4. Train With a Plan
This is fundamental to improvement in almost any endeavor of life, yet few self-trained athletes do it. Realize that all plans can be changed. Yours will not be chiseled into stone. It takes some flexibility to cope with the many factors that will get in your way. These may include a bad cold, overtime at work, unexpected travel, or a visit from family or friends.
I have yet to coach an athlete who didn't have something interfere with the plan. Expect it, but don't be upset. Roll with the punches and change the plan to fit the new situation.
5. Train With Groups Infrequently
There's a real advantage to working out with others—sometimes. For the winter base-building period, find a group that rides at a comfortable pace. During the spring intensity-building period, ride with a group that will challenge you to ride fast, just as when racing.
Smart and structured group rides are hard to find. You may need to create your own. Stay away from big packs that take over the road and are unsafe. You want to get faster, not get killed. Use groups when they can help you. Otherwise, avoid them.
6. Plan to Peak
Your season plan should bring you to your peak for the most important events. I call these "A" races. The "B" races are important, too, but you will not taper and peak for these, just rest for three to four days before. "C" races are tune-ups to get you ready for the A and B races. A smart rider will use these low-priority races for experience, or to practice pacing, or as a time trial to gauge fitness. If all races are A-level priority, don't expect much in the way of results.
7. Improve Weaknesses
What type of training do riders with great endurance, but not much speed, do the most? You guessed it, endurance work. What do good climbers like to do? Not surprisingly, they like to train in the hills. Most cyclists spend too much time working on what they already do well. What's your weakest area? Ask your training partners if you don't know. I'll bet they do. Then spend more time on that area.
8. Trust Your Training
Few of us trust our training when it comes time to race. There's a great fear as the big race approaches that we haven't done enough, so we train right up to race day. I've seen people the day before an important race go out for a long ride or compete in a hard race because they think it will help.
It takes 10 to 21 days of reduced workload for the human body to be fully ready to race, depending on how long and hard the training has been. Cut back before the big races, and you'll do better. Trust me.
9. Listen to Your Body
In the early 1990s, I attended a talk by the former head of the East German Sports Institute. He described how every morning each athlete met with a group of experts—an event coach, a physiologist, a doctor or nurse, and a sports psychologist, for example.
The group checked the athlete's readiness to train that day and made adjustments as necessary to the schedule. The athlete trained only to the level he or she could tolerate that day. Nothing more. If you listen to what the body is saying, you'll train smarter and get faster. Cyclists who train intelligently always beat athletes who train hard.
10. Commit to Goals
After you set your goals, take a look at them and determine how they relate to your lifestyle and training. Determine whether change is needed. Eat nutritious food to not only fuel the body for training, but also to help speed recovery, replenish depleted energy and nutrient stores, and provide the building blocks for a stronger body.
Keep a training log. Record workout details, perceptions of effort, stress signals, race results and analyses, signs of increasing or decreasing fitness, equipment changes, and anything else that describes your daily experience. Most athletes also find that keeping a log provides them with a sharper training focus and more rapid growth toward their goals.