Happy New Year Hayley!
I am going into my 39th year, and starting to see the light with my youngest of 3 entering kindergarten in September, so seeing this as a year of new challenges for me fitness-wise. In the last couple years I have found a new love in mountain biking. I got myself a pretty good bike in 2016 and this past year, dabbled in a few local mountain bike races. My goal for this year is to be as prepared as possible for the racing season starting in April. My question to you is what should my weekly training program look like over the next 3-4 months, and how I should be progressing?
I signed up with Zwift and Sufferfest, and try to do four rides a week, two interval, and two base. I was doing a weekly trail ride or run up to early December before the snow came, as one of the base rides. I have also been doing 2-3 strength training sessions (on my own). They vary, but I try to do weighted squats, lunges, and deadlifts, plus push-ups, KB swings, planks, burpees regularly and other accessory work using body weight, trx and my chin-up bar. My friends describe me as a serial over-trainer, but have been trying hard to have one to two rest days a week. After dealing with iron deficiency last year (my numbers have been slowly going up, yay), I just want to make sure I stay on track and not blow up before race season (which includes local races (usually an hour in length), and the BC marathon XC series (including the Sp’akw’us 50km/35km race in Squamish in June).
Thanks for taking the time to read my long email!
I would have to agree with your friends that you are a serial over-trainer! I’m going to answer your question, but I am going to gear it towards all endurance sports as the training philosophies are similar between disciplines. If you’re a marathoner, a multisport athlete (triathlons), an ultra-runner or just starting out in aerobic sports (running, cycling, hiking, swimming, etc.) you can benefit from reading this post.
Although I have written before about the theme of just sweating and not over-thinking your workouts, when you are training for a specific event or sport, specificity (ensuring your training is specific to your sport) and periodization (focusing on different aspects of fitness throughout the year like base training, power training, etc.) become very important. Also, being detailed about your training such as tracking your heart rate, your diet, your mood, and your training volume is just as much a part of your training as your training.
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but speaking from experience, as I was much very like you at one time, this kind of training can become highly addictive and obsessive. You almost don’t know how to identify with anything other than your training. This isn’t a bad thing, but if you are not careful it can take over a lot of your life including friendships and relationships. I have witnessed many marriages break up because of training. You need to create balance and you need to listen to your body.
To start, in a year you should not have more than 1, maybe 2, priority races. A priority race is the race that means the most to you and where you want to do your best. Your smaller races should be used to focus on things other than winning or pushing yourself. Maybe one race you focus on positive self-talk and another race you focus on pace. Your smaller, less important races should be used as a training workout and you should not expect the same intensity from yourself as you would in a priority race.
For many years of my life I was doing a race or 2 a month but there would only be 1 or 2 races in a year that my training was geared towards. For example, during my Ironman years I would run 2 or 3 half marathons, do 2 or 3 triathlons and a few cycling races all before Ironman in August. However, these races were used as long slow training days for me or to practice other things such as my transitions, or running a negative split. When I was an XC mountain biker, I would do a race a month but there was only one race that I truly raced and the others were used to focus on climbing or descending or confidence. Racing takes a lot out of you physically and mentally so if you expect to race every race you sign up for you are guaranteed to blow up, get sick and become injured.
Now when it comes to training, in the off season (which for you is October through March) what you are doing is fine. 4 rides a week is perfect, as is 3 strength workouts, but that is going to change as you move closer to your priority race. You are going to want to up the intensities of your rides and take out 2 of your 3 strength sessions. It is important during this time that your muscles are recovered for your sport specific training (riding) and not tired from a strength workout in the gym. During this time your strength workouts should focus on balance, core and flexibility. You may even benefit from dropping your strength all together during the racing season and doing 1 yoga or Pilates class a week instead.
As an athlete I understand that rest is a 4 letter word but it is when you rest that you become stronger. If your body is telling you to slow down, listen to it. If it is just a one-off then you have nothing to worry about but if you find for 4 or more days you are low energy and don’t have the same focus or intensity in you then you need to talk to your coach or go see your doctor and make sure that it isn’t anything more serious.