Overcoming your fears

I am frequently asked, “What is the most common observation in athletes that needs improvement?”  Well, I am no psychologist (although I do have an excellent recommendation), but the answer is very simple, most athletes just need to learn how to RELAX both physically and mentally; to chill, to let it go, to have more fun, to kick it!

 The Problem (or Opportunity) 

What I see is both a physical and mental “tightness” when an athlete lacks self-confidence in the task he or she is about to take on.  Most athletes have some sort of fear in cycling (or running or swimming), whether it is climbing, descending, pack riding, or field sprints.  Physically, this is manifested with stiff, straight arms, or white knuckles. This tightness leads to decreased performance because excess energy is used to control the fear.  Shallow breathing develops and decreases performance even more.  From a mental standpoint, the athlete loses focus, gets short-tempered, and is pretty much doing everything counter-productive to successfully achieving his or her goal.  We’ve all been there, when we have had that feeling of failure before we even start, and in turn became our own nemesis!

 The Solution

The good news is there is a solution.  I won’t lie to you and say it’s easy, because it isn’t.  The key is to just RELAX.  Of course, it’s easier said than done, but just think about it for a minute.  You work so hard on the bike (running/swimming). You investigate every physical workout possible, looking for the magic.  You dedicate yourself to achieving your goals, and everything seems to go up in smoke because of nerves.  Don’t get me wrong, nerves are good.  Nerves tell us that we are capable of doing well in threatening situations. On the other hand, like anything else, too much of a good thing can be detrimental.

 The first thing to do is next time you are out riding and come into one of these situations is to first recognize it.  As an example: let’s take a narrow, twisty, screaming decent (like the canyons on Highway 49 in Auburn.)  You’re riding with your friends and all of a sudden you realize this descent is coming up in the next couple miles.  You are already making excuses to yourself that you will be behind at the bottom of the descent. You drift away from the conversation as your mind is beginning to be occupied with negative thoughts.   You start the downhill and you notice you are gripping the bars like there is no tomorrow.  Your breathing is shallow, you take strange lines through the corners that no one in their right mind would, and your friends disappear ahead of you in an instant! You get to the bottom and your friends are going slow, chatting about something, and waiting for YOU.  You feel awkward and wish you could just descend the way they do.  The thing is, you can!  All you have to do is gain confidence through learning to RELAX.  

 Here are four tips to help you overcome these types of situations:

  • Patience, remember most importantly that it takes time.  Miracles of the mind don’t occur overnight.

  • Small steps - Try this experiment.  The next few days you ride, concentrate on just one part of your body to relax throughout the ride.  For example, focus on relaxing your arms.  Don’t worry about anything else, just the arms. Then, the next day, concentrate on your facial muscles and go through the same drill.  Take a lesson from the golfers who work on just one component at a time, as they do with their swing.  Continue doing this each day.

  • Talk it up – Take the specific fear to your friends, coach, wife, husband or whoever will listen and care.  Talk it out. Have them help you. Sometimes talking about an issue helps verbalized something you haven’t been able to put into words. Don’t feel like you have to overcome the fear on your own.  It’s amazing what how talking about a problem will help solve it.

  • Get some help from a qualified coach - When we do our 1:1 workouts, we specifically address these situations. For example, with both climbing and descending, there are specific form techniques and strategies that can be worked on and perfected.

 Learn to relax and it’s amazing how you will change for the better, both physically and mentally. And all that effort you put into accomplishing your goals will be realized and you will have more fun doing it!



Is setting goals enough?

Obviously, setting goals is a major "to do" when it comes to coaching endurance athletes.  With 20+ years of experience, setting realistic goals that are attainable for each unique athlete has become more of a creative art.    

At Athleticamps, we focus on two specific categories.  More improtantly though, there is an underlying principle or philosophy that we apply  to those two categories that help our athletes achieve them.   We will discuss this principle later in the article. First, let's discuss the two categories:

  • Event goals - Setting event goals are pretty straightforward. Perhaps you want to do a specific event like the Markleeville Death ride.  Or you want to peak for a specific race or set of races.  Basically looking at the calendar and giving yourself enough time is the primary prerequisite.  And as a coach, making sure you are capable of those events is obviously important.  For example, if a development racer says he wants to do the Tour de France next year, I would have to pat him on the back and say, "I like your enthusiasm, but let's set that one a bit longer out in the future" :-) 
  • Physiological or training goals - We believe there is a lot of value in  tracking progress through performance testing (indoors) and data analysis (outdoors).  A simple analogy would be businesses setting revenue and expense goals and reviewing them quarterly to see if they are on track or not.  Or if you work with a investment planner, you would want to meet with that person and see how your money is doing and what particulars made your net worth go up or down, hopefully up.  Why wouldn't athletes treat their training and goals the same way?  This aspect of your program is a bit more tricky and in-depth in that it involves understanding the athlete, their background, and personality.  But as a coach, this is what we love and enjoy and do on a daily basis.  There is no simple canned approach because every athlete is different and requires different "ingredients" to improve.  And again, just like with event goals, it requires a knowledgeable coach that can help you navigate through all the training philosophies and "stuff" you read and listen to and make things as simple as possible.

As important as understanding that we need to set these two categories of goals, there is an underlying principle that needs to be applied and is much more important: Teaching proper training techniques.  

Through my experience, goals are achieved not by solely focusing on statements like "let's get you to 300w for a 20' power test" or "You want to ride 21mph or 50 miles".  They are achieved by teaching athletes how to train properly. The goals are a byproduct of that philosophy.   Don't get me wrong, the two categories of goals are important to every program, as that is the light at the end of the tunnel.  But it's teaching how to navigate through that tunnel which is more important.  

We love athletes that not only want to achieve goals, but want to learn how to train properly and ask the proper questions.  After all, you as an athlete are out there dedicating the time and sweat . It's important to  understand what you are doing and why.  Being a coach is also about being an educator.

We believe that our unique environment at Athleticamps fosters this philosophy.  We are not just a training center with over 20+ years of experience, we are a think tank and learning center. We offer all the ingredients needed to make your individual recipe work!  We love athletes take on challenges, want to learn and understand that being a successful athlete includes setting goals and knowing there are ups and downs when achieving their goals.

Stop by, say hello and let's talk about teaching you what it takes to get there!

Ride safe, ride strong....


A bit of cycling history...

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of cycling history?  It could be a great rider like Eddy Merkyx or classic races like Paris-Roubaix and the Giro d’ Italia.  When it’s narrowed down to cycling equipment, the bike that best conjures up images of history is the Italian company of Bianchi, which boasts an amazing 130-year history, not to mention one of the most recognized paint colors in all of sport; the unmistakable “Bianchi Blue” or “Celeste.” 

The history of one of the world’s top bicycles started back in 1885 when then 21-year-old Edoardo Bianchi opened his small bicycle shop focusing on repairs in Milan’s via Nirone.  After just 3 years in the business, he created his first bicycle and as soon as 1896 began using his bicycles in races as a testing ground, which was a totally new concept at the time.  Within 3 years of entering the racing scene, Bianchi Bicycles had their first international victory in the Grand Prix of Paris, the prelude to the Tour de France.

He is also credited with originating a manufacturing concept called “Reparto Corse” which literally translates to: “racing department.” This revolutionary process intends to “create for the purpose of winning.”  By utilizing the race environment to rigorously test his products, Bianchi was able to dramatically improve the bikes that reached the average rider. In Italy today, you see the revolutionary and highly effective “Reparto Corse” process applied in companies like Ferrari, Ducati and Alfa Romero.  Using this philosophy to guide the development of his bicycles, Bianchi became “the” brand of bicycle racing in the early 20th century.

Bianchi was frequently ahead of his time.  For example, he was the first bicycle manufacturer to create a bicycle with pneumatic tires (air.)  He is also credited with creating the first women’s bike in 1895 as a special commission for Queen Margherita, at Villa Reale in Monza. Bianchi travels to court to present the bicycle and provide riding lessons to the Queen.  He invented the first mountain bike in 1915, which was developed for the “bersaglieri,” the elite Italian light infantry division during World War I. With these achievements, Edoardo Bianchi became known as the grandfather of the modern bicycle, just as Henry Ford is considered the grandfather of the automobile.

In between the World Wars, Bianchi continued to develop his line of bicycles and win many races, like the Giro d'Italia and Giro di Lombardia.   In 1940, the great Italian Champion Fausto Coppi began to ride for Team Bianchi. During World War II, the factory was destroyed by bombs, but was eventually rebuilt in 1946.  Around this time their famous bluish-green color “celeste” or “Bianchi Blue” was created.  There are some of the theories (or myths) as to where this highly recognized color came from:

  • Eduardo created the color in honor of Italy’s Queen Margherita’s beautiful eyes.

  • It was Eduardo’s homage to Milan and its beautiful sky, or “celeste”.

  • Bianchi had so much surplus green paint from Mussolini’s WWII reign that they mixed it with blue to create a unique color.

  • Edoardo created it to be a unique standout in the peloton and through a few different variations, the color naturally developed to what it is today.

  • Still another story was that celeste was a complete paint mixing mistake done on the team bikes only days before the Giro d’Italia. Fausto Coppi and his teammates thought the bikes were purposely painted that way for good luck.

  • Wherever the color originated (it looks more green than blue), it remains one of the most recognized and sought after colors in sport.

Today, Bianchi bicycles continue their use of the “Reparto Course” concept and outfit the best professional riders in the world.  

Bianchi USA, based in Northern California (Hayward), realizes that continuing their successful history requires a lot of hard work and dedication.  Keeping up with the aggressiveness of other manufacturers like Trek and Specialized is a difficult task.

“As a world-wide company, the main message that Bianchi wants to get across to its consumers is that it doesn’t matter if you are a pro racer or a club rider. Our new bikes, the pro level, technically advanced 928 SL or the more recreational Coast to Coast model meet all levels of need. The bottom line is that Bianchi has a bike that’s right for you,” said Mark Ashley, Bianchi USA’s National Sales Manager.

With more history than any other bike company in the world comes the experience needed to design a superb product. “Our experience has given Bianchi a great foundation for moving forward and is why Bianchi continues to design products that are at the technological cutting edge while simultaneously meeting consumer demands,” said Ashley.

Sometimes having a great history causes a company to fall back on their past achievements: Bianchi, however, feels compelled by their history to continue creating the best products available and ones that would make Eduardo proud.