For many cyclists across the country, the season is coming to a close. It’s time to put the bike away, put the spandex in the dark recesses of the closet, and give your legs the break they deserve.
This is harder for some than others. Many of the athletes I train have been looking forward to this time of year since about the fourth of July—and with good reason. Most serious athletes spend hours and hours of training, racing, and traveling to races. They stress over an upcoming event, wondering how it might play out and how they’ll do; they solicit advice from the entire internet community about which equipment to use, spend half their paycheck at the bike store when that equipment fails them, and dwell over chances missed when things don’t go their way. When success does pay a visit, it’s celebrated only very briefly—“why yes, after climbing 7000 feet over three cols on my way to victory, I will take extra reduced fat dressing on my spinach and arugla salad”—before it’s back to the regimented diet and training schedule.
[A typical climber's rest-day meal]
But others don’t. They think that if they take time off while the competition keeps training, they will lose their edge. These are the folks to whom I am directing this entreaty to relax. It’s important, both physically and mentally. Physically, you need time to heal. Exercising involves the breakdown of muscle tissue. The state you put your metabolism in is called catabolic, from the Greek words kata meaning down, and ballein, meaning to throw (related words include ‘catastrophe’ and ‘cataclysmic’). You are throwing down your body over and over. Fortunately, your body is like a Phoenix, rising stronger through an “anabolic” (different kind of “throwing up” than the normal colloquial understanding, though both occur after workouts) process, where new and more muscle cells grow in place of the broken down ones. The proper rotation of exercise and rest enables you to reach peak physical condition. One balances catabolism with anabolism to get stronger. But around this time of year, after training and competing for 8-10 months, anabolism wins out. Your body is tired, broken, in need of healing, rest, recovery. Likely, it’s begging for it. Give it the opportunity to do so. Feed it that bit of extra fuel. Take the elevator instead of the stairs. Embrace Septa (but bring and sanitizer). Yes, you will lose a bit of fitness—but sometimes you have to embrace your Phoenix-like nature. Sometimes, you have to get slower first in order to go faster later.
Equally important to the physical break is the mental one hanging up the velo gives you. There are no races to stress over. For the next several months, there are no equipment choices you could make that ultimately cost you 3 grams of rolling resistance and thus your PR on the West River Time Trial. There is no need to figure out how 8 people and 16 bikes are going to get to Vermont for the weekend in 2 Prii (google tells me that, for some reason more than one Prius is not called ‘Priora’; Classics departments across the country weep for the neuter nominative case). Mentally, it’s best to stray as far from your bike as possible, until you start to miss it. And even then, wait. You really gotta wait until you miss that bike and can’t stand being apart from it anymore.
[We're talking Lloyd Dobbler-esque missing of your bike]
Because I can promise you this: your spouse, partner, job, friends—they miss you missing it. They want the you who isn’t on a bike but is intend tending to them with redoubled efforts. So catch up on work. Have a family camping weekend during which you don’t sneak off for a couple of hours to get some threshold climbs in. Go out to dinner and order an appetizer and 2 desserts! (leftovers can be sent to 1923 Chestnut St). Trust me, this break will pay dividends in the end, buying you bonus points to store up until the next time you have to beg your boss to let you take off a week to fly to Spain for a week of altitude training with the rest of the Breakaway Bikes staff.
So please, everyone, enjoy this time off. Because 2012 prep phase cross training starts before you know it.