I had prepared very well during the Fall/Winter. My power numbers were great and I knew it would be a good day. And, it was. I ended up winning the Masters race and came within 11 seconds of having the fastest overall time on the day. But, this didn't keep me from having doubts the days leading into the race or, especially, the night before/morning of. And the insecurities I was walking myself through were fairly silly ones -- was I fit enough; would I race well; was I ready for the discomfort of a TT; what if I had a bad day; and so on. All stuff that I knew the answer to already. Every indication supported yesterday being a great day of racing. About the only thing I could not control would be a mechanical or flat tire.
I recently re-read "The Race Against Time" which outlines the sometimes friendly, sometimes contentious rivalry between Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree, arguably the best two time trialists on the bike during the '90s and both British. Two completely different riders with two completely different personalities and two different approaches to training. Boardman was always considered the scientist, creating a methodical, surgical strategy to training and racing; if it could be quantified, Boardman measured it. Obree, on the other hand, seemed to fly by the seat of his pants, riding minimally and completely by feel; he was either full gas or not riding. Boardman trained and raced to the numbers while Obree wanted to see just how deeply he could descend into the Pain Cave.
Two entirely different approaches. Yet, nearly identical results. In the individual pursuit on the track, 10-mile and 25-mile TTs on the road, and in the pursuit of the then romantic and prestigious hour record.
We all strive to find the best, most advanced approach to our training. Sometimes that's getting back to basics; sometimes it's buying in to the latest and greatest training tips. Sometimes it's spending countless hours on the internet looking for some reference to a super secret training method that Racer X used to conquer the world. We track heart rate, sweat rate, caloric burn rate, power, RPE, cadence, stride rate, stroke rate and anything else we can in order to "gain an edge."
All of these things are important. To a degree. But without comprehension, the numbers are quite meaningless. I think we can all benefit from a greater comprehension of the signals the body is providing us with. Athletes suffer from a syndrome of training to the numbers while tuning out the body's signals. I'm prone to wonder how much less effective our training would be if we ditched all the numbers and just trained by feel. How long or short would it take to become proficient at it? How much confidence would we have in a back to basics approach? How many of us would be willing to go off the grid? Would training be more enjoyable if we set ourselves free? Some of my most enjoyable training sessions are those in which I have no expectations yet from which I derive plenty of challenge and fitness benefit.
In the hyperlink above, where I outline my approach to 2018, I've found what I feel is a nice balance between training by the numbers and training by feel. I have definitely found more enjoyment this time around than I have in recent years. For the past 2-3 years, I've been contemplating "Is the next year my final year of competition?" I was not burned out; rather, something was missing and I was unable to quantify it so I could address it. Given the tweaks I made this past Fall/Winter and the frame of mind I now find myself in, loosening the reins on training to the numbers has helped immensely. So, too, has reducing the overall volume of intensity and the sheer number of interval sessions I've been doing. And, yet, my numbers are up and I feel so much better day-to-day. After yesterday, my confidence is definitely up as well -- because the race result is the proof that the approach is working.
Too often, athletes are their own worst enemies. It is easy to overthink things and, consequently, think yourself right out of the race -- either figuratively or literally. So, I ask, "Why do you do it?" If the self-doubt or insecurities (and we all deal with them) are derailing your ability to race up to your potential, why are you racing? If instead of overcoming the self-doubt and re-channeling that energy into a positive direction and positive experience, you find yourself consumed by it, then it might be time to "hang it up." And, that's OK. At some point, we cease to compete in athletics. At some point, the pursuit of well-being is good enough to keep us getting out of bed at 0-dark-30 and pushing ourselves until we taste the tinge of blood in the back of our throats.
I guess what I'm getting at is that, at some point, it is critical to let it all go and just let happen what may. There is power rather than weakness in this.