Coaching – Backstorey
Will coaching be worth it? I mentioned this in my About Me however I have some experience riding. Whistler, Squamish and quite a bit of the lower mainland of Vancouver BC. I have even spent time riding in Scottsdale, AZ. I can get by and believe I am pretty good when pointed down.
About 4 months ago I found I was stagnating. I was riding consistently but I had no intelligent method to become a better rider with my limited group of riding buddies. How do you progress when you can’t find a group to ride with consistently that matches what you need for progression. “Ride more” you say, but it doesn’t suit my brain. I need to have clear, measurable and obtainable goals. While I was improving my skills on the trails, having a thought out plan really couldn’t hurt.
I can find an endless number of riders that operate way above my paygrade, however I always feel some guilt for slowing them down. I will ride with them, but the differential between us didn’t produce the results I wanted. They are also out to ride, not coach. So while they are willing to lead the line, not many people want to hang out and teach the slow poke.
Besides, most of my previous coaching was learned through bro-coaching with friends who were faster and better than me. Was it correct? Did it help or hurt? Did I even learn it properly? Those are all questions that I can’t answer, but after some coaching I do know I wasn’t doing it right.
I would categorize the two areas I want to improve are my overall skillset and my physical fitness. As an ex-powerlifter and large rider, I have a large amount of strength, for extremely short distances. I need to flip the script on my athletic ability and convert that to w/kg and cycling power over distance.
Coaching – Skillset
Using my google-fu, which is at a much higher skill level than my riding, I decided to try and find some local coaching. I wasn’t sure precisely what I was looking for but I did know I didn’t want a large group session with a bunch of young rippers. I wanted a smaller private session where I could be the focus.
The Learning Curve
I came across a small company in the Vancouver area who happens to have a coach who operates some sessions out of Burnaby. The Learning Curve proved to be a very affordable way to receive some immediate feedback on my form. I plan to review the session in more detail but you can find more information here.
Ryan Leech Connection
Earlier this year I found one of my favorite all time professional riders was offering online coaching. I have always admired his bike handling skills and was excited when I learned he was now sharing his knowledge through an online training program.
I am always wary of online coaching since it is tough for a provider to maintain that personal touch while making lessons for the masses. While this works in the tech space, I haven’t been pleased with this outside of this space. However the concept suits my travel schedule and availability.
I also intend to offer up a full review in the near future. My short review is, it is money well spent. It took me a while to find the private facebook offering, which adds incredible value to me, but the website and the coaching alone are worth it.
I have found many other sources in the area which I may use next season. A large unmentioned reason for me receiving coaching is safety. I want to push how I ride to the next levels, but I would rather not do this using trial and error risking major injury. Cycling is all about risk, and assessing that risk against your goals. As these pop up I will review those as well.
Coaching – Fitness
The grind up, that point where your legs hurt, your lungs are wrecked and you keep spinning those legs so you can get to the top. I hit this point faster than most, especially on climbs where I mentally fail. I know the game, I am on some boring road to the top of a wondrous mountain and I get stuck mentally. Bored to the point where I give up and get off because I am pedaling slower than I ride.
It should look like this
But really looks like this
Power to Weight – Skip the coaching
So how does a raw amateur get the sport specific coaching needed to improve cycling fitness. Well I had a duh moment in this assessment for a clydesdale. It immediately relates back to w/kg metric. How many watts, for your size can you push. The quickest way to effectively change this is drop weight. I admit freely I have some weight to lose, but judging by my lean mass, my “lean” weight will still be around 225 pounds. No featherweight. I have 0 interest in dropping muscle to become small and lean.
Strava itself is a simple tool utilizing the GPS on your phone to track segments of your ride. You can then compare those segment speeds against your previous speeds or even against other riders. It has some interesting group features when you ride with more than one person.
Mountain biking itself doesn’t suit a lot of metrics. Lots of variables based on terrain, weather and technical obstacles that aren’t measured in nice concise manners. The skills, and my ability to clear sections are far more immediately satisfying.
However, I can measure my HR and I can measure my own recorded times against my previous times on the same trail in similar conditions. Overall I have improved almost 45% in 2017. Regardless I focus less on the measuring and more on the riding, I ride in the woods to get away from my day job. Most of my rides I will spend sessioning sections which really doesn’t suit Strava. I still use it and I still make use of how I am doing, since in the end, I want to be a better mountain biker, not a better road cyclist.
Zwift – Virtual Cycling
Ok so this one appeals to the geek in me, as well as my inner gamer. Sort of, Virtual Reality in game training and racing. I don’t know if that is their sales pitch but it is what it is.
You need some equipment
- Cadence and speed bluetooth – check
- HR monitor – check
- Trainer – check
So I had all of the equipment to at least play. I signed up for a 7 day trial to give it a go. Initial impressions are reasonably positive. They have coaching, testing and racing. I found 99% of the rides blew me away, I almost wish they had a “beginner” section that eliminated the high level competition.
Think of it like a PVP 3rd person shooter. You get dropped in, and it has no metrics to stop the level 50 overloaded character to blow up your level 1. It is not competition and really no fun.
Add a simple algorithm to eliminate everyone 5 levels higher and it least becomes more interesting. It may well be that Zwift doesn’t care about my level of rider, or isn’t a “fitness” tool for anyone but ranked riders.
Again, I just started, and I will definitely offer up a more interesting review, and overall I do like it. Unfortunately I am semi competitive, and this product married to my current on road fitness, makes me feel like a 4 year old on a run bike.
Strength and Fitness
Mountain biking is more than just spinning the legs. It involve back, shoulder and core strength. While I can easily put together a traditional lifting routine and get stronger, this could be counter productive to riding.
When I lift, areas like my hips, hamstrings, chest and scapula end up tight. My hips and quads are an area I have always battled this tightness. These also happen to be the area I can generate the most raw strength.
I also have lingering injuries which cause limited mobility, a drop in power and functionality problems with the mechanics of movement.
Finding coaching specific to the sport has been interesting and difficult. I have found lots of conjecture however wanted something more concise, a plan and an explanation about that plan.
James Wilson operates a website and has created a system specific to mountain biking, including the stretching and mobility exercises. He has programs you can purchase and his online presence and reviews are quite good. I am going to test his system over the next few winter months to see if the program helps. (I also happened to buy into his pedaling innovation system)
In the end, maybe I should just ride more. Most of this is just me trying to get better and hopefully get something out of it. None of this removes my love of just being on the bike. This just adds an interesting layer for me to use when I can’t be on the bike.