After months of early morning starts, squeezing lunch-time runs in, evening turbo sessions, club time trials, months of racing hard, recovering, training, tapering and racing again, the end of the 2013 season is finally here. But now what?
Many athletes under-estimate the importance of an end of season rest. Allowing your body to recover from a season of training and racing is an important step in building stronger fitness for the next season and staying injury-free. It pays to take time off! Yet few athletes have confidence in their own ability, or the patience, to take this rest. There can not be an endless cycle of push push push and now is the time to enjoy time off – both physically and mentally. This will prevent you from getting injured, putting in the same stale performances over again, or burning out. During this recovery phase you can back off, grow stronger and recover.
So why do athletes neglect this need for an end of season rest? Most worry about losing fitness although this can be negated by the fact that it takes 6 full weeks of nothing to decondition yourself. Certainly you will lose some fitness but this allows you to to be a little less fit in the winter and work to gain stronger fitness during racing season. You don’t want to be putting up personal best times in January. Remember that success in sport is all about timing. Winning in January doesn’t mean a thing unless you’re aiming to be January’s national champion.
With many athletes quite literally unable to ‘rest’, this end of season break can more realistically be two weeks of unstructured activity. This means not waking up to a schedule and not feeling like “I ought to do this and I should do that”. Ideally, this is two weeks completely off. The longer your race distances, the more important this rest becomes. Whatever the athlete chooses to do during these two weeks the point is to not apply stress. No strength training, no intensity, no tearing the body down. Give it a rest and let the body heal. The goal is for athletes to return to training absolutely ready to embrace the runs in the cold and the long rides on the road. Winter training requires a fire that must burn for many months before you see the end result. You have to be physically, psychologically and emotionally fresh to approach it. If not, your fire will burn out soon after your first race.
Two very important qualities in an athlete are longevity and consistency. Both require the athlete to find balance between work and recovery. Top athletes would have a definite break at the end of their season where they kicked back, disconnected and indulged a little. Many pros do the same. Recovery is their “secret”.