Dr. Hutch: why bother training?

Having returned to training after a long lay-off, the Doc finds his fitness undiminished - proof, he deduces, that training doesn't matter… so why bother?

During the dark, cold, wet days of winter, I ride my bike only when I feel like it. I’m neither a professional cyclist nor a psychotic masochist (a Venn diagram with quite a large intersection, I admit), I just want to enjoy the occasional ride whenever I deem the weather acceptable. Some winters, that’s relatively often. This winter, it has been practically never. I think I’ve managed a total of about 20 hours since November.

But a couple of days ago, not only did I ride, it was dry enough to ride my race bike: a winter treat. Unlike my winter hack, it has a power-meter. Switching on the computer after so many weeks of idleness felt like putting a revolver to my head.

The numbers were fine. Absolutely fine. I was just as fit as I had been when I’d last used it, almost to the watt. The three months off has made no difference. From this, I joyfully concluded that training didn’t matter: I could be just as fit without it.

The feeling of jubilation lasted exactly as long as it took me to work out what a terrible thing that would be. Think about it. If training doesn’t work, how would you be able to justify all those hours spent cycling?

As it stands, training is a noble thing and an activity that one’s family appreciates and applauds. Whenever you announce that you need to spend all weekend riding a bike because you’re training, everyone accepts that as a piece of self-improvement.

That’s why when we get home afterwards we are all so careful to say how tough it was, how much we suffered, that we now need to go to sleep until it’s time to go back to work, and that of course we can’t paint the bloody bathroom, haven’t you been listening to a word we’ve been saying? If our breathless debrief is revealed as a sort of posturing astrology, we’re all screwed.

The end of coaching

Coaching is going to fall apart. Your coach will have no choice but to send you an email that just says, “Doesn’t matter, do whatever you feel like, but remember, have fun!’ every week.

The regular phone conversation that features in most coaches’ top-priced package is going to consist of them asking if you had a nice ride, and whether you spotted any interesting road kill. While this would make coaching appreciably easier, and all those lovely certificates a little easier to obtain, I can foresee some problems for the business model.

How would you justify buying that power-meter you’ve been saving up for? If, as I suspect, training makes no difference, gaffer taping a fag packet to your bars with ‘290w’ written on it in magic marker will do exactly the same job.

Think about the wider consequences too. If training doesn’t work, we won’t ride enough to wear things out. Our consequent lack of expenditure on replacement hardware will force groupset manufacturers to start constantly changing their products from any universal standard fitting to endless annoying and unnecessary variations of proprietary fitting, just to keep us spending money.

(A manufacturer’s spokesman said, “We would hate to do something like that to consumers, and wouldn’t dream of it unless this training-doesn’t-work thing turns out to be right.”)

Real ale reps

The gathering cataclysm is quite enough to make you want to spend the cold winter days sitting by a roaring fire in a pub instead. And maybe having a few ales to calm your jittery nerves; why not.

Actually, there’s a thought. If training doesn’t make you faster, perhaps beer doesn’t make you slower. We need something to do, after all. I feel that, having wrecked cycling with my last discovery, I owe it to all of you to have a long hard look at anything I can do to make things better again.

Acts of cycling stupidity

It was interesting to note the House of Lords last week backing a ban on smoking in cars that have child passengers. This is the same House of Lords that has in recent times seen members blaming bike riders for accidents that we might otherwise have blamed on people who design, manufacture and run large lorries with huge blind-spots and minimal safety provision for other road users.

Given the enthusiasm for blaming the victim, surely the House should have suggested children be forced to wear gas masks? Or be strapped to a roof rack? Or even ride bicycles? OK, sorry, that last one is just crazy talk…

How to… Spot talent

The true test of your worth as a watcher of cycling is to spot talent. Whether you’re a coach, a manager, or a fan, your worth, your income or just your bragging rights depend on your ability to identify the youngster or newcomer who has the ability to make it.

There are two ways to do it. One is to watch lots and lots of racing, make copious notes about what happens, especially about the kids who manage to live with rivals who are older or who’ve just developed faster. Keep track also of the ones with lots of natural speed, but who seem to lack the endurance, since that will come more naturally with age.

The problem with it is that, while early recognition of genuine talent is important for the youngsters, it makes things really difficult for anyone who is more interested in looking more clever than they are in helping to shape a career — ie most of us. The reality is that the later we leave it, the easier it all gets.

The other way is to wait a few years till you’ve seen which of them has actually grown up to be a star. Then you just tell everyone you’d identified them as a genuine talent the instant they got on a bike. Make up a story about how you saw them racing in the junior tour of somewhere-no-one’s-ever-heard-of years ago. You’ll be amazed how willing everyone is to believe you.