It’s 5:30 in the morning and we’re driving through a thick fog that blankets the farm roads of southern Pennsylvania. We are on our way to the USA Cycling National Road Championships, where I will be competing in the U23 Time Trial later that day. I’m not nervous – being nervous means that you think something bad might happen – instead, I am excited.
I had nailed my preparation in the weeks leading up to the race, I was both fit and fresh, and I knew that I had the opportunity, that day, to do something special.
In 2018, I increased my training and racing load more than ever before. The weekly and monthly stress was a lot – don’t forget to add in school, family, and home life – but for most of the season, I was able to handle it. One of the keys to managing stress is tracking it. Final Surge is the perfect visual tool for seeing your workouts in the past, present, and future.
When reflecting on my 2018 season, it is easy to forget the hardest workouts, the longest training rides, and the worst days I’ve had on the bike. It is important to look back, however, so that I can learn from my mistakes, and improve my future performance.
I am always striving to be better. Every night, I write in a journal, and I think about what went wrong – and what went right – earlier that day. Perhaps it was my fueling strategy, the timing of the ride, or a lack of warm-up that caused me to struggle through that day’s workout, rather than feeling fantastic. No matter how long or how hard a training ride is, if my legs felt good, I’ll roll back into the driveway with a smile on my face.
I don’t limit my reflections to cycling either. Maybe it was an argument with a friend, or getting cut off in traffic, where I reacted angrily and in a way that I’m not proud of. No matter the circumstance, I always strive to be better.
So when looking back at my 2018 season, I went back in search of my biggest weeks of training; I wanted to know how much riding I did, and how I performed in the following races. A general pattern followed, in which a big training week 1-2 weeks before a target event allowed me to bounce back with both fitness and freshness just in time for the race.
But the most important part of reflection is this: a perfect peak tip-toes the line between fitness and burnout. When fitness is at its highest, burnout is just one hard workout away. There were many times throughout the season that I would race 3, 4, or 5 times in a single week. Most of the time, I felt good and performed very well. But upon reflection, I could see that racing was simultaneously pushing me towards both fitness and burnout. I was used to riding 20+ hours/week, but I was NOT used to racing at an average heart rate of 170 bpm for an hour, four times in one week!
In the middle of the summer, I was racing the Tour of America’s Dairyland, a 10-day crit series in Southeast Wisconsin. On top of that, I was a racing a little bit of track at the Washington Park Velodrome, and trying to fit in (on top of all of that!) time trial training for the upcoming U23 National Championships. My coach and I kept a close eye on the amount of training and racing stress that I was under. Both form and fitness were placed in a delicate balancing act – I wanted to be as fit as possible heading into Nationals, while also avoiding any burnout. Many hours were spent in front of the computer screen, carefully devising an ambitious training plan. After a few days of discussion, we were confident in what we had laid out.
A few weeks later, I rode the time trial of my life and came away with 4th in the U23 National Championships.