Sprinting is, and has always been, a passion of mine. It ranks right up there with Gameboy, Tremors, and wishing I could skateboard, which is to say, at the very top. Sprinting wins my sports heart.
Even when it all goes wrong
When I played soccer on my terrible (but glorious) high school team, I was full-time striker, and our one and only tactic was to lob long through balls and see if I could (with very limited skills) beat the defenders to their goal. When I still raced track (of track-and-field), it was strictly for distances between (and including) 60m and 400m. The thought of playing mid-field was unbearable, and to be asked to consider competing in the 800m seemed equivalent to being asked to eat my own intestines through a fresh mortal wound with my bare hands and not so much as a wet nap. These feelings we not born out of hatred for endurance, they were simply a reaction to the thought of having to give up focus on pure top-end speed and form. The pinnacle of sport, for me, is to go as fast as you can.
I came into cycling through track (bike style) after I was done with college eligibility for track (and field style), and as a form of competition it met my one criteria of rewarding obsession with max speed. Staying single disciplined in bike racing seems nearly impossible though (and tragic when achieved), so it was not long before I pinned on numbers for road and cross races as well, and found myself branching out in my training as a result. Half hour workouts were swapped out for three or four hour rides, and while I missed (and still miss) the focus on short max efforts, the benefits of riding long enough to get more than a few miles from home were tremendous. And in between those long rides, I've still always set aside time to get back to my roots and work on brief explosive power, so all is well in the land of Tiny.
These days, however, I find myself frequently running into a brand new demon for me, and his name is Tiny-you-really-need-to-learn-how-to-climb-hills-on-your-stupid-bicycle. Maybe you guys have all known this forever, but apparently it took me 4 or 5 years to finally be slammed with the realization that I ain't really gonna accomplish shit outside of a crit or track race without some kind of climbing legs. With crit season seemingly starting later every year and featuring fewer races, and with track racing filling my guts with fear of season (and bank account) ending crashes, spring and summer road races are feeling more and more important to me. Crits and track don't have hills though, and road races do. Hmpffff. On the surface, the solution looks easy; lose a little weight, do different workouts, and bingo, better climbing. Through cross season I made some habit changes that dropped me from about 132 to 125lbs, and I'm still right there today, so part one is done. The workout thing is where the situation gets tricky...
Right in there alongside all of the good coaching/training techniques are plenty of really bad coaching/training techniques, and with the lack of quality science in so many cases it can be very difficult to guess what will work, what's overkill, and what is just stupid. One training idea that has embedded itself deep into my brain, whether right or wrong, is that training for explosive performance and training for long, slower efforts do not compliment each other, and that one in effect overwrites the other. I have my doubts about the validity of that concept, at least when simplified to such an extent, but that doesn't change the fact that it is so ingrained in my sports brain that it affects my approach to just about everything.
So here I am, stuck. Do I sprint, or do I climb? Five second efforts or five minute grinds? It's hard to win a race if you can't beat the people around you to the line, but you can't beat them to the line if they left you at the foot of a hill two hours ago. To focus on the race before the finish would undoubtedly do me good, but, as I found out last season, not having proper finishing legs under you is a guaranteed exercise in frustration. There is only so much time in the day; so much energy to give to the bike, and choosing how to spend it is excruciating.
But in the end a choice must be made. Climbing would help my racing, climbing would build character, and climbing would maybe even result in a reemergence of the abs that disappeared when I bid farewell to my teen years. ..
Ultimately though, I feel no emotional urge to pursue it, and sprinting wins out. The next time you see me off the back of a hilly race, with better riders and their stronger legs up the road, pushing on to the finish, know that I will absolutely be regretting my decision, but it will only be temporary, because deep down in my sports heart I know that sprinting is my passion.
PS: It's fun to ponder things like this, especially when it means not thinking about work for a while. Please note, though, that I totally think people can be good at both things. Those people just have to ride their bikes a lot and be less wussy than me.
PPS: The "sprinters" of any sport also have the benefit of getting to have and be around more butt. Butt rules.