Thursday, June 12, 2008

Psychology and Your Physical Limits

That blog title is too lofty for what will be a rather brief post, but it's what popped into my head just now, so deal with it...

Heretofore, our Thursday lunchtime ride has been a mass-start jaunt up Old San Marcos Rd. in Goleta. Anywhere from 5 to 20 riders show up, mostly guys, and ranging in age from early 20's to upper 50's. Riders have come and gone over the years but the core group remains.

By the numbers Old San Marcos (or OSM for short) gains about 1,200 feet of elevation in just under 3 miles of perfect pavement. On a clear day the climb rewards you with a panoramic view of the city below and the ocean beyond. It's a big part of why I live here.

But this particular group ride on Thursdays is not about enjoying the view. No, it's a hard training ride and it's about pain. Pure and simple. Out-of-the-saddle, quad-ripping, knee-popping, lung-burning pain. Some weeks you feel good and you find the motivation to push at your limits. Other weeks, you struggle just to move forward. I think most of us can push ourselves harder in the company of others, which is what makes this ride so useful in my opinion. I do a lot of solo climbing, but rarely do I go as hard as on Thursdays at lunchtime.

And now Seth Z. has come along an proposed something new for a once-a-month Thursday ride. Oh, it'll still be on OSM of course, but instead of all starting together like we've always done, we'll stagger our starting times based on our Personal Bests, or Personal Record times. If rider A's PR is 17:00 and rider B's best is a 16:45, then rider A will start :15 in front of B. That way, in theory, if everyone rode exactly their PR, all riders would finish together at the top. Get it?

Today was the first edition of this new format, and guess what... a handful of guys got new PRs! Very cool.

Truth be told, not all of us used PRs for our starting positions. Some guys are about a decade past their PRs, so it wouldn't make sense to use those times. We all kind of used a recent-history PR, where recent history could be a week, a month, or whatever. Perhaps from here on we'll use our time from the prior month. It's up to head-honcho Seth who, by the way, is maintaining a web site for this monthly event. Check out Seth's OSM TT page and if you're a SB local, come on out ...the more, the merrier, the pain!

So, about psychology and your physical limits... Do you agree that you can push yourself harder in the company of others? As in, could you set a faster time (assuming no drafting, etc.)? And further, in Seth's new format, would you ride harder chasing somebody just ahead, or is the fear of being caught from behind a greater motivator? Did a caveman run faster to escape a pursuing tiger or to catch a fleeing gazelle?


phipps said...

Sounds like my kind of fun! Reminds me of the Dipsea running race up here. Everyone is handicapped base on age & sex. The previous year's winner is stuck with a 4 minute penalty.

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

I might have to try this next month! And in answer to your question...I'm not sure whether I'm faster chasing or being chased...but I know it hurts more to be chased. Mentally I waste more energy when I'm chased vs. when I'm the chasing underdog :-).

Anonymous said...

Clever stuff. Definitely I'm capable of going faster in the company of others. Being pursued and chasing are both very motivating.


Greg Knowles said...

Excellent idea. I'm going to have to do a bit better than my sub 30 minute pace though to even be in the same zipcode as you guys. Being caught is the most motivating thing for me.

Gianni said...

Kind of funny timing- my team just hosted a sports psychology seminar last weekend with about two hours devoted to suffering and mentally enduring the crux of a race.

I go harder when being chased, but usually ride faster with better pacing when I'm sitting on a climbers' wheel.

anony-miss said...

a caveman would definitely try to run harder from a tiger than when chasing a gazelle. he knows that he absolutely must escape the tiger but he can regroup and try to chase the gazelle again later. so there is probably some element of that when being chased on a bike. that said, being chased may cause somebody to panic and not ride as smart. the primal fear of being caught and possible adrenaline rush may not work as well over a 15 min ride than for short bursts in a sprint.
in addition to caveman mentality, there is the hit to the ego when being caught, and we try to avoid this too.
so I think this TT will motivate the slower riders more than the faster riders.

Chester said...

In my case getting caught was a great motivator. B/C when Marco came flying by me I was able to attempt to hold in pace for the last leg (from the switch backs on). There is no doubt in my mind that the only reason I was able to get a sub 16:00 min time was because marco came by. SO the fear of getting caught became the challenge of the chase in my case.

meh-wee-uhn said...

Hmm, sounds like, uh what's that word?, oh right, fun.

Darn, I just remembered that I'm going to be, uhh, gluing up my tubies that day.

Marco Fanelli said...

Marian- If OSM sounds fun, you'd really love our Tuesday lunchtime ride! ...Oh wait, you have root-canal surgery that day, right?!