones to achieve optimisation. And we do. But the reality of coaching is that unless you’re training high-level track-letes (track athletes, I made that up, go me!) or very dedicated power-equipped roadies only, the data needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

For example, I work with many power-based athletes, however a number of these lack power on their primary race bike (either a cross-country or gravity mountain bike) but do utilise it in their primary training bike; their road bike. Does it make training these athletes harder? Yes and no. No, as traditional training zones are easier to implement and less variable than power zones. Yes, in that relying on heart rate for some training sessions leaves a bit of a query about the effort and intensity of the session.

While a 2hr tempo road ride will consist of sitting between your endurance and threshold zones, a 2hr tempo ride on the mountain bike likely consists of a significant time descending in a recovery or aerobic zone, and multiple bursts above threshold. On the flip side, mountain biking uses more ‘whole body’ energy output, so even a power metre equipped bike won’t tell the real tale of energy spent (whole-body kinematic mountain bike energy expenditure suits? Could be a market…). Thus, quantifying this can be difficult. Add in the heart rate lag and there is a potential to underestimate energy expenditure.

More often than not, this variation between power and heart rate-based sessions isn’t the thing that will undo the amateur self-coached athlete; it’s the reliance on what the computer says and steadfast belief that one is a machine.

 As an athlete and a coach, even I find objectivity in my own training difficult at times, so I can only imagine how difficult it could be for someone who buys software and a power metre or heart rate monitor and struggles with the intricacy of balancing life and training in a sensible manner.

Here are some examples of man vs machine type problems I unravel for athletes;

My ramp rate is stuck /or my CTL is trending downwards???

For athletes that have a small ramp rate that even trends into negative at times, you first need to review their data at a macro level. At what point does the ramp rate reduce? What volume and intensity was going on, and what were you building from? Many athletes fall outside the realms of an ‘ideal’ ramp rate (cited as being somewhere between 5-8) due to not being pro athletes.

Often a more conservative approach can yield a better long term result without stagnation, or a short period with a strong ramp rate may be followed by a more neutral phase before increasing training; remembering the adage that overload then rest yields results.

The other thing to consider is the data sampling; what time frame are you looking at ramp rate from? 7 days? 14 days? 21 or 90? Check your input before freaking out about any ramp rate anomalies.

Consider the role of recovery weeks and illness in augmented the carefully orchestrated plan for ramping up the training. Similarly, CTL—Chronic Training load (a rolling 42 day average of training expressed as Training Stress, or TSS/day*)—is only one indicator of fitness, but one that can be tracked and provide valuable data amidst and between multiple seasons for a long-term athlete.

For a few athletes I know, the difference between their high and low CTL is not huge; they don’t have a huge amount of time to train and even when not ‘training’ they’re still maintaining a large percent of their training time on the bike. Reaching towards a greater CTL would push these athletes into overtraining, and thus their CTL gets to a sustainable point, however we use their microcycle planning to craftily increase their gains in specific areas despite appearing flatlined on the CTL.

For a declining CTL firstly I would check the sampling rate again. Then I would have a more thorough look into the sessions. Frequent assessment of an athletes training should give you some insight into how this is tracking regardless, however having another look and specifically scanning for missed sessions, periods of illness and unexpected time off.

Looking at the bigger picture can also be beneficial; sometimes looking through and pinpointing a huge day can precede a drop in CTL and sometimes this is an error. Twice recently I have been reviewing two athletes’ remarkable downtrend. It seemed unexplained; they were both dedicated and were heading to the end of their seasons without their taper period started let alone finished or heading towards a transition. When I was able to pinpoint a 700+ TSS day a few weeks prior in both of their cases, and looked to that day of their program I was able to see that their computer file had uploaded multiple times, and hence it had augmented their training data for the rest of the season.

Deleting the duplicates and knocking that session back to 250 TSS showed a much more reasonable graph!

My power is the same as X but I am going slower, what gives?

Power is a fickle mistress, it has incredible….er…power when used correctly however when not used well it’s just a bunch of useless numbers. For an example like this, we need to firstly account for the variables.

Being:

• power metre and calibration

• weight of self

• weight of bike (weight of water bottles etc)

• any other pertinent bike modifications

• weather/time of day/wind factor

An example of this is a local climb whereby it’s long enough to complete solid SST (subthreshold) efforts. If I were to compare watts from the start of the year to now I would be like ‘yippee, putting out 10w/more for the climb!’. But when looking at the time and seeing it’s almost 2min slower it begs to question what’s going on.

 • Check and calibrate the power metre If it’s a climb; take your weight into consideration and work out w/kg. Or brownies/day in off season. If it’s a climb, but you’re training for a flat TT then chill; outright power is going to be better than w/kg in a flat TT in all but the most marginal of cases

• Work on increasing outright power and getting aero.

• Have you changed equipment? Take note of the change in weight and fit of bike (ie: upgrading to a lighter bike, or making note of a heavier set-up is important too, including carrying an extra water bottle)

• Check the ride notes from last time; if it was a fine day with a bit of a tailwind that could be of benefit if the more recent one was in a wet gale.

Some very, very basic power analysis: First effort, a year ago. Rated as ‘very hard’ towards end. First and only effort but began with 50min less riding in legs than effort below. Slight tailwind, average 235w/average, good weather. 59-ish kg, 7.5kg bike. 16:50 effort. Obviously went hard and ‘blew up’  little towards end augmenting power.

Second effort, last week. Rated as moderate. Second of two efforts. Started this effort earlier into ride. Blustery winds and rain, self-paced subthreshold (more consistent as seen by less oscillation in power line) and nil blow up. 245w/average. 61-ish kg, 8.5kg bike + extra bidon. 18:50 effort. 

 If you look at all these factors as outlined in the captions above, and not just a power chart, it’s likely you will find a culprit. If not, having another good look through the power file for analysis will allow you to see if there are any drops or unexpected glitches from within the file.

The message behind this post is; power only works when you do. Put in the effort to train consistently, test frequently, upload consistently, talk to your coach and write good feedback and then you can work together to reach your athletic potential.

As a coach, work both within and outside the data to unravel the mysteries and joys of training athletes to be their best.

*TSS is a numerical measurement of intensity/duration of a given session based on heart rate and power thresholds

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