Dateline - Jan 18, 2007
(imagine the teletype noise chomping away in the background...)
I started writing this post at the beginning of last year, and although I peeked at it for the next twenty odd months, I didn't have the "stuff" to finish it off.
Now I do.
Yeah, I can say I get burnt out now and then. It's usually a function/result of non-cycling life events or stresses like work, family, personal, etc. But if the other things are under control, or if my escape for those stresses is cycling, then my cycling stays pretty consistent. Once I got into the rhythm of consistent racing when I was a kid, I rode about 50 weeks a year for 10-12 years, taking time off only for sickness (usually strep throat). Somehow, at the same time, I was extremely motivated virtually every month.
Now it's not like that too much.
I figure there are two or three levels of burnout.
An obvious one is where you are physically unable to recover, even after a day or three of rest. This type of physical burnout is difficult for me to attain because I simply can't push like that mentally anymore. The year I turned "Senior" (18 years old), though, was a different story. I started it off by doing well in a bunch of races, and thoroughly inspired, decided that I had to suddenly train 300-400 miles a week to attain my Cat 2 dream. I cranked the mileage way up and my speed dropped way down. I think I finished one race out of 50 or so, and I was slow whenever I got on the bike. I never allowed myself time to recover and kept digging myself deeper and deeper into the training hole. I stepped down the mileage and did much better the next year.
Physical burnout is difficult to handle. You are motivated to train so you've pushed yourself too far. The motivation is the problem - you have to keep it under control, allow the body to recover, and let the body recover before going crazy again. I found it extremely difficult to cut down my training time but I finally used my motivation to do so. Since then I half jokingly say that I've been recovering a lot, i.e. not training. But resting does help if it's preceded by a heavy training schedule, one that requires rest and recovery.
Sometimes the physical burnout is actually a symptom of a real problem. Deep rooted fatigue can be a sign of various viruses and such. I remember reading about various pros losing a season due to Epstein-something virus ("mono") or Lyme or some other seemingly minor inconvenience.
The other types of burnout are usually mental, one where the rider finds it hard to ride or race mentally, even though the body is capable. One is where you hate the bike, don't want to go near it. I've rarely been at that stage but when it happened I just accepted it as how it should be and stayed off the bike. This happened when I had serious problems in my life, beyond a selfish level, like when the shop closed, or when my mom was very ill. These thing transcended anything at a more self centered theme like relationships or school or other more transient things. I never hated the bike but I could walk by it and not think twice about it. I recall thinking that I'd been walking around a bike leaned up near the washing machine for weeks - I was so unconcerned with cycling that I didn't even feel like wheeling the bike elsewhere.
Another level of burn out is when I'm not motivated to train too much. I want to race but I find it hard to go out and do an hour or two on the bike. This type of attitude has dominated the last ten years of my racing - I find it extremely difficult to go and train consistently, even when working through various cycles of peaks and valleys. This happens because of being "busy" and not having time or energy to work out, although I also learned the hard way that a block of 150 hours is about my limit without taking a focused break from the bike. This means I can ride 150 hours in a pretty intense schedule (it took me about 3 months), then I need to take some time off the bike, then I can think about doing it again.
In this type of "mental fatigue" state, I try and allot times to work out, pinpointing nice days, writing off poor weather days for mental breaks. I think group rides are excellent for working through these periods, and group rides like Gimbles basically saved my riding many summers in a row.
Finally there are the days where I just don't feel motivated to ride, even though it might be, say, a nice weather day where I targeted a ride. Since this is the most common problem I have with training, I thought of ways to "fix" it.
I realized I rely on a few things to keep me focused when I feel less than motivated. This works for the second and third examples.
1. Coffee, Coke, etc. Any caffeinated drink with sugar.
2. Music to get my psyched. Videos don't work as well because I end up watching the whole thing and get engrossed in the race itself. This is on a trainer, but I'll play MP3s on my phone through my hands free earbud. I don't blast the music - I keep it pretty low, letting my memory fill in the musical blanks. The combination of memory and the subtle reminders emanating from the earbud gets me psyched though.
3. Try new equipment, or use race equipment. Sometimes I'll go out on race wheels to reward myself on a day where I need to make hard efforts. The light weight and fast acceleration makes it difficult to control myself just pulling away from the first stop sign.
4. Don't try and do mentally difficult things. This means going out to do two or three 30 minute efforts, or to try and get to a certain landmark in less than 90 minutes (a California thing for me). That's very hard mentally. But if I go out to get some sun and chase buses and trucks at three or four spots on my loop, well, mentally it's much more relaxing. Sometimes, if I take a time check at that particular landmark, I'll find that, hey, I got there in 87 minutes, and that was without trying.
5. Mental imagery during the ride. I used to do this all the time on easy rides. I'll do things like practice bike throws at shadows across the road, climb slowly but pretend I'm climbing fast, etc. When I learned hard musical passages on the violin, I'd play them slowly first, get the form and technique down, then accelerate the pace. These easy days are like that, going slow, honing technique, but not actually making the efforts physically.
6. Work on form. Pure cycling form, not the stuff I just described above. I'd focus on pedaling smoothly, no upper body movement, relaxed arms, etc. Keep track of cadence, keep it steady, ride the white line, and time starts to pass pretty quickly.
7. Do a big loop instead of a couple little ones. This is my favorite way of getting longer rides in - if I end up 50 miles away from home, my minimum ride is 50 miles. In the cooler months the shorter days add another motivating factor - darkness. I ride a lot quicker as the sun sets, and time really flies when you don't want it to.
8. Finally, I find that long rides on the trainer have enabled me to churn out some decent amount of time on the bike without getting overly burnt out. Because I've stuck out increasingly long rides on the trainer, I build endurance in a safe and controlled environment. Then, when I finally get outside, I end up riding a lot before I start getting those twinges and such. Time really flies when I'm outside, and I'll find myself doing 2 or 3 hours before I start wondering how long I've been out. I should point out that some of my trainer rides can extend well past a full movie (120 minutes). A regular ride is about an hour, a regular long ride is two hours, and a long ride is anything over 3 hours. This is actual pedaling time since that's what the computer seems to track.
Having said all that, with my job, house stuff, family stuff, Bethel stuff, car stuff, heck, even my back, I've been riding relatively infrequently. The house stuff is especially important since it's unsettling to not be settled.
I figure it's okay for now but this is building my motivation to ride dramatically. Although I'm not riding too much, my "burnout" level is actually quite low.
This means I just have to make time to ride.
Which means... I'm heading downstairs to ride.
After we move the new mattress to our bedroom.