I have been criticized at times for writing about things that have already happened and teaching things you have to wait an entire year to use. In other words: timing is key. This greeting takes that into consideration, offering advice about something that will most likely be experienced by all of us in the next few weeks.
For endurance athletes, August can be a difficult part of our seasons. Many of us had a huge summer and are tired and spent from the stress and training for our “A” events that took place in July. For bike racers especially, since July is the peak of the season, motivation in August is tough! For those who have big goals in early- to mid-August, like Ironman, Leadville or other “A” events, this time is nerve-racking while you hope and pray that you have done enough or, in some cases, not too much! Either way, there isn’t much you can do now…so you start to get nervous!
Those with great fitness and big July events may start to experience some symptoms of “burn out”. This often happens after a big event or season goal has gone by. You feel physically tired and the motivation to train is starting to dwindle. Many of us have been going at it hard since May and are just plumb tuckered out, needing a break. For me this is the part of the year that I call my “midseason lull” and I have experienced this almost every year since I started cycling. My motivation to train and eat right and do intervals seems to fall sharply during August and I have had to learn how to manage this change. About 20 years ago, I started to take 7 to 10 days off at this time and reduce cycling and training. During these 10 days I do other things to stay fit and freshen my mind. I play a few rounds of golf, go for a wakeboard, take a family vacation…and when I do ride, I do not do intervals! With all this fun comes a slight decrease in fitness. Losing some fitness is much easier to swallow when my early summer goals are behind me and my fall goals are far enough away that I have time to get it back.
The key to that statement is “fall goals”. Picking events in October or November are critical to bouncing back and getting remotivated to train after that August break. Let me reiterate: always have a fall goal! The biggest problem I see for endurance athletes is a post-event mental and physical nose-dive in the fall and then having to spend the entire winter digging out of a hole that does not need to be there. I say this now because there is still time.
Pick an event in late-September, October or November that excites you. After your break in August, get excited to get in great shape for your late-season goal. If you have a big event in mid-August, take 10 days or so in early-August and get after it in mid- to late-August. Either way, allow yourself a break, then put the next goal on the board and go for it. The goal does not have to be nearly the size or scope of your big mid-summer event, but it has to have enough substance to stimulate/motivate you to get back on the horse.
The key here is to be okay with losing a little fitness. Knowing that will provide some mental and physical rest that will bounce you back to a higher peak than if you would have just kept grinding all summer and fall. The loss in fitness that a mid-summer break costs you is not that great if you have had a great spring and summer of training and events. In fact, I would bet that some of the lack of motivation and stagnant fitness is caused from your body’s inability to stay on good form for such a long time.
I am not saying to take the month of August completely off, but rather a short, unstructured break from training, hard group rides and events. You can still ride a couple times easy when you feel like you “want to” but also do some others things to keep you occupied that do not involve measurement, stress or extreme fatigue.
I just did a week trip to Italy and I probably don’t need to state the obvious: I ate and drank way too much; however, I really unplugged mentally from the day-to-day schedule, structure and stress. That allowed me to return home motivated and excited to work hard with the VQers to get them ready for some great later-season event goals. I am doing the Levi Gran Fondo with some friends on October 4th and am now excited for and focused on this event. It will be great to connect with my old teammate Levi Leipheimer and some of the beautiful roads of Santa Rosa. I also have some smaller goals like the Sub-5 Century in September and Rebecca Rusch’s Idaho event. These are measuring sticks for me to use along the way, but are also events I will enjoy and use to help tune the motor for Levi’s event in October.
For now I suggest you do the following: grab a calendar, your significant other(s) and a glass of wine and figure out what you can agree to for a fall event. If you have big events in the next couple of weeks or have finished your big events already, understand there will be some post-event blues. Have some fun, take a break and recharge the battery. Your fall event will have you back on track and enjoying the process once again.