What is a 'bad day?'

What is a bad day?

Everytime I hear a cycling commentator say "He's having a bad day" or "You never know when you are going have a bad day" - it just seems like code for he's screwed up his PED program. My experience of elite sport is that folks have days where as things don't go to plan and/or they lose form for a period. It's the one day they're dropping the pack and 24 hours later they are toast (or the opposite) that I am interested in here. The 'bad day'!

There are obviously natural causes of this - such as 1. Mental - loss of focus? 2. Tactical - inept / inappropriate race strategy (see cross winds / collecting rain jackets from team car!). 3. Dehydration or crap nutrition - some version of bonk or overheating.

But when cycling comentators talk about the 'bad day' they don't generally reference any of these reasons. They talk about more in terms of some intangible thing that happens almost without explanation! That's the bit I don't buy into. As an athlete when you have a bad day - you know why.

I can tell you about 3 bad days I had my 10 year rowing career -

1. 1988 Olympic Final - finished 4th - poor race tactics
2. 1990 Worlds Final - finished 4th - didn't cope with rough water conditions
3. 1991 Worlds Final - finished 4th - lost focus during the race

And that's the other thing it doesn't happen that often and it's not inevitable.
So what's different about cycling? I'd suggest it's got more to do with artificial manipulation of blood and body chemistry than anything else.

I would be intersted in those that know more than I do about physiology that may be able to make more sense of this than I have.
 
BanProCycling said:
I totally disagree. Haven't you ever had a day when you've done all the preparation, feel confident but then it just doesn't work for you? That happens in all sports, surely? Sometimes the athlete's body just won't go into "the zone" and there is nothing to explain it. Likewise there are days when they can surprise themselves and it just works for them. That's just part of sport. The great champions are usually the guys that can access that place more often and be more consistent.

Update. Well done for getting to all those finals mate.

Thanks for the comment and I guess that's my point. I do recognise those days when things aligned and went well - even better than expected – I didn’t list them here! But in the words of a famous golfer (Gary Player I think) when asked about the intangibles of golf success - "Gary you were lucky with that chip in on the 17th?" He would always respond - "It's amazing - the more I practice the luckier I get".

That's my experience too. There are always things you can't control - like the weather or the opposition - but most of the good performances I recognise were largely down to me or the guys I was racing with. I feel the same way about the bad performances. I can explain them - I really can!

I have a largely untested opinion that would go something like...

When the athlete analyses his/her performance they have a lot more data and know things that the spectator and/or the commentator do not or cannot know. I think as commentator and spectators we romanticise and fantacise about what lies behind good or bad performance - because we don't have all the facts. The athlete knows. And in my experience most success is down to ruthless preparation and attention to detail. It takes effort - mental, physical, tactical, technical (and in cycling pharmaceutical ;) )

So as stated in the OP I struggle to buy in to the notion of some intangible and inexplicable influence over performance - a 'bad day'. I think it's often down to a screw up of their doping strategy - but nobody is going to tell us that at their press conference - so we get "I had a bad day!" (or "I ate some bad fish!")

Again I would be interested in what others that know more about physiology than I and may add support or may offer an alternative view.
 
Jul 8, 2009
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Well, this is a complex subject, but in 25 years of running and race-walking (and even a few cycling time trials), I've had loads of bad days. I'll throw out several possible reasons:

1.Didn't sleep that well 1 or 2 nights before. For some people, this matters not at all. for others it can be huge. If you feel tired, you may not be able to push as hard. More importantly, poor sleep can destroy recovery ability.

2.Training. This is the biggie. I have coached people for many years in addition to my own training and it seems clear that while there are general truths, each individual responds differently. Things that worked for one person don't work for others. Things that worked for me last year don't work this year. If you ran 150 miles a week, would you be faster if you ran 130 or 170 instead? No matter how perfectly you tell me your training went, I'll tell you that you can't know for sure. And if you get to the race and have a bad day, that could be the reason.

3.Stage race recovery. This is big for cyclists. Everything's going well but you find that the effort you put in yesterday to stay with the leaders cost you more than you thought. So you have a bad day today.


You may have been very fortunate (and I recognize that in large part you make your own luck) in your career. But you are the exception not the rule. Not only do I think bad days are normal and easily explained, I actually think that a SHORTAGE of true bad days in the grand tours is the suspicious thing. If you're not doping, you're much more likely to push yourself over the edge and have a bad day the next day.
 
Jul 22, 2009
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Even more interesting than the 'bad day', is the idea that an athlete can recover the next day with a monstrous performance. I remember Phil Ligget saying this at the end of the day when Landis crapped in 2006. Lo and behold, the next day, it seemed as if Landis did exactly that!
 
Mar 10, 2009
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Most importantly, cyclists suffered from 'bad days' after rest days in a GT. They were said to being unable to 'find their rythm' after the break.

Lately however, I haven't heard too much of 'famous' bad days anymore...
 
Jun 9, 2009
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The fact that 'bad days' are reported on behalf of the commentators without giving a scientific explanation doesn't mean that the riders or their directors and doctors don't have explanations.

The commentators are there primarily to give some flair to the coverage and, secondarily, to be informative. I think the commentators on Vs. do a great job of both, but wouldn't hold their knowledge of physiology to be on a par with team physicians.

Commentators often attribute good or bad performances to intangibles such as the French having extra strength on Bastille day or the Basque riders divining power from the presence of the Pyrrenes. It is their job to give a romantic flair to the broadcast. Conversely, commentators blame a slump in performance on the ominous 'bad day'.

Many 'bad days' have been attributed to dehydration (Lance's TT a few years back), illness, fever, allergies, or the lack of ability for certain riders to recover for multiple consecutive strong performances in the mountains.

To assume that a team doctor's ability to manage a doping program is the most likely cause of a 'bad day' shows a degree of cynicism. Managing a doping protocol would be a rather routine process for a skilled physician. Managing every other possible cause for a 'bad day' is very complex.

Again, it seems fans of the sport feel the need to suggest doping as being the most likely explanation for anything they do not understand. The sport is showing signs of being cleaner now than it has been for a decade, but its fans continue to cast aspersions in a reckless manner.
 
Jul 22, 2009
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Bala Verde said:
Most importantly, cyclists suffered from 'bad days' after rest days in a GT. They were said to being unable to 'find their rythm' after the break.

Lately however, I haven't heard too much of 'famous' bad days anymore...

Sastre and Evans had notable bad days during the latest TdF installment. It's just more spectacular when a leader of GC has one.
 
Mar 10, 2009
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scribe said:
Sastre and Evans had notable bad days during the latest TdF installment. It's just more spectacular when a leader of GC has one.

If you have several bad days, you are not on form. The bad day that - as I assumed the discussion was about - is that one day that someone looks like a shadow of his former self. And after that one horrific day, he manages to pull it all together again.
 
David Suro said:
The fact that 'bad days' are reported on behalf of the commentators without giving a scientific explanation doesn't mean that the riders or their directors and doctors don't have explanations.

The commentators are there primarily to give some flair to the coverage and, secondarily, to be informative. I think the commentators on Vs. do a great job of both, but wouldn't hold their knowledge of physiology to be on a par with team physicians.

Commentators often attribute good or bad performances to intangibles such as the French having extra strength on Bastille day or the Basque riders divining power from the presence of the Pyrrenes. It is their job to give a romantic flair to the broadcast. Conversely, commentators blame a slump in performance on the ominous 'bad day'.

Many 'bad days' have been attributed to dehydration (Lance's TT a few years back), illness, fever, allergies, or the lack of ability for certain riders to recover for multiple consecutive strong performances in the mountains.

To assume that a team doctor's ability to manage a doping program is the most likely cause of a 'bad day' shows a degree of cynicism. Managing a doping protocol would be a rather routine process for a skilled physician. Managing every other possible cause for a 'bad day' is very complex.

Again, it seems fans of the sport feel the need to suggest doping as being the most likely explanation for anything they do not understand. The sport is showing signs of being cleaner now than it has been for a decade, but its fans continue to cast aspersions in a reckless manner.

Sorry if I come across as cynical. I don't think of myself as a cynic. I actually agree with your post - I think commentators and in this I would generalise and say all media (and even include the 'fat bloke down the pub who might have a view) generally do what they can to make sense of athlete performances. And you are right they do it in absense of much of the data and expertise to interpret. I also agree that managing athlete performance is complex. And my personal experience has been while it might be challenging to predict and/or control all the variables I've generally been able to identify the reason for when I have really bombed.

I was trying to distinguish between the ups and owns of performance that any athlete experiences from the 'have a bad day' syndrome we hear about in cycling. As in "Valverde will never win a three week GT because he always has a 'bad day'". I am not sure I have done a good job of making the distinction and maybe there is no distinction to be made. In which case I hold my hand up and admit to casting wreckless aspersions - I am quite happy to be found to be wrong on this to be honest.

Thanks for the input :)
 
Jun 16, 2009
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egtalbot said:
Well, this is a complex subject, but in 25 years of running and race-walking (and even a few cycling time trials), I've had loads of bad days. I'll throw out several possible reasons:

1.Didn't sleep that well 1 or 2 nights before. For some people, this matters not at all. for others it can be huge. If you feel tired, you may not be able to push as hard. More importantly, poor sleep can destroy recovery ability.

2.Training. This is the biggie. I have coached people for many years in addition to my own training and it seems clear that while there are general truths, each individual responds differently. Things that worked for one person don't work for others. Things that worked for me last year don't work this year. If you ran 150 miles a week, would you be faster if you ran 130 or 170 instead? No matter how perfectly you tell me your training went, I'll tell you that you can't know for sure. And if you get to the race and have a bad day, that could be the reason.

3.Stage race recovery. This is big for cyclists. Everything's going well but you find that the effort you put in yesterday to stay with the leaders cost you more than you thought. So you have a bad day today.


You may have been very fortunate (and I recognize that in large part you make your own luck) in your career. But you are the exception not the rule. Not only do I think bad days are normal and easily explained, I actually think that a SHORTAGE of true bad days in the grand tours is the suspicious thing. If you're not doping, you're much more likely to push yourself over the edge and have a bad day the next day.

Like #3
Us old timers who remember the sport pre EPO probably can recall the TDF duels in the 80s where one rider digs too deep to gain a few seconds and the next day he is dropped because he didn't recover. But the following day he attacks again and gains back the time. The Epic seesaw battles that disappeared with drug use. I think it might have been Greg Lemond who said something like , it is not how much you gain when you attack but how you limit your losses the next day.
 
Mar 18, 2009
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I personally think there is a mixture of both tangible and intangible reasons to explain bad days. Some days I have are just woeful and I can offer no reasonable explanation for why I am not riding strongly. No difference in sleep, eating, etc. Other times I haven't eaten properly or at the correct time, there is some mechanical problem I cannot fix, the weather is too hot and/or humid, etc. On the other hand, I recently did a social but demanding tour and my power profile and speed progressively decreased over four days and then bounced back after a rest day. I didn't necessarily feel it on the bike, but the data definitely did not lie. Other days I feel like nothing can go wrong. Both bad and good days are few and far between, but they are either demoralizing or uplifting when the happen.
 
Mar 18, 2009
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If you notice, as stronger drugs become more prevalent in the history of cycling, "bad days" become much less common

Anyway, the main factor seems to be quite natural. Everyone who rides is used to feeling particularly great or feeling particularly like crap on any given day for no reason at all.
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
ok ,i admit i went through the entire list of rowers involved in the 1988 olympics to pin down who 180mm is.. lol...

No luck though
 
Jul 22, 2009
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dimspace said:
ok ,i admit i went through the entire list of rowers involved in the 1988 olympics to pin down who 180mm is.. lol...

No luck though

Me too (not really) and not one of them has the initials mm.
 
Jun 21, 2009
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dimspace said:
ok ,i admit i went through the entire list of rowers involved in the 1988 olympics to pin down who 180mm is.. lol...

No luck though

i considered doing this. then figured that there are too many rowing events. what i will say though is you have to be one fit (no, not in that sense!!) bàstard to be fourth in that sport at the olympics :eek:
 
Aug 6, 2009
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scribe said:
Sastre and Evans had notable bad days during the latest TdF installment. It's just more spectacular when a leader of GC has one.

Didn't they just (along with Menchov) have bad Tours? I mean I don't recall either of them having any good days. Perhaps some of their days were particuarly abysmal, but once they lost the GC they might not have seen a point in fighting for a tertiary position.
 
Jul 29, 2009
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You can get bad days for a number of reasons in any sport.

The thing with (stage race) cycling is that the duration of each stage and the race as a whole mean there are so many different variables therefore increasing the likelihood of it occuring at some stage.

Sometimes it's not even a bad day just a bad section which can be enough. I find it odd how i can be feeling bad for 20mins and then start to feel good again even though it seems to have nothing to do with anything tangible.

The fact that bad days seem to occur less nowadays compared to the 80's could be as a result of doping or better understanding of how to manage the risks of a bad day occuring. (in a clean fashion). Reading Rough Ride it's a wonder anyone managed to finish at all given the poor support a rider appeared to received
 
Mar 10, 2009
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bad days

I'm more interested in recreating those 3 or 4 good days, Those inexplicably great rides or performances. If I could recreate those moments I'd know more about what makes a good day and why I managed to ride at my potential instead of struggling to achieve it.
I am troubled by a couple of things in this thread. 180, you were obviously an elite rower so why were your 3 bad days not attributed to off PED days? Because you were clean? From so many threads in this forum how does anyone believe that any elite sport is PED free? I am not accusing you but why did you bee line for that explanation? Maybe you know something about rowing you are keeping to yourself?
Bad days are not rare but can be unpredictable. Pros probably have fewer than us normal types but bad days are more common to Joe average and I get them all the time. Just a general inability to keep up when only a week or a day before I could do so easily.
 
Jul 22, 2009
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Cerberus said:
Didn't they just (along with Menchov) have bad Tours? I mean I don't recall either of them having any good days. Perhaps some of their days were particuarly abysmal, but once they lost the GC they might not have seen a point in fighting for a tertiary position.

I think a bad tour begins with a 'bad day'. But I digress, I think this thread is more appropriately about that inexplicable and spectacular bad day by someone clearly in contention.
 
I am enjoying this thread...a bit narsessistic I know :)

Master50 said:
I'm more interested in recreating those 3 or 4 good days, Those inexplicably great rides or performances. If I could recreate those moments I'd know more about what makes a good day and why I managed to ride at my potential instead of struggling to achieve it.

+1 I think one of the things that often separates a good athlete from a great athlete is the ability to know how to deliver when it matters - and this is a constant learning process that never stops. And I guess to qualify a little on the days I quoted in my original post - these were days that really mattered to me and it didn't work out. These are things that get worked out as an athlete matures - some of it is mental but more than most I think realise is down to planning.

Some folk would know a sports psych works on motivation, belief and handling pressure - mental skills - they do of course but less would know much sports psych is also focussed on developing performance routines to replicate good performance - these are micro (tennis players bouncing the ball before a serve) and more macro the routine (pre-competition plan) an athlete follows for the day of a race.

Master50 said:
I am troubled by a couple of things in this thread. 180, you were obviously an elite rower so why were your 3 bad days not attributed to off PED days? Because you were clean? From so many threads in this forum how does anyone believe that any elite sport is PED free? I am not accusing you but why did you bee line for that explanation? Maybe you know something about rowing you are keeping to yourself?

As I said earlier I would be happy to hear /learn that my assessment of the classic cycling 'bad day' syndrome is more a media (commentator) device, a short hand if you like for "We don't know what happened - but it wasn't good!"

PED in rowing is probably a different forum entirely. But I will say rowing has had its challenges just as other sports. There is much evidence that former Eastern Bloc countries had systematic doping programs. The vast majority of positives have come from these nations in rowing and more recently China. And I do appreciate that not testing positive is only that...

In the UK there is no doping culture in rowing. I only know of one individual that would be suspected of doping was never positive and only represented UK at U23 level. I never took anything - I wouldn't have known where to even start :confused:. I popped a rib prior to the Worlds in '89 and took ibuprophen for a few days - I stopped taking it during racing because I thought of it as cheating. I knew it wasn't a banned substance but it was more my mindset around taking anything.

Incidently in the final in '89 we came 3rd to Romania, Czech and beat East Germany into 4th - and the USSR might have been in there somewhere (5th?) - there is a fairly high probability that some or all of these athletes were involved in doping at some point in their careers. Maybe not so much in '89 as all their systems were falling apart. We certainly never thought about any of this at the time - and to be honest I don't think about it much now - it's just what it is. We just got in our boats and raced...and it was awesome fun I might add!

Sorry for the ramble :)
 
Hugh Januss said:
This question is for 180. Do you think that the big money available in rowing had anything to do with the level of doping that you saw in the sport?

That's actually a really good question

I think I got £6k grant (~ $10k) the odd year and most years I was working as a high school teacher and rowing out of hours. For '88 and '92 I took the year off and went into debt. So for me and most others it was never about the money - it was all about the FAME :) Yeah right!

However for Eastern Bloc athletes the story is slightly different. Success as an athlete lifted them into a completely different standard of living. And I do think for them there were some different things at stake...

I had a really good friend who was in the Hungarian team for a number of years - she was a medallist. As a consequence she was able to have her own flat and a significant allowance - it meant she could move out of the one bedroom apartment in which she lived with her mum, dad and brother. Interestingly she still chose to live at home and kept the ownership of the flat secret from her friends. She was worried people would take advantage of her if they new she had such wealth!

The story has a rather sad ending in that she got injured and despite treatment was struggling to get back into the boat... one of the last times I saw her she was competing obviously in a great deal of pain... she shouldn't have been racing. She never got back to full fitness and dropped off the team.

I have a few other stories like this and I am pretty sure there are lots of similar examples. So to answer the question I do think the finacial/material rewards had a big impact in rowing.

Some suspect the same dynamic is at play in China at the moment.