Understanding your physiological peak
In the world of amateur cycling, it can be hard to narrow your focus on just one or two races per year. We pay a large sum of money for our race licences, some of us ride expensive bikes and we put in a significant time commitment to our training. It is only natural that we should want to race and win at every possible opportunity as a reward for all the valuable time and effort spent on the sport. In this blog post, I am going to discuss why it is beneficial for an athlete to narrow their focus towards one or two races per year, while also getting satisfaction and fulfillment from the sport.
When a coach talks to you about hitting your peak, what do they mean? Your peak is when you are at an optimal fitness level relative to physical fatigue. Basically as fit and as fresh as you can be. Why is this only possible to achieve one or two times in a season? Unfortunately, when it comes to the physical prowess of the animal kingdom, human beings are far from impressive. We’re not very fast, we can’t jump very high and we take a long time to recover from our efforts. It is sobering when we realise that a household cat is faster than the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt. It takes time and a well thought out training plan for a human to achieve the best of themselves physically. An already fit athlete needs a minimum of 3-4 solid months of structured training to line up before a race at their peak fitness.
What does this mean for the amateur cyclist looking to step on the podium this season? It is important to note that although a physical peak is only possible a couple of times per season, it is the opinion of this coach that a cyclist should race as much as possible as part of their training program. There is no training quite like racing. Cyclists push themselves harder in racing than they ever do in training whilst also learning valuable bunch skills and tactical knowledge. Furthermore, just because the race may not be a seasonal target, and you are therefore not at your physical peak, there is no reason why you can’t perform well at this race and possibly even podium. As discussed in previous blog posts, tactics and skills can get you a long way on race day. The main reason I would recommend racing as much as possible is that it is fun, and why a lot of us ride.
So, you’ve picked two target races in the season; how do you tackle all the smaller races in between now and your goal? The important thing to remember with these smaller races is that they form part of a larger training block in the lead up to your target race. As such, expectations should be managed. This is not to say that you shouldn’t try and win! A non-target race can form the platform for honing in skills or trying new things in the knowledge that if they don’t succeed - it matters little as this wasn’t your target. Not a big breakaway rider? Get in the break. Uncomfortable in a bunch sprint? Time to get the elbows out and have a crack. Who knows - you may just find a new strength or improve a weakness in the meantime.
It is ok to want to win everything, and so you should. In writing a good program, your coach should explain to you the structure of a successful season and allow for open athlete-coach communication about goal setting. Remember, the cyclist who races towards a target outlasts a cyclist who targets every race.