Up the power, turn down the volume? No, we’re not talking about car stereos. This week’s Training Tuesday series article by Chris Mayhew of JBV Coaching focuses on perfecting the taper and avoiding training too much as you enter the middle of cyclocross season.
I’ve had the same conversation with three different clients this week, so maybe I should have it with you as well. The most basic thing most clients expect out of their coach is workouts. However, most of my clients, at this point, are only getting one workout a week, maybe two.
“There’s a certain reassurance in being tired.” –Mike Creed
I’ve referenced this great quote before in an earlier column, “The Secret to Success in Cyclocross is Rest and Recovery,” but it’s quite appropriate for today’s post. Bike racers like to train, and they interpret being tired as having done the right thing. So being fresh and rested makes them nervous, and now they have a lot more energy to be nervous with. So let’s talk about why you are tapering and how to deal with the resulting sense of unease.
First, let’s get our bearings. Hopefully you’ve been training a lot these last few months. It’s especially easy to train in the summer and early fall when the weather is nice and the days are long. And the goal is usually “more.” Almost no one rides as much as they want, or sometimes even need to. So as athletes we’re always looking to ring that bell. More watts during an interval or more miles during a ride. And that’s great for aerobic fitness. But as we all know, ’cross is about intensity and accelerations, not steady riding. As I’m fond of putting it, summer is about baking your cake. Six to eight weeks later, you’re putting the icing on it. Your taper and subsequent race and recovery mode is about putting some candles on there and eating that thing!
So what are we doing during this period? The main idea for the taper is to lower volume by quite a bit, say half, while maintaining or even increasing intensity. Why? The reduction in volume allows your body to really recover and absorb (i.e. get faster from) all the training you’ve been doing. The very specific point is not to feel tired all the time.
But you don’t want to just lay in bed for two weeks. The decrease in training volume also allows you to hit the very hard, short intervals that you need for ’cross, so it works well to go hard once during the week and more or less chill the rest of the week.
I’m going to talk about power for a second, but bear with me even if you don’t use those metrics. If you train with a power meter, hopefully you are using the Performance Manager Chart. Ideally your Chronic Training Load peaks a few weeks before the season (meaning you’re doing a lot of training) and then levels off a week or two before race season starts. That results in an increase in your Training Stress Balance, which is a number that quantifies the amount of training you have been doing historically versus the amount you’ve been doing very recently. The idea is if you’ve been doing 10 hours a week, shoot for 6 or 7. You don’t want to stop training, but you do want to do less. The data show that power numbers at short durations (e.g. 5 mins and under) go up under these circumstances, and those shorter numbers are exactly what we are looking at for ’cross and also part of why intensity goes up during the taper.
So, that was kind of long winded. But my point in all of that was to help you have some understanding of the reasoning behind what’s going on, so that you can trust it. Left to their own devices, I think most clients this time of year will try and squeeze in just one more workout, do one more thing, just to feel ready for the weekend. But really, that’s the exact opposite of what we want. You want to be fresh and rested. And really the time to do another workout was a month or two ago, not now. Switch your focus from thinking that being tired equates to doing the right thing, to believing that doing the right thing is doing the right thing. Have some faith in all the hard work you’ve done. If you have a coach, have some faith in them and their expertise. And if you don’t have that confidence, you need to have a conversation with them about those feelings. (As a complete aside, I’ve lost track of the number of times someone has complained about their coach to me but not told their coach. Provide your coach that feedback, it’s the only way they’ll get better.)
“The data show that power numbers at short durations go up under these circumstances, and those shorter numbers are exactly what we are looking at for ’cross and also part of why intensity goes up during the taper.”
I realize a lot of people don’t have a lot of time to train or perhaps they know their pre-season prep didn’t go according to plan. I have yet to be able to manage my August well. To that I would say be judicious in your training, with the above in mind. Make sure you’re recovered from the weekend before you start a weekday workout. That might be Wednesday if you pushed through a hard double weekend or had a tough Monday night with limited sleep. Find a couple of key intervals to focus on and hit those with motivation and intent. But don’t train so hard during the week you don’t feel peppy and ready to go on the weekend. There’s no sense in training so hard you can’t enjoy your weekend racing.
What to do with your nervous energy? Put it into other things. Are your bikes cleaned and washed after every weekend? Have you addressed any mechanical issues that have come up? A great many mechanicals are completely avoidable with routine checks and maintenance and those can affect your results every bit as much as your fitness, if not more so.
Are your bags and all your equipment packed a few days before your event? Any time you feel nervous, find something you can do that, while not a workout, can positively affect your result this weekend.
Also know that if you’re nervous about your tapering or actual lack of training, I think that’s ultimately a good thing. I would always rather have a client that is a little undertrained but motivated and psyched to race and train than a client who is burned out or overtrained. Getting form is pretty straightforward. Righting the ship is hard. So think about the decreased volume of training right now as staying on the safest and easiest path rather than feeling the need to do one more extra workout, which eventually ends poorly.
This time of year, with a heavy race schedule, is not the time for heavy training. Come into races fresh and motivated. Focus on a key workout during the week, maybe two, but let the rest of the week focus on recovery and managing your resources.
Feeling tired often feels reassuring to an athlete. I suggest you let that feeling come on Monday after your race, not the Friday leading into it.
Have your best cyclocross season ever with all of our Training 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.