For those of you that want the cliff notes: I've raced every weekend since the beginning of September and double race weekends since October and I've driven myself into the ground. Whether it is over-reaching, overtraining or mentally burned out the answer is always that I should have taken a few weekends off this season.
I've never been here before. In my former life I raced for years and years and everything always made sense. When I got my ass handed to me it was because I was a slacker and hadn't been training. When I was ripping fast it was because I put in the time that season. When I had off results from that pattern it was always because of some mental bullshit but I recognized that later and over the years I've become a more consistent rider for it.
This right here, this is frustrating. I'm going backwards when I've been a good boy and did my training. I should be going faster faster and instead I'm going slower slower.
As a rider on the other side of the country from my coach, racing and training becomes a game of inference. If I'd been back home this whole time we would have been doing testing and we could have seen when I crossed over the line of overreaching and backed everything off. But out on my own with all this racing every weekend we can't even design a plan, we have no numbers for anything and all we have to work off is how I feel.
The puzzle here is that I'm riding like ass when I should be flying. There are three possible explanations:
Considering that early in the season I had to recover all week between races and had the largest gains of the year undertraining seems highly unlikely to explain a fitness drop of this magnitude. How could a training regiment that gives me the same gains in a month as the previous ten months combined have me fall flat on my face from rest?
I've been at this racing shit for a long time. I've seen myself crack in more ways than Eskimos have names for snow. I haven't had a single race this year where I finished and said "I mentally took myself out of that race." If this was mental and my body was fine then I should have seen flashes of brilliance here and there. There would have been a race where through sheer coincidence I pulled my head out of my ass and killed it. There was none. I should have had laps where I got it together and started ripping by people like they were in another category. There was none.
I reboot my head during races when things don't seem right. When I see myself getting frustrated, when my riding seems off, I drop all my thoughts, relax, ask myself what hurts, legs? chest? then I adjust anything that needs tuning, and get back to putting power on the pedals, staying relaxed, picking good lines and riding at whatever my top output happens to be and fuck everything else.
Over the past five weeks, no race has seemed right. I've been rebooting my head like it was running Windoze. If this was all in my head then one of those reboots should have seen me tearing like a bat out of hell. Instead I get a lap time two seconds faster.
How do we disprove this one. Well perhaps the schedule really was too easy so I asked some hot shit racer friends of mine what they thought of racing thirteen weekends in a row. The most colorful response was from Ryan Iddings: "You would have to be the Hulk or something to sustain that. If you had done years of heavy racing before this you could probably handle it but not in your first year back." The other riders all said similar but less quotable stuff.
Then there are the classic symptoms. Trouble sleeping, decrease in max heart rate, fatigue, and mental strain. I haven't been keeping track of my resting heart rate but you can be damn sure I will from now on.
In races I just can't go hard anymore. By mid season before I tipped over I was finishing races and was pumped because I hammered the whole race. For those of you wanting to look at results for evidence of this, it's not there, it took me the same half season to technically and logistically get my races dialed in so even though I was riding well, my results still look terrible. It wasn't until the second half of the season that I got cross racing dialed in like a cougar on Ray Storm's speed dial.
I remember specifically last weekend, there was a huge runup that could be ridden. I started it fresh with a bunch of riders that were roughly my level and they just rode away. I took a glance at my thinking several times up that hill just to make sure it wasn't mental garbage. What's my body doing here? Not breathing that hard, legs hurt a little. Okay, just attack this hill! Nothing. Okay, back to basics, look forward, breath focus and sprint! Give it everything! Give it ten feet! FUCKING GO!! I couldn't bring my level up at all. It was like I car with something wrong with the throttle. No matter how hard I push the pedal to the floor the throttle only opens half way.
Now that I've reasoned it out, my season makes sense again. I'm still in new territory to me but that's not a bad thing. I was only concerned with one thing when I decided on this three year endeavor, and that was that I've never stepped over the line between training too little and training too much. I had no way to recognize the signs because I've never been there. So although this means that my results don't represent my ability and sponsorship will be a more difficult project than I would like next year, in the long run I'd rather have this happen to me during my designated training and learning year than next year or the year after when my results actually matter. Now I can be a more consistent rider with this knowledge and the relationship with my coach is more complete now that we know what pushing me too hard looks like.
Moving forward into this final month of my first year of training my goals are to rest rest rest and make damn sure I crawl out of my hole before training starts for next year. But my best results for the season are behind me. I have to check out and begin recharging for next year. Training more will only dig me deeper.