I’m a new-old dad. New kid, familiar responsibilities, and yet, at 33 years old with a 12 year-old and a newborn, I feel like both an old hand and a newbie. As I reflect on it, that applies to racing as well as fatherhood. Sometimes it seems like all experience does is give you a heads up that pretty soon life will surprise you, or your body will, or your children will. Since it’s spring, and road season is here, and I know there are a lot of folks like me out there, I thought I would share my thoughts on the ever-popular “less is more” training philosophy. We’ll call it: Training Tips With a Has-Been that Never Was
So I live with an 8-week old kid, which means I don’t sleep. I train 6-8 hours a week, and I am surprisingly motivated to go hard, even when sleep deprived. I feel pretty fit, I pedal bikes hard and, despite having my worst-ever cyclocross season this past winter, due to what is proving to be a pretty serious back injury, I have the good sensations. What will the coming road season bring? I don’t know, but I know that I now have Old Guy Power. No way, you say; he’s only 33, that’s cheating, he must be age-doping. Am not, says I. Here’s how it works.
The silly version:
Everyone knows about Old Guy Power, or Master’s Mojo, and it isn’t cycling specific. Rock climbers, for example, are notorious for continuing to climb hard on sheer grit, technique and experience, even as their hair whitens, their finger tendons wane, and their in-group slang becomes hopelessly dated. And it goes without saying that, in this day and age, 35 or 40 years old just isn’t that “old” anymore, not really. But when you’re a member of a youth-obsessed generation like mine, and you start making babies, well, you discover that you have become old, even while you were still regularly checking Facebook, buying your coffee at the cool kids’ shop, and driving something demographically appropriate, like a Honda Element or a Prius. Old? Me? Shit. Who knew?
There is, however, a tiny piece of the puzzle of Universal balance here that the Cool Kids’ Kabal seems to have overlooked while they were busy drawing the boundary between youthfully relevant, and over-the-hill. Listen up all you late-early-mid-30-something dads: if they can make us old, then we can has Old Guy Power.
See, this power is made up of some honorable things like gratitude, perspective, and good old-fashioned toughness. But—not to put too fine a point on it—it is also made up of testosterone, stubbornness, fear of death, and the desperate need to prove one’s masculinity. Yes, Old Guy Power amounts to a fairly straightforward mid-life crisis that arrives a decade early and wrapped in lycra. It’s nice to have all winter to train in the desert, sleeping half the day and hanging around with your feet up; but living like that doesn’t leave a person with much to prove. Competition is all about proving stuff, so this is where those of us who are haggard, perpetually sleep-deprived, and feel like we have yet to reach our athletic potential are really dangerous: We have a lot to prove. Count on it.
The Serious version:
This is what Chris Carmichael doesn’t tell you: going fast in amateur races on 6-8 training hours a week isn’t revolutionary, it’s actually pretty simple math.
So here is what you do:
1) Try hard, often.
2) Cross train. Being a good amateur cyclist has everything to do with a well-rounded physiology and a high overall level of fitness. Remember that college rower with giant arms and hairy legs who had been riding bikes for 6 months but still kicked your ass all season when you were a cat 4? That guy was better at sports than you. Bike racing is a sport.
3) Make your workouts count: don’t be afraid to go hard.
4) Use it or lose it. For real. If your pro team is going to send you to Mallorca or Southern California to ride base miles for three months, then you can probably do without hard efforts in the winter. If you are like the rest of us, though, and you’re squeezing in 6-10 hours a week on the bike all year, keep those top-end efforts coming, even in January.
5) Suck it up. Racing hurts, and a big part of failure is mental. If you have the mental toughness to slog through a 90 minute interval workout in your dingy, cold garage while your spouse and kiddies are snuggled up on the couch mere feet away from you, then—dammit—you are tough enough to hold the wheel in front of you when it’s crunch time in a race.
6) Know why you’re racing, and what you want from it. Success can look like finishing in the front group, winning a race, upgrading to a higher category, getting a podium place at master’s nationals or any number of other in-between goals. The important thing is that goals are attainable: progress motivates.
7) Know your limits. Everyone has a ceiling of natural ability, and most of us never find it because we don’t have the time. So what do reasonable, attainable goals look like? Good question.
8) Don’t believe anyone’s training advice, especially not mine.
9) Get to know your own body, get to know your own psyche as an athlete, find out what makes you tick, and do what works for you. Psychology has a lot to do with outcome. If you think you are going to get dropped, you probably will; if you take it as a foregone conclusion and your birthright to make the breakaway in every race you enter then, no surprise, you’ll probably pull it off, as often as not.
10) Enjoy yourself! Duh.
So? Crush it.
*Originally posted 3/24/2011