OK, I’ll admit it. I’m an endurance addict. If I’m not out training for hours or racing my lungs out, I’m analysing data, cooking up lean and healthy meals, or doing more research into the latest gadgets, race results, or product reviews. My bank account constantly reminds me that the sport I have chosen is not a cheap one – anything that costs upwards of $800 to hurt yourself for over eight hours does not seem like a worthwhile investment to the ‘sane’ person.
Yet we all feel a pang of self-righteousness when we see someone show up at a race with the latest carbon fibre widget, the lightest frame ever produced, the deepest-dish wheels – as it is sometimes stated, ‘all the gear and no idea.’ Yes, I am guilty of this too – because, just like the majority of endurance athletes out there, I am on the never ending journey to find the next, greatest, latest thing to make me go faster with no extra effort required. I’ll forsake fashion (aero helmet), comfort (super-aggressive aero position), and dignity (tri suits and shaved legs – need I say more), just to save a few seconds on my time. The biggest victim of my desires though? My poor bank balance. I possess an inherent need to justify all my purchases – ‘but my disc wheel saves me 40 watts of free speed!’ Or at least try to rationalise my spending – ‘This groupset was 30% off, I’d be losing money not to buy it!’ My wife has now given up trying to understand why I continually outlay my hard earned on this sport, and is simply just trying to keep up with the latest justification.
I recently suffered a bit of a shock to the system when a piece of glass embedded itself in my tubular wheel an hour out from race start – goodbye 90mm carbon goodness (11 speed, of course), hello heavy training clincher with a 10 speed cassette. Naturally, I was devastated! How could I even race like this?! So when I started the race, my mindset was a shambles. I went out hard, probably way too hard, at the start on the assumption that my race was doomed anyway – I may as well go out with a bang in a screaming fireball of sweat and cursing than just fading into the background on my embarrassment of a back wheel.
It wasn’t until about 8km (and 200-300m of climbing) into the race that I realised that my power meter (once again, the latest and greatest) was still reading exactly the same as I had planned it to read – and my speed was very close to 0.1/0.2 km per hour off what I had expected as well. This can’t be right! How can a $200 training wheel be comparable to a $1000 wind tunnel tested, tribute to its designer, piece of art? Then it dawned on me… I’m not a professional! Ok, the latest gadgets are pretty cool, and yes, they do help in their way, but the biggest upgrade that you can make is to the engine – at some stage, you are just going to have to push harder on those pedals to go faster.
From that point, the race became a lot easier, and infinitely more enjoyable. The clouds in my head had lifted, and despite my explosive start, I still managed to finish 8th overall. More than that, I learned that the best investment that I have ever made is in other people – a great support crew (family and friends), and an awesome coach whose sole job is to get me to the start line in the best possible shape, both physically and mentally. All these people know me better than I know myself, and their support and wisdom enables me to be the best athlete I can be, approaching races with a clear mind and the best attitude possible – which in the case of long course racing, is almost half the battle won!
So what did I learn from this experience? The biggest lesson was that even if you have all the gear, it still doesn’t make you the best athlete on the track. Busting yourself on the training days, putting it all on the line and being honest with yourself and those with a vested interest in you is going to make much more of a difference. I think it behoves all of us to have a look at what we have, and what we – as age groupers – really need to be spending our money on. Yes, I still want all the toys, and that will never change. But maybe I’ll put that new disc wheel back on the shelf for now. That new bike, however… Yes, I definitely need that new bike!
Love the pain.
Ben Shepherd – Ambassador