Toolbox: When to Begin?
It’s December and the middle of the holiday season. It also signifies the heart of the road cycling offseason. Most athletes have established their winter activities and training programs. They are busy doing things like yoga, indoor cycling classes, Pilates, cross fit, or anything else that has a traditional offseason focus.
I know as most people go through this holiday madness; the 2012 race season seems “miles” away. But make no mistake about it, once the calendar ticks over to 2012, it’s like someone turns on a light switch and the focus on next season takes on a sense of urgency. This can lead to asking yourself a very important question: When to begin serious training for the 2012 road season. Let’s look at some important points that can help influence your decision:
Timing and choice of your first goal
Here in Northern California, the first race of the season is on New Year’s Day. YES, January 1st. It’s a 4 mile hill climb that starts at 10 a.m. – just enough time to get through your hangover! Racing starts in earnest in early February and continues through early-October.
Your first, and, arguably, your most important choice is when you are going to do your first race or event (if you are a recreational cyclist) that you are going to treat with seriousness. Racers talk about “practice races.” This doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean that you won’t try your hardest during the race to win. It simply means that you will not do a taper in preparation for the event. Training races should be done to prepare your body for the stresses of racing (‘you gotta race to race.’) When your first event occurs will determine when it is time to start training in earnest.
The type of event you decide to do will also determine what type of training you should be doing.
Be ready mentally to commit
Every year, after our athletes take their offseason break, we ask one simple question. Are you ready to commit to your program for the season? Physically, unless you were over-trained, it really doesn’t take that long to be physically ready to go.
It’s the motivational side that needs time to recharge. Your offseason routine can continue while you begin a committed cycling program for 2012, but again, be ready to focus your energies on the road ahead. It takes enormous effort and time to be successful in cycling and the last thing you want to hear are riders complaining about training in February!
So make sure you are ready to go, motivated and prepared for the long haul. Different athletes require more time than others to get back that edge. There is no right or wrong amount of time, as each individual is different. Perhaps different events trigger your commitment like the holiday’s being over or going back to school for the second semester. Whatever it is, just be prepared to give 100% to yourself and your coach.
History repeating itself
There is no exact time to start this process without giving it some thought. You can use your training history to help fine-tune the date. Look at past years and see if you started too early, too late, or just on time. For example, let’s say that you have a major goal in mid-April. You know that it takes you about 6-8 weeks of consecutive training weeks to prepare you for racing. Throw in a couple races as prep for the April event and you can pretty much estimate about February 1 would be about the right time, give or take a week or so. The good thing about this process is that it forces you to look at what works for you and not everyone else. It forces you to be self-aware as an athlete and there is no better characteristic than that!
What are the primary goals?
It’s such a clichй and sometimes overused, but do not go into the beginning of your serious training without particular goals. I like to separate goals into two specific buckets; training and racing. Because of the nature of bike racing, training goals are usually more in your control, like improving your watts per kilo in the threshold test or your FTP in a field test. Race goals are a little bit more ambiguous, because so much is out of your control in a bike race.
You also have to look at when your goals take place to help structure your season. Last year and as well as this year, Master’s Nationals are in September. I don’t think I have ever recalled them being so late. This of course, presents a unique approach to the season when you are starting your serious training now or in January. September is almost 10 months away!! You get the point, you must think about the big picture and structure your season in a way that allows you to be motivated, fresh and feeling good NEXT FALL!
Temper the enthusiasm
Having been in the sport for a very long time, a point I’d like to stress is engage in some restraint. This time of year is filled with enthusiasm for the upcoming season. It’s the time when teams fill out their rosters, have a lot of group rides together, meetings, planning, and fun, etc. One of the key characteristics of a successful rider is being focused on doing what’s right for them. Make sure you look at your program and do the proper work for you. Make sure you are doing what is going to make you successful this upcoming year. I realize there is a strong social component to cycling. We don’t want to take that away, we just want to make sure that you are taking part in a training program that allows you to get the best out of yourself. It’s called being self-disciplined.
This is an exciting time of the year. In a way, it’s the bike racers “spring” as the season starts to bloom. Just take some precaution to plan the year with some thought, including when it will all begin. A good plan will help guide you to realistic goals that are attainable. Attainable goals lead to achievement, which brings a lot more fun and satisfaction.
Ride safe, ride strong,
Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past 11 years, he and his experienced team have helped athletes of all levels achieve their goals in the great sport of bike racing thru cycling training camps, cycling coaching and performance testing. To contact AthletiCamps, visit their website at www.athleticamps.com or follow them on Twitter.