With the advent of smartphone maps and GPS, many of us have lost the skill of navigation — and the methodical nature and patience involved in the journey. To navigate you would figure out where you were on a map, check your course with the compass and continue in the direction of your destination. Frequently checking your bearing and adjusting your course ensured you didn’t go off course.
Applied to sport, the idea of checking your fitness as you go makes good sense. For fitness goals, the idea is to monitor how you progress and adjust your training and recovery to increase your confidence and performance. A quick weekly check-in avoids frantic last-minute changes, cramming training in and sky-high nerves during race week.
CALIBRATE YOUR COMPASS
In sport, you could hire a coach, a guide if you will, to handle some of the navigation but as an athlete, you should actively assess yourself and provide feedback about where you are now and where you want to go in terms of motivation and energy.
Calibration of our tools also means using the right tests and workouts for your goals. For mountain biking, you might use an off-road time trial on the same loop or hill. Road racers may find that a 2- or 3-day block of big rides helps them check how they are doing and also boosts their fitness for stage racing. If a mountain biker did a road racer’s training they might get fit by some measure but struggle with the very hard requirements of their goal. Just because you have a map doesn’t mean you will get to your destination, so adjust your workouts to make sure you are optimizing your confidence and practicing elements of your discipline.
CHECK YOUR BEARINGS
Beyond actually pedaling, I use a few measures to help gauge how an athlete is doing with their journey. Each week, you should assess your motivation, enjoyment and energy. These are always relevant to performance; a happy, motivated and energetic athlete will generally do well, even with less than ideal preparation. If you see these vitals are not getting recharged try adding a recovery day (or week), more fun or reducing training load to get back on course.
Being on course can include registering for a race, improving your bunny hop or building on a set of intervals. If you have not experienced steps toward your goal and some improvement in your confidence, then the next week should be adjusted to include more chances to take these steps. Remember, it’s normal to dislike certain parts of training. Personally, I dislike sprinting and hard, short efforts. Planning these workouts for times I get to ride fun trails after or as a recovery makes those workouts some of my favorite.
PREPARE FOR ARRIVAL
While we don’t want to do an exact simulation of the goal every week of the year, we want to get closer to that level of performance as we near the goal. In the 1–3 months before your event, make sure you are training at a similar time of day, reaching race-like intensity and durations and practicing the critical elements of fueling and other skills.
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In the last few months, your weekly review should include asking ‘what am I nervous about?’ Whatever you are unsure about, struggling with or not looking forward to should be the focus of your on-bike training and also some off-bike preparation — including visualization (imagine the start of a race and all the things that will be going on) watching videos to help become familiar or phoning a coach to get extra information about the event.
You will have weeks you progress a lot and weeks you don’t progress or even regress a little. The important thing is you adjust your training or change the workouts a bit. It’s never a big deal to adjust course during the journey, but adjusting on race day won’t do any good if you have shown up at the wrong destination by following a bad map or failing to follow the right one.