For many athletes, this time of year can be both exciting and daunting at the same time. Depending on where you live, in January it may be freezing cold and snowy outside, or it might be intermittently rainy and a little cold like it is here in California. You may have been riding outdoors most of the winter or maybe you haven’t seen your bike outside for months. Either way, the days are getting longer and now or relatively soon the weather will be getting a lot nicer and if you’re doing any racing or special events, those are getting closer. It’s time to get excited for that, to make plans, and to prepare for whatever you’ll be doing this season.
Now is a great time to take a look back at the last few months and consider how your training has been going. It’s a good time to look forward to what you’re trying to do this coming year as an athlete, and how you should be training and planning out your season. Everyone can benefit from having a direction that they want to move in and an idea of how to do so, even if not everyone can count on their schedules being the same from week to week or if they have work or family responsibilities that may impact their ability to plan on doing certain events. For those athletes who have target events that they want to prepare for, it’s good to plan out what your training should be like, what works for you, and when you can make it happen. Maybe your goals are as simple as trying to complete a century ride with your buddies in the summer, or as challenging as winning a national championship or major international event. I’ve had the pleasure of working towards that full spectrum of goals, both for myself and my clients. I’ve worked with people trying to set a PR or complete an event, and people who are trying to win national championships I’ve worked with people who have the flexibility or total commitment to follow almost any training plan we deem appropriate, and I’ve worked with athletes who try to get in training when they can, but want the reassurance of knowing that their time will be well spent in helping them meet their goals.
No matter where you want to go, no matter where you’re coming from, and whatever your constraints, there are always ways to make the most of your training and maximize your training time to get as close to your potential as possible. Of course there are limits to what you can accomplish while working a full-time job and raising kids or going to school, but I can say with confidence that realizing your athletic potential is determined mostly by consistent and effective work. Not all of us can become world champions or record holders, even if we had all the time in the world to train, but whatever your potential is, I’m sure that you can get very close to it even while working full time and fitting workouts around company meetings, sales trips, sick kids, or whatever else is going on. Whether it’s in training, racing, or in life, things happen that may seem to help or hinder us on our way; try not to focus on the obstacles. Rather, focus on the multiple possible routes that you can take to move in the direction you want to go. Whether it’s in the middle of a race, in the middle of winter training building your foundation, or maybe even in the middle of your career or life more broadly, there are always challenges that come up. As long as we have goals that are important or valuable and worth pursuing, then it’s our ability to see paths through and around obstacles and our ability to keep putting in the effort towards our goals that allows us to succeed.
In training, being able to move forward you need to have goals or directions. If you know the target you are going after or the direction you want to move in, then you can make plans that will move you in that direction. If you have a reasonable plan, then you can submit yourself to pursuing it day by day and trust that you’ll get where you want to be going. The more you can make your training a habit of your daily life, and make your workouts happen as a part of your routine, the better your long term outcomes will be.
Your personality and past experience may determine whether it is best to set specific goals (sub-20 minutes on Favorite Local Climb by August) or to have goal vectors (improve peak VO2 max and threshold power in the 10-40m range this season). You may not know what your best time on your favorite climb can be this season, but you may have a good idea, so maybe you set a specific goal. Maybe having that number taped to your bathroom mirror will help you get out every day to train.
Some people would say that having a direction is better than having a specific goal. If you want to improve your climbing, then that’s something you can work towards and you aren’t restricted to an arbitrary benchmark. If you have a goal and don’t meet it, then you may see yourself as having failed. If you meet it, that could be satisfying, but then what? You may not be sure that you did all that you could have. After all, my goal was sub-2o and I rode 19:48. Maybe I could do 19:30? Maybe 19 flat? Maybe you need to set another goal, but in the meantime, you accomplished your goal. Either way, if you know where you want to go, then you can have a good idea how to plan to get there.
What do you want to do this season? Do you have goal events? Do you have fitness goals? Do you have mileage goals or other training goals?
Come up with a few goals. Often having 2-4 primary goals is perfect. If you have more than that, you should simplify or eliminate some. If some of those are trivial and very short term or easy to achieve, then take them off your main list because they are really intermediate goals. Your main goals will provide a broader guiding principle for your training. If you only have 1 or 2 goals, then look at how you can create a few intermediate goals that will help you move towards those bigger goals. You’ll see this a lot with Olympic athletes whose main goal happens only every 4 years. Many recreational athletes don’t have a horizon that’s 4 or 8 or 12 years out, but in many cases, that may be the best way to approach your goals. Sometimes focusing on one feature of your fitness for one year, another feature the next, and finally trying to put it together to reach a new peak in the third year may be the best approach for reaching new heights.
Once you know where you want to go, look at what you need to do to get there and look at how you can create routines and habits that are sure to get you there. What workouts are going to help you progress? What cross training will help you? What kind of daily and weekly routine do you need to design in order to make your day to day life support your work and family obligations while allowing you to get in the training that you need to do to progress? What ways can you look to make your training as efficient as possible? How can you make your recovery as efficient as possible as well? How can you plan to absorb setbacks or interruptions? What is the ideal training volume and intensity you would want to reach your goal? What is the minimum?
Work out a plan of action. Plan for obstacles and setbacks. Realize that it will not be the end of the world when those things happen. Be ready to look for ways over the hurdles and keep moving forward.
This season I’m looking forward to working with some new athletes, and working towards new goals. This is always exciting. I personally get a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment out of seeing my athletes get stronger and faster, I love it when they win races or set PRs, and I love working to get the most out of their training given their schedules. This year, one of my athletes is pretty new to racing, and I’m excited to work on his training. I’m also excited that we’re going to work together to document this process both in text and video, so stay tuned. We also plan to produce videos about training and riding that isn’t specifically about our work together. Look for that to be coming soon.