After completing a major event, many athletes find themselves feeling more than a little lost and directionless. After months of dedicated training and working toward a goal, finding motivation post event can be difficult. The freedom of not having to stick to a training routine can be liberating, but for many, just going for a ride can feel pointless.
Clearly, your body needs time to recover. Mentally too, you need to be enthusiastic about training before embarking on a new goal. As I put it, a half-hearted goal will result in a half-hearted effort. Often, there is also more to consider than your own feelings. Preparation for a major event usually involves sacrifices by your partner, family and friends. Often there is pressure post event to pay back the relationship, social and work credits you used up during training. It can be difficult to juggle the need for rest and family time with the fear of wasting the fitness you have worked so hard to establish. One way of approaching this post event dilemma is to look at transforming your endurance into speed. Apart from making you faster, there are several advantages to this approach.
If you have just successfully completed an event like an Ironman or a long road race, you probably have all the base fitness you currently need. More long rides at this point are going to provide limited return. However, having established your aerobic endurance and a decent threshold, you have the opportunity to develop greater anaerobic capacity and power.
These increases can achieved by switching your training emphasis from long, steady state type work (intervals of 20 – 60 mins etc) to shorter, more intense efforts of 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Importantly, because of the intensity of these efforts, the duration of your sessions will decrease. Not only is this type of training effective, it is easier to fit into your life.
It is important to remember that training load is a function of time and intensity. Although the number of hours you train may decrease, the overall load may be the same or even greater. Whereas endurance events are based on sustained efforts and the use of slow twitch (type 1) muscle fibres, this higher intensity work and need for greater force will recruit more fast twitch (type II) muscle fibres. Initially, you may experience more intense muscle soreness and neural fatigue as a result. Therefore, you may require more rest days and have to work harder on your recovery. But shorter sessions and more rest days may be just what your family and social life needs.
Another advantage is that this type of training represents a change in stimulus. Although physically demanding, the mere fact that you are doing something different can improve your motivation and enjoyment.
Importantly, the FTP that you have spent so long developing, is always going to be a percentage of your VO2 Max, and it has a natural ceiling (75 – 85% of VO2 is often cited). By increasing your VO2, it is possible to improve your FTP at the same time.
Within a few weeks you should notice an increased ability to ride harder and for longer above threshold, ie covering breaks or following surges. Again, many riders find this improvement very motivating. Hey, who doesn’t want to be the hurter instead of the hurtee?
So, are there any downsides? Unfortunately, many endurance athletes are still wedded to the “more is better” principle of training. Switching to a higher intensity phase will mean you will need to ride less and some athletes are just not willing to give that up. If you measure the quality of your training by how many k's you do, you may struggle to stick to it.
Secondly, these interval sessions are hard and you will be in a fair amount of discomfort at times. But you will adapt and your body will become more efficient at dealing with the required effort.
Even without a clear new goal, switching your training to develop speed can provide you with new motivation and make you a more complete rider all while training less. That has to be a change worth considering.