This won’t be the only “preview” you read this week; but it will have a different perspective than most. I’m no journalist and don’t want to be, I’m a coach; maybe a performance enhancement-ist? But what I certainly am and always have been is a BIG fan of racing. Bikes above all else. So being as unbiased as I can, which isn’t simple, here’s my take on the 2018 UCI DH World Cup season to come.
The title fight is only seven rounds long, which in plain speak is not enough. More should be done to make it a longer championship battle, but unlike the “title-fight” in MMA, boxing or some play-off riddled team sport, DH provides us with a lot of the answers from Round #1! There’s little waiting, we get the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania rolled into one – with live coverage – everyone races the track and the clock decides the outcome. Simple, and that’s a big part of the reason why we love it so.
The UCI are much lambasted at regular intervals by fans, keyboard warriors, media and media-warriors alike, the race track in Losinj and it’s tarmac finish adding fuel to the fire for 2018. While much if not all of the blame for a slow moving & somewhat stagnant World Cup calendar lays at the UCI’s door – if we are gonna blame & shame I feel we have to give credit when due also. Otherwise we are just engaged in dogma and displaying nothing more than terrible cognitive bias in attitudes towards the “big house”. Mercedes-Benz and parent Daimler need little introduction and they have chosen the UCI MTB World Cup to promote their new range of off-road vehicles. Will we see DH racers cruising alpine streets in loaner X-Classes like the ski-racers in their Audi’s? I doubt it, but it is a positive step and the first major external sponsor since Nissan.
Spicing a much too long off-season up with pre-season races is steadily becoming more and more par for the course, gone are the days of private tests sessions and one “whatever” works pre-World Cup race to help you remember those between the tape feelings. Now teams, with bigger ambitions and either bigger or further stretched budgets are hitting a host of pre-season events with a plan and focus. Crankworx Rotorua is high on the list for some, even though it’s half a planet away from most teams HQ’s. Windrock in Tennessee, USA is fast becoming the winter hot-spot, even though it’s most often freezing cold there all winter. But the quality of the tracks and services Neko Mullally and team provide are second to none. From testing camps onto races, this past off-season has painted a pretty decent picture of who has built form, carried World Cup 2017 momentum or found a seat on the puzzle bus. From the Pro GRT in Windrock to Portugese Cup in Lousa, British National Series in Cwmcarn, local French races in Peille, the aforementioned Crankworx Rotorua right up to the “why is it not a World Cup” iXS Cup in Maribor, pre-season has painted quite the pretty picture in terms of depth of and diversity of preparations, talent and tanacity.
Every season has the “this will be the most competitive ever” preamble attached to it, but 2018 has does have a seriously spicy flavour. One I’ve not come across in my years on the scene. Regardless of how utterly crap you, the internet warrior, thinks the Losinj track will be it will separate the best from the rest, no questions asked. But having a quick gander at the percentages, spreads and placings of the first races of the year, especially the British National, Windrock, iXS Maribor and Portuguese races and there’s a depth in numbers coming to do battle in Losinj that is providing some serious excitement and intrigue. Bar a few genuine up and comers or first year Elites in the men’s fields the top 10s or even 15’s in above pre-season races were genuine World Cup top 10’s. A stunning amount of ability and hard work getting fine-tuned in the one place at one time over a few weekends. A few notable absences though from these pre-season races, I’l be keeping my cards close to my chest here, but I’m predicting 2 fresh or fresher faces on the Mens Elite podium in Losinj and at least one noticeably absentee.
The women’s field lacks the depth the men’s field has for obvious reasons of participation numbers; but the heavy hitters have all been out and away from training laps & sparring only and got the gloves on in proper race environments this winter. Most journalists and fans seem to still trump placings over percentages when reviewing and I suppose that is simply because the gotta get the info across quick in social size bites. If you do however take the time for analysis and analyse in context (crucial) then what we have on our hands in Losinj is Chinese torture ready, razor sharp ladies that will be separated by razor thin margins. Off-course I’m a little biased here; but I’m very excited for it.
Teams, trucks, brands, suspensions & diameters
Michelin versus Pirelli, Bridgestone versus Dunlop. Brands, manufacturers and constructors in Motorsport is the perpetual story-line with one or two always having the upper hand, regardless of race-track. Often dominating results sheets for golden periods because of engineering triumph, financial clout or plain complex luck. DH has had similar dominating story lines, luckily for us the pilots input matters even more when their mass is four times that of the machine, so technical advantage is negated slightly. But we have had across the board for nearly two decades a series of two horse races. Sram versus Shimano, Rockshox versus Fox, Maxxis versus Michelin or Schwalbe….the core “contact” components ,the stuff that really matters on a push-bike. But 2018 has a storyboard that’s quite a bit different. Four or five worthy tyre manufacturers, producing quality prodcut in a variety of sizes and configuration. Rockshox, Fox, SR Suntour, Formula, BOS and DVO all seemingly producing suspension that works, yes some brands have an advantage but the diversity is startling and good to see.
Wheel diameter was the hot 2017 topic and the infancy of the sport and infantile minds of some competitors shown bright, botched and chopped wanna-be 29er bikes, riders and teams talking of 10 sec margins on basic test tracks…Lourdes came and went and left us with no answers because of divine intervention. Fort William was a perfect, classic, playground and the line was drawn. Bikes that work, work and wheel-size may not matter too much as a solo metric. With 12 months of maturation and engineering some riders and teams will have good 29ers dialled, the above pre-season races have pretty much told the story, Santa Cruz, Commencal, Intense & Devinci all have real-deal and fast 29″ wheeled bikes. Along with suspension, tyre and parts suppliers that make good product. Other brands have finalised “production” 29″ wheel bikes coming for Fort William. Regardless of how “good” they are, we will see a split. The ladies all on 27.5″ bikes, the men split 6/4 or 5/5 in the top 10 or so between 27.5″ & 29″ bikes.
Morphology and anthropomorphics matter when talking wheel-size, longer limb levers, especially lower body suit the larger diameter wheels better; but the complexity of the interaction between the rider and bike and sprung and un-sprung masses not to mention the system of complex elastic springs, levers, motors and struts that make up the human body is far to dense in degeneracy for a “simple” formula for guiding riders towards either wheel size to work.
It’s a golden age of diversity though and it’s a pleasure to be involved in it.
Juniors & Freshmen
Sophomore is an odd word, but it means second year and there are some second year elite male and female racers who should perform well in 2018. Most eyes though are on the junior class of 2017. Climbing into the big ranks in Elite men, Finn Iles and Matt Walker will excel; that’s nature & nurture. There are many more riders jumping ship too though, with Seagrave and Hartenstern being two of the higer ranked 2017 racers moving up, What success for a first year elite means is governed by the previous success and failures of others. Top 10’s are the benchmark, Bruni, Greenland, Vergier, Bryceland and Fearon all transitioned to elite with ease. With elite podiums and World Champ podiums for some in Freshman year. It’s a long shot but a Freshman World Cup Elite win has not happened in the “modern era”. 2018 has a good a chance as any,
The Junior ladies category is usually forgotten, but branded Red Bull racer Vali Hoell may change that. Judging by results to date she is fast. how that speed will translate to the rough and tumble and terribly early Group B World Cup starts we’ll wait and see.
Junior men is a ripper of a category; some dislike it. But I think it has many merits. 2018 has a list of racers longer than two arms. Both first and second year racers. Kade Edwards is the 2nd year man to beat. Daprela, Edmondson, Tyrell and Canyon Factory Racing’s Kye Ahern are all first year shredders with support and race-smarts.
Emotional management is the key to junior success. Broken bikes in Croatia may prove to be the catalyst for broken dreams…
Round #1 Race-Track
Haters gonna hate – having been to the venue and raced this track in 2016 I know what we are in for, it’s not easy, not really “fun”, not very long but he venue is nice. Is it good enough for a world Cup? Well that depends, on it’s own as a standalone race I feel it lacks too much to be considered a World class challenge. It will make for exciting racing and the world’s best will make it a spectacle. While the track is not easy from a simple technique execution/application POV it is not deep enough in choice to make it a challenge. Depending though on where RedBull TV place their cameras and how the short track is split up in terms of split times and TV time we could get a sensational showcase of our sport for the world. The street section is relatable for the public and I feel there is far to much being made of it as a negative. It needs some dirt wall-rides and rollers, but that’s that. What the venue, track and location provide is a showcase. If I was courting potential sponsors, especially out of industry sponsors, I’d bring them to Croatia; selling them the idea of our traveling circus as the vessel from which they showcase their brand to the world is easy done in Croatia, Mercedes Benz onsite, live to the world seaside in the Adriatic. It has it’s merits as much as it’s downfalls. I’m trying to see it like the “Monaco F1″ of World cup DH; the issue being thought that F1 has 21 + races, DH does not.
What would make sense and appease us all is a season opening double-header. Losinj for the seaside fan-fare to kick things off then on to Maribor four hours away for a back to back round 2. Maribor did have a joint World Cup bid in with Graz, Austria (for XCO) for 2018. What happened there I don’t know. But seaside to pre-alpine diversity is what MTB allows, unlike or winter alpine cousins and should be capitalized on. The larger issue still glaringly obvious here thoughis this; the UCI make & enforce rules, they shouldn’t also have a sole hand in promotions and planning of the series, there they need the vision and expertise of external agents, just as Moto GP, MX GP, F1 and others have. Someday maybe?
The track in Losinj will provide good racing; the organisers have done their best & then some; the terrain, gradient and altitude availbe is at the VERY lower limit of what should be allowed, but like Brazil, Canberra and PMB before it the racers there to win will win. Instead of pushing against the venue & the organisers we should embrace it for what it provides in-terms of exposure and push instead to have it paired with a polar-opposite challenge on back to back weeks in future.
New School Rules
Again the UCI took serious flack from the internet navigators when it was announced that only the top 60 men would now qualify for finals. A reduction in the ladies numbers for 2017 made little difference in fairness, but the men’s change has the potential to cause issues. Tyres, wheels, weather etc… making top 60 a true cliff edge. What the keyboard warriors don’t know is it is the Trade teams and Red Bull Media House not the UCI that pushed for this and other changes. It makes sense in my opinion, especially come race day too further professionalize the sport. It’s not a rule set in stone either which is worth noting. The “protected” rider change has also been pushed by a handful of teams and individuals. There is still the potential for 20 protected individual males, the top 10 from the overall in 2017 are on TV and guaranteed for finals come race day all season long and then up to 10 more riders protected if they are top 10 overall in the 2018 standings and through some bizarre turn like the weather in Lourdes the current protected top 10 from ’17 are not in the top 10 of the current standings! In reality though we are likely to see between 12 to 16 protected Elite male races in 2018.
The new rules mean that practice matters even more, planned, concerted efforts in timed training and qualifying “game plans” are all going to become more “norm” in 2018 for those who feel the pressure at the edge of the bubble.
Racing kicks off in 5 days; Day 1 murmurs and whinging about the track will subside come Quali day and the sea-side after parties will be as wild as ever. It’s been waaaaay too long since Cairns.
One word that means everything and nothing to so many, whether in the “fitness” industry or not. From rider to racer and everyone else involved “conditioning” is a word that most often in most peoples unsaid, unwritten definition overlaps with the word “fitness”.
Fitness for the lay man, conditioning for the “professional”? Who cares, as it likely does not matter once solitary gram. What we mean is the ability for your body (brain included, they cannot be separated) to deliver & use adequate amounts of energy so you can successfully complete what your sport demands at any given instance. The energetics of movement maybe? Attempts to break that down into measures of ones ability to transport and use oxygen, burn substrates, use enzymes, contract, relax and control muscle, make decisions or pin point percentage substrate usage are all worthwhile uses of scientific investigation…helping further the body of knowledge coaches use and abuse in helping athlete’s prepare.
The “problem” as it stands now though is two fold and caused in no small part by many peoples perception of the above scientific investigations being the zenith of human investigation into sports performance…simply, the view held by many that scientific investigation has all the answers. As a result, depending on your sports culture, the training process can be largely dominated by percentage based systems, classifications of physiological metrics. On the surface this seems to make sense for our “conditioning” but it has in no small part contributed to blinkered views of what conditioning is and how to achieve it. To the detrement of thousands of athletes once they face the heat of true competition.
Instead of subscribing to a system created by others for the masses, the best approach, to date, in my attempts to help others achieve “fitness” and to condition athletes is to be a scavenger. While not as glamorous as a hunter metaphor, there are few scavenger species close to extinction. Basing near all decisions on a singular training model like % of FTP, % of 1 repetition max, velocity, % of V02max etc… is utter madness! What’s even worse is your foolhardy gym warrior approach of doing what’s “hot” right now – that being as I type, still, somehow, Tabata timing – 20″ of work 10″ of rest for 8 reps!
If we back pedal to the start – What is conditioning? The ability to deliver, use and exceed the energy requirements of meeting your sports demands for every last second of competition, from pre-practice to race run. For the Enduro racer this is everything from track-walks, practice, race stages, post stage recovery, pre-stage prep and doing it the week after or day after if demanded by the calendar. By definition it is “fitness” – suitability for a task.
So a narrow definition of “condition” will very like get you beaten, or killed! Why? Because performance cannot be categorized by physiology alone. A solution to this problem is to become a blood-thirsty scavenger.
Take what you need from any models avaialbe, use, modify, abuse & discard. Remember that all models are wrong but many are useful. The next time your on the bike, in the gym or planning your or some other persons training you may think of this post…..with that in mind below are some conditioning buckets we try to use when planning training so as no matter how big the fire you encounter at a race you will have enough in reserve to dampen the flames, a buffer if you will, not a physiological one, but a performance buffer.
The above are just some examples – methods and means can be best guided by the application of a varied but effective and evolving ecosystems of training. The ecosystem you create by how you organise and categorize your training sessions and their desired & undesired outcomes is what allows you to build a plan that has some semblance of order that allows you to help deliver a prepared and conditioned athlete for competition. In an ideal world the above table would actually be some sort of beautiful chart where the possible relationship and connection between each approach to conditioning is explored……but I just don’t have the time or skills for that.
The above holistic approach to designing the conditioning focused elements of a plan allow for a more complete understanding of training load also. Providing a handy port of departure away from classic, linear, input//output metrics like Training Stress Score, TRIMP, distance, time etc… training load and stress can only be understood when the emotional and subsequent autonomic state that it occurred during is understood and as an extension of that the “outcome state” each session creates too. As a recent study found, perceived success or failure of a session, the emotional impact a session has and the location & result all effected rating of exertion – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29502448
The simplest measure of preparedness, conditioning and fitness will NEVER be found in a lab or quantified with numbers, being conditioned for your event/sport means meeting or exceeding demands at all moments and that requires the confidence to know you can do it for it to actually happen. So even if you have the physiological systems conditioned to deliver, use and express the use of energy as movement you are not conditioned unless that can be expressed under the global demands of competition, whether that’s a large crowd, a fresh opponent, a different air temperature or a changing surface. Conditioning = Fitness and Fitness = ability to complete a task. No caveats, no excuses.
P.S. – I’ve probably done a poor job at articulating my views on what conditioning is and how to achieve it…..but a blog is pretty much nothing more than a place one attempts to organise thoughts…..and that is all I did (more…)
From our perspecitve a “coach” shouldn’t have the add on title of Sports, Strength, Technique or Defense…multi-discipline is the only discipline when performance come race-day cannot be broken down and is most often only ever measured once.
Here you’ll see Charlie Harrison smashing a seated box jump – often I’ll get asked for “sports specific” exercises and often I’ll reply that there is none. But in reality exercise selection in the gym should be about what the athlete needs so they can always have multiple correct solutions for a movement problem they are facing on track.
The measure of how quickly your muscles produce force is termed rate of force development, an awkward thing to measure and controversial at best due to this difficulty in measurement.
For the MTBer, unlike many other sports with clear defined demands, we have the joy of wildly various demands given the track type, soil, gradient, length and frequency of features on trail. As a result you have to be above adequate at many different ways of producing force (strength). If you are a ski jumper then you always take off the ramp from the same position, give or take a few millimeters, an MTBer however will have to “pop”, “push”, “pull” or “punch” any given place on a trail, over a time frame dictated by how fast they and bike are moving over a given trail feature…..add in the changing dynamics of suspension at different speeds and ohhh boy do we have some options.
Back to the seated box jump – what we often see with MTBers is that strategies they use on the bike to jump, pop or send it are very different to those they use with feet on terrafirma. As a result, a coaches job is figuring out ways to create transferable physical qualities in the gym. It’s not about doing an exercise with correct technique, we are not here to “workout” we are here to train and it’s all about transfer. Choosing, modifying, cueing and adapting exercises to get that transfer.
With the seated box jump the task constraints and goal are clear. You go from seated to on top of the box in front as quick as possible. Your movement strategy choices are limited. As a result it’s all about concentric force production, no room for a dip, drive or counter movement – the box for landing on is there for two reasons, none of which are to do with willy measuring contests on the internet. 1) reduce the landing forces so we can do more reps focusing on rapid concentric force development. 2) without something to jump onto or over the athlete will have to muster motivation from more abstract places in their own brain……may work for some, may work less for others.
This is one tiny piece of a large psychical performance puzzle. But at all times it’s individual specific first!
The aim of exercise selection should never be to improve a given metric just “because that’s what everyone else measures” – the exercise should be choosen to have a positive effect on the atheltes ability to perform under pressure, pressure of environment, social scence, time, duress, fatigue and their own cognition.
With the seated box jump we hope that if done well, often enough and progressed the athlete will find a new tool in their on trail tool-box of movement solutions. It’s not about some generic title like “he’s more powerful” – instead it’s “wow look how fluid Rider A looks in that section”, followed by feedback from the rider saying how they feel less fatigue and at one with the bike. If they don’t have to dip before they pop off a small natural lip it’s maybe a hundredth of a second saved, if each precious pedal stroke is more forceful over the same angular velocity, if transitioning between absorbing gravity’s influence on them in a berm to exerting their own forces onto the berm happens 1/100th faster – the coach has done a good job. Best of luck measuring that.
Becoming an annual reflection I think, but what was the very best ride of 2017?
Some years, like 2016, there is a sure-fire stand-out. Fresh single-rack, the best of friends or the wildest moments? Some years maybe it’s no so clear-cut? Maybe it’s that all the rides were mediocre or the inverse, maybe every time those tyres touched dirt it was sensational wild times.
Reflection is what makes this sort of otherwise useless blog post important (to me at least)! The lens we see the past through is constructed from those very experiences we are reflecting on….but that lens , I suppose, is easily changed in tint, hue or shape by the outcomes of those very reflections!?
Curbing all that philosophical yip-yapping, 2017 had bike shredding in every month! From January to December, maybe the first time for me in years, but what it also had as mind-bending savagely good trails, people and times in each of those months. So a very “best ride of 2017″ is just not possible to nail down. Via the scary power of social media though below is a collection of some of the highlight moments. From shredding with Point1 athletes on endless alpine gems or wild berms to getting barreled in the berms of Champéry’s “coupe du Monde” track. 2017 delivered. Some of the most enjoyable rides were probably the solo, 6 a.m. missions to the top of whatever hill or mountain was above the World Cup h venues, praying to find a trail that was not only good but would bring me back to the apartment in time to whip up a decent breakfast at 6:45 a.m. for FMD-Racing!
Anyways, all going to “plan” 2018 will dish up a double portion of the same……cheers bikes, you’re class.
Makes dreams but destroys tyres! 😂 Champéry is RAD. Sickest turns in the alps! #dreamy stuff. World Cup Track is running all-time good. Merci @bikeparkchamperymorgins @nukeproofbikes @foxheadeurope @high5sportsnutrition @wildernesstrailbikes @hotlineseurope #high5fuelled #nukeproof #mtb #dh #champery #foxmtb #foxheadeurope #slappinbass #jïzz
1300m straight up meant endless awesome trail the whole way back down! @kelangrant was a happy man transplanted from the germ bird to the Alps! One of the finest Alpine rides ever! @nukeproofbikes @foxheadeurope @high5sportsnutrition @hotlineseurope @wildernesstrailbikes #mtb #morzine #ews #training #nukeproof
17 days until the start of the 2017 EWS season and 49 days almost to the minute until racing will conclude at UCI DH WC #1 in Lourdes.
The freshness of it all, new teams, new riders on new bikes, colours, kits, venues and new ventures. Wheel size or watts the shiny new things are what keep so many people coming back for a fresh dose of race fever. Whether rider, racer, industry hack, journalist, spectator, coach, fan or fan-boy…this “newness” each season drags the heart-rate a little higher, pushes the addiction a little deeper and keeps the glint of hope shimmering in everyone’s eyes.
Wrapped up with the freshness & newness is the sameness – a must, the blend of fresh and same-old keeps things authentic, keeps DH and Enduro what they are – racing can’t change too much from the basics; A to B, fastest wins. That’s what we are all here for. Displays of preparation and execution against the clock.
Driven by instinct maybe or more possibly culture, the “players” whether fans or media keyboard jockey will speculate. Bench racing; who’s on the up, who’s got what to prove?
The athlete’s in all this need to be strategic, strategy implies purposeful thought. Getting sucked into speculation and expectation is a recipe for disaster – tactical nightmare, shuffling emotions about as best one can only partially dealing with the physiological fall-out inevitably linked to emotional reaction.
2016 is gone. Those with paper to fill will talk of the title defense, the rising star or failing veteran. But there is nothing to defend.
Whether your name is Rude, Ravanel, Callaghan or Winton. Atherton, Gwin, Seagrave or Minnaar. Races can only be won. There is no defense to make. Each week, day & racing minute are opportunities for action only. If you aim to write some history, there’s only one way to go about it.
Races & Championships are only won, never defended.
The best ride in 2016? Not an easy one to choose; cliché but there were many savage days out! But a filthy wet July day high above Morzine riding at full tilt up and down hills with a host of Point1 trained animals and some friends!
Starting on some of the steepest tarmac inclines in the valley; it was threshold pace from the word go. With XCE World Cup winner and everyone’s favourite Asian Caucasian Kenta Gallagher leading it out, waving willy and twisting throttle!
Eventually working our way to a high enough altitude we broke through the thick cloud to be greeted by the heaviest rain storm in months! Soaked to the bone; we proceeded. More willy waving was needed and we picked the trickiest, tech single track climb with slick rock to have a 1 up competition. Little did we know though that the Spartan Race that was happening in Morzine at the time was using the same trails. So with bodies falling all around us and traction dripping away with every mucky revolution, the ride was turning into something beyond epic for how little time we’d actually been out!
After some Spartan spectating and more face-plants (them not us) we traversed some dodgy cliff edge trails, 200m straight down to death on your left! Arriving at our little plateau (where the Instagram was taken), regrouped and high-5’ed…dried off the grips, strapped on a pair of goggles and dropped in to 19 of the best switchbacks in the alps, bermed to perfection by nature and time; the dirt was perfect!
A quick traverse after all the whooping and shouting, another Zone 4 attack to get back up toward Pleney and we rode some bike park senders back home! Less than 2 hrs riding but with a crew of weapons as wild as they were. World Cup winner and racers, EWS winner it didn’t really matter as it was just skids and wheelies and massive craic.
Cheers to push-bikes!
Things I leaned in 2016 (TIL16) – "just because it's general doesn't mean it's not specific to improvement" pic.twitter.com/Xrr7dKdDpa
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 2, 2017
TIL16 #2; racing a bicycle fast is complex physics but mammal brains work physics with heuristics not equations! Fast & Frugal! Train so! pic.twitter.com/FI4YLglpyr
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 2, 2017
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 2, 2017
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 2, 2017
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 2, 2017
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 2, 2017
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 3, 2017
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 3, 2017
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 3, 2017
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 3, 2017
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 4, 2017
— Chris Kilmurray (@Point1_Athletic) January 4, 2017
Obliquity is, I think anyway, pretty tough to pronounce. At least at a glance when reading… < Obb – lick – witty >? That’s about right!
Straight line; direct, plan of action, clear objectives, Do A and B happens, good decisions happen because I know my goals etc…
All of the above, are generally, what goals are all about. With 2017 already here many a human and push-bike piloting human at that will be setting a fire under their arses, setting goals, making resolutions and….sticking to them! The only issue being that life, by which I mean our human interaction with the world at large, often dishes up tasty unknowns…meaning planning to change the plan based off of these unknowns is the only plan we should have!
Amplify and Dampen – rewritten as Grow and Shrink – these are the core “skills” in adaptive planning aimed at achieving your “end-results” or goals. With rigid plans based off of cause & effect thinking A always leads to B, you are often found late to the party when it comes to capitalizing on an emergent situation or dampening a not so desired outcome. So whether that’s making the most of good weather or adjusting your plan to make the most of training even with an injured leg, having you’re goals set “obliquely” means you can deal with all eventualities and be still far more likely to succeed come the “crunch”!
While some smart people thought adding the S.M.A.R.T approach to setting outcome type goals would help, and it does, the “all in” end goal approach still fails so many people that different way of doing things is needed!
Here’s an anecdote to help ease the pain of my ramblings…
Say you want to loose 5kg of fat; to help you climb faster, slow down quicker and shred the bike better; at the same time you want to get stronger!
Goals = Loose 5 kg by April; Add 15kg to Squat and 30kg to Deadlift by May. No that’s all pretty S.M.A.R.T. stuff, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time framed! So next step? Design the perfect strength training plan; higher a nutritionist once off and have them build you a “diet plan”! Job done…follow those two things for the next 3 months and you’l be set!? Lean, mean and keen?
Alas…who feckin’ knows….4 to 5 months away is a long way away! And all the while you’ll be focusing on those numbers, numbers, numbers! And what do those numbers mean…..not much, they are the by-product of success not the measure of it. The are extrinsic focus that will hammer down your intrinsic motivations…
So instead – add some obliquity….
Ok – How about? Become MUCH leaner than I am now; and get stronger in such a way that it shows up when I’m riding.
Instead of normal goals we go for some indirect changes…
For your Strength oblique-goals you could try;
The above are not conditional; they are how you will achieve what you want to achieve. They form behaviors that become habits that become success!
The reason you’ll see “track” or monitor in there so much is that as we strive for our goals we learn about them, learn about how useful that new “place”, new “you”, new “state” will actually be and learn about how our actions shape the speed and direction we are heading in and if that direction is the right one, wrong one or even a better one.
If great cathedrals were just built to pray in then they would not look like they do…if you focus only on the end goal; winning or loosing weight then you’ll miss every last opportunity to improve, to grow, to change, to amplify.
The pounds look after themselves only when we take care and cherish every wee penny.
Set small goals that allow you to build groundwork to large successes
Once larger objectives achieved – don’t stop
Embrace serendipitous discoveries in pursuit of our objectives
Realise that behavior, habit, mindset and emotional intelligence are what achieve big goals long term
Make changes both based on emergent situations and to initiate learning and discovery (will a low carbohydrate day a week work for me?)
Only by doing can you learn how things happened, planning only works as a description of what may happen
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big and setting outcome goals – they just need to be backed-up obliquely
Oblique goals allow you to tinker and learn on the path to success within an evolving but effective frame-work
The reason for penning this piece is the problems that come from the ever present thinking in “society” that athletes and sports performers are, or at least should be, machines. A coach and/or scientist “engineer” the perfect performance. Guaranteeing race or competition day success through perfect planning, a blueprint, followed to the tee with marginal gainzzz (always 3 Z’s) included. This notion of the human-machine has led us to a point where error and failure are seen as one in the same and that big F, failure is shameful.
For the athlete this idea is so prevalent in most areas of society that it seeps into their consciousness, they deem, without much thought, that anything other than success is a failure and worse yet that failure is to be avoided (at any cost); as yes, it’s shameful, hurtful and always avoidable! Where does this leave the athlete? Anxious, scared and more worried about avoidance of shame than exploring the outer reaches of their current potential!
The failure to deal with failures correctly and the tendency to categorise anything but an outcome exceeding expectation as failure gives the athlete, emotional baggage they may carry, not only to competitions, but also to training and in life generally. I have seen a marked HRV response of pretty impressive amplitude in an Elite MTBer following a results that the athlete deemed as a competitive failure! This baggage can often manifest itself as self-pity, lamenting past error and bad decisions that led to failure. The same baggage can hold fears, fear of the future, fear of similar situations that lead to “failures”, regrets and dwindling self-efficacy! Leading to lower adherence to consistent training, lower motor-output in a given session, lower…well, everything potentially. So the only way to deal with failure successful and use it as a potent fuel for competitive fire is to change what the word means. Change athlete & coach mindsets, change how your discussions are carried out and change everything from goal-setting to decision making skills & training. Error may be seen as volitional by many, but when the coach and athlete realise that both error and failure can come from such differing sources, the volitional nature of error and failure can almost always be questioned and as a result the learning we do and improvements we can make from understanding & embracing failure are monstrous!
Categories of Failure
I’ve spoken at length with many other coaches and even presented to other coaches the perils of the “categorisation” syndrome in the physical preparation of athletes. Everything has a box it fits in, bio-motor abilities can be isolated for maximum “overload” and bang, thrown together for optimal performance. Well we all know that’s not so; but regardless there are times when simple categorisation helps deliver much needed clarity in a situation. Allowing us to build a framework of sorts within which we can start to dig deeper into the relationships between actions, decisions, error and ultimate failures!
Professor Amy C. Edmondson at the Harvard Business School has a beautiful spectrum of failure that works very well for the athlete and coach.
From Blameworthy to Praiseworthy - understanding the deeper consequences and potential necessity for failure can free the athletes and coaches minds. Free to make better decisions in the future; racing, athlete preparation and training are all quite complex, unknowns have large effects. Small factors can ripple through the “system” with such ferocity and magnitude that everyone from spectators to parents are stunned. Think of the tiny pebble, perfectly placed at random that leads to the front end wash-out as a rider is 100m away from the finish line with World Cup #1 spot all but wrapped up.
This, sometimes knife-edge, complexity clearly lays out the necessity for all involved in sporting performance to accept and embrace the correct “type” of failure and work very hard in making sure “blameworthy” failures do not become habit.
For example, an athlete testing a radically different suspension setup crashes, breaking some fingers and side-lining themselves for 4 weeks! They can still train to an extent but can not compete or train in their sport. Is it a failure? Chance? Circumstance? If some digging isn’t done then the outcome (snapped metacarpals) may be seen as avoidable failure…leading to regret and avoidance strategies, meaning the athlete will never test such a radical set-up again, or worse never test full stop; sticking to what they know and stagnating in “middle-ground” for the remainder of their career!
Crack open the lid on the situation however and we can pull some useful understanding from the outcome and causes and use it to make everyone better. The set-up was radical, but did the mechanic build the shock correctly? The athlete…? They felt pretty uncomfortable pretty much straight away, no confidence i the front end, a lot less grip etc… but he continued to push, choosing a gnarly section of track to hammer a bit harder…leading to some fucked fingers. Ultimately we found out that the rider and mechanic tried a fork and shock change at the same time (process inadequacy), the fork was a lot stiffer and the rider hadn’t gotten any heavier or stronger over the off-season (coaching error?), the rider choose to push on regardless, but it was the 3rd run on this set-up (so the Task challenge was deemed feasible), but due to the complexity of the situation the unknowns came into play and Boom, injury. The rider gave feedback to the mechanic and they came to a hypothesis together; tried it and it failed. Praiseworthy blame? Well it may have been but the mechanic, it turns out, forgot some lock tight and a once function rear suspension unit fell to pieces under some big loads on track. Inattention! Blameworthy failure.
Some fast and frugal analysis means the rider will be happy to test again, the coach may re-address the medium term strength training plan and the mechanic may build himself a new check-list or change his processes!? Failure has consequences, but they should never be feared, only embraced.
Culture is a buzzword in the coaching domain these days, are rightly so, it defines much of what we do each they, it’s the framework with which nations accept actions as habits, it drives the decisions hastily made and when it comes to failures the macro and micro cultures we are in need to accept and learn from them. A Learning culture, primed and ready to analysis, categorise failure and connect the dots (the relationships) between actions, decision making, error and failure!
While macro culture is often much bigger than the coach and athlete, micro is moldable. So whether it’s simply your personal performance culture as an athlete or the team culture you help shape each day as a coach. You can make changes and make sure failures of the praiseworthy type are embraced and the blameworthy type are learned from. The domain you practice in will decide to what level failure can be embraced…failure tolerance if you will, or even failure periodisation!
A factory manufacturing stents for the heart muscle can’t just go exploring a new material out of the blue, as failure in their domain may lead to certain death. But the MTBer wanting to try 5 psi lower tyre pressure or 5 weeks of interval training only can hypothesis and explore. In the complex world of sports performance sometimes exploring the outer reaches of what is currently deemed possible or acceptable will lead to new and radical results or total failure. both as they come leads to progress, as long as all involved are mindful of how we got there and where we wish to go with performance (a good argument for monitoring, feedback regularity and exceptional relationships between all members of the athlete’s team)
Error leads to…?
Growing up in “western” education errors are punished. Perfect technique when kicking a football during “practice”, crisp handwriting, joined for added difficulty in execution! Exploring the grippiness and friction co-efficient of a skateboard filled with school mates? Many errors, volitional or otherwise are punished in most cultures. In a sporting context, specifically bike racing the athlete who puncishes themselves for an error is often committing suicide, doubling the effect of what singularly may have been harmless!
A hallmark of sporting excellence is the athlete who commits a seemingly fatal error but regroups and succeeds. Whether it is the player missing a conversion in rugby, the ski racer sliding on their hip for a second, or the DH racer, who pummels that left hand berm so hard the eject off line…errors build legend, but are avoidable. The are avoided in competition by embracing them as micro learning experiences in training. Without them, the unknowns of competition will destroy an athlete. Errors may be avoided or reduced under pressure, but they are not something that can be totally removed. It’s only through building training environments that embrace the possibility of failure or even are designed with creating a more demanding or likely failure inducing environment that errors that lead to poor performance or lessened outcome can be produced, understood, overcome and ultimately become the norm, so under competition pressure they are seen as mere variability!
An error priming environment can only be created when past failures AND successes are dissected and understood. Bringing us full circle to the relationships between errors, failures, analysis and training. Understand the failure, embrace it as a learning tool, but make changes in training to unearth, test and delve into root causes whether they are errors or decisions. Training to push the outer reaches of your current specificity will lead to better competition outcomes; exactly what we are all here for!
I’ll yap on further about Decision Making in another blog; but take what you want from the above. The core point being if you currently aren’t in the business of embracing, accepting but learning from and making changes because of your failures as a coach or athlete then you’re setting yourself up for more of the same, failures (likely blameworthy), a shift in thinking, culture and mindset maybe needed, A whole new paradigm for you or your team.
In a complex world, like MTB racing or sports in general, failures happen, many are unavoidable, some are very useful but the one thing they all have in common is they can be learned from and used as a step to new heights of sporting excellence.
A cycle of blame, self pity and continued failure awaits those who aren’t prepared to grab all the failures they create or experience by the neck and simply learn.
This is a re-post from the Point1 Facebook page; because frankly Facebook is a horrible medium for longer, dribbling narrative! Enjoy.
So, to carry on from Friday’s yip-yap on Posture and Technique…
One of the relationships (some were trade-offs) listed was
The first term above being a misnomer – deliberate at the time. The correct term in fact would be, I think,
Prospective. Prospective control.
And as is becoming very clear in my own development as a coach, the relationship of qualities, traits and sub-systems within the athlete (rider) is of utmost importance, this must be respected & understood.
Relational thinking TRUMPS categorical thinking….always. When we speak about performance improvement at least.
“Prospective control refers to the means by which actors (read: rider in our case) adapt behaviour in advance to the constraints and behavioral opportunities afforded in/by the environment” ~ Fajen, Riley, Turvey; 2009
Prospective control is thus ESSENTIAL for the emergence of skilled actions. Without it all you would do is react to what the trail/race-track is giving you. But as we all know, reaction is after the fact, it is, no matter how “fast” too late. Too late for you the rider to successfully navigate each distinct section of trail in such a way as too link up distinct sections into fast, flowing, effective riding.
So when you see your favourite, rider, athlete or celebrity carry out some reactive “eye-hand” co-ordination drill in the gym, remember that reaction is too slow; and regardless most of the “reactions” we make, when riding an MTB well, are somatic reflexes, not reactions…and once that gym “drill” is learned then it would be the prospective control of posture, position that would allow for faster “reaction” to emerge. So again, full circle, relational thinking; reaction to a stimulus is much faster with better prospective control!
So in the immediate term what does this mean for you if the whole notion of prospective control is new too you?
- Posture = Prizes; the whole reason the “attack-position” bares so many hallmarks and similarities (attractors if you know Dynamical Systems) among good riders is. That that position/posture allows for joint angles, muscle length~tension relationships, peripheral nervous system function, afferent control & force production to operate within an optimal bandwidth to deliver the required technique on trail in the fastest way possible. Prospective control of posture given the trail affordances means “skill” emerges to perfectly match speed. This in essence is “trail efficiency”!
So what can we do to improve our potential to always display usable posture regardless of the trail demands? A shortlist only below….
1. Cultivate & Maintain adequate control, mobility, proprioception, strength and stability through all joints and movement patterns.
2. Develop adequate and ever evolving strength of your “hip hinge”; both eccentric and concentric muscle action, with a stable spine achieved through excellent function of all torso musculature from hip to shoulder (and likely more)!
3. Identify “rate-limiters” to postural maintenance and re-setting. These could be anything from foundational physiological qualities like aerobic metabolism to very specific characteristic qualities like your interaction with a particular size bike, with a certain tyre pressure on certain gradient of terrain!
4. Given the minute detail of the last point above it becomes clear that developing, year on year, season on season, a large physical/physiological buffer of foundational qualities that support good posture on trail will reduce the likely hood of poor mechanics or characteristic rate limiters cropping up under duress/fatigue or emotionally demanding situations.
5. True sport form and improvement in Prime Postures can only be viewed, refined, quantified and understood if enough training takes place in the environments you race in...so that means shredding your bike like fuck in the mountains, up the mountains, down the mountains etc… sounds like fun!
To wrap up a quite abstract post; prospective posture allows for prospective position on trail and that allows for fast, smooth, efficient technique application on trail; which will look to the observer like skill. This is basically all we want as a rider – as skillful navigation of long sections of trail reward us with a sensory and neuro-endocrine response that trumps many experiences in life.
Do this often enough and you get that “flow” feeling…and that leads to intrinsic motivation to shred, removing the space for strange extrinsic motivators like health, weight-loss or victory and in there you find endless drive to improve and a near total lack of anxiety.
So as I said above – relationships of qualities; not categories of qualities please!