Levels in Sports

Levels in Sports

By Sandy Scott

I have always been intrigued by the phenomenon of levels in sports.  My mission is not to write about the obvious levels in sports such as those demonstrated by the likes of Lance Armstrong and Michael Phelps, but to expound on the subject in relation to how levels tend to bring us personally back to our own sports reality, and facing that reality, how we should respond. 

My first conscious awareness of this subject was when I was an avid tennis player in the early 70s.  I played almost daily at a tennis club in Forest Hills, N.Y.  The club champion and runner-up were doubles partners and they would thrash any doubles team who had the audacity to challenge their prowess.  They were the local club tennis “studs,” and most of us coveted their skills.  They entered a doubles tournament in New York City, and I was looking forward to watching others than myself fall victim to their incredible skills.  I was astounded as I watched them get soundly defeated by another team certainly well above their “A” player status.  Levels!

My first painful experiences with levels in sports came about through running.  I was a high school miler in the 50s, and I returned to the sport at the age of 34.  My first goal was to break five minutes for a mile.  It was not a particularly easy task in that to achieve that goal, the six-minute barrier stood in my way first.  Finally, at a Masters track meet on Randalls Island, NY, I clocked an incredibly painful, but delightfully exciting 4:57.

I was elated, and probably felt similar to Roger Banister the day he became the first person to break the four-minute mile barrier.  My elation was short lived when I read that Bill Rogers had just run 2:09:27 at the Boston Marathon equivalent to running twenty-six (26) 4:57 miles in a row without stopping!  Levels!

My Masters running career was becoming very successful, and I was winning many first place age group trophies and medals.  I often finished among the top few places in large, open road races.  In 1979, I won first sub-master prize (I was 39 at the time) in a cross country championship at the venerable course (known as “The Rock” for good cause) at Van Courtland Park in the Bronx, N.Y.  It was a very difficult course comprised of two laps when the distance contested was 10 kilometers. 

The start was on a grassy flat that led to a very difficult trek through narrow, climbing, twisting, blind turns strewn with vegetation and rocks.  The footing was quite treacherous, and often, it was necessary to hurdle a fellow competitor who had fallen.  The runner would pass through an area known as Cemetery Hill (it apparently was an old Indian burial ground) which I always thought was appropriately named based on the way I typically felt at that juncture of the race.  Finally and mercifully, the runner entered the flats again only to be confronted by a repeat of the above described course negotiating lap 2.

I finally turned 40, and I was enjoying many wins in the Masters category at various road and track running events.  One of my career highlights was winning first place master’s prize by a margin of 40 seconds at a road race with hundreds of participants covered by Sports Illustrated. One of my most enjoyable experiences was pacing prolific author, teammate and cardiologist, Dr. George Sheehan (the then medical editor of Runner’s World magazine) to an American age group record for 1500 meters at the AAU Eastern Regional Masters Track Championships at Princeton University.  I was starting to think that I was a pretty darn good runner.  I fantasized to myself, “I probably could have been an Olympian had I never stopped running after high school.”  I was however, about to get a dramatic demonstration of the phenomenon of levels.

Fast forward to the cross country championships at Van Courtland Park the next year.  I had trained very hard that year to win the gold as the Masters cross country champion.  On race day, there were the usual familiar faces from the racing circuit except for one chap, a rather fit looking stranger.  The gun sounded, and the aforementioned runner left the rest of the pack in the dust.  I commented to another competitor with whom I had raced on numerous occasions, “This guy is going blow up very quickly.” 

I was soon running in second place (behind the breakaway runner), and when we entered the hills, I lost track of the runner in front of me due to all of the turns, trees, and brush.  Finally, I broke out on to the flats, and my suspicion was confirmed – the other runner had apparently dropped out, and I was leading the race!  I pushed myself wanting to post a good time, and entered the dreaded hills for the second 5K loop of the race. 

The practice at this meet was for an official to hand an ice cream stick to each competitor as he finished, with his place embossed upon it.  I made a last valiant sprint to better my winning time, contorted my face in an “enhanced” grimace for the benefit of the press and photographers, and fell to the ground clutching my first place stick.  I lay there moaning and retching from the effort, and finally recovered enough to glance down at my stick which mistakenly sported the number “2” on it.  I staggered over to one of the officials to point out the error, and gasped to him as I approached, “You gave me the wrong stick – I won the race and my stick says 2nd place.”  He pointed to my right at the runner who I thought had dropped out of the race and said, “He won the race.”

Oscar Moore, a 1964 Olympian at 5 kilometers had not dropped out of the race, but had won by a substantial margin in a new Masters course record time.  He had apparently never stopped running and was currently the track coach at Glassboro State University.  He had trained hard for this championship event which was going to be his (very successful) masters running debut.  I’m too embarrassed to tell you Mr. Moore’s winning margin, but I had just gotten my best ever demonstration of Levels in Sport!!  I also got a close up look at a true Olympian – not a wannabe such as myself!  Levels!

So here you are, a hardcore competitor who is used to winning first place in your category at whatever sport you happen to participate in.  The day of reckoning rears its ugly head and you come up against your equivalent of Oscar Moore in your next competition.  What do you do?  Do you give up because you must be the best?  Do you get depressed or become impossible to live with?  Do you find another sport?  The answer is “none of the above.”  We must each realize and acknowledge that there is always someone who is going to be faster, better, more skilled, etc.  We must turn the experience into something positive.  Let the phenomenon of levels work for you – not discourage you.

After my ill-fated meeting with Oscar Moore, I trained even harder than before, and I continued to set personal bests in subsequent years.  Unfortunately, I never met the chap again in competition.  Had that happened, he might have defeated me, but I can guarantee you that it would have been by a much lesser margin than our first meeting.  I might have even kicked his butt!

In March of 2005, I had been cycling for just a few months, and, much to my glee, I discovered that I apparently had good genetics for the sport.  I was “hanging” with the fast boys and started to consider the possibility of competing.  I decided to enter one of the many Senior Games events offered throughout the year in Florida, and decided on an out-of-the-way venue where I could probably start my racing career with a win.  The event was a 5 kilometer time trial, and I raced my heart out only to discover that not only did I not win (I took second), but I had lost by 33 seconds over a rather short distance!  “Maybe bicycle racing was not for me,” I thought as a silver medal was hung around my neck.

The person who had defeated me, was Leon Burk, a multiple state and national time trial and road race champion who had broken numerous time trial records.  In that obscure venue, I had stumbled on to a competition with one of the best racers in the country in my age group!  As an aside, Leon is one of the most incredible gentlemen one could ever hope to meet.  He is the prototype of a nice, unassuming, modest, but extremely talented man – the type of guy who you almost don’t want to defeat.

I had run into another example of levels, but I used it to inspire me rather than discourage me.  I vowed that I would train diligently and someday – although it seemed an impossible dream at the time – defeat Leon in a time trial race. I kept a picture of him riding his time trial bike on my computer.  Finally a year and 10 months subsequent to the first meeting, I defeated Leon in a 5K time trial.  The margin was a mere 3 seconds, but I was elated. 

Off the subject of levels for a moment: Let your defeats and failures inspire you.  I mentioned in an earlier article dealing with the subject of time trial racing, that at the 2007 Senior Olympics, I went off course in a 10K time trial that I was sure I would win.  I must honestly say that I still cannot help but thinking, “what if,” but I used the incident to inspire me to become a better cyclist. I trained harder than ever, and as of this writing, I have not lost another time trial in a year and nine months since the incident at the Olympics.

Train hard, treat your losses as inspirational fodder, and, perhaps, someday a competitor will tell the tale of the time he crossed your path only to have the phenomenon of levels painfully demonstrated to him or her!

Sandy Scott


© Sandy Scott,  May 2009



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Racing a Cycling Time Trial – Part 3

The Race


by Sandy Scott


You have completed a thorough warm up, and it is 10 minutes until your start time.  Earlier, you have checked to make sure that the start times are going as scheduled.  Prior to getting to your place in line, put your bicycle in the gear with which you will start the race. I typically start in 53-14 assuming no wind and a flat roadway at the starting line.  If you start in too low a gear, you will spin out too quickly leading to unnecessary early shifting.  If you start in too high a gear, your legs will be forced to make a harder effort than needed to efficiently get off the line.  You need to try this in practice to find your own best starting gear and then consider start conditions.  Some of the variables include an up or down slope, tailwind, fast, sharp turn just off the line, ramp start, holder or foot-down start.


I have had the experience of my chain coming off while being held for the start and pedaling backwards to position my cranks to clip in with my second foot.  Because bar-end shifters are constantly variable, it is easy to not be precisely in gear with them.  Upon completion of shifting into your starting gear, roll your cranks backwards for a few repetitions to assure yourself that the chain will not come off at the starting line.


There is a tendency for competitors to line up for a time trial much too early – a time that would be better spent completing a thorough warm up.  You will find many of them casually chatting as they await their turn to start.  You, on the other hand, will take your starting place minutes before your scheduled start.  Your engine will be well warmed up, and you will be ready to immediately commence a hard effort without shocking your body and getting needless lactic acid buildup.  You will have time to chat when you collect your gold medal.


When you are number one in line, pull your bike up to the starting line, clip in with one foot, apply your brake(s), and confirm with your holder that he or she has you securely held prior to clipping in with your second foot.  Some competitors do not feel comfortable being clipped in and balanced by a holder.  If you do not wish to be held, inform the starters of that fact as you pull up to the start position.  Place the pedal of your power leg at the 2 o’clock position in preparation for coming off the line with a powerful down stroke.  Reset your computer to zero so you have an independent measure of your time and accurate distance.   You don’t want to be manipulating anything but your pedals when you are given the “go” signal.  If you are using a heart-rate monitor, start it with five (5) seconds to go in the countdown, and get out of the seat in preparation for the release by your holder.  When the starter finishes your countdown, accelerate very briskly to get up to race pace.  A fast start is particularly important in a short time trial such as one contested over 5K.  Remember, often fractions of a second separate the finishers and you don’t want to lose the race due to poor start. 


As an aside, a study of running milers showed that coming off the line very fast in the first 10 seconds led to no more of an anaerobic state than coming off the line slower.  The same holds true for a cycling start.  Let’s assume that your planned average speed for a 5K race is 25 mph.  Remember, you are not only starting from zero, but most time trial races have a 180 degree turn at the half way point where you can lose most of your momentum.  This means that when you are looking at your computer, you had better be looking at more than 25 mph in order to achieve your planned average. 


Continue your acceleration, look down the road, and when you have reached your race pace, settle back into your seat and on to your aero bars.  Often times, your adrenalin will carry you to speeds much too fast to sustain.  I, for example, am often surprised when I first check my computer to discover that I am doing over 30 mph.  Slowly let your speed bleed off to your planned race pace.  Understand that speed can be VERY misleading in that there might be a head/tail wind and/or down or up slope.  For those of you who use power meters, wattage is the ultimate gauge of effort. 


There are many conflicting philosophies and techniques as to how to properly race a time trial.  Some coaches advise to treat the first half of the race as if it were the whole race, and then use everything that you have left to race the second half.  I don’t always agree with this.  Assuming no wind, I have found that I can achieve the best times by racing a negative split; i.e., racing the second half of the race faster than the first half.  The danger with the opposite strategy is blowing up prior to the finish.


 My philosophy of racing on windy days is a bit different.  Many racers are quite conservative when the starting leg is into the wind.  They try to conserve energy reasoning that they will make it up by going very fast on the downwind leg.  In these conditions, especially in a short race like the commonly-contested 5K at Senior Games events, I treat the headwind portion of the race as if the turnaround point is the finish line.  I know through experience that once I turn around, I will be able to still go fast on the downwind leg.  Using that technique at the 2007 Florida State Senior Games, I was able to break both the 5 & 10K state records on a day in which there was a very brisk headwind on the outbound leg, and many racers performed well under their potential. I believe in putting an extra effort into the slowest part of the course where for example there are headwinds, hills, etc.  This is where you spend and gain the most time.  You might be saying to yourself, “Great theory pal, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.”  As a retired airline pilot whose degree is in engineering, let me demonstrate my thesis using an airplane and a simple mathematical problem.


Assume that a 100 mile east/west (200 mile total) course has been marked out in the sky.  Assume that there is no wind.  An airplane flying at 100 mph enters the course flying in an easterly direction, traverses the course, makes a 180 degree turn, re-enters the course and flies the course in a westerly direction.  According to the formula of D=RT (distance equals rate of speed multiplied by time), solving the equation for T (time) reveals that the airplane took a total of 2 hours flying the 200 mile round trip.  Note that we are only counting the time on the course.  Now assume that the wind conditions change, and there is a 10 mph wind from the east.  The airplane again enters the course flying at an indicated speed of 100 mph, and flies the eastbound section of the course with a 10 mph headwind (groundspeed would be 90 mph).  The aircraft reverses direction now flying the westerly portion of the course with a 10 mph tailwind (groundspeed would be 110 mph).  The question is, did it A) Take the same amount of time in both examples to fly the round trip? B) Less time with the wind added? Or C) More time when the wind was added?


The answer is not as important as the reason for the answer.  The answer of course is “C”:  It takes longer to fly the course when the wind becomes a factor.  The reason for that result is that the aircraft spends more time flying at a slower ground speed in the headwind than it does when it is flying faster due to the tailwind of equal intensity. In other words, you are flying for a longer period of time while being bogged down by the headwind than you are when being helped by the tailwind.  Hence, the headwind has more of a negative effect than the tailwind has a positive effect.  There is no way of making that time up unless speed is increased.  If you do not expend an extra effort in the headwind, the same phenomenon will be the cause of you riding a slower time trial.  Admittedly, it is a painful, albeit effective, technique!


So, there you are racing the course:  You have settled into your aero position, you are riding at your planned race pace (or power goal), and the pain is getting a bit uncomfortable.  What often separates the winners from the losers is mental attitude and mental work.  The poor time trial rider often deals with the pain by disassociation – the rider thinks of pleasant, distracting things to get his or her mind off of the incessant pain.  The good time trial rider embraces the pain, and works at testing the limits of that pain.  You don’t have to slow down simply because you are experiencing lactic acid build up in your legs. Perhaps you can even increase your speed without suffering additional pain.  And if you do suffer additional pain, embrace it!


You must constantly be aware of your effort, speed (and/or power when using a power meter) and focus on the race.  It is vital that you constantly run checks on your position and your body.  Make sure that your speed has not slowed ever so slightly and, if it has, increase your effort to regain your planned pace (or power).  Check that your body is relaxed and that you do not have a “death grip” on the bars.  Remember, you have a fuel tank with a finite amount of fuel to use in the race.  The ideal expenditure of fuel is to empty the tank as you cross the finish line.


Excessive gripping of the bar, grimacing of the face, tightness in the shoulders, etc., all use fuel unnecessarily.  Check your knee position – they should be very close to the top tube in your pedal stroke.  The more you let your knees wander from the optimal position, the less efficiently you will be able to cut through the air.  Check your shoulder position – make sure you are not bringing them up towards your ears. Push your abdomen towards the top tube to be more aerodynamic. You must constantly monitor these things throughout the duration of the race.  Be sure you are belly breathing rather than inefficient and enervating chest breathing.  Relax! 


If the course is a technical course, be aware of your surroundings.  I personally seem to lose a lot of my cognitive skills when I am performing at a maximal effort.  As an example, at the Senior Olympics in 2007, I was sure that I was en route to a winning effort based on my pace, and the closure with other racers well known to me.  I rounded a turn at about 30 mph, turned down a steep roadway only to be confronted by barricades at the end.  I had gone off course!  I had to make a 180 degree turn, climb a steep grade only to arrive 30 seconds later at a spot that I had been doing 30 mph rather than almost zero.  Needless to say, I lost that important race.   Last year at our USCF state road race championships, I was the lead cyclist following a police motorcycle escort.  I was so intense and focused on racing fast, that when the motorcycle made a 90 degree right turn on the actual course, I kept going straight and off course.  I fortunately caught up and won the race.  I plan to attempt to think more clearly in the future!


When you reach the turnaround point, get up out of the saddle and accelerate back to race pace prior to settling back into your aero position.  It is particularly vital to make an efficient, SAFE (I have fractured my neck in a turn on a time trial course) turn in a short time trial.  As an aside, practicing turns as part of your training will be time well spent.  The barriers in the turn, officials, and cones can be quite intimidating and distracting so practice a few times on the course by rounding them before the race.  When you do practice your turns, try to simulate race conditions by approaching at race pace, not braking too soon, and losing as little momentum as possible in the turn.  This will also give you an opportunity to choose your optimal braking point for the race.


Focus on riders that started before you – try to close on them.  A technique that some successfully use is to focus on a road sign or other landmark and make believe that it is a very strong magnet pulling you towards it.  


Continue to check your pace, position on the bike, hands, face and shoulders for relaxation.  As you tire, there is a tendency to mash down on the pedals.  Check your pedal stroke for smoothness and symmetry.  By now, you are probably seriously hurting, but allow yourself a brief moment away from the business at hand to envision that championship medal and jersey that you are about to win.  Last year at the Florida State USCF time trial championships contested at 20K for my age group, the second half of the race was into the wind.  The pain was so intense that I promised my body that if it let me not blow up and win the State championship, I would never subject it to that kind of punishment again!  It did, but, of course, I broke my promise!


Here is what Dave Viney is thinking towards the end of a time trial effort:  “Over the last few km I keep repeating the mantra – I am not going to lose this damn race by a few seconds after all this pain –keep the pressure on –don’t put yourself in the position to be saying-“If I had known he was 3 seconds ahead of me I could have caught him but I didn’t know” – just assume somebody out there is within a sec of you so every second does matter – don’t give it away at the end!”


As they get tired, many racers make the mistake of looking down at the road.  If you are wearing an aero helmet, that simply places a big wind catcher (the long pointed end of the helmet) into the airstream.  Maintain your position on the bike.  Many riders make the mistake of continuously searching for a gear that “feels better.”  Find that gear that enables you to run at a very efficient time trial cadence of around 85-95 rpm, and stick with it!


At last, the finish line is in sight!  You have nothing different to do than you have been doing.  If you are able to speed up or sprint at this point, you have not held a fast enough pace.  You should have nothing left in your tank as you approach the finish line which means you were running on fumes. 


As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider and think about in order to ride an efficient, fast time trial.  You have no time to spare to disassociate yourself from the task at hand.  If you have practiced the above techniques in your interval training, they will become second nature when you race.  You race as you train.


Do a nice warm down on your bicycle, and ideally arrive at the awards ceremony in time to take your place on the top step of the podium. 


If you are competing in the typical Senior Games events, there will be both 5K & 10K time trials.  Continue to ride your bike between the events to keep your legs loose.  I consume an athletic gel such as Clif Shots™ between races, hydrate myself, and start thinking about the next race.  If you put forth the maximal effort that you should have in the first race, you might entertain thoughts of scratching from the second race.  You will find as you warm down that you will finally stop feeling like you are sick to your stomach and your lungs are on fire as many often do at the end of a hard-run time trial – especially an early season effort.


Train, plan, and race hard, and enjoy one of the most self-satisfying experiences in our sport – a well run, gold-medal-winning time trial race!


Sandy Scott


©Sandy Scott, 3/31/09

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Racing a Cycling Time Trial – Part 2

Race Preparation

By Sandy Scott


It is the day before a time trial race at which you plan to compete.  I suggest that you prepare a checklist of the things you wish to bring with you that can be printed out and used every time you race.  Check off each item prior to leaving home so you have no surprises the next morning. 


Some of the things that I bring in addition to the obvious are:  Extra wheels so that I don’t need to struggle with tire/wheel issues when I should be warming up or thinking about the race,  spray adhesive (I use Duro All-Purpose or Elmer’s Craft Bond spray adhesives) for affixing the racing number to my jersey (numbers that are pinned tend to flap in the breeze which is distracting and not aerodynamic), a tool kit with everything I might need for minor repairs, a pump, a bike stand on which to prop my bicycle, pre-race meal items and energy gel(s) and bars, sun block, water and/or other fluids, etc. 


Clean your bike thoroughly – a clean bike is a fast bike.  Check your tires carefully for any chards of glass or anything else that might later cause a flat.  Inflate your tires prior to leaving home.  You don’t need the surprise and aggravation of a presta valve failure or any other tire issues the morning of the race. I vary pressures depending on road surface- 150-160 psi for a hard, smooth surface, down to 120 on a chip-and- seal-type surface.  Although this is probably stating the obvious, do not run 150 pounds of pressure in a tire designed for a maximum of 125 pounds!  I use tubular tires which typically have much higher inflation limits than clinchers.


If the race is the next morning and far enough from your home to require a hotel stay, arrive during daylight hours to leave yourself enough time to familiarize yourself with the course.  Drive or ride the course noting turns, landmarks, condition of the road, hazards, etc.  I’m a firm believer in the process of visualization prior to an athletic event.  With the course in mind, you can envision yourself successfully racing the course.


Try to get a good night’s sleep the night before the race, but, if you find yourself nervous and unable to readily sleep, remember that the two nights previous to that night are the important nights to sleep well. 


Arise early enough to allow at least three (3) hours between your pre-race meal and the actual race.  Eat a very light pre-race meal – even a light feeding will feel like a five (5) course dinner on a nervous stomach, but a light meal will feel digested by race time.  Experiment with your pre-race meal to see what works best for you.  Even though I drink a glass of orange juice every morning prior to my workout, I don’t do well with it on a nervous, pre-race stomach. 


Through experimentation, my pre-race meal has evolved to the following:  A Clif bar, banana, and water to drink.  As a competitive runner, I got into the habit of taking two pre-race aspirins as both a blood thinner (controversial) and to mask the various aches and pains that I seemed to chronically suffer while pursuing that sport.  I have continued the habit with my cycling races, and if nothing else, I benefit from the placebo effect in the belief that my performance will be enhanced! Out of curiosity, I contacted a physician friend of mine who happens to also be an avid time trial competitor to get his perspective on the use of aspirin pre-competition.  He, told me that commencing at the age of 50, he began a regimen of taking a daily low dose aspirin of 81 mg. On race day, he ups his dose to two 350 mg aspirins “as a heart attack/stroke preventative.”   Each of us is unique; you have to experiment and find out what works for you.  For some people a little caffeine (coffee, coke, or tablet) helps with especially short TT’s early in the day. 


Many time, trial events will post start times either on the Internet or at the official event hotel the night prior to the race.  If possible, ascertain your start time the night before the race, and pick up your race packet if available.  Place your number on your skin suit that night.  It saves valuable time and effort in the morning when you need to concentrate on the race and warming up.   If you do not have a start time and/or race packet in advance, plan to arrive at the race venue at least one and one-half hours prior to the start time of the first racer.   Register immediately and affix your race number to your skin suit, and if a transponder is used, install it or have it installed on your bike.  Check your start time, and sync your watch with the official race clock. Cruise by the start periodically to see that they are keeping to a published schedule – your time starts when they say “go” for your number regardless of whether you are there or not – there is NO excuse for missing your start time.


Prior to commencing your warm-up, check your bicycle for any obvious issues.  Make sure that your wheels are spinning freely, and not pressing against a brake pad from lying in your car. Plan to warm up for at least an hour for a time trial event.  Even a longer time trial requires a very warm engine at the start so that you can achieve your goal pace immediately without feeling either physical or nervous system distress.  The first half-hour of your warm up should be comprised of easy spinning.  In the second half hour you should commence doing race pace pickups allowing some lactic acid to build up and dissipate.  Finally, finish your workout with a couple of brief sprints.  Your legs and system will be now ready for battle.  Some competitors use trainers for their warm-up.  Ideally, I warm up on the race course – I would rather feel the road as I will experience it in the race. Here is Dave Viney’s warm-up routine:


“I warm-up for the first 45 min or so on my road bike – more comfortable, less worry about punctures, got spare with me in case etc, then for last 45 min move to TT bike and TT helmet, booties etc. and do several hard efforts getting up to race wattage for extended periods-3-5 min- I have found that  doing a warm-up on a trainer was not good for me – I have to feel the road and the power of the wind and how it will affect me in TT position- I’ve got to get comfortable with wind buffeting me and how bike will handle at 30mph in that wind on that road.  The shorter the TT the longer and harder the warm up – ambient temperature also needs to be considered but maybe that is whole other article.”


It is 10 minutes prior to your start time….  Look for Part 3 of this series dealing with actual racing techniques.

Email me with any questions at pedalmasher@gmail.com.


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Racing a Cycling Time Trial – Part 1

By Sandy Scott

WARNING:  The information you are about to read will make you a faster time trial racer.  If you are a cyclist who likes to race simply to participate, if you enjoy paying money to race with no hope of winning, or if racing is just a social event for you, this article may or may not be of interest to you.  Prior to giving up on the article, however; please read at least the next paragraph for a different perspective by Dave Viney, an elite-class time trial competitor.  If, however, you are a hardcore racer (or want to be) who comes to win and believes as I do that the only winner in a race is the guy on the top step of the podium, and that the other two guys on the podium are the first and second losers, then this article will definitely be of interest to you.


Dave Viney is the finest time trial rider I have ever known.  He is a multiple Canadian national Masters time trial champion, and multiple North American Masters time trial champion riding the fastest time in the meet for anyone over 30 while he was in his 50s!  He is currently 59 years old, and, in most time trial events, he turns in the top time overall beating even the Pro, 1, 2 groups.  A month before his planned, peak form for the Canadian and North American Masters championships, Dave rode a 40-kilometer time trial at the USCF Florida State Time Trial Championships in 52:55 at the age of 58 – that’s an incredible 28.2 mph average for almost 25 miles!  Upon completion of this article, I sent it to Dave for comments.  Here is his take on time trialing:  “Not too quibble but I kind of like the TT, because you are competing against yourself so everyone can be a “winner” by improving on previous performances on the same course hence the popularity of the thousands of weekly club-run TT’s.”  In that Dave is my time trial hero, our differing philosophical outlook notwithstanding, in deference to him, I invite those of you who are casual racers to read on.  You will find other comments by Dave highlighted in red throughout the text.


Time trialing is called the “Race of Truth” for good reason. There are no wheels to suck, and there are no excuses – you are on your own, you are in the wind, and there is no place to hide!  If you listen to the chatter at the end of the typical road race, you will hear many of the following statements:  “I got boxed in”; “I didn’t know someone was off the front”; “I was driven wide in the last  turn”; “Someone sat up in front of me”; “My lead out man went too early”; “My lead out man went too late”; etc., etc., etc..  There are no excuses in a time trial – you either cover the distance faster than everyone else or you lose.


There is admittedly an element of luck, and certainly a lot of strategy in road racing and, hence, the strongest rider does not necessarily win.  In time trial races, assuming equal equipment, preparation, technique, and the ability and willingness to experience pain, the strongest rider will almost always win.  I love that!  In a TT the strongest rider who does the best job at pacing and maximizing his effort, and who has done his homework in equipment preparation and course review, will win.


To be a good time trialist, you need not only a strong engine, but you must be willing and able to withstand rather intense pain.  To me, that kind of pain is “delightful pain” – I embrace it!  You must also be able to concentrate – otherwise, if you let your mind wander, you will assuredly allow your speed (or power) to fall off leading to a result below your potential. Time trial riding is hard work and you have a lot of tasks in addition to just riding your bike fast!


While on the subject of pain, I have never forgotten a statement made by Olympic swimming champion, Don Schollander, who set three world records en route to winning four gold medals at the 1964 Olympics. When asked by a reporter what separates a champion from the rest of the pack he said, “The difference between a champion and a non-champion is, that when the body is screaming out in pain, the champion pushes his body even harder while the others do not.”


If you are still reading this, let’s deal with specifics.  I will assume that you are serious enough about time trial racing that you have equipped yourself properly for an optimal performance:


1.  You have a dedicated time trial bicycle with aero wheels that has been properly fitted to you.

2.  You plan to wear a skin suit, aerodynamic helmet, booties over your shoes, and no gloves.

3. You will run with a water bottle on the seat tube.


For a more detailed description of time trial equipment, see an earlier article on this site that I authored.  Race day is tomorrow – watch for Part 2 which is coming soon.

Email me with any questions at pedalmasher@gmail.com.

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So you think you can blog

If you’re a cyclist who’s over 30, who rides seriously, and who can write clearly, we’d love to consider you as one of our regular bloggers for this site. To apply, send me an email explaining why you’d like to write a blog on cycling and why you’d be good at it. My email address: scallahan@masters-athlete.com.

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USA Triathlon names age group athletes of the year

The awards are actually called the 2008 Garmin Age Group Athletes of the Year. Nice to see a big company supporting Masters sports. We know from experience there aren’t that many of them out there. For more information on the winners, click here.

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Peaking for Cyclists

You have followed the principles of periodization unlike the rolleurs and middle of the pack riders – the ones who train the same all year and consequently either do not improve or perhaps get worse.  After your last racing season, you recharged your batteries by engaging in less intense rides, and, perhaps, you did some cross training in another sport.  You then went through a strength building phase where you built up your base mileage and perhaps incorporated weight training into your regimen.  It is now two months from the event in which you want to excel.  Perhaps it’s a local race or it might be your state championships or the U.S. Nationals.  It is time to sharpen your base through the process of “peaking.”  The deeper the base, the more responsive the body will be to intense interval training and other peaking techniques.


Peaking is simply taking to a bit more of an extreme the principles of overloading the body through hard training and adapting to that training resulting in improvements in strength and fitness.  However, if you do too little work/rest, you will not achieve your racing goals.  Do too much work and too little rest and you might get sick or injured.  You will need to experiment to discover your optimal program.


My personal year is based around the goal of peaking around June 1 for the USCF Florida state time trial and road race championships and then again for the first week of December for the Florida Senior Games state championships.


After the Senior Games, I go through a recovery period to refresh and rest my body.  I keep my mileage up over 300 per week, but the intensity is scaled back considerably.  For example, during that period, I will ride with a slower group—the 22 mph group in our bike club ride versus riding with the “A” group as I do during my peaking period.  Then, I evolve into a more intense base building with longer rides and a couple of fast rides a week.  Two months prior to the important event, the actual peaking process begins in earnest.  


Here is one of my typical weeks during my peaking process:




Intervals – 6 x ½ mile 5%-10% above planned time trial race pace.  1 minute or less rest between intervals. Workout to be preceded by at least a one hour warm up and followed by an hour warm down.



Recovery ride – for me this is about 35 miles of easy spinning.




Intervals as on Monday or bridge repeats.  Bridge repeats are done with an all out effort climbing the bridge.  Recovery is the time it takes to position yourself for the next repeat.  I do the repeats in both directions on the bridge to lessen the recovery interval.  Here in Florida, which is rather flat, bridge repeats is often the only choice for climbing workouts.  Those of you who live in areas with hilly or rolling terrain can do a hard workout in the hills.


A sprint workout can be substituted for this workout which, for example, would be 3 sets of 6 x 20 seconds at maximum sprint effort with a minute rest between intervals and 15 minutes of spinning prior to the next set.  A thorough warm-up prior to this training event is particularly important, and should include some pick up efforts which induces lactic acid, and then allowing the body to dissipate the lactic acid prior to the next pickup.  If preparation is for an important road race rather than a TT, I would seriously consider the sprint workout versus the interval workout.




Long endurance ride – for me this is anywhere from 70-100 miles.




Recovery ride.




Fast group ride – take good pulls and contest one or more sprints.




Spin ride – for me, I do a club ride spinning at about 22-24 mph.


Basically, during the peaking process I have three “hard” training days, one endurance ride, two recovery days (rides) and one moderate spin ride.


Two weeks prior to the planned important event, the intensity level should be increased.  The body will adapt to the extra intensity during the tapering process the week prior to the race. Remember that improvement is accomplished during the recovery days when the body adapts to the extra work load.  No recovery days = no progress.


An ideal tool to use during the peaking process is engaging in the type of race that you are peaking for.  For example, if you are peaking for an important time trial event, engage in some time trial races during your peaking process.  There is no better training for racing than actual racing. 


The week prior to the event, you put the final edge on your form by tapering.  It is important to cut mileage back by about 2/3 normal, but do not cut back on the intensity.  One of the biggest training mistakes I see competitive cyclists make is the failure to properly taper for a big event.  By properly tapering, you allow the body to fully adapt to the high intensity training that has preceded the tapering week.


A fascinating study conducted by sports scientist Dave Costill on swimmers showed that when the athletes tapered for 15 days by cutting their training mileage to two thirds of their regular mileage volume, but maintaining their normal intensity level,  their times were better by 4% and their arm strength increased by 25%.  My recommendation for cyclists is a seven day taper.  Discover, however, what works best for you.


I have found that once I have achieved my peak, I can usually hold peak form for about 6 weeks, and then it is time to restart the sequence of recovery, strength/base building, and peaking.


Look for my next article where I will discuss time trial racing techniques, etc…  Good Riding!


Sandy Scott


© Sandy Scott March 2009



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