The ‘Art & Science’ of winning… My simple view… Andy Jackson

I was reflecting on what has been, for the young SSLL racing team the best weekend of racing so far,  we scored 2 strong wins, 2 2nd places that included a silver medal at the BUCS championships, new PB’s – and even with 3 of the team side-lined with the dreaded Ebola like ‘man flu’!

BDCA 25 2016 2

Andy Jackson on route to winning the BDCA 25 on 9/4 in a time of 47:46, by 31secs from Steve Irwin and 32secs from Pro-Triathlete Phil Graves.  (courtesy of Kimroy photography)

On Saturday Mel Wasley won the London Phoenix ’10’ TT,  I won the BDCA ’25’ against some really strong competition in Phil Graves (Pro Triathlete) , Steve Irwin, Matt Sinclair and our own Simon Beldon who rode to a stonking 2 minute PB of 49:05,  Not just a PB for Simon, but in the last 2 weeks after setting his 10m PB of 18:30 he now holds the VTTA (Vets) agre group record at both distances.  Elsewhere Sophie Household was 2nd for a Silver Medal with a  PB ride in the BUCS 10m Championships, and in greta company being second to Hayley Simmonds.  Also 2nd was Jon Wears with a super fast 49.58 in the Lea Valley 25.2 race… The team has started the year phenomenally with over 10 wins (I think!) already, from a small compliment of riders.  Of course we are not alone in performing well with many of the ‘usual suspects’ and new talent showing some great performances so far this season.  It certainly makes for an interesting season to come.

But lying awake, after no doubt too many stimulants for a late afternoon race, got me thinking and reflecting on the attributes of Performance.

I am a voracious reader, of all sorts of stuff, (basically because I can’t sleep and need anything to help me get off!)  but I’m particularly interested in autobiographies of the successful in all fields, but also books that study this success… Books such as ‘The Goldmine effect’ (Rasmus Ankerson) &  ‘Bounce’ (Matthew Syed) are two such good examples.

Both investigate the ‘myth’ of talent… the essence of there message is that ‘talent’ is not the driver of differences between winners & losers and high or low performers, but more the ‘honing’ of this talent, which may in reality be minimal versus other areas… the fact that ‘talent’ id identified, given every chance to grow and nurture is the real message.  Allied to this is the fabled ‘10000 hours’.  Its held in numerous sources and across numerous fields that ‘10000 hrs’ of training is what it takes high performers to really excel.  This is cross all fields of sport and business, be it Mozart, he is quoted as saying one particularly musical masterpiece ‘appeared in his head’… what many miss about this is the following paragraphs that explain the months of hard work put into honing this masterpiece!  There are the examples of The Williams sisters in Tennis, Tiger Woods in Golf , David Beckham (contentious!) etc etc… Child prodigies, Yes, but prodigies who worked harder and longer than their competition.

One thing I remember reading clearly years ago, and I have forgotten exactly which book it was in,  was a quote by (I think) Chris Boardman who said his success was down to ‘98% hard-work… 2% talent’.  This really spurred me on to think, ‘I can do that’! at the time I was embarking on Triathlon training, I set myself the naïve goal of making Hawaii World Championships in 3 years from starting training… I made it… and it was down to simply hard work.  I couldn’t even swim crawl when I started, I HATED running (still do) but was fairly handy on the bike and thought ‘why not’ – 98% hard work – I can do that, lets give it a go!  I make it sound easy.  It wasn’t. But it was worth it!

In his book ‘The Goldmine effect’ Rasmus Ankerson explores the ‘myth’ of certain areas of the world ‘Goldmines’ that produce prodigious and regular champions. He looks at Iten in Kenya that produces on a conveyor belt, long distance champions.  The Russian explosion in top ranked female tennis players that went from zero in the top 10 to half in 10 years.  The Favela’s of Brazil that has consistently produced world class players, I think he quotes that 40% of the UEFA ‘Players of the year’ have been Brazilian since it was awarded – More Brazilians play in the Champions league than any other nationality – yet no Brazillian club takes part!  He looks at South Korea that churns out Women’s Gold Champions on a regular basis.  in Kingston Jamaica went from zero athletics medals to churning out sprint gold after print gold in just 10 years under the eye of renowned coach Stephen Francis.

He firstly challenges, as does Matthew Syed in ‘Bounce’ the notion of ‘innate’ talent, ‘Gene pools’ or other explanations for geographical performance ‘hotspots’.  Its actually much, much simpler.  In every example there are a number of driver’s:

  1. Motivation
  2. Belief systems
  3. Support
  4. Challenge & competition
  5. HARD HARD work

Put really simply,  in each ‘Goldmine’ there was a ‘breakthrough ‘star’, be it Pele in Brazillian Football, or some of the 1970’s first Kenyan long distance runners.  These set to ‘pave the way’ and show what was possible.  They started to build ‘belief’ in the communities that ‘ I can do that’.  Within the examples of Brazil, Kenya, Jamaica or Ethiopia the motivations for success are simple and primeval.  The population see running or football as the ONLY way out of poverty and the ONLY ticket to change their lives.  this in built motivation, and subsequent competition from like minded individuals breads a culture of high performance.  The role models that it creates maintains and reinforces the belief that ‘I can do that’.  In Iten Kenya, according to Rasmus Ankerson, the population almost believe they can’t lose – they are destined to win they are that used to it!

Support &’push’ – Parental support is another key driver, in South Korea whole families with dedicate their lives to making their daughter a Golfing superstar – training every hour (literally) outside sleep.  The same is true in Russia of its Tennis stars… in the ‘west’ this can be seen as ‘pushy’ or parents ‘living the dream through their kids’.  nay sayers say let kids ‘choose’ give them every opportunity… But is their too much choice?  Ask a 5 year old what he wants to do from the plethora of choice, its doubtful he will ‘pick’ training for hours at a chosen sport – maybe this ‘push is needed’?  There are always exceptions, be it David Beckham, Johnny Wilkinson, Bradley Wiggins or others whose innate drive and vision was so clear from an early age – they consciously made the decision and they had the innate drive.   In ‘The Goldmine effect’ the author also examines Violinists and notes how the ‘best’ practised their ‘10000 hrs’ by maybe ages 13/14, the same is true of gymnasts… Now much of this wasn’t through ‘choice’ but through parental, shall we say direction!  who is right?  Take the LTA in the UK – it invests Millions to produce Tennis players, yet has failed consistently…  Britain’s best players Elena Baltacha and Andy Murray are not products of the LTA but other systems.  The LTA (it could be argued) Mollycoddles players in 5 star luxury, but is that drive and internal motivation their – do the players want to ‘win’ or just be ‘famous’?  Have they the absolute single minded ‘drive’ to make it?  Looking at results you have to say no!

Much closer to home a great example of a Gold Mine would be the Yorkshire cycling success over the years, it has, and continues to, Churn out champions such as Brian Robinson, Tom Simpson, Wayne Randle, John Tanner, Kevin Dawson, the Downing brothers, Ed Clancy, Ben Swift… Joel Wainman & others 🙂  The list goes on.. But why?  Some say its the hills, the weather, the hard roads… Its simpler than that, its back to the Iten Kenya example, or the Jamaican sprint champions.. the desire, motivation and competition provided in the area drives riders to the best – they ‘see’ their mates, neighbours or colleagues doing it, think I can do that!  They can train with them, learn their secrets and perpetuate the success.  Now I grew up in Yorkshire,  I actually went to School with the Downing Brothers, Dean was in my year and we played football together for the school team.  Later I worked, briefly at the same place as TT legend and multiple BBAR winner Kevin Dawson.  I wish I could say I became part of this self fulfilling conveyor belt… But I didn’t!  I honestly didn’t even realise Russ & Dean cycled like they did when we were kids, I cycled for fun – I wish I’d known and joined them!  I remember working with Kev and being in awe of his bikes, his training and what he did – I thought he was on another planet and out of my league… then I had my epiphany,’ its 98% hard work’ and it all changed for me.  Again in the ‘Goldmine effect’ the author refers to Haile Gebrselassie and Colin Jackson who can pinpoint their ‘epiphany moments’ down to the time and date – now I am no way in their league, but the power of that moment is key

But back to our simple sport, Time Trialling is the purest form of cycling, you against the clock.  No Hiding places, no tactics, no one to ‘blame’, no bad luck.  He who works hardest WINS.  That’s what I love.  Arguably it makes it boring, we all ‘know’ who will win every race…. or do we?

I was drawn to the sport due to this simple ‘hard work pays off philosophy’, I am well into my 10000 hrs, so simply I should be performing at my peak ? yes? well no… its not so simple as that!  I like, so many of us, have found so many nuances and subtleties that we never have the answer.  In Michael Hutchinsons book ‘Faster’ he reckons he needed to find ‘2% per year’ to stand still in performance regards versus his competitors.

How and where do you find this?  Not so long ago I was chatting with Lutterworth Cycle Centre’s Matt Sinclair, Matt as we all know has been performing at the top of this game for years, he put it really well when he said its become an ‘arms race’.  We are all looking for every, as Dave Brailsford coined the phrase ‘marginal gain’, we can to help us find that illusive 2% or more

We all search for every method to go faster:

  1. wind tunnel or aerodynamic analysis and testing
  2. Kit and helmets
  3. Bikes, weight, aerodynamics ‘looks’ (well you gotta look good too :))
  4. Diet
  5. Supplements
  6. Training programs

Over the past 3 season I have probably won over 70 races, set multiple course records, won the National Team Time Trial, I’m in exulted company in the league of ‘top ten fastest ever 10m TT riders’ and held the Competition record as part of a team for the 10m TT… But I have no way achieved all I want or what, I think, I am capable of… Although I am probably getting close to being past it now!

top 10 10s

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Why is that?  For me there are numerous drivers,  I have only got really ‘intelligent’ in training the last couple of years with the help of renowned coach Bob Tobin.  Before Bob, and even with other coaches I was in the ‘old school’ of miles & miles – but as you get older you need to adapt and focus.. and working full time that just isn’t possible!  When I did Ironman I was coached by the UK’s first Ironman winner, Matt Belfield, now he was old school – 7 hrs on a Saturday on the bike, with bricks in the panniers, 6hrs on a Sunday and a 2hr run, oh and an hour swim… Hmm  wonder why my marriage didn’t last!?  That’s not realistic or sustainable, intelligent coaching is the answer.

It also took me a long time to understand and embrace the importance of Aero dynamics.  I have always bene powerful, but when I look at the SHOCKING position I used to ride in its not really surprising I didn’t go really fast!  Recently working with both Aero-Coach and No-Pinz has been a revelation to me in helping me dial in my position, my choice of kit and way of riding – and the ‘step up’ I have made this past 2-3 season is all down to that.

Although its not easy… in Michael Hutchinson’s book ‘Faster’ he has a brilliant section on Aero Helmets, stating that some manufacturers have started working on ‘dimpled’ technology like golf balls… his comment is brilliant, ‘until a cyclists head starts spinning like a gold ball I cant see them working too well!!!’ (sic).

Then of course we come to bikes,  don’t we all just love the beauty and the technology!  Cycling’s great for ‘boys and toys’!  To own a ‘supercar’ like the best you need £100’s K’s, to won a bike just like your hero, be it Cav, Wiggo or who ever you can get it for probably <£10k… You can even pitch up at a weekend TT and line up against Wiggo or Dowsett… in no other sport can you do that!

We all love the tech, but again its easy to get ‘sucked into’ the marketing and spin, White papers written by manufacturers on the effect of yaw angle in certain winds can be mind boggling,  there is one example, I forget where, of a bike manufacturer extolling the virtues of its frame based on wind readings from 10ft… it will be interesting to see any cyclist doing well 10ft in the air!  I’ve experimented, as we all have with loads of bikes and have been lucky that my last 2 bikes, a Falco V and my current Giant Trinity.

Both have enabled me to hone a good position,  always room for improvement and maximise aerodynamics… but work is never done!

For me great support from Harry Walker this year and the phenomenal Assym disc wheel and Ian Cammish and the PDQ tri-spoke – PDQ it is!

But what of other ‘marginal gains’?  Diet – Simon Beldon has been employing the services of Alan Murchinson , Michelin starred chef and GB Age Group Triathlete,  the difference Simon has made to weight and his nutritional balance is just part of the >2% he has found this year to step on.

Race Nutrition,  we are supported by http://www.OTEsports.com ,  the products provide the right mix of carbs, electrolytes and protein.  What the guys at OTE, lead by Matt Harrison have done is the seemingly impossible – great tasting & functional products!

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Supplements – where do you start?!  there is so much to go at and so much recommended or suggested, I swear by beta-alanine and beetroot as core staples, but choices are endless.

The final part, is  a HUGELY important part, in my opinion, and its about ‘mindset’ and attitude.  Historically I have under performed in ‘big races’ versus what my, on paper, stats say I should do.  On the Big day I don’t perform.  This goes right back to my days in Triathlon, my Kona experience in 2004 was a huge disappointment – I spent 2 weeks in Kona pre-race and frankly the whole event ‘got to me’ and nerves hit me.  I was terrible!

Nowadays, coming to a ‘local’ race I will hit great numbers and I know I will perform – come National championships it all goes wrong!  why?  Its mentality its approach, its mindset.  I have spent some time talking to Peter Hudson, sports psychologist http://www.the-mindworks.com who has given me some great ‘coping mechanisms’.

Simple things as, don’t open the start sheet until I am in a positive , relaxed and upbeat mind set.  Rationalise what I HAVE done, don’t focus on the competition. Focus on MY race and remind myself what I can do…  some great tools, simple but effective.

So, in summary what does it all mean?  I honestly have no where near all the answers but I love exploring the possible answers and looking where to go next – no stone unturned!

Any-way onwards – yesterday may have been a good race, but no rest, off for a 3 1/2 hour Bob special now and its 1degrees!  Great!

 

 

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