Fly fishing competitions and cycling races. What do they have in common? On the surface it may appear that these two activities couldn't be farther apart but when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, both require good preparation and execution.
While each sport has it’s own somewhat unique set of training and competition characteristics it should not come as a surprise that there are also lots of similarities and cross-over points where you can learn something from another sport.
In cycling we spend a lot of time preparing ourselves for the physical challenges of the race ahead. Races vary from as short as 1 minute (or less) to more than 4hrs in duration with intensity varying from recovery pace (coasting) to all out efforts. In fly fishing river competitions you fish four sessions over two days, with each session being 2-3 hours. That’s 8-12hrs of fishing often wading in moderate to deep water (sometimes up to chest high) with a variety of currents and often slippery surface under foot. Add to this holding a 10 foot rod aloft and extended to maximum reach it becomes a full body workout for two days straight. So what does this have to do with cycling? Specificity of demand. You wouldn’t prepare for a fly fishing competition by doing sprints on a bike, just as you shouldn’t prepare for a hilly tour by doing short, easy rides on flat terrain. You need to examine the demands of each event and ensure that you prepare specifically to meet those demands.
Then there is the skill component. Fly fishing demands far more concentration (for longer periods) and skill than cycling does so in fly fishing it's important to spend a lot of time practising. Not only to hone your skills but to expand them to encompass a wide range of techniques. In cycling the skills also play an important role in race outcomes but it's surprising how often they get ignored in training. The bottom line in both sports is that if you really care about your result you need to devote sufficient time to improving your skills.
Planning also plays an important role to both sports. In fly fishing you need to analyse your beat/sector of water and decide how best to approach and fish it given the conditions (temperature, time of day, time of year, wind, etc) and your own skill levels. In cycling we focus on course knowledge and weather conditions but something just as important is planning race tactics based on own own strengths and those of the riders we are racing against. It doesn’t matter if you have the best skills and training in the world, if you miss this step (forget to plan) then your results wont be as consistently good as you like. Remember, in every race you enter there are several riders that are physically capable of winning. The one that ultimately wins is the rider who rides the smartest race. The use their planning to their advantage and save energy whenever they can. They cover the dangerous moves and ignore the rest, letting other riders waste their energy chasing them. In fishing, failure to plan can mean that you spend too much time fishing un-productive water and not enough time fishing the ‘good’ water.
Finally, it’s the all important execution. Once the event has started you need to remain alert and be able to execute your plans and even potentially modify them on the fly (pun intended). This is the area that many people falter, they can get caught up in the spur of the moment and forget their plans and this can have a negative impact on the outcome. Sticking to your pre-race plan is one of the more important things to learn for cyclists. Unfortunately another vital skills is knowing when to ditch your plan. This comes with experience but catering for multiple scenarios in your race plan helps a lot. In fishing there is an old saying, don’t leave fish to find fish. But you also need to know when you have move on. Experience is the key here and to make the most of this you really need to review your performance after each event, picking out the key things that will make the most difference in your next race.
Ultimately, in any sport you do, if your goal is to maximise your performance and results then you need to analyse the demands for each event and make sure your training covers each of them. Sure, work on the most important ones first – these are called your limiters, but don’t forget about the rest!