We uncover the cycling training program secrets of a 3x World Champion
• The One Percent Rule • choosing your cycling training program • lessons from cancer • setting realistic goals • staying motivated with your training program • what to look for in a cycling training program • dealing with information overload • dealing with setbacks in your cycling training program • and finally, how to get in touch with Jessica if you want to get world class skills and fitness coaching.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Douglas on how to get the most out of your cycling training program while living a full and busy life.
In addition to being a teenage cancer survivor and working mother Jessica happens to be a multiple past Australian champion at the discipline of 24hr Solo Mountain Biking, and has been World Champion three times as well.
So it’s fair to say Jessica knows a thing or two about extracting the most out of cycling training programs while juggling work and family commitments.
Jessica is now turning that knowledge into a career. From the home she shares with husband Norm in the southern Australian state of Victoria, she is now operating a mountain bike skills coaching and performance cycling coaching business.
JH: Jessica, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule.
JD: No worries, John. A pleasure.
The One Percent Rule
JH: Tonight, I’d like to talk about your top tips of what people can do to get the most out of their cycling training program.
JD: So what would I do if I was looking after myself as a coach? Well, I just break it down. I started off with the end goal, and by the end of the year I wanted to have improved and wanted to have won some races if I could. But certainly I wanted to race a lot and learn a lot and be better than what I was today. So I invented the one percent rule for myself. That was get out for one ride for one hour and just improve one thing by just one percent, that one element of my mountain biking, just one.
It didn’t have to be everything. Maybe it’s looking at corners, or it could be braking. It might be how to get over rock, how to ride up a hill faster. If I did that for one hour and did that every week, every month, and for a year and attended races I would have to have improved. I could not have failed. It’s just two weeks in a year and there would have to be some improvement.
As it happens you do improve more because you put in more as you see success. Then as you get more successful with your efforts, you put in even more. Eventually, I overtrained a bit and you make mistakes and win some and lose some, but all in all the trending goes upwards.
Then in 2006, at the beginning of the year I made that decision and I didn’t know that I was going to aspire to become a world champion. I was just doing it because it was so much fun, and I wanted to get better at it because then I could have even more fun.
That’s how I got better at endurance racing, because it just sort of evolved that I happened to be one of those stayers. I wasn’t really fantastic at going flat out, fast, and being daring. But when it came to just finding that nice smooth rhythm of going all day long, and having the perseverance and the mental attitude, and the toughness then yes.
So a long story short, I just didn’t get into mountain biking in my early 30s, I still had a bit of a history and the seed had been planted.
Choosing Your Cycling Training Program
JH: At some point you would have realised that some kind of formal cycling training program was needed, how did you work out how to structure that and what kind of cycling training program was best for you?
JD: Well I was working at the time I hooked up with Donna Rae-Szalinski, who is currently overseas working with the Wiggle High-Five team in a women’s road tour. I was lucky enough to have her as a bit of a mentor and she said Jess, you’re going to need to do some road cycling. It’s the best way to get some kilometres and some training in.
But essentially, how to get the training in from my personal training background, and obviously through all the things I had been through.
Lessons from Cancer
I’ll go back to the year that I had cancer. I had learnt that following things through from the very beginning until the very end and not take any shortcuts was the way to success.
Surrounding yourself with with people that believed in you, and people that could help you.
Obviously, allowing yourself that time that you need, but also at the same time setting goals that are achievable and realistic, but at the same time pulling some things out there that were a bit scary.
Setting Realistic Goals
For the first year it is hit and miss. I always say to people that come to me and talk to me about coaching, “Right, you’ve got a goal and that’s great. That’s the most important thing.” Come up with a goal first. It doesn’t even have to be the goal that you think that you want to put all those eggs in one basket. You don’t even have to.
Just one goal is good, because what often happens is once you start entering into the process you find that you end up having multiple goals. I often find a lot of my clients that come at me with, “I want to win this race this weekend, and that race and that race”. I go, well I don’t know if you can do them all, but if you do good luck to you. But let’s just pick out some good races that are going to be fun. If you want to do that one, then maybe put it down as if I’m feeling awesome I’ll do that one.
As I said, coming up with the goal to begin with and working back from there, that is the most important plan. But then also, being a realistic with your time that you have available. Some people might only have five hours free a week, and can only do a couple of rides at the weekend and potentially a spin class during the week. Then I’ll go, that’s not enough time to get me what I want.
If you don’t do anything with that time, there is another saying that’s a Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the next best time is now.” Essentially, that’s just saying you can talk about it and wait for the right time, or you can just get stuck into it right now. You might find that down the track, that five hours you will start finding eight hours because you start loving it.
It doesn’t have to be perfect from the get go. You don’t have to have 20 hours a week and the best bike in the world, and every piece of equipment and tool under your roof to do the job. Just start. You are better off starting now and better done than perfect and new things will roll.
Keeping motivated with your cycling training program
JH: One of the things I find with training for an event is that after a while I start to get a bit of loneliness from doing it by yourself. The guys that you ride with socially are doing other things, or they are not quite at the same level of fitness as you. How do you deal with that mentally?
JD: If you want to reach a goal and you have a race in mind, well first of all if that goal isn’t embedded in you with a little bit of investment, and a little hurt. Meaning that you really have to want it and decided it would be just nice to do, that goal isn’t strong. Potentially, you will just go out and hang out with your mates and go for a ride and go “I’ll get there”. That’s okay, and I tell my clients that all the time.
If this is just a goal that you think that I would like to turn up to this race and do well but at the same time I like doing social rides all the time. Well, you’re still probably going to do okay but you’re going to be training with everyone else going at their pace and doing their rides and doing hills or whatever.
There is a couple of ways that you can work at this. Just be realistic with yourself and say, two rides a week. I have to be selfish and they are going to be lonely. Or, on those two rides a week I could say to a couple of mates that I know really well, do you want to come and do hill repeats with me. I’m doing this session, you might improve as well. It doesn’t matter if I’m doing 10 and you can only do four. Guess what, we are going to be on the same hill. We’ll go out for coffee afterwards or whatever.
Or the other option is you, just selfishly and lonely [training], just do your two little rides by yourself. You tick them off and you say that your other rides are going to be more of that volume and endurance, and socialising.
It’s actually really simple, and when [people] come to me and say those sorts of things and say, I’m sick of training by myself, I’ll say how much do you want this goal. Because if you go and do all your training sessions with everyone else without a focus for those rides, then you will only get whatever the focus is for the ride. Sometimes that is just purely riding in a bunch and sitting on a wheel. It all depends really in how invested you are in that end goal.
What to look for in a cycling training program
JH: Thank you, that’s very wise. If somebody isn’t quite at the stage of wanting to get a coach or aren’t sure who to connect up with, and then look at buying a training programme, what should they look for?
JD: Once again it comes back to did they have a goal? Is it a race? Are they wanting to do 100 K a mountain bike marathon in three months’ time? They are going to learn something.
I always say, those three months programs that come for a cheap price, or you sign up for this or whatever, and if you don’t know anything it’s a start. It’s like starting your savings account with five dollars. Get started. They are not going to be wrong.
They may not exactly adapt to your lifestyle, but you can start to learn, pick and choose, and work through it. You might think I do not have four hours on a weekend to do this 100 K ride, I actually live in a flat area, and I can’t drive there. You start to learn what you can do and you take what works for you.
Dealing with information overload
JD: The other thing is yes, there is so much information on the internet. One of the things that I always do is pretty simple and no secret. You look to other people that are really successful, and you replicate what they do. For example, if you are looking at someone who is an Olympian, and you have got no chance of being an Olympian. Well, don’t give up on it, because I bet you there are things that they do that you could do or bring in some elements to your life.
People often take me quite literally sometimes and say well I’m not going to be able to train 30 hours a week and I’ll say of course you’re not. But tell me, what are some of the habits that they do? What are some of the training elements that they do? They say, they don’t do much bunch riding. That’s right, they don’t do they because they have got their goal of making the Olympics. The bunch isn’t coming to the Olympics with them. They’ve got an individual goal.
Certainly the programs that you can get on the Internet, what would you look for, it would be all relevant to your goal. It’s as simple as looking up I want to do a 100 K Grand Fondo. You will find a gazillion there. What price do you want to pay? It’s not always the cheapest is the nastiest, and the most expensive is the best. It’s what relates to you.
Some coaches won’t deal with people if they don’t have a power meter. They will only deal with you if you do, so you want to check that out. Is this program giving me Watts or is it giving me perhaps RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion), or focusing on heart rate only? What am I going to understand or what I’m going to be motivated by? There is lots of little things to look at. It’s not just the program. It’s what the program is trying to communicate to you, and how you best utilise that communication.
Dealing with setbacks in your cycling training program
JH: Inevitably things go off the rails. You have got young kids, and they get sick and being stuck at home and you catch it too. How do you get back on track with things like that?
JD: I guess the greatest piece of advice I can give someone who gets ill is this is part of the process. Use it. Actually, if you are going to be ill right now use this as some recovery. It is unscheduled, but it’s recovery. If you just need to lay in bed because you have got the flu and you can’t get out of bed, stressing about it and worrying about it actually will get you nowhere. So just let it happen.
I know it’s easier said than done, but every day you spend worrying about that is another day you spend worrying about it. But if you just go, okay this is part of the process. This is part of my recovery, what can I do to heal my body so that when I am good I can get back on track.
The big thing that I say to people is first of all, worry only causes worry. Take action instead. So whilst you’re sick, take action, rest up. If you can get help from a family member to help you look after the kids, clean the house or to do whatever, do that. Rest up, leave the bike alone.
Secondly food. Definitely get onto some awesome food that is going to act as medicine to help you recover. Even sometimes when you don’t want to eat it’s definitely okay, well what can I eat? Because if you’re not fuelling your body to recover, then how can you have the tools to ride your bike once you are well again?
They are my two big tips for that, and you can’t help it. This is life. Even elite athletes get sick and they have to recover. For them, they have got everyone around them. They have got doctors and physios, and all sorts of things going around, so that they get well really quick. For the average person, we just have to run its course.
How to get in touch with Jessica Douglas
JH: I think I’ve taken up more than enough of your time. I fully appreciate the time that you have spent with me this evening Jessica. Can you tell us a little bit about your coaching business? How do people can get in contact and engage with you?
JD: My coaching business is pretty much exactly how I’ve been explaining everything to you. Real people, real humans I work with and I have elite athletes within my group. I always say to everyone, we are just people trying to get through life. We’re just riding bikes and it’s just bike racing. Let’s have fun doing it, and I always talk to my athletes about that. You know, take yourself seriously on all accounts, but also just make sure you’re having fun doing it.
My big philosophy is yes, let’s all have goals but have fun riding your bike. Because if you’re not having fun then how can you stay focused on your goals. Especially if you have family and you’re working. I work with all sorts of people ranging in ages from young teenagers through to older adults. Most of my clients are older adults, but we have a lot of fun. We do a lot of mountain biking and I even have some runners, road cyclists, and big riders.
How you get in contact with me is just on my website, www.jessicadouglas.com. I have a contact me page and that’s sort of expanding at the moment, but that’s the easiest way.
JH: Terrific. Thank you very much for your time.
JD: No worries John, thank you.