Am I Doing It Right?

by Adam on February 26, 2013 · 1 comment

I don’t use a power meter.
I don’t have a coach.
I don’t do structured workouts.
Am I doing it right?

I had a good conversation with a teammate of mine about training methods. For about the last two years, he’s been trying to get me to buy a power meter. When we debrief our races or talk about how our training is coming along, the conversation inevitably turns to a discussion about watts. I usually leave the conversation wondering if I’m doing it right…

I’ve had a relationship with this bike racing thing for about five years now. I am a category 4 racer on the road with a 12th place finish last season as my best result. I am a category 3 racer in cross finishing at the back of the Masters field. I own three road bikes (two carbon), one cyclocross bike (carbon) and a piece of crap mountain bike. I commute to work via bike. On weekends (when I’m not racing), I usually do the local shop ride.

So why do I have such an aversion to structure in my bike life? The answer is pretty simple…

I spent my entire athletic life with coaches and training plans. I played sports in college. I competed on the international/Olympic level in taekwondo as an adult prior to getting into cycling. Coaches, practice and training plans were my religion. At this point, it would be easy for me to say “i’m burned out on structure/coaching”. That’s not quite the reason…As much as I enjoy the competitive nature of bike racing, I most closely associate it with my days as a skater and later as a guitar player/DJ.

When I was spending most of my time skateboarding as a kid, I loved the freedom I had to find new places to skate. Skating changed the way I looked at my neighborhood and ultimately changed the way I sought adventure in my life.

Music has always been a strong part of the way I make connections to the world. I picked up a guitar for the first time while working in a record shop in law school. Weekends always were spent “jamming” with friends. I never learned to read music proper, however I did learn how to tuck into a session and just go with whatever was happening. Changing tempo on a song, was done with a head nod or a raised eye brow. When everything is hitting just right, it’s a feeling you are trying to ride out as long as possible.

Dropping needles on records came a bit later. At parties, I was a wallflower. I was the worse kind of wallflower. I was a music snob. I always felt like I could play something better. So, my buddy Jon gave me my first DJ name (DJ Progress), and I was set. I spent years in dusty record shops and thrift stores looking for hidden gems. I listened to everything. I organized my records by BPM (beats per minute). I didn’t use any of that fancy stuff. I hand wrote notes on all of my record sleeves with BPM counts. Hours were spent finding the perfect blends. I’m still searching for the perfect beat.

So this bike racing thing is a mix of skateboarding, guitar and DJ. Coaches, power meters, and training plans just don’t work into my life. Different strokes for different folks I guess. “Am I Doing It Right?”… I have no idea what I’m doing, but I know what it is supposed to feel like…

{ 1 comment }

John Cutler March 4, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Yes. It sounds like you are doing it right. You’re happy and you love to be on your bike.

In my experience, the vast number of people who buy power meters and attempt to “self coach” with a power meter (and all the available books, blogs, internet forums, etc.) just end up cooking themselves and losing enjoyment for the boxing match that is the awesome sport of cycling. The sell is that you can somehow paint by numbers. You’re doused with metrics and charts. All the available advice points to constant maximization and optimization of each and every moment of your training … like some crazy economics model. “Why do L2 when you can do L4 and get the benefits” goes the time-crunched mantra. “Throw out the junk miles”.

So then the answer is “get a coach”. We’re told that somehow with the help of a coach you can distance yourself from the structure and number crunching, and that’ll leave you free to just work out and attain your goals. But there’s a rub. The coaches have largely bought into the same paradigm. They represent a cottage industry of self-employed people who — if they actually tally up the number of hours spent addressing their client’s personal needs — find that they’re making a measly hourly salary. So you get coaches giving the majority of their clients a “cut and paste” job. I’ve heard stories of athletes accidentally getting another person’s workouts. Of people getting mauled into a state of overtraining, even when all the signs were there. This isn’t to say that good coaches don’t exist … but that anything good takes time and expertise. And it doesn’t always protect you from the “optimize or die” mentality, especially if your coach has bought into the same dogma.

Last year I had the opportunity to spend some time “training” (I was riding the motor bike) with Jeremiah Bishop, Joe Dombrowksi, and Keck Backer. We recreated the Tour of Virginia for 3 days. On this trip I noticed that these pros were actually less stressed and harried by the numbers than your average Cat 3 or 4 rider training with power. There was acknowledgement that numbers mean only so much. That they are valuable for tracking high level trends in fitness, but that more thought and attention was required to make someone fast.

They had a very soulful connection to the riding and training. When we added Ben King at the JB’s Guns Grits and Gravel event, the guys were as happy making music up in the loft as they were doing free-form gravel rides. We recorded a frickin’ country song:

It sounds like you have it figured out. To me, and I think even for those guys up at the barn, it isn’t some either / or dichotomy. That you’re either the soulful freestyling rider, or the watts obsessed Cat 3 doing 14hrs of highly optimized, soul crushing, structure. There is a a mentality that embraces both soul and fitness. When you’re surrounded by people deep into the agro hole — talking TSS, watts, training plans, etc., all to get their 4-3 upgrade — it is easy to forget that. But when you see great riders striking a balance and taking a more nuanced attitude … and these people are often PROS, paid to care about this stuff … it changes your viewpoint.

Great post. As a musician, probably Cat 3 for life, lover of metrics, lover of CYCLING (the soul of it, the adventure, the journey), it was a timely read. I’ve lately ventured into coaching, but I find myself spending most of my time protecting riders from structure / watts overload. Taping over their PM. Not comparing themselves to the numbers of others. Not over-thinking. Keeping it soulful. Not believing that because some book says X, that it means you need to do X, or can do X. And most of all, finding why they love doing this sport.

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