– This story first ran in 2002, but come on, does good advice ever get old? –
The scheduling of the Tour of Lombardy as the final big event of the professional cycling season gives it a particularly festive ambience akin to kids on the last day of school. Now is the time when the pros kick back and indulge in a couple of weeks of not looking at their bikes and eating the odd pastry or two. This is also a good time for us to unwind from the accumulated stress of the past season. But just like school kids, we also have one tough final exam to write before holidays can begin: the dreaded “What Have You Done This Whole Season” exam.
This is the point where you have to take a really objective and critical examination of how closely your season followed your plan. A trusted advisor or coach becomes invaluable to cut through our natural tendency to rationalize away our successes and shortcomings. A good coach or sport scientist will also be able to see training patterns that you may not recognize. Some of the things you should be analyzing as you go through your training diary (you do keep a training diary, right?) include:
1. Did you meet your primary racing goals for the season? Analyze your key races carefully. If you missed the key break or move, was it tactical, physical, pack placing, etc.? Was it because you blew up halfway up the 3 k climb? Were you in the final break but lost because you can’t outsprint a sloth? Were you fatigued from overtraining or racing too much? This is critical information in order to truly identify the areas you need to focus your training upon.
2. If you were successful in your racing, analyze that too! You are looking to understand exactly what went right so that you can replicate it. If your tapering prior to the peak races worked, you want to know exactly what you did right. If you found it ridiculously easy to bridge up to the winning break, you need to understand that strength.
3. Did you meet your training goals in terms of training volume (annual and periodical), performance measures (e.g., power output at threshold, test time trials, etc.). You need this information to understand your limiters and strengths and to set appropriate goals for the upcoming season.
4. Were there significant deviations from your original program? Were they due to illness, family or work commitments? How effective were your adjustments to these changes? You need this information in order to plan for future inevitable setbacks to your new plan.
5. How quickly did you recover from hard workouts or heavy periods of training? What are your signs of overtraining? Everybody responds to training and recovers at different rates, and you need to program your training based on your own parameters.
My basic point is that you MUST learn from your own experience, and that your diary contains a goldmine of information to guide your future. Sift through it with a critical eye so that you can most effectively plan your next winning campaign.
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and puts the team game into daily practice running a large research lab full of talented and ambitious students. Stephen’s company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports. He can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.