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Countdown to Normality - Preparing for Racing's Return

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Following what seems like an eternity, finally news came from the UCI regarding a start to the 2020 season in earnest, providing at least some degree of certainty that firstly, we will have racing this year, as well as for many of us trying to devise a training plan of sorts, when that will be.

With the Tour pencilled in for the end of August, it is therefore looking increasingly likely for the rest of us mortals, that we will see some form of racing by the end of July, providing at least some form of benchmark from which we can begin to focus our goals around.

However, this begs the question, given the lack of racing and, in turn the unprecedented nature of the season to date, what approaches and logic can we take and apply to see ourselves best prepared when the season comes at us thick and fast later in the year?

Zwift Race Champion?

In other words, should we seek to replicate our season, or at least to the best extent we can, be it virtually or otherwise? Such an approach will most likely hold some water with those who see competition as a vital component of the preparation that they undertake as they work towards their peak event or target, using racing in a bid to ‘sharpen up’ or improve upon their condition following a winter comprising of primarily base miles.

Unfortunately however, while persisting with a high intensity approach to your training in a bid to simulate the efforts you carry out when racing may see you improve in a relatively short space of time, given that we are still at least three months out from any form of competition, such an approach is more than likely to see you arrive in August with your best legs left on the slopes of the Volcano, chasing after a 45kg man in a different time zone riding at 600 watts, in the midst of our current April/May lock-down.

For those who are stuck indoors, it can be tempting to make every session hard in a bid to make up for lost volume, but turning on that stress response session after session for months on end unfortunately will not see you left in the best position to compete at the back end of races after three hours in the saddle. Don’t forget how to ride easy, just because you are sat on the turbo trainer.

Return to base?

This is however not to suggest that you avoid any form of intense training, particularly if you were aiming for a somewhat late ‘peak’ in June or July, with the chances being in turn that you have not addressed these high intensity workouts with any form of focus yet, or at least are in the early stages of doing so.

If this is the case, ensuring that you address these anaerobically focused sessions in some form before reverting to a more aerobically dedicated style of training will ensure that such energy systems have not been left dormant for close to a year by the time that racing resumes.

The best advice here is I believe, if you have the stomach for it, is to continue working through your training cycle until when your first peak event of the year was originally scheduled, which for many is likely falling around about now.

This will ensure that each energy system will have been addressed as adequately and appropriately as possible given the current climate, if your approach to periodising the first portion of your season has been sufficient. If you had scheduled races as part of that program, replace them with hard days doing your best to replicate what it was you sought from that event, ensuring to address the work you would have been doing in those pre-competition phases.

But what then?

One potential pitfall is potentially to perceive a lack of competition as a reason not to rest and engage in a short transitional period while in the depths of an ‘I’ll be back” bundle of blind motivation.

It must be remembered, with the exception of perhaps some of the top pros doing exceptionally long and hard stage races or a string of classics, it is not the Easter stage race or National Series race which was our first target of the season that we require that important period of recovery to get recuperate from but instead the twenty-five odd weeks or work that has gotten us to that point and for the next twenty five to come.

Taking the opportunity to recover now following that first hard cycle of training is vital before we set the wheels in motion to begin our preparation for the beginning of our perspective season in August, as when it starts, it will come thick and fast. As a result, freshness will to a degree most certainly trump fitness and therefore if you have failed to take the time to recover periodically between now and then from your hard winters graft, tough springs worth of training and the rest of the work between now and then, there will be no ‘later in the season’ to seek redemption.

So, what now?

Given that you have both addressed the high intensity focus of your previously laid out plan for that first half of the season and have then sufficiently recovered from it, begin to build again, but slowly. It is all too tempting to ride for miles and miles with the time we have on our hands, or race continuously in this virtual world we have all become more accustomed to.

Unfortunately, I’m sure many of us need little reminder of the long way off any form of race, Gran Fondo or planned trip abroad still is, so proceed with caution rather than engaging in a lock-down training camp. Just as under normal circumstances, keep in mind that it often tends to be the riders who are both physically and mentally freshest theatre the ones who prevail late in the season.

On such a note, do not merely think that just because you are not racing, that you have a free hand or that you will be spared from the clutches of over-training and fatigue. Rarely if ever is it that someone becomes over-trained or burnt out because of the volume of racing that they are doing, instead it is often the work outside of that in training which is culpable.

Do not underestimate how costly the accumulation of high intensity and high-volume work, or both, can be without adequate recovery.

Instead, use this period to focus on and redevelop elements of your fitness which have not been focused on since January and February. For masters riders especially, this might be improvising in the best possible manner to introduce some more resistance work to your training plan, alongside for all of us, that oxidative aerobic component.

Do not be afraid to mix it up either, using technology to facilitate group rides with friends and ride in a generally unstructured manner, for which such aerobically focused sessions tend to lend themselves well to.

As I mentioned before, the psychological element plays a huge role in your willingness to race train hard after nine or ten months of doing the same, so giving a little now will more than likely see you reap greater rewards and result in a net gain down the line.

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