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When the wheels fall off

As both an athlete and a coach I have faced the inevitable period in a season or during a training block when everything just seems to fall to pieces. The very best laid plan or the big goal you have been working towards for the past 6 months seems like it is suddenly just not going to happen.

There are so many reasons that this occurs to us as we are not machines that simply churn out the training day after day, week after week. Understanding the tale tell signs that its happening, what is causing or has caused it as well as what to do to get yourself back on track is all part of the longer journey. Nothing beats that sense of achievement that comes with ticking those long-term goals off the bucket list and feeling like you are not going to make it so close to an event can be incredibly disheartening. In this article I will try to outline the reason why sometimes we just want to hang the bike up in the garage and give you some strategies to overcome it and get back on track.

Why do the wheels fall off, what are the signs and how do we get back on track?

  1. WHY #1

Overtraining is one of the biggest single reasons I see for riders throwing the towel in and losing motivation. It is also one of the most common reasons I have riders approach FTP Training to seek help to manage their training and help them hit their targets and goals. The process of overtraining tends to creep up on us over long periods of constant overreaching. Trying to hit new personal best power numbers every ride, trying to beat your mates on every bunchy or going for strava segments at every opportunity are sure fire methods to burn out and over train. Constantly flogging ourselves simply wears us down both physically and mentally.

 

THE SIGNS

The common signs of overtraining are varied, but, every one of the signs I am going to list can be associated with it and when several are all occurring at the same time we need to address it.

  • A sudden drop in performance, that seems to happen when you have just been flying out on the bike. This is often accompanied by sore aching muscles and sudden changes in resting heart rate. It is often believed by the rider to be a lack of form and therefore more training and longer hours are needed. This along with harder sessions are completed while all the time performance on the bike is getting worse.
  • Irritability and a short temper with loved ones and at work, often over very trivial things and totally out of character.
  • An inability to get to sleep and night where you lay there incredibly tired and stressing because you know you must get up the next morning to meet the bunch. When you do get to sleep its often a fitful disturbed sleep and you wake up feeling more tired than when you went to bed.
  • A sudden lack of motivation and not wanting to ride or even look at the bike.
  • Changes in eating habits where you feel hungry all the time and its often junk food full of simple refined carbs and sugary foods that you crave.

               

WHAT TO DO?

The first thing to do when you see any of these symptoms is rest, take some time off the bike and spend some time with family or friends. Go and do some other activities or jobs that you neglected to focus on the bike. How long this period needs to be really depends upon how long you have been overreaching for and how deep a hole you have dug for yourself. More often than not 3 or 4 days completely off the bike is enough to feel better and ready to go again. It can however take a lot longer than this and require an extended period of rest. If this occurs not long before the target event your goals may need to be revised, again as I outlined this is determined by how long this has been going on.

 

  1. WHY #2

Incorrect periodisation of training is another reason that suddenly you feel like you have had enough. Periodising the season is vitally important when aiming for a target event as in my experience most riders have around 5 months of a build towards an event before needing a rest. Too long hammering yourself with VO2 and anaerobic efforts is another sure-fire way to lose your mojo right before the event.

 

THE SIGNS

As with overtraining getting the periodization of your training wrong can scupper your chances of reaching your target event due to loss of motivation and lack of desire to ride your bike. The feeling of dread about hitting those high intensity intervals again when all you want to do is just go and ride your bike with your mates.

 

WHAT TO DO?

  • Work back from your target event and don’t just meander along from week to week.

Look at the structure of your training and the duration of each training phase leading up to your event. The overall structure could follow a classic periodization approach.

  • 2 week foundation period
  • 10 week base phase.
  • 2 – 4 week build (I find that often this is a long enough period without overdoing it) for most riders
  • 4 week peaking block targeting the specifics of the target event or goal.

 

  1. WHY #3

Anxiety and lack of confidence is another reason for us to want to just forget it all and go and fishing instead. It’s common for all athletes to go through this as the nagging doubts creep into our heads. Have we done enough, are we fit enough, can we do it and complete the ride, can I compete at this level or will I look a fool and get dropped straight away. These thoughts tend to happen at precisely the wrong time and more often than not this loss of mojo and feelings that you just want to give up occur very close to the event, often a 2 – 3 weeks out. You sit there thinking why is this happening, you have done so much work to get so close.

 

THE SIGNS

  • You just feel like cracking open the beers and going to Maccas. Your focus has gone, you just feel like not bothering with it after all.
  • You listen to the naysayers and those that like to plant the seeds of doubt in your head and let it bother you and your confidence
  • You start to think of reasons not to do it like you have too much work on or you are just not fit enough to do it.

 

WHAT TO DO?

Don’t panic, go easy on yourself and just accept that this is or can be a part of the process. Just go for a ride and enjoy being out on the bike.

  • Know that at this point in your training the work has been done and a few easy days with less structure will not suddenly ruin your chances and stop you being the best you can be.
  • Look back over your training and if you’re using a power meter or tracking some of your strava times look at the gains you have made, the load and fitness you have developed.
  • If you have a coach chat to them about how you’re feeling and go through the data with them, this helps to reaffirm you are on track and ready to go.
  • Try to fill your time with some other activities as you start to taper into the event. This additional time not on your bike allows too much time thinking and doubting yourself.

 

There you have it, some of the most common reasons the wheels can fall off in your journey towards your target event. I hope this helps you not only identify that this is happening to you, but, also to set a strategy to not let it happen again and if it does to not let it stop you being awesome and completing what you set out to achieve.

Mark Fenner (Fenz)

Head Coach

I’ve been involved with cycling since I was 10 years old. My passion for cycling has led me to race both road and mountain bikes in England and Europe, which led me into learning more around the science behind the sport. I love helping others achieve their absolute best – I’ve lectured Sports and Exercise Science, Anatomy and Physiology in England, been an outdoor educator and motivator at The Scots College and have received several qualifications from degrees to certificates.

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