Editor’s note: Jordan Cheyne’s “The Open Pro” series details his experiences with high-level Zwift training as a rider in the pro Continental ranks. You can read his past posts here.
Looking Forward to a Change
It seems like every year I start thinking about the off-season a little later than the last. I never thought about it at all when I was a junior because cycling was so fresh and new that I wanted to keep training, racing and improving forever. When I started to race a more diverse, international and bicoastal schedule as a U23 things changed. I would start to grow weary sometime in June after the crescendo of Nationals and start counting down the training blocks and race days in front of me. As I became stronger and more at ease with the unpredictable ebbs and flows of a cycling season I would reserve that feeling for the last few weeks of training before the season finale and eventually for the last few days before the event itself.
I don’t desperately yearn for the end of the season. It is more an anticipation and a kind of curiosity for what lies beyond the season’s last finish line. I am almost always still motivated to do the training and excited to hunt results in the closing races but I naturally look forward to a change. The satisfaction of hard work, risk and reward in the season will be replaced by the contentment of relaxation and the freedom to live a nearly normal life full of rich food and outings not taking place on two skinny tires.
The Ending is Different Every Time
Every Off Season is different and some years require a lot more rest than others. In 2016, I remember pulling out of my final event at the Tour of Alberta completely wrecked and depleted. It had been my first pro season with Jelly Belly and many hard yards in our winning effort at the Tour of Utah combined with a stomach virus brought me down with a thud. I don’t think I got off the couch for two weeks after that and my biggest autumn training efforts were at the driving range. I think I finally started to feel like an athlete again in November and training like one a full three months post season in December.
In 2017, I had a particularly cumbersome end of season. I raced Tour of Alberta through Labour Day, took a couple weeks of downtime and got married. After the festivities, I trained up for the 9-stage Tour of Hainan in China ending in early November. It was almost ski season here at home and I was still training for a race in a tropical climate. I ended up dosing the recovery and efforts correctly, taking good form into Asia and racing well there. Finally, I took a full month off as the ski lifts started moving here at Big White. My principle mode of training turned out to be high speed tobogganing down the slopes because I can’t trust myself on a pair of skis.
This year was a bit different. With the season ending somewhat prematurely in late August at the Colorado Classic, I barely thought about the Off Season at all. In fact, I found myself dwelling on the prospects of more racing in far away lands to get my fill for the year. Once those prospects faded and the reality of a six-month break from racing settled in, I felt more agitated than relieved. Still, I set about resting like it was a job and took a week off of any activity and about four weeks off of any purposeful riding. I hiked with Knox, our new Australian Labradoodle, mountain biked very poorly through the Okanagan’s expansive forests and ate and drank whatever I wanted. After those four weeks though, I was completely ready to go, topped up on both motivation and energy. This time it didn’t take long to fill up the tank at the pump even after many months of running the throttle wide open.
With my body and mind ready to go, I am starting to work with a new coach and starting early on my preparations for 2019. It is a moderate start with room for fun and experimentation with new training approaches. I am definitely ready to put some work in and it feels right to get going.
Pros and Amateurs Alike
This variation in end of season planning is restricted to my career as a professional. It is just as important to recognize the unique needs of the athletes I coach when their season’s goals are done and dusted. Usually the need for pure rest is less, with a lower training load and less racing-related stress accumulated. The muscles and nervous system usually bounce back in a couple weeks. The need for a mental break is often greater though. Finding time and willpower for structured training with a full time job and a family can be really depleting over the months. It can be harder to recognize the need for a mental break and harder to commit to some time away from the full-on Type-A athletic identity. To varying degrees, amateur athletes face the same irrational Off Season fears as professionals. We all want to do our best in this sport and it is an unnerving but necessary proposition to let specific fitness fade and let our edge grow dull.
Balance and Flexibility
I think the most important part to a happy Off Season, especially for my coaching clients is flexibility. Training can be fairly strenuous but doesn’t need to be strict. Racing in the form of cyclocross or a late season fondo can be a satisfying sufferfest but if they aren’t big goals we don’t need to dwell on the outcome of those events. We can continue to eat well for health and well being but if a pint of ice cream and a bottle of wine cry out, we should probably answer the call.
It is a learning process to listen to your body and mind in this period and truly do what refreshes you. Some days an extra hour of worry-free riding is the perfect off-season reward. Other days, when the legs are sore before you get out of bed and the Seahawks are playing, the couch is the ideal place to improve your performance in 2019. It is all a balance just like every other part of endurance training. If we are mindful and do it right we will ease back into serious training at the right time with the reserves we need to push to a new level when it counts.