Races are a big part of the South African mountain bike market. Stage races and marathons/half-marathons dominate an annual calendar that boasts more than 500 mountain bike events. South Africans are naturally competitive, well the males certainly are, and there’s a widespread general desire to improve.
Those that can afford it, buy the best possible bikes, which are light and nimble and cost a great deal of Rands. But there’s only so much weight you can pare off a bike. There’s a definite limit.
Where there isn’t a limit though, is in rider improvement. Most South African mountain bikers ride because it’s a fun way to spend time exercising outdoors. And a high percentage ride because they like to compete. Compete against each other; and compete against themselves (personal bests at races and on Strava).
So how does one get faster? The simple answer:
- improving power-to-weight ratio – this can be done by reducing weight and increasing power (or both)
- improving conditioning (physical, mental and emotional) to be able to start any race with confidence due to being appropriately trained for it.
- Improving skills
No two mountain bikers are exactly the same. Some have great self-discipline and motivation; others don’t. Some are already quite skilled, most need instruction. Some have a good power-to-weight ratio, most can improve. Some have good stamina/endurance, most can increase this.
Also, South Africa is fairly unusual in the kind of races that are popular. No other country in the world has such popularity of stages races and marathons/half marathons. And most of our races are fairly tame in terms of technical challenges, making physical conditioning a higher priority than skills improvement for most.
That’s why South African performance coaches should be regarded highly. They’ve studied the general principles of mountain biking coaching, but are armed with the knowledge in how to adapt that to South African races, conditions and mindsets…
Alasdair Garnett, a Johannesburg-based professional coach, is one of those. He
comes from a road racing background, which includes winning four national sub-veteran (30-39) road race titles and representing South Africa at the world championships, but has spent the past few years honing his mountain bike knowledge, competing in a number of popular South African events to gain an intimate understanding of what each event offers in terms of challenges to participants.
“There’s a general hesitancy towards seeking a professional coach in South Africa. Many feel that a coach is only for professional athletes. But that’s not the case. Everyone can improve, so everyone should have access to a coach. Or at least reasonable access,” says Garnett.
“Yes, as with any professional coach/instructor, there’s a cost involved. But when you consider how much time and money mountain bikers invest in event race entries, travel to events (and accommodation), bicycle, clothing, supplements and spares, the cost of a coach isn’t that significant.
“In fact, it shouldn’t be viewed as a cost, but rather an investment. An investment in becoming a better conditioned, faster mountain biker. An investment in becoming a better version of yourself,” added Garnett.
“Take a Sani2c entrant for example. On average, each entrant spends at least R10 000 on the event (entry, travel, bike preparation, spares, supplements etc). At least. That excludes the cost of his/her bike. Most entrants will spend a good few months investing time in training to be prepared for the three-day event.
“Add up the time and cash invested in the event and you get a very high level of commitment. Now wouldn’t it be nice if you could start and finish the event confidently? By that, I mean having the appropriate conditioning to tackle the three stages. Finish each stage strongly with enough time to enjoy the post-stage vibe and recover sufficiently for the following stage,” says Garnett.
You don’t have to live in the same city or town as your coach. They need to either personally asses you or get an outsourced professional assessment done at a facility near you. This gives your coach important baseline information about your physiology and lets him/her know more about what you might be capable of in terms of your potential.
“Once the assessment is done, then we discuss goals. We develop a realistic weekly training time plan and I then set about creating a long-term training plan broken down into shorter segments,” says Garnett.
“This is an exciting time for coach and athlete/client because it’s the start of a journey we’ll take together. A coach has to be present throughout the journey to offer feedback, comfort, reality checks, advice, guidance and continued support. A good coach is objective and is able to keep you on course in your quest to achieve your objectives,” added Garnett.
The ideal minimum period to take on a professional coach is three months (12 weeks). Conditioning takes time and usually a year of training under the guidance of a coach gets you into a position where you can really start making great progress because that’s enough time to strengthen your weaknesses and get you through a series of emotional ups and downs to prepare you for anything.
SHOULD YOU GET A COACH?
If you answer yes to more three or more of these questions, you should consider getting a personal, professional coach:
- Is mountain biking a high priority in your life?
- Are you ambitious?
- Are you goal-orientated?
- Are you mostly self-motivated?
- Are you competitive?
- Do you want to improve your own performances?
- Do you want to know your potential?
- Do you want to try and achieve your potential?
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