Opening Up for the Big Day

A common choice riders are faced with is whether to train through a week when there are races on the weekend, or pull up on training early to be better rested for the weekend's events. How to make those choices, and how to structure your training based on your choice, is based on a lot of variables. How important are the races? How important is the long-term fitness you're trying to build? What kind of training are you doing, or what kind of period are you in? And if you do rest, how do you make sure you feel your best on race day?

A typical weekly schedule might include a recovery day on Monday, sprints on Tuesday, threshold intervals on Wednesday, and a longer endurance day with some tempo work on Thursday, and another recovery day on Friday. The weekend might consist of two days of racing, or a light workout on Saturday followed by a race on Sunday, or maybe group rides both days. Whatever the structure, many riders notice that they feel better on the second day of training or racing, even if they finish the first day tired. It's not unusual to rest Friday and then feel flat or blocked on Saturday but feeling and riding much better on Sunday.

There are essentially three possible scenarios for how you come in to a race weekend after training mid-week: you can discover you needed more recovery and show up tired, you can have just the right amount of recovery and feel great, or you can rest too much and feel shut down. It can take a lot of experience to tell the difference between being over or under rested, and they can sometimes feel the same. But there are strategies for accounting for all scenarios, and controlling how you feel on race day.

First, you have to decide how important your weekend events are. If they aren't particularly important you and long term training is more valuable than your racing performance, you can train through the week as planned, knowing that Friday's rest day before the weekend might not be enough for you to be fully recovered by Saturday. You have to know how you're currently riding and how well you've been recovering, as well as the level of the race, to be able to calculate how much of a risk that is. In the early season when you're fresh and the training is primarily aerobic, it's not such a big risk. Later in the season when you're recovery system is slowing down but your racing days are more frequent and the intensity levels high, the risk increases.

If, however, you have important races on the weekend that you really want to be fresh and riding well for, but you haven't planned them as a specific peak in your season, you can still tweak your schedule a bit to make the most out of the form you have, and finish as much training as you can get away with during the week. This can be as simple as moving your recovery day to Thursday, and trading that for an opening up workout on Friday, ahead of Saturday's race. I'll explain the opener in more detail below

You can push that exchange even further as the priority of the event increases in value over training by taken an extra recovery day on the front end of things as well. If you raced twice on the weekend, taking one day of recovery for every day of racing is an excellent general guide. 1-2 hours easy on Monday and Tuesday will generally leave you healed and refueled from the weekend, and free to do a workout Wednesday based on your strengths, weaknesses, ability level, and upcoming race goals.

The post-recovery day, pre-race day opening up workout is really the main focus of this article, even though it's taken us a while to get there. Here we've talked about it being on Friday ahead of a Saturday race, but really it could be any day of the week, and related only to when the race you're trying to feel good for happens. Assuming you've taken at least one recovery day, but possibly more, the idea is that you're rested, but also want to avoid the feeling of being shut down or blocked. You want to finish the workout feeling better than when you started, but stop before you start to feel tired, or before doing more work than you can recover from overnight. You don't need to do a lot: 1-2 hours is enough for most people, with 10-15 minutes of tempo, 10-15 minutes of threshold, and 3 out of the saddle sprints in a gear you can jump on, but spin out in 8-15 seconds.

With this approach, you'll only end up with one or two hard days of training and racing and one day of opening up work, as opposed to three full training days. In the big picture, it's clearly not a big sacrifice and won't put a big dent in your training. What it will do is leave you with just a little extra energy going into the weekend and help you avoid the disappoitnment and potenital overtraining that comes from racing tired.