Struggling to complete an interval session? Got a few nagging pains on the bike? Dealing with low energy levels? Coach Chris Mayhew with JBV Coaching is here to help you get proper help in today’s Training Tuesday column.
Training shouldn’t be unpleasant. Cyclocross is really nice in that a majority of the pre-season training takes place when the weather is nice and the days are long. However, I have had some experiences that have really driven home the truth that if training causes you pain (as opposed to just the discomfort of going hard), it’s a sign that something is wrong. You shouldn’t have to endure or hope the pains will get better. “If you keep doing the same thing you keep getting the same thing” is some of best advice I’ve ever received. If some aspect of your training is working, that’s great! Keep it. But if it’s not, don’t be glued to it. Try something different and seek some help, because there’s probably a solution to your problem other than what you’re currently doing.
Replace the Worn Out, Before Your Body Wears Out
The first example when you’re dealing with pain while training. For weeks my knees had been killing me. Then it slowly started working up into my hips, then down to my feet. I could mediate the pain with yoga or foam rolling, and each individual day wasn’t that bad, but after weeks on end it wasn’t getting better and was cumulatively becoming more uncomfortable. Then, after talking with Jeff Jacobs, it occurred to me I couldn’t remember the last time I’d purchased new insoles for my summer cycling shoes. It turns out I was long past due to replace them. When I finally did, the change in comfort after buying some was immediate.
As a practical point, keep track of when you purchase consumable items like that. Shoes, insoles, cleats and saddles wear out over time. I’ve taken to writing the date I buy insoles on the bottom of them, for easy reference. All those contact points can wear out and the changes can creep up on you over time. If you’re experiencing discomfort or pain, check the basics and make sure nothing is worn out.
Freshen Up Your Fit
Related to contact points and wear items, never be afraid to evaluate your fit. I’ve taken to asking all my clients on intake “when’s the last time you had a fit and who did it?” If the answer is anything less than “last year with local respected fitter” I try and steer them in the direction of a fit. There are so many good resources out there these days, there’s really no excuse to not get one. Even though they’re not cheap, in our expensive sport, the cost is worth it and needs to be viewed in context of the value you place on injury-free or pain-free riding, not as an expense that keeps you from buying a new tubular tire. What good is a new tire if you’re injured and can’t race it?
A good fit will enable you to ride longer and harder with more comfort. We all have had nagging issues on the bike, and most pains can potentially be addressed by a fit. Fit isn’t a static thing either. We change as we age and as we engage in different activities, and that comes out in our form on the bike. Years of yoga allowed me to get back to the position I’d had when I was in my 20’s. The last few months of Crossfit seem to have limited some of my flexibility. Because of this change, I raised my stem 5mm and became so much more comfortable. This small change allowed me to use the drops much more. Even if you’ve had a fit it’s good to reevaluate it from time to time, especially if you’re experiencing new pains.
“A good fit will enable you to ride longer and harder with more comfort.”
An expert opinion can help you in aspects of training beyond just bike fit and training plans. Recently I, and some my clients, have been struggling to get through rides or finish intervals strongly. I hired Kristen Arnold to look at my nutrition and it’s been an area of huge gains for me. I’ve been able to do more work per week than in years past. Additionally, working with her has enabled me to recover from rides a lot faster.
So many athletes have to transition directly from a hard ride to family obligations other activities. In that scenario, proper nutrition goes a long way towards enabling recovery and a positive mood. This pays back doubly because a happy family means it’s less stressful to get out for a quick ride at some other point down the road. Calories make everyone happy, more or less. Make sure you’re consuming enough to train, and more importantly, to be human afterward.
Don’t be afraid to bring someone else in to have a look at what you’re doing and consuming. Objective eyes are always a plus, even if they’re telling you things you already know, and they can hold you accountable. As with fit, small changes can often make a big difference.
Finding Strength in Recognizing Weaknesses
Why don’t people seek help? Cyclists are taught to be tough. We crash and get right back into the race. We ride a million miles and get up again and do it again the next day, day after day. It’s ingrained in the sport to some extent to shrug things off and keep going. And that feeds right into the Type A personality many of us have. Sayings like “Ain’t got time to bleed” and “What doesn’t kill us makes us a stronger” ring through our brains. We see it as weakness to admit we have a problem we can’t solve and to seek out help. However, perspective helps. As I often counsel clients, you can spend a couple of days off the bike now, when it doesn’t really matter, dealing with this, or you can spend a month off the bike in July, when it does matter, trying to deal with the damage that’s already done. Deal with whatever issues you’re having now when they’re not that big, and when they’re more easily dealt with.
Don’t see seeking help as weakness. Think of it as spending time on yourself, like a day at the spa. No one thinks you’re weak because you got a massage, do they?
A few hours with your bike fitter is no different than dropping your clothes off with a tailor. Do you think of Dr. Kristen Keim’s long list of clients (including at least three cyclocross national champions) as weak? What’s really stronger: bonking on every ride because you don’t want to fuel sufficiently, or seeking some help so you can smash your way through the end of every ride? The strength and bravery is in admitting your weakness, being vulnerable, and seeking help, not in being tough and riding yourself into injury or hampering your training load.
If you can remove the obstacles to your training, day in and day out, you’ll be able to put maximum effort into the intense workouts. I’m a big fan of Jocko Willink for some pre-ride inspiration, but whatever it takes, make the most of your intervals and specific training. If you’re out there to smash it, smash it. If you can’t bring intensity on a hard effort day, maybe it’s time for something else that day, or nothing at all. The intensity of your work, or the overall volume of your training, should be where the toughness comes into play. Don’t be pretend-tough and wind up hampering your daily and weekly training loads. That almost never ends well in the long run. As I’m fond of telling runners, that’s how running makes cyclists.
“The strength and bravery is in admitting your weakness, being vulnerable, and seeking help, not in being tough and riding yourself into injury or hampering your training load.”
Seeking help will make you stronger. Get some people around you who can get some expert eyes on you and the things you’re trying to change, and make the most of what you’re doing as a result.
Can’t get enough? Browse all of our Training and Technique Tuesday pieces here from coaches Mayhew and others. Mayhew expects to contribute Training Tuesday installments every two weeks in the off-season.