When you watch the Olympics, do you think about the dedication, sacrifice, and risk that it takes to focus on such a big event, one that takes four years to prepare for? The pressure is immense. Is it worth it?
When we invited Olympians Svein Tuft and Errine Zarsadias (you may remember her as Erinne Willock from her racing days) to join us on Fast Talk, we intended to discuss whether it was wise to focus on a single big race—for example, that Olympic Games or world championship race, or, for the amateurs among us, the state championships or that one big race you always wanted to win. What are the benefits of such focus? What are the dangers?
While we did broach that subject, we ultimately ended up discussing so much more, from goal setting to purposeful training.
Svein, an 11-time Canadian national time trial champion and two-time road champion, and Errine, a Pan Am Games silver medalist, each share their personal experiences with the Olympics and worlds, the things they would change and the things they’d do the same, in hindsight. They discuss the dangers of putting all their eggs in one basket—the dangers of placing too much emphasis on a single day or course.
They also discuss how having a purpose and other goals based on enjoyment are perhaps the most rewarding and, ultimately, most performance-benefitting mindsets you can take.
In addition to Svein and Errine, we hear from prominent sports psychologist Julie Emmerman and elite coach Kendra Wenzel who each share their perspective on the best way to target races.
Let’s make you fast!
Chris Case 00:12
Hey everyone, welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Chris Case. I know when I watch the Olympics, not only do I sit spellbound, watching the performances, I often think about the dedication, sacrifice, and risk that it takes to focus on such a big event. One that takes four years to prepare for mentally and physically, the pressure is immense. Is it worth it? When we invited Olympians, Svein Tuft and Erinne Willock, now Erinne Zarsadias, to join us on Fast Talk, we intended to discuss whether it was wise to focus on a single event, for example, that Olympic Games or world championship race, or for the amateurs among us, the state championship race, or that one big race you always wanted to win. What are the benefits of such a focus? What are the dangers? Well, we did broach that subject, we ultimately ended up discussing so much more with Svein and Erinne, from goal setting to purposeful training, and much more. Svein and Erinne each share their personal experiences with the Olympics and Worlds, the things they would change, and the things they would do the same in hindsight. They discussed the dangers of putting all their eggs in one basket, the dangers of placing too much emphasis on a single day or course, in preparation, and in your training. They also discuss how having a purpose and other goals based on enjoyment are perhaps the most rewarding, and ultimately, most performance benefiting mindsets you can take. In addition to Svein and Erinne, we hear from a prominent sports psychologist, Julie Emmerman, and elite coach, Kendra Wenzel, who each share their perspective on the best way to target races. Let’s make you fast.
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Chris Case 02:56
Well, welcome to Fast Talk for the first time believe it or not, in terms of main guests on the program, Svein Tuft, great to have you here.
Svein Tuft 03:04
Thanks for having me.
Chris Case 03:05
As well, we have Erinne Zarsadias, you might know her as Erinne Willock from her racing days, welcome to the program.
Erinne Zarsadias 03:12
Thank you, good to be here.
Introduction Erinne Zarsadias and Svein Tuft
Chris Case 03:14
So, it’s great to have both of you here as elite athletes who’ve had really big event experience, whether that’s the Olympics or World Championships, and right now the Olympics in Tokyo are going on and I just want to mention that today, our conversation is going to revolve around this idea of focusing on one big event or focusing on several events throughout the course of a season, it’s not so much a judgment call on which is a better approach necessarily, though we might get into some of that discussion. It brings up the idea of the pressure that is either put on an athlete from the outside or is produced internally by that athlete on themselves, and this makes me think of someone like Simone Biles, who, arguably and a lot of people say she’s the greatest gymnast of all time, and she’s had a bit of a struggle at the Tokyo games, she has pulled out of some events, and we’ll see how this unfolds over the coming days and weeks, but it just makes this conversation I think more poignant at a time like this. So, it might be good to start a little by diving into some of the stories behind the origins of this episode. Trevor has mentioned Erinne’s story to me before, I don’t know if you want to share that story now, Erinne? Of your Olympic experience and how it kind of took a wrong turn at some point?
Trevor Connor 04:59
Yeah, before you go into it, I just want to preface this with, Erinne, I remember being out on a ride with you, so I should give it a little backstory, Erinne and I were at the same center, and Erinne, when I was early in my career really took me under her wing, and I appreciate everything that you taught me and apologized profusely that I didn’t seem to learn any of it, but you certainly tried, so I appreciate it. I remember after those Olympics, having a conversation with you about the experience, and you said to me at the time, after that, I would never focus on a single event again, and then the following year, I remember you really focus on the whole NRC Series. So, we’re a decade later, would love it if you could share that story, and also tell us if that’s still you’re feeling about that singular focus?
Erinne Zarsadias: Olympic Story
Erinne Zarsadias 05:52
The pre-Olympic story, I mean, is a long story in a way, like you prepare for four years, and there are a lot of factors that go into those four years. The Olympic year is particularly for me was, it was a really hard year. It was good and bad, though, like so I with my coach myself, I think we did decide to focus on the Olympics as the main event, and in that, I ended up being at the Olympics in the long story-like, in super top form, awesome form, and unfortunately, on that day, I didn’t have a great day, because of other factors and whatnot. The year leading into that is interesting, because I didn’t have any big peaks of fitness planned for my season, and what you kind of forget about qualifying, right? So, the Olympic qualifiers are where we had one automatic for Canada, and if you got to the top three at a World Cup, you got that automatic, and otherwise, it was the coach’s choice. So, I went through my season not having great results, because I hadn’t planned in any big peaks in my fitness, and I think some of the other Canadians were definitely flying early spring and getting better results than me at some of the races. So, it was tricky, and then leading into the Olympics, I did get the last coach’s choice, based on previous years, pretty much, but then that choice was appealed within a month of the Olympics, and so I was going through an appeal process and going through lawyers, and it was definitely a hard time.
Chris Case 07:52
Are you describing a season where you took a bit of a risk and eliminated a multiple peak-type scenarios, and hoped that you would make the team and then you would have won, in the hope, I guess would be a gigantic peak, if you will, for that Olympic day?
Taking Risks and Qualifying for the Olympics
Erinne Zarsadias 08:12
I’d say yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what I tried to do.
Chris Case 08:15
You put all of your eggs in one basket?
Erinne Zarsadias 08:18
Yes, absolutely, I totally did. It worked out, it was very stressful in the time, and drama and all that occurring with that, and it was risky, but it did work out. I had the best form of my life at the Olympics, it didn’t do me any good, but it was there.
Chris Case 08:38
Is that because you got involved in a crash? Do I have that right?
Erinne Zarsadias 08:42
No, I wasn’t. My teammate was, it was weather conditions, and just race scenarios that just didn’t work out for multiple reasons, the Olympics is a funny race. I prepared perfectly for all the things we expected, but I did not prepare very well for the unexpected.
Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket
Chris Case 09:03
I guess that’s the nature of bike racing, too. So, it’s hard not to start off with, you know, a judgment call on putting all of your eggs in one basket, but that’s the thing about putting your eggs in one basket is that there are some elements that you can’t control in racing, other people maybe crash in front of you and take you out, or a flat tire, or something like that, and if you’ve put all your eggs in one basket then they can all break at once because of something out of your control.
Erinne Zarsadias 09:40
Totally, totally. For something like the Olympics, I look back and I think it was worth it, it’s a race that comes once every four years. However, if we’re talking about a typical season, possibly not.
Trevor Connor 09:52
When you watch the Olympics and you hear the athletes say, “What an honor to be here,” and people watching from their couches at home go, “That’s loser talk, it should be all about the metal.” I love to share with people your story of getting there and how hard it is to get to the Olympics because you were focusing on that for a couple of years to get those points to get that selection. I hope I remember all this correctly, but there was a point leading up to the Olympics where they took all the women who were the hopefuls, put you all in a house together over in Europe, and I remember Tony, your husband ended up having to fly out there and get you out of that house, because of the drama there. Then the month before the Olympics, you were essentially being sued by another athlete who wanted to get your spot. Everything you went through, just to get to that start line was extraordinary.
Erinne Zarsadias 10:48
It was a hard year, absolutely. Nothing can really prepare you for that, I mean, I wish someone had sat me down two years before explaining the whole selection process and how that goes and what can turn on you, but I didn’t have that experience, it was my first Olympics, my one and only Olympics, and, you know, looking back, I understand now how beneficial it could be for athletes to have multiple Olympics and have that experience to go through beforehand, because there’s nothing quite like it, at least in my experience, and I wish I had had that, but I didn’t.
Chris Case 11:24
Svein, I’d like to have you jump in here, and maybe the listeners out there are saying, “Well, I’m never going to go to the Olympics, so how does this apply to me?” So, what can you bring in from your professional experience? Perhaps it is those World Champs, the time trial back in, I think it was 2008 about focusing on a single event or focusing on multiple events and how that applies more generally to any type of athlete any type of cyclist out there?
Focusing on a Single Event and How That Applies to Any Type of Athlete
Svein Tuft 11:57
Well, yeah, look, I think a big difference in the sport that we do in cycling, is I think you have a different perspective, right? For however you’re trying to deal with this sport, Olympics and World Championships are big events, but I always looked at it like you have so many opportunities to race, and what I started to learn around that time was that it was more important to have a job. For me anyway, I was a bit more survival-based, so while I did want to go to the Olympics, while I did want to go to Worlds and all that stuff, that was separate from a professional team, and my goal was always to ride on a good, professional team. The opportunities there, if I was just durable and ready to go, I would be able to race a ton and have the experience and then have that opportunity to get to like a World Championships or Olympics, so that for me was my number one goal. I believe that while focusing on one event, sometimes when you’re racing 80 times a year, you’re going to be either great that year or totally rubbish by the time that big event comes around, and it’s it’s really hard to plan that within a professional team or like any team that has like other objectives than those things, because while all teams would love you to be an Olympic medalist or World Champion medalist, it actually doesn’t mean a lot in the sense of what they’re trying to achieve for their goals, you know?
Trevor Connor 13:46
That’s fair. So, looking back, do you wish you had a year where you just said, let’s put all the other races aside, and I’m just going to focus on Worlds, I’m just going to focus on the Olympics? Or did you feel it helped you as a racer to just say, I’ve got 80 races to do this year, there’s no one that’s more important, I’ve got to do them all?
Svein Tuft: Olympic Story
Svein Tuft 14:09
That time was really funny for me, to explain the World story, it would be hard to not mention the Olympics because that was in the same year for me in 2008. In 2007, our Team Symmetrix, a Canadian team we’d gone after the UCI Americas Tour to try and create spots for Canadians in the Olympics, because if you could win the most points in the Americas Tour got you an extra spot, which means we would have had three spots and anyways, we pulled that off, I won the Americas Tour, and I was still on the, you know, as Erinne can attest to things get pretty crazy when it comes to Olympic selection, there’s a lot of other variables you just don’t understand, like she said, if someone could have told you the crazy stuff that comes out, you couldn’t write it in a Fictional novel. That was my case that winter, and I was basically looking to hang up the bike like I did many times. I was up in Rosslyn, cross country skiing every day, and I didn’t touch the bike, probably until April of that same year, in 2008. So, I was pretty disillusioned, and on top of that my team was coming undone, we were losing our sponsorship. So, it was a strange year for me, and so yeah, I kind of did have that perfect scenario, so I was very lucky in the sense that I didn’t have a ton of race commitments that year, so I was able to train specifically for the Olympics, as well as Worlds, I had a lot of time at home because we weren’t able to do big racing blocks throughout that year. So, yeah, it was a very different lead-up, and I guess it’s kind of taking away from my point earlier, but I did actually have the perfect year, but there wasn’t a lot of stress, because it was kind of like once I’d made the Olympic selection, and I’d won the Tour, it had taken until June of that year before I got the final word that I was actually going to the Olympics. So, you know, in that year of 2008, I didn’t know. At that point, then I could start training, specifically for the Olympics time trial, which was the event that I was going for. So, it was such a strange year, and as I said, so many weird things were happening, I could go on and on about that story, but in many ways, looking back, I kind of had the perfect lead up, aside from all the stress and other factors that go into selection and all those things, but I was just lucky I wasn’t that involved in it, I was just like, “Well, I go or I don’t.”
Trevor Connor 16:57
I remember worlds that year, you placed second, but there’s a big Asterix here that you had a mechanical and had to finish the last about 15 kilometers on a road bike, not on a time trial bike.
Unexpected Mechanical Issues
Svein Tuft 17:13
It was about 5k to go actually, and yeah, it was on a road bike, but yeah, I think I was pretty full of adrenaline still at that point, so I wasn’t to slow but yeah, it’s always one of those things, you always wonder.
Trevor Connor 17:32
That’s what I want to ask you, does that bother you at all? Or do you just say that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and I still got second, and I’m happy with that?
Svein Tuft 17:43
I’ve thought about that a lot in my life, that was just a great moment in my life. There was an unfortunate bit where I smashed a pothole pretty hard and blew the front wheel out, but sure, it would have been amazing to win the World Time Trial Championship that year, but I’m super proud of how I approached that race and the effort that I gave because it was everything at that time for me. When I look back at my career and what I was fortunate enough to do all those years, that was the most important thing for me, it was just the fact that if I felt I gave everything and yeah, that that was number one. So, yeah, it’s cool, but it’s just a title and second up against those guys was great enough for me. I think it’s all about perspective in life, and I don’t really look at that moment as like, “Oh, I could have been world champion.” It’s just like, “Yeah, well, stuff happens.” And who knows? Like, I don’t exactly remember the time gap, but maybe it wasn’t enough still, you know?
Trevor Connor 19:06
We talked with Kendra Wenzel, owner of Wenzel Coaching about the sense of accomplishment that comes to targeting achieving success at one event, but she still warns about the dangers of such a singular focus.
Kendra Wenzel: Sense of Accomplishment and Dangers of Focusing on a Singular Event
Kendra Wenzel 19:18
Really being able to specifically build the process, a lot of times what I find, especially when dealing with international athletes is that yes, their team wants them to be very focused on a single event, but at the same time, they want them here, here, here, here here, and then a lot of times we’re building in training around a bunch of different races, and travel time, recoveries and appearances. So, that gets sometimes in the way of building for that specific event, it makes it more challenging. So, the benefit of training for a single event is that you can make the training very prescriptive, you can make it very exact, for instance, if it’s a road event, you can do it on the trainer, you can do very specific intervals. That’s not to say that you still can’t do training races or race simulation, of course, those would have to be available to you, but if they’re not, they must make that way. We kind of run into that sometimes like going towards Cyclocross Worlds, when I would deal with athletes who were not going to be able to go to Europe and do the last World Cups before that, for instance, all of sudden, they’re left with a month and a half, maybe even two months with no scheduled races, and they have to make that all up with race simulation locally, and that can be really challenging. So, on the flip side of that is then having a season based out of, you know, A, B, and C races and sprinkling those A races, throughout the season a little bit more, I think it gives it more a little more natural flow to the season, and just mentally, having a few chances each year to have a good performance can be a lot more maintainable and sustainable than putting all your eggs in the basket of one event. You don’t want to be that person, for instance, who finds out they tested positive for COVID before the one event they cared about the entire year, and so having a few more chances could be a very good thing.
Chris Case 21:50
I think that brings up an interesting question in my mind, which is about the, I guess not only the mindset that you bring to the sport, and what results mean and all of that, but the process leading up to it. I would think that if you kind of had a lack of focus on a big event, you showed up on the day, and a whole bunch of the favorites had issues and you buy quote, unquote luck ended up second, that almost might be a less satisfying feeling than you show up having focused, having done everything right, feeling great, and then a little bit of misfortune leads to your second place, and the question of whether you could actually win is still like, I don’t really know, and it doesn’t really matter, because I know that’s part of racing, I did everything I could, I’m satisfied with that, and that’s what really matters, versus the opposite scenario where it’s kind of like, by a bunch of misfortune from others, I ended up getting a result that I never really expected.
Svein Tuft 22:59
Totally, yeah. When I think back to that day, I was just in shock, because I know I had a great ride, I know I really did. I just assumed with the flat, I mean, by no means did I slow down or give up at all, I was like everything to the line, but I was just in shock with the result in general. So, again, I’m still psyched that I got to experience that day. There’s no disappointment there, because, again, when you’ve raced so much, you know the difference between, I mean, everyone puts the emphasis on first place, but in the end, I was always just proud of the effort. I know just to be at that level, that’s the challenge, that’s what we’re striving for at the World Tour level, right? To pull that off, I was just really proud.
Chris Case 23:55
It sounds like, Erinne, you basically had the same mentality about your Olympic experience, which is, and maybe this is the benefit of having time pass, but you’re happy with how you prepared, you’re happy with, you said you might not change things about how you prepared and went into that season. Though the result wasn’t there, the form was, and the process was, and you feel pretty good about it. I don’t know if that’s what you would have said on the day, but you can say that now.
Erinne Zarsadias 24:28
For sure. Absolutely, I would say that now. It’s true like I did prepare for that day, and I had small results throughout the year but nothing big. The week before the Olympics, I was fifth at one of the World Cups, so I knew going into the Olympics the next week that the form was there, and I had the confidence, it just didn’t roll out on that day for us, but I’m happy, I’m proud of that season and I’m working through all that drama, and all those obstacles, you know, you’re young when you’re going to the Olympics, too, I look back and you’re like, early 20s, you’re young, you’re still half a kid, right? So, that’s a lot of pressure, a lot of stuff to go through that time in your life. I do look back on it with pride.
Stressing About the Things You Can’t Control
Trevor Connor 25:19
I going to bring this up quickly, because I did try to look for some research in this figuring there’d be a whole ton of research on the stress that athletes face dealing with large events like this, like focusing on a big event that only comes around every four years. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any, I reached out to Julie Emmerman, who is a sports psychologist we’ve had on the show, and said, “Julie, you’ve got to have a whole bunch of research on this, can you send it to me?” She replied, “Can’t find any.” But I ended up finding one study that just got published called, Challenges and stresses experienced by athletes and coaches leading up to the Paralympic Games. So, this was published in May, and they interviewed seven athletes and five of their coaches, all of whom have been World Champion medalists, so these are high-level athletes. It broke out the sort of stress that they felt, and one of the biggest is what you guys just mentioned is all these challenges, and particularly the unknowns, you know, is my gear going to be there, they were particularly stressed about is COVID gonna affect this, what’s gonna happen on the day of? If I’m gonna feel good? They had all those stresses, and what I found interesting in this study, and I’d love to hear what the two of you think about this, is their primary coping mechanism was to get away from focusing on results, to focus in on their performance, and just saying, want I want to do is my best performance, and a result is a bonus, not the goal. That helped them to cope with all these challenges, how do the two of you feel about that?
Erinne Zarsadias 27:07
Yeah, I think I probably did that. My whole focus that year was to be as fit as possible during that day at the Olympics, and that week, I mean, I didn’t know I was going to the Olympics until about maybe three weeks beforehand. So, I’m just, you know, you’re you’re blindly training for this one day all year without even knowing if you’re gonna attend.
Trevor Connor 27:33
Erinne Zarsadias 27:34
So, yeah, I think my whole year was just planned for that day, however, once I finally arrived there, I was able to have that quiet time to sit down and focus and re-prioritize a possible result, but not until that time, not until right beforehand.
Svein Tuft 27:59
One of the things you start to realize is, you don’t have control over any of those results, and what Erinne experienced in the road race and all these different things, you can’t control that stuff, but the thing you do have control of is your training, and the dedication you have to each day, and the discipline that you have. So, you tend to cling on to those things, because that’s what’s gonna get you through, and that’s the thing you can actually take something from each day and just have a good view, whereas stressing about results or what’s going to happen in a road race or a time trial, I mean, there’s just a million variables that you can obsess about, that generally isn’t going to help you in the whole long run in.
Trevor Connor 28:52
Yeah, I think that’s such an important point, I think all of us have had the experience, I still say the race where I was probably on the best form of my life, can’t remember the name of the race, I was broken away from the field, I had like 10-minutes on the field solo, had this race, won, was really excited, and my chain snapped. I was so upset about that, I walked my bike two miles back to my car because the support couldn’t help me, they couldn’t do anything about a chain, took the time to take my nine-speed chain off of my time trail bike, put it on my 10-speed road bike, get back on the course and finish the race, and by the time I crossed the finish line, they were tearing it down. So, that was the best race of my life, they didn’t even put me in the results because they had stopped timing.
Chris Case 29:51
You still feel a little irked about that result? How do you categorize that now, that experience?
Trevor Connor 29:59
Certainly, there was frustration, and I’m sure both of you can share a bunch of these stories, but you have to be a little Zen about it and just say, there are certain things you control, certain things you don’t control, and that was one of the things I just didn’t control. There’s nothing you can do about it, so you can’t get too frustrated. I’d love to hear what you have to say about this, I do get frustrated when something that I could have controlled impacts my race.
Controllable Mishaps That Impact Performance
Erinne Zarsadias 30:29
When mechanicals or illness happens, there’s nothing much you can do, and you have to be Zen about it and go on with your day. For sure, the obstacles that happen that you could have prepared for are very frustrating. So, my Olympic experience was, it was in Beijing, and it was supposed to be you know, 35-40 degrees, and we had done all this acclimatizing for hot weather. I remember training in this like heat trailer for weeks on end trying to acclimatize to the heat, and then we went to Japan beforehand where it was 40 degrees, and then on the day of the race, it was out of our hands, and it was sunny in Beijing, but our race went into the mountains, and in the mountains, it was 14 degrees and pouring rain, and we had no idea this was happening. I had frozen water bottles still that never de-thawed, I had no rain jacket, no clothes, you had a 12- kilometer descent where we were shaking and freezing cold at the bottom. So, it was these obstacles that we had no control over, and no idea were even happening because we did not have a coach or an official out on the mountain course communicating the weather with us. So, yeah, those are things that I got frustrated about because, in retrospect, we should have had a coach out there, we should have known the weather, why didn’t anybody know the weather? It’s an easy fix to throw a rain jacket in your back pocket or to not have frozen water bottles when it’s 14 degrees, and those things were super frustrating.
Svein Tuft 32:11
I do agree, the things that you prepare and train for and all those factors and whatever things go sideways on the day, I guess the thing that keeps coming back to me like again, we don’t have a lot of control over those things, so while I do listen to Erinne’s story, I’m like, geez, because I remember doing all that same stuff like, yeah, so much preparation in the heat and for other races, it was a factor, and it’s so crazy to hear your story because I do remember watching your race, and the weather was ridiculous, how much it shifted, and you know, we did that great training camp in Kyoto, just beforehand, like you said, super hot. So, when the body is totally prepped for that kind of environment, your ability to cool is so efficient, and that doesn’t help you on a 15-degree morning in the rain, it’s the worst-case scenario. But in saying that, I’m just a big believer, I just think that we must be adaptable, too. I think the one thing that racing in the world tour all these years is like no matter how much you prepare for something, be ready for all the other crazy stuff that happens, too. I think while that doesn’t help in that whole message, I think it’s really always important to just remember, like, we don’t have a lot of control of those other outside variables other than your own preparation, and that comes from the mind as well. Like how adaptable and how much you let those things crack you, right? Like, in the end, you still had the race, right, Erinne? You still had to go out and do it.
Erinne Zarsadias 34:07
I just think that day was such a funny day with the Olympics, we thought we were so dialed, we had everything perfect. There’s no other race in my whole career where we were that dialed, and but we’re on the wrong channel, you know what I mean?
Svein Tuft 34:25
Yeah, who could have known that, right?
Erinne Zarsadias 34:30
My Husband Tony was out on the mountains, getting ready to watch the race and he was trying to phone call the coaches, the Canadian coaches, and couldn’t get ahold of anybody, because he was like, I’m out here and it’s pissing rain, and nobody knows, right? But some of the other teams were communicating and they had rain jackets and newspaper and all that ready, and it’s just one of those things where the Canadian team didn’t get that memo, and we missed it. It was a simple communication that could have been fixed easily, and I think on any other event, you know, you got cell phones, you’re not in China, it’s easy to communicate and we were just so dialed on the heat that, yeah, no one was expecting it.
Chris Case 35:24
Well, I think that goes to the initial dichotomy here of preparing for one thing or focusing so much on one thing that you neglect in some ways to understand the full context and the possibilities. So, maybe we can jump on to that and talk about the dangers of that. So, yeah, obviously, I’m not placing judgment on things, as I’ve done similar things when it comes to preparing for a race and you think the conditions are going to be one thing and you get so focused, you get so set in your ways, you are very, very confident that it’s going to be one way and then you know, it’s the weather so things change, and crazy things happen. That can happen in a road race, it could happen in a cyclocross race where you think it’s going to be a sunny day, and you only bring the file tread tires, and then you show up, and it’s a mud bog, and then you’re really screwed, and those things happen. I think it also goes along with the point of that’s part of the danger of focusing on a single thing is that you end up sometimes with blinders on and get too focused on the specifics and forget that almost anything can happen come race day.
Trevor Connor 36:44
So, that raises a really good question, I want to ask both of you that gets through this targeting a single event versus multiple events. Even if you’re targeting a single event, do you think it’s better to be that finely tuned, and that focused on the weather conditions and nature of that race? Or is it better to be a generalist and just try to be as strong and as tough as possible and deal with whatever the situation is on the day.
Svein Tuft 37:13
I can speak from my own experience, and my character, and I would say the times that I really dialed everything in and obsessed about every detail and got like hyper-focused on everything, I’ve generally, that’s been the worst, because the things that I thought I was preparing for, the things that I thought I had dialed, were kind of the last thing that I needed to focus on. I think everyone’s different, I know for myself, just because whatever the way that I am, that never really helped me in the end, I just needed to have like a better overall picture of like, being durable, and just like a general view on the preparation, without obsessing about all the minor details, because it’s not my forte, as well, I start to obsess about details that just don’t matter. While you’re out there, you’re like, those things that I was going crazy about have nothing to do right now with what I’m doing, and that’s been a really good lesson for me, like, just in the sense of like, something like bike packing really brings that out, because there are a million more details involved in a big trip, and quite often you get out there and you realize you aren’t using any of that stuff, you didn’t need to pack all this extra crap, you know, it’s about the trip, it’s about the journey, it’s about the adventure, and not necessarily about these million other details that need to be perfect. Yeah, perfection for myself just doesn’t work out because it’s not my forte at all.
Chris Case 39:03
I would like to just chime in here, too. We’re talking somewhat about mindset, but we actually did an episode about whether you should build the best engine or focus on specifics of the race day, build the best engine you can, and then you can apply it to whatever race situation there is or build a specificity into your training for a very specific course and event. We had that conversation with Jim Miller in Episode 121, I think it was so check out that episode for a little bit more of a discussion on the physiology here. So, yeah, Erinne, what would you add to this notion?
Being Adaptable and Not Over-Preparing for a Race
Erinne Zarsadias 39:42
I would definitely agree with Svein, being adaptable, and not over-preparing, were definitely my best days on the bike as well. Honestly, for me it was just going in with a good mindset of enjoyment to be honest when I was able to just go in and have fun on those days with the confidence that my form was good, those are when I had my best days of racing. When I did try to prepare and try to dial it in, you’re right, there’s always something that goes sideways, there’s always something that can throw you off. Those usually weren’t my best days either.
Chris Case 40:25
It’s interesting, too, Svein that you mentioned bike packing. I think, just to the average listener, they might think, what does bike packing have to do with the World Tour? Or what does bike packing have to do with my crit this weekend? I think what you’re getting at is, you can obsess over a lot of the details, whether that’s equipment or training, or mindset, or the course, or the weather, all these things and get so focused on that, that A you add a layer of stress to your planning and preparation, which doesn’t do anybody any good in any situation. Then you focus so much on those things, you forget the big picture, which is, you know, showing up prepared, the fundamentals, obviously being essential, and so on and so forth. Just as an anecdote, I just went through this process on a bike packing trip where I went to Iceland, mixed surfaces, lots of unknowns, a lot of preparation in terms of gear, and obsessing over, do I bring this rain jacket or this rain jacket? Do I bring one pair of socks or two pairs of socks? You get out there, that stuff kind of falls away, you don’t really have to think about any of that the decisions are made, but what you do have to rely on, and you hope that you’ve developed beforehand, is the ability to improvise, the ability to assess a situation and to make sound judgment calls and decisions based on that, and that applies to bikepacking in the wilderness of Iceland or in a criterium. If you haven’t faced a situation before in a criterium, and things are happening at lightning speed, then you’re probably going to get super flustered, but if you’ve maybe visualized things, you’ve gone through scenarios in your head, whether you’ve experienced them in other races or not, you can tap into some of that and say, okay, I’ve dealt with this before, or I’ve dealt with this in an imaginary scenario, I’ve got multiple choices here, and quickly make the assessment and quickly make the call on what you need to do. Hopefully, I’m not rambling too much, but I think globally, and, you have to prepare really well, and then you kind of have to not forget it, but ignore all that stuff, and let it sit in the back of your mind and not obsess over it anymore, and just focus on the present, and what’s sitting there right in front of you, which is a race.
Svein Tuft 42:54
100%, Yeah. I think you build up a good foundation, just like you do in training, and then like Erinne said, it’s just adaptability. That’s one of the things, like Erinne and I both work with a foundation that, you know, helps with the development of younger riders, and I think that’s the number one message we’re always trying to get through is like, yeah, you know, there’s a million things you think you have control of and you want to get on this team, and there’s just like, these kids have so much data available to them, and they want things right away, but in the end, they don’t have control over that situation, build a good foundation, build a good engine, and then be adaptable, go over to Europe with an open mind and don’t obsess about things that are supposed to happen, just roll with the situation. One of the things that happens is there’s a freedom to that, and there’s happiness with that because every situation is kind of a bonus. Whereas if you have in your mind exactly how things are supposed to roll, I just found for myself, and I’m sure it’s a lot the same for other people is that you don’t really enjoy the moment ever, you’re just always looking down the road at the next thing. So, yeah, in the end, we’re just trying to enjoy biking, whether that’s racing a crit or going on a bike packing tour in Iceland, you know?
Chris Case 44:23
I like to think of this in terms of a really great TV show that hopefully, all of our listeners know, and it’s become a piece of pop culture, you know, when somebody is faced with a scenario and they don’t know how to figure it out, but they then use a piece of duct tape and gum to figure it out or create the solution, they talk about MacGyver. I think having that mentality like nothing’s impossible and you can always figure it out, if you have access to a few things and mostly your brain, you can figure it out and come up with a solution in any situation you’re faced with.
Trevor Connor 45:09
So, I want to bring this back to the original question and answer this for our listeners. Obviously, most of our listeners are not going to the Olympics, a lot of our listeners, might do some racing, or they’ll do events like a grand fondo, but they’re not trying to go pro, they’re not trying to hit that highest level. That said, I get a lot of emails, and what really sparked the idea behind this episode, I get a lot of emails from our listeners saying, you know, my whole focus this season, there’s a gran fondo coming up, or there’s this event coming up, or some might try to go to nationals and we see them, either they’re only doing a single event in a season or their whole season is about a single event. I just want to throw this at the two of you and ask first the question, how wise do you think that is? Then the second question is, if they’re only going to focus on one event like that, what are your recommendations to them to make sure they look back and say, this was still a good season for me?
Svein Tuft 46:20
I think it’s dangerous to put so much into one day, no matter what level, no matter what it is. I get it more at the World Championship level, the Olympic level, for a lot of athletes, that’s just what you have to do, but that’s a different scenario than someone who’s trying to go out and get the most out of a gran fondo, no matter what level that is, you have to go back to that whole idea of trying to build a good experience up to that moment, where it’s been more a part of the journey, then the outcome of that result on that day. What I think a lot of people do is they stress and do so much crazy stuff in between with blinders on looking just towards that day and what they think it’s going to be, and quite often those days are never what they think, and then they’ve been kind of miserable in the build-up, and then maybe the day goes great, and that’s nice, and they’re happy about that, hopefully, that’s the case. But quite often, it’s not because a lot of people have very big objectives in those types of things, and quite often it won’t play out like they thought, and then you run the risk of also being miserable after the event. So, I think it could just be better to have like an overall approach about that journey of training and just the idea of like, health, lifestyle, and focusing on those things, like the benefits of what you’re actually doing, the social aspect of cycling, just looking at all these other variables as part of the build-up to that, part of what you’re getting out of this experience, and then the day is gonna be whatever it is, and if it’s awesome, then that’s a bonus. That’s how I would hope I would look at something like a gran fondo later on in life. I actually feel I do that even now, like, I go out because I love biking, the end outcome for me, yeah, I have an idea of how trips gonna look quite often, it never is like that. That’s how I would leave it, because it is tricky. I mean, I know people want results, and they want to have something they can take home and be proud of, but you should be proud of that whole journey, that whole effort, because it’s all just part of a process. The fact that you can gauge with all the different data and training devices we have, you can actually gauge that progression, it’s something pretty cool you can take home with you.
Erinne Zarsadias 48:57
Focusing on that one event can be very mentally tiring. I know during my year of trying to focus on the Olympics, during that early springtime, when I didn’t have the greatest form, I really missed those times in the year or those smaller races where I got results that gave me the motivation reminded me that it was fun to race and gave me that confidence to keep going on. I know when I took that season and I was never in super good form and I never got the results that I was used to or I wanted and then the other Canadians were often beating me in races, I started to kind of like doubting myself. I think mentally that was very hard on me, just not having that typical season that I was used to and those typical results of the small little prizes of like winning a race or doing well and having the fitness to attack and have fun in the race, I was missing that, and I started doubting my plan, I started doubting my fitness. I know mentally that was really, hard on me. Whereas the other years when I was doing a typical season of having multiple smaller peaks and kind of having good fitness year-round, it was just more fun to be honest. It gave me more enjoyment in my season, it gave me more to look forward to and more to focus on at smaller chunks of time, which I think helped my focus in those years. Whereas the Olympic year, it was just such a long stretch of waiting and waiting for this fitness to arrive that did eventually arrive come the summer, but it was just such a long year of that, it was really tiring, really mentally tiring.
Trevor Connor 51:00
Completely agree, I’ve actually had a bit of that experience this year myself. So, we’re doing what we’re calling the N1 challenge here, each of us have picked an event to focus on and mine is at the end of August.
Erinne Zarsadias 51:12
Trevor Connor 51:13
So, I started racing in the spring but was not trying to be on top form in the spring because my one event, I’ve rarely ever focused on a single event, but this year, I’m doing that. My one event was so far away, I didn’t want to be on top fitness, and it beat me up to go to these races, and yeah, I had some breakaways, I had some moments, but for the most part, I wasn’t performing very well, and it was ceasing to be fun. One of the things I changed a summer is just said, I must go to a few races to go and perform and remind myself this is enjoyable.
Erinne Zarsadias 51:50
Exactly. I mean, we’re all out there because we love bike racing, and because we love what we’re doing, and we’re lucky enough to do that as a career. Focusing on that one event is just very tiring, and in my opinion, it can take that fun out of what you’re doing. I think the smaller chunks of focus on certain events throughout the season, can give a lot more enjoyment, and take a lot of the stress off of the big event.
Svein Tuft 52:21
Totally. Adding some other objectives like, yeah you have this grand fondo, but maybe like a challenge with your friends, like some epic loop, you know, like adding some things that challenge you not in that same way of like competition, results, and all that, but things that you can kind of look forward to throughout that build up to that one big event. It’s like Erinne said, you get that bit of confidence, right? Whereas when you’re just waiting for that one thing you obsess and you don’t know how you’re going to perform on the day, but at least if you’re out with your buddies, having a good time smashing it, you’re going to know how that day is going to be a lot more than if you just keep in this training routine by yourself, you know, obsessing about some great result at a gran fondo.
Trevor Connor 53:17
I’ve had many amateur athletes tell me they aren’t pros, so they don’t want to focus on multiple events. As a sports psychologist, Julie Emmerman, explains a single event focus may not actually make things easier.
Julie Emmerman: A Single Event Focus May Not Actually Make Things Easier
Julie Emmerman 53:30
It seems to me that sets the individual up for way too much pressure on one event, and so in their attempt to see themselves as not, quote, unquote, as serious, it actually puts so much pressure on one event that it becomes, you know, increasingly important as the event draws nearer, and that event takes on more and more significance. Whereas if you have a series of events to train for, enjoy, experience, learn from, you know, you’re going to offer yourself a much greater learning experience, as well as probably a sense of community with the other athletes that you’re surrounded by, who knows if that includes also travel experiences and whatnot, and you don’t have to categorize yourself as quote, unquote, serious, but you’re offering yourself more opportunities to learn and improve and thereby work, you know, be that much more efficient towards working towards your goals. I definitely agree that it’s fun to choose one or two, maybe even three events scattered throughout the year, depending on how your season is or what your specific discipline is within your sport, but it is fun to create, you know, this is my A priority race, this is the one I’m really excited about, and that could be because maybe the course suits you, or it’s been a location that you really like, or you have other good memories there, it doesn’t matter what it is, but as long as you put a higher degree of value on that event, and you make it you’re A event, then I just think it’s smarter to have other events that are deemed less important that you can experience leading up to that so that you can just get the niggles out. You go through all the nerves, you can practice what kind of mindset you want to have, how to practice all your mental skills, as well as just acclimates to things like you know, how are you going to do a warm-up when you’re 500 miles from home? Or you know, what kind of trainer do you use on the road? Or do you warm-up on the road? Just getting used to all the different variables will be helpful in preparing you for that A race down the road.
Chris Case 55:42
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The Result and the Approach
Chris Case 56:21
The one thing I would add here to play devil’s advocate a little bit is that the results often will determine a little bit more about how you feel, your focus went, or that the process went, whether it’s a one focus type scenario or a multiple focus type scenario. What I mean is, if you focus on the national championships one year, and you say, “You know what, I’m just gonna go through this season as if it’s one big training session leading up to this one big event,” and you go to Nationals, and you absolutely smashed it, I think your perspective is, “Damn, I pulled it off, I did it right, I took a risk, and the reward was I won the national championship that I wanted.” I think on the flip side, however, if you do that, if you take that approach, you do everything, sacrifice essentially every other result for that one, and then you go to Nationals, and something happens, that means you don’t win, whether that’s mechanical or something, you’re like, “Well, shit, I just wasted an entire year preparing for this one event, and I got nothing out of this season.” So, I think that the result really does matter, and the reward for putting in a lot of hard work and focus on a single event can pay off, but only if the result is there. Of course, that means you’d run the risk if the result isn’t there of feeling like you’ve wasted a bunch of time, or you’ve sacrificed a bunch of time, or you’ve just done it completely wrong. I don’t know if everybody agrees with that, but you’ve all said the result isn’t what you should be focusing on, but I think that for a lot of people out there listening, whether it’s right or wrong, I don’t know, but the result is what they’re after. We could have another conversation entirely about whether that’s the right approach and whether you’re going to actually get what you want out of that medal or that little trophy or the free tubes that you won at your local race based on that result is right or not, but I think that the result does play a role in how you feel about your approach.
Svein Tuft 58:50
I think you’re right, there can be a whole other conversation about that. The result at the end of the day, it’s like what everyone’s striving for is the result because we’re trying to calibrate ourselves up against others in competition. So, that’s always going to be a factor, but I think there’s a way bigger conversation in what you’re trying to get out of this. Like what are you doing? I think we could go on for hours about that.
Chris Case 59:19
Yes, that’s absolutely true. Maybe we should at some other time on a different episode, I just know that again, not placing judgment on whether it’s healthy or unhealthy, good or bad, that is a question that will be in the minds of listeners is, I want that result, isn’t it okay if I do everything I can and I get that result? Well, yes, it is, in a way.
Svein Tuft 59:45
Totally. It’s just the odds are way slimmer. let’s just put it that way to get exactly what you’re looking for.
Chris Case 59:54
Svein Tuft 59:55
In my opinion.
Chris Case 59:56
Yeah, and that’s the risk. That’s a big risk.
Svein Tuft 59:59
Trevor Connor 59:59
I think what the two of you said earlier is really important, which is, if you put all your eggs in that one basket and really focus on it, inevitably your mind’s going to go down the, what are all the little things that I can do to make sure I’m really honed in for this race? Chris, we even did an episode on this, focus on the 95% not the 5%. There’s a real danger of losing your perspective and focusing on a whole bunch of things that don’t matter at the expense of the things that do.
Svein Tuft 1:00:34
Erinne Zarsadias 1:00:35
Focusing on the 5% and Missing 95% of Why We Race
Chris Case 1:00:36
Yeah. I mean, I bring up this point a little bit, because of personal experience, and, Trevor, you know about this because I said to myself, I’ve done kind of everything I want to do, and again, this is at an amateur level, when it comes to cyclocross, in a state in Colorado, where there’s a lot of good racers, I’ve won this race, and I’ve won that race, and this year, I want to really focus on nationals. I’ve gone to Nationals, and I’ve had great results before, but this time I want to just focus on Nationals, and I put my eggs in that basket. I actually had a great season, I won everything again, or you know, I did well, I did want to do in all those races leading up to Nationals. Then I had a really poor performance at Nationals, so to me, the season would have been great, had it been a different result at Nationals, but then because I focused so much on that one event, and that’s where I put all my emphasis, the rest of the results of that season kind of fell by the wayside, and I didn’t take a lot of satisfaction or gratification from those which is another problem that people will run into, they’ll overlook those smaller successes and sacrifice them because of this obsession with the one focus. That I would say is wrong and somewhat unhealthy, because, again, we’re doing this for the fun and the joy that it brings us and if you turn the page so quickly on those small successes, then you’re missing out on 95% of why you do it, which is enjoyment, fun, health, all that.
Trevor Connor 1:02:18
Well, I’ll share my story of something you regret, but I’ll quickly share my story of 2011 where I was really focused on Nationals. I’ll point out, Svein, you won nationals that year, but a month before nationals I was at Joe Martin, broke away with Francisco Mancebo, and was a virtual leader out on the road. I didn’t capitalize it, because what was going through my head is this is not my target race, I’m focused on nationals, which was just a really stupid thing to think and to do. I didn’t do as well in that race as I could have because it wasn’t my target race. Then I get to Nationals a month later some of the best form of my life, seven minutes into a race the guy beside me fell over landed on top of me and that was the end of my race.
Svein Tuft 1:03:13
Sounds like a Nationals, yeah.
Erinne Zarsadias 1:03:14
Yeah, that’s about right.
Chris Case 1:03:18
Yeah, I guess that brings up the point of if you’re too focused on one event, then you fail to seize the opportunities to have joy and success at other events that year or other experiences leading up to that event. So, that’s a risk, and in my scenario, it’s more you didn’t fail to seize those opportunities, you just failed to capitalize on the rewards you would feel from any type of success, joy, or positive experience or validation that the process is working. He just kind of dismissed it and moved on, okay, that’s great, but Nationals, but Nationals, but Nationals, or something like that.
Trevor Connor 1:04:03
My regret looking back on that is not Nationals, I had no control over the guy falling over. My regret was having probably the race in my life at Joe Martin and not taking advantage of it.
Svein Tuft 1:04:16
We’ve been discussing that all along, you’re just on this great journey of that year, you’re missing out with just horse blinders on looking at the thing that you have no control over, and you kind of had some control over that moment at Joe Martin, you know, more than Nationals. That’s the risk, you just keep bypassing all these great moments in between.
Trevor Connor 1:04:40
Yeah, it’s kind of a live in the moment. Svein, I have to point this out, I’ve always loved that tattoo you have on your arm of, “never be here again.” Which I think speaks to this.
Svein Tuft 1:04:50
It actually parallels a lot of what we’re talking about. I was living a life of, yeah, I was just looking towards the next thing all the time and missing these beautiful moments. I think of our life in cycling, I know Erinne is the same, you travel to all these great places and your mind is just on the thing, you’re obsessing about, and you’re missing out on all these great experiences. I think back to our Symmetrix days, with a lot of the Canadian boys here, we were going down to South America on these crazy adventures, and I hit a point in my life where I just like, I realized I wasn’t actually enjoying the moments, I was just thinking about the thing down the road. I mean, tattoos are a funny thing, because you do them when you’re younger, and you’re like, “Oh, man,” but it’s something that still holds true to me like I still feel that. There are so many times you’re in a moment, and even if you go to the same place twice, you’re never going to be that same person in that same zone. I think the times when I’ve tried to recreate things that were awesome in my life, they’re never the same, and they’re never as good. It’s because it was just part of what you were experiencing at that time of your life, and you were able to soak all those things in. I guess the point is, just be receptive to that, like, each moment could be the best moment of your life. I know for a lot of people that might hear that and be like, “Oh, that sounds like ********.” No, but I know I bypassed a lot of great moments in my life just obsessing and looking at the wrong thing. It’s a reminder, but for sure don’t have it dialed, I will tell you that like I’m still doing it, but it’s something that I like to keep current in my life to at least I hope that every now and then it hits home.
Chris Case 1:06:48
I want to ask a follow-up question. We’re getting pretty far off the topic in some ways, but I think that this might help people with the topic we’re talking about, if that makes sense? That is, you say you haven’t got this dialed in yet, but what do you do? Meditation? Mindfulness? Training in that regard, to help you seize those moments to not, as you put it, bypass those moments. For both of you, Svein and Erinne, and Trevor.
Svein Tuft 1:07:24
Well, kids will kind of sort that out because you let go of a lot of your own stuff, and you hang out with kids, and you get to see things through their eyes. So, I’d say that’s helped me a lot in my transition away from the sport.
Chris Case 1:07:40
How many kids do you have?
Svein Tuft 1:07:42
Two now, a four-month-old, they add a lot more spice to life, the second one, as Erinne knows.
Erinne Zarsadias 1:07:50
Svein Tuft 1:07:54
In the day-to-day stuff, I’m a big fan of like, just going and walking in the morning and kind of almost like, planning out your day, not in a real structure, but like, what’s your intention? What’s your point of the day? I’m also a big fan of yoga. So, I try and get those moments, and then obviously, cycling, I think, for a lot of us is like a form of meditation, and it’s a big part of why I’ve done it all these years. I go out for a big ride, and I feel pretty damn good when I come home. So, I mean, you can probably go into all the scientific aspects of that, but all I need to know is it makes you feel good, and it sorts out a lot of stuff in the head.
Chris Case 1:08:38
That’s good enough for me. That’s perfect, yes, absolutely. We all know that feeling well.
Erinne Zarsadias 1:08:44
My dad always was always saying, “Change the channel, change the channel, Erinne, if you’re upset, change the channel, think about ice cream, stop thinking about that.” I’ve always held that to heart and kind of followed that in my life, you know, everything’s always a choice, you can choose to wake up grumpy, or you can choose to wake up happy, and remember your days and live them freely and openly, and I know that. So, I think for me, I have really taken those two things to heart, and I try to do that every day to wake up and take that choice of living my life to the fullest and living happily. You got to do that with kids, too, right? It goes so fast, and it’s so easy to get into the rut of being in a rush or being you know, having to go somewhere, and I think often, nope, change the channel, slow it down, choose to be happy, choose to enjoy it, choose to remember it. Those kind of came from my childhood, and my dad. He was a bike racer as well, and so I think lots of those words may come from Saul Miller, who was a sports psychologist that he worked with, but they worked for me throughout my life. So, even today, I still use them.
Trevor Connor 1:10:05
Are there any other things that either of you would like to share to add to this before we start to wrap it up?
Svein Tuft 1:10:12
There’s a ton more conversation just in that whole mental aspect, the other side of it, like, what are you trying to achieve out of this? I think for a lot of people, they’re living way too seriously for the reality of what they’re doing. I get the lockdown, crazy discipline at the World Tour level, that’s a job, but for the people that are doing gran fondos, and like, you know, local events, it’s not that serious. So, you shouldn’t be so crazy about it, you should be having fun. I think in the end, your results would be a lot better if you just took it that way. So, I think there’s a big conversation there, how to do it in a way where you can come off without sounding like a dick about it, could be important.
Erinne Zarsadias 1:11:06
Yeah, Svein, I think even at the professional level, that holds true.
Svein Tuft 1:11:11
Oh, for sure.
Erinne Zarsadias 1:11:12
I mean, like, as much as the professional level, you got to dial it more, it’s still like the years and the seasons, where I had good teammates, and we had good chemistry, good culture, those were the years where successes happened. I think it holds true everywhere, and we do forget about that, the more serious we get. You got to have that culture and the chemistry and keep things light, and in my opinion, in my experience, as I think for you, that’s where the success comes.
Svein Tuft 1:11:53
The Balance Between Seriousness and Lightheartedness
Chris Case 1:11:55
Yeah. I think that is a great point from both of you. I wonder if we could explore that a little bit more because as with so many things, there’s a balance there, you can’t always be goofing around and still expect success to follow, I don’t think. How would you recommend somebody balance the lightheartedness it takes to keep the joy in their training and racing, but also be serious enough that they sort of fulfill their potential or live up to the expectations they’ve set for themselves?
Svein Tuft 1:12:33
I think if we can answer that one,
Erinne Zarsadias 1:12:35
We’d have the golden answer.
Svein Tuft 1:12:38
Erinne Zarsadias 1:12:39
Individually, each person’s going to be different, I think. Don’t you agree? Like there is no magic answer to that. You have to listen to what’s important to you, and what works for you, there’s trial and error to it as well.
Chris Case 1:12:56
I like to ask the hard questions, guys.
Erinne Zarsadias 1:12:58
What do you think, Svein?
Svein Tuft 1:13:00
Well, I think, again, like yeah, there’s no right answer, and each case is different. The sport attracts a certain type of individual, a type-A individual who likes to get serious and really obsess about things. Again, I think it’s like so much of life and that it’s hard to convince someone who’s in that moment in their life, but it’s about perspective on everything, and how you perceive stress. I think that’s the biggest factor is if you’re always perceiving everything as a stressor, and like, it’s so hard, and you’re having to do so much discipline, it’s just not a fun way to go through life, if it’s just about, and going back to your comment, too, Erinne, it’s totally true, professionals don’t have to live that way, yeah, we have to work hard, we have to do our training in a specific way, but it comes back to that perspective. How are you going about each day? Just that question you ask yourself, like, you get up in the morning, and you’re like, “How am I going to look at these things?” I remember that’s how, you know, in Grand Tours, I would go do some yoga before each day and spend time outside, and in my head, I was always trying to assess how I was going to approach each day. What was my goal for that time? It really helped me kind of understand what the real goals were, not just if I was just going along with everything else, like not thinking about it. It was just having that awareness of how I want to approach each day. So, it’s a super complex question and nothing that I have the answer for, but if I’m going to say anything, it’s to sum it all up, it’s just how you perceive stress? And what’s your perspective on what your actual goal is out of this?
Chris Case 1:15:05
That raises two questions in my mind, I’ll hit you with one of them now and then we’ll see if I can remember the second one for later. You made the point that so many amateur cyclists out there, maybe they just take it too seriously. I guess my question is playing devil’s advocate here, what if taking it seriously is exactly what brings them joy? Maybe there are other things going on in their life, they just aren’t happy about and I’m making up a scenario that may or may not be plausible, the focus that they can bring to the sport, and that seriousness is exactly what brings them joy. I think in that case, what would you say in that case to that person?
Svein Tuft 1:15:55
I think for some people you’re bang on, and they might need that in their life, but I think you have to be careful that you’re not running away from other things. I think that’s the thing that I get a little leery about when I see, I’ll just speak from my own example of grown men who have families, who have jobs, and they’re obsessing about their bike racing in the local bike race, and they’re living like a professional, and they’re sacrificing other aspects of their life that, you know, I think, just again, my opinion, is more important than their local results in the crit. I think that’s where it becomes dangerous. So, it’s great if it’s an outlet that’s actually like a benefit to your life, and adding some good things to your life, some good value, but it’s not healthy if it’s taking away from the things that are truly important, which are your family, and how you support that family.
Trevor Connor 1:16:58
Something I want to add. So, Chris, you know, I started my coaching career working with younger athletes who were trying to go from the amateur to the pro ranks, and I really enjoyed working with that group, but something that I saw pretty much every single athlete deal with, and it was a career-ender for many was that transition from something that had been their enjoyment, their fun, their release, to becoming really serious, and becoming their job, and how hard that was on almost every athlete, then finding that balance. I rarely saw it be a pro, when they said, “Now this is my sole focus, and I need to be really serious about this,” it was much more, “Where do I get my enjoyment in life now?” The ones who couldn’t find that enjoyment, end up quitting, and some of them had a lot of potential. It was the ones that could either go back to keeping, even though it was now their job, keeping cycling fun that were successful or found other things to enjoy.
Erinne Zarsadias 1:18:10
That’s interesting, Trevor, yeah, I could see that happening a lot, especially these days, with all the technology and gadgets that the young riders are using for training, it takes away a lot of the fun. I think Svein and I have discussed this stuff before with the funding group that we work with, with these young riders, like Svein and I both started racing without all those gadgets, and we didn’t have power meters at the beginning, and those were the fun days where you know, you just go out and you hammer and you go back and you’re wrecked, but you kick the crap out of your friends and your training partners and eating some candy and now you go home and you sleep. I think today’s generation probably does have a lot of a harder time finding the enjoyment with all those numbers, and it would be a balance of you know, maybe letting the computers go once a week and just going out and having fun with your friends, and remembering those times of just like hammering the roads and having fun on it, right? And getting back to the basics of just bike riding.
Svein Tuft 1:19:23
Totally I always like to say if I could have seen Filippo Ganna’s power files, I probably would have quit the sport immediately.
Chris Case 1:19:34
Oh, Filippo Ganna. Yes. Yes. Yes. Okay, so for those who don’t know, very, very talented Italian time trial specialist, I guess you could call him, who has one of several big TT’s this year.
Svein Tuft 1:19:50
Yeah, he just puts out more watts than anyone. It’s scary.
Trevor Connor 1:19:58
That’s saying something, Svein because I’ve seen your power files if he scares you.
Svein Tuft 1:20:03
Oh, yeah, I mean, this guy, it’s just next level, the level just keeps going up. It’s insane.
Trevor Connor 1:20:11
Chris Case 1:20:12
So, another question that came to my mind when you were discussing whether to be serious or the balance between seriousness and lightheartedness. Again, I’m not sure how much of this pertains to our listeners out there, but I’m curious to hear your answer, which is, and I don’t know which rider to focus on, but I’ll just pick someone like Chris Froome, maybe you can give me an example of a former teammate, but I feel like there are certain riders that reach a certain level that probably sacrifice whether they know it, or not some amount of joy in life because they’re so fits, they take it so seriously, as a professional athlete, to get to the level they get to. Then at some point, either they retire, or they crack, and they become a different kind of rider because they cannot sustain that level of seriousness. Have you seen that? Is that true? I guess the question is, would they have ever gotten to the level they got out if they didn’t take it so seriously?
Svein Tuft 1:21:24
Well, I think there’s a pretty big caveat here, and I’m going to say for the general classification, Grand Tour guys, they are a different breed, I think they have to be, that again is my personal opinion. I think it’s really hard for them to be super happy go lucky all the time, I have seen some that get close, but I think the nature of that job, it’s just so insane, and it’s so all in for that three-week period, that it’s really hard. So, the caveat is like there are guys who are doing the job, and their day in and day out work is stressful at moments, but it’s not stressful all the time. So, like a Grand Tour leader or guy, leading the team, he’s obsessing about sleep, he’s obsessing about the recovery, soon he’s in the bus, he’s obsessing about the next day, what kind of weather it is, it’s like 24/7 for those guys, because they have to be fighting for every little bit out there, right? The Grand Tours, like the Jiro, will throw everything at you. Whereas the guys who are doing the work or say the sprinters, their days are switched on and off. So, they can afford like, you know, like a sprinter their jobs done for the day, they’re in the Gruppetto, they come rolling in, they eat some food, everything’s a bit of a laugh, you know, because they know, their day is not for another couple days, or maybe just they have a bit of work to do the next day. So, it’s a very different mentality, as you can imagine, to be so happy, go-lucky all the time as a GC leader, compared to the guy who’s working for specific moments in a bike race.
Chris Case 1:23:21
Yes, understood. Yeah, that makes total sense.
Trevor Connor 1:23:24
We were talking about this before the show. I learned as a team manager that you ask in the meeting with the team before the race, who wants the leadership? Who wants the mantel on their shoulders, and everybody puts up their hand in the team meeting, but in the actual race, there are only a couple people that are actually willing to put up their hand and take on that pressure of now the whole team’s working for me and I have to deliver, or I let down the whole team, most people don’t want that pressure. When you’re talking about something like the Tour de France, that pressure is extraordinary, and I do believe it takes a unique person mentally to be able to handle it.
Svein Tuft 1:24:08
Chris Case 1:24:10
This episode’s really been filled with a lot of great pieces of wisdom, and I’d like to bring it to the main theme was meant to be, which is this idea of how to focus, where to focus, and where to place your focus. We typically will end episodes with one-minute take-homes, but you’re nice Canadians, I’ll give each of you as much time as you want.
Trevor Connor 1:24:43
Do we get a metric minute?
Chris Case 1:24:45
A metric minute? Yes, you get a metric minute. Give us your take-home message from everything that we’ve spoken about or an aspect of what we’ve spoken about, and let people know what you think is the most important message from the episode. Erinne, I’ll start with you.
Erinne Zarsadias 1:25:01
Focusing on multiple events can often be more enjoyment, and be a bit less stressful, however, if you want to focus on that one event for a token year, sometimes that result pays off, and lots of people will do that and choose to do that, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It just comes at a cost, and it comes at a risk, and sometimes it’s worth it, right?
Chris Case 1:25:31
Trevor, why don’t you go next.
Trevor Connor 1:25:33
What I got out of this is, don’t forget the experience along the way, whether you’re focusing on multiple events, or a single event, it’s really easy to be looking at the horizon so much that you pass up on the really great experiences that you could have along the way. I’ve always loved, Svein, your story of that tattoo, “never be here again,” I always thought that was a great bit of wisdom that I personally have tried to apply, no matter what my goals are, no matter what my targets, when I have one of those moments in life, enjoy it.
Svein Tuft 1:26:15
I think you guys both summed it up really well. I think one of the things that really struck me through the conversation was that there’s plenty more to talk about here, and a lot of it has to do with just, what exactly are you trying to pull out of what you’re doing? What’s the end goal? Is that to enjoy the sport? Considering the level, you’re at, and just, yeah, what’s your end goal here? Just like Trevor said, it’s this whole process that I’m going to say, after doing this sport for all those years, it was, about the season, it was about looking at the whole picture, it was about all of the little stuff in between, and yeah, there was some great moments here and there, and sometimes the stars aligned, but I’ll tell you, even in 20 years of racing, they rarely aligned on the race day, I can probably think back out of 20 years of racing, and I don’t know how many races, how many times they aligned perfectly, and that was a lot of opportunity, I can count maybe three times. So, with those ratios in mind, I wasn’t the most talented bike racer, obviously, there are guys where it lines up a lot more, but even then, you know, like a great year is 5-10 races won out of 80, those are still pretty small numbers, and that’s like the super freaks in the sport that pull that off. So, yeah, it’s just about asking yourself, what are you trying to achieve? What would make you happy? Like Trevor said, enjoying all those moments in between is going to be super important. So, yeah, hope that makes sense.
Trevor Connor 1:28:14
Don’t give me the credit because I stole that idea from you, or at least you taught me that many years ago. Chris, do you have any final thoughts?
Chris Case 1:28:22
I think I’ll just be repeating what you guys have already said, which is, no matter what you do, in terms of your focus, I think keeping a healthy perspective and obviously it’s debatable what we mean by healthy but doing it for the right reasons. If you’re banking on a single victory at a single big event, because you feel like that’s going to bring you value as a person or the success you’ve never had, and it’s going to make you happier than you’ve ever been before, I think you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. If you focus on the process, if you focus on the daily purpose of what you’re doing, then you’ve increased the chances that you’ll have so much more joy and fulfillment from what you’re doing, and I think because of that, you’ll also increase your chances of having success, however, you define that, whether it’s big or small. So, that doesn’t really answer is one better than the other, but I think in a way it sort of does. It’s not unlike the conclusion we drew from episode 121 on is it better to build the best engine or focus on specificity if you build the best engine, you’ve built the best version of yourself. So, you should be able to go out and apply it in a lot of different scenarios and have a lot of success. So, in this case, if you build the best mindset and you build the best engine and you go out and you focus on one gran fondo, or one race, or several races, then you set yourself up for as much success as you can possibly have, which is ultimately what you’re looking for.
Trevor Connor 1:30:25
Great, thank you. As you said, I think we could have got another three hours on this conversation, but I think the listeners are going to get a lot out of that episode. So, as I suspected with the two of you, so truly appreciate it.
Erinne Zarsadias 1:30:37
Yeah. You’re welcome, Trevor.
Chris Case 1:30:39
Yes, thanks for joining us.
Chris Case 1:30:43
That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts, be sure to leave us a rating and review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always, we love your feedback, join the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com to discuss each episode. Become a member of Fast Talk Laboratories at fasttalklab.com/join and become a part of our education and coaching community. For Svein Tuft, Erinne Zarsadias, Julie Emmerman, Kendra Wenzel, and Trevor Connor. I’m Chris Case. Thanks for listening.