With most events cancelled this year, lots of athletes are asking the same questions: Should they continue with their training plans through build and specialty phases, or restart with base? Moreover, how can they turn this unusual season into something with long term benefits?

For more information on season planning and finding motivation check out Ask a Cycling Coach Ep 268.

Races are Cancelled. Should You Finish Specialty Training Or Restart Base?

The most common question TrainerRoad athletes have been asking this year is whether to continue with their event-targeted training plans now that those events are cancelled, or whether to go back to base training and start their seasons over again. The simple answer is that both approaches have merit. In many ways, whatever allows you to stay consistent and motivated to keep going is the best path forward. Let’s examine the reasons to choose one course or the other.

Continuing Through Specialty Phase

Finishing your entire plan can be very rewarding. Training plans take months to complete and it’s a good feeling to work your way through from start to finish and know what you’ve achieved along the way. The sense of accomplishment that comes with completion is well-earned, and pushing yourself to peak fitness is more rewarding than stopping short. It’s also fun to be fast, and chasing the personal records you set during your peak can serve as great motivation down the road.

Following through with specialty phase is also a good way to shed some fatigue after a long build. Since Specialty training is intended to sharpen the fitness you’ve already built, TSS actually declines during this time and physical demands are slightly reduced. You’ll be very fit and fast by the time you reach this point, and continuing with the plan will have you at the pointy end of your abilities without loading you with excess fatigue.

Returning to Sweet Spot Base Training

Base training is the best option if you want to create useful, durable fitness. Sweet Spot Base is the foundation of more specific skills and comes with many benefits. Important adaptations such as lactate clearance ability and aerobic efficiency are primarily developed during this phase, and many athletes see their biggest overall FTP gains from base training. Sweet Spot Base is fairly demanding, but it is low to moderate intensity and is unlikely to trigger burnout or overtraining. You won’t reach peak fitness and probably won’t be as fast in the short-term as you would with specialty training, but you will be creating a useful starting point for future gains.

Base season usually falls during the winter months for most athletes. For riders in the Northern Hemisphere, this year offers an unusual chance for base riding in nice weather. Outside Workouts are perfect for this, and Base Phase workouts can be an excellent motivator to get outside and enjoy some longer rides. These workouts tend to be quite straightforward, with simple, steady intervals. These are easy to achieve on almost any terrain, and are not so challenging as to distract you from the scenery. If you want some quality time outdoors, going back to base is a great option.

Let Plan Builder Decide

If you can’t make up your mind, you’ll never go wrong by trusting Plan Builder. Enter next year’s goal events, and Plan Builder will create a long-term schedule that balances rest, recovery, and diverse types of fitness. It’s the best option if you simply want to trust the process.

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An Unprecedented Opportunity for Consistency

When it really boils down to it the most important part of training is consistency. High quality time on the bike, repeated day after day with ample rest, will reward you with improvements. Whatever plan you decide to follow, the more consistently you train the more durable and long-lasting your gains will be. From this standpoint, the 2020 season is a coach’s dream.

Ironically, the opportunity to stay consistent this year is a result of races being cancelled. Racing serves as the motivator for most athletes, but it is frequently a net-negative influence on fitness. Races tend to offer poor training, and typically feel much harder than they actually are. The mental stress and high-intensity efforts of a race result in lots of fatigue, but most races are actually quite “easy” in terms of productive training value. Combine this lackluster training with a pre-race taper, possible sleep disruptions due to travel, and a few recovery days off the bike afterwards and you can easily lose a week of training to a single event. Do this multiple times a season, and your fitness can significantly decline.

Without any events to worry about, consider this year free of limitations. Rather than getting as fit as you logistically can for a race, try to actually see how fit you are physically capable of becoming with distractions removed. Few of us ever reach our genetic potential but now is the time to try.

Outcome-Motivated Vs. Process-Dedicated

Motivation is easy to find when you have a target in mind. However, basing your training around outcome goals is unsustainable when those outcomes no longer exist. This year, shift your attention to process goals, targeting incremental success instead of one big reward. Instead of measuring achievement by race podiums or upgrade points, think of each workout as a target in-and-of itself. Commit yourself to every interval, and let each be a mini-victory when you complete it.

By breaking your goals into smaller parts, you can replace motivation with dedication, and foster a commitment to improvement that can last long past his year. Let’s face it, none of us really knows when racing will return to normal. Athletes who can realign their goals will emerge from this time fitter, faster, and less likely burn out in the future. Instead of training to race, realign your motivation and train to train, and take advantage of the unique opportunity this strange time has to offer. 

For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.

Header photo credit: Alonso Tal