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Origins of Fatigue – #WednesdayWisdom

Concise is the name of the game here – so read on! It won’t take long.

The Instagram post HERE / Below – has set the tone.

Central fatigue is the big bad bad beast, in the short term its’ easy to over come; like taking 5 minutes between heavy squats, it dissipates and you can lift maximally again. But over repeated bouts of heavy squats or even just a long, long bike ride the central (CNS) fatigue that reduces the drive from brain to spinal cord to muscles is a big performance killer. So think back to back EWS races. It could be a big issue! Because it affects motivation as much as it affects fine motor skills like delicate cornering or perfectly timed manuals. Harder to measure, but reduced drive for explosive movements and far higher perceived exertion will do the trick.

Peripheral fatigue is what is happening in the muscle – this can be felt, legs getting heavy, sore after strength training etc… this is where architecture, energy pathways and the cardiovascular system collide and of course MTB in any discipline has the ability to create fatigue here! Measured with internal load – like same power output = higher heart-rate!

So with MTB we have both, in spades. Race an EWS or World Cup DH and both will hit you harder than you think. Now the affect physiological load or biomechanical load has on the source of fatigue would start to make our discussion complex as all hell. so let’s move on.

Environmental aspects like heat, altitude and rain cannot be forgotten about and neither can emotional load/fatigue like meeting sponsor demands or kissing babies!

So we have the descending loads – bike and body accelerating due to gravity, hitting holes and turns and rocks and roots. It means deforming, crumbling but you can’t because to execute technique you have to maintain posture. which requires muscle forces are generated both eccentrically and concentrically – these forces are created around all joints, in perfect unison of force, time and speed! Angular velocity is the name of the game and of course all of this is extremely fatiguing – both centrally and peripherally. If this is DH then you have to do it repeatable – up to 5,000m descending over 2 days at near max effort to learn a track well enough to win.

For EWS you have elements of the above but also the endless hours outside dealing with the environmental stress and the load of just pedaling that bike from A to B! Add in emotional, organisational and external stressors to this and it’s a big challenge for either discipline! Hence why we see some empty minds and bodies at the end of race days.

Long story short – racing MTB means fatigue off all types in varying degrees! Know your poison to make your cure!

The true antidote to fatigue is capacity; maybe better termed specific capacity. But even that is not a silver bullet as no matter how well prepared you are you will get fatigued! The “solution”, at least as I’ve chipped away at it is categorized below. Along with other systems like a movement, technique or needs analysis this goes to form the overall “training process/planning or paradigm” we use.

Capacity

The bigger the tank the longer it takes to empty! The stronger you are means you produce more force, the more force you produce the less you need to produce in relation to your top limits to achieve the same task goal – hence better ACCURACY (key) and less fatigue both centrally and peripherally. That’s one example but it is a very simple concept that can be expanded across physical qualities and is essential the underpinning justification for psychical prep or strength and conditioning. For example, better ability to use your aerobic energy pathways, less fatigue incurred for climbing said hill at said pace!

Specificity

Where rubber meets the road! Here’s where things can get messy and internet gurus, CrossFit loonies and “sport-specific” charlatans swimming in a sea of BOSU balls will try to sink your ship! Your sport or others very close to it (pump-track) are the only true sport specific prep you can do! As such doing your sport in training to EXCEED the demands that will be placed upon you in competition is critical to battling fatigue and arriving at race day and race runs ready to win. I won’t dig deeper because at this point in time I think we have some Point1 gems in the works here to make good inroads in prep compared to out competition! Although there is nothing new under the sun.

Load Management

No brainer – both acute and chronic! this is a case of sharpen versus saw, general  versus specific and of course understanding the individual time curves of both adaptation and recovery of individual athletes. Generic planning does not cut it here . If you wish to be on form for race week – to maximise practice and arrive at race day alive and ready to kill then you will need to have developed sufficient capacity of physical qualities and specificity of training BUT not be carrying excessive residual or chronic fatigue from doing so. You cannot display what you don’t have, but if you have something and it’s buried under injured or tiredness you won’t be able to whip it out in time,

Manage Nutrition

A big fish to fry, therefore lets keep it specific to racing. The foundations of good nutrient start long before and far away from race day – so you amplify the good come racing and dampen the bad. Adequate carbohydrate during and after peripherally fatiguing exercise like an EWS practice day could be a game changer for some or bread and butter for others. Dealing with reduced drive from increased central fatigue with a tasty double espresso, eating local, colorful and seasonal all week long to cover macro needs and supplementing when necessary! Do the job right but don’t over-complicate

Manage Planning

Last but maybe most important. The forgotten bastard child of bike racing!? All of a sudden this isin’t shredding with “mates”! Now you’ve got limited time to get a maximum amount of work done? Cram 7 runs into 4 hours? Queue outside under the blistering sun, limit recovery between full runs on a 4 minute DH track? Sounds great, not! sounds like you don’t have clue what you are doing.

 

Planning practice, recovery, strategy and tactics. Knowing how practice equates to building a race run or stage win = minimal energy expended for maximum effect and as such less fatigue incurred! Leaving all that capacity and specific prep you did in very perfect working order to go and EXECUTE come race day.

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#FoxDialed: Prime Posture – Post Script

By in large the feedback on our (myself and Jordi Cortes’ video) on posture, performance and suspension was positive. People enjoyed both the concrete advice and the more abstract or philosophical discussion about the cyclical nature of problem solving your progression as a rider. There was of course some negative feedback, which is always welcome and often necessary. Much of the more negative replies came on the now infamous Pinkbike comments section. Instead of directly replying to those comments  and getting embroiled in a slimy pig wrestle where both parties become lost deep in the black hole of internet forum fighting, I thought it better to use some of the feedback to fire up my own skull muscle and delve deeper into my own rationale & understanding behind a “prime posture” and share that with anyone willing to read.

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One of the stand out replies on Pinkbike was from a guy who claimed that Jordi or myself recommended a tall posture on the bike but then contradicted ourselves by saying Bruni had the best posture and as we can all see Loic rides at his fastest in a relatively deep “hip hinge”! The discussion then takes off and Amaury Pierron and his “low and aerodynamic” position on the bike gets dragged in. The true details don’t matter so much, more so the overall idea that 1) Jordi or me recommended an upright position and 2) that because successful riders don’t have *the position* that all advice is null and void. The key for me is having some arguments to refute or at least use them expand on my own rationale for a Prime Posture.

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 The stand out issue is that my doodle of prime posture showed a rider standing very upright, maybe skewing people’s own representation of what I mean. Coupled with that was the discussion about how a deep flexion biased posture is something I see in less experienced or skilled riders. Those two parts of our discussion may have led people to conclude that we were recommending a tall, very upright posture at ALL times. Which of course is not the case. If the over-zealous commentators had paid attention to the key kinematic components on my doodle they would have realized that no matter how low or deep in their hip flexion Amaury or Loic get they still at all times display the common kinematic variables of a “prime posture”. From top to bottom they are; eyes up, neutral spine, stable & square pelvis hinged over strong legs stacked on mobile but “stiff” ankles! You can look at 500+ photos of either rider in question or any world class DHer for that matter and you will see all of the above on display. You cannot however prescribe specific joint angles that are the best across all people. As we all know the variables of limb length, strength, total mass, mass of each limb or joint segment, sensory-motor difference and a whole host of variables due to the inherent redundancy or degeneracy of the human motor-system mean that the details of the postural solutions to the balance problem that is riding an MTB down wild tracks at speed are individual. They just share common features, or Principles of Prime Posture if you will.

 

The more upright posture I was describing was a direct antithesis to the heavily flexed posture of the scared novice. It was not a description of the perfect posture we need in all situations. Continuing as the comments did with both Amaury and Loic as examples of low and aero postures we can dig into just what is actually on display and why. As outlined in the previous paragraph, no matter how low Amaury gets he always displays an eyes up, neutral spine and stable hinged hip posture, ditto for Loic. The more experienced eye will see the commonalities of posture not the differences caused by kinematic or anthropomorphic variables. Going further the true issue with the debate is that it’s comparing tomatoes with bananas. We all know that tomatoes have no place in a fruit salad! As spoken about in the #dialed episode posture on the bike is simply a solution to the problem of balance. Riding bikes is a dynamic balance challenge where maintaining our centre of mass over our base of support is critical. Doing so as we successfully negotiate challenging terrain and apply the right technique at the right time is skillful riding. 

A comparison in subtle joint angle differences for the same "hip dominant" technique
A comparison in subtle joint angle differences for the same “hip dominant” technique

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What we see Loic and Amaury do is solve their own unique balance challenge in the most appropriate way possible given the task demands. In this case that’s getting from A to B down a gnarly World Cup track as fast as possible. As we all know World Cup tracks are fast, often wide and now have less tight turns and changes in speed than before. Average speeds are high, between 35 – 40 km/h for most tracks, peak speeds of up to 75 km/h and there is a variety of gradients but mostly things are steep enough that a rider needs to have a more rearward bias in posture to distribute weight optimally to maintain the needed blend of vision, control, balance and efficiency. The word efficiency here is key, it’s our motor systems search for a cost effective way of solving movement problems that leads to this low or deep hinged posture for many WC racers. It’s the fastest, safest and most energy efficient way to solve the task at hand. Controlling your COM on your bike comes in two main forms; an ankle dominant strategy and hip dominant strategy. When speeds are low, good riders tend to choose an ankle dominant strategy, cruising along nice and tall, using small movements at the ankles and then knee and hip to deal with the very small displacements of COM caused or demanded by the trail. When speeds are high and especially when speed, gradient and the amplitude of displacement of COM is great, then good riders will use a far deeper more hip dominant strategy to control COM. Again, this is a universal concept that has key similarities between individuals but many small differences caused by the vastly different sizes, shapes and motor learning histories we all have.

 

As a visual example of the above principle, hit this LINK to watch Amaury displaying an ankle dominant strategy as the terrain, speed and urgency of the situation dictates that as the most cost effective solution. This is the general neutral position myself and Jordi were talking about. Then watch the following five seconds to see Amaury display his hallmark hip dominant strategy as he shreds some wild terrain at warp speed – HERE. And for arguments sake if you watch all of the clips in the following link from Mont Sainte Anne World Champs you will see a more mixed approach to the balance problem as that’s what the terrain and speed demands. It’s certainly a hip dominant strategy but it’s slightly taller – LINK showing that postures as a strategy to control COM displacement are on a continuum. At all times in the linked videos though, Amaury displays the key movement principles of Prime Posture – vision is stable, neutral spine, hinged hips etc….

 

From here onward I could probably fill 50 pages with endless waffle about the reasons behind how and why individuals choose certain points along the ankle to hip dominant continuum of postural control on a bike. We of course need to speak about the importance of keeping the head neutral and parallel to the ground we travel on as the signals from our vestibular system are key to successful control! The potential questions are nearly endless. Do our postural choices lead to an increase or decrease in the amplitude or strength of the automatic postural responses that are encoded in our spinal “circuits” and brain stem? Does our unique sum of joint angles and inter and intramuscular coordination and length tension relationships caused by our preferred strategies lead to a functional increase in short latency reflex responses or are they still not much to write home about? Are the shapes we make on the bike key to enhancing muscle synergies that drive effortless and rhythmic movement?

A more Upright strategy
A more Upright strategy

 

The questions of why a prime posture is truly prime are pretty far reaching, this little blog post is about refuting the notion that postural choices are absolutes, they exist on a continuum of usefulness or relevancy dictated by the demands of the terrain. Is there an aerodynamic element to Amaury or Loic’s choices? Maybe, wind resistance or drag is one of the key forces acting on riders along with friction, so whether innate or planned, maybe getting low when possible is a choice. I’d hazard a guess though that given the demands of race tracks the deeper hinged, low postures we see are as much about riders femur lengths, torso strength and arm span as anything else.

 

The goal is to ride the bike from A to B as fast as possible. The task is to do so in an energy efficient way while maintaining balance. For this to happen kinematics, kinetics and the redundancy of the motor sensory system needs to be controlled. That challenge is so complex that really the best approach is to focus on the key principles of prime posture. You will see the best of the best share these items no matter what the trail, track or speed demands are.

 

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Real Race Training – #TopTipTuesday

Making the most of Time on the Race Bike – Real Race Training

Training I say? Squats you think? The tide is again turning slowly, but it seems for many involved in racing bicycles, at any level or discipline, when we speak about training, most people’s minds think about the “physical”. Intervals, sprints, strength training, “Vo2” and “cardio”. The specific race training, that “big bang for your buck” on your bike training comes a poor second best. In reality working on areas of weakness and specificity; aiming to arrive in any start-gate truly ready to attack any race course should make up not the majority but none the less a well organised portion of your training time. Especially if race progression is your goal. Here are some top-tips you can apply to your real deal on the bike training as all to often if you search our training advice all you’ll find is FTP, zones, barbells and box jumps.

 

1 – Set a Goal: just like going to the gym to work on maximal strength where you will try to lift the heaviest weight possible for four sets of three repetitions, having a goal for your on the bike training is critical. It sets the tone for the whole session and allows you to organise the details. This can be anything from braking points or visualisation pre-run, to bigger picture work like managing intensity over full runs or hitting top gear after only limited practice run/s. A goal should be individual to your needs but it must be defined both for the session planned and placed within the picture of your overall plan. Short range goals in the context of big product goals. More here from the Harvard Business Review.

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2 – Define Your Process: A goal is only achievable with a process to get there – take that first example of working on ‘braking points’. Without a process that goal stays pretty abstract. Aim to define what features that require braking you are truly struggling with, define if you need to brake more, harder, less or more consistently. Define two to three spots on a track where the consequences of good/bad braking points will be evident. Try different braking strategies and then try to time a section that allows you to learn from different braking approaches. Consequences & knowledge of results are a must. We deployed many of these ideas with Thomas Estaque & Hugo Frixtalon HERE

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3 – Focus: staying focused on the task at hand and your goals is a challenge as riding bikes is FUN! This however is also a  key area that many riders, even the best, struggle with at the races. Staying focused on the job of building a race run. You can try many things to improve focus during training. Key words – like “focus on” and then imagine yourself hitting a light switch. OR try riding a fun track between your focused race training runs. Nutrition can help too – planned lunch time, high carbohydrate snacks between runs and stimulants like caffeine could help.

 

4- Own your Mistakes: The best race training is training that is challenging enough that you make errors often. Mistakes are normal and are a great opportunity to learn. Instead of getting angry or upset about an error, own up to it, learn from it and take the opportunity it provides to grow. A mistake, from being a little off line to a huge crash is the outcome of many choices. So dissect and investigate where the mistake came from, see if you can change it short or long term and then move on. Move on happy in the knowledge that you’ve learned and grown as a racer because of it.

 

5 – Rest & Reflect: Rest between runs, especially timed or full runs can be an area often overlooked. Riders want maximum bike time, fun time or feel more is better, when in reality, better is better! Learning (whether emotional or motor skills) requires time for adaptation to occur. Short term and long term. Acute fatigue can be beneficial at times to help teach a rider how to adapt movement and technique for a tired body, but often the best  training happens with a minimal level of freshness and readiness. Likewise this rest time between runs allows the rider time to reflect on lessons learned and experiences gained in the session. Resting for minutes, not seconds between runs can allow you to adjust your goal and processes and make sure you are doing what’s needed to meet the goal set out at the start of the session as well as mitigate the risk of injury.

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2019 – Things I Learned

2019 thought some big lessons. Here are ten things I learned.

Experience is only valuable as a lesson learned if its thoroughly reflected upon. Things I learned is an attempt at concise and brutal reflection on the bigger lessons learned in 2019; hoping to apply these experience in 2020. Aiming for better processes, better actions, better outcomes and above all else even more love for what I do.

In no particular order. Except number one, that’s first on the list because it is telling so much when observing the behaviors of others.

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1. The Little Things – there is nothing only the little things, how you do one thing is how you do everything and how you do the small things is ALWAYS HOW you do the big things. Call it attention to detail, call it neurosis, call it whatever you want; but if you care enough to fold your kit just so, match your goggles to your gloves, clean your spoon and your cup. Care enough to clear up after others just so the space you share is organised, care enough to bring your compression tights or pack extra goggles for race runs (tear-offs and roll-offs). The details matter, micro dictates macro and how you do the little things is how you do the big things. always.

2. Act Fast – act fast on experience, specifically.  Too often in 2019 I waited to act. Waited to see the outcome of the next step, next choice or an athletes next move. When in reality I had a very good grasp on what the outcomes would be because I had seen those exact patterns before. Patterns often belie the inner workings of any system, especially a human system and while perfect prediction is next to impossible, an effective guess with just enough room to move is often a possibility. In 2020 I will act a lot faster on experience.

3. The Mind is the Key to Performance – Say no more. The mind matters and matters the most.

4. The Mechanistic Paradigm is Useless – as a methodological filter it has seeped into every facet of physical training and preparation and as a result performance. Riders, athletes and the public believe in the predictive powers of “science” so much that they think models of training based off of lactate threshold or V02 max trump all else. As a result the body is viewed as a machine. Where an input gives a known output. Always. This of course couldn’t be any further from the truth. As a human, the complexity of what goes on inside out bodies, how that interacts with the complexity of others in our environment and the environment itself is still so far beyond our powers of investigation never mind “models” of training that the only paradigm you need is the human paradigm. Predict at your peril, instead by ready to amplify or dampen the response to any decision or input. This comes from experience and not much else.

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5. The Ecological Validity of Testing – knowing the limits of your investigatory powers is key. Test results from a stationary bike and a real bicycle may yield different results over the same time/distance/output. Always ask two questions is it specific and is it relevant? Then is it repeatable? From there figure out what your question to be answered is before getting your data. IF you do it the other way then you’ll probably just make the data suit your biases. There is much to be done in 2020 on the testing subject. Someone once said “if it gets measured it gets managed” but there ain’t no point in managing something that just does not matter.

6. Talk – it’s the best way to build relationships and achieve goals. Face to face if possible. The energy, honesty and intimacy of two humans sharing facial expressions, emotions and body language will always trump a text or an e-mail.

7. Authenticity – no matter what just always be you. The athletes who are always true to them selves are most often the most successful. Those who try to be what they think others need/want them to be often fail.

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8. Hic et Nunc – Here and Now – be present, drop the phone, drop the attitude, drop the image. If you want to make the most of a situation or circumstance be focused, be present and be in the hear and now. 2019 thought me this in spades.

9. Process – every year, every month, every day, every minute. It rears it’s beautiful face! 2019 was no different. You’ll only truly enjoy the destination if you enjoyed every minute of the journey. More HERE

10. Athlete First – this is a guiding principle above all else. It forms a core of the Point1 philosophy. From physical prep to building a career to answering questions with the big picture and long-term success in mind being authentic for me really does mean ATHLETE FIRST! Just because two athletes compete in the same sport doesn’t mean they need the same training. Just because it looks good for me, the coach, doesn’t mean it’s the decision I am gonna make.

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Unstable Ideas

Unstable training is characterised by the “athlete” having to control either the position of a joint or many joints and/or centre of mass in such a way to maintain balance in the face of non specific perturbations while potential having to carry out some gross movement.
On the surface, especially from the perspective of the casual observer “unstable” training in relation to MTB performance makes sense. The MTB environment is crazy, has wild bumpy, rocky and muddy terrain and from the 3rd person perspective there is alot of swift and unpredictable movement happening. But the plot begins to thicken once you take the first hand experiences of accomplished riders. While wild moments happen that require sudden movement, MTB is often quite “calm” (from inside the helmet); especially when being done correctly. Hence its appeal, the reward our brain gets comes from the chemical environment created when challenge matches up to ability. A perfect state of competence.

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What actually happens on your MTB, at least for riders who are more than “novice” is that visual perception guides much of our action. This is why looking out of a turn early, looking far ahead enough on the trail at all times and being strong and mobile enough to keep a stable head is CRITICAL to performance. The visual and vestibular systems interact with the rest of the body to allow us to make preparatory movements, posture changes and positional changes on track so we can fully exploit the bodies visco-elastic and muscular properties to smooth out the trail, deal with the impacts and perturbations and of course, most evidently, apply the right technique in the right dose at the right time (skill)! This leads us to a position where the perspective on “unstable” training changes. While unstable training mainly challenges the muscle, joint and tendon (maybe skin too) mechano and proprioceptors & subsequent reflexes to act fast enough or the brain/spine and muscles to carry out the best course of action from that information – MTB requires us to be read the terrain to allow the body to be 100% ready to interact not just react to the perturbations of the track.

Now “reactive” and reflexive skills are needed, but these are too fast and too specific (in my experience at least) for them to be trained on a Bosu ball. Where classic “unstable” training has it’s place is in rehabilitation from injury. The proprioceptive function at injury sites or even above and below injury sites can be severely hampered after said injury so in this case general overload of balance systems and reflexes is very warranted; repetition in the safer gym environment, I even go as far as adding in unilateral and TRX type work in almost all training plans to keep a minimal dose of balance and control challenging exercises in a program. But when it comes to training that actually has a long term non rehabilitative performance enhancing effect…..well it’s all about repeatedly producing as much force as possible in the shortest time while maintaining the shapes or “posture” needed to execute technique while controlling center of mass. The more force we can produce the less “activation” a given movement requires, in theory this means less noise, less fatigue and better fluidity to your movement. On top of that the structural changes that quality plyometrics, heavy compound lifts and other high force moves create likely lead to changes across the structures that work across all joints in the body that must be controlled in order to create those key postures or “shapes” as Stuart McMillan would say.

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So while there is a time and place for unstable or instability training it’s not very often. Training to improve stabilisation reflexes or proprioceptive function is useful but alone it won’t get you very far. The mountain bike athlete can see what challenges await – the premise of unstable training is that you have no idea what is coming next and while to the casual on-looker our placed perched on top of our mountain bike looks like a balance challenge in reality it is a very stable place, especially for the capable rider.

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The magnitude and accuracy of the activation of top down controlled muscle action that is needed for sport skill can only truly be trained while doing the sport. Improving our potential to perform in the gym is what the work done between those four walls is about. The more force we can produce and the better our visco-elastic and skeletal muscle is at dealing with the demands of maintaining posture while executing technique the more robust our movement is on the bike. Basically better biological tissue function leading to true biological degeneracy. From that comes the illusion of effortless control as seen by the by-stander. We all want to ride like this but unstable surface training will not help you get there it will only help you back from injury.

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The Hawthorne Effect & the Power of Routine

The Hawthorne Effect – when an individual changes how they normally do something because the know they are being observed. It may be a phenomenon of sorts and surely affects individuals to different degrees and in different ways. As a concept it may or may not be even real but for your MTB performance it’s a useful anecdote to abuse.

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When racing a MTB in the gravity disciplines your only true opponent, the enemy so to speak, is the clock. It also happens then, by default, that the clock is an “observer”. Furthermore, due to it’s unwavering objectivity, it’s also the harshest of observers. It doesn’t lie, sugar-coat it’s feedback nor strive for long-term improvements by giving you a short-term boost through white lies. The clock counts seconds and that’s that! Observers come in many shapes and forms in MTB, from fans track side to your friends behind you on a ride and they all could potentially feed into the “reactive” change in behavior that hallmarks the “Hawthorne Effect”. Just how many times have you messed a corner or jump up when your friends get the camera out?

Narrowing focus onto the power of the clock and we, or at least I, see how it steamrolls and amplifies it’s impact. The clock in all it’s beautiful objectivity becomes much more to the racer than minutes and milliseconds. The clocks unwavering ability to tell the truth amplifies the impact of all the other observers the racer knows are there. The opinions of others, based off what the clock says, all of a sudden become much more tangible. Fellow racers, family, the “fans”, the keyboard warriors, the rivals, your own sense of self and that inner ego monster!? The opinions of those individuals suddenly carry weight, they come backed by evidence. So as an exercise in humility and true emotional control, racing is the pinnacle. Excuses can be made but if that narrative doesn’t add up at least in part to the clocks story then time wins. You suck!

Now you may not experience any semblance of the Hawthorne Effect when you are put on the clock, or you may actually benefit like many racers do. I coach more than one rider who are that cliché “clutch performer” – they race better than they ride! In their case the clock and the added observer power that comes with it increases their potential to execute! They rise under pressure.

Many riders, of all levels, however experience variations of performance reduction due to being observed. Whether by the clock, friends or otherwise. The motivation that others garner from that objective observer counting in seconds & minutes slips and becomes a massive hindrance. As a result, some riders choke, perform worse, can no longer control emotions nor feelings. Everything and nothing can overwhelm them and the desire to protect your own image of themselves, their ego, takes over. The reaction to observation leads to negative outcomes.

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A solution you ask? Routine! If you’ve worked with me as coach then “routines” would become a commonplace talking point. Often rearing it’s head as the “process”. Control the controllable and focus on the actions that lead to good outcomes not the outcome itself. But that whole performance paradigm – based on a process focus – can miss the simple power of specific routine. Specific routines for specific situations. The easiest to describe is a race day routine. As that’s often when the clock mediated Hawthorne Effect rears it’s ugly head. Race day will always be on a schedule. Your start-time being the cornerstone. Everything else works toward that moment. You know you are going to be “observed” in one way or another so deal with it! While the scrutiny on offer may change depending on the race or venue or many other variables your routine can stay the same and with that you can perform as close to optimal as possible.

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Without a routine the only defense you have against the negative impacts of expectation and scrutiny are your own thoughts and mental skills, while you may be lucky to have a strong character or have developed even effective coping skills to deal with race day “nerves”, on their own as your sole strategy to craft a race day performance, they are energy consuming and potentially wasteful. The “routine” approach gives you a seamless and effective strategy that consumes minimal energy because it becomes process.

Routine – a DH race day example

Morning Practice – two runs; key sections to work on, line focused not “feeling” focused – or vice-versa!
Post Practice – hydrate, relax, de-brief with friends, coach, mechanic, adjust race run plan based on practice knowledge
Downtime – occupy yourself with something else, shit-talk, coffee, relaxation, massage etc…
Meal time – set a specific time and type of meal – keep it enjoyable but effective
Warm-Up – specific start time for Warm-Up – content set, specific to needs and track demands.
Music – playlist for warm-up
Your Mantra – repeat to yourself your pre-race mantra as needed starting with four minutes to start – e.g. “enjoy executing”!

The above may seem rigid, but it’s simply an idea, the key is to have a routine in place, it can be anything you want, have any focus, as long as it’s pre-planned and timed to allow you to control the key variables that you know matter to your performance come race run.

Without a plan, the pressure created by the observation of others can crack you. Worse again without a plan you may find yourself at the mercy of your emotions, lead by feelings that can severely impact performance…. doubt, fear, vulnerability, irritability etc… these feelings can take over. They then occupy the “working memory” in our brain and make what should be simple pre-race tasks feel monumental. Secondary to that, this hyper-emotional state means we feel our movements internally, so instead of riding like you can, you force it and try to make yourself ride like you want to. The end result is poor performance, constrained by knowing that no matter what; your performance is on the clock and all eyes are on that same clock.

Whether the Hawthorne Effect actually exists is largely irrelevant, it’s just helps us give a name to race day and riding situations we have all faced. Most importantly if something has a name then it becomes more tangible. If you can define it you can defeat it.

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Coiled – World Cup #1 2019

Actual Rule & Organisation changes

Probably the biggest change of note is for ladies racing. The top 5 ladies in the “current” overall standings get “Group A” practice for 2019; a change that should of happened long ago. For those that don’t know the WC practice sessions are split into two groups, A and B with B usually being juniors, ladies and elite men ranked outside the top 115 or so (this changes depending on entry numbers), Since 2018 the top 10 junior men get Group A practice on Friday and a spot in the timed training session but then get shoved back into Group B from Saturday. Historically the ladies have always been given the rough end of the stick getting Group B practice for all sessions. This means usually eating breakfast at around 0630 most days to then get body and bike ready for practice at 0800; with early season April or late season September events not to mention potential ice-cold Alpine mornings mid-summer Group B get a rough start, having to bed in a track while also dealing with cold tyres and suspension. Only to get back on track the next day to find to totally decimated by the top dogs in Group A. Anyways, long story short the top 5 ladies are now in Group A all weekend long AND get an extra hour more than any other riders on race day morning too. So a plus for the ladies as environment nurtures performance, genotype/phenotype etc… So this, at least in my opinion, a big positive change for the sport. Exact details and issues TBC!

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Elsewhere after Tahnée Seagrave’s DSQ in Leogang 2018 the “outside” the tape rule has again been re-written for clarity (after being changed toa far more rigid rule after Rachel Atherton’s out of course victory in Windham 2015). The rule now reads that the course must be protected with tape or barriers and “If a rider exits the course for any reason, he/she must return to the course between the same two course markers where he/she exited. In case a rider fails to return to the course as provided for in this article, the commissaires’ panel can disqualify the rider.”

This is quite a change from the previous version of the rule; now more specific and reintroduces the possibility of interpretation

The other rule(s) of note are to do with final runs, qualifying and TV. Last years bonafide shit show race run orders based off of qualifying but not should now be sorted. Basically the Top 10 from last years overall are protected from the year and as such will most likely always be on RB TV. The next best 10 in the current seasons overall standings are also protected (same as last year) but now any 5 riders who are not in either of the two previous groups who qualified in the top 5 will take their spot in reverse order in finals as it was until 2018. Sorted!

No need to mention the wheel-size rule change as it has been well covered!

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Pre-Season Competitions

Same old, but different – there’s always been the need, want and desired for riders to brush of winter cobwebs and hit some pre-season events, sun, dust or not. Mainly aiming for any race on a rough track that allows you to ramp up the real-deal intensity and get a feel for what racing is again (just simply to remind yourself you have not forgotten) and dig into the limitations of your off-season preparations to date.

Not that stakes are any higher than before now – but it does seem that budgets are growing for many teams and as such pre-season racing for many seems to now come book ended with testing camps – something like; ride, test, race, rest, ride and test! Big commitment and if the races to date this season are anything to go by it is working for more than a few.

Proof in pudding comes this Sunday in Maribor and as is always the case the environment and surroundings of a World Cup mean even the best of pre-season testing camps can leave you short changed if basic emotions are not managed and the “P’s” ticked off.

PC - Red Bull Content Pool
PC – Red Bull Content Pool

Past, Present and Potential

This section could meander on for hours, thousands of words… on the tip of my tongue though as i write this though is thoughts of generations. The 2019 season, if you whip out the start list, has, in all elite categories a volatile mix of abilities and generations; maybe it’s happened before? But 2019 has rapid first and second year juniors in elite men, old dogs like Minnaar and Gwin with no shortage of pace, race winners and podium killers like Vergier, Pierron, Shaw, Iles, Walker and Greenland all give or take the same rip young age with a stack of riders spanning the years between Minnaar as patriarche and kids like Kade Edwards fresh out of juniors. The mix of pace, power, poise, experience and wildness is pretty crazy. Coming back to the point above though about team camps, racing and testing many juniors now have the backing, support structures and team-mates to help transfer experience that the junior – elite transition can be lightning fast!

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I’m not gonna say names; but some pre-season form has been clear from about 5 elite male riders; beyond that I think a mix of last years break-outs and stand-outs, the wise old dogs and the wild youth is gonna give us a varied top 10 at every race.

 

Junior times will be compared to elites, even quicker than before by the eagle eyed fan and team managers.

 

The ladies racing was struck a huge blow with Myriam Nicoles injury but Seagrave, Atherton, a fitter Tracey Hannah, a comfy looking Cabirou and a dangerous Hrastnik will hopefully battle hard. Siegenthaler and two to three others including Morgane Charre can easily be in the mix.

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Wheelin’ n’ Dealin’

Less caring about wheel diameter the better please!

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Best Ride of 2018?

Every year gets a healthy dose of reflection, from pre-planned post race reflections with athletes to sporadic  reflection on the core coaching principles or how methods and means work or don’t work for a given rider. Reflection and review are one of the most embedded practices in any decent coaches “tool-box”.

Making a “habit” of something is the more sure fire way to really grow and learn with any technique or method. There is probably a lesson in there somewhere about how you can apply daily small “micro-goals” or “processes” to your big 2019 new years resolutions – thus turning positive actions in habits. But really this post is all about the yearly task of reflecting on what was the best ride of the year just gone. 2018 for some reason, didn’t feel as “successful” as 2017. On paper it was more successful and rolling into 2019 there are many small details that actually drill home to me how productive a year it was for the riders I work with. Maybe it was that many of the 2018 successes where genuinely hard fought; maybe they were more hard fought because our preparation wasn’t as good as it could have been? Potentially more reflection required!!

The best ride of 2018 you ask?

Well the reason I do this every year is because time and again for a variety of reasons I am reminded by the simple task of riding bikes with friends that that is the true reason behind all the long hours of planning, training and meticulous preparation. the true reason for the endless square eyed hours behind the lap-top, the hours spent studying scientific journals old and new, the hours spent doubting coaching choices and decisions, the hours spent in total confusion as to the best decision to make. All of it, every last second is actually really only made worthwhile because of the love I and the riders I coach share for riding bicycles down mountains. It’s the reason why “coaching”, at least from my perspective, has to always go beyond “physical preparation”, always strive for more than S&C, aim higher than physiological buckets. Integrate and Complement. Riding bikes as fast as you can down hills is holistic, therefore coaching must always respect the whole more than the parts. Simple.

Below are a selection of some of the best rides of 2018….the title winner is at the bottom! Helping to build the French Champs DH track on Le Pléney here in Morzine was awesome. A fantastic experience to help grow the sport in my adopted home town. It was made all the sweater by getting to ride day 1 practice with Greg Callaghan. Of a similar vain was getting to smash a days practice at Crankworx Les Gets DH with Killian Callaghan, another long standing Point1 athlete. A big day of riding with Kelan Grant at Ainsa EWS was prety tasty also.

But really it was always going to be Morgins! What a place. The best bike-park in Europe? Very possible. A full day spent lapping with awesome people everyone pushing limits and speed! It was RAD. Here’s to many more with Tahnée, Kade and Veronique + anyone else who’s stoked on bikes!

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Anatomy of a Race-Track // 2018

Somewhere between reflection and hindsight, “Anatomy of a Race track” have been a staple in post-race analysis for us in 2018. With many repeat venues and repeat tracks on the UCI World Cup circuit it has proved pretty fruitful to dig into the key characteristics and core features that (or break) these tracks. Having these “anatomoy” posts to look back on and review before we hit the same venue again or even race at different tracks that have similar characteristics allows us to set tactics for practice and racing that meet strategic goals.

The usefulness of digging into the core features of a given track is probably a lot less “rigid” than I’m making it sound but in a nutshell lines, sectors, sections, tactics and techniques needed can be more readily quantified and qualified if we use some standardised review and reflect systems… Anatomy of a Race Track is just that. Review & Reflect.

For your conviencene here’s the 2018 season’s crop of AoaRT all in one spot for your scrolling pleasure. Comments & Questions welcome. Enjoy.

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Last Call on the Lenzerhorn

I could easily kick this one off with some cheesy metaphor about rainbows leading to pots of gold, the last chance salon for glory in 2018 but in all honesty it’s just another race; and as the seasons roll on and Downhill matures further the prestige associated with the rainbow title for a DHer seems to change a little; not necessarily diminish but shift. The nationalistic flavour associated with racing for your country is something that has always made worlds unique but as the quest for race wins continues regardless of event or track and the battle among the world class for victory stays just as intense we see racers keep their formula as close to “regular” as possible. You may race for France, Germany or Canada but you’ll be pitting, staying, eating and sleeping with your trade-team just as you would at a World Cup. It’s much easier to adapt a well know system to new constraints than it is adapt to a whole new system.

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Unique Event

There are maybe three category of “potential” World Champions come Sunday. First those carrying momentum, Atherton, Seagrave, Pierron (Amaury), Bruni, MacDonald, Hart or Brosnan. 2nd we have the unwilling or very meticulously prepared specialists, those with early season injuries or issues that meant a shift in goals, approach and timescales favoured an all or nothing season ending rainbow hunt. A once favoured French approach from the likes of Barel and Vouilloz; this is far less common in the modern age. Although with his mid-season thumb issue and favourable track-record at Lenzerhide, Aaron Gwin could be the dark-horse. Category three is the unlikely victor, the opportunist who capitalizes on their own ability framed best by a total lack of expectation, pressure and focus from teams, media and fanboys. Going back to the year 2000 and Myles Rockwell pounced at the perfect moment in Sierra Nevada, Spain to make the most of favourable wind conditions and grab himself some rainbows. Miranda Miller was perfectly positioned last year in Cairns to capitalise on the mistakes and failures of the other ladies come finals and took home a deserved set of rainbows.

The rainbow jersey is a coveted piece of attire for racers, a nightmare for some sponsors but as we all know once the clock is on the world class racers will give us a world class show regardless of jersey fear!

Organisational Oddities

With the DH World Cup driven in many departments by the needs and desires of Red Bull Media House we’ve seen some positive changes over the past 4 season, out went Tissot for timing and in came Belgian firm ChronoRace. This means 4 split times on course as well as near endless “micro-splits” that RB use on the live coverage for “key sections” and the virtual straight. Sadly for the past few years Worlds sees a return of Tissot for timing and a return to 2 splits on course, a less than ideal online live timing site and as we saw with Myriam Nicole’s issues at Cairns the potential for mistakes and issues in timing – not because of a lack of work ethic but merely I feel due to a crew of timing people doing a one of race and not having the momentum and system in place from 7 WC races.
The World Cup schedule is also pretty set, once summer comes and we have double header (XCO and DHI) races the schedule is very much solid. With World Champs things change and not for the better… for whatever reason Group B DH practice starts at 0730, 30 minutes earlier than a World Cup and with September sunrise in the alps at around 0650, well the first few minutes of practice are quite sombre. Little details like that can change things drastically for some racers, others not so much, it’s all about your support network. DH racing is always on Sunday’s at Worlds and not Saturday like a World Cup – that gives us a very short Saturday A.M. practice session that for some is nigh on worthless. Closer to the World Cup DH schedule of old, where we had 3 or even 4 days of practice!

For 2018 there is a raft of rule changes for world champs also; Riders must now qualify for finals; not seeding actual qualifying. With quotas closer to the World Cup of old; 80 men, 40 women, 60 junior men, 15 junior women etc… With 35 elite female starters that means they all qualify, there are 73 junior men, so 13 unlucky racers who won’t see Sunday. The top 20 men from the World Cup overall season ending rankings are protected. The top 10 women but no protection for juniors. So with less than stable autumn alpine weather forecast in Lenzerheide will this see a return to qualifying tactics of the 90’s for the non-protected? Well no, because even with qualifying and protected status from World Cup rankings, start order for finals and qualis is determined off of UCI DH ranking; not World Cup ranking. Like I said organisational oddities.
Here’s hoping for better timing and T.V. than Cairns!

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Form Sheet

No title to defend, only a title to win…that’s always the most effective way to view racing. No matter what we will see new World Champions in the junior categories. Bruni will go for triple elite titles but his “on-form” country mates Vergier and Pierron are hungry as possible. Amaury has a seemingly viciously potent mix of youth, experience and support. Most certainly the favourite of the favourites. But a form sheet can’t only be based off of most recent results. Each track has its own unique flavour; camber, gradient, duration, soil types, rock types, pit set-up, accomodations and altitude. The complex addition of factors mean some riders preferred ways of applying and executing technique at race pace sees them rise to the top on a given track. Lenzerheide is no different; high speed, unforgiving and loose. The three previous trips we have taken here for WC’s have been in July, each time hot, sunny and extremely dusty and loose come finals. A September visit may be very different. To date Minnaar and Atherton have two wins a piece here. Nicole won last years race, alongside Minnaar in the mens with Gwin flatting while on course to victory. Aaron has been fast here but pipped by a few metres in 2016 by Danny Hart, off the boil in 2015 and ohh so close last year. Minnaar has a proven track record here, but like Aaron comes in under the radar and most certainly neither are on the form of last July, both rebuilding after mid-season arm/hand injuries.

While we have had a variety of podium finishers here Minnaar is the only male rider to have visited the podium each time the WC has stopped in Lenzerheide. Flashes of expected & unexpected brilliance from Thirion, Bruni, Greenland, Brosnan, Fearon and Lucas in editions past need to be noted also. All or nothing world champs runs are often special but bone dry midsummer conditions are not expected in 2018.

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The potential for first times this year is massive, first time overall winner Pierron could polish off his season with rainbows meaning he will be the first rider ever to win his first world cup, the overall world cup and world champs in one season. Former Junior World Champs Walker and Illes could wrangler a podium. Gwin could find his first ever rainbows and Seagrave could join the small club of mainly French riders who have elite and junior titles.

The ladies form-sheet gives a Seagrave // Atherton showdown. A monumental battle for the ages. But as we saw in Cairns anything can happen. Atherton has the pressure to defend after a last round WC win and overall title. Seagrave has nothing but a race to win in front of her. Nicole, Siegenthaler and Hannah are all capable of medals and more if the circumstances are right. French world champs domination, maybe a thing of old, but with Cabirou and Ravenal in attendance a gallic jammed top 5 is possible!

The track and venue

There’s some fresh woods at the bottom of the hill but otherwise we are getting the same old “STRAIGHTline” race track. As DH demadns go it’s pretty straightforward. About three minutes in duration for the fastest men, add 25 to 30 seconds to that for the elite females. The track is fast but never overly steep or hugely rough. The bump frequency is one of the bigger demands. Altitude is on the higher side with the start line at 1905m and paddock at 1492m. Otherwise the stats are pretty vanilla – 2.3 km in length with a 413m vertical drop. Changeable weather could however make it a much rougher, wilder and slicker affair rendering certain forest sections “key” but also meaning certain high speed open sections are much less “skaty”.

The venue is nice, a high alpine farming area tuned ski crazy tourist trap. It has stunning views and good accomodation, with the chalets and apartments quite close to the track meaning a good “family” vibe all week – the sunny summer races of years past have meant good times at the lake just across from the finish line with BBQ’s and swimming for sore bodies. Single digit September temps will change some of that though. So prepping for any eventuality is needed.

Maybe a fondu finally?