At some point this year, I will fall into a training slump. Whether it is a physical, mental or emotional slump is yet to be determined. I need to be aware of the cues my body is telling me and listen when it's saying it's had enough. When I follow these six practices below, the inevitable training slump becomes manageable and I can hopefully turn that slump into a catalyst for better training and results.
Set YOUR goals. I have had goals set for me by coaches, teammates, teams and family. When I fell into a slump, there was no internal motivation to push forward because the goal I was trying to reach was not my own. I needed to be the author of my goals in order to stay on track. Once I sat down and outlined very specifically what my goals were and why they were important to me, the haze lifted and I was able to see the path to realizing them. When I start feeling bogged down by training and the difficulties of the craft, I look at my Goals Sheet and I remember “Oh yeah! THAT’S why I want to do this!” And the tiny fire inside starts to grow again. Nobody else can do this for me.
An easy way to create goals is to follow the S.M.A.R.T plan: goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Once you have created your goals and outlined your training plan to get there, keep it somewhere visible like the fridge or your desk so you see it every day. (Read this related article that provides 10 guidelines for effective goal setting).
There is nothing like knowing your friend is waiting for you at the coffee shop to get you motivated to get out the door. Accountability is very important and having like-minded friends to train with is invaluable. My friends, teammates and training partners love giving their support and feedback, sharing a bar, or taking an extra pull through the pace line for me so I can rest just a few more seconds. Why? Because I do it for them. It's a cycle, and my friends love to give back just as much as I do. Thankfully we usually aren’t all going through a slump at the same time, so there is always someone who will have the broad shoulders to help carry you through. It’s the ebb and the flow of the group dynamics that keeps the “family” so tight. Knowing that I am not the only one who struggles with my training is very reassuring.
I cannot take myself too seriously! Cross Country Olympian Georgia Gould was recently interviewed by Singletrack.com regarding her sub-par cyclocross racing season. The article said, “Whether you are in your off-season or in the heat of your most important race, lighten the mood.” Gould decided to begin a #Heckleme campaign through Twitter to bring laughs and a game back into her racing. The entertainment level was high and although she ultimately realized it was time for a break, the campaign did wonders for her morale.
You will have training days or races where nothing falls into place and it seems like a snowball of negativity. I have had a flat tire followed by a sidewall blow-out, dropped my last bar on a descent, and missed my power numbers. Instead of getting even more upset, I have found that allowing myself to see the humor in all those bad things happening at once and having a good laugh at my misfortune gets me out of the negative slump and reminds me that it is, after all, just a training ride.
As crazy as it sounds, sometimes the best way to avoid falling into a training slump is to take a short break. Yup. Hang the bike up for the day. Go to the movies or use the allotted training time to go to dinner with friends. Taking some time to focus on other aspects of your life and take a breath of fresh air can refocus your training goals and get you back into the correct frame of mind to really train and perform at your full potential. In order to do this though, you as the athlete need to be in tune with your body, stress levels, and how fatigued you are in order to see the red flags that can lead to a slump. Taking some time off can help you regain perspective and the desire to get back out and train again.
As athletes we are creatures of habit, which is one of our strongest attributes, but can at times lead to a sense of monotony or repetition. I asked my clients and Facebook/Twitter friends what they do to get out of a slump and I received some great answers, all of which entailed breaking a routine. Kickboxing, yoga, coffee shop ride with new riders, ride to a delicious breakfast spot, ride your road bike on the dirt, take the BMX bike to the skate park, train with a friend, make a contest with your friends, leave your Garmin/computer at home, practice skills and drills on the bike, sleep in, and more.
These ideas are great and even better, easy to implement. Since I train alone the majority of the time, it is really fun to call a friend up and plan an easy ride or surprise my non-competitive cycling friends on their weekly coffeeshop meet up. I found that fumbling around in a TRX class challenged my body and mind in a totally different way and really invigorated me, giving me a short break in my routine. I was ready to get back to my planned training with renewed vigor and a new respect for ab work.
My friend Ely Woody told me, “Do something different! If I trained for XC year round I'd be over it! So I'm doing a lot of downhill, BMX, and super-d type things instead of regular XC rides. Sharpens skills and I still get the training from riding to the top. Synergy!” Yes! Synergy is the perfect term when looking for a change in the training routine.
A key component of being an athlete is having fun. The minute we stray away from the fun and enjoyment of the process, we start losing motivation. By changing up your activities, you are keeping your training fun and challenging - which keeps you motivated!
Have you gotten your new team kits yet? Our local club got theirs last week and I saw dozens of them out on the road the next day. Nothing like that new bike, new shoes, or crisp new kit to get you out the door and excited to train. Obviously we can’t all go buy $300 shoes every week, so maybe a new challenging workout? How about a new bar or hydration mix? Is there a new movie to watch while you're on the trainer? Find a way to add a new component to the experience, and you'll see your enthusiasm for training get a fresh burst.
Don’t be afraid of the slump! Stay tuned to your body and emotions and catch it before you have yourself dug too deep of a hole. Take a deep breath and analyze what you can change up or add into your routine to bring the luster back. You may lose some of your fitness or edge for the short-term, but ultimately the time away and the attention on other aspects of life will be just the catalyst you needed to get back into the groove, and continue excelling as an athlete in the long run.
Joy McCulloch (Duerksen) received a B.S. in Physical Education and Commercial Fitness from Pacific Union College and during the summer of 2010, she completed both the USAC Coaching certification and the ACE Personal Training certification in order to pursue her dream of coaching athletes of all levels. Joy is also an avid cyclist and races as Professional mountain bike racer and a Cat 2 road cyclist. She also races cyclocross from time to time and would love to hit up a pump track in the near future. You can learn more about Joy and her company on the Big Wheel Coaching website.