I had a good ride this weekend. Sixty five miles at 19mph. Good for me. Hope you did well too.
I also had a good run this weekend. Ran ten miles with Sue to accompany her during 13-mile training run. 10 was good enough for me. And it helped her too. We both felt like we were in good form.
But the thing to keep in mind when having good rides and runs is this: Why are they good?
Built over time
Some of it seems obvious. Fitness builds over time if you keep at it. At some point you should be expecting good rides and runs. Same goes for swims. If you are putting in the work, the results will typically show up after a month or so. But not always.
So you must attune yourself to the aspects of your workouts that contribute to good form.
What does “good form” mean
The subtle yet important results of training relate to what we can call “good form.” You’ll hear that term on broadcasts of the Tour de France. Phil Liggett might say “He’s shown good form all season,” or, “He’s coming into good form during this Tour.”
There’s a difference. A rider showing good form over a season is getting consistent or results. But a rider can also race themselves into peak fitness. The daily racing pressure can hone the body and mind. Good form can also come about quite suddenly.
Parts is parts
Thus we may need to subdivide the term “form” into two or three parts. When someone is healthy they are in generally good form. That means no nagging injuries or illness of some kind. An athlete in good form is one who is training well, improving in workouts and eager to take on new challenges.
The typical target of aiming for good form is to produce better racing results. That’s why we work hard in practice; to build endurance and strength that are sustainable. That ‘form’ or fitness delivers us to the finish line in…are you ready for this…good form.
Good form is always a work in progress
Finishing a race in good form does not mean you will never be tired during the effort or even struggle a bit. There will be times during every race where you want to back off or let up even if you are in good form. Racing hurts a bit or you aren’t quite pushing it enough. As many a cyclist will intone, “It never gets easier, you just go harder.”
But you must have built a base of good form in order to walk that line. An athlete that is out of shape cannot yet sustain endurance training, much less maintain a decent race pace in line with their overall abilities.
An athlete struggling to get back into shape after a layoff or an injury can hardly imagine the good form that lies ahead. Doubt that creeps into the conscious mind. “Can I do this? Am I ever going to feel good again on the (swim/bike/run)?”
It’s no fun coming back from a layoff. Good form seems miles away. That’s both a literal truth and a fact of perception.
Putting in time
That’s why cyclists talk in raw terms such as “Time In The Saddle” or TITS. There is no substitute for going out riding or putting in time on the trainer. While theories differ on the value of prescribed Computrainer workouts versus just putting the bike on a trainer during winter months and pedaling hard and easy for an hour or two, there is no guesswork when one finally gets outside. Most serious riders now err on the side of some form of winter training. I was horrible this past winter. And it showed all spring.
Often there is a month or more of training where every workout is both a challenge and a mystery. It’s frustrating to go out and train when you don’t know how the body and mind are going to respond.
We’ve all sat by the pool with our feet dangling in the cold water wondering why we do it at all.
We’ve all climbed on the bike on one of those windy days where the group drops us early and the rest of the ride is a lonely slog in cruel winds that roar in our ears as if to say, “You’re not good enough! You’re too weak! You should have ridden more this past winter!”
And those runs where everything just hurts? Forget about it.
Fits and starts
But over time and through perseverance, we work through these doubts and ill feelings. Sometimes it comes in fits. We’ll ride or run well for an hour, then find ourselves stumbling or struggling to maintain cadence. But the cycle of training we make it for an hour and a half, then two hours. Sure, the rest of the riders or runners with whom you train seem to be gliding along while you worry about every pending hill or turn into the wind, but slowly the form improves.
There are physical aspects of “good form” that relate to the actual posture and form you maintain while swimming, riding or running. As muscles grow stronger, it is also true that actual form can improve. That’s the ‘start’ part of getting to good form.
With a swim stroke in freestyle it is easy when tired to lose form. Then the inefficiencies build one on top of the other. Elbows drop. Hands flatten. Arms reach down rather than doing a good catch. The head rises. Legs drop. It’s a cycle that leads to even more fatigue. All because one is not in good form. Not in any respect.
Same goes for cycling. A tired cyclist often loses control of their cycling methods. Rather than spinning up hills using both quads and the hamstrings to pull the pedals around, the tired cyclist goes numb in the head and resorts to mashing their way up hills using only the quads. That leads to a near term bonk in the legs. You may recover by the next hill. But then comes the next, and the next. Inefficient cycling leads to absolute fatigue. Suddenly one is popped off the back.
A runner in good form keeps the feet under them, ‘pawing’ the ground for propulsion rather than plodding along with whatever motion and leg turnover one knows by habit. This ‘unconscious’ style of running is fine if good form is rehearsed. But when one falls into bad form and forgets to think about efficiency on the run, the inevitable happens. The legs go dead or ache. The mind refuses to motivate against such sensations.
To achieve good form in all three disciplines thus requires effective rehearsal of techniques that lead to conscious engagement, and at prescribed speeds depending on the distance of a target race.
Fortunately, it usually adds up to good form overall. Thus at 35 miles of our 65-mile ride this weekend, Sue turned to me and asked, during a stop to calculate our course, “How are you doing?”
“Great,” I could finally respond. It’s been a year for ups and downs in training. Good form has been a while in coming. “I feel great,” I smiled.
Good form. It looks good on everyone. May you find good form this year too.