For most readers, summer riding season is in full swing. Road state championships are approaching and mountain bike series schedules are filled with opportunities to shred. Once these major summer targets are over, Coach Chris Mayhew recommends doing one of the hardest things for many cyclists: take a break. Overtraining is a very real problem many cyclists face as the miles add up.
Today for Training Tuesday we are revisiting a piece that is relevant this time every year.
But first, Coach Mayhew has covered topics ranging from threshold workouts to hiring a coach to lifting weights. Now he wants to hear from you for a first-ever Coach Mayhew Training Mailbag. Now is your chance to help tailor the next Training Tuesday column.
Coach Chris Mayhew Training Mailbag
Coach Chris Mayhew has contributed a lot to our cycling training knowledge, but obviously not even he can cover every topic readers want to hear about. Fortunately, he wants to hear what you are interested in learning more about for a first-ever mailbag column. Ask away on any topic, and he will do his best to answer your questions in a future edition of Training Tuesday.
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Taking a Summer Break to Prepare for ‘Cross Season
By: Chris Mayhew
You’ll recall this series of articles started with an article about taking a break. But that was six months ago! Hopefully you’ve been doing a lot of racing and training since then. But nothing lasts forever, and it’s time for a break yet again. This time the motivations and goals are different, with the idea being to start moving the focus from summer riding & racing to ‘cross and ‘cross specific preparation. And I realize this article is early in the summer road/MTB season. But this is one of the critical areas of ‘cross prep that takes the most planning. Hopefully you can start thinking now about how to implement this in another month or so.
First, let’s define what I mean by a break. I mean five to 10 days of minimal intensity, no racing and a lack of structure. Skip your intervals, ride whatever bike has been getting dusty, and feel free to not ride as many days as you like. How long a break you take is up to you. The more you’ve been training, in terms of volume, the longer your break should be. If you’re doing six to seven hours a week maybe you only need a long weekend off. If you’ve been doing a lot of racing or 15-hour weeks I’d suggest something like seven to 10 days including one weekend day off the bike.
The biggest objection is that you’ll lose fitness. I promise you that you won’t. That sort of detraining takes more like two weeks to really set in. Even if you do lose some fitness, I’d always much rather have a client who’s a little behind schedule on fitness but motivated to train, rather than a client as fit as they’ve ever been but wanting to take a nap rather than do some ‘cross-specific intensity. There are a lot of object lessons in this too. Always beware the person who breaks a bone in June or July and is forced off the bike. They will be flying by the time ‘cross season comes around. Yes, it’s going to feel weird doing “nothing.” But learn to embrace that uncertainty as much as you would that copper taste in your mouth on the last lap of ‘cross race.
So why take a break? You’ve probably spent the summer riding as much as you can. With the good weather and late sunsets that’s pretty easy to do. Maybe you’ve been racing gravel, road or MTB. All of those long miles have developed a huge aerobic engine that can ride all day. But what we’ll need shortly is a well-tuned engine that can do multiple short bursts over races of 30 to 60 minutes. It’s a very different sort of fitness that takes a lot of dedicated work. But it’s the sort of work that takes someone who is well rested and isn’t carrying a lot of fatigue from previous training. You need to feel springy, motivated, antsy. You can’t do that if you’re tired. Reducing volume lets you recover from all the hard training you’ve done and lays the groundwork to let you absorb the next round of training.
When to take a break? If possible I’d schedule it around whatever your family is doing. Instead of freaking out about not being able to ride on vacation, or trying to do workouts on unfamiliar roads, just leave the bike at home. Enjoy whatever it is that’s on the agenda. Focus on being present with those around you and strengthening those bonds. You’re going to be gone every weekend for almost three months. Try and balance that out with some dedicated focused time with the people around you. If you don’t have a vacation planned, find or program a gap in your schedule where you can take a weekend off from racing, typically late July, roughly eight weeks before your cross season kicks off in earnest.
What to do during your break, now what you’re going to have a few free hours on your hands? The main thing I emphasize to clients is getting your bike ready for the season. My bike has sat untouched in the basement since my last race at Capitol Cross. I am sure it needs new cables and housing. Perhaps headset bearings or chainrings. Take the extra time and get your bike in good running order. Or drop it off at the shop now to give them plenty of time to get it in good working order. But you need that bike to be working hopefully by August 1st (roughly). So don’t wait till July 31st to look at it. Now is also the time to take stock of the rest of your ‘cross equipment, including clothing, shoes, helmet and see what needs to be replaced or repaired.
It’s a long summer of sunny days and long miles in the sun. It’s what we all think of when we think of what we like about riding bikes. But ‘cross is not too far off and it’s time to start thinking about how to prepare for it. One of the foundations of that preparation is taking some down time to rest, recuperate and refocus on the specificity of training that cross requires. Start thinking about when and how to take that break now so that when the time comes you’re ready for what is typically one of the harder aspects of training to deal with.
Can’t get enough? Browse all of our Training and Technique Tuesday pieces here from coaches Mayhew and others. Mayhew expects to contribute Training Tuesday installments every two weeks in the off-season.