Thursday, August 5, 2010

Benefits of a Mid- Season Break, Part 2.

As the season progresses, many athletes see a degrading performance, both absolute and relative.  Indeed the athlete has begun to burn up.  The reasons for this are many and no one-reason is an answer that can be easily remedied.  However, the underlying root of the issue is that the fitness trajectory at the onset of training was unsustainable  in the long term, and fatigue is now beginning to show on the athlete.  Typically, the textbook case for this is the athletes who transition, in one day, from "base miles" in the the spring, to doing every event and group ride on a week in, week out basis.  The athlete goes from little or no intensity to 3-5 high intensity workouts per week.  Then, they find themselves out of gas in July, limping through August and totally packing in their 4 month road season before Labor Day reciting, "back in my day," and vowing to do next year even better.

The most saddening part of this formula is that the best form of the season was never realized.  Usually 4-8 days into the "off-season" the athlete is great again and would probably be on great form with just a little work.  A similar scenario plays out for those who are targeting a two peak season.  Following that first peak, it is common for an athlete to be both mentally and physically drained.  They have been working hard and keeping focus on the task and now with no new shining peak on the horizon, the question of "why?" comes to mind.  Don't fight it.  Take some time to relax and rest.  The internal pressure of those "A" races should not be marginalized.  They are hard and they do come with a cost.

Also, in order to properly prepare for that first peak, it is not uncommon for the athlete to have undertaken that unsustainable fitness trajectory.  Even still, improvements are quick and fitness is good.  However, the cost that comes with the steep trajectory is that a break must happen to continue the improvement.  Failure to do this will result in constantly degrading powers and performance which can have disastrous effects and tend to push an athlete towards one extreme or the other.  On one hand the athlete may decide that in order to gain fitness, more training must be completed, which will exacerbate the problem and result in a complete breakdown (typically illness).  Heading the other direction we've already discussed, quitting the season.  Both of these methods deprive the athlete of the opportunity to do something truly special late in the season, like hitting new peak powers, setting new PRs, and putting a notch in the "W" column.

What's the difference between Burning Up and Over Training:
Difference between burning up (overreaching) and over-training is this: When riders burn up, they mostly just need to rest for a few days.  It's nearly impossible for an athlete who is 'riding by feel' to over-train.  This is because they typically succumb to burn out, illness, or injury, and simply stop training all together.  Over-training is not something that happens in such a short time as a month or two, but rather is something that occurs in a more chronic state.  If you take 3-4 days off and you feel rested, you are not over-trained but burned up/ over-reached.

In the final piece, we'll look at how to manage a mid season break and look at a couple of athletes that have benefited from the break already in 2010.