Numbers don’t win the race!

Most riders are obsessed with numbers in this Strava crazy world! We are always checking the data, the power, heart rate, time or speed for a session and obviously physical training is vitally important to becoming a successful road racer, but what about the other elements of racing that are often neglected?

 

Psychology

Can you manage your emotions, your thoughts, your pre race nerves, your confidence levels?

Professor Steve Peters rose to fame with his Chimp Paradox Mind Model and is credited with much of the success of British riders in the past few years.  Mental skills, like physical skills need time and effort to develop, how much time do you spend on them?

Simple things such as positive self talk to increase confidence and maintain focus, focused breathing techniques to control nerves and using imagery to visualise successful performances can make a significant difference.

Confidence also comes from setting SMARTER goals that include process goals. It is wonderful to have a goal of winning a specific race or completing a certain TT in a set time (an outcome goal), but often other factors outside your control influence these goals i.e. who else turns up for the race, how hard they have trained and the weather. You therefore need to set other goals or milestones that contribute to your overall goals for the season, or year. Ones that you are in control of, that will contribute to your long term goals and that you can be proud of achieving i.e. to have increased average cadence by X amount by X date, to have developed an effective warm up protocol by Spring or to have increased threshold power by X watts by X date, to have learnt to corner effectively in a bunch by Summer or to increase speed over a known course by X%. Achieving these milestones will bring confidence as you see your progress.

Pre race I recommend all my riders follow a set routine that works for them, I even ask them to write it down and plan it out along with a list of kit they need. This ensures there are no last minute panics. Using a set pre race routine and set warm up enables a rider to control their anxiety. Always following the same process allows an athlete to get into the racing mindset. The British Cycling 20 minute warm is perfect for most events.

During a race the mental skill most required is concentration and the ability to remain focussed at all times, a lapse in concentration could result in disaster. Post race it is vital to identify not just the areas for improvement, but all the things that went well. Try identifying 10 things that you did well each race i.e. did you complete a successful warm up, did you start in a good position, did you maintain a good position in the bunch, where you aware of the attacks, did you find a safe wheel to follow, did you hydrate well etc etc. Look for the positives; this is where confidence comes from!

 

Technical Skills

Racing Skills Session for 700cc at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit

Racing Skills Session for 700cc at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit

Last year the Surrey League took the decision to make it compulsory for riders to attend two accredited race training sessions if they were planning to race in the league as a novice/Cat 4 racer. This year the South East Road Race League has done the same and it seems likely that other race organisers will follow suit.

These sessions cover a variety of technical skills for racing before progressing to some tactical skills including mock racing which is followed by a classroom session to discuss racing and training.

Having run a few of these sessions now, including some women’s only sessions, I truly believe riders at all levels can benefit from them. In the outside session we build the confidence to ride in close proximity to other riders, leaning on other riders, touching other riders, being in a bunch and moving through a bunch of riders.

Cornering in a bunch is very different to being cornering solo and being able to choose your line. Sessions like this give the opportunity to practise at speed in a safe environment. British Cycling has a great series of videos called Race Smart including one on Cornering in a Bunch which are well worth a look.

Women Only Session at Redbridge Cycle Circuit

Women Only Session at Redbridge Cycle Circuit

Technique for mass starts and sprint finishes are covered and practised; in a race you only get to do each of these once and they are not the sort of things you should be practising with your mates on the open road! Often the main area for improvement on the mass starts is being able to clip your second foot in quickly without looking down, this is simple to practise on every ride and can make a huge difference to both your confidence on the start line and to the start itself.

 

All riders enjoy working on their strengths, the things they naturally excel at, but identifying and dedicating time to our weaknesses will pay dividends come race day!

The Sprint for the Line!

The Sprint for the Line!

Knowledge really is power; do you know the demands of the races you are targeting? What is the circuit like? Is it a narrow circuit with tight corners, a wide circuit, an open road, is it hilly, where is the start/finish. If you are unable to ride the course or circuit pre race can you look at You Tube footage from previous races, look at Google Earth to get an idea of the layout, ask team mates or club mates what the circuit is like or even ask on social media. This will help you decide what skills you need to focus on most i.e. cornering or starts for town centre crits!

The excellent Race Smart videos cover everything from packing your bag to racing in high winds, but of course there is no substitute for getting out and practising so riders of all levels can benefit from this type of session.

 

Tactical Skills

Tactical skills are developed with experience, in your first few races really focus on observing the race, who did what, when and why? Where were the attacks? Was this a good place to attack? Did it work? Why? What happened in the race? How did you respond? How did others respond?

Watch other races live or on TV and see if you can work out what riders are doing and why? Observe how different tactics are used by individuals versus teams?

Then try some out! It is difficult to plan precisely, but have a strategy for the race or the course. Will you sit in the bunch and conserve energy as you know your strength is sprinting? Will you attack over the crest of a hill when other riders are easing off? Which attacks will you respond too? Where do attacks commonly happen on this circuit or course?

Early season races that are not your top priority for the year are good place to be brave and try out some tactics and see what might just work for you or your team.

So in 2016 will you develop your mental skills, your technical skills and your tactical skills alongside your physical training? You can bet the winners will be…….

Review: The Obree Way – A Training Manual for Cyclists by Graeme Obree

 

 

The Obree Way

a Training Manual for cyclists

by Graeme Obree.

 

Edited & Produced by: Maximise Marketing & Event Ltd & obree.com

£30 for A4 hardback
£4.64 for Amazon Kindle Edition (at time of writing)

“Training is bad for you! Training followed by rest and proper nutrition is good for you and will make you better prepared for the event you are training for.” Graeme Obree

This manual sees the legendary Graeme Obree taking his own unique, and forgive the hyperbole, scientifically holistic, approach to the concept of training, performance and the science within – in all its forms. It is full of deep insights and ideas, the sort you that make sense as soon as you read them. If anyone has the passion, intelligence and focus to both follow this path and to achieve their goals it is Graeme. After all, as the great Robert Millar states ‘he’s got the t-shirt’. Rugby great, John Beattie, sums it up best in his forward when he says, ‘this training manual is different. It makes the complex simple and is for social cyclist as much as the elite. As you read it you hear a great mind at work, thinking the issues through. Issues easily applied to sports other than cycling.’

‘The knowledge here is extraordinary.’ John Beattie, British & Irish Lions.

This is a practical guide for cyclists new and experienced and is well served by thoughtful use of illustrations (by Elliot McIntosh, a student at Dundee University), photographs and quotes. Obree describes the book as his personal modus operandi. As much an attempt to add clarity to the often contradictory advice flooding the sport as an objective manual for the aspiring champion. Obree does offer many opinions, often based purely on his own experiences (sample size of one), but to his credit he states clearly when this is the case and usually offers a deeper insight into the formation of such statements. If only more health & fitness writers took this approach then the seemingly daily bombardment of the anecdotal would be replaced by the evidence based, and we would all be a little clearer in our approach to smoother and faster riding.

‘I hope the advice I’d of use and can make a difference to readers in some small way.’ Graeme Obree.

The books consists of thirteen chapters, fifteen if you count the conclusion and photo gallery and starts with the often overlooked question ‘what is training?‘ Obree focuses on specificity to outcome but with greater thought and flexibility than is usual, with specific focus on recovery recognition – an area I for one have often made big mistakes in! He covers, often with uncomfortable truths thrown in, group rides, solo rides, indoor, outdoor, and what a cyclist needs to think about, recognise in themselves, and to do, in order to adapt and to improve physiologically. The psychological is strongly implied and is a recurring theme throughout – assess your strengths and weaknesses, constantly.

‘… I am, dispensing with commercial sponsorship (not for the first time) and by bringing you the truth as I have analysed it and used to have the success I have had in my career.’ Graeme Obree

The essence of Obree’s message is that training is an activity that once completed, including recovery, makes you better at the activity than before you underwent ‘training’. The rest of the book sets out to help you achieve this lofty goal.

First steps, chapter two, is where Obree describes his fascination with the measurable variables of training alongside the feel of both body and mind. It explains, following a positivist scientific methodology, the need to know your bike/turbo set up and to measure and monitor your performance. Dotted throughout this and all chapters are many little gems of knowledge. The puncture prevention tips are ones I wish I hadn’t had to learn the hard – and costly – way while pulling out thorns on the road from Wigan to Ecclestone!

Chapter three focuses on bike set up; very useful geometry and equipment choices are laid out in terms of your realistic aspirations as a cyclist – reliability and cost… Ok, aerodynamics too!

Light, strong, cheap. Choose any two!’ Graeme Obree

Chapter four, The Turbo Session, is Obree’s homage to the equipment, the systematic, the psychological (again) and the preparation needed to perform better than you have before. As ever, there is an almost obsessive focus on on the details of performance setting, analysis and evaluation, but all presented like an affable coffee stop chat, and much better they are for this style too. Dare I say that ‘marginal gains’ may summarise the thinking here? Suddenly the thought of an hour or two on the turbo has new meaning. It has certainly helped me.

Chapter five, Training, is where I clearly felt the gulf between weekend warrior and serious, or elite, rider manifest itself. This is a chapter that is a must read if you want to improve and it certainly ticked a lot of the “I should be doing that” boxes that I have often found floating to the forefront of my thoughts while pootling about the Rhein-Sieg and Eifel (not forgetting the lanes of Essex and Wigan) but, usually, failed to implement with any consistency. I found the his critique of the seven-day training cycle very useful and have, well will (as soon as the snow melts), follow his advice as closely as I can.

“Fundamentally other riders want to talk to you on a two hour ride but the truth is if you can  chat then you are wasting you time and [the] opportunity to improve.” Graeme Obree

Obree covers nutrition and hydration: pre, during and post ride, training frequency, intensity and recovery. There is a thought provoking focus on ‘real’ food as opposed to supplementation and training specificity.

Chapter six is is where Obree focus on the ubiquitous psychology of preparation. He emphasises the power of positive thinking and realistic, yet ambitious, goal setting. It is interesting to read about how Obree prepared himself mentally before some of his biggest races. However most of the psychology coved is in full agreement with current performance paradigms, think Dr. Steve Peters and his chimp paradox, but if it helps you then it is a chapter well read. One aspect Obree adds here is routine in thought processes. It’s what worked for him.

Chapter seven, the psychology of racing. As you are now aware the mind is a major player in Obree’s world. No Corinthian he. Prime motives are what are needed and it is the mind that separates the winners from the rest. A chapter for the elite racer lurking inside us all. However, much truth is written here that could benefit each and every reader, rider and racer. Visualisation played a key role in Obree’s own preparations and his rationale is explained in detail. More food for thought.

“A thought is like a thing. Everything you have and do began with a thought.” Graeme Obree

Breathing, chapter eight, is fascinating and presents a novel, at least to me, method of inhalation and exhalation when riding. Obree can be heard explaining this on Resonance FM’s Bike Show podcast from January 31, 2012. (Available via iTunes) I must admit to having had little success here – perhaps I’m always too out of breath to give it an honest go. Here’s the cycle, to give you taster, deep breath now…

– Full breath out (the most important part), Full breath in.

– half breath out, mostly breath back in.

– quarter breath out, breath back in a little.

I rarely get past the second step. Perhaps my nostril and tongue technique – also explained in the chapter – is lacking in finesse. I showed this chapter to a couple of yoga expert friends and both seemed rather impressed by the thinking, process and description. Practice makes prefect I guess… Back to the mat for me!

Chapter nine cover the act, possibly art, of pedalling. A fine chapter – it includes lots of physics so I would say that! The mystery of crank length is covered and then the best techniques to use to turn them, both in and out of the saddle are presented. The aim? To look a classy rider, oh and to improve performance.

Chapter ten is where I really feel somewhat the hypocrite through my own staggering lack of application: Stretching. All is explained from the perspective of specificity and four very useful – even I can, almost, do them – stretches are presented cover all all the major muscles used in cycling. Full colour photographs of Graeme in full stretch accompany the text.

The time trial, the race of truth, is covered, as you would expect, in minute detail in chapter eleven. Who better to learn from? The essence seems to be position, information gathering, set up, equipment selection, and rhythm. Perhaps I’ll try one, one day? They don’t hurt too much do they?

Chapter twelve sees a return to nutrition and diet. It contains a lot of good, solid sense and takes a traditional, real food approach. Obree seems to be no fan of the supplement – as his famous jam sandwich and mouthful marzipan tip will make clear. Cooking your own food from basic, healthy, ingredients is the theme, even down to the baking of your own low-sodium bread. Timing of refuelling is treated with care. Indeed, Obree treats nutrition planning as obsessively as he does training and bike set up. His success lends weight to his argument. You are what you eat.

Illness and other matters conclude the main chapters and includes minimising the chances of illness, when and when not to with and after illness, drinking and eating on the bike safely, hygiene – body and kit (several acquaintances of the road could well do with reading the kit bit!) The message is consistent with all other chapters – learn to listen, feel and respect what your body is telling you. No one would argue with its primary health care message.

The conclusion is best left to Graeme himself. His words neatly summarise the purpose of this novel, useful and, yes, fascinating, book

“Please trust me that this body of honest work is given in the best spirit, I have been the guinea-pig in e quest to refine my training on every level and I can commend it really does work. Knowledge and understanding is a constant quest. This book is not definitive and keeping an open mind on new findings and developments is not only a good thing but essential if you are serious in your search for new and better ways to improve your cycling and athletic performance.

Information is the golden thread throughout this book.

The more information you compile in relation to your preparation for any chosen event then the better prepared for your task you can become and this can make the difference between being a club rider and a world champion. My quest as an athlete was always to go into minute detail in the areas I could influence to affect the outcome to my advantage in terms of my performance. Trust me, if you take care in all aspects of your preparation and performance you will become an improved cyclist and perform better in your chosen discipline, if that is your goal.” Graeme Obree.

I’d give The Obree Way 99% for content, honesty and the fact it’s self-published!


Reviewed by: Nichiless ‘Nicky’ Dey.

Neunkirchen-Seelscheid, Germany

 

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