Beyond the general need to include periods of rest into your training schedule, there is the potential that you are straining your body more than you know. Gould nearly experienced reaching her breaking point in the fall of ’08 because she wasn’t resting sufficiently for her condition. She went to Europe for an intense cyclocross season and then went directly into cross country season without ever really taking a break between seasons. Then, when 2009 cross country season began, she felt like her form was a mess. She told Singletrack.com, “I really suffered. I had no punch.”
Gould would take easy days and still feel that overwhelming fatigue. She explained that she began to feel like every day should be an easy day. “I would get on the bike and feel flat.” She was unaware of how excessive her expectations were compared to her capabilities. “Then I got some blood work done,” she explained, that showed that she had had mononucleosis for the last 3-5 months.
The results came as a huge shock, despite her extended fatigue, because of her assumption that mono was always incapacitating. She had to come to terms with how unrealistic it was to expect herself to continue performing when her system was so weakened, and how badly her body had been craving rest while she denied providing it.
At this point, Gould did what many racers are too afraid to do for fear of losing form. She reluctantly took a month off during her season. Over that time, she says she felt that she had never lost so much fitness. Over the following two weeks, her nerves were high as she continued to feel sluggish every ride. “Then suddenly I started feeling fresh every day,” she explained. Taking advantage of a substantial rest period was invaluable to Gould and her body thanked her by performing above the level before the mono.
Rest assured that the riders at the top, such as Gould, lament hanging up their helmets also, probably more than you do. And it is a lesson that she has learned repeatedly but still struggles with. This cyclocross season, Gould yet again went straight into cyclocross season rather than taking extended time off, and like the times before, her racing suffered because of it.
Gould told Singletrack.com that she began this cyclocross season “dug into a hole already,” but that she hates to skip CrossVegas. She went into ‘cross season guns blazing, but perhaps not loaded.
Gould tried resting most of the week and racing on the weekends, but without taking a substantial break between seasons, her results plateaued and then fell. After an exhausting effort that didn’t produce pleasing results, Gould decided to take the rest of the 2011 cyclocross season off in order to have a proper off-season before the cross country season begins.
“When things are going well, you think you can keep it up,” Gould explained, “but when things start to go downhill, they go downhill pretty fast. It’s easy to ride yourself into the ground. It’s easy to overtrain.” In order to avoid that, she suggested to “keep in mind what the most important things to you are … and adjust your goals and expectations accordingly.”
Recuperate before it’s too late, because Gould’s advice is that you can’t “keep it up” indefinitely. You can learn from her struggles, though, and take an off-season before the lethargy hits. Expect to lose fitness in the short run, but ultimately the recovery will enhance your performance.