Lessons From an Unlikely Teacher

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06/15/2005| 0 comments
by Jim Lehman

Lessons From an Unlikely Teacher

The interesting thing about being a coach is that you often assume the role of the teacher.

As a kid you are always told you never stop learning, or at least that you should never stop learning. The interesting thing about being a coach is that you often assume the role of the teacher, as I thought I would prior to meeting with Ben Bostrom, World Superbike rider.  While working with him on the finer points of endurance training and nutrition, I was pleasantly surprised, as you may be as well, to learn there were several similarities between the demands and factors for success in racing motorcycles and bicycles.


Over the past few years I have become more and more involved in motor sports, particularly motorcycle racing. I began working with Benin 2004.  For those of you who are not familiar with Ben and the superbike world, these guys ride machines that are capable of reaching speeds of nearly 200mph, with only a thin shell of kangaroo leather for protection.  It is truly a thing of beauty to watch them guide their machines through a series of technical corners.  In fact, it looks a lot like watching the Tour riders navigate the twisty descents of the Alps and the Pyrenees.  Perhaps it is that love of two wheels that has drawn me to the superbikes and inspired the superbike riders to adapt to training on bicycles.  


Racing, in any form, requires intense focus and dedication. In the past, cyclists have taken a more relaxed approach to the winter and often didn?t ride their bicycles for two or three months.  As the bicycle racing has become more competitive, this trend has started to change and ironically it reflects the approach motor sports take. The motorcycle rider and his team work nearly year round to develop the optimal machine and set up.  Typically the season ends in the fall, but this doesn?t mean that everyone has the winter off.  In fact, these guys are back on the track within few weeks so they can test next year?s equipment, and they keep detailed records of these tests so they can monitor progress.  This process continues right up until the first race of the following season, and during the weeks between races, they are at home training so they are physically ready for the demanding race schedule.  They work with amazing focus throughout the year, with virtually no time away from training or testing.  In order to succeed in either the modern cycling or motorcycle world, there cannot be an off-season anymore.  


As in cycling, there?s a great deal of tradition in motorcycle racing and each generation continues to learn from the previous one.  However, there are some very progressive aspects to the sport as well, and the willingness to experiment with new approaches is common among all the great riders.  For example, Ben has been racing motorcycles since he was a little boy and he is one of the smoothest riders in the paddock.  Through experience he has developed his own style and approach to racing, but over time he realized that he need to continue to evolve and that is what led him to seek endurance coaching.


Champion athletes always keep their eyes open for opportunities to get better, and Ben was looking for a way to improve his conditioning and ultimately his success on the racetrack. Better aerobic conditioning, core strength, and overall flexibility means he will be more alert during the closing moments of a race. As a result, he can concentrate on winning rather than thinking about how tired he is or if he is going to be able to make it through the intensity of the last five laps.  The same is true for bike racers; greater overall conditioning will help you sprint better at the end of long road race, even without doing a single sprint workout.  After proper consideration, we decided that introducing the bicycle and adjusting his diet would enhance his training and his performance on race day.  His willingness to explore new avenues, to think outside of the box, has helped him further his career and increase his level of enjoyment when he goes to ?work? each day.



It?s Not About the Bike:

Equipment is always an issue, but at the end of the day it is not the equipment that wins races, it is the rider.  The adage within motorcycle road racing is that it is 20% bike and 80% rider.  Of course you have to have a machine comparable to what the others are riding, but a great rider can make up for the slight limitations all bikes inevitably have, and reach the top step of the podium.  The best riders are able to adjust to their machines and learn how to successfully ride these bikes.  They are able to integrate the best attributes of the bikes with their personal strengths to win races.  In bicycle racing, you must look at the demands of each race and then form your strategy based on these demands and your personal strengths.  Have your equipment in order, but don?t let your equipment dictate your success in the races. Ultimately, you?re in control, not the equipment.


It?s About the Team

Teamwork is an integral aspect for a successful superbike rider.  Nothing could happen without coordinated and precise efforts of each and every member of the squad. Together they work in a cohesive fashion to put all the pieces in place, so distractions are minimized and the rider is able to focus on racing and training.  Ben gains confidence from knowing everyone in his corner is there to help him succeed.  The key is to surround yourself with positive people and remove those who have a negative impact on your life and your training. You cannot achieve greatness on your own; so surround yourself with great people who are supportive of your goals. Once again, this will not only impact your racing/training, but it will also improve your overall happiness in life and other relationships.


The best riders are often the most confident riders in the paddock.  They possess the mental tools to deal with adversity and are capable of adjusting to the challenges of the sport.  You can even see it in the way these riders carry themselves.  There is a certain swagger to their step as they walk into the team area, they exude confidence and it almost becomes contagious throughout the team.  If the rider believes in the bike and what the team is doing, then the staff feeds off this energy and it impacts everything they do.  In addition, the competition senses the team?s confidence and they begin to doubt their preparation, their team, their bike, etc.  All great athletes possess this characteristic, and whether you are talking about Lance Armstrong or Ben Bostrom, this psychological edge allows them to separate themselves from the rest of the field. 


At the end of the day, it is important to learn whenever and wherever you can.  The lessons you learn, whether from cycling or motorcycle racing, help you develop your own approach to competition and training. Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is to be aware of your surroundings, expand your horizons, and seek lessons where you least expect them.

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