You might think that it’s a bit late (or early) to be thinking about planning a race season in Europe. You might be right. In fact most people have been racing for months now and are fully immersed in the 2015 MTB season. But I took the decision this year not to race early, or to plan very far ahead, because of a lot of change in other aspects of my life. With my moving and starting a new job and my other half first not having a job and subsequently getting one and moving overseas it was all a bit up in the air. Neither of us knew what was going to happen so, much to our coach’s annoyance, we haven’t planned anything yet apart from a trip to Italy in June for me to race the World Marathon Champs. Anyway the time has come for me to start thinking about it and to look back over previous years of my own racing.
Read any book and you’ll find that most coaches, and athletes, think that it is best to race often throughout the mountain bike season but with a few races identified as ‘targets’. I agree this is the ideal, but I have found it pretty hard to achieve. Peaking is notoriously difficult at the best of times – more of an art than a science – and my personal experience has been that I either get completely freaked out by priority events such that there is no way I can perform; or that I race so often that even a big event seems no different from the rest and I struggle to raise my game.
Racing takes a lot out of you mentally as well as physically and I think that being unable to rise to the occasion stems from only having a certain amount of mental energy available for racing without needing to stop and refresh. The more I race, the less there is left in this energy pool and less I am able to commit to future races. Often by the time June or July and my target races roll around I have already been burning out. But with a break in August can race better in the end of season races. Unable to really focus on a peak I often end up just racing, lots and with no real difference between each race.
I would say lots of amateur bike racers end up doing this. They love racing, they just want to race, so they do every race going. I don’t actually think this is a bad plan if you really are just doing it as a hobby.
The problem is that most of us that decide to race are really competitive people. We find it hard not to race every race as if it were the world championships. For me this often takes away the fun. Training and racing just becomes stressful and the pressures I put on myself to perform mean that I almost always disappoint. Rather than trying to peak for one event I end up trying to peak for all of them and failing.
So this is how I have ended up in May not yet having done a race. I have learned over the years that my non cycling life stresses really affect my cycling, so I took the decision to wait until they were gone. I’m currently pretty pleased with that decision. I qualified for World Champs last Autumn so there was no chasing results to be done. I have just focussed on training. Learning to enjoy riding my bike again, exploring new places and reconnecting with the desire to compete that got me racing in the first place.
Tomorrow I will stand on the start line for the first time this year and I’m excited. It’s not an easy race – the BeMC cup held over three days in Belgium, the spiritual home of cycling. I literally cannot wait to race. I haven’t felt like that since 2011!