Earlier this month we received the unhappy news that Punxsutawney Phil had seen his shadow, and that we were indeed in for 6 more weeks of winter. To us cyclists that meant 6 more weeks of reclusion to basements and garages, with only the whir of a fan and the hum of the trainer to keep us company. I don’t think enduring the tedium of trainer-rides is what we have in mind when we think of ourselves as endurance athletes. That’s why it’s often around this time of year that many of us find our motivation waning--we’re far enough along in our training progression for the season that we have the capacity and the training needs to log lots of hours on the bike. But still-too-short-daylight-hours, frigid temperatures, and downright awful weather often force us to spend much of that time riding inside. Then the temptation of conveniently forgetting your training target for the day becomes harder and harder to ignore. It’s dark (literally!) times like this when having really clear goals for your season can help keep your motivation and drive high enough to keep logging hours, even when it become a little more challenging to do so.
I always encourage my athletes to focus on a process of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals for themselves each season. Specifically, we focus on goals that are:
Specific - “I want to be better at bikes,” while probably generally true, is a poor example of a specific goal. “I want to bike up Mt. Washington faster,” is a step in the right direction, but we can do better! “I want to set a Top Notch Time (sub-1:20) on Mt. Washington!” is a good example of a specific goal. Your goals can be anything from finishing your first century to winning the KOM at Green Mountain Stage Race, as long as they’re personally relevant to you, and realistic--more on that in a moment.
Measurable - Your goals should have clearly measureable results/outcomes, as well as measurable needs for achieving those goals. A Top Notch time on Mt. Washington requires ~3.6 watts/kg effort for 1:19:59. Winning a local road race might require building fatigue resistance in order to still produce a powerful sprint after 2000 kjs of riding.
Actionable - You and your coach should work to find the best plan of attack for your goals, one that strikes the right balance for you as a rider and takes into account the 21 hours a day you’re not on the bike. For that Top Notch Time, you might need to find a combination of raising your FTP, extending the duration you can sustain your FTP for, and shed a few lbs. A plan like, “hit 3.6 watts/kg by performing 2 FTP workouts a week (and maybe skipping the beers after Wednesday Night Worlds local group throwdown ride!), is a strong action plan.
Realistic - If my goal is to unseat Chris Froome at the Tour de France this summer, it isn’t going to matter how much I ride my bike this spring, or how many desserts I skip, it simply isn’t going to happen. It’s important to be honest with yourself in your assessment of your abilities in order to set realistic goals. A conversation with your coach can be valuable in helping you determine your strengths and weaknesses as well as how to set realistic goals, and to put your goals into an attainable framework. This is not to say that your goals shouldn’t be ambitious-- they absolutely should be! Pushing yourself is crucially important and will help you stay motivated in your pursuit of your goal. But the importance of setting realistic goals is that a realization that your goal isn’t as attainable as you thought can totally sabotage that motivation.
Time-bound - This step refers both to having a timeline for achieving your goal, which is especially easy when your goal is tied to a specific event, but also to setting performance milestones along the way. If I want that Top Notch Time on Mt. Washington by getting myself to 3.6 watts/kg by 8/19, it would be helpful to make sure I’m on track by reaching 3.4 watts/kg by 7/1 and 3.2 watts/kg by 6/1. This helps keep you honest, as well as breaking the entire process down into more manageable steps along the way, which should help keep your motivation high!
Whatever your goals are, remember that with the right mindset and plan of attack they are within your reach, and all of us at Bell Lap are here to help you all along the way.