I’ve long had a reputation for being very precise with my training, treating cycling as an exact science. This reputation largely stems from the fact that I keep meticulous track of what I do – my training log spreadsheets are ridiculous amalgams of masses of data, incomprehensible to anyone but me. And though I much deserved this reputation at the outset of my career, I’ve transformed over the years – I am no longer the precise athlete I once was, largely because all of my experience has pointed to getting away from all of that. True, keeping journals and checking wattage and heart rate is all very useful, but it can also be somewhat soul-crushing to the true joy that is cycling.
The great Merckx is known to have said that the secret to being fast was to “ride lots”. He didn’t say that the secret was to “have your data analyzed by a team of ivy-league scientists”. And after all, no one gets into cycling so that they can stare at a little number fluctuating on a wattage screen. Everyone originally got into the sport because of the pure fun of getting on a bike and pedaling hard and screaming across the ground under one’s own power. Okay, I still keep track of everything and still spot check my progress. But, I’ve learned that spot checking is all that is needed since the purpose of all the ridiculous piles of data is to just show a general trend. At the end of the day, you get fast by riding lots, and being motivated to do so can be stifled by neurotic over-analysis. Races are won with grit and determination and tactics, not by fractions of a percent due to calibration in a lab (maybe road time trials are the exception, but I’m ignoring those…).
I have applied these lessons more and more to my riding, and this was more evident than ever at training camp a few weeks ago. I headed south with friend Nick Waite (semi-retired/semi-active pro who is always fast even if unsure of why). We got away from the winter with 3 days in Dahlonega, GA and 3 days in Hendersonville, NC and our camp was more productive and more fun than any I’ve had in the past. We put together 27 hours of riding in those six days, but there was no precise plan and we were completely flexible the whole time. We rode super hard, but not according to any agenda. We just went out and put in 5 or 6 hours each day, as hard as we could manage, and ate fantastic food in the evenings. We rode a ton of back-country trail, shelving the road bikes and the power meters for most of the week. We rarely talked about racing, and rarely said the “w” word. It was incredibly refreshing.
Still, when I got home, I was somewhat curious to spot-check where I stand. I went out and did a 20min hill climb as hard as I could and the “w”s were better than I’ve ever seen at this time of year. I am ahead of schedule. The plan to have less of a plan is working: ride lots, enjoy cycling as it is meant to be enjoyed, and get fast without the neurosis. Precisely.