The mid-season syndrome is probably not a definition you'll ever find in a medical journal or dictionary but believe me when I tell you, virtually every cyclist who has ever planned a racing or sportive season knows exactly what I'm referring to.
Winter after winter, soaking after soaking, kilometre after kilometre, we train, our motivation undiminished. Yet when the warm, long evenings we longed for in January finally arrive, we struggle to even get ourselves out the door.
The aforementioned issue, you’ll be glad to know, burdens not only you but is something that plagues many a competitive cyclist. Some will attribute it to the nature of the cycling season, front-loaded at times, as organisers compete to have their race entries full of eager, paying competitors.
‘Why to hold a race in July with forty riders when I can get eighty to one-hundred in March?’, they say. Others will blame it on the rider. ‘You started your training too soon’, ‘You raced too much at the start of the year’, ‘You started your season too soon’.
'He's burnt out! COOKED!'
In reality, there is an element of truth to each of these, as I’m sure, in some people’s cases, there are issues which some can relate to more than others. Instead of blaming certain factors, however, surely it would be best to look at it objectively. Motivation, like many things, is a finite resource. If you are training from November (or sooner in many riders case), right through the winter, and then through the season, surely it is only natural for us to suffer from a lack of drive and incentive after such a prolonged period of commitment?
The best solution, which will allow you to maintain that drive, is to ensure that your season is planned from the first session to the last before the first has even taken place. Motivation comes from a target, be it as specific as a target power output over a given duration, or as general as simply looking to further how hard you can pedal your bicycle, or because you enjoy the sociability of it.
There is always a goal, no matter how subtle or lighthearted.
Taking the time to plan your season, will, in turn, allow you to ensure that once one target has passed, and whether or not you succeeded, there will always be another on the horizon. Map out your targets for the season early and use your athlete-coach relationship to commit to these. Fully buying into the process will help you stick to a plan. Having a loose plan in your head but never discussed or agreed will lack the accountability which drives success.
Along with seeking out what your season’s targets may be, and planning your time on the bike, you should also be planning in time for rest and mental recuperation. Time off the bike should be given as much attention as the time spent on it, with you picking out short two to three day ‘mini breaks’ so to speak, at a certain point in the season. There are no hard and fast rules saying that once the first Monday of November has passed, you cannot take consecutive days off training.
Scheduling breaks in advance will ensure that they will not hamper your chances of achieving the goals you set out and, if done right, should even enhance your fitness, allowing you to remain motivated, complete sessions as prescribed and prevent illness and injury as a result of over-training.
A well planned out season is much like a well-planned block with adaptation periods between mesocycles. After targeting races and events you want to be in your best condition for work backwards to how you will get there, and forwards to how you will recover and reinvigorate your motivation for the next target.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, leave enough room to burst into the room full of love for racing!
Physiologically, one big factor which you can benefit from in a mid-season break is to top up on your aerobic volume and all important mitochondria: the cell structures which produce ATP and in-turn energy into our muscles.
Whether or not glycolysis, through anaerobic activity, depletes mitochondrial volume is something of a moot point: It's a much debated topic. But what will certainly lower your levels of performance in the aerobic pathways is quite simply a reduction in aerobic training.
Racing week after week in a cycle of train, taper, race and then recover is quite natural but two of those four involve a reduction in volume. Simply, a reduction in aerobic volume, from a desire for freshness is as much to blame for a possible mid-season stagnation as the potential that increased glycolysis is detrimental to mitochondria.
Planned rest is much more favourable than unplanned rest, and will allow you to race deep into the season. If we only take time away from training and racing when we get sick it can feel like a prison cell and our hierarchy of needs for achievement will never be met. That's not to say you have to completely avoid your bike. After all, cycling is a social sport, just putting your Garmin in your pocket and cruising cafes and shooting the breeze is downtime for most of us:).
Get out in this pre-planned break and collect mitochondria chips whilst defragmenting the hard drive of your race-computer ready to fully commit to the second half of your season.