Masters: What to do when you can't do it all


by Gus Grissom
If you are among the nearly 38,000 licensed masters racers in America, it’s happened to you: life. It always happens. And when it does, it’s rarely compatible with your training schedule. We’ve all been there; things are going great and we’re feeling fast when duty calls. A business trip happens or a partner leaves and suddenly we have two jobs, one paycheck. Training suffers and our peak race approaches. What can you do? Real life is so… well, real.
Kyle Wolfe, USA Cycling licensed coach and owner of Finish Fast Cycling, says the answer is simple. “Don’t panic.” Certainly it’s a little more problematic than that. But with a healthy perspective, Wolfe says, masters racers actually have all the right experience to deal with life’s challenges while still peaking for that key event.
What Separates the Masters from the Rest?
Before exploring solutions, it is important to keep in mind masters’ specific challenges. Wolfe understands that life is simply different for a 40- or 50-something (or more!), than it is for those wild and crazy 20-somethings. “While the young racers can focus on just having a super-fast season with ‘peak’ races every weekend,” Wolfe explains, “my masters racers have to be more selective. They have to focus on a few, very specific events.” In other words, masters racers can’t say to their coach, “I just want to be fast and furious all the time, no limits!”
Wolfe explains that masters have to work a little harder to balance their work and family with their racing. Plus, he adds, “feeling a little tired all the time during solid training blocks is pretty normal for masters.” This may not always be the case for younger racers and Wolfe explains that masters have to understand that their bodies just aren’t going to feel stronger every day if they just keep training harder. Everything takes more time: building, recovering, and managing a balanced life.
But, Wolfe explains, with a little forethought and a good coach-athlete relationship, it’s actually easy to manage the racing life. Simply put, he explains, there really are only two main types of challenges to success: planned and unplanned.
Planned Challenges: Where to Ride in Singapore
Planned challenges are easily overcome. As a racer plans the year with his coach from what Wolfe calls the “30,000 feet perspective,” it’s important to put all the planned challenges on the training schedule first. When is that conference in Singapore? What about that ridiculous report that’s always due in July? Wolfe tells his athletes to put these on the schedule first; they are, in his mind, as important as the peak races.
“When a racer has a conference in Singapore – and it’s always somewhere like Singapore with a long flight, major time changes, and no bikes available – we plan around it.” Wolfe puts it on the schedule first as a planned recovery week and builds up to it. Basically he says to treat it like an important race but dig a little more deeply into training just before the trip. Yes, Wolfe says, a racer will have more fatigue going into the trip, but then she will “coast out the fitness as long as possible” using the trip to recover without losing fitness. It’s important not to worry about missing workout opportunities during this trip; rest is a key to gaining fitness.
Perhaps, he adds, the hotel has a gym with some simple spinning bikes. If so, certainly it’s a great idea to use them for some short, easy sessions to keep muscle memory awake during the trip. But the key is to relax and see the trip not as a training obstacle but a recovery opportunity.
Unplanned Challenges: Doesn’t My Boss Know It’s Race Season?
It’s the unplanned interruptions that are the real challenges: those times when the boss or the family says “your week is now mine. Drop what you are doing and do this. Oh, and it’s due Friday.” Wolfe says he can always tell when this is happening to one of his athletes because suddenly communication stops. “When I don’t get reports from my athletes,” Wolfe says, “I know life is hitting them hard and they feel guilty.” Eventually, he says, the athlete sends a sheepish e-mail saying “Last week’s rides didn’t happen. Sorry. What now?”
Again, the key is “don’t panic.” Wolfe says it’s actually pretty easy to get back on track with a mature approach. “An athlete’s instinct is just to ignore the missed week and to jump right back into the normal plan.” But that’s not the best approach. Wolfe explains that it’s not so much the week that’s been missed, but the key workouts. And for masters, it’s the key workouts that matter most, not the overall training load.
“When an athlete misses a week,” Wolfe explains, “it’s best to examine what was really important in that week.” So instead of saying “well, that was a bad week but now it’s Saturday and I can ride with my teammates,” it’s better to replace the less-important group ride with that key interval session missed on Wednesday. Instead of riding “fun-miles” with friends, ride the “focused-miles” designed to prep for a key event.
Crazy Problems, Crazy Solutions
One challenge facing masters, unfortunately, is the amount of misinformation available on the internet. One such legend is “magical Tabata intervals,” short duration, high intensity workouts designed to build fitness quickly. “Yes, it’s amazing how the human body can snap itself into peak racing shape quickly,” Wolfe explains. But he cautions that masters racers have to be very careful and have to know their bodies well enough to avoid accidentally over-training in an effort to make up for lost time.
“If an athlete has a lifetime of muscle memory from high school track, to college marathons, and then to post-collegiate bike racing,” Wolfe explains, “it is possible for his coach to help him recover a lost week with some intense Tabata-style workouts.” But, he adds, that’s the value of working with a coach. “One of my main jobs as a coach is to help the athlete manage both body limitations and mind expectations.” So while a missed week is not necessarily a season-ending event, it’s also not going to be made up for in a single brutal workout. A mature approach, Wolfe advises, working with a coach who understands the athlete’s history is the best way to overcome life’s unplanned challenges.
So if life happens – and it always happens – “don’t panic.” The season will go on and you can still peak for that championship race. Just plan for the unexpected: build a relationship with your coach, tell her everything you have going on, be honest, and – most importantly – trust that she wants you to be successful just as much as you want to succeed. With a mature perspective it is always possible to achieve success even in your own world-gone-mad.

This Article Updated July 20, 2015 @ 05:05 PM For more information contact: