The cycling season is long for most riders on the WorldTour circuit, and riders generally finish the season in various mental and physical states. Some end the season as motivated and fresh as they started, while others are desperate for a break. Most probably fall somewhere in the middle with their feelings.
The off-season is a time for reflection, recovery, and planning. A proper period of recovery can ensure fresh legs and a clear head looking to the next season. I found the importance of recovery illustrated nicely in the new book "Peak Performance" by Steve Magness & Brad Stulberg, where they summarize this concept with the growth equation: Stress + Rest = Growth. I like how this equation can also be easily applied to other areas of life outside of sport where you wish to improve and perform at your best in a sustainable way.
This growth equation is a guiding force behind the most effective training plans in sport. Periods of intense and long training are broken up by recovery days and weeks. Proper periodization ensures that there is rest written into the training programs. Over time, this is how you build to performance peaks during the season. Without the changes in duration, intensity and periods of rest, then performance will stagnate or decline. We also tend to forget that stress comes in many forms, and it isn't just the training, but all the other stresses in life such as relationships, work, travel, media etc. that also need to be considered in this equation in regards to achieving optimal physical performance as an athlete.
A big revelation in training for me came when I started seeing recovery days and blocks as 'adaptation days'. I realised that one doesn't improve while doing the training itself, it is when the body responds and adapts to this stress to be stronger when fitness is actually gained. I still can't believe how long it took me to come to this perspective. I used to spend recovery days worrying about what else I could be doing to improve during that time. Now that I understand the value of recovery days, I feel that I can relax and enjoy them a lot more, knowing that I will have a lot more energy to put into my next race or workout.
It is so easy to go down the path of thinking that more is better, especially with the mindset and personality of a typical driven athlete. The issue comes when drive and passion go unchecked for too long, and performance starts to suffer as a result. I have experienced moments like this during my own career and ended up feeling a bit tired and burnt out by doing too much at certain moments. The positive side of these experiences is now I have a better idea of my limits and can plan proactive rest into my schedule.
After an intense and focused build to the World Championships, my final race of the season, I ensured myself I would respect a rest period to recharge my body and mind. While some riders just stop and take a total training break, I'm the kind of athlete who still needs to still keep up some level activity to feel good, so I have spent the last month keeping active with mountain biking, running, hiking and yoga. Meetings and other commitments this month have also helped shift my focus away from training, and more towards planning for the season ahead.
I was recently in Europe at the Sunweb team planning meetings and at the Cycling Canada summit this past week in Victoria, BC. Team Sunweb appears to do things a lot earlier than other teams. All the new and existing riders and staff get together in October to plan for the season ahead. It is an efficient way to get everything done that would normally happen at an early season team camp.
As athletes, we meet our coaches, learn the team policies and protocols, get fit for bikes, clothing and other sponsors items, create team content, complete interviews, and take our team photos among other things. This early meeting strategy helps the team approach the upcoming season in a very organized way, and also gives athletes more time to prioritize the all-important recovery from training during the early season team camps.
The meetings with Cycling Canada were also very productive, and there were some great ideas on how to build Canada into more of a cycling nation, from the recreational to high-performance levels. It was an added bonus that the meetings took place on the West Coast, so there was lots of potential for fun outdoor off-season activities!
All the great ideas that came up in these meetings have me feeling fired up for the future of cycling. After a few weeks of recharging my batteries and catching up with friends and family, I am ready to start up with structured training soon with a full focus on my goals for 2018.