End of season – Rest & recovery
You have no doubt been training hard, racing and being ‘on it’ since January or maybe even earlier. You’re even probably thinking ahead to next year. But stop. Rest & recovery from training and racing is so important for cyclists and triathletes. Now is the ‘off season’, so what’s the best way to handle this time in the year?
There have been different schools of thought over the years, the traditionalist view, when the season was relatively defined from February to October was that riders would hang up their wheels for as long as two months. They would then get back to the staple of ‘long base endurance rides’ in January and February, then straight into racing.
However, as the calendar of races has developed over the years the season has stretched out. Just think of the pro Calendar that starts with the Tour Down Under straight after the New Year and goes deep into October. There’s hardly any ‘off season’. Back in the ‘90’s early 2000’s, the guy we all love to hate, Lance Armstrong, started to change things. He was a strong proponent of virtually no break. His view was, “my athletic career will be finite (*probably shorter than he thought then in the end!), I want to maximise my career and build on year on year”. This approach is arguably fine for a full time athlete with a defined career plan and a limited ‘life expectancy’. For most of us amateurs with full time jobs, families and other interests it’s much harder, and makes less sense.
Most dedicated athletes (at whatever level from World Champions to Club riders) will have sacrificed a lot over the year:
- Time with family
- Maybe nights out or events due to training or racing
- Potentially been fairly strict with diet and alcohol
- Lived to a strict schedule of eat, work, train, sleep with some me / family time thrown in!
- Asked a lot of loved ones / parents / friends to support them, follow their lead by no doubt sacrificing some of the above as well.
With all that in mind it makes absolute sense to take a few weeks, even a month off the ‘treadmill’ and have some proper rest & recovery.
What does ‘time off’ mean’?
Living to the schedule above it’s very likely that your training plan and racing season will have been a high priority in the year. Putting it above and over ruling some other things in your life. SO now is the time de-prioritise and remove some structure.
Athletes are creatures of habit, they need to be to succeed. But that very ‘routine’ can be stressful and monotonous. Taking a break from it can do wonders physically and mentally.
Therefore, change your priorities. Visit the family and friends you have missed through the season, enjoy some late nights and lie ins, do all the things you never normally do. Break the routine – it will leave you raring to get back to it when you do.
Do something different as well. Just because you are in rest & recovery mode means you don’t HAVE to do nothing. Do what you feel like. It may be a gorgeous autumnal day and you fancy a spin in the lanes so do it! Turn the power meter / Garmin off and enjoy it just as a bike ride. Maybe try some mountain biking, cyclo-cross, running or swimming. You are an active person so you probably can’t just stop. And that’s fine.
The key thing here is the change in routine. Before you know it you will be back training and looking towards next season goals.
Use this rest & recovery time also for some proactive analysis, self reflection and planning.
Time for reflection
This rest & recovery period is a great time to look back over your season’s targets:
• Did you meet them?
– If so what went well, how could you get even better?
– If not, why not?
• Analyse the good and the bad races – why were they so? What markers are there in the build up, the way you were feeling or performing that sign post areas for improvements?
• Analyse your kit – have you the best you can afford? Where are the most cost effective gains to be made from? (*see a future blog post where I discuss this in detail)
• Plan – start to formulate your goals and plans for next season. Funnel your goals. For example, let’s say your goal is to ride a sub 50min 25m TT, and this year you rode a 51min:
– The % improvement is relatively small at 2% improvement in time to hit your goal
– Power wise you would need to be developing about 20w more to make that up on a like for like course, so how do you access that?
- What opportunities are there in your fitness level and specificity of your fitness?
- What opportunities are there in your kit or position to ‘save’ 20w #freespeed?
- Course targeting – where are the ‘fast rides done’? You probably need to be (if you weren’t already) on the R25 course in South Wales, or one of the fast courses on the E2. When are these races (approximately)?
- Start to, with your coach, or in your own macro season, plan and work out when the key races are and identify these as areas to ‘peak’ for.
Now one of the biggest questions (and worries) I’m asked when I recommend resting is – “I’ve worked so hard for that fitness won’t I lose it all so quickly? I can’t bear resting as it will be so hard to get back!”
So I am going to answer this both empirically, using numbers, and subjectively.
It’s been proven that top end speed and power wains fairly fast in periods of inactivity or reduced focus on this style of training. But the reverse is also true, that when refocusing on this speed and power, it will come back quickly from a solid training base. We don’t need those peak power numbers and capability now, unless you have a specific winter focus, be it hill climbs, cyclo-cross or some other winter discipline. So if we are building to your peak now, your ‘end of season’ may well be February or March. But the same R&R principles apply.
Base endurance fitness reduces at a much slower rate (as it does to build the same fitness).
Let’s look at this graphically. Coincidentally, this is my own PMC (Performance Management Chart) from Training Peaks. From a fitness high at the time of the UK National 24hr TT Championships in July, my base fitness (CTL) the blue line has been reducing. This was part planned, and part a function of recovery and some illness.
But let’s look across where the white box is.
As of today (end of September) my CTL fitness is around 120. If I was to do absolutely nothing for a month, this would reduce in half to around 65. My base fitness would be as high as it was in January this year when I started a conscious and deliberate build to this seasons goals.
So a month of rest & recovery and recharging (mentally and physically), catching up with friends and family, planning and enjoying a lack of structure would leave me in a great place.
I could (and have before) continued and flat lined my fitness over this period and then looked to build again. The challenge with this is that there is no break. I would never stop. I learnt from bitter experience in the past that I cannot maintain this focus ‘ad infinitum’. If and when I have tried I have often found I ‘crashed’ in the Summer and lost my head at the key time in the racing season. The time I needed it most. My best ever season came after an enforced six week lay off due a bad mountain biking injury in October. This for me is some great anecdotal evidence to back up the importance of this break – although doing it the way I did it was not ideal!
So take a break and treat yourself to some good rest & recovery time! Don’t feel guilty and Don’t get hung up on the ‘loss of fitness’ and the associated worries in your head. The numbers tell a story and the positive effects mentally and physically FAR outweigh the fitness loss. Your family will appreciate it and it’s time to pay back some of the ‘debt’ you will have built up over the year! Use the time wisely and plan and head into the winter training recharged and raring to go.