Three Ways to Get The Most Out of the Fitness You Already Have
One of the most common questions I get on social media or on my blog is this: how do I get faster? How do I get more skilled? Or, simply, how do I get better?
No one ever asks, “How do I maximize what I already have?” But they should. We should all be asking that every day. Most athletes I know are working very, very, very hard to get faster, better, stronger. And most of these athletes are also holding themselves back from reaching their actual in-the-moment potential in some very basic ways. I know because I was one of these athletes.
A year ago this week, I was ending my 2017 season early. I was sick, tired and discouraged. This year, I’m preparing to head to Europe for my final two races. I’ve been on the podium for my last two races and I’m feeling strong and excited to be racing bikes. Last-year-me was still a good athlete — I was still fast on a bike. The huge difference over the last 365 days had very little to do with “getting faster” and everything to do with figuring out how to ride and race to my potential.
Here are my tips for anyone else who feels like they are putting in the work, but not getting 100% of what they have:
You need to rest more.
You need to rest way more than you think. If you’re constantly thinking, “I know I’m faster than this,” then there’s a decent chance you’re right. You ARE faster, but your ratio of work to rest is out of balance. For all of us workaholics who know we can out-work just about anyone else — well training too much and resting too little is the biggest bummer around. Unfortunately outworking everyone else won’t guarantee beating everyone else in a race. In fact, it might even hurt performance. Also, the extra sneaky thing about over training, is that it often strikes when you don’t even feel like you’re training that hard. As someone told me recently, sometimes over training can look a lot more like “under-recovering.” And you can under-recover even when you aren’t doing that much training volume. Life stress, travel, and over-working all demand increased recovery, even if your training volume isn’t changing.
Trying for find the balance between training and recovery is a challenge that never goes away, but I know for a fact I’ve done a way better job this year, because I’ve made it to September without having to go into a 2-week hibernation period to recover my life force.
You need to tell the truth.
You need to be 100% honest about where you are and what you’re trying to achieve. To your coach, to your family, but most importantly TO YOURSELF. If you aren’t realistic about where you are, you can’t get better. In fact, if you aren’t realistic about where you are, you probably can’t even race or ride to your full potential. You’ll be hampered by excuses, worries and self-loathing that you aren’t where you think you should be. Instead of just “doing your thing to the best of your ability” you’ll be trying to explain why you didn’t get the result you thought you should get. Do yourself a favor — tell the truth. Do your best, and be open to wherever that lands you — whether it’s DFL or on the podium
In past years, I’ve really struggled with getting my expectations in line with reality. I wanted to be winning pro races immediately, but GUESS FREAKING WHAT, that didn’t happen. This year, I had a revelation — I finished my first race (Sea Otter) with a mid-pack result and instead of immediately feeling disappointed, my brain said “meh, sounds about right.” That was where I was in that moment. I had taken most of the off-season off the bike. I had just ramped up my training. A mid-pack result was exactly where I was. Accepting that allowed me to move on, and improve my results over the course of the season as my training kicked in.
You need to work on your mental game.
This one is intentionally vague because exactly what aspect of your mental game you need to work on depends a lot on where you’re at and what your strengths and weaknesses are. That said, almost all athletes could stand to benefit from paying more attention to their mental state, and how that effects their performance. And for many of us, it’s our brains that are standing in between us and further progress. In other words, until we figure out the mental piece, we aren’t going to be maximizing our potential, much less making any forward progress.
I spent the first three years of my racing career building some pretty terrible mental pathways — I struggled to be positive about racing, I beat myself up about my race results, and I consistently performed much worse in races than I did in practice. This probably won’t come as much of a shock, but by the end of 2017, not only did I no longer love racing — I almost hated it. Now, after working with a sports psychologist for a year, and actually tackling the reasons I was not enjoying racing, my mental state is working for me, instead of against me (at least most of the time).
Almost everything I did between the 2017 and 2018 seasons was aimed at bringing out what I already had going for me. I didn’t spend that much time working on bike skills or doing intervals or hitting the gym. Instead, I took a lot of time off, I worked on my mental state and I got REAL about my priorities and expectations. And it paid off. My 2018 season has been my best so far AND I’m still having fun. Am I faster? Maybe a little, but mainly I’m just taking full advantage of what I already had. So, if you feel like you’ve exhausted all of your options for improvement, if you’re tired, run-down, discouraged, or beating yourself up — maybe it’s time to stop trying to get faster, and start looking for ways to maximize what you already have.