Monday, September 17, 2012

Evolution/Maturation of the Cycling Brain

This weekend I rode with Marcos Mazzola Lazzarotto, a cat 2 racer from the Integrated Sports Medicine Cycling Team who recently moved to the area with his wife. I came across him through the Virginia Tech Cycling Team listserve as I was looking for a cyclist whose brain I could "pick". I wanted to know how a competitive cyclist approached training and racing and what they think about when they are putting down those miles. (In human factors research, it's the "think aloud" method of data collection!) I was ready to have a few new things to mentally chew on and I got those today.

When I first got my bike in June 2009, I thought only about two things:
  1. Pedal.
  2. Get through stoplights and stop signs without falling over.
By the 2010 race season, I was ready for the next phase of the "evolution of my cycling brain" and with Coach Jim's help, I added a few more things to think about:
  1. Shoot for a 90'ish cadence.
  2. Get aero as much as possible, especially down hills.
  3. Pedal full circles.
 Last year I took it up another notch and into my little cycling play book went things like:
  1. Power through turns more aggressively.
  2. Cut tangents.
  3. Attack the tops of the hills.
Then I started noticing that there was a "sweet spot" in my cadence that got me the most speed for a given heart rate. I began to get braver through turns and down hills. I felt stronger out of the saddle. I got a bit more tactical in my passing. There was a marked improvement in my cycling which left me wanting to know find new ways to tighten things up and gain efficiencies. Today was a data collection day!

I'm still digesting what I learned from Marcos but much of it boils down to minimizing deviations from race pace - conserving slightly down hills and in tail winds to have a bit extra for things like climbing and headwinds where that marginal effort can get you more. Better to work a little harder over the crest of a hill than to have to work a lot harder down the hill to make up the ground that was lost. Boldness must be tempered with safety - power carefully through a turn and accelerate more quickly out of it, rather than risk crashing and wasting a lot more time. He also reminded me that this was intended to be a "conversational pace" recovery ride!!

And of course, you can't have a conversation with a competitive cyclist without wishing for a power meter ;-)  Oh, SANTA!!!!!

(One funny aside...I have to confess to being thoroughly tired this weekend. So when the weather looked rainy, I emailed Marcos with an "out" for the weather, which he did not take. I sucked it up and met him, and of course was glad I did. At the end of our ride he said he read my blog and almost threw my "#38 Double-check the forecast, but train regardless of the weather" quote back at me. Hahaha! I'd say he has a bright future as a coach!)