President Lincoln once proclaimed that the fourth Thursday in November should officially be an annual tradition in the United States and be a day of thanksgiving to be celebrated: “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

President Lincoln invited his fellow citizens to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise. At a (very) more modest level – forgive me Abraham – the close of every biking season affords me the unique opportunity (and probably the duty) to reflect on the lastest biking season and recent achievements – no matter how non extraordinary a nature they may be. This reflection is helpful to plan the next season and set new goals, even more ambitious goals. This is also a time to be grateful for my good health and the good health of the members of my family and the many good things in my life that I so “constantly enjoy that I could be prone to forget the source from which they come”. It is time to think about all of those I know and share memories with who have not been given the same blessings.

I am writing this post tonight thinking about the last twelve months of training, racing, dreaming and my fair share of challenges, both on and off the bike. I can truly say that as the year is drawing to its close, it has been filled with sacrifices and pain but also with many great rewards and blessings. This past year has afforded me the lessons that come from successfully navigating through significant obstacles. With only one month and one race to go, I do however declare myself satisfied with the 2011 biking season.

This past season has been a personal turning point in more than one respect. Although only the ones closest to me will fully understand the weird balance I was able to acheive between adversity and stability, challenge and dedication, pain and joy, the fear of losing and the focus on winning, anxiety and happiness, most around me know that the lesson of the past year is that no matter how difficult it is to realize big dreams, no matter how great your challenges, as my friend Chris Carmichael says: `Under no means do we ever ever ever ever ever quit“.

I believe that in order to keep moving forward succesfully in life you need to sit down once in a while and analyze how you got to where you are, learn from your mistakes and figure out what worked best for you. It’s called learning from the past and keeping things in perspective. This past year has afforded me a unique opportunity to do that at more than one level, including with respect to my “biking career”.

You see, over the last few months I have been coaching four friends of mine (free of charge, of course!) which gives me a chance to interact closely with motivated cyclists of different fitness levels, each with their own objectives and challenges. One of them trained for months for the Vancouver – Whistler Gran Fondo which he successfully completed in September. Another one is just working on all the basics of hydration and nutrition on the bike and is getting ready to go beyond what at two hours is now a long ride. The other two are more experienced riders but like all of us, they find they need to set themselves clear goals to help keep them motivated to train on a consistent basis.

Working with these athletes and listening to them describe as yearly goals rides that are for me training rides truly helps me keep my own progression in perspective. I remember very well training for a whole season just to be able to complete a 100 km ride. Then it was a 100 miles, then it was L’Etape du Tour and then it was Tour of California (not to mention Tour of the Gila, the BUMPS Northeast Championship Series, El Tour of Tucson and many more events). Athletes goals also sometimes include weight goals – yes, two of my athletes weigh more than 200 pounds. Getting from 200 pounds to a climbing weight of 165 pounds can be seem like a challenging task but it is a very achievable goal if you put your mind to it. I remember thinking that going from 171 pounds to 145 pounds was an insane goal. Today, as I weigh 148 pounds I can’t conceive weighing 171 pounds.

Not only is my progression in terms of time on the bike for a typical ride or total weekly duration or the TSS for a three week training block pretty impressive (according to me) but my ability to sustain certain power outputs for certain durations and to repeat the effort more than once is even more impressive. I have written a lot in the past about the use of a power meter, the good and the bad of that small yellow device. Power meters provide bike riders to objectively track progression (power/kilo/time) compared to subjectively track progress (km/h, etc).

Coaching also  gives me an opportunity to review dozens of power files which we use to set the proper training zones and put together the right training schedule. Reviewing someone else’s power files sometimes prompts me to go back in time and look at some of my old power files. For example: “How did Tom do on his field test compared to what I achieved last year?” Or “How did Dick handle that climb compared to when I climbed it for the first time?” This helps me keep the guys motivated: “Harry, you are stronger than I was in 2009 so just think about all you can achieve over the next two years.” I don’t do this to be able to brag but to be able to help my athletes/buddies to keep looking ahead with optimism and excitement.

To illustrate what I mean let’s review actual power files from a couple of dedicated athletes who I know very well, actually, very very  well. And they also know each other very well, very very well. Oh, for the purpose of this post we will call these two athletes Alfred and Albert.

The first athlete – Alfred – is a “mere” two years into his cycling career. Although new to the sport he is not a bad rider he is progressing well. He feels he can do better but that big goals seem unachievable and if achievable, they seem far far away into the future.

For example, in his last field test Alfred was only able to average 268 watts for 1o minutes. That average repesents his maximum average power output for a flat out 10 mins effort. Not bad for a 164 pounds guy but not quite world class. A field test is usually done after a 20 minute warm up.

268 watts for 10 mins

Then there is Albert. Albert is able to do a 13 minute effort at 270 watts AFTER having ridden for 4:20 hours. And that guy weighs only 148 pounds.

270 watts for 13 minutes

 To make matters worst for Alfred motivation, on his second flat out 10 mins effort field test, he can only achieve 258 watts. 

258 watts for 10 minutes

Compare this to Albert’s last effort of his five hour ride. In the last 24 minutes of the ride he is able to average 262 watts. No wonder Alfred isn’t sure he will ever be able to keep up with Albert. Just setting as a dream goal “keep up with Albert for 5 hours” seems too big a goal. Dream goals are dream goals, might as well make them big is what I tell Alfred.

262 watts for 24 minutes, after 4:35 minutes of riding

On the other side of the coin, it is easy for Albert to understand where Alfred is at as an athlete  because he has been there before. But Alfred on the other hand, is struggling with the idea of being able to kick Albert’s butt one day, at anytime in the future. He actually has a point: “How the heck can he even think about beating a guy who can put on a bigger effort than him in terms of watts while that effort is not only two and half times longer but it comes after 4:35 hours of riding?”  All Alfred can think about is that he struggled to finish a full out 10 minutes field test effort of 258 watts in a ride that totals about an hour.

Anyone in their right mind would agree with Alfred; when you have experienced the pain of a full out field test effort and have achieved 258 watts for 10 minutes – while fresh – there is no way you can think that you can do 262 watts for 24 minutes after 4:35 hours of riding. Especially not when the 4:35 hours of riding also included the 13 minutes effort mentioned above and this 25 minute effort at 259 watts:

259 watts for 25 minutes

And this 12 minutes effort at 262 watts:

262 watts for 12 minutes

And if Alfred is not bummed out by now, let’s throw this one at him, 17 minutes with an average power of 284 watts and three simulated one minute attacks over 300 watts:

284 watts for 17 minutes

Albert did over 90 minutes of riding at a power output higher than what Alfred can only sustain for 10 minutes when he goes flat out, all in the last two hours of a five hour ride.

Question is: “How do we get Alfred not to quit, keep dreaming and work to kick Albert’s butt one day?” Answer: “Just ask me. I know. I am Alfred, I am Albert.” Alfred is Alain 2009 and Albert is Alain 2011. Plain and simple. I was thaught early the importance of setting training goals including dream goals. It is a key component of any Carmichael Training Systems’ (CTS) training program. I have been coached by CTS for five years and these guys just won’t allow me to stop dreaming of bigger achievements.

One of my favorite theme for the blog this year has been progression. What’s the point of spending all this time on a bike if you don’t get any better at it? I want my athletes, riding buddies and any aspiring cyclist to read this post and conclude: “I will dream big, I will believe in myself, I will never quit and no matter how big the challenge I will keep moving forward.” And I want my kids to read this conclusion and apply it to their lives. Teachers may get grumpy, friends may disappoint you but life is what you make it.

Keep training right, keep living right.