Less is more

...seemingly except when it comes to cycling. I’ve been looking to pop a piece together about this for a while. Only always felt it would be a little ironic discussing the merits of what amounts to riding less when I was still always alarmed if I didn’t clock up at least 20 hours of saddle time each week. 


Well, things have changed. No longer am I ‘working around cycling’ but now ‘cycling around working’. Returning to Australia last year after what was, personal results wise, a very disappointing time racing in Europe meant I needed to ask myself some serious questions. And while quitting racing all together was never on the cards (I was disappointed, not disillusioned) it was clear I’d never have what it takes to make the final step and actually score a paid position on a team.


Not some of my finest racing in Belgium


So what next? Funnily enough, coming to the conclusion of not being good enough to ‘go pro’ and getting back in to work were actually easy enough to handle. Sure there were (and still are) moments where I see team mates racing overseas and wish I was there. Only those times are nicely matched by enjoying a few drinks and pizza without the guilt both would invoke. The biggest struggle surprisingly was coming to terms with training and the amount of time on the bike. In the three years I was riding full time, I broke 1000 hours on the bike each year. Days of no riding whatsoever were rare. And if they did come, you’d be sure the day following it made up for it. My coach obviously was aware, but when you have the rest of the day to recover it didn’t seem like it was doing me any harm. I mean, the pros had been doing it that way since…forever. And they were fast. And lean. And what I was aspiring to be. Surely doing what they did and was ‘accepted wisdom’ was the right way to go.


So when the time to put in those hours on (and off) the bike disappeared, it was pretty disconcerting. Work would distract, but driving home there would be a nagging feeling of not having gotten something done during the day. Finishing an ergo pre-work – knowing the chance to ride after would be minimal or none –would also invoke a bit of panic. Same when the ‘lazy four hour ride’ became the ‘lazy three hour’ or ‘lazy two’. I don’t have kids and am not back to a ‘5 days/9-5er’. All the same, I’ve broken 20 hours a week only three times in 2015. And each week just so happened to coincide with a public holiday on the Monday. I expected performances to drop. Only that…they haven’t. Nine months in and my power is up. My results (shocking nationals aside) are the best they’ve been. And I’ve come to appreciate how fatigued I was previously coming in to races. What was up with that?


Some of the results from the year so far


Some digging started to turn up (or maybe I was more receptive to) advice and accounts of riders a lot more talented than me who also found less is more. A neo-pro was shocked when his pro team instructed him he’ll be training less now he was with them. An American mate, friends with a lot of domestic Conti level riders or guys in the same position as me, were noting less training was actually having a positive effect. Then there is this interview with Michael Rogers on CyclingTips, with the following quotes:


I knew that I had to cut the training hours down and focus on quality over time.


I think I trained too many hours. And I have quite a few theories about that, actually. A lot of pro cyclists…and I was like this myself…I think they gain confidence and mental ability by hours instead of quality.


Well, when I am getting dropped it is in the last hour of the race, when we are going as fast as we can. So I kind of reversed that because I know I am not going to get dropped riding along at 20 miles an hour. I then really focussed on those particular efforts that I needed to pick up on.


All pretty telling. I appreciate this goes against both convention and what is cool – bike riding as much as possible is rad. As is informing the crew your improved form is due to “bulk k’s”, not a steady diet of 4 minute intervals. Because that’s the rub. Rogers alluded to it; training less means training more around efforts that you need to produce when races heat up. I am not new to interval training, but it’s now becoming clear I wasn’t recovering anywhere near as well as I could have been. Sorry coach.


All this is to say that riding bikes, racing fast and bagging the occasional win are sweet. But when you’re not being paid to do it, earning some cash to live on is pretty handy too. All these however do not need to be mutually exclusive. You can get faster by training just that little smarter. And while this is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach or glossing over that endurance sports do require volume work, the continual overheard conversations of “yeah but I heard he’s been spending mass time on the bike” resonates a lot less with me. Have a strong endurance - just don't snub all other aspects of training and recovery. If I had my three years over again I know what I would do different – it wouldn’t be adding more to my rides. Who else out there can say the same?

essential to recovery