Hang on to that Form

While it might be approaching cyclo-cross season for some of us, just as many still have a month or two of road or mountain bike racing left to their season. This late in the year it's very difficult to find the energy or motivation to train hard unless you've take an extended break in the summer. If you started your season sometime last winter there may not be any form left for you to acquire this year, and all the improvements you can make have been made. So, how then to approach the remaining events and avoid completely cracking or burning out?

The key is recognizing that for the most part you don't have to train anymore. With only a month left in the racing season it's too late to try to build fitness; heavy training runs too high a chance of having to pull the plug because of fatigue. You've been making deposits in your form bank all year; now's the time to make some withdrawals. You have to accept the level of form you have and turn your attention not to getting faster or stronger, but simply maintaining fitness and feeling good on race day.

The first step is to focus all your attention on recovering fully from a weekend of racing. If you've raced hard on Saturday and Sunday, before you even consider training again you need to be completely healed from the efforts you made. Late in the year your ability to recover quickly is diminished. A race that might have only taken one easy day to bounce back from might now take two or more. If you're not in a rush to squeeze in workouts during the week, you now have the luxury of perhaps taking a day completely off and as a minimum having Monday and Tuesday as easy, active recovery rides of 1-2 hours. You might find that it takes you the entire week before you finally feel like you could push the pedals hard again. Don't panic if that's the case. Again, you're not trying to force anything out of your body now, but are instead trying to work with what it's got.

Assuming you're recovered after the extra day of rest on Tuesday, Wednesday might be your only real training day of the week. Wednesday is ideal because it's far enough after the weekend to recover from the races, and early enough before the weekend to recover from the training. When you're in this maintenance mode, Wednesday's workout should consist primarily of threshold-oriented work, but can include a little of everything. The tricky part is doing enough to maintain your form, but not so much that it's too difficult to recover. Keeping the work mostly around threshold is one way to assure that you won't do any damage you can't heal from without a good meal and a quality night's sleep. A fast group ride or training race that doesn't push you over your limit might also be a good choice, since it allows you to do short and long efforts around threshold in a fun environment. You still want to avoid digging deep, however, and know when it might be best to let the group go and ride home easy.

From there, the focus should be on fully recovering from the training. Wednesday's workout shouldn't even happen if you're still feeling sluggish, and there's nothing wrong with continuing the active recovery. In either case, Thursday and Friday will look just like Monday and Tuesday: 1-2 easy hours of active recovery. Even if you feel you could have trained again on Thursday, that's not the point. Again, you're not trying to build more form. Resting on Thursday is a crucial part of being recovered for the weekend. You don't want to light all your matches during the week at the time of year when the book starts to get a little thin. 

If you're racing an important event on Saturday, you might only rest Thursday and do some opening up work on Friday to get yourself jumpstarted for the weekend. With the extra rest during the week, the opening up workout on Friday or Saturday becomes more important than at other times of the year. You don't want your body to shut down, and after two days of rest that's exactly how you might start to feel. The opening up workout can sometimes be the most painful one of the week for that reason. It's important to recognize when you feel blocked because you've taken some extra rest as opposed to when you feel weak because you haven't recovered enough. It can be a difficult distinction to make, but if you know you've had 4 of the past 5 days easy, you can be confident that you've recovered and opening up is what you need.

The opening up ride should again consist of a little work in each zone, just enough to activate all your energy systems. 15-30 minutes of steady tempo, 5-15 minutes at LT, and 3-5 sprints is enough to get things rolling. If you're on track, you should feel better and better with each effort. At the same time, be sure to end the workout at the first sign of fatigue.

This should leave you fresh, strong, and open for race day, where you can put 100% into your competetive effort with no holds barred. You won't be physically or mentally tired from a hard week of training, and your metabolism should be rolling from the workout or race the day before. 

The race itself will be sufficiently hard enough to help you keep your fitness in addition to the one workout during the week. With this approach, you should be able to ride off the form you have for 4-6 weeks before you really start to lose form overall and need to train again. On top of that, you won't feel guilty for skipping workouts you didn't need to do anyway. By the time your form really starts to slip away, the season should be over and you can take a full, deep rest of 1-6 weeks with no activity before you get back on the bike or start your off-season routine.