Are You Trying Too Hard? (Part Two)14th Apr 2016
I recently wrote about the idea that when you stop striving, you maximise performance and enjoyment.
If you missed that post, I was training for a mountain bike race (done now, loved it) and I’d been tracking my times. I noticed that when I relaxed more, my times got better.
Since then, I diligently continued my training and kept on collecting data on my times. As a result, some more interesting ideas about optimising performance came to light.
Here’s a visual analysis of my times on one of the trail segments over the past couple of months. The grey dots represent each time I went for a ride. The higher the dot, the faster the time.
There are three patterns jumping out here:
The Practice Effect:
Early on in my training, it was all about getting my fundamentals right: fitness, skills and confidence. Checkout the line sloping upwards. Over those weeks, each time I went out, I was consistently hitting lower and lower times. Fitness, skill and confidence were all on the rise, translating into better performance. On the segment shown in the graph, my personal best time is down to 2:31, with plenty of other recent times around there. Back in early February 2016 my personal best was 3:51. The foundation of that improvement is simply down to time on the bike.
Lesson: There’s nothing like practice to get you to where you want to be.
The Social Effect:
Later in my training, I regularly teamed up and rode with a couple of friends who were doing the race with me. We’re all about the same level of fitness and skill, and we’re all fairly competitive types. Whenever we rode together, all of our times tended be faster than when we rode alone. And we had a good time doing it. The red circles show those sessions. By riding with others, I’ve got even faster, and stayed there.
Lesson: Team up with other motivated people, and you’ll go even further than you thought you could.
The Coiled Spring Effect:
There were some days where I had a particularly big day at work (e.g. running an intense workshop), and there were other times where I didn’t ride for four or five days. In either case, I’d get to the trail with a bunch of pent-up energy. And then I’d bust out a great time. Just like a coiled spring. Boom! The green circles are those sessions. They really stand out from the ones around them, showing me, at the time, what I was capable of.
Lesson: Let your down times fuel your up times.
All useful lessons for many areas in life, right?
One last observation. My training had a purpose: to be fit and fast enough for the race. Now it’s done, I’m noticing my motivation for riding is flagging just a little. I still love getting out there, but I’m left wondering whether I need a new goal to keep me motivated as I head into the colder winter months? That’s one for another post…stay tuned.
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Photo: Digby Scott