Since you are here you already know I run a coaching company that specializes in working with cyclists the majority of whom are training in preparation for specific events.
But what happens in a year when organized rides and races are cancelled or postponed due to a global pandemic? How do you maintain motivation to train when your objective might not be that clear anymore?
I have a few perspectives on these questions, professionally, as a coach and team director and personally as an individual who also takes part in organized races and rides. I have had many conversations about this with a number of my athletes – a couple of whom I asked to address this from their perspective and will be posted here in the days to come. But to start things off, this is from my vantage point, professionally and personally and how both of those have intertwined these past few months.
Since 2009 I have spent the majority of my time traveling to races to work as a sport director. It was sport directing that led me down the path of coaching. From 2009-2012 I was the director for the Hagens-Berman Domestic Elite Team. Since 2012 I have done contract work for the U.S. Junior National Team in Europe and Asia as well as working domestically for both amateur and professional teams in need at a number of high profile races. This year I was tentatively scheduled to head to Europe in the spring for the Junior Peace Race and then again later in the summer for a kermesse block. The pandemic changed those plans and I found myself at home for the longest stretch of time in over a decade.
With real life racing and group rides firmly on hold if not cancelled, I encouraged my athletes to try virtual racing on Zwift and since I try to lead by example I did the same. The local association set up a series to take the place of the normal weekly training races and I jumped right in. Over a 10-week period I was often “racing” twice a week. I was also asked to join a local Zwift team, Seattle United, to take part in some virtual races with teams from other countries that were live streamed. All of these virtual races kept me focused. I found myself in the top 5 in the local series, which was motivating, and when I was “lining up” as a member of Seattle United I wanted to be able to contribute to the team so I planned accordingly. I was able to get into a “race day routine” and get a hell of a workout. The best part being that all I had to do was walk into my garage to take part. It was fun. The Seattle United team is a great group of guys that I probably would not have had the chance to get to know otherwise. Plus I was able to bring a couple of athletes that I coach onto the team. Since we use a Discord channel I was able to talk a couple of them through some tactics during the race – just like I would have done at the weekday races that were not an option this year. There are also some nuances to racing virtually and if you are not able to wrap your head around them you will most likely be frustrated with the outcome. This required some research into courses and best equipment options – something that you should be doing for “real” racing which provided another teaching opportunity on the aspects of preparing for an event.
I also took advantage of the time at home to explore some areas on the Olympic Peninsula on my gravel bike and to do some rides that I had not done in the past 15 years including riding Hurricane Ridge and Rainier. That part has been fantastic. There are roads on the Peninsula that I had no idea existed even though I have lived here for over 17 years. I have been able to expand my map in my own back yard, which has been pretty cool.
On a more personal note, the other part of being at home rather than traveling is that I decided to abstain from alcohol for a month – which turned into four. I wasn’t trying to earn a coin or anything but there were some “events” during the past year where I was letting myself over-indulge a little too much (both at home and during some of my travels). I have been described by a few that know me best as having the capacity to go either zero or 100 mph in certain things. Well there were a few too many times that I went full throttle and I wasn’t thrilled about how I felt the next day (and often the next). And although fun in the moment there were times when I know that behavior had a negative impact on relationships that I cared about. I thought a lot about it over the past few months and I have a working theory that I am what you might call an “over-indulgence addict”. Belgian beer, Italian wine, chocolate, a good steak – if it tastes good I am all in – and quite often it was all of those things at the same time. The same goes with music, if it sounds good and I am in the mood, crank it up to eleven and keep the playlist going. If I feel good riding – ride more, skiing – same thing. The problem is that many of those things don’t contribute to success in the others so I decided to eliminate the one that I am pretty confident was the most detrimental for a month. One month turned into another, then another and another. It wasn’t that difficult. I felt better and was the lightest I have been in I-can’t-remember-how-long-ago. As a result of that and all of the Zwift racing and exploration I found myself riding and feeling the best on a bike that I have in years. And that positive feedback on a bike still matters to me even if I tried to tell myself that it didn’t anymore.
Professionally I believe that the past few months have allowed me to hone some skills that have made me a better coach for my athletes. There have been many more conversations centered around motivation and drilling down into the “why” of training. Yes there are sport oriented goals, and for a few athletes it is what they do for a living and they need to be ready to do their job as best they can when called upon. But even for those that do this sport as a profession, it doesn’t end there. Sport, especially endurance sport is more than just the physical. The psychological component is critical to success in the efforts within the sport but maybe more importantly in the efforts in life. My friend Mark stated it best when he wrote,
“I have said it many times now but I’ll repeat it, the lifting and sprinting and breathing is the easy part. Applying the lessons you learn under that stress or by coming out the other side of it to life outside of the gym or the sport is all that gives the training value. I say fuck training for body composition, for the purely and merely physical. I say “Hell yeah!” if training opens doors to opportunities you never believed you had access to before…” – Mark Twight, Origin January 17, 2016
As I write this, the world is figuratively – and in some cases, literally – on fire and still in the midst of a global pandemic. What is the point of the training that I am doing for this sport or any other? Why do I need to maintain motivation to keep up all of this training? At the end of the day nobody else really cares that I won some artificially contrived competition be it in a virtual or real life race or that I took a local Strava KOM or even won the sprint at the end of my local group ride. That’s right, no one cares, except me (and maybe a few of my friends). And that’s ok. But if as a result of pursuing those objectives I am also building the capacity and the resiliency to withstand the shit storm that life throws at me – well ultimately – that is the point.