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I know it is winter and it is time to enjoy the snow, ski the steeps and generally relax but now is also a good time to start training for your 2013 big event, so don’t wait! Get your training plan ready and get going. Personally, I am spending a lot of time cross-training which in my case means downhill skiing and snowshoeing. It also means spending “some” time on the bike just to keep the legs spinning. Relaxing is not the same as not training. I have worked too hard to gain fitness I am not to just throw it away.

Another key aspect to remaining motivated through the off-season is to ensure you have clear goals for the upcoming year. It is January 4th and not only are my big 2013 events/goals identified but my training plan is pretty much finalized too. My big event this year is the Haute Route Race in Europe (Switzerland, Italy and France), a seven day, seven stage race covering 866 kilometers (538 miles) and 22,000 meters of ascent (72,178 feet). I have put together a team of strong and determined cyclists who will join me and we are focused on making it on the podium as a team on the last day.

In order to get ready for this gruelling event I have already planned to participate in the Tucson Bicycling Classic, the Tour of the Gila and the Hors Categorie CTS Climbing Camp. And between these events, I will have to follow a strict training schedule which has already been designed by my CTS coach Jason Tullous.

This post is designed to inspire anyone with a cycling goal, no matter how small, no matter how big. It is an updated version of my popular post titled The Longest Journey Begins With A Single Step which I published last February.

At the time I had received a lot of comments from the post which detailed my 2012 racing calendar: “A grand total of sixteen pro stages, including two multi-day stage races.” People kept telling me: “Where do you find the time to get ready for something like this? How can you handle so much training? How do you stay on track? What do you do if you get sick or need to travel? How can you spend so much time training in your basement? Don’t you get bored? What does your wife think of all this? Do you ever see your six kids? Does that leave you enough time to run your business?”

I find that most of my cycling buddies who “wish they could do what I do” either just don’t set large enough goals for themselves or when they do, they focus too much on the enormity of the commitment required as opposed to breaking down the journey into a multitude of small steps and then they get discouraged and don’t meet their goals.

Progressing as an amateur athlete requires commitment and planning. In order to keep progressing you need to set increasingly bigger yearly goals before you start your training season and you have to come up with the right plan to acheive your goals. I guess this also holds true for most aspects of life: family, relationships, business etc.

With clear cycling goals, it is easier to determine when training gets off track and therefore you can take action to regain control. Without goals, it is difficult to assess whether you are on track and making progress in your training and getting any closer to acheiving whatever it is you wish to acheive. I personally have cycling goals twelve months a year, I have big yearly goals, monthly goals, weekly goals, daily goals and even minute by minute goals – even 30 seconds goals – during most rides. These macro and micro goals form the basis of my overall yearly plan. They are all individual steps to be taken one at a time.

My ultimate goal in 2012 was to decisively win the two climbs of stage 3 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in August and crossing the finish line in Aspen in first place on August 22nd. The first climb, over Cottonwood Pass, was 12 miles long with 2,552 feet of climbing, largely on dirt (the descent is paved). The second climb, Independence Pass, was longer, at over 15 miles, with 2,749 feet of climbing.

Everything I did between February 2012 and August 2012 was designed to help me achieve that goal. Having set a very big and specific goal which I felt I could acheive if I stay focused over several months went a long way in giving me the motivation to complete each and every workout I had planned, no matter how long and/or painful (or boring!). Fifteen minutes of VO2max effort in my basement four times a week? Bring it on, it will make make me faster on the climbs. Sixteen hours of training inside in four days? Bring it on, it will provide me with a huge aerobic engine that will carry my through every mile of that gruelling 210 kilometer stage 3.

Needless to say, sticking to a plan requires commitment. No one can tell you what is important in your life and what your priorities should be – that is your decision. But becoming a succesful amateur cyclist requires the same commitment to excellence as one makes to becoming a succesful business person, parent or spouse. There is no way to achieve a high level of excellence without a high level of commitment. The greater your commitment, the more your life will focus on achieving success. Commitment means you can’t say “I’ll just skip this one workout” or “I don’t feel like doing Power Intervals today so I will do a recovery ride instead.” Commitment means taking each and every step of the journey, one by one.

The more specific your goals, the better they are at directing training positively. Broad, general goals are not reliable in directing training. Many times long-term, far-off goals or dream goals do not focus enough energy on the present. An athlete should use dream-term goals to motivate and stretch personal limits, but we also all need mid-term and micro-goals to reach the desired larger goal.

Here’s a couple of examples. Early in 2012, I was focusing on boosting my power back up which required a lot of VO2max training. I completed six sessions of these in two weeks. Each session consisted of fifteen 30 seconds max effort, high cadence intervals with 30 seconds recovery between effort each effort.

This is what the first session on February 13th looked like:

283 watts normalized, 252 watts average

Here’s what the third session – February 17th – looked like:

300 watts normalized, 253 watts average

The main reason for the increase of 17 watts (or 6%) in normalized power in only three days is a better focus on each interval instead of the overall session. On the 17th, I focused on maintaining 500 watts per 30 second interval for as many intervals as possible (I actually was not that succesful but I tried) and during each interval I focused on my coach’s recommendation: “Attack each interval like it is your last one.” So there you go, in order to get ready for my dream goal in August “I need to be able to set and focus on micro 30 seconds goals today”.

It’s important to have micro goals. They create focus for each ride or week of riding. These micro goals create a common thread that ties together daily workouts and mid-term goals. They provide a daily link to my dream goals.

Here’s another example of how I broke up my long 2012 journey into individual steps. At one point I had to do a three and a half hour ride inside. Riding inside for such a long period of time could unto itself be a goal for most people. For me however, having done this a number of times already, I needed a more specific goal. So I decided to break up the ride into smaller chunks each with their individual more specific goals. “Riding inside for three hours” is too vague. So for hour one, I set the goal of maintaining 215 watts + and throwing in few five minutes efforts at 265 watts. Here is the result:

232 watts average, 842 kJ in one hour

This first hour served as the foundation for the entire ride. The result was a two hour average power of 212 watts (being my sixth best performance ever for that duration) and a three hour average power of 201 watts (being my fifth best performance ever for that duration). Without specific micro goals it would have been easy to just have a sub-prime workout. “Just get it done” or “just turn the pedals,” ain’t gonna cut it. Once I set a goal there was no way I am going to fail, hence the high quality workout.

Dream goals, or ultimate goals are designed to push the limits of possibility. Dream goals are a great motivating factor as your body and mind begin to enter peak conditioning to achieve new heights of excellence. You need to nurture your motivation through the dream goals that you create. Dream goals are goals that are long shots, but possible if everything falls into place. These goals can help you through tough times and also serve as food for fantasy on long rides. Here’s the list of my recent yearly dream goals:

September 2006: Ride 110 kilometers from my house in the city to my house in the country.

October 2007: Participate in a four day CTS climbing camp in North Carolina.

November 2008: Participate in a four CTS endurance camp in Tucson, Arizona and complete the 180 kilometer El Tour de Tucson bike race.

July 2009: Complete the one day 172 kilometers Etape du Tour from Montelimar to the top of Mont Ventoux.

May 2010: Participate in the Tour of the Gila four day stage race.

May 2011: Participate in the Tour of California CTS Race Experience eight day stage event.

2012: Participate in two multi-day pro-like stage races (Tour of California and USA Pro Cycling Challenge CTS Race Experience), win stage 3 of USA Pro Cycling Challenge, KOM its two climbs and complete one stage of Tour de France.

2013: Participate in an international seven day stage race in the Alps and make sure our team stands on the podium on the last day.

Imagine, I started out training a whole year in 2006 just to be able to complete my first 100+ kilometer ride. Today, I regularly ride 100 kilometers in my basement on my trainer. In February 2012 I completed a large block of aerobic training which included riding inside four days in a row: 100 miles, 120 km, 120 km and 100 km.

So be it my 2006 to 2012 journey, my January to August 2012 journey or the five hour “in your basement training ride” journey, they all start the same way: “With a single step.” So please start dreaming BIG, set dream goals – in life, cycling, family, marriage – and take that first step.

PS: Part of the text regarding goal setting is inspired/edited from the Carmichael Training Systems Cycling Manual.