Evidence That People Are Getting Too Soft

don article_gm60_860x300In Holland I learned the word watje. These are cotton wool balls. Nice, soft, fluffy balls of comforting wool. In cycling slang it referred to the guy who didn’t want to train in the wind or the rain and who stuck to the nice, smooth, flat roads. Are modern athletes getting soft? I present my evidence to support the rise in prevalence of the watje…

Let’s start with heated pools… I have heard triathletes moaning to my health club manager because the pool temperature has dropped below 28 degrees Celcius. Even specialist swimmers are clogging my lane to escape the winter chill. I recently read how a number of triathlons were turned into duathlons because the water was too cold. Seriously? Back in the 80s we had no heated pools or indoor pools for that matter. We didn’t even have proper swimming wetsuits. We either bit the frozen ice-lolly through winter or we played catch up in the spring. We also raced in places like Port Elizabeth, Gordon’s Bay and Langebaan without wetsuits. Harden up youngsters!

Power meters; heart monitors and GPS devices… Now these are all useful tools to measure your training output but so many are completely reliant on the data that they won’t train without it. The most important part of their training day is downloading their stats on Strava or Endomondo to see if they won some ‘king of the mountain’ that only they know about. People will turn back, cutting their training session short because they are not hitting their numbers in their interval session. Remember, all these devices are aimed at measuring your training. You still have to train! Back in the 80s we had three functions on our bike computers: Distance; speed and time. We stuck our heads down and covered as much distance in as short a time as possible. That’s training. Harden up youngsters!
Bicycles… These have made huge advances in the last three decades but I can’t help chuckling when I see people who have clearly spent more time shopping than pedalling. I overhear people discussing the time and money, they have spent having video analysis done to their pedal-stroke and the hours with an expert perfecting their aero position. Not much talk of smashing out the intervals in the morning rides.

On the subject of rides… what is a coffee ride? In the 80s, if two cyclists found themselves on the same stretch of road it was a race. Those battles were often fueled by caffeine but we had our coffee before the ride and then stuck our heads down and put our mates into the gutter.

What’s with these compact gears? You have ten or eleven sprockets in your cassette and you still have to use smaller chainrings? This new trend extends to shorter cranks as well. Everyone in the 80s knew the inescapable truth, the bigger the gear and the longer the crank, the stronger the rider. Let’s also remember that we only had six sprockets back then. If you encountered a hill that required a gear lighter than your lowest, 42×21, you simply got out the saddle and worked harder. Harden up youngsters!

This brings me to my final piece of evidence to support my assertion that we are getting soft… races! I don’t think I am imagining things when I notice that race courses are getting easier. Any route with a gradient of more than 2% gets shunned in favour of a flat, fast course. If you’re so concerned about doing a PB why don’t you come through and do a turn on the front, softy!

We used to have more surf swims in triathlon, even when the swell did get above a metre… and remember, no wetsuits to pop you up when you ran out of skill coming down the wave. We used to race circuits like Geoghegan, Dardanelles and through the Umkomaas Valley on our twelve kilogram bikes with our six-speed transmissions. We used to run through the heat of the day with hardly a water point, in shoes that weighed more than Doc Martins, in speedos and cut-off mesh vests.

It’s time to harden up, watjes!

by Donovan van Gelder

The Don has been swimming, cycling and running since the days of stove-pipe jeans, luminous shirts and Flock of Seagulls hairdos. He likes to think that not only has he been around this multisport block countless times, but that he contributed to it being built – and therefore refuses to get off it until he is good and ready. cybercoach.co.za

Originally published in the July/August 2013 issue.

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