Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year's resolutions

2010 is coming to a close and this is as good a time to start thinking about your future as any. January 1 is when people want to start anew with a clean sheet. Many make firm resolutions to better the remainder of their existence. Most of these resolutions will not survive January and so the more experienced among us may not bother, but if you do, let me help you along by showing you how to save some time.

New Year

Whether you are aiming to lose some weight and get back into shape, or whether you are aspiring to become a top racer, here are some things you should know about. I want to warn you beforehand that these are not what you expect nor what you will see or read about elsewhere, especially not in trade journals. I would dare to say that these time-savers might be seen by some as crazy, inflammatory, irresponsible or just plain wrong.

So let me state the following in a way of disclaimer: these are my personal opinions only and in presenting these to you I speak as an individual from personal experience.

My favorite list of things that do not matter and that you should not worry about.

1. Nutrition. As our friend Bjarne Riis said, you can eat pasta and ketchup and train seven hours a day. In short, despite all the hoopla and talk, nutrition is one thing you need not worry about. As long as you don't get an upset stomach during the race -nearly always due to eating too much or eating stuff other than carbs- and as long as you don't gain too much weight, you will be fine. For more details check here.

During the race, eat candy bars, i.e. carbs (sugars), any sugar, it does not matter, but if the race is longer try eating normal food. Forget everything else, it will make things so much easier. For more on eating while racing, check this out.

2. Drinks. Yes you read that right, drinks. You can drink anything you like during the race as long as you don't drink too much. You should also mind the calories. It is easy to get an extra 5-600 calories from drinking. Don't worry about complex or less complex sugars, or glycemic indices, or even electrolytes. If your race is longer than 3 hours try to ingest some salt as well.

3. Vitamins, minerals, supplements. These items are a waste of money for everyone, period. If anything they can be dangerous to your health and taking these is riskier than not taking any. If you live in the Western world and eat a normal diet and go outside for a few hours each day you will be OK. For my take on micronutrients and other scams, check here.

4. Anything performance-enhancing. The only performance enhancing drug that is legal is caffeine. Why that is so has to do with culture and social norms, not science or reason. Everything else either does not work or is on the prohibited list -which does not necessarily mean it works. Caffeine works well as long as you don't overdo it. Like most drugs it shows tolerance.

5. Weight loss pills. These either don't work or are illegal to use (see section 4).

6. Stretching. It is fun and may be entertaining to put your feet behind your head, but it won't make you a better racer. As a matter of fact, being stiff is beneficial for runners and bikers, but not swimmers, who need flexible ankles. Leave the stretching to ballerinas.

7. Massage. Also great fun -unless you are standing in line after the ironman, getting cold. Better in not-safe-for-work settings, massage is a feel-good form of entertainment that has no proven performance or recovery benefits. It does release endorphins and other signaling molecules, but that should not surprise you unless you believe in ghosts. You can only feel good if your brain is swamped in feel-good molecules.

8. Core exercises. Great fun to roll around on a ball but if you want to become a better runner or cyclist you should run or cycle instead.

9. Yoga. Another great way to spend the off-days and impress your friends. Yoga may be a great stress reducer and have tons of other (largely unproven) benefits, but it won't make you faster on the bike, regardless of what superstar so and so says.

10. Any mechanical fix, gadget, widget, wedge, or "technique." It does not matter how you pedal, how fast you pedal, whether you pedal in circles or in squares (like all the pros), or what crank length you use. It does not matter -for runners- whether you are a toe striker or a heel striker or whether your shoes are motion control, padded, or have wedges in them. You can run barefoot if you like but shoes protect you from sharp objects.

Chain ring shapes are irrelevant and so are pieces of padding under the ball of your foot. I would add bike fits to the list but that is sure to infuriate some of my friends who stand to gain financially from this activity. I can certainly add any mechanical fix to "correct" a perceived problem or any method, video or otherwise to diagnose such "problems."

Unless you have a real problem don't fix it.

BioPace anyone?

In conclusion:

What does help and what you need to focus on is training hard with adequate recovery. The only skill you need to learn is to listen to your body. That is easier if you don't have beeping heart rate monitors or distracting GPS voices, or erratic power meter displays to worry about. In this case, as in many others, less is more.

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