Q&A with cycling legend John Howard

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John Howard, a three-time Olympic cyclist and world land speed record holder, sat down with Active.com recently for a wide-ranging Q & A session. The 53-year-old old Howard, who lives in Encinitas, Calif., has written a number of books including The Cyclists Companion, Multi Fitness, Dirt and Pushing the Limits.

What challenges do you place on yourself?

I try to challenge myself to do something that I havent done before. Sometimes its speed, sometimes its endurance or somewhere in between.

Masters national championships are hard to come by these days. Someday Ill go back out and race again. But I dont follow a circuit the way I did a few years ago.

I was doing the NORBA off-road circuit mountain bike races. And I wanted desperately to win the national off-road championship, which I did four times. Then I wanted to win a world championship. Well, best I could do there was a bronze. I got two bronze medals at the worlds.

I think that reflects on the incredible amount of emphasis on masters athletics in general, cycling in particular.

Cycling is a very popular masters sport. So much so that USA Cycling, whether they admit it or not, has become a masters sport. Theres very little emphasis on junior racing anymore.

My point is that its harder to win a masters champion than it was to win a senior championship in the 70s when I was racing at my peak.

I prize that as a high achievement. Just like some off-the-wall things like the land-speed record (152-mph drafting behind an aerodynamic dragster), which got me more exposure than anything I ever did. Or the complete antithesis of the speed record where you sit on a bike for 24 hours and see how far you can go.

I think my 539-mile 24-hour record still stands. Last summer I did the same thing with a water cycle craft. It was a soft record, I didnt have much competition. I rode 104.6 miles; the second-place competitor rode about 56 miles.

Im intrigued with the idea of water cycling; I try to stay focused on things that are new and exciting. Ive kind of gotten away from road racing and Ive gotten away from mountain bike racing. I still do those things I love to go back and really get fired up for events like El Tour du Tucson, which is a one-shot, one-day event.

What are some of the philosophies youve developed from working with athletes at your school?

The concepts we use in our school are designed with the idea of keeping athletes at an extremely high level, but not on a cutting edge where you can push yourself over.

I have fun doing what Im doing and thats what I try to instill in the athletes irrespective of age.

I had a great discussion recently with a young woman cyclist with whom I went on a ride. She was saying that she was so serious last year and just didnt have the season she wanted.

I made it a point to tell her how many times have I seen this scenario where you think without gritting my teeth and being really serious, how can I achieve my goals?" Ultimately with most people that leads to frustration because they lost the essential element of fun.

It gets back to the idea of taking ourselves too seriously. I dont care what it is, athletics or the arts. There is a great quote from Oscar Wilde People are never so trivial as when they take themselves too seriously.

I cant tell you how many athletes Ive worked with where I have tried my best to find that element of fun. But they get over that edge and they push themselves over the envelope and sure enough, they burn out and end up with seasons that were not up to their expectations.

To me it just crystallizes the whole idea that you really have to maintain an element of fun in what you do.

Where do you see yourself 10 or 20 years down the road?

A. Ill still be doing pretty much what Im doing now. Theres a point where your oxygen-carrying capacity begins to diminish. The advantage that I have I think, this may sound egotistical but the advantage Ive had from the beginning over all of my competitors was not mind over anything else, it was I chose my parents wisely.

I had an oxygen-carrying capacity that was off the scale. It was extremely high, 82 milliliters per kilogram. So now as I age its dropping off. But its only now average compared with top professional endurance athletes.

Sign up for Howard's winter multisport training camp in San Diego.

Sign up for Howard's winter multisport training camp in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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