I noticed on facebook recently a number of friends and a few pros saying "season over!" Indeed we have arrived to the "off season" for more than a few of us. If you are racing 'cross, you're on a different plan. For the rest of us, off season has different meanings. For some, its time completely off the bike. For others it means switching to your mountain bike or some other sport. What should you be doing right now to get refreshed without digging yourself too deep a hole?
After the racing season, its important to give yourself a physical and mental break from organized training and the stresses of racing. All that accumulated fatigue takes a toll on your central nervous system, adrenal glands and immune system. Its important to take time at the end of your season, no matter when it is, to recharge your "batteries." This will not only refresh you physically but mentally too.
So, what should you be doing? TIme off can take many appearances. Whatever you choose to do, it should be about allowing yourself to relax a little bit, not worry about structure or training plans and allow your body to recover from the rigours of all those miles and hours.
Many of you have been pursuing organized training and racing since February or March. Thats 7 or 8 months with a grand total of maybe 14 days of "rest." I've said it many times but, to most cyclists (endurance athletes in general) rest is figuratively and literally a 4 letter word. This is your time to not let rest create anxiety for you. You NEED this time to rebalance your body. You've been wildly out of balance and you can take this time to enjoy yourself too.
When I was racing, my dad was a doc and he studied up on endurance sports and training. He used to say that we could put down the "living like a monk" and actually have a few cheeseburgers and fries. I loved the idea of "doctor endorsed" junk food. It doesn't mean you can go hog-wild on the looser dietary options BUT, it does mean that you should take steps to restore some of your fat stores and not feel guilty about it! In general you can loosen up somewhat for a few more weeks but, don't dig the hole TOO deep.
If you DO choose to continue with riding, make it fun. Take off your HR monitor or power meter. Just go out and enjoy riding for the sake of riding (remember that?). I think fall riding is some of the best riding so, go enjoy it without having zone requirements or time limits creating anxiety. Riding should be unstructured and low in intensity. No hard efforts. Save that stuff for later.
What I suggest to my riders is 1 week of total time off the bike and then an additional two weeks of unstructured riding and/or cross training. Not more than 2 weeks off of exercise though. If you let it go too long, you can actually experience too significant a detraining effect which would mean you're coming in at a lower level of fitness than is desirable.
So, to recap --
- Only 1 week of no activity
- Cheeseburgers good
- 2 additional weeks of loose training of some variety
- Refresh mentally and physically
- Try to have some fun darnit
Many of the athletes I work with will also be beginning a winter strength training plan. This plan will be geared specifically for cyclists and will be coordinated with their riding to keep overall work load managable. For more information on that you can email me. email@example.com