There's training, and then there's training. And then, of course, there's not training, I suppose. I've spent my share of couch time partaking in the 3rd option these last few years, but I do my damndest to avoid it, and for the most part training is a thing of my past; something I walked away from after 'bout 10 straight years of training for the 400m. These days I just regular-ass train - ride how I want to and sometimes do hard things that sound like a good idea. It's really great. My mental health flourishes and I maintain my love for the machines, and I feel that both of those would be in jeopardy if I flipped the switch over from focused exercising to training. My chosen cycling lifestyle is not without its drawbacks, however. For instance, I've lost every road race I've ever entered (it's rough to think of it with that phrasing), and during and after each one it's been impossible to not imagine different outcomes if only I was, say, willing to hook up a power meter, or ride on the rainiest days that see me instead glued to my gameboy with a spiked coffee in hand. I had a close brush with success in the King's Valley road race a few years back, for example, and finishing off that podium certainly made a few shitty interval sessions seem more tolerable. Each loss very much tests my resolve to keep not working very hard. Stay strong, Tiny.
If the fear of unrealized potential somehow manages to challenge the benefits I find from keeping it low key, though, there's one additional element that always tips the scales back towards the chillaxi-training approach: Surprise Me! Legs.
I assume some of you folks out there own and thrash Speedvagens with the Surprise Me! paint schemes. If you're like me, the Surprise Me! isn't appealing because you think you'll get something extra special, or you have some special faith that the design will be perfectly spot on with your desires. The Surprise Me! paint is intrinsically appealing just for being a surprise. It's tough to beat the excitement of not knowing, but knowing you'll know, and then finding out. The paint could just be white. White all over, with no details at all. Or black. It could look like a steel version of every carbon bike out there right now. In either case, it wouldn't matter, because the decision wasn't to get a paint job, it was to get a surprise. It's just icing on the cake that the SM paint schemes always ball hard.
For me, it's the same story with my legs. With no season planning or scheduled peaks, my legs could be good or bad on just about any given day. If they suck in a race, I figure at least it gives me something funny to talk about, and if I'm honest I probably wasn't going to win anyway, what with almost all of the people losing almost all of the time. If the inverse occurs, though, and I pedal off the line thinking "this feels perfect," then that's a surprise plus a little sumpfin' extra, and you can't beat that.
At the state champs cx race a couple of weeks back, I rolled up to the front row of the singlespeed race with a big question mark hovering above my head. I'd been riding a bit more than usual, but I'd also stopped doubling up on races once the weather got colder and wetter, so I really had no clue what my body would do for me or to me. The question mark was the excitement.
That day the dice came up in my favor, and my body did everything I asked and more. My foot found the pedal, so I was able to lock down the hole shot, and my lower back held out well enough for me to always ride (grind) both of the hills that walked the fine line between ride-able and not. My feet lifted themselves high to not snag toe spikes on barriers, and my right shoulder had finally broken in enough to feel no pain from the top tube. It was glorious.
I worry that if I trained, a day like that would be met with muted feelings of "yeah, that's about right," and had things gone any differently I'd have no option but to feel true disappointment. By coming into the race reveling in the impending surprise, with little in the way of expectation, I was guaranteed a fun time, and as things played out, I stood on top of the podium with thoughts much more, well, colorful than "yeah, that's about right."
If you train, a large part of me is still envious of you and your dedication, but to all of those folks who merely regular-ass train, or even just go outside and ride, I highly recommend paying special attention to your Surprise Me! Legs the next time you toe the line.