Smarter. Not Harder.

“Race smarter not harder” is a phrase that I am sure would make any list of “#ShitJoeHolmesSays” made by riders who have raced for me or been coached by me over the past decade. Some get it. Some don’t. Last night was a very cool moment of someone getting it.

The Seward Park Thursday night race series is an institution in Seattle. There are races at 5:30 for Cat 4-5 men and women and first time racers, 6:00 for the 3-4 Men/Women and 7:00 for Pro 1-3 Men/Women. I get over to these when I can which is an undertaking because it involves a ferry ride. When I do make it over the promoter allows me (and Logan when he can make it) to roll around at the back at the 6:00 race before we actually race the 7:00. By the end of the night we’ll have close to 1hr 45 min of racing in our legs. A few years ago in the 6:00 race I noticed one of the local women struggling to keep pace with the group. She ended up getting lapped numerous times. I knew that she was strong enough to be able to stay with the group so the next time over I told her to just follow me around with Logan rolling behind her. She finished that race with the group for the first time ever. After talking with her after it became obvious that the simple act of her following me around and seeing what lines I was taking and how I was maneuvering through the field was eye opening for her. Logan also did a great job of giving her tips throughout the race as he watched from behind.

Since then I have tried to make it over to the Thursday night races as often as I can to meet up with athletes that I coach whom I think would benefit from the experience of having them roll with me in the 5:30 or 6 races. I believe that it is really important for coaches to get out and ride (or do what ever it is that you are coaching) with their athletes and not just upload workouts. I am not able to do that with all of the athletes I work with but I have found that the improvement curve is much better with the ones I am able to get out on a ride with than those that I can’t.

Last night I met up with one of my category 4 women for the 5:30 race. So far this year she had done three of the Thursday night races and was lasting somewhere between 3-6 laps (less than half the race distance) before getting dropped by the group. Last night I rode in the 5:30 with her. I made sure to be as smooth as possible and would periodically ask her how she was doing. Every time she answered “Great”. No hesitation, no indication of struggling from her tone of voice. As we passed the line and saw 2 to go I moved her into position up towards the front, told her to go for it in the finish and then peeled off to the side and sat up. As I watched the finish she came across the line in the top third of the field. So after never lasting longer than just under half way the previous 3 weeks she was able to finish and even mix it up in the sprint for the line. Oh yeah, and one more thing – last night she didn’t exactly have the best lead into a hard workout as she had flown back to Seattle from a week long work trip to North Carolina that morning.

There wasn’t much time before the start of the next race but I was able to ask her to describe what she learned when she uploaded her ride that evening. Here is what she wrote:

“Thanks for coming out and riding with me, saw a lot of things I never really considered before. Felt good tonight, being smooth through the corner and over the hill was a huge piece of it. It was fun to mix it up a bit at the end too, though I think I can work on that a bit more.

So things I learned tonight, and saw good ways of putting into practice:
1) Being smooth and steady is key. Usually I’m ebbing and flowing with the group, but even just knowing/anticipating where the bottlenecks are and seeing and maybe giving a little space makes it a lot easier to smoothly go through corners and up the hill regardless of position or line choice.
2) Line choice is also huge, and what everyone else is trying to do isn’t always the best/fastest. Everyone always goes for the inside lines through the sharp corner up top and then also going into the hill. Seeing that the outside is usually open and allows you take a lot of momentum through the different features was a bit of an eye opener.
3) Coming out of the corner up top, I don’t need to hit out so hard if I’m staying smooth and can conserve energy better that way.
4) Hitting it just a little bit more over the top of the hill can save a chasing effort to stay in the group.

So much good stuff from tonight. Just things that previously I hadn’t really thought about since I was so focused on just working harder staying with the group instead of how to be smarter in staying with the group.”

Smarter. Not harder.

It is breakthrough moments like this that are the reasons that I teach and love what I do.

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