After his victory in last week’s 1000.si Slovenian ultra-race, we asked Zolla rider Robbie Britton for his thoughts on how the race went:
If you want to do well at anything then self-reflection is key. We learn by building experience, by competing and in purposeful practice, but without reflection you’re not getting anywhere fast.
Firstly though this reflection needs to be honest. Kidding yourself that you did everything perfectly and it was just sheer bad luck you DNF’d or scratched, won’t help you progress. Sometimes it can be hard to admit you made mistakes, but mistakes are only really a long-term negative if we don’t learn from them.
After every race, as an athlete and a coach, even the simple task of listing three things that went well and three things to improve for next time is useful. Note it’s not “three things that went badly” as just listing those, without thinking about how one will improve for next time, isn’t too helpful.
Every single race has learning points, even when they seem to everyone else to go perfectly. Sometimes you do have to dig a little deeper to find things to improve though.
Three things that went well
Now from the outside winning a race, namely the 1000.si Bikepacking race around Slovenia, you might imagine everything went to plan but fear not, I always make some good mistakes. Always start with the positives though, as sometimes we can find ourselves focusing too much on what we don’t excel at.
1) Eating and drinking. As ever stuffing my face full of haribo, calippos, energy drinks and everything else is a forté. The challenge of temperatures well above 30 degrees all day meant fluid intake was higher than usual and my salty sweatiness (it’s a good thing, I swear), meant I had to stay on top of hydration and electrolytes.
Packing twice as many sodium capsules as last time, as well as improvising when they ran low with a tube of salted pringles in my back jersey pocket (fits well, not too aerodynamic), meant hydration and electrolytes were pretty good throughout.
2) Going uphill. It’s not often you find yourself begging for more uphills, but when it’s your strength and you know it puts you further ahead of the competitors, you want those inclines.
Running a 48-31 chain-set on the front and 11-30 on the back was sufficient for the steepest gradients, even when fully loaded with kit and water and the quick engagement of the Trailmech hub on the Zolla wheels meant every pedal stroke felt strong when the roads ramped up.
3) Sleep deprivation – Ultra cycling is less about going fast, although that helps, but more about constant forward motion. If you can keep going for more hours of the day you will get to the finish quicker. Simple right?
Now a 00:01 start meant we all started this race sleep deprived, but getting a 90 min sleep in between race briefing and the kick-off meant my body and mind was at least a little confused into thinking it was all normal.
The checkpoint at 527km, as well as knowing there was a 90 minute gap to those behind, meant a decent sleep at halfway was possible. After that there was just one other 4 min nap on a bus-stop bench in Maribor when I was feeling sleepy, and that worked wonders.
It’s not just about smashing caffeine and driving yourself onwards, but about managing effort and fuelling in the night. If you keep eating then your body will do a better job of staying awake, in part due to the effect it has on the build-up of adenosine in your brain. Then when you need to sleep, sleep, if only for 4 minutes.
Things that can be improved
1) Riding on the flat. When I say my strength is in the climbs, it stands out because it’s true, but also because I’m not great on the flat. Part of this is down to how I train, just because I love climbing hills and live in a steep sided valley.
Other factors include comfort in the aero-bar position, which I can certainly work on and training more steady state efforts in that position too.
Every race has flatter sections and if you’re not prepared for them then you will lose time to your competitors, but then it depends on how well you really do climb.
Ultimately I think I’ll just enter hillier races, like Lost Dot’s TPR02 and Two Volcano Sprint, rather than change too much. Is that a bit lazy?
2) Descending, especially in the dark. If you are solely focused on the steep races then you better be good downhill too. After a crash descending Alpe di Mera, a climb that was a fantastic stage finish in the Giro D’Italia this year, my bottle has gone a bit.
Add in that it feels like my new Zolla wheels really do feel like they pick up speed a bit quicker when rolling with gravity, and my nerves downhill grow. Can wheels be too fast? Probably shouldn’t complain about that.
Anyway, add in the descents at night and the wildlife in Slovenia, badgers, deer and the odd bear in your way, and it also comes down to good lighting. In the past I have survived on really low lights, just to save battery, but this is a false economy.
You lose so much more time descending gingerly, free time as well that costs no effort, that it’s worth having a big fancy light and using up the juice. I actually carried two Lezyne 1000XL torches, one for each night, and could still have done with more light.
3) Sort problems before they become big ones – Now this is something I did okay at, but there was still room for improvement. I did win, so obviously lots of things did go well.
When the temperature is really hot, or cold too, it’s tempting to focus too much on the racing and not yourself. When a race lasts more than 60 minutes it becomes more about focusing on yourself than those around you. Yes, you can dig deeper in a race, but go beyond your own limits and you’ll lose a lot of time blowing up.
Little things, like cycling past a tap because you’ve got some momentum or ignoring a shop because you want to keep moving forward, can become big problems. You save three, maybe four minutes by not stopping by then lose three or four hours from dehydration or lack of fuel.
Same goes for little sore spots, niggles and blisters. Better to spend a few minutes fixing them, than lose hours or possibly even scratch because they get so much worse. A little bit of raw skin can gradually get worse and worse, when just a quick application of lubricant or a plaster could have fixed it early doors.
When to reflect
The best time to reflect is in the aftermath of an event, when your memory is fresh and you have extra time on your hands for recovery too. Make it a formal thing, even just for yourself or a message to your coach. It helps with accountability.
And be honest. Lying to yourself that it was always someone else’s fault or that it was out of your control doesn’t help.
We can all be overly critical of ourselves and focusing on the negatives isn’t healthy, but every mistake, every failure, is an opportunity to learn.
So reflect, learn for the future and then put your mistakes to bed. No point stressing in hindsight. You gave it your best on the day and now every bump in the road, or Zolla, is an opportunity for the future.