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Quebec Calling

Next week will be the 21st visit for a UCI World Cup or Champs to the hallowed hills of Mont Sainte Anne just outside Beaupré, Quebec. A yearly pilgrimage that somehow doesn’t seem to to bore even the most seasoned of veteran. Possibly due to the high speeds, the easily shreddable rideable terrain regardless of a weather and the maybe more than anything else the family holiday vibe that grows as the days pass, due in no small part to the MTB community renting every chalet, house and condo along the short MSA strip!

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The mountains of Quebec like those south of the border in North Eastern USA are big, but not the imposing “boom” straight up walls of rock that often great riders and racers in the European Alps. Instead MSA gives us big, shallow and long. Three potentially key ingredients that keep the race puzzle here fresh for so many, less braking more ploughing? This lack of steepness doesn’t lead to a lack of intensity though, from the first heavy pedal stroke out of the start house, down the now iconic rolling start-ramp things get fast, quickly and just keep building in momentum from there.

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2017 gave us yet another round with a mixed bag of weather.  The 4.00 p.m. rain party rolling in on queue again. Un-phased Aaron Gwin displayed all the calm, calculated characteristics that have led to him to wrapping up 5 overall titles to date. Riding under the rain, straighter and faster than anyone else. Bagging in the process the full quota of points on offer in the overall title battle that day.

Coming into qualifying Gwin trailed Minnaar by 253 points – 3 more than you can earn in one week’s racing. Leaving MSA the deficit between the two titans was so reduced that it left the final round in Val di Sole as an all or nothing battle. What we all learned in the process though, was that anything can and will happen and as long as you come prepared and willing, victory on race day is possible.

The 2017 ladies race in MSA was contested under fair and consistent conditions. Although on a more damp, blown out track that was considerably harder to push your limits on than then was ridden in qualifying. Qualis saw Myriam Nicole eek out a 1.491 sec margin on Tracey Hannah. When Race day rolled in though things changed. In now expected fashion Tahnée Seagrave flipped a 4+ second quali deficit into a race winning display of calculated on edge riding. 5.7 seconds faster than second place Nicole.

Clean Slate

Rumbling in to MSA this coming week for the 2018 race the only constant is change. Maybe that’s a large part of the reason everyone is so stoked to go racing? In no particular order, on the men’s side, we have the return of Moir and Minnaar from injury, the latter has been rehabbing in style, in the most specific way possible slapping bumps on Morzine’s infamous Le Pléney. The former has already practiced at Andorra World Cup and hopefully is ready for racing. With the return of some, the biggest notable absence for MSA is 2017 winner Gwin, at least that’s the info available to hand at the moment. Race day will tell more!

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Pierron (Amaury) has a healthy lead in the overall, but as 2017 thought us with 2 races left anything can happen. On fire at French Champs in Morzine, Pierron is the man to beat, even though his compatriot Vergier had one of the most stunning race runs in recent times on route to his maiden WC victory in Andorra. Luca Shaw will be as hungry as ever although a hungry not quite as grumbling as Loic Bruni’s, 2018 podium first timers Reece Wilson & Thomas Estaque will go good on the long, fast bumps of the Mont. 2017’s FTD title at MSA went to Finn Iles on a dry track, after his first elite podium in Vallnord he’ll be keen to climb a few steps higher at home. Other’s to watch closely are Harrison, MacDonald, Greenland, Pierron (Baptiste), Walker, Mulally and the Eagle Masters.

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The ladies race gives us one the most interesting title battles in years – even after a DSQ in Leogang, Tahnée is just 80 points behind a resurgent Rachel Atherton. After missing two races Myriam is back, a much needed world class rider in the field. Three ladies with the pace and killer instinct needed to win but with three totally different approaches to doing so, watching how the week unfolds as we build to race day will be most interesting. The eagle eyed analyst may have seen how the split times and sector demands of the shorter and longer tracks have played out for the women this year. With a pattern emerging. MSA’s length and high speed impacts may favour the brave, but the brave and conditioned even more.

The Track

At least one new section, dubbed “Tarzan” otherwise pretty unchanged from the past 2-3 years – no matter what, racing will be fast, straight, high speed whether in or out of the woods. We would say bikes take a hammering but those days are beyond us now.

 

Winning Ways

What “approach” does it take to win at MSA? Well I don’t think I’ve personally attended enough races at MSA to know the finer details just yet, but from the experience I have at the venue it’s directness and confidence on the less confidence inspiring sections that counts. Race strategy is built by race tactics…tactics for practice, for each run, for sections, for sectors and finally for the race run it self. Braking just at the right time, some call it late braking, is crucial; as carrying the huge speed generated as free momentum into the subsequent sections here is paramount. No point in not using those speeds built on the flat out piste to keep your wagon wheels ploughing over rocks and boulders as you transition from open to wooded sections.

Subtle but convincing changes of direction on the loose, fast piste sections, total conviction and commitment to line choice in the slab infested woods, wet or dry, braking just “late” enough, soft transitions from edge to edge of you tyres and no let up in the “fitness”  abilities needed to take the hits, deal with the impacts and hold and coax the bike from line to line, rock to boulder!

So maybe that’s the formula, total subtle committed conviction!?

All Images – PC: @Red Bull Content Pool

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Setting Succesful Goals – 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!

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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…

  • Eat protein at each meal
  • Only snack on fruit or nuts
  • Visible Reduce portion sizes except for after training meals
  • Weigh yourself at regular intervals, but also track fat mass lost with pinch testing and take a body composition photo with each weigh in!
  • Track/Record your training session. Likewise take pics of your meals to compare content and portions
  • When you weigh in and measure fat mass – see how your habit and lifestyle changes and training practices are working….notice a trend? Amplify it!

For your Strength oblique-goals you could try;

  • Strength train 3 times a week minimum for 5 weeks
  • Include 3 compound lifts in each session
  • Identify limiting factors to movement efficiency and quality
  • Add 1.25 kg to all compound lifts weekly at a minimum
  • Track weight lifted and how it felt (speed, effort, intent etc…)
  • Track your fatigue during and after riding on demanding, steep or “wild” trails
  • Is your current approach to getting storing leading to noticeable improvements on the bike?

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.

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To summarise:

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

 

 

 

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Disclosure #1

I get the feeling, often enough that you could say daily, that most people think that there are secrets to sports performance, secrets to health and fitness improvements. “Hidden” tips, tricks and my pet-peeve, “hacks” that provide shortcuts to success. A Those in the know, know situation, those out of that loop are on the back foot, destined to failure because they ain’t hacking their way to success.

With the above “spiel” in mind this series of very short blog posts aims to provide full-disclosure, no bull. Just straight up advice on what works and why in improving different areas of your sports performance and life.

In the fitness industry the pendulum swings from extreme to extreme; but time and again the truth and reality of sports performance improvement is stuck in the fuzzy grey middle. That’s not to say there are no “right” answers, but given how complex humans are the right answers evolve as you do!

I’ll be open to suggestions for topics to cover via social media…so get messaging and mailing.

First up in the series?

Sleep; sleep and a “subtraction” not “addition” approach to using it to improving your health and performance.

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While sleep is seldom the questions it is often the answer. No matter what the performance related question I get these days a huge percentage of people who come my way for advice on the shiny pretty trinkets of training (like the best “H.I.I.T Protocol, supplement, diet restriction, fancy strength training method etc…) are lacking in quality & consistent sleep; the late night “treat” of box sets til 4am, the weekend lie in, the disturbed night of wall climbing after 16 snapchat laps and a Facebook frolic while the heads already on the pillow! Sound familiar?

If you want to learn from the consistent World Class performers in any sport and maybe apply some of their approaches to your own health, well-being and performance then sleep is #1. The linchpin of gainzzz. The consistent performers get quality, consistent sleep. That’s full disclosure on my behalf, because from the experience and data I have from Point1 athletes it’s a very obvious trend. Consistent & Quality Sleep = Consistent #Gainzzz

[tweetthis]Consistent & Quality Sleep = Consistent #Gainzzz[/tweetthis]

The Why?

The ever evolving science and understanding about how sleep is regulated and how it affects life and well-being during waking hours is fascinating. With some recent papers published in the area of energy balance and sleep providing some much needed glue to hold many sleep/performance ideas together better than ever.

To list just a few of the key things sleep is responsible for:

  • Tissue remodeling and muscle growth
  • Regulation of Energy Balance
  • Hormonal Health and Efficiency
  • Metabolic Efficiency and Neuroendocrine Regeneration
  • Appetite Regulation
  • Memory Formation
  • Immune Function and Innate Immunity regulation
  • Skill/Motor Learning & Consolidation

Many of the above are regulated by a tight relationship between what and when you eat and sleep! It’s clearly a well regulated tightly coupled system that can be quickly derailed by the choices on offer to us in modern life, but now knowing that it’s basically the one two way system between our guts and brains that regulate appetite, metabolism and sleep means we can do things like; eating regular meals, going to bed “full”, avoiding stimulants like Caffeine, nicotine and cocaine (joke) in the 4-6hrs pre bed will all have profound effects on the quality of your sleep!

The point of these blogs is to not get to sciency, all the neurobiology and neurochemistry of sleep science is waaaay beyond me but the magic that happens when we get to REM or Stage 4 sleep seems to be pretty easy grasp! The brain acts like it’s awake but the body is all but paralyzed! True regeneration.  The longer you sleep and better the quality the longer you’ll spend in REM sleep and the more of the above awesomeness will happen! Simples.

The How?

Pretty basic stuff that’s easy to implement but will require a no-bull, get shit done attitude

  • Quality Sleep Environment
  • Decent Bed
  • No electronics 45min pre-sleep
  • No caffeine in the 4hrs pre-bed
  • Set Sleep time
  • Set Wake up Time
  • Going to bed well fed
  • Breathing Drills and Relaxation if you’re a midfield of fidgeting in the bed!

Wrapped Up

The thousand pin pricks of modern responsibilities can wear the most resilient athlete down, sign hear, be hear, do this, remember that!? Sleep is the ultimate and primary off-set of these pin pricks! You can be as cool as you please but neglecting sleep will break you not make you. Fragility is no man’s friend and the sleep deprived athlete is always a fragile athlete!

It’s not about what fluff and glitter you can add to your training – it’s about removing limitations to performance like your poor sleep quality and consistency!

[tweetthis]Addition by subtraction[/tweetthis]

 

Further Scientific Reading

Sleep and energy balance: interactive homeostatic systems
Theodore B. VanItallie

Metabolic signals in sleep regulation: recent insights

Charu Shukla et al.

Sleep of professional athletes: Underexploited
potential to improve health and performance

Henri Tuomilehto et al.