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Are your Workouts Perfect?
New cyclists are often frustrated by not being able to do a workout or training plan 100% as laid out. The dirty secret is that the best athletes don’t do 100% of their training, they adjust daily based on their context, things like how they feel, weather, training partners, terrain etc. How you feel today is a big one, not every day is going to be the perfect day where you can max out and set a personal best. A lot of days are tough, a lot of days are just normal. Too often, I see athletes quitting workouts because they faded slightly in their last interval or got tired, or they didn’t meet their best ever workout. An athlete might have a set of 3 x 10-minute intervals at 250 watts, but quit because they did 245 watts, an obvious failure, or is it?
There is no failure, especially when we are looking at small differences (remember no device is 100% accurate, nor can output metrics (wattage) account for daily changes in your body and environment (heat/altitude/gradient/indoors vs. outdoors). A Smart Athlete should focus on the goal for the day and how they can best achieve that on that day. The goal may be a certain time around threshold, a few hard hill repetitions or just an easy (EASY) endurance ride. If the workout or the plan gets too far from your context then that is a great time to talk with your coach or consult with one.
I like the phrase ‘Non-Perfect Success’, I doubt I invented it but I associate it with the two below phrases:
1) 80% is a passing Grade – 100% perfect is not worth it and given most workouts do not account for your own personal context (weather, gear, recovery etc) it is likely that 100% perfect is not perfect for you. Get the main idea of your workout, get close to the target, do as much of the laid out week as you can. Adjust for obvious times you can do more because you slept well or got the day off. If you don’t sleep, have a giant saddle sore, or you just feel off.
To adjust try intervals at the low end of the zone, reduce the number of intervals or shorten the ride slightly. The 3 x 10 example in the introduction is actually 98% perfect, but I see athletes frustrated by this lack of ‘perfection’ often. If you have 5 x 4-minute hill intervals 4 x 4 is still in the Vo2 target range, as is 5 x 3. Do a bit less and come back tomorrow with a smile. This daily adjustment is the advantage of coaching versus a stock training plan, but at all levels, there are decisions that athletes need to make to complete their workouts.
2) 90% of life is showing up (and finishing) – The main tenant of my philosophy is finishing what we start, not just races, but workouts because they are what make for race day success. Plan out your day, your week and your season. I use google calendar, Evernote and training peaks. Incorporate your life/work/family schedules and find the time you can train and sleep and eat and take care of yourself. Show up for life and workouts prepared to do the work. Finish the workout with your best effort for the day, avoid quitting unless there is an emergency.
Finishing today always allows for an adjustment to an easy day tomorrow and gives us a data point in the *FUN* experiment that is your training. If you think you SHOULD quit ask yourself what you are thinking you SHOULD do PERFECT? Take a short break and resume your effort. If you find yourself quitting often circle back on WHY you are training and make sure you are preparing for the day, week and block/season ahead.
Whatever your goal is and whatever plan you are following make sure you are showing up each day for Non-Perfect Success. Get a great grade but not a perfect one. Leave time to have some fun, sleep enough and take your time (it is YOUR time after all).