Q&A on Training Grit, Psychological Tricks to Beat Fatigue, and Stage Racing, with Grant Holicky

We address questions on how to train grit for race situations, if you can safely override the central governor, and training for a five-day stage race.

Grant Holicky cycling and triathlon coach

Longtime Fast Talk Labs contributor and coach, Grant Holicky, joins us for another Q&A episode of Fast Talk.

With Grant’s help, in this episode of Fast Talk we tackle questions on race tactics (including the infamous “shake and break”), if and how you can train grit in races, how to safely override the central governor and a greater discussion around the ethics of pushing past this fatigue threshold, training for a five-day gran fondo stage race, and the dirty tricks of road racing.

Our first question comes from David Sommers, of Madison, Wisconsin. He writes:

“My brother and I often train together. We like to go on long rides at sunset through farm country, hoping to inspire cowboys on horseback to race us. I tend to practice wheelies, while my brother is more concerned with perfecting his ‘shake and break’ technique and shifting into the big ring for some tomfoolery with guys on horses. My question is, which of us is doing it right? Who is cooler?”

The next question comes from Gabriela in Buenos Aires, Argentina:

“It has taken me a long time to realize that I don’t know how to suffer in a race. In training, I seem to be able to really hurt myself. But when it comes down to the crux moment in a race, I tend to give up early. Why? Why does this happen only in races? How can I become as determined in a race setting as I am when training alone?”

This question comes from Berto in Perugia, Italy. He writes:

“I have read much about the science of the central governor theory of fatigue. Now I want to safely employ psychological methods to gain more from my performances. How do I do this? I’ve heard that limiting feedback can be a good thing. Is that true? I’ve heard that deception can help me, to a point. Is that true? If these things are true, how do I implement some effective strategies for pushing safely past that point where I initially feel ‘fatigue’ in my training and racing?”

This question comes from Dave Stohler in Bloomington, Indiana. He writes:

“Back when I was really into racing bikes, I was obsessed with being Italian. I learned Italian, I idolized Italian things, ate Italian food, rode Italian bikes. But then I was in a breakaway with some Italians and they played a mean trick on me, shifting my downtube shifter into a huge gear when I wasn’t looking. Is this fair? Are all Italian racers meanies?”

This question comes from Justin in the UK:

“I’ve never done a stage race of the 2021 Haute Route Pyrenees before, which is a five-day stage race. With the race being in early July, how and when should I be trying to replicate the demands of five hard mountain days in my training program?

The demands of each individual day will be quite different to other road races I have done, given their overall length and each timed climb section is likely to be 40 minutes plus, with two or three each day.

How should I structure my training to get the best adaptations?

Also, given most of the riding will be sub-threshold, should I be incorporating lots of low carb and fasted endurance rides in my training to encourage my body to burn fat as a fuel?”

Episode Transcript

Intro  00:12

Hey everyone, welcome to another episode of Fast Talk your source for the science of endurance performance.


Chris Case  00:19

Today we’re sitting down with Grant Holicky, you know him from previous podcasts on the Fast Talk Labs network, from content he’s done for Fast Talk Laboratories and our member program. It is April 1st of 2021, this year is moving fast, Grant Holicky, it’s great to have you back on Fast Talk, welcome.


Grant Holicky  00:40

It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me, guys.


Chris Case  00:43

Are you ready for today?


Grant Holicky  00:45

I’m always ready. I’m born ready.


Chris Case  00:47

Very good. Very good. Are you wearing a tuque?


Grant Holicky  00:52

No, I’m not. I’m not wearing a tuque.


Trevor Connor  00:55

No, he’s not and he should be.


Chris Case  00:58

You have a Canadian tuque for him, don’t you?


Trevor Connor  00:59

Does everybody know this? I actually, in Canada, bought a tuque for Grant because he told me he would wear it, that says Canada on it. It has been sitting on my desk for two months, and he has yet to come in and get his tuque.


Chris Case  01:14

I think you fell for his American sarcasm. Why would he want to wear a Canadian tuque? come on? Alright, we’re really setting the tone for this episode. Let’s get into some questions. I’ve got a good one here, it comes from David Summers of Madison, Wisconsin, he writes, my brother and I often train together, we like to go on long rides at sunset through farm country, hoping to inspire cowboys on horseback to race us. I tend to practice wheelies, while my brother is more concerned with perfecting his “shake and break,” technique and shifting into the big ring for some tomfoolery with guys on horses. My question is, which of us is doing it right? Who is cooler? Guys? What do you think?


Trevor Connor  02:04

My question is whether Chris added the word tomfoolery, or if that was in the original question.


Grant Holicky  02:10

I don’t think there’s much of a debate here, you know, I think wheelies are the answer, right? Like who’s cooler? The guy that can do wheelies is cooler. I mean, I’ve been trying to perfect a wheelie my whole career, and I can’t do it, and I’m not cool. So that’s kind of the answer for me.


Chris Case  02:29

That’s real, that’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it?


Grant Holicky  02:32

It really is. I’m the antithesis of cool, and I can get my front wheel off the ground by about two inches without, you know, slightly peeing myself. So, I am going 100%. with David Summers on this one, man, you’re doing it right.


Trevor Connor  02:48

You are missing the point here. There’s is really important physiological question here, that Dave did not give us, so I don’t think we can give an answer. Is he or is he not wearing short, short 80s jean shorts?


Grant Holicky  03:00

I mean, I think that’s always a good question, especially amid the appropriate gap gravel attire of 2021. Which everything I see that Max Chance wearing is obscenely short, uncomfortable looking in for him, and for me, jean shorts.


Chris Case  03:20

And yeah, everything he wears is denim these days, right?


Grant Holicky  03:23

Yeah, that’s all he wears is denim. I mean, he is in Montana so that some part of it, right?


Chris Case  03:29

He is close to Canada where that is called a tuxedo, right?


Grant Holicky  03:33

That true. So, I think Trevor is on to something here, you know, like, it’s one thing to be able to do a wheelie, but if you’re not doing a wheelie in appropriate, dare I say, growed kit, then, are you really even doing a wheelie?


Chris Case  03:51

Huh? Wow.


Trevor Connor  03:53

Allow me to just point one other really important thing here, which is if you are on a bike, racing people on horses, and you think shifting from your small chainring to your large chainring is going to fool people on horses.


Chris Case  04:11

To answer your question, Trevor, I certainly did not add the word tomfoolery to this question. This is all David Summers, this is what he wrote us.


Trevor Connor  04:22

Yeah, boy, this question sounds really familiar.


Chris Case  04:25

I think that’s because David Summers is really famous cyclist, and he’s won some really big races in his lifetime.


Grant Holicky  04:35

He beat the hell out of some Russians with hockey helmets on.


Chris Case  04:38

That’s true. Yeah, he also beat some cocky Americans, Musin, some other guys, I mean, David Summers was the legit.


Trevor Connor  04:51

Oh, I really wish it was possible to go from being somebody who just commutes on his bike back and forth from work to winning a race over top, Olympic champions. I Also wish the top cyclists in the World was a Russian that look more like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Be so much easier to beat them up.


Chris Case  05:10

Huh. You know, now that I think about it, it’s funny that you mentioned Belov’s physique, because it’s strikingly similar to Grant’s physique.


Trevor Connor  05:24

You make a good point, but doesn’t.


Chris Case  05:26

Grant can’t do a wheelie, and I bet Belov can’t do a wheelie.


Grant Holicky  05:29

Belov can’t do a wheelie, and even if he could, he wasn’t allowed.


Trevor Connor  05:32

I’m pretty sure the actor who played Belov learned to ride a bike about two days before they film that movie. April Fool’s, Thank you very much, good question. If you haven’t watched American Flyers, stop this podcast right now, go watch that movie. You’re not a cyclist until you’ve seen American Flyers.


Grant Holicky  05:51

And you’re really not a cyclist until you can criticize all the cycling misleading points of the movie as we’re doing right now. So yeah, take a moment go watch it, pick out the wrong socks, the hockey helmets, all those other things that are going on in that movie, but it’s a classic, without a doubt it’s fantastic.


How to Suffer in a Race

Chris Case  06:14

Well, all right. Enough of that, let’s actually get into some legitimate training questions here. This next question comes from Gabriella, she’s down in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She writes, it has taken me a long time to realize that I don’t know how to suffer in a race. In training, I seem to be able to really hurt myself, but when it comes down to the crux moment in a race, I tend to give up early. Why? Why does this happen only in races? How can I become as determined in a race setting as I am when training alone? I’m tempted to start with Trevor here, because I’ve actually heard him describe something similar with an athlete he coaches, I wonder if that will lay the groundwork for a good discussion here about the you know, training hero race days zero type of scenario.


Trevor Connor  07:18

This is one of those things that give you any interval work in the world, intervals aren’t going to do it. And yes, I have an athlete who has struggled with this, and to the point, to give you an example, we were in a Zwift race together where we were trying to work on this. We were doing the London Loop and it was going up the one that climbs in London that takes about seven, eight minutes. I have him do eight-minute hill repeats, which he was doing around 360 watts, he hops into this race on Zwift and got popped on the climb doing 320. And I just like, “what’s going on?” He was like, “I just couldn’t keep up.” I’m like, “but you do hill repeats 60 watts higher.” We managed to get back into the group and I just said, “next time we get to the climb, forget you’re in a race, and just pretend you’re doing hill repeats,” like close your eyes because you’re on a trainer, so you don’t need your eyes open, and just pretend you’re doing hill repeats. And then he did his 360 watts and started dropping people, but it was a mental thing. You get him into a race, and it starts going hard, and there’s something that goes on in his head to say, “I can’t handle this, it hurts,” even when it’s well within his ability to do it. And it has dogged him for years with his racing, because we kept making him stronger and stronger and stronger and didn’t matter, he was getting dropped in races he should win because of that, that mindset. And I’m using him as an example, but I’ve seen this a bunch of times. And he’s certainly a bit of an extreme case, but there’s less extreme, and I’m bringing that athlete up because it’s something we really worked on last year. Our way of working on it was simply to use Zwift. I quite literally for about a month just got on Zwift with him, and we would enter race after race after race, and I actually had to be kind of mean to him. We would sit there on the phone and he’d start to get popped, and I would just be like, “don’t you get popped,” and yell and curse at him and force him to keep at it, and then as soon as he got popped, I go, “okay, what’s the next race?” We drop into the next race, same thing and I’m sure he was not liking talking to me for a little bit. But we finally after about three weeks had a race just something clicked in his head, he’s like, “I’m tired of Trevor yelling at me, I’d rather just hurt,” and we got into a race and he just dug deep for the first time ever, and just said, “I’m not going to get yelled at again, I’m going to dig deep and get through this race,” and he hung on and it was the first time he had ever done it, and he was so happy about it, then 10 minutes later, they hit it hard again, he got popped that time, but I didn’t care. It’s like, remember, you hung on that time, and then he kept practicing it. And after about a month, it just stopped happening. He just that switch flipped, and he was able to handle it. And part of what we talked about is, the reason he struggled so much with this was because he had this concept that a lot of people get, which is when you get really fit, racing becomes easy, and that’s what you’re looking for. And what was going through his head after we talked about this for a while he would get to these moments, and they would really hurt and what would go through his head is, if I was fi, this wouldn’t hurt, therefore, something’s wrong, and that’s what would make him quit. And so, I had to explain to him, I don’t care how fit you get, racing hurts. Like I even made the point, Chris Froome could come back here and do a Cat 3 race. Yes, he’s going to win it, but it’s actually going to hurt him a little bit to win that Cat 3 race, nothing compared to hurting the in the Tour de France, but it’s going to hurt him.


Grant Holicky  11:12

Well, what’s the what’s the Greg LeMond line? It doesn’t hurt any less you just go faster.


Trevor Connor  11:18

Yes, exactly.


Psychobiological Model of Training and Research

Grant Holicky  11:21

And I think that’s really appropriate. And I think, you know, what we’re dealing with here is that psychobiological model of training and research teaches, us that the brain and the body are inexorably tied together, you don’t get one without the other. It’s why the perceived effort at times is pooh-poohed as a measure, it still is in a lot of ways, really, really relevant, regardless of the watts because the athletes perceived effort really, really matters in any time in any place.


Difference Between an Athlete’s Expectations and Race Setting

Grant Holicky  12:02

One thing that I would throw out here, that I’ve seen through many, many years of coaching is the the difference between an athlete’s expectations and a race setting. What are their goals? What are they trying to achieve? And so many times with athletes that struggle with this, they’re going to tell you, “I’m trying to win, I’m trying to place,” so everything they’re doing is outcome based, what is the result going to be? What is this all going to look like at the end of the day? And how do I judge myself? Well, I judge myself on the results. I’m sure there’s some people listening this that are going well, of course you do, and unfortunately, that kind of extrinsic motivation, that kind of extrinsic definition of success, really sets us up for some failure in a race setting. Because as soon as it starts to go wrong, or as soon as it starts to maybe, perhaps feel like it could sort of could go wrong, now we’re in a place where well, that result isn’t attainable, so what’s the point? And, and by contrast, in a training setting, it’s not about the result, or maybe it’s about the result, the results completion. And I think one of the things that I’ve noticed is, you see this same dynamic in that type of athlete in their training, where they’ll say to you, well, I got through three of the four, eight efforts, and I didn’t have it today, so I just pulled the plug. And, you know, there’s a lot of debate among coaches, what you do, and a lot of coaches will say, pull the plug, I love to talk about, we’ll just reduce everything but 20 watts and finish the workout. Because completion has to be the goal, the process has to be the goal here, it’s not about hitting every single mark that you can possibly think of, it is about getting better every day. And there’s a reason you know, I’ve said this before, I’ll say it a million times more, there’s a reason it’s called functional threshold power, because functional means it’s different on any given day. And you know, you didn’t get any sleep, you didn’t eat correctly, you’re dehydrated, your kids kept you up till three in the morning, whatever that is, your functional threshold power might be 20% lower today, 10% lower today. Well, you know what, dial in, hit it 20% lower, 10% lower, and you walk out with a big old W.


Trevor Connor  14:26

Yep. I think that is part of the toughness, that’s a really good thing to learn. I personally I have those hill repeats that I do, sometimes I go up and do them, say I’m going to do fewer hill repeats and see what sort of wattage I can hit. Other times I go out and do them, and say, I’m actually gonna bring my wattage down a little more, but I’m going to do five, six, seven repeats, and that’s training the pain, training the ability to suffer, because let me tell you, by the time you’re get into that fifth repeat, you don’t want to do another, it’s really hurting and that note, I’m just gonna keep slogging through this, make myself finish this. It never stops hurting, but you can change for lack of a better word, your relationship with the pain. My athlete, that’s what he was struggling with, he hated the pain.


Grant Holicky  15:15



Trevor Connor  15:16

Was part of it, and I actually taught him that you can experience the pain differently. And I go through this personally, every year, first race I do in March or February or whatever it is, you hop into that race, it hurts like hell, and you’re just like, “why would I ever do this to myself?” But you, if you push yourself through that pain enough times, it never goes away, but you just start going, “Yeah, I’m really hurting, but I’m okay with that.”


Focusing on the Process, Not the Result

Grant Holicky  15:48

My athletes will have heard this many, many times, I say you got to get to that feeling like you’re a dog with his head out the window, driving 60 miles an hour down the highway, tongue hanging out, just happy as can be. You got to be in a place where you’re breathing out of your eyeballs, tongue hanging out, you’re going as hard as you possibly could go, and inside you’re just laughing about it.


Trevor Connor  16:07



Grant Holicky  16:08

And, and great athletes love going to that place. It’s not about masochism, It’s not about anything like that, It’s just about, and this is where I come back to the process and the mental aspect of things. If you’re, if you’re bought into the process of training, the process of working toward those goals, you become inherently, you create a good relationship with pain, you create a good relationship with what is can only be seen as development, and that’s why really focusing on the process instead of the result is just absolutely key in sport.


Using Pain as a Weapon Against Opponents

Chris Case  16:51

I think another aspect of changing that relationship with pain, this is straying a little bit maybe from Gabrielle’s original question, but you are one with the pain, you can say okay, “everybody’s hurting, they’re not that much better than me, that they’re not hurting so we’re all hurting together.” If I have this, you know, I have this relationship with pain, I’m going to use it to my advantage, I’m going to go harder now, and I’m going to see how people react to that. Some people will be right there with you embracing it, others will fall away, and you can do that if, again, this is for a maybe a certain rider type to some people can go, and go again, and go again, and you just watch the pack dwindle as people fall off, because they’re mentally breaking, they might be physically breaking too. But in some ways, they’re mentally breaking and they can’t handle the pain, so I like to, you know, it isn’t every race that you’re going to feel so unformed that you can use this pain to your advantage and play with it, essentially, but when you get to that point, that’s a lot of fun, that’s a sadistic thing, not a matt, you’ve changed masochism into sadism and you’re using pain as a weapon against your opponents.


Trevor Connor  18:16

Wow, we all need therapy.


Chris Case  18:19

Was I too callous there, Trevor?


Trevor Connor  18:24

Oh, this may or may not be masochism, but then we turned it into sadism.


Chris Case  18:31

This is basically what I’ve just described is what I do to you on climbs, I just watch you wilt every time I attack.


Trevor Connor  18:39

If your sadist, I’m a masochist, we work well together.


Chris Case  18:42

There you go. That’s it, symbiotic relationship.


The Two Lines to Cross When Facing Pain

Trevor Connor  18:46

So the last thing I’ll add, which I tell my athletes and we’re getting ourselves in real trouble is we’ve given all this stuff, if you haven’t experienced this, if you are trying to be a racer and want to learn to be able to change this relationship with pain, to be able to handle this pain, it’s important to understand there are two lines. The first line, if you’ve never crossed it, that’s this point that you hit where you don’t think you can handle any more, this is really painful, and this is as much as you can handle, and this is why you’re getting popped in the races. That line you’ll discover if you push over it enough, you can cross that line, you can actually handle a lot more than you think, and to be able to race really well, you have to be able to cross that line pretty easily and pretty frequently. That’s the first line and so my athlete who I was working with, he was just hitting that line all the time, and quitting. Once he learned to cross that line, he started becoming a much more successful cyclist, so after he was able to do that I said, “now you need to learn about the second line.” Because there is a second line that you learn that is a whole higher level of pain, if you cross that line you pay a price, you pay a big price. That’s the line that you only cross if there is a national championship title or some big metal at the end of it, because it better be worth the price you’re going to pay. I can tell you personally, a 20 plus year cycling career, I have crossed that line five times. I know every single time quite vividly and often took me a month or longer to recover from crossing that line, so be careful with that second line.


Grant Holicky  20:31

Yeah, I will add that that. It’s not often a choice to cross that line. You often realize you’ve crossed it after you cross it, when you’re laying in a heap somewhere. But it I mean, it is about understanding that at a certain point, the limiter is your brain, we can’t forget that your brain’s primary responsibility is keeping you alive. When you’re going hard in a race setting, you’re taxing oxygen consumption, you’re taxing the ability to move blood, you’re taxing a lot of things, and your mind doesn’t want to do that, doesn’t want to go down that place. So your, let’s call it, autonomic systems are saying no, no, no, no, no, and you have to override that, you have to make that choice that says, we’re gonna push this a little longer. So that idea of getting comfortable being uncomfortable is crucial in this, and you have to visit it, and at a certain point, we’ve done what we can do with the body and now training, and the development of the athlete is about the mind and the body together to push that line longer before we start to start to fade. Let’s not forget, again, studies on athletes, and they had them ride to exhaustion and then did muscle biopsies to see how much ATP was left, and typically there was enough ATP left for minutes more of exercise, and so it’s accessing that ATP, it’s finding a way to tell your mind, It’s okay, this is all right, I know how to go there. It has to be trained, it has to be developed, and it takes time, and that’s why our friend David Summers, you know, can’t roll out to the training facility for one weekend and then show up the next day win pro races.


Chris Case  22:45

It’s almost as if you guys read the outline for this episode beforehand, because we’re about to tackle another question that goes right to what we were just about to describe or we even started to describe. This question comes from Berto, in Perugia, Italy. He writes, I have read much about the science of the central governor theory of fatigue, now I want to safely employ psychological methods to gain more from my performances. How do I do this? I’ve heard that limiting feedback can be a good thing, is that true? I’ve heard that deception can help me to a point, is that true? If these things are true, how do I implement some effective strategies for pushing myself safely past that point where I initially feel “fatigue” in my training and racing?


Effective Strategies for Pushing Safely Past that Point of Fatigue

Trevor Connor  23:46

Wow, so this goes right to what we were just talking about, which is those two lines. So just to give the one-minute summary, the central governor theory of fatigue is, you know, previously, when they were trying to say what causes us to fatigue? What causes us to crack? Whatever you want to call it in a race, they were trying to study that, and it became increasingly clear that it was not a simple answer, because there are so many factors, and you couldn’t really say, absolutely, one did it. So, it was Professor Noakes, who came up with the central governor theory, which is this idea that it actually fatigue is in the brain, so your brain or your nervous system is taking in all these different signals of body temperature, how much ATP glycogen is left in the muscles, a whole bunch of different signals, and then basically saying, “okay, something’s wrong here, I can’t maintain homeostasis so shut down.” But it’s it’s not one thing, it’s taking in all these signals and then making a choice. And so, when I was talking about those two lines, generally according to the central governor theory, our nervous system is going to shut us down long before we do any damage, because that’s what it’s designed for, doesn’t want us to do damage to our body. But keep in mind that this central governor is trainable, and adjustable, so if you are somebody who’s just coming off of the couch who’s never really pushed themselves, this central governor is actually going to shut you down way, way before you’re really pushing the risk of any sort of damage to your body, because it’s just not used to pushing itself. So, you can move that line and they’ll have some room to move before you hit a point where you’re doing some real damage. Even us as athletes, as I was saying, there’s that first line, that’s where the central governor generally kicks in and starts telling you stop this, you’re doing damage, it’s still that line is always going to be before the point where you’re actually doing damage. So, you can cross that line, run the edge a little bit, perform better, and there’s really not that much of a price, especially your body’s kind of aware of your own self-awareness, your own fitness, and when it sees you are very self-aware, very fit, it’s willing to let you push that line a little bit. That second line is the line where you are truly now doing damage, and I think one of the most vivid and horrifying examples, I think was Dr. Cheung, who gave this to us, talked about some athletes who were doing a race in the heat and got their body temperatures over that temperature were normally the center governor would say, “Nope, shut down.” And quite literally baked their intestines.


Chris Case  26:43

Yeah, I’m not sure if it was Dr. Cheung, but yes, we did an episode with and a famous triathlete did this to himself, and in fact had to have part of his colon removed after the race because it died, essentially.


Trevor Connor  26:58

So that’s what I mean by there’s that second line, be really careful about crossing it, because that’s the sort of price you’re paying that first line, you can cross it with little prize besides you just gonna be really tired the next morning.


Grant Holicky  27:09

Let’s make sure that everybody understands that, as you said, Trevor, the central governor has to be trained to get yourself to a point where you can even hurt yourself that badly. So, the vast majority of us, you know, when we’re talking about, you know, how do I do this safely? Or how do I do this correctly? It takes a lot of practice you need to be playing with this line for a long time before you really can do damage. And I think, for a lot of developing athletes, and this is a slightly dangerous thing for me to say, but for a lot of developing athletes, they don’t go to that line nearly enough. You know, they’re not doing the sprint workouts or the repetitive workouts that are going to put them in the box like this, to really do that, you know, speak specifically to a couple of the pieces of Berto’s question, one of them was the episode of this show I was listening to from March 4th, where y’all were talking about the studies on how many metrics it pays off to be looking at. And he’s saying, I’ve heard that limiting feedback can be a good thing and encouraging athletes to train without their power meter sometimes and understand their body and understand what the signals that their body is sending to them, without staring at their watts and their RPM, and their heart rate, and all these other factors that, let’s be honest, on any given day can be different. So, I’m a big believer in times, don’t look down, man just go. I think that can be a really, really effective piece of the puzzle here.


Calculating Risk: Crossing that Second Line

Trevor Connor  28:57

The other thing I’ll bring with you, right, we’re given some dangerous conversation here and you need to be careful, the thing that we are pointing out is if you cross that second line, you’re doing damage. And it can be damaging, as Chris’s example showed, it can be permanent. So, if you are uncertain whether you’re crossing that second line, or not, my answer is generally going to be, I would error on the side of caution with that one. So, the story I love to tell, and I think I’ve told this on the podcast before, is my grandfather, who flew two tours of duty in World War II, he was a bomber pilot, completed all of his missions, so he was quite a war hero. And I remember asking him, you know, “how were you able to do that? How are you able to fly 50 missions?” And he went, “really simple, I was a coward.” Which was not the answer you expected to get like wait, what? Like you flew 50 missions of World War II, that doesn’t generally make you a coward, and he goes, “well, let me explain,” he’s like, “there were guys out there who would take risks, a lot of risks, they didn’t last very long, I would take no risk except for what was absolutely necessary to complete the mission, because a risk by definition, you take enough of them, one of them is not going to pay out, and you do have to factor in the price.” And so, I’ve kind of taken that approach in racing myself, I’m not going to take unnecessary risks. When you’re talking about these lines, if you’re thinking you might be crossing that second line, the first question I would be asking is, is there one hell of a metal at the end of this that’s really worth the risk?


Grant Holicky  30:44

It’s got to be a reason.


Trevor Connor  30:45

It’s got to be one heck of a reason for me, you know, and I will literally ask myself that question, I’ll go, “I could do permanent damage to myself here, is this worth it,” and 99.9% of the time the answer is no.


Grant Holicky  30:59

I do think we should talk about some of the things that can help push those limits, and I think that a couple of the things that really jump out at the equation here are some of the studies that have been going, been shown that that happiness, that mood, can have a big effect on being able to extend the ability to perform. There’s some evidence of just looking at happy faces, subliminally and obviously, can extend time to exhaustion. There’s some research out there that shows that people doing math problems go longer to exhaustion, because their mind is focused on something other than how they feel. So, there are things that play here that that people can try, music, you know obviously distraction, all these things help, and then one of the things also throw out there if we’re talking about safety and we always want to talk about this, is if you’re going to try to push some of those limits do it on a trainer. There’s some reasons if you’re going short hard work that, yeah, people pooh-poohed at the trainer, but you can go deeper on the trainer you don’t have to worry about balance, you don’t worry about staying upright after the interval, the trainer is a beautiful tool for going deep, Dr. Andy Pruitt was a big proponent, still is, do the hard work on a trainer, focus in on it, nail it, dial it in, and again limit the number of risks that you take.


Zwift and Learning How to Safely Push Yourself

Trevor Connor  32:46

I think in terms of learning that race hurt, in terms of learning where that line is, that’s something that Zwift is absolutely great for, because back in the old days before you had that, in order to train that race, because you can’t do it in intervals you can’t hurt yourself like that in intervals, in my opinion. You have to go to a race where other people are pushing the pace, and you’re being forced to hang on. And it was expensive in the early season to go and do races, to develop the racer, because I personally, I don’t know about you Grant, but I’d always have to do three, four, races where I didn’t focus on the result, I was just there to learn how to hurt again. And you had to pay the entry fee, you had to drive to the race, everything else, it was expensive. Now you have Zwift, where you can just when you’re ready to start learning that race hurt. There’s a race going every 15 minutes, go hop in, do the first 15 minutes, tear yourself apart, get a 10-minute ride rest, then hop into the next race, and do 15 minutes and just learn the hurt, and it’s free.


Grant Holicky  33:48

There’s something special about Zwift, and I don’t know what it is, but when you eliminate the concern of winning that Zwift race, and this is something for me and I’ll be really frank, I walked into that scenario when I first started training on Zwift or racing on Zwift where I kind of reminded myself, there’s a lot of things at play here that don’t speak to the levelness of this playing field. I’m not saying this to criticize Zwift, but you don’t know what somebody, if they calibrated their trainer, you don’t know if they’ve lied about their weight, there’s a million things at play here, right? So, eliminate the concern of going out and trying to win those Zwift races, if you come out of that thing and just say, okay, I don’t really care about what my placing is, there is something about that platform that makes you want to hold on so badly. I have gone deeper in my garage in January, to hold somebodies wheel up a two-minute climb than I ever would go, maybe even in an early season race setting, there’s just something about that platform that I couldn’t agree more with you, Trevor, it’ll drag you deep man, and it’ll push you to some things that are really pretty fantastic, and you learn about yourself for when you get out there and you decide to race. I think one of the things that a lot of the people listening need to remember and keep in mind, is that those guys that are going out on the pro tour and winning their first attempt at a season these days, this is due to a couple things. It’s due to the pro tour season elongating, they weren’t done racing all that long ago, right? So, you know the pro tour ends in October and starts back up in February, a lot of them don’t have to remember how to hurt, they remember how to hurt. The other thing is when you’re several years into a career, you don’t necessarily have to reestablish that relationship with pain or relationship with going deep, you know how to do it. It’s learning, once you learn this stuff it stays with you, and that’s an important aspect of this question too. I think it’s important not to necessarily look at how do I override the central governor, it’s more to say how do I expand my reach with the central governor as my protector? How do I play in the edges of that thing while still understanding that that thing exists in my mind and exists in my body to protect myself from really doing damage?


Trevor Connor  36:37

Yeah, I think that’s really important. Probably where we should leave this, because we are look, if you want to race well you have to change your relationship to pain. So, you have to you have to move that central governor, but as you said, understand that central governor it always knows and it will never stop knowing the point where you’re actually doing damage, and you have to recognize when it’s telling you, you go beyond this you’re gonna pay for this in the long run, and just not cross that line.


Ryan Kohler  37:12

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Chris Case  38:08

All right, let’s take this next question from Justin, he’s in the UK, he writes, I’ve never done a stage race, like the 2021 Haute Route Pyrenees, before, it’s a five-day stage race. With the race being in early July, how and when should I be trying to replicate the demands of five, hard mountain days in my training program? The demands of each individual day will be quite different to other road races I’ve done, given their overall length, and because each time-to-climb section within the stages is likely to be 40 minutes plus, with two or three of these each day. So, the big questions here, how should I structure my training to get the best adaptations? And also, given most of the riding will be sub-threshold, should I be incorporating lots of low carb and fasted endurance rides in my training to encourage my body to burn fat as a fuel?


Structuring Training to get the Best Adaptations

Trevor Connor  39:06

I will start it out with saying my general philosophy, and we’ve actually had a couple episodes where we’ve talked about this, for 99.9% of us I think you’re just better off focusing on good training with good nutrition, and not going down these roads because trying to do big fasted rides can just as quickly really fatigue you, push you into overreach, have a lot of negative consequences, that are going too far outweigh the very minor gains you’re going to get from adding that to your training. So, I would just say train your best, and I will say this from experience, I am a stage racer, I love to do those week-long stage races, and have generally prepared with the philosophy of I’m doing hard training. So, I’m going to fuel for it, I have experimented once or twice with adding ends fasted riding, and just found it usually just left me really fatigued and I didn’t really get any gains out of it.


Chris Case  40:09

So that’s a big fat no, basically.


Grant Holicky  40:12

People don’t necessarily understand just how aerobic the aerobic needs to be, and aerobic is code for, frankly, easy fasted rides need to be. It’s frankly pretty hard to go easy enough to really tap into the fat burning zones, especially for a highly trained athlete we like to go hard.


Chris Case  40:36

Yeah that’s what I expected, we’ve essentially concluded that in other episodes now, and we’ve had some of the best scientists who’ve done a lot of the research on this and their conclusions are pretty lukewarm as well. So let’s move on to other parts of this question, I know what’s the big one, any any major themes that you would like to address?


Trevor Connor  41:00

There’s one I want to address, which is you can tell he’s given the whole, well they’re segments, the segments tend to be climbs, they’re 40 minutes, he later on says, ” should most of the riding be sub-threshold or threshold?” He almost kind of, it almost feels like he’s asking, should I just be doing all threshold work? So, I feel like I should address this as the guy who loves to just ride at threshold all day, the thing I see right at the beginning is stage race, and as soon as I see the term race or particularly stage race, I do not believe that you are going to be spending the whole time riding at threshold and you need no top end, because you can just ride those climbs steady. When there’s a race, there’s attacks, there’s moments you’re gonna have to dig deep for a minute or two, just expect that. We can talk about how much threshold work and low intensity work should be part of all this training, and you know I believe in the polarized approach. But don’t for a minute think you can get away without doing some top-end work and you’re going to race well.


Grant Holicky  42:05

Coming from me, who’s the guy that loves to ride above threshold, you know, and this speaks to our innate abilities or, you know, talents you are kind of a time trial guy that likes to ride at threshold, and I’m a cross-racer that likes to punch above threshold. But yeah, I mean the terrain, you’re not going to be on a 6% incline that never changes, like a computrainer climb for 40 minutes, you’re gonna have pitches, you’re gonna have drop offs, you’re gonna have all these things. Make sure you’re working the edges of you are training to, you know, if you have an opportunity to raise the ceiling of that high end, it raises all the space in the room, so to speak. You know, the analogy being, if you talk to somebody who wants to run a marathon and wants to hold six-minute miles for the marathon, but the fastest mile they can run is 5.45 or 5.30 that’s cutting it a little bit close for your body and your mind. So, give yourself that top end speed for a variety of reasons, you know I see stage race and one of the first things that I’m going to play around with, is what’s your training capacity look like? How much time do you have in a week to train? If you have unlimited time, then let’s make sure we’re getting in those long, steady distance rides, the Doctor Seiler approach. Let’s keep the intensity low, and that’s really lengthen these puppies out, do what Trevor did a couple of weeks ago, and go on that five-or-six-hour ride. But if you’re a masters rider, with limited training times, well we’re gonna have to get creative here. So, you know one of the things that I love to do with my masters athletes with lots of limitations on their training time, is layer certain workouts upon themselves, and looking at three day blocks or four day blocks, moving from high intensity to low intensity, so that even if I can only get in a two to three hour base ride as my longest ride, it’s a fatigued two to three hour base ride, after some, you know, high end intervals Tuesday, some threshold intervals Wednesday, and then a base ride on Thursday. That is truly truly at base, so really making sure that what you’re doing, A fits your lifestyle, fits your ability to train your training capacity, and then you know talk to a coach or find an effective training plan that is that works for your situation. We can talk about how Trevor, how myself, or how Ryan coaches somebody that is a pro athlete with unlimited time, but that’s not the majority of the people listening to this podcast right now. So for me with master athletes, like I said, I like to, I like to move from high intensity to lower intensity over three day blocks or four day blocks, really work in appropriate rest between those blocks, one day really low or off, or two days really lower off, and, make sure that some of those bass rides are fatigued, and then commit to making those bass rides, bass. Let’s put in the aerobic work, while the body is a little bit fatigued.


Trevor Connor  45:30

Yeah, I think that fatigue side is really important, and something that this athlete’s going to have to train a little bit of. So, I’ll give you an example, for our N1 challenge, I’m training for a five-day stage race, the Joe Martin Stage Race, and that is fundamentally, cause one shift, one major shift in how I’m training. Which is going back to how I used to train, when I was a stage racer. I’ll start with how I’ve been training in the last few years, where I’ve really only been doing one day races, and that’s, I schedule and program my week. So, whenever I’m doing any sort of intensity, I’m always doing it fresh, because I’m training for one day races, so just be strong for a few hours. That’s not the way a stage race works, and the the quote that’s coming to mind since we’ve now referenced American Flyers, today. There’s a book called, The Rider, and it’s got this great quote, I’m sure I’m not getting quite right, it’s, “I lick my competitions plate clean before I start in on my own.” So, the example in stage racing is, if you are up against an experienced stage racer, they’re not thinking, well, so let’s say on the final stage of that five- day race on day five, there’s a critical 10-minute climb, they’re not thinking, can I beat you up a 10 minute climb? They’re thinking, let’s see how you do against me on a 10-minute climb, after I hit you with a truck. So, they are going to use that stage race to wear everybody down, knowing that they probably have better fatigue resistance than everybody else. Then when you are completely smoked, they’re going to arrive at that fifth day and go, “Now let’s go up that 10-minute climb, see how you do.” And unless you’re really good stage racer, you’re not going to do well. So, you have to train that, you have to train that ability to go hard when you’re fatigued. So that is not, when we talk about what’s optimal for adaptation, yes, you want to do interval work fresh. But if you’re training for a stage race, you need a certain period, and I’m in that period right now, we’re in March, where I’m actually trying to do most of my interval work a little fatigued and teach my body to put out that effort, while a little fatigued.


Grant Holicky  47:53

This speaks to the idea of you know, if you look at the numbers they’re doing in the tour, the Grand Tours, toward the end, they’re impressive numbers, but they’re not staggering, like the numbers you see Van Der Poel put up in Strade Bianche, right? So, what that experiences stage racer is doing on the last day, is just pushing that throttle to everybody’s functional edge on that last day. So what Trevor is saying is a really, really good point, doing intervals fatigued is really important. One of the things I’m a big believer in strength training for endurance athletes, I love having athletes to threshold intervals, the day after lifting. I love to put them in a place where they’re uncomfortable, they’re sore, they’re beat up, and now they have to do some intervals and hold FTP. May not be their ideal FTP on that day, but they got a hold of an FTP, because that’s what they’re gonna have to do at the end of the five-day stage race.


Trevor Connor  49:00

Yep. When I was living up in Fort Collins, and I was still doing, you know, pretty much the full NRC calendar of stage races. My March routine, which I absolutely loved, and I wish I could replicate right now, is we had this training race in Fort Collins on Saturday called the Override. It was a four-hour throwdown, just absolutely brutal. In quite well known, I mean, we’d have weeks where Tom Danielson, other guys would show up, so you just knew you’re going to get ripped apart of that race. My routine on Friday was to do intervals, then hit the weight room, then get up the next day and show up for that race with my legs just hurting.


Chris Case  49:43

Masochist. Alright, well, we’ve got time for one last question. Let’s move on to that, shall we? This question comes from Dave Stoller, he’s in Bloomington, Indiana. He writes, back when I was really into racing bikes, I was obsessed with being Italian, I learned Italian, I idolized Italian things, I ate Italian food, I rode Italian bikes, but then I was in a breakaway with some Italians and they played a mean trick on me, shifting my downtube shifter into a huge gear when I wasn’t looking. Dave’s question is, Is this fair? Are all Italian racers meanies?


Are all Italian Racers Meanies?

Trevor Connor  50:31

Well, I’ve got this one. I know what you do, you ram a pump into their wheel.


Grant Holicky  50:37

That’s a good one. That that works well, and that’ll get them right back where it counts. I have to admit, I think I know this guy, I think I’ve seen this guy been to Bloomington, Indiana for swim meets, and there’s this dude riding around, no helmet, cycling cap on, yeah, just screaming, “Joe,” to everybody on the street. And yeah, like, I think it’s time to get over it man, like, Listen, Italians are, are great racers, but if you’re going to be an Italian racer, that means you’re never gonna walk up a flight of stairs, again, you’re never gonna turn on an air conditioner in your room, you can’t have plants in your room because they’re stealing your oxygen. Man, at some point, you got to get out of the Italian cycling folklore and come to the real world in the present day of training, you know, there’s this stuff called scientific research out there that you got to jump in there. I can’t speak to whether Italian races are meanies or not, I think there’s plenty of meanies out there from lots of different cultures, but I can tell you one thing, if you’re going to idolize Italian racers, you might not have that much fun while you’re doing it.


Chris Case  51:49

Except the eating part.


Grant Holicky  51:50

The eating parts fantastic, but their weighing their pasta. I mean, what fun is it if you’re gonna weigh your pasta? I’m not weighing my pasta, but this may be why I have a BMI of 27.


Chris Case  52:01

That’s true.


Grant Holicky  52:03

Not weighing my pasta, I’ll tell you that right now.


Trevor Connor  52:06

Chris, you’ve been to Italy, are they meanies?


Chris Case  52:10

Oh no. All the all the Italian people that I’ve ever met are the most gracious people I’ve ever met, and I’m being serious, yeah, they’re up North. I’m not gonna pick on any Italians from the South, that’s where my wife’s family’s from.


Trevor Connor  52:25

Here’s my answer, go to YouTube, and search for Mario Cipollini punked, something like that. Because they have an Italian version of Punk’d, and when Mario Cipollini was like one of the biggest names in Italy, they pulled this on them. It just this incredible video where, they had it set up, he had this incident was these people in a minivan I think it was, who are actually actors hired by the show. And when Mario got home, these people pulled up in their minivan as I remembered, jumped out, grabbed his bike, and they ran into this big barn type building, and lock the doors being chased by Mario. And then they had all this metal on the ground, and sledgehammers and they start beating on the metal on the ground, pretending they were destroying his bike. So, there they were punking him, and they all thought this would be really funny. Well, he climbed up to the second floor of this building on the outside, where a window was open, jumped in, and before they had the chance to tell him this is all a joke, he beat the crap out of his guy.


Chris Case  53:45

That was in the 90s I bet, and there were a lot of things going on in the 90s that could influence how he was behaving.


Trevor Connor  53:52

Yes. Just a little.


Chris Case  53:55

But it was also Mario Cipollini who was, perhaps a meanie.


American Cycling Fans Should Embrace the American Cycling Culture

Grant Holicky  54:02

Something. He was something, let’s just go out there and say that. Yeah, but I think this is a great question. I will get very serious here for a moment, and say I think it’s really, really important for American cycling fans to embrace the American cycling culture. I think we have a great one here, It’s our own, and it’s got its own unique qualities, and maybe we need to spend a little bit more time embracing that, instead of trying to emulate other countries cycling.


Trevor Connor  54:34

There you go. I’ve got another serious question, which is, how in the world is it possible that the same guy wrote Breaking Away and American Flyers?


Grant Holicky  54:47

I don’t know. It’s a great question.


Chris Case  54:50

Yeah, for those who are completely lost, if we’ve been too subtle here, this second this this last question we asked from Dave Stoller is a reference to the other, there are other cycling movies in the world, Breaking Away, being this second other cornerstone of the American cycling cinematic history. Set in Bloomington, Indiana, goes on to that they race the little 500, it is a really good movie with a kind of a star-studded cast, and very different take on cycling. But with some interesting scenes like this one, where the Italian meanies do the shifting trick, and then stick the pump in the spokes, and leave poor Dave Stoller in a ditch on the side of the road. I think we are going to end the show there and we’re all going to go get some popcorn and watch American Flyers. Get out your VHS machine, because that’s probably all you can find it on. Actually, Trevor, you have it on DVD, don’t you?


Trevor Connor  55:57

I have it in every format possible.


American Flyers  56:03

Still here fella, right on your red ass. Think about this fella, I’m behind you, but I’m really two seconds ahead. Are you nuts? He doesn’t even understand English. He understands. Don’t you fell off. You know why you won the Olympics? Because I wasn’t there. But now I’m here. Only I’m not here. I’m two seconds ahead.


Chris Case  56:26

That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast and 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’d love your feedback, join the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com, to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of Fast Talk Laboratories at fasttalklabs.com/join and become a part of our education and coaching community. For Grant Holicky and Trevor Connor, I’m Chris Case. Thanks for listening.