Notes from the Grup­petto

Over­com­ing an ‘off’ sea­son

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Bart En­gal

On May 2, I was 10 min­utes into a the lo­cal crit and it was all suf­fer­ing. I knew I was ex­hausted. Sure enough, the field rode away from me. I sat up and waited for the field to come around again and got back in. There were 10 more min­utes of suf­fer­ing, and then I was dropped. Then five min­utes and dropped again. Then I did some­thing that I had never done dur­ing the past few years: I got off my bike and stopped rac­ing. As I sat down on the curb, all I could think was, “What is hap­pen­ing to me this year?”

As my loyal read­ers know, it wasn’t sup­posed to be like this. I went into this past race sea­son with am­bi­tions – if not for great­ness and glory, then at least for con­tin­ued, in­cre­men­tal progress.

My first race was a ver­i­ta­ble hu­mil­i­a­tion as I was spat out the back of the pack just a few laps into my first crit. From that tragic yet en­joy­able de­but, I pro­gressed to fin­ish­ing a race, to rid­ing with the field com­fort­ably, to try­ing this whole sprint­ing thing, to get­ting on the podium, and then last year, to fi­nally ac­tu­ally win­ning a road race. So con­tin­ued progress in 2017 seemed a given.

Well, it didn’t quite go like that. Af­ter an off-sea­son of hard train­ing, I had de­cent form in early races but was feel­ing ex­hausted much of the time. Af­ter my cus­tom­ary flat in the Good Fri­day race, I raced the Cal­abo­gie road race. I was third wheel in the sprint, but un­like last year, I had no snap and the field swarmed me, leav­ing me with a mid­dling 14th. Post-race I was drained, but dou­bled down and spent the next week go­ing hard in my work­outs to try to sharpen the knife. It didn’t work. I had to quit mid­way through a work­out. My so­lu­tion? Go race again. (Makes sense, right?) And so it was on May 2, I found my­self get­ting off my bike.

What was hap­pen­ing to me? I felt like a horse that had been flogged so many times that it de­cided one day to say to its jockey, “Enough! I will run no more.” I had just cracked. The ex­haus­tion, the pres­sure I’d placed on my­self, noth­ing was en­joy­able.

Af­ter three great years with my coach, I switched to An­drew Ran­dell at The Cy­cling Gym. Ran­dell an­a­lyzed my power files from the past two years. He con­cluded that al­though my num­bers were strong, I had been do­ing so much VO2 work that my body just reached the point where it said, “No more.” He sold me on mak­ing a long-term com­mit­ment to build­ing my aer­o­bic base, so I could race more ef­fi­ciently, with fewer burnt matches.

I be­gan train­ing again, do­ing long (4–5 hours) en­durance rides with a steady heat rate. My body didn’t want to deal with the in­ten­sity. This change was also a great way to re­con­nect with the sport I loved. By June, I was ready to do a few races. I had a good TT re­sult and de­cent re­sult in provin­cials. I raced my moun­tain bike and had a blast. Then in July, I went to Van­cou­ver and raced a Cat. 3 crit, get­ting in the break and ul­ti­mately get­ting a top 10.

Over­all, the stats for my year were dis­ap­point­ing. But I’m al­ready look­ing ahead to 2018. Af­ter four years in On­tario’s low­est masters cat­e­gory, I’ve de­cided to up­grade with ap­proval from the On­tario Cy­cling As­so­ci­a­tion thanks to my past years’ re­sults. I’ve en­joyed fo­cus­ing on my train­ing and my fit­ness gains. I’ve learned an im­por­tant les­son: your body is not a ma­chine that au­to­mat­i­cally per­forms as you’d like. Life hap­pens – from kids who don’t sleep through the night to fa­tigue to bad luck – and you can’t get too down when you get to spend 400 hours a year on your bike. As I’ve writ­ten be­fore, it’s about the process not the out­comes. This year was a good re­minder that the process is worth it.

“I’ve learned an im­por­tant les­son: your body is not a ma­chine that au­to­mat­i­cally per­forms as you’d like.”

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Eg­nal slogs through the 2017 On­tario pro­vin­cial road cham­pi­onships

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