- Starting too early. A subscriber to periodization, I began base aerobic training for the 2009 season during the first week of December 2008. The roads were fit for riding by the second week of March, which means I was on my trainer every week for over three months. Some may have the mentality for this, but apparently I do not. By the time the weather turned reasonable, I was already burned out. My rides seemed disappointing, I never felt like I was improving, and it took a long time to get out of that fog.
- No specificity. Mountain biking and track racing are staples of my season. My “burning out” in March, which I now clearly understand was overtraining syndrome, was misdiagnosed by my primary care doctor as postconcussive disorder. I underwent a battery of $$$ tests, and for months was instructed not to race or ride off-road. As a a result, I missed a ton of conditioning. As an added bonus, the idea that I may have a brain injury that may affect my long-term activity level was extremely depressing. A neurologist found no PCD and gave me the green light to resume a full spectrum of activity, but not after the months of waiting had already drilled a hole in my riding season.
- Stress. This year was intensely stressful. Just when things were turning around for me on the bike, in June I went off to a week of CISSP bootcamp. It was an intense, 100+ hour hell week of studying and testing, culminating in a 6-hour examination. At the end, I was completely and totally fried. Mentally ravaged. And for the four weeks it took to get my results, I spent every day wondering if I would have to go through it all over again. Even after I found out I passed, it took weeks to mentally come down.
- Not riding. I did what I thought made sense, given that I had missed so much time on the bike – I went for strength in the gym, hoping to help bridge the gap. I worked out with Sarah every week, making terrific gains. However, each workout took a few days to recover from, which made the scheduling of meaningful on-bike training difficult. Not only this, but the translation of workout strength to bike strength just wasn’t there. I never felt like it was converting for me. But no matter what, I wasn’t getting the saddle time. There is no substitute.
- Bad fueling. You’d think I’d have this nailed by now, but years later I still don’t have it. I blew it on Mt. Wash by misjudging the conditions and running out of water in the heat. I wasn’t feeling too well to begin with, and no way would I have PR’d this year, but even still, I haven’t been able to find the magic (tolerable+effective) combination of electrolytes and carbohydrates. HEED and gels, together, are just not getting it done for me. Recently I started learning about Nuun, which I am planning to try.
- Poor self-awareness. Reading all this, it’s easy to see that I should have low expectations coming into cyclocross season. But being frustratingly competitive, I went head first into the CX season finishing near the tail end of every race, wondering where the improvement over last season was. I beat myself up week after week, racing through illness until I realized that throwing in the towel on being competitive this year was not only a good idea, but absolutely necessary for my health (in all respects). Looking back, I should have embraced this year as a fun off-year and taken it easy a long time ago.
Joe Friel wrote a blog post on off season exercise the other day that really helped level my perspective.