Many athletes in the farther reaches of the northern hemisphere begin to struggle with feelings of inadequacy at this point in the year. The race season looms, and most of us have yet to compete in an honest test of our early season capacity. This winter, for many of us, has been particularly hard hitting and it’s natural to wonder whether we’re ready for racing.
Short Answer: Absolutely, yes.
Long Answer: When your first race of the year does hit, whether that be in February, May, or otherwise, you’re as fit as you’re going to be for the start of racing season. But it’s a long year. So wherever you enter the season, nothing is set in stone. There is so much left at this point in the racing season, so many more racing opportunities, and thus so many different chances to change the shape of the course of your season for good or for bad.
Let me give you a useful counter example. Myself. Just coming off of my second 30+ hour training week of the winter, many might view my training profile from the winter as excellent. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been in as good of shape at the beginning of March in my entire career as an athlete. But all this potential actually terrifies me. Because the reality is, my first big race season goal is almost two whole months away still. Between now and then, there is a lot of time to mess things up for that first peak for the year. I could also continue to improve my odds for that race until that time, but with our travel plans between now and then, I sincerely doubt that will be possible. So yeah, my winter has been top notch. But even though my foundation is set, I have my work cut out for me in maintaining that fitness and honing in on top race form between now and then. Meanwhile, I’m looking at all of my ex-teammates from Boulder who have spent the entire winter riding fat bikes and jamming on the trainer and feeling some jealousy. I honestly don’t know how those guys are racing at the Redlands Classic next week. But as far as the remainder of the season, they have so much potential to still make tremendous gains. I’m in a much different position. The top of the mountain can feel quite lonely in March.
Whatever the case, we will all be as ready for racing as we are in the moment when that first race of the year does hit. For some of us, we’ll surprise ourselves with some good early season form after a long off-season with bad weather. For others, we’ll realize just how far we have to go still before we’re back to competing at our best. But the truth of it all is that it’s all give and take. Nobody who’s fast now can be fast (or at least this much faster) for the entire season. Likewise, nobody who’s slow now can honestly look themselves in the mirror and say, this is the best I can be. There are so many opportunities to get fit while this season is still in session.
I’ve had athletes coming into their peaks in May crash hard and not ride again for two months. Those athletes have blown their expectations out of the water in proving to themselves that they can come back stronger than before in time for the latter half of that same season. This is not uncommon in the top levels of competition, and it’s certainly not uncommon for the majority of us in regional competition. As a good friend of mine always liked to say to me as I was learning to race road bikes at the University of Oregon, getting back into shape is more fun than holding good form. Literally anything at this point in the pendulum that defines our seasons will bring us gains. Riding our bike to the grocery store after a two hour endurance ride can actually provide measurable fitness gains. Adding one extra interval to a set can mean an enormous leap forward in our week to week improvement. And an extra hour of sleep can make the following day’s workout feel like a breeze.
So wherever you’re at as spring begins to sprung, keep these simple principles in mind. The season is long. Work is always work. And gains are always possible, even if those of us with a solid winter training base do find them a bit harder to come by.