Ahhh, it’s September. College Football, the NFL is starting for real and a nip of fall is in the air as the temperatures cool at night and the humidity drops. It’s just about the time for the road weary cyclists to turn his thoughts to…wait for it…wait for it…CYCLOCROSS!
What?! Wait a minute friend. You’ve been at this stuff for a full year. Remember? You finished your season last year in mid September. You took a few weeks to just enjoy riding a bike without your power meter and heart rate monitor. Maybe you did a couple of club century rides, making sure to stop for the strawberry rhubarb pie and apple fritters along the route. You played a couple of rounds of golf on some gorgeous autumn afternoons because everyone knows the best time to golf is after Labor Day when the masses are off the course and you can zip around in cart or walk a round by yourself and never see another soul on the course but for an occasional worker from the greens keeping crew.
Then, November came and with it, you began to build your fitness for the upcoming season. You worked out on the trainer, lifted weights, took some hard spin classes and put in some hellish long weekends on the trainer to get up to 15 hours a week on the bike. When the weather warmed enough to venture outside, you made the most of it, logging 4-6 hours of road time because you didn’t know when the next time would come that the weather would allow you to ride outside.
Then March came and so did the racing season and you’ve done more than 50 races. It’s been a good year but you’re starting to show signs of fatigue. The power meter is showing lower numbers each effort. Your legs never really seem to clear the lactic acid during races and your attacks just aren’t crisp any more. It’s time to take a break.
But, all you can think about is cyclocross. Hey, give yourself a rest. Remember your winning formula from last year. Leisurely bike rides, golf, toss that power meter to the curb and stop pushing…just for a bit.
Most of those hard core ‘cross racers didn’t put in serious road seasons. Sure there are the rare few who are able to move right from the road to the mud and kick butt every step of the way but remember – they’re the exception, not the rule and besides – most of the time, those guys weren’t really on top form until July. They plan it that way. They’re resting too but just doing it later than you are. If you’re a dedicated road racer going hard from February to October, you can’t jump directly into another racing season and expect to be effective. You need to recover. Here’s how.
- Keep yourself out of Zone 4 and 5 when you ride. Keep things conversational. It’s important to not allow yourself to completely lose fitness but if you continue pushing, you’ll pay for it with fatigue in April. Not good.
- Absolutely take a day off – especially when the weather is beautiful. Take a walk in the woods with your dog, play some golf, go kayaking, fishing—anything but riding a bike. It will do wonders for your mental recovery too.
- If you can stand it – do some running. Use some different muscle groups
- Take a yoga class that emphasizes stretching and core strength
- Go to the gym and work on your depleted upper body. Save the weight lifting with your legs for later. Cyclists need to have some shoulder, back and core muscles too.
- Take up a hobby like cooking or baking. Challenge yourself to see how many Bob’s Red Mill grains and flours you can use.
- Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep at night. The HGH your body produces during deep sleep is invaluable to helping you recover after a long season
- Go ahead and enjoy some ‘cross racing. Why not? Most people see it as a mental break from the road season. It’s okay to have the occasional push, hard effort and have people ring cow bells in your ears. Knock yourself out, but if you do a full ‘cross season, remember to take your recovery and rest period into the late winter before you start building for the road season.
Remember, even when you’re well trained and race fit and the efforts you make in races seem – well, effortless – you’re putting a lot of stress on your body and unless you give yourself a chance to recover both physically and mentally after a long season you’ll never really be able to reach peak performance next season.