Annis at the barriers at Yorktown. Photo courtesy of Robert Annis

Annis at the barriers at Yorktown. Photo courtesy of Robert Annis

Robert Annis is taking every step necessary to ensure a successful cyclocross season come the Fall, and to do it, he’s decided not to go it alone. Instead, he’s found a coach, which he explains in his first column, Learning from a Coach: Lessons from Robert Annis, and we’ll be following along to track his ups and downs as the season creeps closer.

by Robert Annis

I admit, working with a coach has been an adjustment for me. As I progressed from casual rider to enthusiast to budding racer, my training techniques didn’t really change – still just get on bike and ride as long and as fast as I can.

I did some spin classes and Sufferfest videos the winter before last season, my first as a competitive rider, but nothing tailored specifically for me. This year, instead of doing winter intervals, my new coach John Singleton had me doing mind-numbingly long base sessions on the trainer. As the mild winter began turning warmer, I transitioned to easy outdoor rides.

I started getting antsy; because my legs weren’t in overdrive, my mind was. Doubts about my early season fitness began creeping into my head. Last spring, I was one of the fastest guys on my team; I knew the hurt was going to be laid down this year on the early season training rides.

Because John’s not just an excellent coach, but an accomplished mind reader – I believe he mentions it in his qualifications on USA Cycling’s coaching database – he anticipated my concerns and quickly put them to rest. It’s a long season, he reiterated, and most of the really strong riders in March and April will be pack fodder by October and November.

Because most of my goals are later in the year – state road championships, an expanded cyclocross schedule – I can’t risk peaking too early in the year. It might be an ego boost to be at the front of your weekly training ride, but in the end, what does it matter? The goal is to win races, not bragging rights among teammates. It’s a lesson I should have learned after my less-than-successful cyclocross season last year, but my head can be a bit harder than most.

There comes a time in every budding coach-athlete relationship when you have to put your faith in your coach. Trust is the cornerstone, like in any marriage. Without it, you’re constantly second-guessing your training and perhaps ignoring advice that’s ultimately beneficial. That’s not to say you can’t question your coach’s training plan or make suggestions. But in the end, you’ve got to trust your coach has those certifications and seminar credits for a reason and go all-in.

Despite John’s warning, for a brief moment this season, I did go a little crazy with my training. But it wasn’t because of my lack of trust in his plan, but something far more nefarious.

Based on John’s recommendation, I made one major gear purchase, picking up a CycleOps Powertap wheelset. It’s simultaneously the coolest and most humbling device I’ve ever owned. Within minutes of unboxing the wheels, I had them on my Madone and spinning down a nearby training route. For the next two weeks, every ride was a race against myself as I tried to better the previous day’s wattage. But after a fortnight, two things happened. One, the novelty wore off and I started using it as it’s meant to be used – a highly accurate training tool allowing you to mete out your effort during a ride. And second, it started getting a little depressing. Before the power meter, I was Speedy Gonzales on two wheels; but after logging weeks of numbers and comparing myself to other riders (thanks for nothing, Strava!), it was clear I was actually closer to Slowpoke Rodriguez.

On the bright side, the Powertap data actually helped put my goals for this season in perspective. I’m two years removed from being just another overweight couch potato; I can’t expect to come close to the insane power Ryan Trebon showed during last year’s Planet Bike Grand Prix in Wisconsin. Hell, I shouldn’t expect to match the watts my buddy and Shamrock Cycles star rider Will Sherman generated during any of his Cat. 1/2/3 podiums this year in the OVCX and Indiana Cup series. Trebon is a genetically perfect cycling machine who has raced and trained for years to achieve his success. Ditto for Will – albeit to a lesser extent, he’d surely agree. If every 30-something dude could be a world-class or even Hoosier-class athlete after just a season and a half of training, race fields would be a lot more crowded.

Reaching the podium at most of my races and winning my season category in the local race series is doable, but I know I’m going to have to train both smarter and harder to do so. And judging by my early-season road performances, I’m also going to have to improve my race tactics as well.

Stay tuned for more of Rob’s training and coaching exploits.