Contributed by Silver Sage sponsored Reno WheelWoman, Hanging-in-there-tough-Heidi Littenberg
USA Cycling Masters National Championships, held September 9th through the 12th, marked the end of my 2015 racing season. The dates have been circled on my calendar since exactly one year ago. In 2014, I registered, but couldn’t attend because I was sitting behind a computer monitor all summer and couldn’t really ride, let alone train. The sudden decrease in riding time was clearly visible on Training Peaks. Instead, I sat at work for something like 12 to 14 hours a day almost every day of the week. I looked at friends’ Facebook and Strava posts with envy. Riding and racing passed me by.
Fifty two weeks…. 365 days. I was anxiously awaiting this year’s event, mostly because it meant I could participate, unlike last year.
However, as August approached, I started feeling late-season burnout. July included a couple big races and the training for those pretty much fried me. After a good conversation with Coach Julie Young, she tweaked my training plan so I could train and manage the burnout as much as possible. This included more group rides for much-needed social contact, the Reno Wheelmen Tuesday Twilight races, some regular solo interval sessions, and a renewed focus on quality over quantity. Some days were better than others, but she helped me head to Ogden, Utah with the bulk of my fitness and desire to race intact.
I went to Nationals with two simple goals for the races – race hard and have fun.
Our time trial course reconnaissance gave me reason to be concerned. A steep, somewhat long climb awaited in the last five kilometers of the 35K race and I was worried my legs wouldn’t be up to the challenge. Time trialing is new to me and I didn’t expect much in terms of results, but the course was intimidating anyway. On race day, though, I found some focus amid the pre-race butterflies and I pushed myself as hard as I could. I didn’t set the world on fire, but that wasn’t the point. I was able to sit back after it was done and reflect on the past year. The main point – I got to do it. That’s as good as a win in my book.
The criterium awaited three days later and that’s my bread and butter. I had time to recover from the TT, help my teammate during the road race, cheer for friends, and do some fun riding.
On race morning, a quick course inspection and warm-up got my juices flowing. The course looked to be as fun as I hoped it would be. I lined up at the start and told myself, “You are here to have fun. Do that and the rest won’t matter.” When the starter’s whistle blew, my mind immediately went into “race mode” and stayed there. Crits require laser-like focus because things happen so quickly. I wasn’t sure I would have that focus after being all over the place mentally in August, but I did. Even though I missed the medals by about six inches in the sprint, I felt exhilarated. It was FUN and it was exactly why I’m so addicted to racing.
So, the first moral of this story is talk to your coach. Julie did an excellent job of helping me maintain focus and fitness despite low motivation. Burnout is tough to manage, but it’s doable when you make sure your coach knows what’s going on.
Even better, I’m ending my season with the desire to go after it again next year. I’m already looking forward to all the fall and winter cross training Julie will dish out, so I can be stronger and faster when things start up in the spring. So, the cycle continues. This season’s end has become next season’s beginning.