I stopped by the residence of Sara Bresnick-Zocci this morning, courtesy of her newest protege' who had some business to take care of there, and Sara was telling us in a totally intense but playful, hand-wavy sort of way about the drama of her race duffle at BC Bike Race (which she won, BTW). For those of you who aren't familiar with the processes and procedures of the point-to-point, multi-day stage race, you get a duffle bag when you arrive. Everything you need for seven days of racing goes in the duffle, anything that doesn't fit stays at the start. No Exceptions. Anyway, so Sara is going on to tell us how she shows up on registration day, gets the duffle and has the instant reaction of, "Are you KIDDING?", combined with a visceral reaction of panic, as there was no conceivable way for her to fit everything she thought was "essential" in the bag. (read it in her words on her blog) It was a huge drama, she had to give some stuff to this person, repack that thing, and all in all had a terrible time for a number of hours as a result of this little black bag.
From my own experience in stage-racing, this is the typical first-timer phenomenon, (On my first TransRockies, my teammate totally made friends with a guy driving an RV who humped a bagful of our crap halfway across BC.) but the bag isn't the problem, it's a symptom. First timers want to make sure they do everything exactly right. They have a different drink mix for before, during, after and thinking about each day's race, and they have a fresh pair of camp socks for every day. The same is true for training. You've got your P4 workout, and your E2, and M1, and UGH! By your 5th stage-race you've got a couple water bottles, maybe enough kits to get you through the week, and you didn't bother with camp socks because every minute you're not riding you're planning to be asleep.
The duffle bag is a great metaphor for an endurance racer's life. There's only so much that fits inside of it, no matter what you do. The more tightly packed with different things it is the more time you have to spend micro-managing the stuff, and the less time you get to spend doing something else, like say, sleeping. If you pack the bag with the minimum set of items, maximize interchangeability and enforce a little bit of order, then you can almost always reach into the bag and pull out exactly what you want on the first try without wasting any time on management. Experience helps you slowly whittle down your bag of stuff to what's important, leaving you unburdened by extra baggage or complication.
Applied to the real world this boils down to simplify, simplify, simplify. Chris Eatough, the undisputed god of endurance racing, has one element to his training plan: ride mountain bike. (To be fair he also does "cross-training" that consists of pushups and core exercises.) He doesn't even ride his road bike any more, just takes the mountain bike out on the street. Don't over-complicate your training. Don't over-complicate your life. Build yourself a routine and find a steady rhythm. If your girlfriend, all your friends and your boss are cyclists all of this simplicity and routine stuff should be a cinch--as long as you don't spend too much time with Friel--but if you're not the luckiest person on earth remember balance. When your cycling creates problems in your life it also creates problems in your cycling, and problems are the antithesis of simplicity.
This weekend Eric and I should be working out our training plans for the winter. We'll be sure to let you in on what we discuss and what we come up with.