Whether you're right on target, a little behind, or even a little overdone, you can still make this your best season by following these simple suggestions (in no particular order):
1. Set clear, specific goals with a plan on how to achieve them. You must take the time to carefully plan and periodize your training. By setting clear goals, you can build your training around your goals, rather than vice versa.
2. Optimize your training by having a real plan. Use the sage advice of a coach (or even the feedback of a power meter). A reputable coach can save you a great deal of time and heartache by giving you something most self-coached athletes lack: objectivity. It can also free up your mind and time by taking the guesswork out of your training plan.
3. Use your power meter, if you own one. I can't stress the importance of using a power meter as much as possible, particularly during races. Unfortunately, many riders get wrapped up in the gee-whiz factor of a power meter and the bike-weight phobia during races, turning possibly the greatest training tool into just another wasted purchase. Unless you're fully committed to using a power meter, you're better off without.
4. Improve your bike-handling skills, particularly if you're new to the sport. Encourage your club to take an active role in developing new riders by utilizing experienced members or qualified coaches to promote a skills clinic. I can't think of a better way to improve rider morale, increase membership and enhance everyone's safety by practicing a range of bike-handling skills, as well as tactical skills like lead-outs.
5. Avoid the training race trap. The local training race--most training races being competitive group rides--can be your greatest enemy, trapping you in an endless cycle of suffering and recovery with no long-term improvement. Plan the season properly and use training races appropriately to avoid this trap.
6. Don't forget about recovery. Too many riders forget that the body needs adequate time to adapt to training, often riding too hard on recovery rides and ignoring rest days. Recover better, train better.
7. Enjoy your bike by taking some time to go for a ride once in awhile, rather than always training.
8. Maintain your bike or it might let you down when you need it the most. A clean, well-oiled machine not only looks fast, it breaks down less. Take some time to show your bike some love.
9. Don't forget the fun. We all have a tendency to lose sight of the bigger picture. While the race itself may not be fun, it should be a source of satisfaction and enjoyment on some level. If not, a little personal reflection on why your race is in order.
10. Take a break during the season. A little vacation time keeps both the body and mind fresh, and your significant other happy. If you're like me, the bike is rarely far away, but a week away from the bike can be the best thing for you. Moreover, it's common for us to make bigger gains the second half of the season if we've given the body some rest.
Whether you take to heart some or all of these points is up to you, but the time you take to reflect may in itself lead to greater personal growth. Until next time, keep the rubber side down.
Chris Harnish, M.S., is an exercise physiologist and coach living and working in Cape Cod. In addition to his coaching work with The Peaks Coaching Group, Harnish runs Tradewind Sports, which offers a variety of services including performance testing, training products and international racing opportunities. In 2004, Harnish ran New England's top Junior Team, which included the top ranked New England Junior and qualified a rider for Junior Worlds. He is a Category 1 road cyclist with Colavita Racing.