It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” ―Aristotle

Winter is time for thinking – and sadly for you dear reader – training indoors is extra grounds for thinking about pontificatious things – pedaltificating I might call it. Something on my mind as I grind out another predawn training session is:

What is effort? What is different between effort and training?

Why is it important?

Why not just lie in bed for an extra hour?

Well, beyond the obvious there wouldn’t be much chance at getting better, faster or stronger. There also wouldn’t be any suffering, so that’s a positive for sure

Effort is something whereby we take the time and energy, the conscious effort, to focus on ways to overcome the things we don’t like. Not gluttony for punishment. Not abandonment of pleasure. Rather the deferral of pleasure, or reward based on a long-term contract which provides a greater sum of returns in the long run as opposed to the accumulated short term pleasures provided.

It is clear that suffering up a long hot hill is not pleasurable in any way. Your body, your mind and your spirit are all clearly challenged in every regard to the task at hand. You may be in an associative state, thinking about other negative experiences which have happened in your life. You might see diversion or distraction in the form of a route leading down the mountain for example. You might be encouraged by failure and start to form an alliance, an associative permission with quitting in the form of joining the gang of those walking, stopping, bathing in the river for example.

When I get up to ride at 5:30 in the morning I can think and feel of many things I would rather be doing. This is clearly evident to even the casual observer. It’s a force of focus, and effort both deliberate and conscious to turn from the long cup of coffee, from the lazy reading of my favorite sites, to consider even the return to bed. Add rain, add snow, add cold, add tired and the equation is exponentially more challenging.

So what makes this choice the right one? When do we know it’s always the right one? When do we follow that direction without hesitation and when do we pull back and say enough is enough. There are many examples of athletes going too far, the cyclist Simpson, the alpinists Fischer and Hall to name a few. Yet we all know and understand that in order to achieve a higher level of performance sacrifice and suffering is required.

According to Aristotle, the good life is a life of mindless routine. Yet I am not sure that the routine of suffering and growth, effort and outcome are mindless in any way. It’s common practice to belittle sporting intelligence (the meat muscle guy, the dumb chick with the great body) but I think it takes a deeper awareness of this need than most people give credit for.

So what’s the difference between effort and training?

Is training simply organized effort over time?

Ask most anyone to commit to a routine of athletic excellence and they will be unable to last for long, regardless of the rewards offered. I think too, that because of the extreme demands on a person, this challenges are often abandoned once a person reaches a professional level of any sport – especially those where they can be carried by a team – ie soccer, hockey, American football. Excellence is replaced by money in many cases.

The notable difference between training and effort is that it’s possible for someone unfamiliar with the activity to recognize skill and have some basic sense of your level on first contact. Much like a first meeting between strangers I believe this happens within a fraction of a second.

Unlike an activity where a person can be engaged in multiple tasks, and depending on the nature of the task, can be perceived differently according to the moment of a stranger’s intercept it is not possible to mistake the efficacy of someone’s skill and training at a basic level on first contact.

This means that you cannot hide the true outcome of training, much as though many have tried. Through doping, through cheating of other means. Although the visible level will be considered high (no pun intended) by the casual observer, it will still be possible to check on the actual input – and if a person was to intercept those moments of doping during the course of the athlete’s ascendancy we would surely know a fraud from a person who makes the true effort.

We talk of physiological maximums and determining factors which draw a theoretical line between capable training and cheating beyond that.

Work to do here….

So, riders of hexis – this is your calling. Put your new sleeves on, lock into Training Peaks, and off we go.

So why do we care about the mentally tough rider anyway?

Answer, and remember the words of our ancient friend – “through discipline comes excellence”.