Step 2: Determine if you can achieve those goals.
Obviously, if you're flying high with great achievements it's easy to take a little break and then build back up to great achievements. If, however, you are falling short to some degree, or simply trying to finish, then a more significant break may be needed.
Figure 1 below offers a simplistic graphic model to rate yourself. Depending on where you are on the spectrum, it will determine what kind of break you need (e.g., easy week or more extensive rest), as well as whether you can make good on the rest of your goals or if you need to scale back your objectives.
Figure 1 - This is a simple paradigm for assessing your current physical and psychological state. Our best results usually come when we are physically fit/strong and highly motivated. In contrast, it's highly unlikely to achieve anything meaningful when both are low. However, this is a simplistic model (with numerous intricacies within each rating) and each athlete must assess why they rank where they do.
In addition, some of the worst cases of overtraining occur with athletes who are struggling physically but continue to have high motivation; these athletes can find themselves on a long road to recovery.
Step 3: Rest."What do I mean by rest? Lie down, drink beer and smoke? No."
- Eddie B
The above quote is ideal for this discussion, because rest is a relative term. Certainly, if you're severely over-trained, sick, or just plain sick of riding, doing nothing might be a good thing.
For most of us, though, unstructured alternatives to riding are what we need, along with some fun and maybe even a little bad food. The idea is to forget the training plan and racing tactics and just enjoy yourself.
Hiking, mountain biking, work around the house, whatever it takes to get your mind away from the sport, as well as some definite rest time, will leave you feeling "hungry" to return to training. Each athlete is different, so finding the ideal "break strategy" can take some time.
Below are a few common practices:
1) Plan for a single major peak for the middle or late season and spend most of the year building towards that goal. Hold on to your form as long as possible or even until the end of the season and then take a month or two doing some other activity, or perhaps nothing.
2) Schedule a week-long break after each major goal race, regardless of whether you were successful, or after each major race block.