Some of you may have seen a commercial on television from an investment company that poses a question like “….what can a hula hoop teach us about investing…”. I want to take a page out their book and ask a similar question, “What can the stock market teach us about cycling training and competition?” One answer, of course is to make a fortune on Wall Street, quit your job, retire, and train all the time. Unfortunately, although that may be the answer for some, it is not feasible for most of us.
Let’s ask some common cycling/training related questions. Do we achieve our training and event goals? Do we have fun? I want to repeat that – Do we have fun? Is training a chore or a thrill? What are your highs and lows? The majority of us are in this sport to improve and when we don’t show the amount of improvement we are hoping for; we look to understand what happened. This leads back to my original question, and the answer is: It’s all about trends.
The stock market can teach us about our approach to training. The market is about trends. It’s not about day to day changes (or, preferably, gains); it’s about a long-term return on our investments (historically 11%). This is the same way we should view our training seasons.
The important factor to examine is the direction of the trend. Are we improving? Are we accomplishing our goals? Are we learning new aspects of the sport? Are we learning something new about ourselves? Are we meeting and enjoying new people with the same goals?
Let me give you another analogy. When we are trying to lose weight, we are advised not to weigh ourselves every morning. Rather we are encouraged to jump on the scale once a week, at the same time of the day (e.g., Monday mornings). It’s the overall trend of your weight, not the day to day fluctuations (which can sometimes vary by as much as 3-5 pounds) that matter. The same goes for us in our training and events. We all have down cycles. We will have days or even weeks when we don’t perform as well as we want. So, in keeping with the Stock Market analogy, it’s not as important to look at a single “window” of training and competition, but to look at the big picture and the overall trend of improvement.
It is important to recognize that as we become better athletes, our rate of improvement will slow. Have you gained fitness, have you gained confidence, have you gained new skills, what has been your level of improvement?
Also, it is important to understand that the more we improve, the more difficult days we may have. The good news is that our good days will be at a higher level than ever before, but they may be more infrequent than they were when we were less fit. This becomes even more true the older we get. If we don’t understand this phenomenon, we may view our lack of progress as “failure.” Of course, it is vital to understand when we have genuinely reached a “plateau”. This means that we likely need to change our training regimen in order to continue our improvement and to mentally “mix it up”. It is important to be able to have a clear perspective on where we are in our development as athletes, so we are able to view these difficult days and (occasionally) weeks as part of an upward trend.
How can we track these important trends? How do we know if we are improving and really moving in a positive direction?
To track our physical progress, we can setup periodic physiological testing. Testing is an optimal way to chart improvement. The lab setting allows us to eliminate external variables and track progress in important markers (such as watts per kilo at threshold, a measure which changes with fitness level). With our athletes at Athleticamps, we like to setup two types of goals, physiological goals and event goals.
If performance testing is not readily available to you, set up field tests with a power meter. Choose a course and test yourself periodically throughout the year to see if there is power improvement. Strava is another method to view improvement, although it only recognizes time ignoring other factors. In other words, there are a lot of external variables. If you are not seeing improvement, it may be necessary to review and reflext on your training habits.
Find a good cycling coach! Find a coach that not only send you workouts, but also “coaches” and teaches you. Someone, you will sit down with you and discuss all the other aspects of the sport beyond just the specific workouts. Set goals, track them and have a relationship that allows for open discussion of many issues ranging from weight management to life stress. The physical workouts (training program) should be only one portion of what a coach helps you with.
Monitor your self-talk. What are you truly saying to yourself? Is your attitude good or is it bad? Are you saying encouraging and realistic things to yourself? Remember, how you view yourself will often times be reflected in your performance.
Always be thinking of the big picture and focus on the positive. Your growth as an athlete and a person comes from persevering during the difficult times and maintaining awareness that challenging moments are only temporary. Accept the reality that lifestyle, training time, and event success may fluctuate and likely eventually plateau over time.
Taking on the challenge to become a better athlete is a major commitment. One of the most important things to remember is that it is all about the journey. Training, tracking trends, and the ups and downs are all about the journey! You should pat yourself on the back for taking on this challenge of moving the trend of improvement in an upward direction. And one more thing, if you do have a good stock tip, PLEASE pass it on!