The non-racing season (versus calling it the off-season) is an excellent time to regroup and work on the elements of your game that are lacking. I use the term “non-race”, because as endurance athletes, the non-race season can be just as important as the race season. A lot of productive work can and should be done when racing and recovering are not the primary focus of your program. Here are a few of the many different elements you should evaluate and plan for in the upcoming months:
• Highs and Lows – Just like the stock market, every athlete’s season has highs and lows. In this case I am specifically talking about how you felt during the season in terms of energy level and fatigue. Energy level is something that can be felt both on and off the bike. Some weeks (or longer), you feel good; your outlook on life and everything you do has positive energy. Other times, for unknown reasons you just don’t have that same zip and it shows in all areas of life, especially in your training. The training gets magnified because of the extreme energy requirements you are asking of your body. As a suggestion, look back and chart your energy levels, assuming you kept good records. Try to attach specific events or reasons why you had the highs and lows to help prevent the down cycles in the future. You may be surprised by what you see and how controllable they may be. For example, perhaps you were feeling great on the bike but then there was a huge spike in the temperature and noticed that your energy levels took a dive. Or perhaps you experienced certain stresses at work and noticed they had a direct impact on how you felt on the bike during that period. It’s always good to look at your levels from a broad perspective.
• Performance and/or field-testing – Getting a benchmark on your fitness level through performance or field testing after the season is complete will help guide you through the upcoming months. Doing it now and when you begin the commitment to physical training for 2009 will give you an excellent view of how detrained you became. Remember, detraining can be a good thing if it is done purposely. An athlete cannot or should not be 100% all the time and this is the time of year where being at optimal fitness is not necessary, assuming your event goals are for next year.
• Check under the hood – After a long, hard season, it’s never a bad thing to get your blood checked, assuring that the season didn’t deplete you of anything. A lot of times an athlete will be physically fatigued at this time of year and you can clear up a lot of confusion by getting a blood test and making sure you are healthy “under the hood.” Many athletes don’t realize how much stress they put their bodies during the race season. The heat, travel, intensity, stress, family life, work and everything else take it toll. Get checked out from a health perspective by your doctor, as it will give you piece of mind before beginning your next segment of training.
• Nutritional review and plan for the winter – The fall and winter months are a good time to lose additional weight and evaluate your nutrition program. Remember, nutrition should be treated like any tool and has far reaching effects outside of cycling. Find a good sports nutritionist, complete a food record, and allow them to make adjustments to your dietary intake based on both the extreme nutritional requirements of being an athlete and proper calorie amounts based on energy level likely to be expended over the next few months.
• Skills – It’s good to see a lot of coaches and programs doing bike-handling skills clinics and training for the technical aspects of bike riding. Skills development away from racing are sorely needed by a lot of riders in order to make them better in actual racing. The only way most riders acquire skills is through racing, and the stress and danger of a big swarming pack is not the ideal place for learning! Make a plan to work on your skills immediately. It’s something that takes significant practice and discipline. In a bike race, you are at your best when you are a confident and predictable rider, and technical skills development will help you accomplish that goal.
• The basics – We’ve written a previous article on “limiters” and there is a large body of literature written on determining your weaknesses on the bike. The question becomes how much time you spend working on them and for what reason. If you are a “sprinter” and can’t get to the line, it becomes necessary to focus on the aerobic conditioning even though you may lose a bit of the sprint. As your body adapts to the aerobic work, your sprint will return. Because of tactics, masking your weaknesses is always a possibility and can be focused on. If short power climbs are your destruction, little things, like starting the climbs near the front and slowly drifting back, while staying in contact may allow you to get through them and concentrate on what you are good at. I think the key here is having a specific goal in terms of race type and making sure you are suited for that goal, both physically and mentally. These are all things you can talk and work on during the non-race season with your coach.
• How long before you start up again – This is a difficult question and should be evaluated dynamically, not by some fixed schedule. Obviously, every athlete is different and requires both physical and mental time off the bike. As we have written about in this article, time off the bike not only allows physical recovery, but also allows time to work on other aspects of being a complete bike racer. The important thing is to treat each element (mental and physical) separately. For most athletes, assuming you were not over-trained at season’s end, it really doesn’t take that much time to get yourself physically recovered to train again. It’s more important to give yourself time mentally. With the advent of the Internet, email lists, newsgroups, etc, it’s very hard to “get away” from the cycling sub-culture; in fact it can be down right addictive. Perhaps one of your non-race season goals would be to avoid the sub-culture for a while. It will still be there when you get back!
In summary, the main goal of this initial part of the non-race season is to both look back on the 2008 season while things are fresh, and at the same time, plan the upcoming period with things that you can do to improve your overall bike racer package going into 2009. Just remember what 2-time Paris-Roubaix winner Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle always said, “The season is made in the off-season.”
Ride safe; ride strong,
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 and check out the AthletiCamps Blog.