Athletes sometimes like to label themselves as a “sprinter” or a “climber”, but these labels can also be limiters. Coach Trina talks about the benefits of racing out of your comfort zone, and what she has learned from personal experience.
Racing outside of your comfort zone, by Trina Jacobson
Why do races that don’t play to your strengths? The short answer is that it challenges you both mentally and physically.
To enter an event that doesn’t play to your strengths takes some self evaluation:
- Can I physically do this?
- What is a realistic goal for this race?
- What do I need to do differently for this race compared to others?
And the answers to the above questions begin the mental challenge of knowing you’ll perform to your abilities, skills, and fitness not to your hopes and dreams. Managing these expectations with regards to THIS event, prepares you for expectation management in events you are already strong in.
For example, when I line up at a local criterium, there is a fair amount of confidence in my abilities to perform well based on past performance. This is my strength, and I've done so many of them that the fear of the unknown is gone, because I’ve done most everything you can do in a crit: blown up and spit out the back, lapped multiple times, helped teammates win, won with the help of teammates, won without teammates, etc.
A road race with any kind of sustained climb does not play to my strength, however I have entered a few road races. Could I physically do this? Yes, I could physically ride the distance and elevation. I may not be doing it with the rest of the field, but I could do it. What is a realistic goal for this race? 1) stay with the group for a long as possible/longer than the last time and 2) help my teammates when I’m able to. What do I need to do differently for this race compared to others? 1) train a little differently, race a little differently and 2) eat a lot.
After completing what would become my best ever effort in a road race, I was completely spent and it took me days to recover physically. This is what I learned and how my crit racing has improved:
- I had never gone as hard for as long as I did that day —> no excuses to skip out on an interval on a training ride (as long as you aren’t harming yourself).
- I actually emptied the tank —> I have never emptied the tank in a crit, but now that I know what it feels like, let’s do it.
- I am a good teammate —> I have a deeper appreciation for my teammates that work for me in a race, which helps with the race-time communication.
- I was stressed before the race because I didn't know how it would go —> I managed my stress successfully and I can use that skill at any race (or life event).
All of these things can be summed up by: My cycling as a whole is richer. My skills, experiences, and connections were deepened and strengthened. I have new and better appreciation for the local crits and have challenged myself further by taking it to the next level of a few races on the national level.
These lesson apply to racers as well as non racers, Pushing outside of your comfort zone can also help the gran fondo rider or the weekend warrior who goes to the local group rides. Try some rides that push you both mentally and physically and reap the rewards.