The thought of fall racing is like the flick of a switch when cooler weather arrives. The need for arm warmers, light jackets, and lights are all fun thoughts to have. I like to think about the change in scenery, riding my bike or running in a new atmosphere, as well as what type of training I need to focus on. So, whether your goals are to prepare for shorter events such as cyclocross races on the bike or a half marathon on foot, you are going to need to be extra smart. A full year of training will provide plenty of wear and tear to your body.
Entering into the fall season and continuing to train with the same amount of volume and intensity is not wise. The body can only handle so much training stress in one season whether your limits are to race 20-30 times a year or 5-10 times a year. The goal for most is to push individual limits for the season, which means you are going to build a good amount of fatigue mentally and physically.
If the year has been a busy one with races and training, you are going to need to reduce your volume of training as you transition into fall. A primary goal should be to focus on shorter, harder efforts with plenty of easy days, and recovery days. This will help elicit further gains in top end power. If your year has been a light one with fewer races or hours, you may be able to handle more volume and intensity in the late season but you will still need to be smart about it.
The best way to know how much volume and intensity you can handle is to listen to your body and mind. You need to plan to train less late in the year but your bio feedback will tell you how to dial your program in. Your mental state can tell you a lot about how much fatigue you are experiencing, and will do so most effectively within the context of feedback from heart rates, perceived exertions, and power trends.
Late in the season, after a week or two of training, you may experience greater fatigue. Heart rates may be hard to elevate, power numbers down, higher perceived exertions, and a negative attitude toward riding may all happen after one week of training hours in the fall. If these are the trends, then, you are most likely experiencing a greater amount of fatigue and possibly pushing the limits of overtraining. It may only take one or two weeks of hours to reach this point late in the season compared to two to three weeks earlier in the year. While it is ok to experience this, it’s more important to listen to it and seek a week of rest or reduced hours to recover.
Training fatigue does not completely vanish after a week of rest, or a fixed amount of easy days. It builds through the year and carries from week to week and month to month. Even while you are peaking for events mid season, resting into them, you are still building fatigue.
So as you travel into the fall season and want to race, you need to keep a few things in mind –
– Focusing on intensity is important. But recovering from higher end intensity is just as important, if not more so. If you have gone too hard too early in the year, working on high end intensity late in the year may not be achievable and/or will lead to an overtrained state in a fast way. So listening to your body is again, important. But if you have worked on a good mix of endurance and intensity through the season, then you will be ready to work hard efforts to elicit a few final gains in top end power, which will help out with the shorter events in the fall.
– Focusing on too many endurance rides with big weekly hours is a common mistake. This is an easy way to burn out late in the year, especially if it has been a big year of racing and training. Even if you are planning on a longer event late in the fall, with a full year of training in the legs, you may not need many hours to prep well. Focusing on leg speed and top end power in the fall will elicit further gains, and help you in a late season longer or shorter event.
– You must listen to your bio feedback, your overall feel and mind. Often, I recommend to athletes I work with to rest earlier than expected later in the year, even after one week of training or a short race. It is hard to accept the need for more rest late season but it is wise to realize what’s needed and take the additional rest. This will help you avoid an overtrained state and allow late season gains to be made.
If you have raced your heart out, literally, through long training hours and hard races, then late season is a time to have fun with the power and endurance you have gained through the year. Fall is a time to work on top end power, adding to endurance gains from the season, or prep for a long distance race, but it is also a time to incorporate more rest into the program to allow for more recovery from the training and racing stress built through the year. It is also a time to enjoy the change of season, cooler temps, and post-summer scenery.
Have fun, be smart, and work hard.
Mike Schultz CSCS