I canâ€™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 â€“ or if Iâ€™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 didnâ€™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 trainingâ€”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 DNFâ€™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. Didnâ€™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 â€œjust riding my bike for fun.â€
Fun riding â€“ hey, I remember that! What I forgot was how therapeutic it could be. Recovery, yeah, thatâ€™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 Iâ€™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 couldnâ€™t stand it any longer, and then jumped on the trainer for an â€œeasyâ€ session, just to get the blood flowing. Mix in a few trips to the pool, the gym and the running track â€“ and you get the picture. Certainly a more casual approach than the winter before. Is easier better, when it comes to off-season strategy? Iâ€™ll let you know in a few months.