Bike racing is a unique sport. Unlike most other endurance sports, you often race as training in order to race at a peak later on. Racing is the icing on the cake of a solid base period, followed by a race preparation period. Not only does racing bring you up to a higher level, it also takes a lot out you both physically and mentally. This week we ask our good friends Mike Sayers, Mike Carter and new contributor Scott Moninger (Healthnet) to talk about how they balance racing with training, and how they allow their peak form to last during the long, hard season
Pez: Now that the racing season is beginning (at least here on the west coast), how do you balance training with racing every weekend with the goal of being able to perform at a high level in the races?
Mike Sayers: I think at this point in the season, and especially having competed in 15 races already, training is essentially over. I may do some fine tuning here and there, but the best thing I can do for my racing is take it easy and save those “matches” for Saturday and Sunday. I have to admit that having had to train so hard for Malaysia put me a lot farther along then if I had not gone over there. In addition, with a huge block of spring racing facing me, I think more rest is better than more training. I am going to try and appreciate all those 6 and 7 hr rides I did in December and January. For me I don’t think I will become any stronger or faster by continuing to train. I would call this the law of diminishing returns.
Mike Carter: The key (or should I say “trick,” because it is not easy!) is to be able to recover from the previous weekend of racing, and also get in a quality workout(s) and recover from that before the next weekend. It becomes more of an art. You have to be able to be in tune with your body and give it what it needs, when it needs it. You cannot force your body into a condition of recovery all the time. There are times when you would like to do some strength work, or you have scheduled some intense interval work, yet your body is still not recovered, it is not ready for a quality workout on that particular day. If you are not “up” for a long or hard ride, and then start to do that ride and never pull out of that mental slump, then the quality of that ride will not be optimal, and, could very well lead to bad morale. Morale is critical to performance and also quality of life. So recovery from the previous weeks’ racing is a priority; then, if the body recovers, and there is enough time to recover from a quality workout before the next race, then a quality workout can be put in. Recover, train, recover, race at your best. If you are not fresh for the races, then you will have a tough time performing at your best.
Scott Moninger: Many years ago, March was considered “preseason” (It’s also called MIDDLE OF WINTER at Toolbox HQ in Halifax!). However, with races like the Tour of Langkawi taking place in early February, the whole timing of the season has changed and the races that you’re referring to in California are very much the “meat” of the spring season. By the time I reach a race like Redlands, I am no longer in “training” mode. Hopefully, my base training in December and January along with early season races in February have me fairly well prepared so that I can race, recover, race, recover, repeat, and not lose fitness but rather maintain it.
Pez: How long, at any one time, do you expect to be in top form at any given time during the Season?
Mike S: Honestly, I expect to go well every weekend all year long. That being said, there is no way that is possible. So my coach, my team and I have worked in a couple of breaks from racing into my schedule. Those are forced times off. Really, this is the best thing for all parties, and as I get older I think it is better to race a little less and rest a little more. For most pro riders, we need those checks and balances to ensure we get the most out of our training. I tend to need a lot of hard racing to get fit, but I tend to hold that fitness for months on end. So, my goal is to continue a hard racing schedule then take a break from racing then back to racing again. I will continue this sequence until the end of the year.
Mike C: It really depends on the number and length of the races. As a pro, I used to count on having one really good three week period where I would be “on,” where I felt like no one could drop me on a climb, or even on the flats. I felt invincible! As a Master racer now, the races are not as long, and we don’t race as many races as a pro does. So once good racing condition is attained, it almost seems that every weekend builds on itself, and increased conditioning is attained with each passing week. That happens because the time on the bike during a race is short enough that a smart, savvy Master can recover between races; it is because of that recovery time that gains can progress all year. A pro can’t really do that, and sometimes, peaking comes by accident, and it is almost as if there is no control of when that will be, nor how long it will last. That is an art also – timing a peak to come when you want it most, then making it last.
Scott: I cannot speak in absolutes, but from my personal experience the longer one takes to reach a peak, the longer one can expect to maintain it…For me, 4-6 weeks is a pretty typical length for a peak. In that period, I will certainly have some minor ups and downs, but even an “off” day during a peak period might get a great result, it will just hurt a little more.
Summary – Let’s look at what we can learn from the boys:
• An important point to keep in mind is that as professionals, they have a much different program to follow versus us weekend warriors. It’s important for us to not only factor in the physical stress of racing and training, but also other areas of our lives that add stress. Realities like family and work commitments, and travel can impact our cycling performance “silently”.
• Rest – As I wrote in my last Pro Shop article it’s better to be over rested than over trained . It’s all about being honest with yourself and allowing yourself ample recovery time after hard efforts. When the body is ready to race, there is no better way of achieving top fitness. As all three pros state, you MUST make sure you are recovered from the hard efforts of race weekends. Not letting yourself fully recover leads to feeling sluggish during your training and subsequent races. This creates a frame of mind that you must not be fit and have to train even harder; this is the beginnings of overtraining, a hole that can get deeper and deeper unless understood.
• Slow build, long peak – I absolutely love what Scott states: “…the longer one takes to reach a peak; the longer one can expect to maintain it”. Too many of us attempt to do too much intensity early without the proper base training. This can actually lead to a lowering of power at your anaerobic threshold, because you are not giving the proper attention to that area of fitness.
• It’s all about knowing yourself, as we are all different. There is no one solution that works for everyone. The great thing about being an athlete is finding what works for you. A good coach can help.
Spring is here. Racing is here. Take time to make a plan with your coach about how to balance the racing, recovery and training. Be patient with it. Go into each weekend with a hunger to do well. Remember that your body can do amazing things when it’s more rested versus being over trained and tired.
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com