How coaching other people made me faster

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I’ve been coached for a long time. It’s made me a much more committed athlete, but beginning to coach other people was a big turning point in getting the most out of my training. When you’re following a plan, the gains materialise slowly. The fitness creeps up, along with a creeping doubt that the plan is working. Or that a different plan might be better. Or that skipping one session won’t hurt your race performance in three months from now.

When I started coaching three years ago, all that changed. I saw every side of the equation. I saw the committed athlete that had done their workout before I’d even got up. Crushed every interval, done their cool down, uploaded their file and got to work before I’d even made a cup of tea. Sobering.

I saw the opposite. I saw one skipped workout turn into extra fatigue when a workout did happen. And the extra recovery needed to get over the sessions that did happen. I saw the slow accumulation of small indisciplines accumulate into missed goals. Poor results and low motivation often followed.

Training is a lonely endeavour. There are february mornings where the crucifying decision between jumping on the trainer and bundling up to ride outside is too much to take. First world problems you say? Try holding that perspective when it’s you that’s getting on the trainer. Seeing your athletes get out and do it gives you no excuse when it’s your turn.

When you’re a coach yourself, you see what work people are willing to do, and the individual variety that skews that dreamy periodisation into what we actually end up doing. The bursts of drive that turn to weeks of staleness. I see now how a couple missed sessions one week could turn into too much riding the next. I see now how those unplanned big weeks of riding turned into a head cold the next week.

This year I coached some amazing people. A rider stretched themselves and their motivation to the limit to achieve a huge dream of top 10 at Collegiate National Championships. An experienced Master’s racer threw all he knew out the window to follow my intensity driven plan – and succeeded in winning the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series. I had a brand new rider aim for a 10 hour Leadville finish, and blow us both away with a time close to 8 hours instead.

All it took was plain old boring consistency. Knowing that consistency is all it takes is a great feeling going into the winter when time abounds, but motivation can wane. Stick with it and it will pay off.

Winter Park Press Trip

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I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Winter Park this week, in order to show Jason Sumner around “MTB Capital USA” (aka the larger Winter Park area). I’ve spent a lot of time up in Grand County before, although not much recently. It was great to have a solid base to explore from, and pre-arranged locals to give me some guiding.

 

It’s been even longer since I’d headed to Granby Ranch. The bike park used to be called Sol Vista, and when I first arrived in Colorado in 2010, it was the hot place. Everyone was always heading up there to ride, and their trail development was a good few years ahead of anywhere else. Some changes at the ski area cut off their momentum though, and they’re now back and rebranded as Bike Granby Ranch. We looked around the XC trails for a while before hitting the lifts, and I was happy that the memories of good trails didn’t disappoint. The riding was great!

Coney Flats road – exploring the western reaches of Boulder County

I took Denzel Stephenson and Cassidy Bailey up to the Indian Peaks on Sunday for a ride in the high country. They’re both juniors who are riding for Boulder Cycle Sport this year. They’re coached by Pete Webber, and he wanted them to ride with some other people while he’s out the country. I obliged. It’s super fun riding with them, as they imagine trails and lines differently than I do.

We headed up Coney Flats Road, a rough and unkempt jeep road, before hitting the Wilderness boundary and descending down Buchanan Pass road. For a majority dirt road ride, we had a lot of fun. They’re willing to play on all kinds of trails, and see lined that I haven’t seen since I was 16. It’s good to watch. We hit a lot of water on the trail, some of it traversed by amazing trestles, other puddles we had to plow right on through.

We finished the ride off by hitting an out and back on Buchanan Pass trail. It’s one of the best secrets in Boulder County – right next to the Wilderness boundary. We didn’t get to the top as we’d already ridden for three hours, but it was worth it none the less.

Not the Firebird

The Firebird 40 was scheduled to happen on Sunday, but typical early season Colorado weather moved in over the weekend and made the course unrideable. British people regularly chuckle at American MTB races getting cancelled due to rain, but the weather and trail systems work a little different over here. A lot of the trails are actually on public property, so the idea of riding them in less than ideal conditions is not actually possible. Secondly, the mud over here is often very clay like – making it impossible to make progress due to your bike getting clogged up. Hence – no race in Eagle on Sunday. I was a little disappointed, as the pre-rides had shown the course was fantastic, and with 8000 feet of climbing, it would have been a challenge.

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Early Spring in the high country

After almost a month of spring-like weather, the protective snowy blanket covering the hills is slowly lifting. March always gives us a glimpse of the good weather to come, but frequent spring storms ensure that it’s another six weeks until things become rideable. Now the weather is predictable; the Front Range is already in early summer, with the thunderstorms that go with it, but higher up, the flowers are yet to bloom, and the trees are devoid of leaves.

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Amasa Back at Sunrise

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Looking over the rocks from Amasa Back to the La Sal Mountains

Morning after the Thaw Massacre. It was a tough race. I wake up achy. But the trail is in need of being ridden. I want to get back to Boulder as soon as I can, but to make the weekend worthwhile, another ride has to be squeezed in. 5:45 AM. Choking down oatmeal. Dark outside, the breakfast room of the hotel is empty. The lady behind the counter sorts her wares in preparation for the rush of hungry mountain bikers yet to descend on the mounting stack of sausages. We’ll be gone by then. On the trail.

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An escape to Utah

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Christa and I have a plan to be fully mobile humans. As much as we love our little home in Boulder, it’s nice when we can escape for a bit and see the wild beauty all around us. Living in the west of the US, we have a huge expanse of countryside to explore. Too much for one lifetime. We did a trial run of mobile-living this week in Moab. With WiFi and coffee, Moab was chosen so we could actually be productive, while spending the 6 hours a day we didn’t have to work doing something other than sitting on the sofa. We joined the hoardes of adventurers that fill up this desolate landscape in the spring.

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Devil’s Backbone trail: Remembering how to Mountain Bike

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I got my new bike from Boulder Cyclesport in the middle of February. The earliest I’ve ever got a new bike. It was great. But there was also a problem. There weren’t any trails (within a six-hour drive) dry, and I wasn’t about to destroy a brand new bike in Colorado’s special blend of snowy-sand-slush. So I had to wait. Social Meedja has been filled with friends either training in Tuscon, or preparing to race the US Cups in California. Sun-filled, tan-lined photos have flashed up before me as I’ve been riding on the road or skiing. But patience is a virtue, especially when our MTB season extends from the beginning of March until the end of September. I have time.

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With that mindset, I headed north to Loveland, Colorado with Bryan. Not exactly known as a mountain bike mecca, Loveland has exactly one trail, but it’s a beauty. The Devil’s Backbone trail is about 5 miles long, and ridden as an out and back. The trailhead was packed, and we could see an ant-like procession wandering up the strip of dirt away from the car park. I was worried we had picked the wrong spring Saturday for our trail time. We hit the dirt and friend-passed as many people as possible. A friend-pass is where you are disgustingly polite and smiley to every person you meet, no matter how oblivious they are to your presence. It’s annoying, but it’s about the only way mountain bikes are tolerated on multi-use trails on the Front Range.

Soon, we’d reached the half-mile threshold, and the hikers disappeared. It’s a known fact that traveling more than half a mile from a trailhead is the easiest way to avoid crowds. From here on, Bryan and I had the trail almost entirely to ourselves. Enough so that we could stop and session multiple sections of trail without anyone passing us. The trail climbs quickly onto a ridge-line, the main reason most of the hikers don’t make it that far. From there, jagged sandstone ridges cross the trail, creating a series of step ups and step down that are super tricky. It’s a great way to test some new equipment, re-learn things that should be second memory, and generally have a good time. We did all of those things. The middle, empty section of trail allowed us to pick up some speed and find the proverbial flow. It was needed. From rusty half-movements leading to dabs and rock scraps, I ended the day confident that I would be back at it soon enough.

An escape to the desert

Colorado: the Rocky Mountains slice the state in half. The east is a never ending expanse of grassland rolling for hundreds of miles towards Kansas: an unknown land not explored by most who live on the Front Range. To the west of the Rockies, the high desert sprawls in sharp red sandstone mesas towards Utah. The Colorado river cuts a clean line through the arid countryside and forms a playground in the sand. That was our destination. We were in Edwards for the week – in the middle of the mountains. It cut the drive to Fruita in half. It would have been rude to not take advantage of a quick trip to the trails. Two hours from dumping snow at Vail to ripping dry trails in the desert.

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