Whether you are racing 2017 Nationals, have a few races left or already hung up the cyclocross bike, coach Chris Mayhew of JBV Coaching helps you close out the season in style and embrace the offseason with this week’s Training Tuesday piece.
Many of you will be ending your cyclocross season soon. Judging from my inbox (thank you!) many of you are also thinking ahead to next season as well. There are some common easy mistakes to make between now and then. Let’s address how to handle the end of your current season and then move on to the offseason and planning for next year.
If you’re ending your season soon then you probably only have about two weekends left in which to race. If you’re like most people you’re running on fumes in terms of fitness. When’s the last time you did more than one midweek interval session or did a three or four hour training ride? The thing to do is make the most of that cyclocross specific form right now. Any training you do will only bring fatigue, not fitness. Focus on coming into races fresh, motivated, and ready to make the most of your last few chances to race and hang out with your friends. That means hitting a midweek workout hard, so your body doesn’t go into total recovery mode. And hit your openers the day before hard enough to prime the pump for your race the following day.
Other than that don’t feel obligated to ride. As a matter of fact, even minimal riding right now may leave you fatigued for the weekend. If you train with a power meter then hopefully you use the Performance Manager Chart. Your Chronic Training Load should be falling steadily as the season goes on, such that what would have been a routine ride in July is now a huge ride with your current training load volume. Put another way, your volume per week is probably half what it was in the summer. Riding right now can be a real chore too, indoors or out, so don’t use up mental energy riding during the week that you want to utilize during your race this weekend.
Once you’ve gotten through those last few races, take a break. You need a clean delineated break between ’cross season and whatever else is to come, for several reasons. One is you’re probably limping your body along like Han Solo does with the Millennium Falcon.
I currently have a sprained thumb, two bruised knees, and wrecked IT Bands. Whatever injuries you have you need to let them heal. Racing is very stressful physiologically and your body needs to take some time to heal up and recover from it. Secondly, as I pointed out earlier, you’re out of fitness. To go back to the analogy I like, you’re all icing and no cake right now.
You’ve been primed to do multiple high intensity efforts over a short period of time, but your ability to pedal steadily for any length of time has faded. On top of that limitation, your on-board glycogen storage to support those efforts has also greatly diminished. The biggest mistake I see amateurs make is trying to take ’cross fitness and immediately carry it over into base miles work. They are not the same thing, do not translate well, and people usually end up in flames by late January on this particular plan of attack.
There’s also some good evidence that long term, sustained hard efforts are not good for your heart. Jeremy Powers took a much longer winter recovery after last season than he has in years past based on this. I am not completely read up on the issue but the evidence seems clear that years of hard training and racing may not be great for the heart. Take a break. [And maybe in January during your break, read this relevant book. -Ed.]
Lastly, you need a break mentally. All the intervals and structure and pressure take their toll. So does the constant cycle of hope, pressure, and the attending feelings of every race result, good and bad. Take some mental time to get your psyche back to equilibrium where every weekend isn’t a pass/fail test on your self worth. (If you’re winning every weekend that’s great. Now, it’s time to upgrade or race a harder race.) Get away from what you feel like you “should” be doing and just do nothing. Or do the things you want to do but haven’t been able. I have told every client (or potential client) who has emailed me this week that I don’t want to hear from them before January 1. I don’t want to write you a plan right now and I don’t want you following one. You’ve got 11 other months to do that, so let’s get off to a good start on that by taking some time off now.
If you’re like most athletes you’re also having a hard time with your season being over. You’ve worked really hard and accomplished a lot of goals, but with ’cross over it’s hard to really focus on what’s next. That lack of a subsequent goal for process or results oriented bike racers can often lead to melancholy or depression. Taking a break is a great time to get focused on something else. Figure out a core workout. Get started on yoga. I’m personally thinking about trying Brazilian Ju Jitsu.
I took up running last year and it was great except I blew out my knees. Find something, anything, to focus your time and energy on. The added benefit is that you develop a life outside cycling (gasp!) and that’s also a good long-term plan for avoiding depression when cycling is not available to you due to weather, time constraints, or injury.
One thing I would encourage you to do a couple of weeks after your season ends is to take stock of your year and write some things down. What did you do this year that you’d like to replicate next year? This reflection could include a lot of things like what intervals you did, how you packed your bag, the tire pressure you ran, results you achieved. Write those down as goals for next year.
Get a nice mix of process goals and concrete goals (X place at this race). Then make a list of things you’d like to change from last year because if you keep doing the same thing you’ll keep getting the same thing. Figure out if you need to learn to ride sand better (me) or corner better (me again). Maybe you want to spread your wings a bit and see a big race outside your local scene. Figure out what you can do differently next year to accomplish your goals or to go beyond them. I like to have clients do this long enough after the season that they have some perspective on things but not so far out that it’s hard to remember the emotions of the season. Make the lists while you’re still fired up about ’cross but not the Monday after your last race such that you’re still in woulda/coulda/shoulda mode.
This is also a great time to talk to a coach, or find one. If you write out your goals as above you’ve already pretty much written a letter to your current coach, or a prospective one. If you plan to stay with your current coach, send them the email and maybe kick some things around. If you deal with me know that I will also ultimately say “that’s cool, email me Jan 1” for all the reasons I’ve outlined above. If you plan to move on to another coach, let your current coach know why, in some form. Then ask around and see who your friends are working with and why. Email those coaches and follow up with a phone call or two. This is great to do now when you have more free time and are looking for a way to take the momentum from this season and parlay it to the next.
For many of us, the season is at a close, but the 2017 season is a long way off. You’re hopefully still fired up about 2016 and want to take that momentum into your next season while it’s still fresh on your mind. I’d encourage you to have a good clean break between this season and next for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t have to be an idle season, and nor should it be. Instead focus on other things that will help you lay a solid foundation for your next season and those to come.
Have your best cyclocross season ever with all of our Training and Technique Tuesday pieces here from coaches Mayhew, Adam Myerson and Kenneth Lundgren and others. Can’t get enough? See our Cyclocross Academy and Cyclocross 101 articles here.