We are a couple of weeks into the racing season and already the battle lines are being drawn among the larger teams. You would recognize the names; Texas Roadhouse, First Internet Bank, Zipp, Shellers, and the riders; Tolson, Kroll, Peterson, Richter, Clark. Last week a few Bakehouse raced the Eagle Creek oval criterium and this weekend we were at the Marian circuit. For me, pre-race preparation included listing the teams and individual riders, a review of earlier race results, who is going well, theorizing a presumed strategy for the big teams and establishing a plan to either insert myself into ‘the break’ or positioning for the inevitable trains as they developed in the last few laps. Some things can be cross tabulated, but bike racing doesn’t easily lend itself to absolutes. However, mathematically, all things being equal, if one team has 4 riders and another has 3 then the ‘lesser’ team- in the simplest equation- has to have someone double up on coverage to counter in the last set to engage in all of the ‘larger’ team’s attacks. So, an interloping team or individual rider needs to be aware of this dynamic and respond accordingly. Simple, Yes? (wink-wink-nudge-nudge). But bike races aren’t fought on paper.
For those of you “of a certain age” the rolled up master plan to the racing season is often full of roadblocks and not just a little bit of trepidation. But the thrill is still the same as when we were younger and in some ways stronger, even though the preparation may not be. I like to think that I am training smarter this year, but I think ‘smarter’ and ‘harder’ can be interchanged- to a certain degree, particularly before the racing begins, as we all have a basic minimum requirement of miles/time/endurance that really prepares us for ‘full engagement.’ At some point, the ‘harder’ gives way to the ‘smarter.’ For me it’s almost always been a traditional mix of early season miles with increasing intensity to a certain point, then the miles are throttled back a bit which gives way to racing intensity two to three times a week (e.g., Wednesday Worlds, Sunday training ride/race, a solo near-max effort, motorpacing, velodrome racing), followed by easy tempo days or rest once the racing season begins. When we were racing every weekend we would say that we were ‘racing to train’ rather than ‘training to race.’ Big difference. I motorpaced a couple of up and comers tonight and the focus was on speed. But not just tempo speed, but explosive and sustained speed from 250 meters out and still accelerating through the line. 6 sets of launching the sprint from 250m at 30 mph. This has nothing (well, a little) to do with base miles and everything to do with identifying crucial race skills and maximizing your potential, eschewing quantity for quality. You have got to check off the boxes. Sprinting. CHECK. Time trialing. CHECK. Climbing. CHECK. Red-line accelerations. CHECK. If you wait for race day to sort this out, then you’re waiting too long.
I was looking back at my statistics before this weekend’s Marian event, and doing some analysis on my training performance. I don’t use power but I use miles, time, average speed, heartrate and segment analysis. My Strava app makes this easier, but I also use a simple spreadsheet where I also track weight and resting blood pressure (occasionally) as well as whether my ride was solo, with a group, a commute or on the trainer/rollers. I’ll note wind or weather in my comments. I also had the benefit of one race completed. It was the Eagle Creek race. A simple, flat, oval, 6/10 of a mile. Very fast, lots of attacks, lots of counters. I rode in the field, near the front half as much as possible, but keeping my limited matches (plural?) dry for the finale. With 2 to go I was able to get on third wheel, but used the majority of my reserves (already softened from over a half an hour at nearly 27 mph) in getting there. And then, for the next mile, I began to lose places in ones and twos to those setting up for the win. In the last ‘corner’ I was nearer to the back of the field coming in for the lesser places. Lesson learned? Could I have trained differently to have been more prepared for this eventuality? Was it emotional, physiological or psychological?
In January I wrote out a brief (just a couple of paragraphs), personal summary of my commitment to performance for this year, indicating what I hoped to accomplished, why, and most importantly, what was my plan to get there. It began with a hard look at my strengths and weaknesses and an accounting of the several months leading up to now. Nothing fancy or elaborate, just a matter-of-fact summary of where I was and where I wanted to go, the sort of conversation you might have with a friend over a beer if they asked you about your cycling goals-the part before you got too drunk. I determined, through a confluence of events, that this was the year that I begin my drive out of the ranks of cycling mediocrity. I was tired of listening to myself whine about getting dropped.
So, I put together a plan, Identifying what races I wanted to do, followed by a very simple periodization chart- with peaks in miles and intensity that would underline preparation for specific events, using early season races as part of that training plan. Most importantly, I centered my training around maximizing performance among my peers (my age classification as well as Category results).
But at the end of the day what matters is that I made the commitment to plan and participate in this logical but circuitous sequence of events ultimately leading up to race day. That was the first step. It’s still not too late. As a Master racer, I know that I really don’t have to suffer anymore, and no one would criticize me for slacking or for sitting in the back of the field, getting dropped or lapped. “It’s OK,” they’ll say, “You’ve had your moments.” But I am not doing this for them. I still see the elusive victory looming in the distance just waiting for me to grab it and, perhaps, adding my name and our team to that list that others will consider in their pre-race analysis.