Athletes update, Kit and equipment, Training Plans, Viewpoint

Coping with unexpected outcomes

I think the still on the video sums up where I am right now!

So as most of you will know I had quite a bad accident and crashed out of the Cycling Time Trials UK National 24hr Championships over the weekend of 20/21st July. An event in which I was defending champion after victory last year.   This was my major season goal.  I had been working and building towards this since December, every session and decision based on getting me in the best shape I could be for the 20th July.

I felt I was in the best physical condition I could be in, my kit was prepared, I had a great support team of, my ever present partner Helen Hall – who is such a great positive asset, Jon Shubert, himself a former winner and member of the very successful Arctic-Aircon race team. I was also privilege to have Neil Skellern, former medalist in the event as well

Things were going to plan!  In fact many of us found the conditions, despite being windy were FAST – I went through 100 miles in 3hrs 59! I went through 200m in 8hrs 10.  I was half an hour up on my schedule.  A schedule I had written with an eye on breaking the competition record of 541.7m.  I had an incling this would be needed to win.  The great ride by Graham Kemp proved this as he rode to 544m to not only win but set that new record too.   Then at around 9 hours in I had a collision with a vehicle, game over.

So how will I deal with coping with this unexpected outcome?

As I say in the video, honestly, I have not been so ‘down’ about an outcome, in probably my whole racing career.  I was fully ready to quit the lot, sell the bikes, and take up bowls!  Sunday afternoon and evening I was not good.  My partner Helen was worried, she had never seen me so despondent for so long.  Honestly, I am still not out of it yet!

I’d been here before, I raced Ironman Triathlon in my early sporting career, I completed six full distance races, as well as going to Kona to race at the World Championships.

But I got stale, I got frustrated, I started questioning ‘why’.  For any big race that you intend to be your season’s goal, the preparation, focus and planning can be a massive undertaking.  Whether its preparing for an Ironman, or long distance TT, where the physical preparation and event length simply mean you can’t do it every week.  Or it may be that UK, or World Championship that is only once a year.

Whatever it is, if and when (as is often the case) things DON’T go to plan, picking yourself up after this can be hard.  One of the main reasons that I stopped racing Ironman was about dealing with the substandard results & the time to go ‘rectify’ in the next big one.  For me probably 3 of the 6 I did, one being Kona did not go anywhere near plan.  The but was, that when a race didn’t go to plan, it may be 6-9mths before you can get back and ‘settle that score’.  That’s a long time IF that one doesn’t go well too, that is where the negative self talk can be really dangerous.

At these time, as now,  I was self coached, I didn’t really have anyone around me who ‘understood’, parents and family were great, but honestly they had no clue what I had been through to get there and the , “never mind it will be better next time”, or the “well you can stop pushing yourself so hard and relax a bit…” type of comments are NOT helpful!

This is where a strong, knowledgeable support network is key, be that a coach, or even fellow athletes.  As I say in the video what has buoyed me today (Monday 22nd July) as I write, is the amount of positivity, understanding and support from the cycling community, friends and support team.  THIS is what is a critical part of helping me (you) through this period.

So let’s address a little bit about how I will, and how I discuss with athletes, cope with those unexpected or disappointing outcomes

Dealing with this , analysing, rationalising and being better because of it is the key to improving.

Firstly I’d discuss with my athletes the below, and I’ll answer them as I feel now based on what has happened in my key race

  1. Be true to yourself – ‘look in the mirror’ – hand on heart can you say you have done everything you could to make this the best race it could be?
    1. Yes without a doubt, everything was in the best place it could be
  2. Were my expectations realistic
    1. What are your hopes and goals for the event. The key here is are they realistic?, How do you work out if they are:
      1. YES – as defending champion and getting within 11 mil;es of the record I felt a record ride was possible and scheduled my plan accordingly
      2. Who was the competition?
        1. I had identified a number of key competitors and felt they would make for a great race, Mike Broadwith, Nick Clarke, Mark Turnball, Ian To.  Honestly I hadn’t picked the eventual winner in that list.  Graham Kemp had an awesome day and massive congrats to him for that!
  3. This is a wider point to triathlon and cycling, But had I considered ALL aspects, particularly in cycling , but consider this in Triathlon too.  What is it that plays into a fast bike leg? So many people disproportionately focus on ‘power’   YES its critical – BUT its one factor to going fast,  We train using power as the number one measureable as it’s a ‘black and white’ number, measurable, consistent and trainable.  Some of the other elements are ‘softer’ BUT much more important. the others are
    1.  Pacing
    2. Applying power in the right part of the course
    3. Aerodynamics
      1. Kit efficiency
    4. Fueling
    5. Race craft – can you corner fast and safe?
      1. Well I thought i was pretty decent – but 2 crashes now in 3 races maybe I need reappraise!

Of all of this from my knowledge and experience I was confident

  1. Did I put the work in, the training?
    1. Have I hit 80% + of the planned sessions?
      1. YES
  2. Did I optimise my kit as much as I could?
    1. Failures in equipment are so frustrating, some times they can be totally out of control, BUT many other times they can be a direct function of us just not maintaining, setting up, servicing or checking things properly
      1. YES
  3. Did I optimise my preparation?
    1. Many , many times the run up to a big event can be fraught, maybe due to time off required from work , which, as we all know means a stressful few days on the run in.
      1. Work was managed to give me a nice ‘glide in’ !
    2. Family – taking family to an event is great BUT can be an added stress, How can you ensure that this does not cause stress by planning aspects better
      1. I had no issues with this having some great support from my family
    3. Rushing around LATE – the amount of people who are packing at midnight before a flight out to a key race. This scares me to death! What is something breaks and you cant get it in time before you go? What if you forget something a you haven’t time to double check?!
      1. I was all ready by Monday ! With just the fresh food left to prepare!
  4. Logistics
    1. Have you truly factored in for delays – travelling to any UK weekend race on a Friday is gonna be hell with traffic , LEAVE ENOUGH TIME!
      1. YES – last year we got stuck in a closed M60 on the way, we left plenty of time for this eventuality (that didnt happen) this year. And a good job we did, as 45 minutes before I started we had a tyre to change!
    2. If flying go at least 2-3 days before, a number of reasons
      1. Flying is tiring!
      2. There can be delays and you don’t want it to affect your prep
        1. Baggage (bike) may be delayed and 9/10 when this happens it will be on the next days flight – so 3 days out that’s fine, 24hrs out its not!
        2. Time zone adjustment, the further you go (east or west) try and factor more time in to adjust, they say an hour a day, so if you go to California or Australia it can take over a week

So despite all that, I totally failed in my goal, barely completing 9hrs let alone 24hrs!

The-Chimp-Model

This where the ‘chimp’ can be dangerous. read about my thoughts here in a previous article:

The fragile brain & its effect on your physical abilities

What I say to my athletes, and I am discussing with myself here, is the below

  1. Was it an internal factor, one within my control? If so in many ways great, we know what and how to fix
    1. NO
  2. Was it an external factor, out of my control, I’d break these into 3 types
    1. Bad luck, a puncture, crash other unforeseen mishap can and do happen. Nothing we can do but review anything leading up to it, ensure it was not a contributor and move on
      1. E.g.: You punctured, were you riding too far in the shoulder and hit road debris?
      2. Had you put new tyres on and ensured your kit was high quality?
      3. A crash – was it due to bad positioning by you, in / out of a corner or where on the road you were riding – or was it unavoidable?
    2. The competition was way stronger than forecast. This is a truly external factor we cannot control, we know your abilities and if you deliver YOUR potential then you have achieved. IF the competition on the day is super strong there is NOTHING you can do.  What options for future are there then?
      1. Review alternate races where we feel it will either suit your abilities or potential even better V the expected competition
      2. Continue to strive to optimise all aspects to better compete
    3. The conditions – these are external – BUT (usually) the same for everyone, So if (say) it was unusually hot day, those who cope with that better will have achieved a better outcome.  How can we either prepare you for that, or avoid it?

So to answer this it was due to a crash, whether it was avoidable or not I honestly cant answer.  I never got to the sharp end to see if i could truly measure p to the competition on the day, and that’s a disappointment.

In some senses it was a Total Disaster!

  1. Here I need to be pragmatic! It happens, it has to me many times, and probably will again, I have seen it with 3-4 of my athletes in races this year, so what do we do?
    1. FIRSTLY,  DO NOT MAKE ANY SNAP DECISIONS ON THE DAY. Most of us remember Stephen Redgrves comments on BBC after the Olympic final,”if anyone sees me near a boat again, you have my permission to shoot me” (*and this was after a win!)… yet 4 years later he was back.
      1. LESSON – don’t let the emotion over ride the pragmatism
      2. Now I was close to ignoring this on Sunday,  and sell everything and get out of racing.  I didn’t do that (yet!) and any decision WILL be pragmatic!
    2. When you have calmed down pragmatically analyse why , via self reflection and with me, your coach. There will be one, or varying factors that meant things did not go to plan.   Lets identify these and work out how we fix them.

Despite all of this I am still ‘processing’, and honestly its still probably bit raw!  What does the road ahead hold?

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For me now I need to heal, I need to decide IF I want to push myself through all the preparation again.  That is the fundamental question for me.  Most of the questions above I am satisfied with , the real question is can I motivate myself to do it again?

There is lots here, and I have tried to bring some of my own ‘real life’ experience to illustrate the questions and the process.

The very last question I am right now struggling with, is a tough one, Its not one I or anyone else could help someone else with.  This is innate and only something the individual can answer – But everything else, its a process. So follow that and make the right decisions!

To sum up in a number of key points I would say:

  1. Motivation & commitment , is it still there ? Only you can answer that, if you truly know what it will take to achieve your goals, can you, hand on heart ‘sign up to it’.  I’m not a half hearted kinda guy, All in or all out for me.  You may be different, but whatever, have you the motivation and staying power?
  2. Be realsistic, but stretching in your goals, with specific, measurable target results.
  3. Analyse all aspects of the result, whether its good or bad and be brutally honest with either why it all went so well OR what opportunities there are
    1. Training execution
    2. Pre- event preparation
    3. Race day execution
  4. Be pragmatic about external factors – BUT
    1. Be honest about them – are they truly external which you had NO control over
      1. DON’T use them to ‘hide behind’ other failings in prep or execution
    2. Work out how you can mitigate and minimise as much as possible, e.g.: if you cant cope well in hot conditions, lets target a race where we know it will be cooler
  5. Don’t be too harsh on yourself – be focused & objective, take learning’s but celebrate success
  6. Talk to other people ,get an objective and rationale view
  7. Don’t make snap decisions in the heat of the moment
  8. Remember its meant to be fun!

That last point probably should be point 2!!  too many of us can forget that…

Andy

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