In my last post I detailed (summarized?) the intensity of the previous 3 weeks of racing. During an intense, prolonged racing block like that, it's almost impossible to feel good; both physically fresh and mentally positive. Every day hurts and your body is on a constant cycle of go hard, dig deep, try to recover, eat right, sleep enough and then do it all again.
For the past 5 days, I've been camped out in sunny Southern California to focus on resting, spinning, and eating well with no races, no stress, no pressure. It's been an amazing break, but it is only a break and a short one at that. This downtime presents a great opportunity to assess my current fitness; to reflect on how my body feels, what I've learned/gained from the past several races and how to progress/ make improvements. Assessing fitness is something we should all do. It might be looking at heart rate variability, weight changes, power numbers, VO2 tests, race results, how much you're currently lifting or how fast you're running. There are many ways to assess where you currently stand. If you never take time to look at where you are, how can you know how to proceed in order to meet your goals? You really can't, at least not efficiently.
So here I am, with a 5 day break to ride easy and think about where i am and where to get where I want to be.
Weight - I'm around 125 at the moment. I travel with a scale to check in, monitor hydration, and make sure there are no wild changes (getting too fat on travel food or losing too much due to food fatigue). I would like to lose a couple more pounds, yes, but I'm not actively trying to restrict. I expect my weight to naturally come down with the intensity that race season brings.
Power - In cycling races (outside TTs), the pace is determined by the group. It might feel like the most intense effort, but then you look at the data, the numbers, afterwards and it can be disheartening; much lower than the effort felt. This fact can mentally trick you into thinking you're not fit. Thankfully, after a day off, and a couple days of 16mph spinning, I joined a local ride with the goal to take it moderate and give it a good attempt up a popular SoCal climb we would do, Wolford. This climb is roughly 2 miles at 6% average with over 500 women riding it (according to Strava). I went hard and hit my best ten minute power (& power to weight) and took the 6th spot overall. A nice confidence boost that, yes, I am fit... fitter in fact, my fittest (at least for 10 minutes) yet!!
Race Reflection - Okay, we've established I'm the fittest I’ve ever been, so what's the issue with me finishing poorly in races? I played back each race in my head. Some of it was bad luck, behind a crash or having flat tires. Those moments need to be shrugged off as much as they suck. Some of it was silly mistakes. These cost me big so far in the season. I have to get my head in the game and not let little things trip me up in races. Don't waste energy. Don't get overly frustrated. Pay more attention to moving forward, to whose wheel I’m on, to positioning, etc... It’s time to start learning from my mistakes and stop making them. The last and likely most crucial point of improvement is finishing. Not 'just' finishing, but really FINISHING! In the races that I'm there, with the group at the end... I tend to let go. Peidmont, JMSR stage2, Gila stage2, Dana Pt... I can handle the race, but then drop the ball when things get chaotic at the end. I brake, I hesitate, I am unsure at how to navigate those final few seconds. This is something I really need to work on going forward.
All the Small Things - Performing well isn't about just the performance effort. It's about all the little things you do outside the race to really prepare your body. During back to back races, the athletes who can travel well and manage the stress will do better. It's not easy adjusting to new time zones, altitudes, temperatures, available foods, different beds, etc... You do your best to keep things consistent. I like to think I'm pretty good at this part. I travel with my own pillow, my own pantry of food, have improved my hydration strategy, have stayed on top of having immediate recovery fuel, roll out my legs several times a day, ice my quads, etc... I know the driving took a bigger toll than I expected during this season. There isn't much I can do to limit the drive time race to race, but I can try to break it up more and do more to stretch out in between.
This week has shown me that slowing down is crucial to rebuild (something I tend to eschew in favor of more riding). Rest has always made me feel uneasy and I’m learning to get past that. Now I spin easily, take walks, go to bed early, roll out the legs, drink more water, eat more frequently, listen to good music, enjoy it all. Rest isn't a free for all binge of ice cream, alcohol, sleeping in and ignoring your goals. It is a time spent focused on reaping the benefits of the hard work you've just put in. I’m letting my body adapt to the gains. For anyone reading this blog post: assess it all and be able to come up with a plan (or at least an idea) of how to keep improving as the season moves forward. This will mean something different for everyone: maybe a change in diet, added intensity, more rest, or a combination of those things. Regular assessments are an important part of getting fitter and achieving goals. Keep making new goals and moving forward, because as they say "If you're not moving forward, you're falling behind".