Coach Chris Mayhew heeded his own advice and took a brief break from cyclocross season’s efforts, but the author, racer and coach is back. Whether you raced 2017 Nationals, have road or mountain bike goals or just hope to improve on this past cyclocross season, coach Mayhew of JBV Coaching has some helpful tips to make the most of the offseason in this week’s Training Tuesday piece.
What should I be doing? It’s a question I’ve been getting almost every day from new clients, friends, and clients just coming off cyclocross season. Most of us are pretty driven and like to feel like we’re doing work every day so this time of year can feel discomforting. It’s a long way from next cyclocross season but sitting around isn’t something most of us are good at. I have three suggestions that will get you through the next couple of months till the weather breaks.
If you went to Nationals this year, congratulations. That was one for the books, no matter how your individual race went. If you did go, chill out for a month and don’t feel obligated to do anything but eat and relearn the names of your loved ones. Come back to this column in a month or so. It’ll be here.
If you didn’t go to Nationals then you probably ended your season sometime in mid-December. What’s your next goal? Many people race only cyclocross, so they’re not competing until August or so. Some people race mountain bikes or road during the offseason and will be racing around April in colder climates, or sooner if you live in areas like California, Texas or Florida. If you’re planning on the latter, my first suggestion is to get on some sort of organized plan (created by you or a coach).
The journey from offseason to race shape takes three to four months and you’d do well to get started on that now. That’s particularly important if you plan to race on the road, which is not a lot of fun if you aren’t in razor sharp form, unlike mountain bike racing and cyclocross. Keep in mind the words “journey” and “fitness,” I want to circle back to those in a bit.
“If you did go, chill out for a month and don’t feel obligated to do anything but eat and relearn the names of your loved ones. Come back to this column in a month or so.”
If your main goals for the summer are simply to ride, have fun or do Jeremy Powers’ Grand FUNdo, you have a bit more time on your hands, which is nice. That means there’s less pressure on you to get into shape now when riding often means riding indoors or outside in less-than-desirable conditions. What should you be doing with that time? I’d encourage you to do two things:
One is to do things you haven’t done at all, or want to get back to. Cycling takes place all in one plane of movement and involves relatively few muscles. Anything you can do to develop strength in muscles long ignored (or never developed) is great. Plus, your training load is low right now and shouldn’t be focused on cycling, so you can do things that would normally leave you too tired for cycling. Start lifting weights, do CrossFit, go running, go swimming.
Get started on a yoga program or increase your practice by a few days a week. All of those things encourage strengthening and involve movements you’d never do in cycling, which are good things. Moreover, they let you check that box of “doing work” every day which is good for any athlete’s head while developing a sense of self outside of cycling. A lot of us can get depressed around this time because we’re not riding and that can be related to not getting your endorphin fix from exercise. So get moving in some form that’s not cycling.
Second, I realize that we do like to ride our bikes, and so if you are going to ride your bike, there’s one workout I’d encourage you to incorporate at least once a week: threshold training. The classic version of this workout is two efforts of twenty minutes each at lactate threshold, functional threshold power, or however you choose to anchor your intensity level schema or want to define fitness. If you don’t have an anchor, think about doing a steady time trial for 20-30 minutes and riding at that pace in that manner. (Pro tip: start the effort easier than you think you should and try to increase the effort a small bit every five minutes) I think 2×20 minutes is something to work up to. Start with smaller blocks, but no shorter than 8 minutes. Do 2×8 and add a few minutes to each block every week. When you get to 2×20 then you can think about adding intensity to the workout rather than minutes.
This work is not that exciting and can be somewhat laborious. But it’s the flour to build your cake in the analogy for which I am so fond of using (see Hiring a Coach and Training for Gravel, Embracing Offseason Training and Turning Down Volume and Upping the Power for key steps to that recipe). It takes a long time to build threshold power, on the order of several months, so you’ll need to do a lot of these, which means you should get started now. This is a workout I think you should do 40 weeks out of the year, give or take.
The hard part about riding your bike right now is that you’re at the beginning of your journey back to regaining fitness you once enjoyed. And for weeks or months of doing threshold workouts, or any ride, you’re not going to be where you were. A lot of people tend to get really down about how fat or out of shape they feel during this time. What they’re doing is comparing where they are or “should be” to where they are right now. I would really encourage you to avoid that mindset. Focus on where you are now and embrace it. Spend your mental energy on figuring out what you can do today, to work towards your goal. No single workout will make or break your season. It’s a large body of work, over weeks and months, that matter.
Think about what you can do today and be happy with yourself when you do that thing. Do you get mad at yourself because you’re not on vacation right now and think poorly of yourself? Or do you figure out a plan of where and when you can go on vacation, look forward to that, and make sure you pack everything you want for that vacation? Look forward to the journey and doing the work. If you’re just looking for results, you won’t last long in this sport because those are far and few between. If you can learn to love the journey and take pleasure in it, you’ll ride your bike for as much of your life as you want to.
“Spend your mental energy on figuring out what you can do today, to work towards your goal. No single workout will make or break your season.”
I think actor/DJ Idris Elba has some good words here in that regard:
Lastly I’d tell you that even if you could get into August form tomorrow, somehow you’d spend all of February thinking you should be fitter or leaner. Learn to be happy where you are and learn to love making small steps to another place, day in and day out.
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. Mayhew expects to contribute Training Tuesday installments every two weeks in the offseason.