It’s all in the head
And winter has arrived. ‘Already?’ I hear you cry, but yes, unfortunately so. Dark evenings, shorter days, cold bitter winds, all of which suck the motivation from our bones.
Believe me when I say you are not alone in finding it tough to get back into the swing of things.
The first month or so is always the hardest for most, following a period of downtime during your Transition. Initially, training appears relentless and constant, even though you know, paradoxically, that it is not.
At this time of year, your goals often appear distant, perhaps to such an extent that deriving any motivation from them seems impossible. This is compounded by the thoughts of the bright, warm, sunny days gone by, which as you look out the window, now appear a distant memory.
Cycling’s annual, psychological equivalent to no man's land has arrived.
You are not alone…
As aforementioned, however, take solace in the fact that it is not you alone who harbors such emotions.
Aside from the fact that science has proved a correlation between one’s mood and the winter months, known in a severe form as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Hypersomnia (sleeping more), an increased appetite, a perceived decrease in energy levels and weight gain are all issues that I have experienced in some form with athletes that I work with, and are brought on by issues surrounding the body’s ability to regulate its serotonin production, among other factors.
This is not to say that you suffer from any sort of mental disorder, but it nonetheless goes to highlight that a touch of the ‘Winter Blues’ can have an impact on us all.
It is therefore easy for such thoughts to enter your head: “I don’t start racing until March, February will be time enough”, or, “One or two missed sessions here and there won’t matter”.
You find yourself trying to legitimise such musings, as you seek to reason with your excuses for not going out on the bike because it is cold, wet, windy, or, as is usually the case, all three- I’ve been there!
However, laying the fundamental building blocks on which your future training will be placed, those ‘Zone 5 Intervals’, ‘Sweetspot sessions’, or ‘Crisscross efforts’, which everyone describes as vital, they are laid now.
Preparing your body adequately for the stress which you will place on it as your target event draw’s closer, is the primary aim of the Base period, and one which many people overlook.
Often this is interpreted as one which they can bluff, one which they can sacrifice and let slip, choosing instead to rally themselves ahead of a focus on the high-intensity work when spring arrives, using time as a conciliatory arbitrator.
You may be able to reach a reasonable level of fitness quickly, but you will never reach your full potential. Keep in mind, if you continually place stress that your body is not fully prepared to handle, injury and/or illness ensue.
Often, it is not because people do not recognise the fundamental importance of this period, that they overlook it. Instead, it is motivation.
As stated above, because of it’s proximity to your target event, this period is seen as less important, mistakenly downgraded and deprioritised in comparison to other mesocycles which are considered more race specific or important. Only when you ask yourself where your motivation comes from, can this be overcome.
For everyone, this will be different.
Personally, I find this to come from a target, a line in the sand of some description. Instead of focusing solely on the race twenty-four weeks down the line, break it up. Set parameters at various stages in the training cycle along the way, they may be as specific and objective as a target output over a duration specific to the focus of that mesocycle or your goal event, or it may a more subjective, performance-based approach at a race prior to that event.
Perhaps embrace the group ride. Your long endurance rides do not have to be ridden within a 20w range all of the time, while they also enhance your spacial awareness and handling skills on the bike.
Whatever it is, it must first and foremost, motivate you. Not me, nor your training partner(s), you!
Find purpose in your training, question why you are doing it, what am I achieving here? Take the answer with you on the road!
What is the aim of this session, this week, this block? Use this answer to keep you on point, focussed to the plan.
The answers are your goal in this head tussle. In the most simple sense, it is your neurological system who is the boss. If he is not fit and well, little will happen elsewhere no matter how physiologically capable you are.