31 March 2009

Living the Dream

Here is an exerpt from Liz Reap Carlson's blog, lizreapcarlson.wordpress.com. There are so many gems of information and inspiration in here, I just had to post it.

Ok, so it’s not technically a photo. It’s a GPS file my coach captured while racing at the 7-Eleven Velodrome in Colorado Springs. He superimposed it over a Google Earth map. If you look closely, you can see where he rode on and off the track, burned laps around the warm-up circle and covered every inch of the track throughout his night of racing.

According to Ben’s notes, after warm-up he raced the Scratch race, Match Sprint and motor-paced points race with his Garmin Forerunner in his jersey, tracking a typical day at the velodrome.

It cracks me up every time I look at it.

Why? Because in my past life I was an editor at Backpacker magazine. My peers and former colleagues swap GPS maps of their treks through tropical rainforests and up mountain peaks like personal trading cards. I’ve gone on such adventures and even photographed a few for Backpacker, Mountain Bike and Runner’s World magazines. Long before GPS became a training tool and I became a track racer, my bike took me to places I’d never been. I’ve spent vacation time riding and even racing through tropical rainforests.

But never in a million years did I think a neon blue oval would so aptly capture how I spend my time and the route I cover weekly, often daily, by bike.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve found myself in warm-up a few times, staring at the wheel in front of me, watching my speed tick from 32 to 36 to 40kph, around turns one, two, three, then four, again, wondering “How did it come to this?”

One day, I gave riding a bike with no brakes on a banked cement oval a try. Ten years later, here I am . . . still riding in circles, trying to perfect the chemistry that equates to performance and keeps me coming back for more.

There’s a saying in velodrome circles (no pun intended) that there’s no hiding on the track. That goes beyond fitness and race preparation to how you carry yourself both on and off the bike. My sports doc calls the track ‘racing in a fishbowl,’ which isn’t far from the truth.

Unlike the road, where you can wander aimlessly, anonymously for hours—track training is a discipline of accountability. There’s structure to the time you spend there. A session typically starts with warm-up before moving on to big gear starts, 2K repeats, a 20-minute tempo effort behind the motor or reaction drills on the whistle. There’s both an art and science to what you do any given day. The outcome depends largely on that mix, how it’s applied and how much you commit in the process.

I love the track because I like the discipline. I always learn something new and it’s a challenge. Like the racing—the lessons come at you fast and furious. One minute, you’re exhilarated, the next, humbled to the core. There’s no hiding on the track.

And as with all sports, the magic is buried within the madness. To take stock of my circular route the past two years, I wanted to recap a few things I’ve learned. Feel free to share your own. Some of these may not be new, but at this time of year, it’s good to be reminded. Here goes:

You’re never too old to learn a new discipline or take sport to another level. You can always get better and improve; there are that many variables.

If you train with a group, get to practice early, make sure your equipment is tuned up and ready to go. If you’re always late, get comfortable with training alone.

Training alone isn’t so bad. Sometimes it’s better than training with a group. It helps you focus on what you’re doing, and teaches you to rely on yourself.

Good training partners can make you. Bad ones can break you.

That said, chasing people who are better than you is the best way to improve.

You can always go harder than you think you can.

The best way to prepare for racing is to race. Following wheels will teach you how to follow wheels.

Winning is a cultivated skill.

Self-belief and self-doubt are equally powerful.

Injuries happen. The best thing you can do is work at recovery as hard as you commit to training. Rest, stretch, and cross-train. The worst thing you can do is get frustrated and give up. Be patient, bodies heal.

If you want to improve, read a lot or hire a coach. There are always people who know more than you.

A good coach will invest as much in you as you are willing to invest in yourself. They can make the difference between sitting in, being a factor and setting personal bests.

But don’t be na├»ve. There are also coaches who are just as happy to take your money, so ask your questions.

A coach won’t shoot the hole for you. You have to do that one yourself.

Money will not make you a better bike racer. But, money can open up opportunities that can lead to your becoming a better bike racer.

If you keep making the same move, you’re asking to be passed at the line.

Training and racing is about applied stress, recovery and adaptation. Nothing happens overnight. You have to allow time to adapt both mentally and physically.

It’s harder to heal from a mental injury than a physical one.

Most people give up before they reach their potential.

If you do something in training, you’ll do it in racing. This applies to both good and bad habits.

You put together a successful season one thought, one workout, one meal and one night's sleep at a time.

I know my strengths and weaknesses better than anyone.

Simple is better. Think less. Do more.

The human body is an amazing thing. The more you know about it and how it works, the better you’ll be at sport and at life.

Keep good notes.

There are a million reasons to ride or race bikes, all of which are right.

There’s a fine line between passion and crazy and it takes both to succeed in this sport.

Liz Reap Carlson is a nationally ranked track sprinter and member of the Verducci-Breakaway UCI Track Trade team. Follow along on her personal blog at lizreapcarlson.wordpress.com.

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