Ahhh, fall. That time of year when the hot, Midwest summer is fading away, and the icy grip of winter has not yet made its inevitable return. Autumn is quickly becoming my favorite time of year. There are many reasons fall is climbing to the top of the podium as one of my favorite seasons. All of my favorite holidays are quickly approaching at this time of year with their food, traditions, family and merriment. There is that distinct, earthy smell in the air that only freshly fallen leaves can produce. Hot chocolate and chili replace hot dogs and backyard burgers as even my taste buds seem to acclimate to the cooler weather. I even begin to long for the warmth of the fireplace as daylight wanes and the calendar inches a little closer towards the winter months, knowing that fall nights will be bringing crisp cool air with them.
What I really love about this time of year is that I just get to ride my bike. I am not training, racing, or hammering on the local group ride; I am just riding my bike like I used to when I was kid. I spend many of my fall rides meandering through neighborhoods, strolling lazily down vacant country roads and taking in the scenery. Now you might argue that I am putting in base mileage at this point of the year as part of my training program so I am technically still “training”, and in that respect you are correct. But this is one part of the year that I can ride my bike without worrying who is going to try and attack up that next hill, or race to that next city limit sign.
So you may ask, “How do lazy fall rides work into the bigger picture that is the macrocycle of a training program?” These slow rides are essential after a long season on the bike. Up to this point, you have probably been racing and training pretty hard all summer. You have been hammering group rides during the week and riding long, hard, or both on weekends. Your body has taken a beating all season long. If you don’t give your body a chance to rebuild itself stronger through rest and recovery, you will risk a big break down both mentally and physically. It is time for some active recovery.
Fall is the perfect time of year, assuming you aren’t racing cyclocross, to take some much needed time to let your body recover. This should begin with what we cyclists tend to dread most – time off the bike. I know, it is awful to even contemplate hanging up your trusty steed and ignoring her (or him) while you selfishly take some time to yourself to “figure things out.” However, this is one love-affair that requires you to distance yourself, just for a bit. I promise your relationship will be even stronger for it.
The amount of time you take off the bike will vary with your recovery, training program and several other factors. I personally take 1-2 weeks off but some athletes will have up to a month off of the bike depending on their individual needs. I usually book-end my time off the bike with those slow, easy fall rides I discussed earlier. These rides have no destination and lack distance and time based goals. There is no real purpose on these rides except for the joy of the ride itself. Enjoy them while you can. You will soon be moving into more structured training.
So put away the computer, HRM and power meter. You spend all season watching numbers, try spending a few weeks just watching the road, and the trees, and all the wonderful sights we unknowingly miss in our anaerobic state of mind when we are hammering with the group. So, take your time off the bike and when you get back on the bike try to remember why we all started riding in the first place, to have fun.
Photo Credit: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT