13 January 2006

The measure of success

I've been planning to write this blog for a little while now, but wasn't sure when I was going to post it … a comment in a previous post by Anonymous the other day means that now would be as good a time as any.

In it, Anon suggests that the lack of results in August was, in fact, due to overtraining. That I seem to be more concerned about making my training numbers than about "actual" results. That overtraining isn't just about lack of motivation, but also a decrease in fitness and focus. He/she even asks whether I've podiumed or won any races.

He/she goes on to ask whether I participate in fun rides, and notes that my local club can fill me in on "poker rides" etc. that will help me maintain the "fun factor" but keep up the volume. That Kim and I could go on overnight rides to bring us closer together.

By its very nature, blogs are public, and although any of you who know me may be laughing at this person's questions, keep in mind that the "blog-o-sphere" is wide open to anyone in the world. So we'll accept the premise that this person is just asking the valid question, since it's pretty obvious that he/she has no clue about me, my personality, my competitive results, nor my relationship with Kim.

And it is a valid question. Especially when you consider that a race is, quite simply, a very intense training event. Your body stresses and adapts, whether it's from solo intervals on the road or fighting to get to the last corner at Downers Grove. So from that perspective, yeah, it was overtraining. But it was overtraining in a race environment: I brought myself to an incredible peak in late June, carried that fitness into July, and that's where I screwed up -- I set an over-ambitious Superweek schedule, and by the time August rolled around, I was fried. (And if you're keeping score, yes, this was against the advice of my coach, and was partly due to a misunderstanding of team goals.)

This was the first time I ever -- and I mean ever -- lost fitness when I wasn't supposed to. And it sucked. Bad. But thankfully, I had enough of a base that with a few weeks of easy riding -- and, yes, a late-season road race or two -- I was back at it, and feeling good by the time the late-season 'cross races rolled around.

I don't care how much I train. I don't like to sound like I'm bragging about how much I train. I sincerely apologize if that's how it sounds. I like to ride, pure and simple. I like to kill myself with intervals that simulate TT efforts. I like to jam up hills. I like to spin easy with a tailwind at my back. And, quite simply, the only reason I'm talking about all this is that it's January. Now is the time to do all that. Because come April, I like to race.

What's more important is to train right. (Yeah, I know, I sound like a commercial for Carmichael.) My physiology is such that I am good at sustained efforts at threshold, and have a very deep reservoir of endurance. So what do I do? In the off-season, when it's time to work on "limiters," I'm doing sprints. I'm doing hill repeats. I'm doing all the little things it takes to show up on race day with as complete a package as I'm able to muster. It's not about the training. It's about doing what you need to do to race fast.

And here's where I go off the deep end: I don’t care if I win. If I am the best racer there, I will win. But my success is not measured by podiums, or by results as Anon understands them. My success is measured by whether I raced better today than I did yesterday. Or last week. Or in the same event last year. Whether I had the guts to attack today. Whether I had the fitness to really go for it. Whether, if I didn't, I went for it anyway.

See, it's not about winning and losing. In a team environment, it absolutely is. And I had my fair share of "successes" last season, including wins for myself and significant contributions to team victories. And over the past couple of years, I've had enough "success" to move pretty quickly through the category rankings. But if you ask me about my greatest moment in a bike race? The 2004 Illinois state championship, when I was in a break to take the pressure off our sprinter, killed myself to make it into the 15-strong finishing group, and "only" managed 10th. That was a great race. (Our sprinter took the group for 3rd after two guys broke away.)

That's why I don't want to race Masters events. That's why I go to Natz. I live -- I exist -- to challenge myself at the highest level I possibly can. To see how I stack up. To push my own limits. In competition. That's why 'cross is so awesome -- it's all about how hard you can go. There is clearly a time and place for local group rides, and social rides, and easy outings with Kim. But I started racing with the express goal to push myself as far as I could. And you know what? I made it. And making it required getting "results." But I still have a lot of room for improvement, and I'm working on that, which is why I'm training right now. So I can enter the 2006 race season well prepared to take on everyone else.

My philosophy can pretty much be summed up by this speech from Without Limits. I'm not sure how historically accurate it is, but it is purported to be the eulogy that Nike co-founder and Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman delivered at the memorial service for Steve Prefontaine ("Pre"). If you really want to understand me, and my approach to training and racing, read this:

All my life, man and boy, I've operated under the assumption that the main idea in running was to win the race. Naturally, when I became a coach I tried to teach people how to do that. Tried to teach Pre how to do that. Tried like hell to teach Pre to do that. And Pre taught me. Taught me I was wrong. Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort can win a race, and a magnificent effort can lose one. Winning a race wouldn't necessarily demand that he give it everything he had from start to finish. He never ran any other way. I couldn't get him to, and God knows I tried . . . but . . . Pre was stubborn. He insisted on holding himself to a higher standard than victory. 'A race is a work of art' is what he said and what he believed and he was out to make it one every step of the way.

Of course he wanted to win. Those who saw Pre compete or who competed against him were never in doubt how much he wanted to win. But how he won mattered to him more. Pre thought I was a hard case. But he finally got it through my head that the real purpose of running isn't to win a race. It's to test to the limits of the human heart. That he did . . . No one did it more often. No one did it better.


Anonymous said...


Steve Driscoll said...


Cool blog. Yes, after a "little" cycling-altering event in my life, I have come to the conclusion that I may NEVER podium again, and that's OK with me, as that is a piece of my life, not my life. I like to work & play hard, and if my hardest efforts aren't good enough, that's OK. The day I stop having fun, I will stop, and do something else. I strive for excellence, not perfection. Be good, and we'll see you at the TDG in February, and YES, I plan to race it. Havent figured out how yet, but I will. Have any toe straps/pedals for my left leg????? Be Good!!!!!

No Purchase said...

Right on!! (..but would you happen to have Cliffs notes of your blog for little Mikey??)-jk Hope you and Kim are enjoying the off-season! I'm getting too much sun and scenery. NOT!

Kim said...

That's good advice for life in general :)

The "Other" Kim :)