A year in review – The benefits of a golden goal [2010]

Sitting here, listening to Auto Rock by Mogwai, a tune iconised by Top Gear, I begin thinking back to a year, 7000km of cycling with my Cervelo S2. And what a year it has been. What started as a “how hard could it be” moment, went on to become one of the most rewarding things to do – La Marmotte.

But with passing 7000km on Sunday gone, and winter really being here now, it’ll very soon be time to hang up the good bike and switch back to the winter trainer, full mud guards an all. The big thing now, is to set some goals. Some real goals, with feeling. Last year La Marmotte proved to be the defining goal, one that got me out of bed at 5am in the dead of winter, battling the ice and snow and pitch black to do hill repeats – and then enjoying it too. I calculated that I made more than a 30% increase in performance on 3Rock (the hill we do hill repeats on) between signing up for the Marmotte, and the week before the event.

In no small part, I owe much of the improvement to my trainer, Ryan Sherlock. He also became Irish National Hill Climb Champion recently which allows me to say I get trained by the National Champion. Nice. To top it off, he also won the MTB Champs letting him retain his national champion title there too. Word has it he is the first man to hold national titles in both road and off road in the same year in Ireland. Talk about getting trained by the best!

But in reflecting on the year, I’ve seen that it wasn’t just one thing that made it such a good year. Lots of little things fell into place. My Cervelo S2 really helped. It was a reward for hitting a weight goal of 85kg although I did go slightly over board when buying it. It is a such a different machine compared to my Giant. Stiffer, more responsive, and even more comfortable which might seem strange since it is a full on race bike with aero wheels, while the Giant is a commuter with 25mm tyres and a more relaxed position.

Having the Marmotte as a goal was another big thing. Needing something to get out of bed on those mornings, well when you have no goal, there is nothing to get out bed for. Even with the Marmotte I took some days I probably shouldn’t have. Or maybe less cake and I wouldn’t have worried about those 4 seconds. Not having a firm goal now does show although this last week I’ve covered over 400km as my stomach is back so the motivation is just to cycle as much as I can while I can.

A training partner also makes a world of a difference. My friend Peter was also training for the Marmotte and was out for the hill repeats on those Tuesday mornings. Even coming along on the long weekend rides – well at least one a week, I was doing a fair bit of training. It does help with those dull gray days when you struggle to get out to know that someone else is doing the same. That someone else is equally as dumb motivated.

Starting from a high weight (I was 229 lbs / 28.8% body fat back in Dec 08) played a part too strange as it might seem. Loosing weight makes you faster on the hills. Plain and simple. But when you are training for a ever so slightly hilly event, well hill climbing times are what is about. And since I was dropping weight, I was getting faster on the hills. Psychologically it helped. You see the times dropping and that object of just finishing gets closer and closer, and then soon becomes a maybe I can do better. Maybe, just maybe.

Body fat Graph over the period

Without any one of these, the house of cards may have fallen down. I don’t really know. I wouldn’t be where I am today cycling wise, I know that much. Every bit of success has an element of luck, but every bit of luck also has a bit of blood, sweat and tears, and that is the part you rarely see.

From the falls on the ice, to somehow not falling while navigating a hill in total blackness and only using the difference in colour of grass and tarmac, to crossing a line thinking I’d missed a goal by 4 seconds, to winning my first race. For all the mechanical issues, the punctures, the crashes. Each added its own small part. Each one made the year a year to remember.

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