Off-Season Strategy

In: Just Riding Along, NEWS By: Dirt Rag Magazine On: March 30, 2007

It’s late March of 2007, and the weather has finally taken a turn for the better. Cranking out my first 40-mile road ride in 5 months felt surprisingly good. My pace was not all that aggressive, but I wasn’t exactly soft-pedaling. I could easily deceive myself into thinking that I did a pretty good job of keeping myself in shape, over the off-season. A deception that will surely burst like a toy balloon on April 21st when I plan to strap on a number plate for the first time this season, and go head to head with my fitter and faster competition in the WVMBA series.

I can’t help wondering if my off-season strategy, or lack thereof, will allow me to maintain my usual finishing slot among the Expert Master field – or if I’ll move down, or hopefully up, in the pecking order. A year ago, I feel that I trained much harder in the off-season. I didn’t really take any time off between the end of the fall racing season and the start of spring racing. I rode hard every chance I could over the winter of 2005/2006, and hit the spinning classes. That program helped me gain a little ground on my competition in the early-season races. Based on those good results, I was feeling pretty self-confident as I made my mid-season switch from XC racing to endurance training—getting ready for the Wilderness 101, and a Duo 24-hour race after that.

Then something went wrong. The 101 was brutally hot, enough so that a significant percentage of the field DNF’d due to dehydration and other heat-related ailments. Clemens and I pushed each other, and pushed on to finish the race (with my body feeling much worse for the wear). I was pretty blown. Didn’t touch the bike for two weeks. I found myself questioning my off-season strategy, wondering if I had over-trained. Wondering if I was just flat busted? I ended up bailing on the plans for the Duo 24-hour race, and promised myself a few months of “just riding my bike for fun.”

Fun riding – hey, I remember that! What I forgot was how therapeutic it could be. Recovery, yeah, that’s the ticket. Then and there, I decided that my 2006/2007 off-season would be more about recovery that training hard throughout the winter. I decided I’d rather come into spring rested, even a bit soft, and work my way back into shape, that risk another late summer collapse due to exhaustion.

I did turn it up a notch ever so slightly last fall, when I entered a few local cyclocross races. However, I was not in top form, so the races were just a way of easing back into hard training efforts than they were about racing, per se. The rest of last winter I just rode opportunistically — whenever Mother Nature froze the mud or gave us a nice blanket of packed snow. When things got ugly, I rested until I couldn’t stand it any longer, and then jumped on the trainer for an “easy” session, just to get the blood flowing. Mix in a few trips to the pool, the gym and the running track – and you get the picture. Certainly a more casual approach than the winter before. Is easier better, when it comes to off-season strategy? I’ll let you know in a few months.

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