At some point this week I expect to be out on a ride clocking over my 5000th kilometre for the year. Whilst this isn’t a significant number of kilometres for many cyclists it will mark the completion of a goal I set myself in December last year. It has certainly been a journey to get to this point and I wanted to write a little bit about it.
I set the 2014 5000km goal at the end of 2013. At the time I’d just passed 4500km ridden in that year. I had enjoyed the riding I’d done but decided that I could push myself to be a little better and do a little more. However there were some factors that went into the “stretch” target:
- In 2013 I spent quite a lot of time training for two four-day races. The Hellfire Cup in November and Wildside in January 2014. I didn’t have any race goals or aspirations post Wildisde and knew I wouldn’t train as hard, or sacrifice as much time, without a competition goal to work towards.
- I didn’t want my goal to dictate my rides. I love riding off-road, either on my cyclcross or mountain bike, and never wanted to be dissuaded from this terrain by thoughts of not maximising my kilometres per ride.
- There was a vague possibility that I might go on holiday for a significant period in 2014.
With all that in mind I set my sights on 10% more riding than I had done in 2013.
How to achieve a goal
Anything you read about large goals will tell you that you need to break your goal down into manageable tasks in order to make any progress. With 52 weeks in the year I decided to aim for 100km of riding a week. This allowed 2 week’s leeway to deal with sickness, stupid weather or other reasons why I may not be able to get on the bike.
With that decision made I plugged 100km into Strava’s Weekly Goal tool and resolved to leave it there for the rest of the year.
All went well for the first third of the year and I reached the end of April with 2306km already ridden. Having nearly reached half my goal in a third of the year I was feeling pretty confident and pleased with myself.
From that point things became a lot harder. To begin with my work circumstances changed and I suddenly found myself working at a ridiculous rate to try and get into my new role and keep on top of things. In addition my job entails semi-regular interstate travel which meant time away from my bikes.
At this point I did some fairly serious re-assessment. The pressure of work and the requirement to ride 100km a week was becoming too weighty. I was also starting to lament the lack of running and upper-body work in my fitness regime. I decided to put my cycling goal aside. I had to focus on getting some balance back into my life and however much riding I could fit in would simply have to do for the year.
Two weeks later I became too sick to move. I’m sure many of you have experienced gastro and know how much it can knock you around. It hit me pretty hard and I was laid up for a fortnight unable to shuffle up and down the stairs, let alone get out for a ride. Upon return I managed a week and a half of riding before being overcome with a cold which knocked me out for another 1.5 weeks.
By now I had reached the end of June. Our vague holiday plans were solidifying and I knew we were going to be gone for around a month sometime in October. Things weren’t looking that great.
On a positive note, it was half way through the year and I was sitting on 2700kms. I knew that the summer months would bring back long evenings and the chance to catch up on kilometres, more than 100km per week for sure. Work had settled down somewhat so I resolved to push hard up until our holiday and get myself ahead. I wanted to be at least a month ahead before we departed so I didn’t come home with a deficit.
The result was a big effort from July through to September. Arguably the worst time to be riding in Tasmania, I managed to exceed my 100km/week on all of the weeks except for one. In total I put on 1734.3km with 647.2km of those coming in September, my biggest month of the year.
So I left for my 4 week holiday with 4566.1km done. Just under 500km remaining and 6 weeks upon return to get them done. As it turned out, I managed to get some riding in whilst I was away and have ramped back up to my 100km/week target since I returned. With all of December to go, I’ve got 40km left to do.
So how does all of this make me feel? Undeniably there is a bit of pride and accomplishment associated with this whole process. It is difficult to ignore the millions of other cyclists who passed 5000kms back in the middle of the year (or earlier). They make think about how much I haven’t done. However, this was a personal challenge which wasn’t about anyone else. I have managed to push through and get it done. I’ve never really set resolutions, or long term goals before and I am pleased to have gone through the process.
In addition it has been great to have a reason to get out and about. I’ve experienced some amazing parts of Tasmania (and the world!) by bike this year. Many amazing sites, views, sunrises and sunsets. This is something I won’t be giving up, even without a goal next year.
That said, I don’t think I will be setting a target like this again for next year. Whilst I feel I have achieved something, it isn’t really something that means a lot in the world and I’ve had to make sacrifices in order to get there.
For example, I spent a lot of time alone this year, riding my bike. Of course I rode with other people a lot (which was great) but there have also been many solo kilometres traveled. I like riding alone, a lot. However I also like hanging out with friends, building relationships and spending time on things that might have a bit more meaning than ticking off kilometres. I still want to ride a lot in future, I still want to ride alone a lot in future. However I don’t want to prioritise riding over opportunities to spend time with family and friends in the name of a personal kilometre goal.
In addition I have also forgone some other pleasures in pursuit of my goal. I haven’t run as much this year as I would like, or been able to focus on my ultimate game. I’d really like to get into some more trail running in future and am looking forward to it! I’m also looking forward to spending more time getting our house in order and finishing off some things that have been put off for a while.
Importantly, I had some great help and support whilst working on this goal. I’ve spent many ks alongside my riding buddies on the road (Glenn and Anthony) and off the road (Elvin). I’ve also had the support of my partner Maz who lets me disappear for hours on the weekend, doesn’t mind too much if I am not necessarily around for lunch dates during the week and kindly stays at work late so I have time to sneak in a ride before dinner.
I should also thank Strava for helping me with achieving this goal. The whole product is amazing and is really supportive and enabling for people trying to work on fitness goals. I’ve lived by the weekly targets, poured over the training calendar & training log and been spurred along by the monthly challenges throughout the whole year. Thanks Strava.
Two weekends ago I took part in my second mountain bike stage race. My first stage race, the Hellfire Cup, provided me with some good experience and I wrote a post about some of the lessons that I learned. As mentioned in that article, the weather for Hellfire was absolutely terrible. Many of the stages were cancelled, re-routed or shortened. As a result, Wildside was really my first “true” experience of a full event, with 200km of riding over four days.
Wildside is a four day mountain bike stage race, held every 2 years on the West Coast of Tasmania. The event starts at Cradle Mountain and, through a large variety of terrain, makes it’s way down to the beach, eventually ending in the town of Strahan. To get a feel for the event check out this great write-up from Flow: Racing – The Pure Tasmania Wildside. SBS’s Cycling Central also covered the race and has daily highlight videos.
The format of the race consists of multiple race stages each day, with cruise stages in between. The race stages are all challenging in their own way, and the riding was tough. There was never really an easy trail and it took a lot of concentration to navigate the huge variety of tracks. The race organisation was amazing, food was ample and overall it was a pretty seamless experience (providing you had a good support crew, more on this later).
Given the challenge of the event, it is no surprise that I have a few more lessons learned so here we go:
Lesson One – EAT
Whilst racing multiple days in a row, eat twice as much as you normally would at any given meal. Then eat some more. That’s probably a slight exaggeration but I did underestimate how much I needed to eat to keep myself racing hard for several days in a row. Breakfast and Dinner weren’t really a problem but it only took until the second day, after lunch, for me to notice my energy deficit.
Day 2 commenced with a 4.2 km cruise stage, followed by a 13.6k competition stage. That doesn’t sound like much but we had aready completed 33.6km of cruising and 40.2km of racing the day before. By the time we finished the first day 2 comp stage we had done about 90km all up.
The stage finished on a nice sunny oval with a track around the outside, it made me feel like I was finishing Paris-Roubaix! We had a nice long 3 hour break for lunch, bike washing and any maintenance. Most importantly, if we could get through all that, we had a chance to rest. We decided to eat lunch straight away and then chill out. My riding buddy’s (Elvin) version of chilling out was to spend over an hour trying to get a new tubeless tyre to seal, then having the mechanics do it with a compressor in 2 seconds.
So we helped ourselves to the bountiful food and ate until we were stuffed. Three hours later, bikes sparkling, we cruised for about 1k then headed off a 26.2k comp stage. I started off quite well, using the 5k road climb to move up through my start group. I continued to pick off riders as we encountered the second climb but as I came towards the top I started to slow down and become sluggish. I lost all my flow and started finding the whole track a huge bother to navigate. It was a pot-holed, muddy 4WD track, but I could tell I was struggling as lines became obstacles.
After a little while one or two of the riders I had passed on the climb came past me. I know my strength is in the climbs but I wasn’t expecting to lose places on the descent necessarily. I did some self-assessment and realised that I had a hunger pang! In fact, I was starving! I was pretty surprised as I felt like I had been eating heaps in the lead up to the stage but I hadn’t catered for how much energy I was expending to sustain a race pace.
Due to the stage being reasonably long, with a longer cruise stage afterwards, I was carrying a Camelbak rather than a bidon. We knew we weren’t going to see our support vehicle until after the cruise stage so we’d both packed heaps of water and quite a bit of food. The problem was that my energy bars were zipped up in my backpack! I made a call, stopped, rummaged around in my bag and hurriedly stuffed and entire power bar into my mouth.
Unfortunately the stoppage was all that was needed for about 12 riders to catch me on the descent and pass me. It took another couple of kilometres before I started feeling good again. The track suddenly felt more flowy again and I picked up plenty of speed. I did manage to overtake one or two of the same people again, but ally my hard work on the ascent had been lost by having to stop.
So, lesson learned, eat more than you think you could possibly need.
Lesson Two – Carry Gels in your Jersey
This lesson is related to Lesson One. In particular, if you’re going to carry food with you whilst racing you should carry it where you can reach it without stopping. It should also be stuff you can consume on the go. My stoppage to rummage around in my backpack could have been avoided if I had kept some food in my jersey pockets instead of putting it all in my backpack.
I had never used gels before, and was hesitant to try them for the first time in a race. During the second Comp Stage on day it worked out that Elvin, and I completed the stage riding together. With about 7k to go I saw him rip open a gel and realised that I was actually hungry again (despite just coming from the lunch stop). We’d discussed my previous days issues and Elvin kindly handed his gel over to me to try his Vanilla Bean gel when I told him it was happening again. I drank it down. It was disgusting, but it worked a treat. Pro tip – don’t put the ENTIRE contents of the gel in your mouth at once. Two slurps work better for me!
After that I was convinced of the usage of gels due to their easy access and easy consumption. It probably seems stupidly obvious to many but I’d never really needed them before. I took a mint-chocolate on the last comp stage and it was much more enjoyable!
Lesson Three – Carry Two Tubes
Unbelievably, I got through the entire race without a mechanical issue. However I learned a valuable lesson from Elvin’s experience when he lost an hour’s time by having four flats on one stage whilst also suffering from a broken pump! Admittedly the Wildside terrain was pretty rough with lots of sharp rocks and uneven terrain. You may not consider it for other races, but the benefits of carrying two tubes far outweigh the disadvantages.
While you’re at it, make sure you also carry at least one tyre boot (empty gels or plastic money notes suffice but a tyre boot will stay in place more readily when you’re inflating your tube).
For me, I always carried one tube in my saddle-bag but started carrying a second in my jersey. They’re not that heavy and you (or someone else) might really appreciate that extra one at some point.
Lesson Four – Work with others when you can
There were a couple of times during the race when I was in a bunch of riders but, I let them go. Generally speaking this wasn’t a problem in most of the stages but the last stage involved a couple of opportunities where drafting was crucially important. The run down the beach was not so bad, with a tail wind pushing me along at around 38km/h. It was awesome fun! I started in a very fast group and stuck with them for a while but eventually dropped off the back. Due to the tailwind I didn’t really mind as I was able to comfortably maintain a high speed. I was eventually caught by another bunch and life did come a bit easier for me there.
The crucial error was losing touch with that bunch through the sandy pine forest. I was having some issues with the deep sand and eventually slipped out of the back. As soon as we exited the forest it was a long dirt road straight into the wind to get back to the finish line. I was slooooow, sitting at about 17-18km/h. Another bunch caught me and my speed immediately jumped back up to around 24km/h. I regret not sticking with the original bunch through the forest. I knew the exposed road with a headwind was coming up but didn’t quite appreciate how much I needed their help.
So that’s about it for lessons learned from this race. However, I did want to follow up on Lesson Three from my previous post. At the time of writing I wasn’t really sure how I was going to resolve the issue of mud-covered sunglasses. I did some research and ended up buying a Mucky Nutz Bender Fender.
It was cheap and amazingly effective. Some of the tracks we rode were ridiculously muddy (see image above!) and I didn’t have problems with my glasses through the entire race. I’d highly recommend one. It is so unobtrusive that I am going to leave it on my bike permanently.
So, Wildside was an amazing experience. West Coast Tasmania was stunning, the riding was hard, the riding was rewarding and overall we had a great time. People have asked if I would do it again, at the moment I am unsure. It is only held every 2 years and I have no idea what I will be doing in 2016! If I had to do it again next week, or next month, I would probably say no. Maybe in 2 years I will be keen again! I probably will. I ended up coming 56th overall, and 23rd in my category (Mens Veterans). I wouldn’t mind cracking the top 50.
However, I will say that one key element is having a good support person to look after you. Elvin’s wife, Jess, was generous enough to take care of us throughout the race. It is a tough gig with a lot of driving and annoying logistics to cater for. Jess did an amazing job and I’ve never been more surprised and thankful for a cold can of coke as I was at the end of day 3. Thanks Jess!
Last weekend I competed in the inaugural Hellfire Cup, a four day, multi-stage mountain bike race held in Southern Tasmania. I am fairly new to the racing scene, with only one 6-hour (pairs) as my previous experience. Hellfire was also a pairs race, and we did quite well coming in at 27th overall out of 123 teams. However, along the way I made some mistakes which cost us crucial minutes. This post is a reminder to myself about the lessons I learned from Hellfire to ensure that I don’t make the same mistakes again in future races. Others may find this useful as well.
Lesson One – Rest Properly
I spent a lot of time training in the lead up to the event. I got up early to ride in crap weather, entered Strava challenges to keep me focused, clocked up a heap of ks and essentially spent as much time on the bike as I could. Despite all that, a lingering question of “Am I ready?” remained in my head.
To answer that question I decided to give myself a test. I wanted to prove to myself, mentally, that I was in the right shape to be as competitive as I could be. Most cyclists have certain rides or climbs that they use as their benchmark. I’ve read about Pros who test themselves on certain Cols in Europe prior to a big race to see if they’re ready. I decided to do the same by having a solid crack at the full 10k climb of the North-South track, a popular mountain bike track on the side of Mt Wellington in Hobart. The total ascent is 539m, resulting in an average grade of 5.3%. Click here to see the Strava segment.
This is a climb that I’ve done many times before, but mostly with other people which means frequent pauses for a variety of reasons. I had only ridden the full thing at effort once before, and had set a good time of 50:35. The good news is that I put in a solid effort and beat my record by setting a time of 49:20 for the entire climb.
The bad news is that I overexerted myself too closely to the race. One of the things that I have noticed about regular training is that, after a while, you don’t necessarily see massive improvements in speed but your ability to recover between days improves significantly. I thought this would be enough to pull me through and be ready to go for the race, four days later.
As it turns out, I am pretty sure I was wrong. I worked really hard for that PB and I could feel that effort in my legs during the race. I was still reasonably fast overall but it was hard. Harder than it should have been. In the climbs my legs didn’t feel snappy at all and I was straining hard to maintain a speed I was happy with. Given it was a pairs race I could judge myself off my partner and I was certainly having a harder time keeping up with him than usual. I realise racing is supposed to be hard, but I also know myself well enough to recognise when I am struggling.
Overall my legs weren’t ready for the race. In order to try and appease my mental doubts I had gone too hard with insufficient time left to recover.
Lesson Two – Fix all mechanical issues, even trivial ones, prior to racing
My bike runs a 2X10 drivetrain. I spend 90% of my time on the small chain ring and only really use the big chain ring for riding on the road or long fire-road descents. Occasionally I use it on rougher terrain or downhill single-track to ensure I keep enough tension in the chain to stop it bouncing around.
For a long time now my front derailleur has been out of line. The limiter is set too high and most of the time when I change from the small chainring to the large one the chain drops off the outside and over the cranks. When this occurs it is easy enough to flip back to the small chainring and pedal half a stroke and the chain will pop back on. I can then attempt the shift to the large chainring again with a bit more care and attention.
The above scenario is fine for all the riding I normally do. It causes me to have to pause, look down and think for a bit but on most training rides that isn’t an issue. All of these things definitely are an issue when you’re racing.
On the second day of the race we were climbing firetrails straight off the start line. It was a relay stage and there were some riders in my sights up the road. I ground my way up the climb getting closer, and overtaking a couple of riders at the crest. As I started to descend the other side I had opponents right behind me and a real incentive to make the most of the descent at speed. I changed up to my big chainring and pedalled hard. The chain popped off the outside and immediately got messed up in my cranks, stuck.
I had to pull over to sort it out. The guys I had passed went by with a friendly “You alright mate?”, closely followed by a couple more racers! I quickly shoved the chain back onto the chain ring and kept going, working overly hard to get back up to speed and fuming at the places I had lost.
I started making ground and then we hit another climb. I changed back to my small chainring and tried to change up my cassette as the climb ramped up, only to find that my rear derailleur wouldn’t move despite the chain being engaged at about the middle of the cassette! In my rush to put the chain back on I had somehow put the chain in the middle of the cassette even though the derailleur was in a position that should have had it near the top. I had to stop again, more people passed me, and I once again burnt a whole lot of energy getting back up to speed.
I think I eventually ended up catching most of the people who overtook me but the damage was done. Instead of passing them all early on and forging ahead onto more adventures I spent the first half of the stage playing catchup and setting a disappointing lap time overall.
Furthermore I found out today that the original chain wrenching and replacement actually resulted in my chain being twisted for the following 2 days of the event! I knew there was something going wrong with my drivetrain but put it down to the ridiculously muddy conditions wreaking havoc with everything.
So, my laziness in getting a known problem fixed caused me to lose significant time on one stage of the race, whilst also causing problems on subsequent stages.
Lesson 3 – Don’t stuff around
This lesson is a bit harder to define, but is related to Lesson 2 in the realisation that having to stop during a race is actually really detrimental. In Lesson 2 it was a mechanical issue, in Lesson 3 it was a stupid mistake I made by dropping my glasses.
To explain, the entire event was ridiculously muddy and wet. The conditions were atrocious, causing some stages to be cancelled and others to be rerouted. The rides that we did complete were absolute mudfests which often felt like we were riding in rivers and streams rather than down trails. Here’s a pic of my bike post stage 2:
As a result, gear choice was tough, particularly glasses. If you wore your glasses they’d be great until the first descent, at which point they’d end up covered in mud and severely decreased visibility. A quick clean with your gloves was sufficient for 2 or 3 times, until your gloves became so wet and muddy that it was useless.
The alternative was to not bother wearing glasses which resulted in each descent being a stinging painful compromise of trying to shut your eyes to keep the mud out whilst also trying to see where you’re going at 50km/h. At times I felt safer with one hand on the bars, using my other one to shield my eyes whilst peering through my fingers.
Generally my approach was to start with my glasses on and remove them after they ceased to be useful. On the third stage of the race, riding with my partner, this point happened to be after we passed a group of about 6 other riders. I took my glasses off whilst slogging up a hill and tried to get them into my rear jersey pocket. I fumbled and dropped them. I had to stop, walk back a couple of metres, get off my bike completely and reach down to pick them up. By this point my partner was off in the distance (despite slowing down for me) and we’d been overtaken by quite a few teams. I’m fairly sure we didn’t catch everyone who passed us that day.
I’m still not entirely sure what I could have done better, aside from recognising that we cannot afford to stop. I should have identified earlier that the mud was being an issue and tried to alleviate somehow. Many people fashioned mini mudguards from inner tubs attached to their forks, but I didn’t do this until after day 3. I think this would have helped a lot if I had done it earlier. I also need to identify a safe easy way to stow my glasses. For some reason they don’t sit in my helmet without sliding out, even when shoved in upside down.
So there’s my three lessons-learned. I’ve got another stage-race coming up in January so I will come back to this post then. Leave a note in the comments if you have any of your own lessons :)
Recently I was approached by Ultimate Rob and asked if I would like to become a contributor on his site. I was really happy to be provided with this opportunity and one of the main drivers was knowing that my thoughts on ultimate would be exposed to a broader audience – hopefully helping more people as a result.
My future ultimate-related posts will be published over at Ultimate Rob. My latest one was published recently and can be seen here:
If you’re interested in ultimate-related content then Ultimate Rob is a great resource. There’s heaps of good material there already and more to come – keep an eye on it!
As for this blog, I have a few non ultimate-related posts floating around in my head. One of them is a review of the bike I purchased recently for commuting duties. Apparently my previous review of the Tatonka Barrel bag has been useful for people judging by the traffic to that post.
All developing Ultimate players will eventually face the reality that they have a physical shortcoming that needs work in order to continue their growth as a player. For example, your long-range forehand may not be very reliable, or you may suffer from fatigue on longer points.
In any sport it is a reality that each person’s unique physical makeup will create a combination of strengths and weaknesses. Some people’s natural physical state allows them to run fast, others may be able to jump high. Training is required to develop those natural skills but also to fill in any gaps.
It is important to recognise that the same can be said for the mental attributes that a player brings to the field. A person’s upbringing and experiences in life all add up to produce their unique state of mind with far more potential for variance than the same person’s physical attributes.
For physical shortcomings there is generally a reasonably well established path for improvement. Regular throwing sessions with a focus on weaker throws, or setting up a more regular running routine, are two approaches that would work to improve the physical shortcomings mentioned above. The question then becomes, how do you train your mind?
Perhaps the same approach used for physical improvement could be used for mental improvement. My interpretation of that approach includes the following steps:
For example, in the examples mentioned above:
- Identification – You’re struggling to maintain accuracy over longer distances with your forehand. Your reliability and success rate is low.
- Measure – Figure out how far you can throw reliably at this point.
- Goals – Set yourself a realistic goal. This would be how far you want to be able to throw reliably, and the time you’ll give yourself to get there.
- Train – Practise throwing, as often as you can. Mark out and aim for your current distance and maybe your goal distance.
- Measure – As you train, keep measuring to ensure you’re progressing towards your goal.
- Implement – After a while your confidence will grow, deservedly so. Time to throw some long-range lasers into the end-zone!
Fatigue on longer points
- Identification – Any point over five minutes leaves you unable to keep up with your opponent, or get away from them.
- Measure – Time yourself running over a reasonable distance. I find 5k is a good indication of stamina.
- Goals – Decide on a distance and time goal (or pace) to work towards. Give yourself a period of time to work towards that goal.
- Train – Go running! There’s plenty of ways to get better at running. Google can help!
- Measure – Continue to measure your progress against your benchmark. Watch the improvements, work towards your goals.
- Implement – Next time you’re on for a long point and there’s a turnover bust to the end-zone leaving your defender flat-footed!
Applying these same steps to a mental improvement can be a difficult process. We can work through it together, based loosely on my own experience with some mental shortcomings I have worked on:
1 – Identification
Identifying a mental shortcoming that is affecting your game is a really tough thing to do. However, if you observe your actions and reactions to the things that happen on the field you may start to notice a trend.
For me, I am quite capable of giving myself a hard time if I stuff something up.
The warning signs to look out for are generally any negative feelings. Am I starting to feel frustrated? Unreliable? Maybe even angry? At my worst I can convince myself that I’m better off on the sideline than on the field. You can imagine how this must make my teammates feel. I’m negatively affecting my own game and also theirs!
I feel that the key is to be on the lookout for negative emotions. If you’re not feeling positive then there’s a chance there’s some mental aspect affecting your game. As mentioned above, there’s a huge amount of scope for what the issue could be depending upon yourself as a person.
2 – Measure
Setting a baseline for a mental improvement is also a really hard thing to do. It takes some serious thought and honesty to understand that, on a bad day, 60% of your less-than-perfect throws are causing you to despair about your worth as a player (This is my own example again here!). Obviously I have no way of knowing if 60% is a real figure. For mental improvements I think it is enough to recognise that you’re doing being negatively affected more often than you would like.
3 – Goals
Goals for mental shortcomings are easy – you want to eradicate them! Realistically though, you can’t eradicate a mental shortcoming completely in the same way that you can’t throw perfect long-range forehands every time. Experiencing a noticeable improvement is a worthy goal. Keeping your cool for longer throughout a game is certainly something you can work towards.
4 – Train
Initially I thought that mental training could only really be done in-game. Upon further thought I realised that a useful attitude can be developed at all times. If you’re at a training session and your goal is to not-let-the-bad-throws-get-you-down then focus on that whilst training. Train your mind at training! Learn from your mistakes, but continue with a positive outlook.
5 – Measure
Keep yourself accountable when you’re playing. I had to get myself into a position where I could objectively analyse my own behaviour when I was stuffing things up. Was I being affected as much as in the past? Was I able to carry on and give my best performance to the team?
6 – Implement
Next time you’re at a tournament you want to be physically and mentally trained up. From a mental point of view you should be in a position where you are positively contributing to the performance of your team throughout the whole tournament.
As you may have gathered, the process of training your mind isn’t necessarily as straightforward as training a physical attribute. There are a lot more variables and less-tangible things to consider. To assist in training your mind it is worth considering enlisting a friend or teammate. If you really want to make a difference to your mental state then let someone on your team know. You will feel more accountable and, even more importantly, they will be able to let you know how you are improving.
I’ve alluded to some of the mental shortcomings I’ve dealt with in the past. After my most-recent tournament our captain commended myself (and another player) on how we have improved mentally. It was a hugely successful tournament in many ways (silver medal baby!) but receiving that feedback was certainly a highlight.
In terms of being accountable – I’ll let you all know that I’ve still got more to do. In the grand-final my mental shortcomings were starting to make themselves known. I have a few regrets, and fear that the close-game could have come out with us on top if I had maintained a better mental perspective. I definitely don’t want to let that happen again!
This is the first of a series of Ultimate Intelligence posts that I hope to write. These posts will hopefully provide some useful information that you can use to improve your game in a variety of ways. For the most part Ultimate Intelligence will be about on-field performance and may include tips regarding tactics, physical work or mental perspective.
This post will focus on an improvement that can be made from both an attitude and a tactical perspective. This isn’t necessarily an advanced tactic, any player could take these instructions on board and incorporate them into their game.
The premise of the post is that it is important to recognise that your role on the field changes when you see the disc heading into the end-zone. In particular if you are not the intended recipient of the throw (or marking the intended recipient when on defence) your job doesn’t stop as soon as the disc is heading into the end zone.
It is extremely common for players to see an attempted goal being thrown and respond by stopping what they’re doing and watching to see what happens next. This is a mistake and a simple change of perspective can improve your usefulness on the field significantly.
The benefits of this altered perspective are different depending upon whether you’re currently on offense or defence. We can take a look at each:
Imagine you’re playing on offense in the following situation:
- One of your team mates has made a cut towards the end zone.
- The person with the disc has identified the cut and put the disc in the air, the disc is heading towards the end zone.
- You weren’t necessarily cutting but it is within your ability to get to the end zone at roughly the same time as the disc.
My advice is to get to the end zone as fast as you can! Definitely don’t stop to watch the play unfold. Definitely don’t wander towards the end-zone without intent. Definitely sprint disc-wards!
The reason for this course of action is to fulfil a supporting role. One of the great things about Ultimate is the “freakish” plays that occur on a semi-regular basis. People can pull of impressive things by being in the right place at the right time. Often this seems like luck or fluke but being pro-active can certainly help.
In the situation listed above there are a number of possible outcomes where it would be useful to have another offensive player around the disc:
- The cutter’s defensive player gains position and gets a hand to the disc. They smack it away for a block but don’t catch it. The point is still winnable providing the disc hasn’t gone out of bounds. How often have you seen players scoop up the scraps of a contest for a score?
- The intended recipient of the throw misreads the disc, or the wind picks up for a second. Again, a supporting player can clean up.
- Depending on your speed and location on the field you might actually have a better play on the disc than the intended recipient. Communication on the field is key to making this a success however!
- Should the cutter’s defensive player catch the disc, you are an option for pressuring the first throw after the turnover before re-locating your player and getting back to your own defensive duties.
In summary, by having a proactive and supporting attitude you can come away with some glory and increase the percentages of the intended goal coming to fruition. There’s no reason not to head to the end zone if you can get there on time. That said, two cautionary points:
- Don’t get in the way of the intended recipient. If you do have a better play on the disc call it early. Otherwise your job is to hover around the bottom of the contest for the disc and tidy up if the disc floats free.
- Keep an eye on the players you’re leaving behind as you cut away. If the defence is successful in preventing the score you’ll need to get back to your player on the turnover.
From a personal point of view, I’ve caught many points that weren’t intended for me by making sure I was available as support in the end zone. I have also made difficult and important blocks in games, only to have one of the offensive players follow the disc to the ground and score all the same. I will probably write a future Ultimate Intelligence post on why you should always catch the D!
Imagine you’re playing on defence in the following situation:
- One of your opponents has cut towards the end zone, but not the player (or within the zone) that you’re marking.
- The offensive player with the disc has recognised the cut, put the disc up, and it is heading towards the end zone.
- Your player isn’t doing anything threatening, but it is within your ability to get to the end zone at roughly the same time as the disc.
Again – don’t hesitate, get to the end zone as quickly as you can! Similar to the offensive situation provided above, you are in a great position to be able to influence the outcome of the point. In this case you’re looking to generate a turnover.
You can effectively forget about the player you are marking temporarily. Nothing else matters aside from ensuring that the throw isn’t completed so it isn’t important what your player does, unless they also head towards the end zone in which case you want to be in front of them anyhow!
The following may occur:
- The offensive player gets a hand to the disc but fumbles. Their defender may still be in the air or committed to a certain direction, you can step in and grab the disc.
- Your team mate gets a hand to the disc but doesn’t catch it. The disc is falling within reach of the offensive player (or another offensive player). Again you can step in and make sure there is no score.
- As an offensive player, it is more psychologically intimidating if there are several defenders around you influencing the outcome. Mistakes happen under pressure, you’re providing pressure!
- You may get to the disc in a more direct path than the intended players, stopping the disc from even making the target.
- Your team may get the turnover, you will be in a great position as a free-player to start the disc moving back up the field in a quick manner.
Essentially the flip-side of the offensive advantages apply on defensive. You provide more pressure and more likelihood of a turnover by being available as a supporting defensive player in the end zone.
I recall a point where a good long-cut was made to the end zone by an opponent, closely followed by my teammate. Everyone else on the field stopped flat-footed to see the outcome. It was going to be an impressive contest, involving two of the better players on the field. My teammate was able to out jump our opponent however it wasn’t a clean block and the disc started tumbling straight down. The offensive player landed with his eyes on the disc and immediately attempted a layout grab as the disc fell in front of him. Lucky for our team, I had followed the disc into the end zone and quickly pushed it out of his reach whilst it was falling. I saved us a point. It wasn’t particularly glorious or impressive, but a simple proactive run saved a point.
One final point to make is that, on defence, you can be pro active when the disc is headed towards the end zone even if you are nowhere close enough to make a play. Don’t assume that the throw will be successful. There’s always a chance of a turnover until the disc has stopped spinning in the offensive player’s hands. Watch for the result, but start moving towards your required position as soon as you’ve seen the disc flying towards the end zone. Your offensive play positions can be setup and ready to go early!
I would also like to credit a Tassie player who drove these points home for me whilst I was playing one night. I was watching the disc fly into the end zone from not too far away when Mike Baker yelled at me from the sidelines to run it down. It was a bit of an “Aha” moment where I thought “Why didn’t I go after that? I definitely could have made it and I definitely could have been useful”. So – thanks Mike.
In the first play the defender tidies up an attempted block. In the second play the supporting offensive player makes the score off a throw not intended for him. The plays are next to each other in the video, starting at 1min 24 seconds in. The whole video is worth a watch though!
In a previous post I wrote about how to prepare for a tournament from a training and fitness point of view. Not long after publishing the post I realised that another important element of tournament preparation is making sure you bring along all the right things to get you through the tournament.
This post is about making sure everything is available to you when you need it to be. I like to know that if I need something during a game I will be able to grab it and get on with playing. I don’t want to have to fret about not having the right bit of gear for a certain weather condition, or the right food for my particular energy-levels at any given time.
By being prepared with all the right items I can focus on the important aspects that are happening on the field without having to worry about anything else.
The first consideration is a bag to put everything in. I’ve dedicated an entire post to the bag I use for Ultimate Frisbee tournaments so you can check that out here. Once you’ve got the bag sorted there’s a bunch of stuff you’ll need to put in it:
Who knows what weather you will be playing in across a 2-3 day tournament? In southern Australia it is impossible to plan for any weather in particular so here’s how to cover everything:
- Jersey/Shirt – Your team jersey!
- Shorts – Shorts that match your jersey or whatever your team is going with.
- Compression Shorts – Worn under your regular shorts if it isn’t cold. Quite good for your muscles over a tournament.
- Base Layers – I like wearing a base-layer when I’m playing, one that wicks away sweat. They keep me warm when it is cold, and keep the sweat off me when it is hot. At a tournament they also help keep my jersey fresh for more than a day. They don’t have to be expensive, I use these ones from Torpedo 7. I bring one for each day of the tournament.
- Socks – I bring heaps of socks, at least one pair for every day of the tournament and potentially 2-per day. Fresh socks are amazing mid tournament and also help prevent blisters from sliding round with sweaty feet in hot conditions.
- Cleats/Boots – Some people have tournament-specific boots. I just have some trusty Asics that I love and wear whenever I play Ultimate
- Cap – Helps visibility and also helps keep the sun off your face. Alternatively, if it is raining/cold it keeps your head dry and warm and stops water running down your face.
- Sunglasses – I squint a lot in the sun so prefer to play in sunglasses if it is sunny. Some claim it is a disadvantage if my teammates can’t see where I am looking but it hasn’t seem to be too much of an issue.
- Compression Tights – If it is really cold you’ll want some coverage on your legs. Compression tights allow you to run around with coverage without getting too hot (as opposed to some sports-oriented tights that are fleecy and generally too hot for running in).
- Arm Warmers – Probably my most crucial bit of Ultimate kit aside from the usual stuff. I have found cycling arm warmers to be brilliant for variable weather or warming up. Your arms stay warm without adding an extra layer to your chest, which then gets hot when you run. The biggest benefit is you can just pull them off when you warm up, even mid-point. Some are water-resistant such as the Castelli Nanoflex ones that I have. I originally started using Arm Warmers for cycling but I can highly recommend them for Ultimate.
- Beanie – If it gets really cold I will play in a beanie to keep my wears warm.
- Underpants – I play Ultimate in briefs whereas I generally wear boxer-briefs. As a result I need to remember a pair per-day.
- Waterproof/Windproof Jacket – On cold days you’ll want something warm to put on between points and in breaks between games.
- Sweatbands – On hot days I like to wear a sweat band on my throwing arm. Mainly this is for wiping my face but if it is really hot it also stops sweat running down to my hand a bit.
- Gloves – I’m not entirely sold on the idea of playing in Gloves as yet but I do currently carry a paid of the Lookfly Ultimate gloves with me and wear them occasionally. As a mini review, I wish they let you choose which hand you throw with so the other hand could have five full-fingers on the gloves rather than two useless cut-out ends.
- Thongs – Similarly to having fresh socks, being able to take your cleats off and wander round in thongs at lunch time is amazingly good for your feet. Do it!
- A frisbee! – You’ll need it for warm-ups and to kill time in the airport.
Food and Liquids
You need to stay hydrated and well fed throughout a tournament. This requires some preparation:
- Drink Bottles – I bring two and have them full and on the sidelines within easy reach at all times. One is for water and one is for electrolytes/sports drinks.
- Sports Drink – In the past I have carried a tub of Gatorade around however more recently I took a tube of Nuun tablets to a tournament. These were much more portable (smaller) and heaps easier to prepare in a drink bottle each time. I try and drink water and electrolytes equally, aiming for a bottle of each per game.
- Gels/Energy Bars – Running all day for several days in a row saps energy. You won’t feel hungry but you’ll need fuel. I bring 2 energy bars per day but can substitute one for a banana if there are some available at the tournament (they are a bit easier to eat mid-game). I haven’t tried any Gels as yet but they’d be fine if you can find any that taste nice!
- A bowel and Spork – Some tournaments offer dinner but require your own cutlery/crockery. I normally bring along a bowl and a spork as I’m not overly keen to eat off a frisbee.
- Sunscreen – apply regularly and liberally. Nothing worse than having to deal with sunburn on the second day of a tournament.
- Anti-Inflammatories – Either Voltaren or Nurofen. If you get a sprain or a twinge or an ache you can safely start taking anti-inflammatories to help you through the tournament.
- Paracetamol – If you’re taking Voltaren and need some extra pain relief then Paracetamol can help. Nurofen has pain relief built in.
- Sports Tape – My feet aren’t used to spending a couple of days cutting hard in lots of different directions. I can start to develop blisters after a while and sports tape can help to avoid that.
- Ankle Brace – I’ve sprained my ankle a few times during tournaments. If it is still ok to run on a brace will help avoid doing more damage whilst you continue playing.
Generally speaking if you’re going away for a weekend tournament you won’t actually spend a lot of time wearing your regular clothes. This section is really up to personal preference and baggage allowance! Last tournament I brought what I wore on the plane plus some shorts and a spare t-shirt.
Whatever you would normally bring when you’re travelling – don’t forget any prescription medicines or similar. Also, don’t forget your toothbrush! I forgot mine last tournament :(
Other general travelling stuff
The usual travelling stuff applies:
- Phone Charger
- Book to read
- Chewing Gum
- Headphones – probably one of the worst things I have forgotten.
- Plane Itineraries – I store mine on my phone normally.
I think that’s about it! Hopefully that’s a useful list of things to bring to a tournament, along with some tips for a few things you may not have considered.
How about you? Is there anything missing on my list that you would bring? Any pro items that I’m missing?