Whether you’re done for the season or getting ready for Worlds, a mountain bike or road season, taking a physical and mental break is critical. It’s a topic we’ve covered before, and one that Mathieu van der Poel’s physio has surfaced recently in talking about his client’s nonstop season.
CXM columnist Lee Waldman is back with his own perspective on the topic, honed from years of experience and sharpened with the 2021 USA Cycling National Championships. Enjoy his latest column below.
I began writing this column before Nationals. My race didn’t go the way that I had hoped, so it took me some time to get back to it. Unless you’re one of those few elite riders heading to Europe, or one of the lucky few to still have local racing in January and February, it’s time for rest and recuperation.
It’s taken me years to learn this lesson, and of all the pieces of my training regimen, I’m positive that it’s been the hardest one for me to learn and to put into practice. It’s the time of year for gift giving. Here’s my New Year’s gift to you, in the form of some hard-earned advice. Rest!
Now I consider myself a relatively bright person. I’d like to say that I’m good at resting, but it would be a lie and I try not to lie. It’s beyond me as to why I struggle so mightily to allow myself the time off that not only do I deserve but that my legs and my head tell me I need. I can say that when I allow myself to rest, I reap the benefits of better training and better racing. Those of you who aren’t yet “old” might ignore my advice. And you’ll get away with it because. . . you’re young. You don’t wake up with the aches, pains, and stiffness that we OGs experience.
We all believe, when we’re young, that nothing can slow us down, that rest is for old people. That may be true. For those of you who are reading this and saying to yourself, “I may be one of those old people” ask yourself if you’re listening to the messages you’re receiving from your body. It’s begging for some time off. Don’t ignore it. Don’t make the same mistakes that I’ve made over the years. Back off! If you need to ride, ride for fun. Put away the power meter for a day. See how you feel afterward and then make an informed decision about the importance of rest in your training plan.
Gift number #2: Give yourself additional time for some reflection. We’ve been through the wringer so to speak over the last two years. There have been times I’m sure when finding anything positive in the world might have seemed impossible (I’ll stop here since this isn’t a political diatribe). It’s been that way for me. I needed to force myself to look at my season, to look at my life, and to search out the positive.
Nationals were in many ways, a disappointment for me. I finished much lower in the results than I had expected going in. It took some soul searching, some careful analysis of not only the race, but the entire season building up to it, and some simple, yet sage advice from Jacob, my coach. After patiently listening to my Nationals replay, including all of the reasons that I didn’t ride up to my potential, here was his response (Warning: some of you may not like to hear this).
The importance of Nationals is overblown. It’s only one race in the course of a season.
He encouraged me to look back over the entirety of this past year’s racing cross. He pointed out the good races, the growth in fitness, the improvements in technique. He permitted me to figuratively pat myself on the back. It helped tremendously.
In the weeks and days leading up to Nationals, I found myself growing increasingly nervous. As I thought about the race my stomach clenched and all of my muscles tensed. Not a good way to go into any race situation. Certainly not Nationals. One race had grown out of control in importance. It was a recipe for disaster, which is what it turned out to be. Why am I sharing this with you? I’m not asking for sympathy or even understanding. It’s my other gift to you this year.
My advice: Take a minute and breathe. Breathe, focusing on nothing else but your breath. Then, look at this past season as a whole and allow yourself to focus on what you did well. It’s not about results. It’s certainly not about the number of races you won. It’s more about how you grew as an athlete and as a person. I’m betting that if each of us looks at this past season from that perspective, there isn’t one of us who wouldn’t say that racing cyclocross in 2020 and 2021 was a success.
My list of gifts to you all could go on and on, but I think I’ll end with this one. It’s simple really. We are all blessed with the ability to swing a leg over the top tube and ride a bike. It seems so mundane, so easily accomplished, but stop for a minute and think of the multitude of people who can’t, for a variety of reasons, do what we take for granted. Appreciate what a gift that is. Smile, breathe and go for a ride.
Happy New Year!