Are You Really Doing All You Can?
Something said the other day on a mountain bike ride got under my skin.
"No matter what I do, I can't get faster".
Of course, this got my attention. As a coach that has helped many achieve personal best, I was intrigued. As the conversation continued, I heard a description of absolute randomness in terms of physical activity, multiple sports dabbled in, occasional participation in strength training, and overall a mindset not focused on performance. Don't get me wrong, there are many benefits achieved with an active lifestyle not focused on performance. I often wish I could adopt this personally. Likely I would be happier, and could put to bed the critic that lives in my head. But I can't. When it comes to my sport, I want to excel. I want to ride faster, develop more technical skill, and be able to push the pace on group rides.
Sport isn't always that healthy. Like last summer, when I broke my hand in two places and dislocated a finger. I saw the look in the other parents' eyes as I showed up at soccer practice with my son. "What have you done now"? Or the look on the face of a teenager along on our family vacation last summer in Whistler, after a day in the bike park, one that resulted in me having a rather nasty crash and some dripping blood. My kids are used to it. Evan runs down the stairs and grabs my bike. Sophie pulls out her phone to document the latest injury. (She at a very young age announced that I "wasn't like the other moms"). But you know what? I wouldn't have it ANY OTHER WAY. This sport makes me feel alive like nothing else does, and I fully intend to pursue it as long as I can.
Now, back to getting faster. Here are some simple tips:
1. TO GET FASTER, YOU HAVE TO RIDE FASTER. Group rides can be the devil here. If you are riding with a crew that stops every 10 mins for no good reason, find another group to ride with. Pushing a solid, steady pace with others once weekly is great training. You will work harder in a group than on a solo ride. So don't be afraid to get out and ride with those that are faster than you. Keep stops to a minimum.
2. TO GET FASTER, YOU HAVE TO RIDE SLOWER. Check your ego. Mountain bikers are notorious for having no base to their fitness pyramids, and crushing themselves everytime they ride. Everyone should plan to have a base building phase in their season. The road bike is great for this, but it can be as simple as adding in easy road miles to your mountain bike ride. But there is a time to ride slow, and it's slower than you think.
3. STRENGTH TRAIN. If you aren't already strength training, you should be. You will never maximize your results and minimize your injuries if all your training is in your sport. And I'm not talking some random, circuit cardio class. Burpees never made anyone a better mountain biker. If it feels like cardio, it likely is. Save that for the bike. I'm talking a thought-out strength and conditioning program. There has to be repetition of lifts in order to become efficient enough to actually get strong. We perform the same lifts all winter long, with excellent results. Learn how to train optimally, not maximally. And don't be afraid of pushing weight. The most important rule in strength training is PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD. If you're not lifting more, you're not getting stronger.
4. SET GOALS. Nothing keeps you honest like having a goal and working towards it. If you're not training for something, you're not training. It can be a strength goal, sport goal, I don't care. Just make it your focus, and stay focused on it. Tell others about it, and keep yourself accountable.
5. DEVELOP A MINDFULNESS PRACTICE. This has been a game changer for me this year. I've rediscovered meditation and it's amazing how the focus crosses over to my sport. Looking down something that I'm clearly fearful of, I'm able to shut off the mind and make a simple decision. Am I going to ride it or not? I've been using a simple guided medication app (Buddhify) but there are many out there to choose from. Give it a try.
Hopefully I've given you a little something to comtemplate, and some motivation for trying to achieve your personal best. Pretty sure we can all get a little faster!