Editor's note: Jasmin Welter races for the Saris + The Pro's Closet team. To add a new voice to the TPC Blog, we asked her to write about the strategies that help her set ambitious goals and achieve them — in cycling and in life.
At the end of 2020, the entire Saris + The Pro’s Closet squad was brainstorming a team goal for the new year. We agreed on “a win each day” — a pretty natural goal for an ambitious racing team. However, we did not look at this goal as solely reaching 365 top steps though. Rather, we defined “winning” in a more holistic way. Of course, winning a race is great and is ultimately what we strive for. But if you consciously count all the other "wins" you bring home on the daily, winning is likely to improve your overall health and happiness.
Here are my top five recommendations to win in 2021:
1. Set goals
Are you chasing an improved power profile? Are you looking to perform better at a certain race (in real life or virtually)? Are you looking to become healthier? A more well-rounded athlete? Are you looking to add a specific skill to your portfolio?
Whatever it is you are trying to accomplish, spell it out as a goal that can push you through hard workouts, give you motivation when you really need it, and inspire you to keep improving. If you want to introduce a change in your life (as an athlete), goals can provide a true lifeline on a journey that requires commitment, sacrifice, and plenty of sweat.
When I started my life as a cyclist, I shied away from setting goals. First of all, I had no idea what a reasonable goal would look like. Then, I was also afraid of falling short. After all, without a goal to fall short of, there is no disappointment, right? After a while, I realized this left me in a state of limbo, ebbing and flowing out of form, fitness, and motivation. When taking inventory of my achievements and aspirations, I stepped over my shadow and joined a goal-setting session with a local team. Sharing and discussing the common struggles related to goal-setting but also hearing how beneficial the practice has proven for many, I got to work and jotted down ideas.
One of my goals back then was to learn how to ride the rollers to get more comfortable with my bike moving around in tight crits and cyclocross. I started with barely five minutes of riding, while frantically holding onto the door frame with my heart rate going through the roof. But with time, persistence, and consistency, I slowly made my way to being able to ride and even pick up my water bottle while riding. It was actually really fun coming up with more and more small goals along the way to achieve the overall goal.
Since then, I have learned a lot about myself and my training. Now, I like drawing up goals that meet somewhere between pragmatic and dreamy. I try to be realistic in what I can achieve with my body, my schedule, my other life commitments, but I also want my goals to be challenging enough to feel a true sense of accomplishment when I manage to achieve it. Not every goal has to be extremely high-reaching and purely performance-oriented. My goals include everything from marginal improvements in nutrition to power targets, from trying out new arts-and-crafts techniques to reading certain types of books.
2. Take care of yourself as you push harder
Now that you are full of motivation and have your eyes set on the goals for 2021, make sure to pay attention to how you feel. Are you increasing your volume or intensity on the bike? Make sure you reflect this in your nutrition, your sleep, your rest and recovery. I am certainly not the only one who has massively under-fueled while ramping up training. At first, shedding some pounds might feel like a welcome side effect, but it’s a slippery slope if you are not aware of how sudden weight loss might impact your performance (and health) in the long run. The same is true for your rest days. “2017 Jasmin” wanted to go to all the concerts, see all her friends, read all the books, attend every lecture ... quite literally do all the things and then still make every group ride at 6 a.m. before work. I compromised heavily on sleep, with the result of stretching myself out way too thin.
With a little age came a little wisdom, and now I am much more selective with my time. I’m trying to consciously do plenty of things that bring me joy off the bike, but rarely, if ever, sacrificing my sleep for anything. Becoming more mindful as an athlete has been extremely beneficial for me, and I now journal my thoughts, feelings, and gratitudes regularly.
3. Accept a challenge
As an athlete, everyone has an Achilles heel. Do you want to excel at cyclocross next season but hate running? Pick a running challenge that makes you get out on two feet instead of two wheels. Do you want to improve your core strength? Learn how to ride the rollers (maybe faster than your teammate?), or sign up for that planking challenge. Do you want to increase your volume? Join a distance challenge. Or are you like me and have trouble time-trialling?
In training, it is very challenging for me to complete longer intervals because I often get into a self-defeating mindset from the start. Knowing that hard sustained efforts are my weakness, I was looking for a way to break out of this cycle of intimidation and disinclination. So last December, I joined a virtual relay triathlon and signed up for the bike portion. Naturally, I pushed the challenge to the very last day, but I got it done, and I am proud of my effort. There’s not many other scenarios in which you would see me working my Z4 this long without whining. Joining any kind of challenge and being accountable to an external party can be a massive help, especially for working on your weaknesses.
4. Trust the process
This is a big one. In the age of instant gratification, we all want that 5w/kg, that immediate 5 pounds off, or that new (virtual) wheelset. I am the first to admit that patience is not my forte, but I have made it my primary objective to be more aware of all the small things I’m doing (or not doing) to build up my inner athlete. Of course, I wish all the changes would happen overnight. But realistically, they might not even happen within the next three months.
I just recently entered into a coaching relationship, and it has been an interesting experience. Honestly, I was questioning the timing or intensity of every other assigned workout. But I also know that I put my athletic progress into the hands of someone with decades of experience and great results to show for his work. Coming to terms with delegating some of my agency over my training, learning to trust the process has been a huge relief. Now, even if I fall short of a milestone, or if my progress seems to be going backward, it does not throw me for a loop, and I don’t question my athletic identity immediately (which was exhausting). Am I still completing my workouts? Am I doing my stability work? Am I eating relatively clean? Am I having healthy thoughts about my performance? If I can answer those questions with a "yes," I count those as wins.
Knowing that sometimes my own mind is my worst enemy, it has been a game-changer to be kind to myself and to trust that my process means progress, however small or mighty it might be at the moment.
5. Do what makes you happy
With all that being said, I think the final and overarching goal should be your personal happiness. Of course, there is value in pushing through adversity, in doing hard things, in building resilience. If this, however, feels like it is all you are doing, it might be time to take a moment and reassess. If you want to watch that game while you should be working out, it’s OK. If you are on the phone for an unexpected two hours with a friend and you miss that ride or race, it’s OK. If you want to take some time off to travel (in non-COVID times), it’s OK. And if you simply don’t feel like riding your bike for a day or a week, it’s OK to give yourself a break — you might need it.
Even as a competitive athlete, chastising yourself and forgetting about all that is good and fun in the world is not advisable. I’m an advocate for balance. I have many more things than cycling in my life that make me who I am, and I like it that way. Sometimes I don’t want to be on my bike. Sometimes I yearn to just sit and read a book at the end of a busy day. Sometimes I prefer having that early morning call with my friends in Europe over another interval session. I have given myself permission to be more than a cyclist, and I’m happier for it. I encourage you to find who you want to be, on the bike AND off, and make sure you cherish and protect that person by doing what makes you happy.
What are your goals for 2021? Do you have strategies or tips that help you achieve them? Let us know in the comments!