Morale Training

Today is Halloween and on Saturday, I did something that I have seldom done these past three years and made the mistake of going to a party. The details are a little fuzzy but I had a great night out with a couple teammates and relieved some stress. I am a huge proponent of the concept of slight edge, marginal gains and doing everything right for your body. As a cyclist, hitting every point of the slight edge for performance would reduce life down to training, eating and recovering (add work/school to the equation for the average competitor). But there is an aspect of performance that many people often overlook that provides a maximal gain: Morale.

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Morale Training as a concept was introduced to me in the book Faster by Michael Hutchinson (strongly recommend that read, btw).  The idea is simply that everyone once in a while, you need to get out and relieve stress and break the monotony of training.  That can be partying or just going out and doing something stupid that you wouldn’t normally do. As stated in the book:

It has the word ‘training’ in it, so it’s got to be a good idea

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Training!

Essentially, going out means that there’s a small chance (say 5%) that you can get sick or roll an ankle.  Then, there’s a 20% chance that you get too wasted to train the next day and potentially affect your fitness.  But, after two months with no morale training, there might be a 50% chance that you completely destroy your motivation and cease training for two weeks or more from burnout.  This would result in a huge loss of fitness and potentially being removed from your team.   It’s a balance between having some sanity and having completely optimal training.

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Not an option for people grounded in reality

Obviously, some people need less interaction than others in order to keep going since some people are just more suited to be lonely. However, as I learned in my “Psychology of Love and Money” class last semester, human interaction is an evolutionary necessity.  If you took high school psychology, you know that belonging/love is on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Personally, I am very big on the human interaction aspect: I love speaking to my parents, brothers and friends and I like seeing them in person as much as possible.

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This aspect of training is something that doesn’t really seem to be a problem for most people but it’s something to seriously look at.  If you’re having trouble improving, maybe look at your lifestyle and see if you’re being too strict with yourself  Don’t get too focused on what you’re doing to forget about your friends and your morale because a small routine change can give you that boost to keep you going.  Thanks to the party, I feel incredibly excited to tackle my next block and it’s a doozy.

The great thing is, this concept can be applied to nearly anything: academics, athletics, work; anything where you need to produce a result.  Make sure to get your dose of morale training in so that you can keep yourself going.

Life is not about finding yourself

Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the above quote from George Bernard Shaw but the principle behind it has strongly impacted my life over the past year. In that time, I realized that I have lofty goals that I want to accomplish during my lifetime and although the best time to start would have been five years ago, the second best time is now. I have a list of 4 goals that I want to accomplish in the next 5 years (by the beginning of 2021) and each one is time consuming and difficult:

  1. Win a USA Cycling National Championship
  2. Achieve Fluency in Spanish and Dutch
  3. Live in a foreign country for longer than 3 months
  4. Race the Tour of California (this goal was set before the recent addition to the WT calendar and will likely be edited)

I have set goals in the past but never really believed in what I could do since I just assumed that life led to what I saw all around me: career, family, house. And there’s nothing wrong with that, a lot of people live happy lives that way.  But, based on what I’ve read (at 21, my experience is limited), you need to continually improve yourself in order to be continually happy.

Every time I have accomplished something major that I worked really hard at like putting on the Route One Rampage (my team’s first major race), I’ve felt incredible.  Doing something big like that puts you on top of the world, like nothing can stop you (even if every other A racer in the ACCC is out there to do just that).

I go to the University of Maryland, a public research university with an undergraduate enrollment of about 27000. As you can probably imagine, not everyone at this school is doing exactly what they want to do in life. There are probably people on this campus who want to be video game testers, poets or safari guides.  But because of the way we have been influenced in our lives, we’re here studying subjects that we may not be interested in because the generation above us says that college degree=job=life.

After getting a degree, so many people get a job and walk through life without continuing to work on improving themselves or their family.  If you’re not making someone’s life better (even if it’s yourself), is that time really worth it?

Everyone has had something crazy they wanted to do in their life whether that be starting their own business, becoming an MLB umpire, moving to another country.  Even something as simple as becoming financially independent can be a huge leap for some people.  And it all starts with one step.  Working to continually improve yourself as a human being is so fulfilling yet very few people do what they need to do.

We fill our lives with activities that don’t put us where we want to be.  I am incredibly guilty of this: throughout high school and the first couple years of college, I filled my time with things that didn’t impact my life positively.  I wasn’t headed anywhere negative but definitely not somewhere I would have been 100%.  Now that I’ve turned towards that track (more on that in future posts), there’s no way that I’ll ever want to go back.

 

The real issue facing America

On September 11, 2001, the United States was the victim of a terrorist attack yet unseen in our nation. 2,996 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks and our nation has never recovered from the image of the WTC towers burning [1]. Since then, we have gone to extreme lengths and costs to protect ourselves by expanding surveillance and greatly increasing defense spending.  National security has become a hot topic in every political race since then, and probably will be for a long time.

Let’s look at another number of deaths: 610000.  That is the approximate number of people in the United States who die every year from heart disease [2].  It is the leading cause of death in the United States, with its only real competitor being cancer (in the high 500k/year) [3].  That means that we have the equivalent of approximately 2000 preventable 9/11 attacks occurring every year, and we are doing very little to stop it.

The most common form of heart disease is coronary, which occurs when veins and arteries are blocked by buildup of fat and cholesterol [4].  This buildup is caused when damage to the veins from high blood pressure or diabetes is repaired and fats/cholesterol are deposited.  As a result of the buildup, arteries can be narrowed which reduces blood flow and weakens heart muscles [4].  And if the vessel experiences a blood clot, completely cutting blood flow, it can cause heart muscle to die (this is known as a heart attack).

The vast majority of these cases are preventable since the behavioral risk factors of heart disease are poor diet (high is saturated and trans fats and cholesterol), physical inactivity and obesity, which the first two can lead to [5].  As you know if you know me or have read any of my other posts, physical activity is incredibly important to me because of my relationship with cycling.  However,  I have recently made some changes to my diet based on research so this aspect has become more important to me.

This TED talk by Brendan Brazier opened my eyes to the ideas behind a plant based diet (basically vegan) for sports performance.  According to the talk, eating less animal products and more plants increases the amount of nutrients you get in, which makes you more full.  In addition, your body is more easily able to fight inflammation since your food is not contributing.  In February, I went vegetarian and found that I was recovering from hard workouts faster (anecdotally), which has been enough to convince me to go mostly plant based now that I am cooking for myself.

So, where am I going with all of this?  The point is that food policy is an incredibly important aspect that affects every american yet it has barely been mentioned in this election cycle.  I did a little research to find out which candidate is going to do more in order to ensure that americans have access to the fruits and vegetables which the WHO says help prevent heart disease.  You can find the article I read here, it’s a great read.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to go vegan, far from it because I’m not even a vegan. But the fact of the matter is that americans eat a lot of meat and food policy has a strong impact on that since it has the power to make foods cheaper (see HFCS in the past few decades).  The average american eats 270 pounds of meat per year, double the USDA recommendation of 125 pounds, on top of large amounts of other animal products like cheese all of which contain a large amount of fats that can contribute to heart disease [6].  This has a huge effect on our health and as a result, our nation (we spend the most on health care in the world)  [7].

So, here’s what you can do: First, take a little break from the meat.  You’ve probably been told that it’s not that great for you so maybe just make one day or two a week where you don’t eat any.  Recipes are so easy to find online.  Second, be sure that you’re informed on this incredibly important issue that affects so much about our country: climate, health care, agriculture, business.  Third, get out and vote to make your voice heard.

Now, looking back at the number of deaths due to terrorism: 2001 was an extraordinary year.  The average number of deaths due to terrorism in the United States from 2002-2014 was just 4.7, with 5 of those years having no deaths at all [4].  The average number of US citizens killed worldwide over that time period was 12.1 [4].

Obviously the fact that people are dying at all due to terrorism is tragic, as no one should have their loved ones taken away like that.  But when we look at the number 12.1 compared to the number 610000, does it not seem that our priorities as a nation are skewed? Food policy also has the potential to affect the way that our climate is shaped, which as we all know affects every one of the 7 billion people on earth. There is so little attention paid to the issues of personal health and nutrition when we have so much more at stake.

References

  1. 9/11 Death Statistics. (2016, August 1). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from http://www.statisticbrain.com/911-death-statistics/
  2. Heart Disease Facts. (2015, August 10). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
  3. Leading Causes of Death. (2016, October 07). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
  4. Miller, E., & Jensen, M. (2015, October). American Deaths in Terrorist Attacks. Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. Retrieved October 13, 2016, from https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_AmericanTerrorismDeaths_FactSheet_Oct2015.pdf.
  5. “Heart Disease Behavior.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Aug. 2015. Web. 13 Oct. 2016.
  6. Davis, Michelle. Thug Kitchen: Eat like You Give a F*ck. New York: Rodale, 2014. Print.
  7. Robbins, John. “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: Where They Stand on Food.” Food Revolution Network. N.p., 20 Aug. 2016. Web. 13 Oct. 2016.

Stay in drugs, eat your school, don’t do vegetables

Over the summer, the reality that I would be facing the real world after I graduate in May hit me square in the face: “I barely know how to cook, how am I going to do other adult stuff?”.  Thankfully, college is kinda like real life practice and I have the best housing to accommodate that practice this year (aka a 1920s house with crickets and no A/C).  So, I’ve been cooking pasta while sweating and killing a lot of small insects on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  It’s close enough to practicing living as an adult.

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Despite all that, this is going to be a pretty amazing semester.  I am currently three weeks into my senior year at the University of Maryland, I have 4 classes, none of which start before 2 PM and I like all 4 topics.  To finish out my major (materials engineering), I am taking polymeric engineering and finite element analysis.  One of my professors rushed us through a topic because we “lost” a class on labor day but I’m not bitter.  As an elective to keep myself full time (#scholarships), I am taking spanish literature.  Essentially, we dissect every possible symbol like in high school literature but in spanish.  After 1.5 years with no spanish, it’s been a little tough keep up but definitely interesting.

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Imagine this but in Spanish

Since I’m a huge dork, I’m going to go into a little more detail about my last class.  Hands-On Systems Engineering is a technical elective for my major.  In the class, we’ll work to design and model a system that can be used in some real-world application.  At the end, each group’s project is going to be judged by real systems engineers from Textron and the top three groups receive a cash prize. One of the professor’s former students works for the Goddard Space Flight Center and suggested one project could be a power control system for the NASA TiME project.  So, I came up with two solar energy projects: one based on the submarine’s power collection and one involving power utilization in remote areas.  Safe to say that I’m very excited about this class.

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   Picture of Kraken Mare, one of Titan’s liquid methane lakes          *Insert nerdgasm here*

But most exciting to me is the fact that I have a healthy amount of free time this semester.  After two years of 15 credit semesters plus administrative responsibilities to the cycling team and lab work, it’ll be nice to have some me time.  With this time, I’ll be able to train, sleep, recover, work and eat in the amounts that I want to.  I haven’t really had that opportunity since taking on an officer position for UMD Cycling in Fall 2014.  My current plan is to spend a month or two in Belgium next summer and the better my fitness at that point, the more I’ll be able to take advantage of the racing there.  In order to get my fitness, mental toughness and language abilities to the points I want them at, I have started a habit board.

It’s both as easy and as hard as it looks

De puede ver, uno de los habitos para mi semestre es a escribir uno parrafo en ingles y espanol cada dia. Ambos parrafos necessitan ser demasiado cinco frases substantivos. Tambien, tengo que hacer 10 minutos en “Duolingo” cada dia para aprender holandes.  Este va a ayudarme cuando voy a Belgica el proximo verano.  Tambien, he fijado una meta a tener fluencia en 5 lenguajes en mi vida.  Aprendiendo una lenguaje se convierte mas dificil con edad asi voy a aprednder con mucho velocidad.  Estoy emocionado para este meta porque communicacion es tanto importante a mi.

This idea came to me through r/theXeffect on reddit.  In order to ensure that I’m doing the right things everyday, I need a large visual reminder of the steps required and of my goals. Without being constantly reminded of our goals, it’s easy to let the small things that you need to do everyday slip by.  I’ve tried a couple systems before, including the BASICS notebook but I found that something that has to go in a backpack sometimes doesn’t come out enough.  I always knew it was there but it was too easy to forget.  Having a visual reminder in my face has worked so far, now all I have to do is stick to it and work hard. Seems pretty easy.

Spokes out.

Froome isn’t cheating

Last week, Chris Froome won the Tour de France General Classification by four minutes and five seconds.  When compared to his total elapsed time of 89:04:48, Froome beat second placed Romain Bardet by .0736% over the course of the race.  If that was found to be the statistical difference for a new training method or piece of equipment, even Dave Brailsford might scoff at it.  That’s less than a rounding error of difference.

When Sky started up in 2010, they set the goal of winning a grand tour within 5 years. With their focus on the marginal gains involved in the sport, they were able to win the Tour de France within 2, a truly incredible feat.  As I explained in my post on the strength of marginal gains, using a tactic that provides a small boost every day over large periods of time will eventually lead to large effects.  When we talk about marginal gains, we talk about finding that one percent extra in performance.  But in pro cycling, where everyone is already trying to find every advantage that they can get, one percent is massive.  If Froome had won the Tour by one percent, his gap to second would be fifty three minutes and twenty eight seconds, a huge margin (25th place in this TDF).

Team Sky’s reported budget for the 2016 season is 29.1 million Euro ($32.5 million), which is presumably the highest in the World Tour.  For comparison, Tinkoff’s budget is 22.8 million Euro and AG2R’s is just 14.1.  The average in the World Tour is presumably closer to the AG2R number but we are unsure because teams are not required to disclose these numbers to the public.

There has been a lot of speculation over the past several years as Team Sky has won four out of the last 5 Tours.  This speculation has included both mechanical and biological doping, neither of which I believe Team Sky participates in.  While this does have the air of US Postal, you can see from my calculations above that their winning margins are tiny.  One of the main pieces of evidence being pointed to is Froome’s data from the Alpe d’Huez climb where he seems to easily drop his opponents with an attack while his heart rate does not move.  This seems fairly easy to counter: have you ever had issues with accuracy of your heart rate monitor readings? Exactly.

Another claim that I have heard is that “there’s no new science that should be giving them this edge.”  With a 29 million euro budget and the help of British Cycling, which is funded by lottery money, they would likely be able to either conduct their own experiments or see things in research that others don’t.  That budget gives them the resources to try anything, including stupid stuff that no one else would try.  In addition, it buys them wind tunnel time, nutritionists, strength training coaches and physical therapists.  They will be able to hire the best of everything and in the end, that is probably enough to give them a 0.736% edge.

Spokes out.