Above: Scott Pilgrim vs the World, where computer games merge with reality.
I knew we were in trouble when he turned up to the training ride in a skinsuit, aero booties and with the vents on his helmet taped up. The wind direction had been deemed favourable, temperature and air density agreeable. It was time to go break some Strava records.
If you’re so far unacquainted with Strava, then it’s an on-line repository for all those GPS files and stats accumulated by these new-fangled cycling computers. Every variable is measured and uploaded and converted into a binary facsimile of how any ride – from commute to leisurely jaunt in the countryside – might appear if it were conceived by the makers of The Matrix. A dizzying stream of binary type reconstructing the open road as a line on a map and the curves of a graph.
And as a Garmin GPS device (other brands are available) is now strapped to every second handlebar or stem, it was inevitable all that collated data would be put to good use. And when I say ‘good’ I mean transformed into some sort of petty form of competition and one-upmanship. It’s social media for cyclists, the kind of social media that allows you to spy on your friends and check out how they’ve been riding, how far, how fast, and whether it’s any further and faster than you.
Thanks to Jim Ley for letting me republish his article. It’s unusual to find such informative writing here on In The Saddle. You can view the original on his blog.
No doubt you’ve all now started your winter training programs in preparation for next year. And if you haven’t, then now is the time to start fretting. The new season is mere months away after all.
As you all know, I aim to race like a pro. But I also aim to train like a pro too. This week I’ve already done forty hours low intensity on the bike, done a few core strength sessions in the gym, challenged the public to a race on a static race bike as part of a crass publicity stunt to placate the demands of my sponsors, and kept up with my schedule of clenbuterol micro-dosing. As you can imagine it’s tricky to juggle all this with the demands of being a successful blogger (I use the word ‘successful’ in the loosest possible terms, i.e. not at all).
However, club mate, rival and generally faster cyclist than me, Jim Ley, disagrees with my approach. He trains a mere 45 minutes a week (or something) and is still showing us all a clean pair of heals on the Sunday club run. I resolutely refuse to follow any training advice he has to offer – if it hasn’t been tried and tested by generations of professional cyclists and passed down through the years by folklore and Shamanism, then I really don’t want to know – but I’ve reproduced a recent blog post of his below. Some of you amateurs might find it useful.
Why train like a pro?
Everyone seems to want to train like professionals, they look at the professional rider and try to imitate what they do in their own training. Many of the coaches that train professional athletes develop reputations based on their subjects performances and success; this reputation is then harnessed to sell their experiences and insights to the public into how the pros train. But few amateurs can train like pros for many different reasons, so why do so many want to?
There is a saying, “Even a bad day on the bike is still better than any day in the office”. And, oh God, a bad day in the office makes me long for the road.
Turning the pedals smooths out the frustrations of the day. Hours trapped behind a desk and computer screen, a dull pain behind the eyes, all worked out by a spin on the bike. Ahh, fresh air! Freedom! The joy of two wheels.
But a claustrophobic day behind that desk, a pointless job, a mediocre career, an uncomfortable ride on the tube elbow to elbow with irritable commuters… anger is different; anger is potent. As life contracts into a tangle of obligations and responsibilities, dashed hopes and disappointments, cycling becomes a defiant act. A two fingered salute. I am my own boss on the road, my own man, I can grit my teeth and turn over that gear; harder, faster, more painful. No longer an employee, I’m a cyclist.
In the saddle something switches, I leave a side of myself behind. How many of us do things we wouldn’t dream of when off the bike? Altercations with motorists who want to drive us off the road – the rush of blood, the gestures and swearing. The other me wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a goose. In life I’m not a winner, not even a contender, I step aside. But in the heat of a race there is a different voice pushing me on: “you can beat them”.
Do we push ourselves out of spite? “Shut up legs” as Jens Voigt might say. What drives us to push our bodies beyond comfort? To despise its weaknesses, to pummel it again and again? Where does that determination stem from, what feeds it? Is it rivalry – do we really want to beat the competition so badly? Or is it something else, something darker within us?
Eddy Mercx was a modest middle class boy from the suburbs in Belgium; he came to be known as ‘The Cannibal’. He crushed his opponents, he had no mercy. Was he a champion because he simply wanted to be the best he could be, to achieve his limits, to carve his legend into history? Where did that aggression and fire come from? Positive thinking and an optimistic outlook can only take you so far. At his core was something else, something harder, a clenched fist. After all, nice guys finish last.
Mercx photo spotted on the Big Ring Riding blog.
Some people live to work, while others work to live. However many of us cycle to work – then while at work spend our time organising rides, checking the forecast, and posting on cycling forums – and then cycle home again.
Friday night drinks are curtailed in favour of weekend racing. Housework skipped in order to degrease a chain or replace brake pads. A cyclist never has spare time on his hands.
During the winter months, the bite cycling takes out of life appears to be the biggest. Days are short, time for training compressed. Now spring has arrived and summer appears to be on its way, lighter evenings and longer days are to be savoured. Training is no longer a battle against the cold, a forceful effort to galvanise muscles against the elements. Discarding the thermal layers in favour of just shorts and jersey, this is when proper cycling happens – the glorious summer season has begun. Effortlessly, it consumes every waking hour.
Most of us remember when our lives were not like this. We used to be normal, regular people, with normal regular jobs and pastimes. Weekend mornings were spent in bed hiding from hangovers. There was time to phone your mother, hang out aimlessly with friends, to invest into a career. Cycling is selfish. Or rather, to be a cyclist demands selfishness.
It would be odd to think that there just happened to be a cycling-shaped hole in my life, and that fortunately that particular pastime came along and neatly filled it. The truth is that cycling saw the glimmer of an opportunity, barged in, and made itself at home and then started to boss everyone around in it.
Often I think cycling is a substitute for so many of the other things society thinks I should be doing. Putting in those extra hours at work for the chance of a promotion. Going to bars and clubs. Spending money on jeans and shirts, paying installments on a sports car, heading for exotic beach holidays for an all-over tan. Instead it’s lycra, bicycles, training camps and a tan that starts at the ankle and ends just above the knee.
At some point I know I’ll experience an epiphany; one day cycling will seem ridiculous. The hours spent training; the fruitless races (and even the fruitful ones); the need for acceptance and approval by a tiny clique – to impress other cyclists and be acknowledged by fellow racers. That cycling is more an excuse than a substitution. Even though I know that day will come, for now I’ll fight against the doubts. I’d still rather be out on my bike than anywhere else.
With the racing season drawing ever nearer, the weather still shows no sign of easing off the snow, sleet, ice and cold. That winter training plan – made in the balmy conditions of late autumn – is now looking to have been wildly optimistic. So with miles on the road becoming a rarity, it looks like we’re going to have to bury our simmering resentment of the dreaded turbo trainer, and get in some quality cycling time within the comfort of the living room/spare room/kitchen/garage/fully-specced-custom-designed-luxury-bicycle-chambre.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been ‘enjoying’ the ‘delights’ of the Sufferfest training videos – one hour workouts that mash together cycling footage from pro cycling into lung busting intervals. ‘Fight Club’ is loosely based around the 2009 World Champs, with inspirational images of squeaky Aussie Evans charging to victory, and the quite frankly intimidating sights of Spartacus ripping up the TT course. ‘The Downward Spiral’ incorporates the spring classics, so you can dream of pounding over the cobbles like Big Tom Boonen. Unfortunately when those 60 minutes of cycle-based torture are over, your reward is not the fawning adoration of Belgian cycling fans and a couple of lines of Columbia’s finest, but the sobering sight of your sweat pooled on the floor and a blank computer screen blinking back at you.
A highly recommended way to suffer your way through the winter on your bicycle.
The harsh winter weather poses a number of problems for the dedicated racing cyclist. You may have seen the recent Cycling Weekly 10-page winter riding special in their January issue. Or possibly the Cycling Plus 24-page full colour glossy pull-out supplement on surviving the elements? Or maybe the Cycling Active one-shot special mini-magazine with exclusive cut out and keep wall-mounted training schedule?
But if you’re still hankering after expert tips and advice on getting out on the bike during the miserable British weather, then below are my Top Ten Tips…
For many cyclists power is where it’s at. Investments in expensive power meters with complex outputs measuring effort to the nth degree. Labourious toil in the gym working those quads or calves or whatever it is those guys do in there. But the cyclist’s real power is not found in bulging thighs, but in the head. No one is getting anywhere in bike racing without plenty of willpower.
I have skinny thighs - but worse, very little willpower. Lazy is my middle name.
At the start of a race you’ll always find me at the back of the bunch. The service car practically has to nudge me along, so reluctant am I to get going. The first 10 minutes always feel too fast to me. Don’t these guys know we’ve got plenty of time to do that? Why not leave the racing to the last possible moment, when we finally, absolutely have to?
Fortunately for me new scientific studies have shown that lack of willpower is not a sign that I lack character or grit, but that it’s just a general evolutionary flaw of the brain. The human prefrontal cortex – the bit of the brain that handles willpower – is underdeveloped, and is often overwhelmed by excess stimuli.