It's been a while since I've posted here, and I shouldn't make any promises that I'll start doing so again regularly, but every now and then something pops up that deserves more than 140 characters or a Facebook post.
I got a question via email today that I realized would be useful for lots of folks, and so decided I wanted to share it here as well. Enjoy.
I’m not sure how to answer this quickly, but I’ll try. Basically, it’s an effect of what’s happening off the bike, more than what’s happening on, though of course everything is related.
2010 was definitely my best ‘cross season. I did some things differently in the winter; lived by myself in Tucson, spent 2 months destroying training, spending time alone, not getting sick, and had a great first 1/2 of the road season. Then I broke my wrist in July, had 4 weeks off from racing and a huge August for training. That allowed me to come into ‘cross fresher than normal, and really fit.
That was also the year Jittery Joe’s didn’t pay their sponsorship, the team nearly folded, and I took over completely as the manager to save the team. So that extra work in 2011, 12, and 13, really took its toll on me. We hired better riders, I moved fully into a support role, and was spending countless hours running the team from my desk. Training less, sleeping less, stressing more. And so it put a ceiling on my form. Podiums in ‘cross in 2010 turned into top 10s in 2011, and top 20s in 2012. In 2013 I got on top of that stress, partially with the team, but also in my personal life and my relationship. When that turned the corner, stress turned to happiness, and what was a drain became a boon. So last year my ‘cross results were back at that 2011 level of top 10s. I also lost 13 lbs over August and September last year, and that was huge.
This year I didn’t have to manage the team. That created some new stress, but the net was that I got my life back, my business is going well, and my relationship is going well. So I did all the training, reached a level of form I haven’t seen in a few years, was free to race for myself, and was able to hold that level all year long. Whether that continues in ‘cross is hard to say. Things are busy now, my road season pushed into September more than normal, and I haven’t been able to do all the specific training and dieting I wanted to. I don’t know how good I’ll be in the early season this year.
Summary is, I know exactly what you mean. When you’re over 40, every bad day is like the sign of the apocalypse. I did not expect to get back to this level and see improvement again at 42. And to be sure, this isn’t the best I’ve ever been, it’s just back to my best. But to be as good at 42 as I was at 32 an even at 22 is nothing I would have believed possible until I actually did it. So the key is not to even think about how old you are. I don’t, at all. The only difference I see is that I don’t have the same peak power as I did back then, and so I can’t come around the top sprinters out of the last corner. I go through in the top 5, but when we all stand up to sprint, they accelerate away from me. Otherwise, it’s not your age. It’s the stress and responsibilities that come with being your age. My wife is 30, we don’t have kids, she has a great job, we like each other a lot. I don’t set an alarm clock, I take naps, and my commute to my office is through my kitchen. So these things contribute to letting me race at a high level. If I worked elsewhere and had kids and got less sleep, then I’d have additional challenges, and my level would look more like that of a “normal master.” Or if I didn’t also have to run a business on the side while being a pro, maybe my level would be even higher than it is. Either way, the game you play with it is the same. Manage your stress, be happy, skip some racing or travel for good training or extra sleep, and aim for overall health and well being. The good form should flow from there. I used to always say to clients that every year you don’t get worse after 40 is technically an improvement. But clearly, improvement over 40 is still possible, too, if there are changes you can make in your personal life that will impact it.
Hope that helps.