Sunday, February 14, 2010

Experience is a key to success

With a flick of the wrist, my ice axe gained purchase as I moved upward.  Years of climbing have me comfortable in the vertical world and the route was well within my physical ability.  As I stopped to place an ice screw, I began to get nervous.  I kept fumbling and almost dropping the screw as the prospect of falling 20 feet with pointy things attached to my feet and in my hands became more and more real.  Energy was wasted and a bit of panic had set in.  If we were on a route that was at my physical ability, the ending could have been very different.

So what does this have to do with bikes?  It illustrates the importance of skills that can seem easy but are very different when applied.  A giant screw should be easy to place in ice. But add bulky gloves, 20 pounds of gear, and fatigue to the equation and it gets a little more complicated in the same way riding a straight line gets a bit harder when you’re fighting for a wheel with your nose in the wind after being off the front for 10 miles.  Both skills are quickly improved, but many athletes stop worrying about simple tasks once they simply become comfortable.  There are many instances where pure fitness can permit some slop, but in the end, energy is still being wasted.  Think of a strong cross-wind as gaps form.  You struggle to stay with the front group, but slop earlier in the race may have taken a bit too much out of you as the space between your wheel and the next guy gets wider and wider.

Unfortunately the best method to hone these is through experience.  This where the infamous group ride comes in.  These are great training tools and can fit in to any part of the season, if they are ridden correctly.   Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to hammer your brains out every Saturday morning.  In fact, I like my athletes to still do their group rides during their recover blocks.  But, they have strict instructions.  Similar to the goal of five by 8 min intervals in a workout, the goal is to work as LITTLE as possible.  They are to suck wheel the entire time.  Letting the wind touch their face is the painful equivalent of a 30 watt drop during an interval.  Many athletes who have power profiles beyond what they show in their results find themselves on a steep learning curve as they are forced to try new ways to stay protected.  If the purpose of the group ride is a head-banging slug fest that makes grown men cry, hone your skills of riding close when you’re at race speed about to see double.  After hard pulls or attacks, figure out how to squeeze a draft off of anybody near you.  Get in the habit of always riding like this.  When you’re in a race, you’ll automatically find shelter and recover for the next round without a second thought.

While this advice isn’t nearly as interesting as changes in muscle fibers or as beneficial as how to squeeze more out of your intervals, it is free speed.  It can help you learn to seek shelter so you’re not cooked halfway through a race or let you conserve enough to let you hang on until the pace eases and you can grab some precious recovery.

John Hobbs, Senior Consultant
cell 361.815.1100