I’m Not Sure You Have to Train

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I’ve had a couple experiences that has led me to think about how important training is and what exactly makes an athlete perform at his/her best. I’m not comparing athletes to each other, each of us has what we were dealt, just what one person does to be at optimal form. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not sure that training is the answer.

I know I’ve been riding bikes at a pretty high level since puberty. And I am one of the few guys that has really never taken any time off. So, I’m not the norm in athletics. But, I’m not sure that has anything to do with my observations.

Okay, here is the deal. I’ve been riding, at least feel like, I’ve been riding pretty good so far this year. I’ve got normal issues, but in general, I’m pretty happy with how it is going. I’ve been riding more miles than I have in recent history and it seems to be paying off, so far. But I was wondering if it really is the miles or something else.

On Tuesday, Bill and I went out for a 4 hour ride. It was pretty hot for the first 3 hours, I felt like I was falling apart, then a front came through and it got downright cold. I went from feeling shitty to pretty great in just a matter of minutes. Obviously the cold air was “better” for me than the hot temperature.

When I got home, I felt good about the day. Missed the front, good mileage, life was pretty good. I’ve been using a foam roller and stretching some before and after riding this year. I haven’t done any sit-ups or pushups for maybe a month and a half. I knew Wednesday was supposed to be crummy, so I thought it would be a good time to get back into the routine. I usually do somewhere around 25 pushups and 50-75 sit-ups, depending on how much I struggle to get to those numbers.

I start doing pushups and blow through 25 and keep going. I got to 50 and thought I should stop because I’d be sore the next day. I easily could have done another 25, maybe 50. Then the same thing with the sit-ups. I get to 50 effortlessly. So I keep going and stopped at 100, just because of the soreness issue. I’m not sure how many I could have done, but my stomach muscle wasn’t fatiguing the least.

I definitely wasn’t trained for doing either of those exercises. If anything, I should have been bad and should have woken up yesterday sore. But I didn’t feel a thing.

Four winters ago I spent 2 full months off my bike. For 60 days I only rode 3 miles once, just to get somewhere. So, I was as untrained for cycling as I’ve been in 40 years. Plus, I’d been spending somewhere between 12-18 hours a day doing hard, manual labor. I went down to Austin to start up riding again in the beginning of February. I rode for two weeks, maybe 600-700 miles.

I flew out to the East coast to ride with this group of guys, but they had thrown themselves, or really, the wind had thrown them on the ground and two of them broke their collarbones, so I was there for nothing. It was super windy and I put my bike together at the hotel and thought I’d go out for a ride, try to find some sheltered road.

The temperature was in the lower 50’s and I started out against a super strong cross headwind. I kept looking down at my computer and it said I was going over 20 mph. And I felt awesome. I started riding a little harder, but nothing crazy hard and kept it at around 23-24 mph. This was riding into a 35 mph wind. I rode 27.5 miles out and decided I’d better turn around before it got dark. I was flying back. Coasting over 30, pedalling easy at 35. I had to put on my wind jacket because I was getting cold from the lack of exertion and was still going a little less than 40 without hardly trying. When I got back to the hotel, I had a 26 mph average speed for the ride. The fastest training ride I’d ever done and I wasn’t close to blown. Maybe the best day I’ve ever had on a bike. And I’d ridden two weeks out of the previous 8.

I have no explanation for the two examples above. I, of course, think a certain amount of training and the ability to learn how to do a sport efficiently, is very important. But after you get to that level, I think it is having good blood or something that makes an individual perform at their best. I think that when everything is chemically correct in one’s body, that is the time you can have those extraordinary experiences. And I don’t think that you can train that, I think that it just happens. And hopefully it happens when it is important to you.


20 thoughts on “I’m Not Sure You Have to Train

  1. john

    Yeah, maybe – I don’t know – but recovery seems to be better when well conditioned/trained.

  2. Mid pack fodder

    From a science standpoint, I think a good physiologist would be the one to answer your questions on this particular matter. That being said, I think a combination of being:
    1. A gifted athlete
    2. Coming off a 8 week complete rest/recovery from no riding after years of continual riding…
    Was a ‘perfect’ training approach for you body at the time. I think you stayed fit by doing manual labor 12-18hrs/day while your ‘biomechanical riding body’ recovered. Which I think is what you are saying in your blog, -that training is very individualistic. Factors for finding the right combination to perform at the optimum level is not so straight forward. Too many variables making it too complicated for a simple training plan to work. Ugh, if only I could of just had the right parents!

  3. joe river

    I agree totally…..but maybe it is even a better performance if you have hit the ”high” time with the training to boot. I am reminded of M. Ali….he said essentially the same thing about his performances…

  4. Perd

    Well like you said, if you’re talking about a non-athlete like myself that likes to pretend to be a bike racer, training is necessary. I had to take last fall and the winter off the bike due to time requirements at my day profession. Exercise cut to about 3 times a week at the gym. Hello 20 lbs, goodbye leg muscles, goodbye lungs and cardio system. I went out into the OK wind yesterday for about 35 miles and struggled to maintain forward movement. I was blessed with the body type that can gain weight by eating salads and not exercising. My resting calorie requirements must be around 1500 a day.

  5. Robo

    I believe it’s 90% genetic, and possibly even higher. The final 10% are just marginal gains that may or may not make a noticeable difference. I’ve been kicking my own ass for years, and I’ve tried many different plans/methods. None of it has made me an elite level rider, even on a local level… hell, not even ‘elite’ on my weekly group ride. I go through phases where I’m better or worse than usual, but only incrementally. We all know those people that can come off the couch and whip you in whatever sport/activity. Steve’s one of those people. Good for him. As Mid-Pack Fodder suggested, I’ll just continue to blame my parents.

  6. Brett

    Training is important, but so is rest. Look at everyone that lives in a Northern climate. Are they out riding 3-4 hours a day December – February? No. Are they on rollers that much? No. Are the Southern cyclists head and shoulders better than the Northern? No.

  7. bw

    In swimming, “taper” is all about tearing down (hard work) followed by a rest period. If all goes to plan, the rest period is followed by PRs in the water – kind of a slingshot effect. Sounds like your better experiences may have come from some good tear down/taper cycles. As usual, your post covers some interesting stuff that makes one think. Thanks.

  8. The Cyclist

    Some ppl just perform a lot better in the cold. Charly Gaul was one of them which is sometimes attributed to amphetamines. But, who didn’t do amphetamines back in his time… to level the… well, nothings’s really new under the sun. Same old killing rays. Same old melting tarmac. And still lot more Italians that ride lot better than Swedes. At least in the summer.

  9. Christine

    Interesting theories, although entertaining may be the better adjective… I will say your writing style creates the most amazing visuals. I often feel like I’ve tagged right along during your day’s activities. Enjoyable, easy ready.

  10. Mid pack fodder

    @joe river- No I haven’t heard of the ‘10,000 hours of training theory’. Sounds intriguing though…

  11. Jim

    “I started riding a little harder, but nothing crazy hard and kept it at around 23-24 mph. This was riding into a 35 mph wind.”


  12. Gary

    Jim, have you ever rode with Steve? If you ever get a chance I’m sure your skepticism will be minimized.

  13. Scott

    I follow the “fesh and under trained is allways better than tired and over trained” training method. it works for me.

  14. channel_zero


    IMHO, the training volume fetish is not universally effective. The hard weather made for hard rides, and not too many of them.

    I’d argue that big block of time off while your shoulder “healed” helped too.

  15. marko

    I’m about your age and have been racing and training for 4 decades. When I take a break my wattage returns to just above the untrained level. Every year I battle all year just to get back to low cat 2 levels. I know people like you and I’m not one of them. Funny you mention pushups as I worked all winter just to get to 40. Even after 2 months of basic training, doing more than 60 was the end of the world.


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