The End of the Off-Season: Surviving Fat Bike Season Flying, Not Fried
Five or six years ago, there was little on the calendar through winter to keep us motivated and honest. After the Iceman Cometh Challenge in November, it was a full five months before events like Barry-Roubaix, the Lowell 50, or even the Yankee Springs Time Trial gave riders a chance to hop into action and kick off their spring campaign. These days, however, there’s hardly an off weekend, let alone an off-season!
With so many fun events on the calendar, starting in January and running almost without interuption for the rest of the year, it’s hard to balance downtime, your normal offseason training regimen, and being able to hop into a race feeling prepared. We have athletes that are hesitant to join up for certain blocks, thinking they won’t be able to balance what the do in the Hive with what they want to do outside on the trails, usually at the many fat bike races. We’ve put together a few tips on how to use racing as training, and how to make sure you’re not fried by July.
The chief thing to keep in mind is that your work in the Hive is measured. Each workout is designed as a part of the whole; what you do the first week of January through your last ride in February is all measured, all built on what you’ve done before in order to prepare you for what you’re doing next. That’s why those intervals start short and get longer, start at lower intensity and gradually get tougher. Importantly, that’s also why we have a rest week; you’re purposely being broken down in order to get stronger!
Will racing in winter make me tired by summer? We get this all the time. The answer have plenty of qualifications, but no. Look at a professional cyclist, whose entire job is to train and race. Most pros will identify one or two periods to be in top shape, often splitting their season after a big event. For some, the season might include a build into the Tour, then a 1-2 week break before returning to training to target the Vuelta or perhaps the World Championships. Other riders may rides the Spring Classics from late January into April before taking a break to build for the Tour. No matter how it’s divided, almost no rider is capable of being in perfect shape from January to November, and that’s the exact time frame you’d be looking at to crush fat bike races and still be competitive all season through Iceman.
The key? You have to come off the gas at some point. Consider taking a week or two completely off the bike in June, once all the local races in May are done. You could also reduce miles by 20-30%, and intensity by a similar number, for the same period, before building back up for the rest of the summer. Because of work, weather, and family, it’s usually easy to find a few weeks a year that you’re already busy, allowing you to rest, recover, and make other people in your lives a little happier, too. Lauri can help you determine when to rest, for how long, and how to build back up once you’re ready to get back to work.
Will racing fat bikes mess up my Brockmiller training? If you don’t plan ahead, yes! We don’t want you skipping workouts or not getting the most out of your time here, but we also want you to race if you want to. The key is to communicate; let your instructor know what fat bike races you’re doing and give them time to adjust your workouts accordingly. We’ll be able to adjust your last class and first class before and after a race in order to make sure you’re getting the same amount of work, even if it’s distributed a little differently. Usually, just skipping that weekend’s workout is enough to balance out your workload. We can help you get that balance right!
Training Through Racing, Racing As Training. Even the pros use events to race themselves into shape, often using even three-week Grand Tours as grueling, moving training camps as they prepare for later races. At our level of the sport, using ‘B’ or ‘C’ races as a check-in is a great way to see where you’re at and what your weaknesses are before a bigger target race. Especially later in the fat bike race season, this is the perfect way to see where your winter training has taken you, as well as to get some race miles in before early season events like Barry-Roubaix or even Mud, Sweat and Beers. If doing a fat bike race in January or February sounds like fun, but you’re not too worried about the end result, train through it. This is especially useful if you time it to coincide with a rest week. This allows you to take on a huge load of work and then get a full week of easy rides on the other side of it to recover and recuperate.
There’s a caveat here. Don’t think of this as just a race without any taper preceding it. Every time you race is a chance to learn and improve, so don’t go into an event without a goal, even if it has nothing to do with the result. For instance, your goal might be to stay in the lead group for a certain amount of time, to try a new racing tactic, or simply to hold a certain power or heart rate. Experiment by staying on the front longer, or by only sitting in and playing for a sprint finish. These lower-priority events are ideal for learning new tricks, skills, and tactics. Also, it’s still important to learn about your body. Pay close attention to what you eat, how much you sleep, and the rhythm of race day; you might learn that eating something closer to the start helps, or maybe having something different the night before for dinner gives you better digestive health. Learn, experiment, and improve!
At the end of the day, do what helps keep you motivated, and if that includes hopping in a fat bike race or a ski race, go for it! Use your instructor as a resource to get the most out of your time at the Hive, and your time on the race course. You can race all year as long as you temper your expectations and find those periods of rest to stay fresh both mentally and physically.