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Performance tips from Greame Obree

Inside the mind of the hour record holder and individual pursuit champion

Image credit: @graemeobree


Nov. 14 is Guinness world record day and the theme for 2019 is the spirit of adventure. What better time to reflect on our conversation with two-time world hour record holder, two-time world individual pursuit champion, Graeme Obree? I got Obree’s advice on championship, thinking outside the box, and ultimately, keeping your head in the game.

Dare to try

From the start, bravery is key. There is a sense of risk taking when you step up to the line. Without bravery, your goals will remain out of reach. “It was a lot of dare to step up for an hour record,” Graeme Obree said recently, “with the position I had built, my own training technique, the bike I had built’ With the hour record, there really is no second place “You leave with nothing, if you don’t get that. You lose everything,” he said.

“I certainly caused a lot of trouble. I’m a troublemaker,’ Obree continued. “And I dared. What I’ve come to realize 25 years later is that on a human level is there is not much left at the top of the colander, which is an important factor if you have even been at the top of a colander—shaken out.”

Set your goals and work toward them step by step. You have no chance of winning unless you try. Race day nerves may be a pain, but they might enhance your performance on the day. Embrace the race-day jitters and take comfort in the fact that the seasoned record holder, Graeme Obree, experiences the same.

The Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree takes his bike out on the streets of Paisley as American legend Lance Armstrong also makes an appearance
                     Image credit: Scottish News & Sport

Use your best kit

Most cyclists benefit from an emotional lift. A new cycling kit, aero wheels or a good training plan, can help boost morale as well as provide performance benefits. The simple notion of wearing or riding in better, faster kit will have a positive effect on your mindset, which will in turn reflect in your output.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the masters and you have gone for eighth place, this is still your moment,” Obree said. “You want everything to be as good as it possibly can be for that special moment. You keep that special moment for your whole life.” This principle can be applied to cycling in general, in addition to a race scenario. Obree recommends a skinsuit, such as the Endura Drag2Zero skinsuit, which was developed to suit all riders.

“It’s about people and how they feel,” Obree said. “A hobby and a pastime should give you some sense of fulfilment, otherwise why are you doing it? And if you have something that makes you feel good and gives you a lift, then surely that’s a good thing.’ Obree would keep save his best kit for the A race. When he lined his wheel up at the start line, he was there with his “very very best china” and ready for the challenge ahead. While this advice might go against the usual tip of reducing the variables on race day and riding what you trained on, Obree gained strength knowing that the new kit wasn’t associated with bad memories or results. “You get an energy from it, and enthusiasm,” he said.

Graeme Obree
               Image credit: @cscphotoscom

Adopt the ‘seagull mindset’

Obree’s appreciation for new kit is essentially an extension of his main principle of living in the moment. One rainy day in Scotland, Obree was struggling with his mental health when he noticed a seagull. There sat a two-time world hour record holder, two-time individual pursuit world champion, grappling with his mental health, while the seagull appeared perfectly happy and free just on the other side of the window. “What did the seagull have that I didn’t?” Obree asked. “And then it hit me. The seagull is living in the moment. He doesn’t care about the chips he stole yesterday or the ice cream he might steal tomorrow. He is perfectly happy in this moment, in the car park, in the rain.”

Practise the art of putting previous results behind you; the most important race is your next one. Clear the distractions of the past and future and focus on the task at hand. Adopt the seagull mindset.

  Image credit: @graemeobree

Take control of your emotions

If your mind isn’t set, you automatically create your own disadvantage, which will likely hinder your performance. Using his battle with Andrea Collinelli for the world championship title in 1995 as an example, Obree highlights the powerful role emotion plays on race day. “He desperately wanted to win the world championships, but I needed to, so he was a chicken to a fox, even though he was better than me,” Obree said. It mattered not that Obree considered himself slower and less powerful than his opponent. Hungry for the title, Obree discovered the surge he needed come race day. Of course, Obree being Obree, there were a few bike tweaks along the way, too. “It took me an afternoon to build a stem,” Obree said. “He could have done the same. If he isn’t taking the best advantage and loses a world championship, well, he had his chance.”

“Give an Impression of Speed and look iconic”

Obree wasn’t one to let rules stand in his way. From dismantled washing machines to sawing saddles in half, he would often find a slightly different view of every situation in order to take full advantage of it. Perhaps that’s where he got his edge. Looking back, Obree speaks fondly of the Superman position he is known for. “I loved it in the Superman position, almost instantly, and I couldn’t quite work it out. Why was it so good?” he asked. Obree adopted the superman position for his very first World Cup in 1995 and only narrowly won. In his opinion, the win was as much a result of power transfer as it was aerodynamic advantage. Even when climbing, he is certain the position is more efficient than shifting your weight upright or out of the saddle.
“If you take an x-ray of me in that position, the hands are locked, the elbows are locked. If you take just the bone structure, what you have is a human arch. You are locked in position with a circular stroke and any energy from the forward and backward movement goes straight to the pedals very efficiently,” he said. “It’s better to be locked, for the power, than it is to be sitting more upright. I’m the ‘feels’ guy and that’s all I can give, that’s all I know.”

Obree relied on how his bike felt as opposed to calculated measurements. Obree is still riding the same gear he won the world championships with today. “I would always ride the same size of gear. 53:13 was my pursuit gear. You get this hypnotic rhythm, a sort of tribal rhythm, like tribal dancing. So you just know if you are off it, you feel it,” he said.

Graeme Obree Image credit:@graemeobree

Apply these techniques to your everyday practices

Obree describes cycling as an art form. “Ultimately, people come to a bike race to see a performance, or watch the Tour de France to see a performance, they want to be entertained,” he said. In many ways he made a performance, an icon, and an art, but for Obree, cycling offers so much more. As a man who once struggled with depression, the hour record gave him the analytical tools and techniques that were missing from his life previously and offered him a way to manage or even solve his angst. “That is what I will be remembered as in the course of time, as that person, that’s probably what’s the most important,” he said. Becoming a champion requires a holistic approach and is by no means linear. To make the most of each race you need to consider your mindset as you approach the line, together with your kit and the training techniques you have fostered. Combined, these tried and tested principles provide the raw ingredients to build your own success, no matter your goals.