Being a professional bike racer for the past three decades has been the best learning experience of my life. Business, culture, geography and just overall knowledge of the world were all learned without ever having any intention of gaining these life-changing experiences. My passion was racing, and I rode every day because it was fun, I loved it, & I also wanted to be the best. Well, also because I hated losing. Let’s face it, nobody really likes losing, but we can all learn from those losses to make us better. There’s a learning experience in every race or training day, win or lose that’s presented to you. And it’s on you to realize what the pros and cons are moving forward to become a better rider.
Finding what works for you both mentally and physically is important. I’ve always felt that I’ve needed to work a little harder than the rest to achieve the same or better results, but I wasn’t afraid to put in the work. It gave me high confidence knowing I’d put in a ton of preparation, so much that the mental advantage was most likely more rewarding than the physical improvements. I lived a significant portion of my life with this goal to succeed in my racing. Most everyday decisions revolved around my training and preparation for it. How much time was this vacation going to take from my training? Would I get enough rest for the next day if I went to this party? How sore would I be if I do this alternative activity that was going to be fun but out of the ordinary for me? The goal to be the best was a lifestyle, but not the only thing that mattered in life. This journey started a long time ago because of the joy I gained from riding bikes, and I think that is one thing I always tried to incorporate into my training, the fun factor. Riding & sharing these great life experiences with friends makes training/racing fun. It’s no fun to celebrate achievements alone or to have nobody to reminisce about all these great life moments.
We all have to put in the training and hard work to improve, but keeping it fun is just as important. Find ways to incorporate some fun into your training. Having a bunnyhop, manual, or any kind of skill or fitness based competition with your friends keeps it fun while pushing your limits. It doesn’t always have to hurt & leave you out of breath to be called training. It can leave you laughing, joking, & grinning from ear to ear as well. I often find those older riders I give lessons to, never spend enough time playing while riding, which really teaches us more than we realize.
Embrace the conditions for what they are, even if they are not your favorite. I use to hate going to Europe in my early days of racing. The food wasn’t to my liking, the language was foreign, and the weather was usually bad. All these factors didn’t put my mind in a great place, and I wasn’t happy. All this negative energy translated into poor performances in the beginning. It wasn’t until a good friend of mine in the bike industry that was originally from Europe told me I better start embracing it and liking it because it wasn’t going to change. He was right. It was the same for everyone, and there was nothing I could do about it, so if I wanted to be a world champion, I better start liking it. From that point on Europe got better for me. I made the best out of the situations, learned to like them and how to deal with them. Europe became a place I enjoyed visiting and racing. The majority of my World Cup wins & World Championship titles all happened in Europe, and now I’m very thankful for all the time I got to spend there.
Finding that recipe for success isn’t always easy, but when you find it, don’t keep looking to improve it. Once the wins started coming regularly and I figured out what was working for me, I rarely changed up my program. If it isn’t broke, why fix it? I see athletes often searching for answers or getting bored with routines and wanting to change them up, but what I found throughout my career was that once I found what worked for me, I stuck with it. Sure there may be times when some adjustments need to be made, but don’t think drastic alterations need to happen if you’ve found success in the past with specific routines, schedules, strategies. I always tell riders I’m training that there are hundreds of different core, leg, back exercises you can do when you go to the gym. Sure a front squat might work a little different part of your legs than a back squat, but they both are giving you a good leg workout, and you can’t go into the gym thinking you can do every exercise there is for your legs. Pick ones that you feel will benefit you the most and stick to them. Someone is always going to have a new band, bar, etc., that they claim is superior. Weights never change, and I’ve found when I stick to the same movements that I know have provided results, I will always have a simple way to gauge where I’m at strength wise.
In my experience, I’ve found there are usually two types of athletes. Ones who don’t want to put in enough work and others that will put in too much. Finding balance can be hard, but very important for success. Listen to your body and a knowledgeable team around you. It’s taken me years to understand my body and how it works best. Avoid overtraining & injury. A day or two rest far out ways Epstein Barr or an injury that could take months to recover from. You’re not going to lose your fitness over a few days rest or forget how to ride your bike, so take a break when the body needs it.
In the early 2000’s when I raced for GT Bicycles our team manager was a coach/performance physiologist named Dean Golich. He wasn’t some great mountain biker, nor did he really know a lot about the disciplines DH/DS/4x, but he had knowledge far beyond most racers when it came to physical & mental preparation. He’ be watching me practice for a race, doing run after run when I already had the course dialed & tell me to stop, save my energy. My mindset was that I needed to practice for the entire length of the session & take full advantage of it. Dean saw me wasting my energy, overtraining on a track that I needed no more practice on. He would tell me, “Brian, relax, go take a break. You have everything dialed. Save your energy. You’re good”. Having someone that I could trust who knew my abilities, fitness, and mindset was awesome to have and keep me in check.
Advice from the right people is priceless. A coach, mentor, team manager, mom or dad. Anyone who has a lot of knowledge about YOUR mind and body, what your training, racing, or trying to achieve, is someone you should find and take advantage of. Surround yourself with good people, and you’ll only become better. It’s on you to make these good choices. Control as much as is within your power. Wear all the protection you can for the inevitable crash that will happen from time to time. It’s a pretty cool feeling dusting yourself off after a big crash, witnessing how your helmet, knee, or elbow pads saved you from a trip to the hospital. And last but not least, keep working to be better. We can all continue to learn and improve on some aspect of our cycling. You’re never too old, too fast, too out of shape, etc. to get better. It’s satisfying and fun to learn, improve, and share in the sport of cycling. Like this sport has done for me, it may just teach you more about life than you ever imagined…