A lot of cyclists start the season with excellent fitness and, generally speaking, maintain that fitness most of the year. But have you noticed how racing in September can get pretty slow and the number of riders at races declines?
There is a certain amount of planning involved in being able to compete in a full season of racing. Many cyclists just look at training on a week-to-week basis. They look at next week's race and try to do some specific training for that race.
This week-to-week approach can be detrimental to season-long fitness. Planning your training on a month-to-month and year-long basis is far more beneficial in maintaining season-long fitness.
This means a little basic planning of rest periods. Endurance athletes often think of "rest" as a four-letter word. True, resting can be hard because as a competitive athlete you are always thinking about what the other guy is doing. How many miles did so-and-so do today?
You don't get faster during hard training; you get faster when you've rested after hard training.
And resting doesn't feel like you're doing anything to make yourself faster. But the truth is, you are. If you're going to train hard, you have to rest hard also. It takes discipline to train, and it takes even more discipline to rest properly.
Why You Get Faster
Training is a game of cycles. Hard training followed by periods of rest. You don't get faster during hard training; you get faster when you've rested after hard training. Read that last sentence again. Hard training breaks you down and then the rest is where your body creates the adaptations to bounce back higher.
So, looking at things from a season-long perspective, it's important to schedule extended breaks into the season where you de-prioritize cycling and try to think about something else for a week. Two to three breaks like this during the season will help to keep you mentally and physically fresh the whole year.
These rest periods ideally are scheduled after a 6 to 8 week period of racing. When I was much younger, I was intent on hitting every race in every part of the U.S. in every part of the season.
One year I was fortunate enough to get an invite to the Olympic trials in Pennsylvania. I had been road racing since February and the trials were in June. I raced and trained my brains out without a break right up to the trials that year and, of course, failed miserably. I couldn't even finish the final criterium that capped off that week of racing.
A friend of mine was a PE teacher who had been coming out to watch me race. After the last event she suggested I come to her house for a week. I agreed, thinking that there were some races I wanted to prepare for. When we got to her place she pulled my car (with the bike in the trunk) into the family's barn and then locked the trunk and then the barn.
Her dad was not the type to argue with about getting those keys back. The first night at her place I slept 12 hours. Then again the next. And the next. I did basically nothing for five days. It drove me insane.
When I finally got the keys and my car back from her dad, I left and went back on the road to race. And the next two weeks of racing I was on fire. I was consistently finishing in the top 10 and, perhaps more importantly, feeling jazzed about racing.
What Laura knew as a PE teacher was how vital a role rest plays in performance. Now as a coach, I can look back at a cyclist's training log and see that they are under-rested and overtrained.
Stay Mentally Sharp
On top of just being physically tired, there is a mental aspect to it as well. Riders can become irritable and depressed as a result of over-training. I can hear it in the voice of an athlete that someone is tired and needs to rest.
It's not possible to stay on the go the whole season. Peaking is only possible two or three times a season. If you want to plan to race well, you need to plan to rest.