It's not all about the numbers
Last time I recommended that cyclists should do some running once or twice a week, so following my own advice, I was out on Monday for about an hour. At one stage I found myself running 50 meters behind another guy for two kilometres. During that time he must have looked at his wrist at least 29 times. At first I thought he had some kind of a twitch or something, but then I realised that he was actually looking at his watch all the time. At one point he even stumbled as he clipped the edge of a footpath whilst looking at that watch and it made me wonder about how reliant many people have become on technology when out running or cycling.
During my career I wasn’t a great one for technology. One year the team were all using these Avocet bike computers that had a sensor going down to the front wheel and I didn’t even have mine connected. I found it a bit of a distraction.
Nowadays, when I go to sportives or corporate cycling events, I often meet guys with bigger dashboards on their bikes than I have in my jeep. They can rattle off all sorts of stats and numbers but sometimes they are the very first ones to go south when the road starts to rise uphill. Something that really brought this home to me was a chat that I had at a sportive one day with a guy that I have met at many events around Ireland. Normally he could turn up anywhere with a buddy of his. Last time we met he was on his own and I asked where his buddy was. The reply that I received disappointed me. His buddy had bought a power meter, found some training program on the internet and then turned around and told the guy who he had been cycling with every weekend for over ten years that they couldn’t really train together anymore as he needed to do more specific sessions that weren’t conducive to the type of training that they had a always been doing together. There are probably other guys out there at present like that, half delighted with the excuse for training alone that the Corona virus has given them to train only with their figures and numbers.
Sometimes I go to watch local races here in Ireland At one race last year l met a guy who I knew, and asked how he had done in the race. Normally he is as strong as a bull so I was half expecting him to say that he had won or at least been in the top six. He shook his head when I asked and then told me that he wasn’t able to stay with the bunch. I asked if he had been sick or anything like that. Then the explanation came and all was revealed. This guy is a pig farmer and works very hard all week long. In an effort to improve his performance he bought a Heart Rate monitor and this was the first race that he had used it in. He told me that when he looked down at one stage and saw some high number he knew something wasn’t right, so he backed off and got dropped. If he didn’t have the Heart Rate monitor chances are he would have just dug in, suffered on a bit and stayed with the bunch. He might have even gone on to get a result at the finish.
Technology has its place in cycling for sure. If a professional is preparing for a key race, along with his coach, he can look at his numbers and be able to tell pretty accurately how he is going. Training can be adjusted daily to suit and confidence can be built outside of that gained by race results themselves.
People who are really busy can also benefit from using technology to peak for events in the short term. They can do really specific training in short amounts of time to build power and physical fitness. However, they may be missing out on the skills and abilities that longer days in the saddle can only provide.
Turbo trainers are coming into a world of their own at present. People can do a form of a group ride on Zwift and it keeps them in touch with others along with maintaining and building fitness. You even have many professionals and amateurs alike racing on there at present. Will this transfer across to real world results when racing opens up again? Probably not. Some will burn themselves out, physically and mentally. Others may believe that they are going better than they really are and take a hit to their confidence when numbers stop matching results. By all means it is a very worthwhile training tool but it is not a replacement for the road.
You can’t train for a wet and windy day inside your sitting room looking out the window. You can’t learn to handle your bike on a slippery descent looking at a screen. You can’t learn what clothing to wear to keep your body warm without overheating in freezing rain from inside a garden shed.
Cycling is a beautiful sport and a fantastic activity, for body and mind. I must have over 1 million km’s in my legs by now, but I still look forward to pretty much every time I go out for a spin on my bike, except when its blowing a storm and lashing rain as it sometimes is here in Ireland. Even then, when you get back home and have a warm shower you get the good feelings again. I never get sick of cycling and still train three or four times per week. I enjoy the fresh air, the wind on my face and the joy of a tailwind on the way home. I still get a buzz from the gallop for a yellow signpost at the end of a weekend group ride. Adrenaline still courses through my veins as I push my bike towards its limit on a fast descent. Cycling to me is not just a numbers game, it is a way of life.