Progression as a coached athlete
The latest blog from multiple Welsh National Champion, Rebecca Richardson.
I really like this piece from Rebecca of how she has matured as an athlete throughout out time working together. It emphasises how there's not a "one size fits all" approach to coaching. As she's matured as a rider, I've given her a lot more autonomy in the prescription of her training, and have become more a guiding hand - setting the annual plan and periodisation of aspects of her training. It's created another level of "buy in to the process" that so far has produce excellent results.
(Liam Holohan - Holohan Coaching owner)
The mindset of a person following a pursuit of passion must to some level switch at some point from being a moment and desire, to an actual pursuit and ergo identity. At some point in the last four years I have switched from carrying out the act of cycling, to taking on the full identity as a cyclist. This switch in mindset doesn’t come without its pains and discomforts. Similar to learning an instrument or finishing a degree, the hard work comes in simply doing the work. The fantasy and dream long gone, the idealistic notions replacing with the realities of, at times, hard won training rides. There are spells in training where I have wanted to kick the bucket and spill the milk, just to add a bit of spice, and this can be easy to do when the goals seem far away or motivation is waning. This can result in most cases doing a ride that is a long stretch from the planned session. A year ago I remembered venting my frustrations by smashing out a ride only two days after a stage race, it was a massively inappropriate way to vent my emotions. A stress ball would have sufficed and had less damage on my body!
It is really difficult sometimes to listen to a coach, even when I know they are right. That is because emotions and desires can often override our human logic. This is especially true of motivated people, and Liam has often commented that one of his main roles as my coach is to prevent me doing too much. At times I have annoyed myself at how my progression in understanding the training is then undermined by nonsensical actions I can sometimes take, such going too hard in an interval session, constantly trying to push the numbers, eek them out. Over the four years, I have constantly pushed the envelope of each training period (base, build and race) and at times I criticise myself for my childish impatience to always ‘do more’. Yet, the overarching reason is because I do desperately want to understand and unlock how I could be better as an athlete.
Liam has always instilled a sense of trust. Almost four years ago, I chose to invest 12 months into his process. In the first 12 months of training I went from being a club rider doing the local 10’s to a twice Welsh Champion and twice podium at Welsh Championships (road race, 25mile TT, 12hr TT, and the Hill Climb). As an amateur athlete, Liam meticulously guided me through the subsequent year as a team rider. And then through the successful hill climb season 2019, with 18 consecutive wins. We have always discussed the balance; being an athlete has to be sustainable across all areas of my life, so that family and work are not compromised. I have always felt like I needed Liam to guide the ‘training’ ship, so that I could focus on my work and family without the added stress of attempting to understand the science of training.
Then as lockdown approached, it started to redefine a new paradigm and chapter in my mindset towards training. With the temptation of racing gone, it also removed a big stress which comes from resisting the desire to race unfettered, and sometimes to the determinant of an overarching goal (A-race). During the initial phase of lockdown, Liam and I continued a cycle of training and coaching, which accumulated in a timed effort up the famous Horseshoe Pass. I surpassed my power (watts) over a similar period of time to hill climb races I did in 2019, and it proved to be a powerful lesson in ‘trusting the process’, Liam was able to point out to me that we achieved the goal without the need / perceived stimulus of racing. Perhaps it is common among amateur athletes to believe that you ‘race to fitness’ or that by racing hard you will get better. Paradoxically, consistent and methodical training, where you do hard sessions and then easy sessions provides the perfect environment for adaptation towards getting stronger and faster. As Liam pointed out, this way we can adopt a targeted approach to the training, that is specific to me, my physiology and goals.
The other aspect about lockdown was the forced restrictions to travel, which meant less time driving. This offered another big insight into how much more ready I was to train, as typically I would be very tired after driving to races over weekends. Even the mental preparation to each race is very tiring and so it is very hard to realise training adaptations and benefits if you are travelling and racing each week.
I take two main points away with me:
1. Trust the process - training works. You don’t need to race to get that ‘top end’.
2. If you are relaxed and happy (not tired and stressed by travelling & resisting temptations) - you train better and grow stronger.
Over the month of May, Liam changed his approach to my training to give more flexibility prior to us starting a new base period. This time I turned off Strava and started exploring old lanes and new green lanes, and new routes in my area. Each ride was proving to be a delight and an adventure, I was listening to my body and observing how I seem to be intuitively doing the ‘right’ thing, sticking in the zones that make sense for this period of training, really listening to my body and thinking about how I want it to grow stronger. The focus and intent has narrowed down to only one goal. One race (yet confirmed due to the global pandemic). By reflecting on how the temptation to race has been removed because of lockdown, I realised that I can also remove other temptations, such as Strava kudos and QOM’s. I have started purposefully riding heavy cumbersome bikes, but which with easier gears for staying in the right zone on steep climbs, opens the doors to exploring the networks of lanes within a 5mile radius of my home. I stay off main roads where boredom can force you into going faster, and find better releases of dopamine in discovering beautiful little lanes and cross-country routes, where going slow means enjoying the experience.
This small revelation of how intrinsic motivations and the commitment to a singular goal is far more rewarding than a short-lived ‘smash it’ ride / race, has led to a new rider-coach relationship. I will set my own training with Liam providing guidance and over-view along with weekly goals. I feel a new level of responsibility in his trust in me to do this, and also a level of autonomy which makes me feel more in control of my training and has created and even greater level of “buy in” to our Annual Training Plan, leading up to my key event. I am sure his job will prove to be more time consuming as he has to look at each ride / plan to determine whether he agrees but shows his commitment as a coach to see an athlete progress.
Let’s see how this goes!
Listening to your body
Riding and training intuitively
Intent and focus