There are time when you are too close to the topic and you are no longer objective. Your passion for your sport can work the same way. Athletes gearing up for an event can and often do lose proper judgment regarding their preparation. Sadly, this impaired judgment can rob the athlete of a peak performance. Here are a few tips to avoid this condition and optimize your race performance.
Hire a Coach
Number one way to avoid Passion Blindness mistakes is hire a coach. Coaches love peak performance, but can remain objective about your training. We coaches tend to look at the numbers in a cold objective kind of way. Many of the top world class athletes have coaching only for this reason. As you know, so many tour riders have trained for 20+ years at the top of their game. They should know how to train themselves pretty well. So why does each one of them have a coach? The main reason is objectivity. In the world class stress level of pre-tour preparation, pro cyclists surround themselves with grounding personnel. Point is, anyone can get stirred up and lose “it” while under stress, so the smart ones will hire objectivity and encouragement with a great coach. You recover better with low levels of stress. So a good coach can do wonders in this department.
Have a Plan
The second thing you can do is premeditate your training year in advance. You can make objective training choices before you get into the ocean of pre-race emotion. In the calm off season you should identify your key races and put them on the calendar. Then you should pen in all your training around those key races. So you can see the timing of your heavy training, your rest weeks, and your taper schedule from a relaxed macro viewpoint. Here too, you might consider a coach who can set up your schedule. This is gives even more confidence and that reduces the guesswork stress. A good coach has developed 100’s of plans and leaves you feeling excited to get going. The guess work has been removed. As racing approaches, you can lean on that plan when the stress might otherwise cloud your objectivity. Plan your work, and work your plan on purpose.
The third and last tip is stay objective through honest feedback. Use a heart rate monitor and power meter! You cannot get any more honest bio feedback than this. You may have a coach who mandates that you have this equipment prior to him working with you. They do this because they know that with Watts and Heart Rate (W&HR) you cannot hide what’s going on inside. You may “feel” like you need to train harder, but the W&HR will reveal the facts. For example, I was recently beginning a long endurance ride. Normally I can push out about 270 watts at my endurance HR of 140. On this day I was seeing the HR at 140 and watts were really low at 195-210. Even after the warm up the watts were 50 low at the 140 HR. I did the right thing and turned around at 30 minutes and went home. I was taxed either from fatigue or illness (sometimes both). Turns out the next day I woke up with the flu. Most interestingly, if I was working only with HR I would have had no clue that I was to abandon the ride to make gains in fitness. I had no trouble producing a 140 HR, the only clue would have been a slower pace. Since pace varies so much on course or conditions, I would have likely executed my pre-thought training plan, and been even sicker the next day. HR is good, but watts is real time hard science.
You can also see your training working or failing with watts. I have many athletes do standardized fitness testing each week in 20 minute intervals. These are point to point TT’s and each week you should be about the same or a little higher as you are training up the effect. These are all out and really hard. Most of the times we see great watt/kilo number increases as the season progresses. This weekly test really quantifies fitness gains (or losses) with a number. Say an athlete starts his season at 310 NP watts for the test and weighs in at 72 Kilos. Well the math would say his current 20 minute number is 4.3. We know this same athlete ran a 4.9 w/k in the previous season. So we know he lost 12.25% fitness in his off season break. As we plan his season, we come up with two major objectives. One, we need to get his power back, and plan on achieving 350 watts on the 20 TT. (10 watts higher than the previous season peak) That will come with correct training cycles. Two, we decide to get his number even higher by reducing his racing body weight to 69 kilos. Weight loss for athletes is 90% what they eat, so a diet has to be planed and implemented. Slow weight loss is a must as we are also attempting to gain power at the same time. Yup, time to refine and count calories. So what makes this athlete excited? The number 5 w/k! That number will allow him to win races, and that makes it worth it to him. So we implement the plan for on and off the bike, and honestly monitor progress both off and on the bike.
The best solution is all the above! If you are the “do it yourself” mentality, that is great, but get your feedback from W&HR and be honest. Plan your own training and then work your plan and watch your numbers. If the numbers are tracking good progress, the plan is solid and working. If you are not making progress, then spend the cash and hire a coach. Many non-coached athletes bounce ideas off their training partners to stay objective. Be careful with this, it can work sometimes well, but other times it can backfire. Too many times free advice is given with out taking into account your whole training schedule and load. The advice is usually well intended and pretty good in general. But what you need is specific to you advice after much care has been taken to consider your current fitness level and future objectives. Regardless of your plan, please just work it! I do not want you paying the price only to not realize your full potential because of common passion blindness mistakes. Instead, I love it when an athlete goes far beyond their pre-season objectives and is blown away by their own ability!