Off-season for a NICA Student-athlete

Congratulations on an amazing season!

First and foremost, you exceeded my expectations this year, whether that was completing a hard practice, completing a race, or standing on a podium.  You had positive attitudes, showed resilience, demonstrated strength of character, and improved greatly.

Compare where you are today to where you were at our first practice in June — you’re a better rider and you are a better person!  Thanks for your hard work, and thanks for putting up with me barking at you about riding harder, or doing another interval, or whatever else.  It has been a pleasure working with you and learning from you.

Races just ended–what should I be doing?

With racing behind us, it’s time to think about how the next several months will look compared to what your NICA season looked like starting in June.

It is time to have fun!  November is not the time for vo2max intervals, race starts, or anything of the sort.  So, for those of you who feel like you need it:

  • You now have permission to have fun
  • You now have permission to ride (run, hike, whatever) just for the experience
  • You are now forbidden from doing intervals 🙂

Use the fitness you’ve built over the course of many months and do what sounds fun to you.  Hike Mount Wire.  Ride Antelope Island or Eagle Mountain.  Trail run on the BST.  Swim.  Take a break for a week or two.  Do whatever you want!

Taking time now is a good mental break, lets your body recover from the considerable fatigue we’ve built up over the last several months, and will have you feeling more fresh when it’s time to get back to the suffering.

I don’t want to start over next year–what can I do to be ready to go in April/May?

There are many ways to answer this question, but I think the best answer is: “It depends.”  You might be inclined to ignore your bike until March–that’s okay.  You might be inclined to try to not lose any fitness and keep up a strict training program until our next race at the end of August–don’t do this (at least not yet).

My preference would be somewhere in between the two extremes, maybe:

  • Ride a bike 3 days per week
  • Run, hike, snowshoe, nordic ski, swim, ice skate, or something else 2 days per week
  • Do core work (planks, pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, dynamic stretching, etc.) 2-3 days per week

(Those are just examples, not prescriptions!)

Generally, try to stay active 5-6 days per week, but take a break from intensity/structure.

If you would like more structure to your training, you might consider a coach-prepared off-season training plan from TrainingPeaks, such as plans created by Lynda Wallenfells (a Utah-based professional coach, and a coach with the Dixie High MTB Team), such as this plan, for example.

What if I just want to have fun?

Yes, please–have some fun!  Don’t spend time worrying about training and keeping your fitness.  Fitness comes and goes–you can’t be in race shape all year long, so don’t worry about having a lull in the winter before you start rebuilding in the spring.  In fact, not only don’t worry about it, but expect that it will happen!  This is an important part of the process of becoming a stronger athlete.

Here are a few things that, regardless of your goals, you should try to accomplish this fall and winter:

  • Ride far.
    • Notice how our rides back in June were longer, lower intensity than our shorter, high intensity rides since August.  The off-season is when we work on longer rides at lower intensities.
    • So, do some 2-4 hour rides, whether on a mountain bike or a road bike.  Pick some new trails you haven’t ridden before, or plan a road adventure with a parent, and just go ride.
    • If you are so inclined, you could do a mini-camp in late January or February where you schedule 2-4 days of as much riding as you can fit in (with a recovery week afterward).  These can be a great way to build your aerobic base and impress yourself with how much riding you can actually do (especially if you eat and recover well!).
  • Build skills.
    • Skill building took a back seat to race fitness as we got closer to race season.  Take some time and reset.
    • Go ride trails that we can’t/don’t ride at practice–do a few Bobsled laps; ride the Roller Coaster; spend a day or two on Gooseberry Mesa.  Working on bike handling in the winter is a great, low-intensity way to become a better bike racer.
    • Did you know that your mountain bike works in the snow?! The BST packs out pretty quickly after a storm, and it can be a great time to take your bike and go for a ride!  It will teach you how to ride with better balance; it will help you become a better bike handler; and it will make you a better bike peddler.  Slick surfaces force you to apply steady pedal pressure up over the top of the pedal stroke and continue through the bottom of the stroke–this makes you a better cyclist. (Tip: air your tires a little lower than for dirt riding, and don’t worry about speed–just ride for fun.)
  • Build community.
    • Introduce a friend/family member to riding.  Take a younger sibling on a ride. Tell a parent it’s time for them to see how fast you’ve become.  Invite a friend who has a bike but isn’t on the team to come ride with you and see how much more fun riding with a friend can be.  Intensity isn’t our focus in the winter, and that should make us more pleasant riding companions!
    • Find a trail maintenance opportunity or another way to help build the community.  Hate a particular rut on the BST?  Reach out to the Salt Lake City Open Space Program and ask about opportunities to help with trail maintenance.
    • Want to see more kids on bikes? Contact Free Bikes for Kidz about helping to repair donated bikes that will be given to kids at the holidays (we have lots of experience there and I’m happy to introduce you).
    • You’re fortunate to have a bike to ride, free trails on which to ride that bike, and coaches who donate hundreds of hours per year to help you.  Use that fortune to help others.
  • Don’t be afraid to race!
    • Racing is a skill that only racing can help develop.  While our fall and winter training generally leans more toward the low intensity/high volume variety, racing can be a good way to work in some high intensity training while affording plenty of time to recover.
    • Maybe it’s a Thanksgiving 5k. Or maybe a cyclocross race in Nov-Dec along the Wasatch Front. Or maybe an XC race in Vegas in Dec-Jan Or maybe a spring road race or ICUP race.  If NICA is your priority, then using off-season (and even non-mtb) races as training for NICA races can be a great way to get some intensity in your schedule and build some racing skills without worrying about results.

What about the team?

NICA rules prohibit us from practicing, racing, etc. as a team during the off-season.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t ride, run, hike, ski together–and you SHOULD seek opportunities to ride/run/hike/ski together.  You’ll be better, more fulfilled athletes if you train with friends.

Grab a group of teammates (and include a friend) and go on a ride when the weather is nice.  Grab a teammate and plan a family mtb trip to Moab or Gooseberry in the next couple of months.  If you happen to be in St. George during the winter, chances are pretty good that a Crockett or two will be looking for someone to ride with ….

At the end of the day, any aerobic activity you can fit in during the off-season will have you in better shape and ready to get back to formal training when our season begins.  So don’t do too much (we want to avoid burnout) and don’t do too little (you’ve worked too hard to lose all your fitness!), but get outside, have some fun, and be ready to go in the spring!

Finally, if you are targeting any spring racing (March-May) for results and would like more specific direction, please let me know (this would be especially applicable for anyone hoping to petition for a NICA category upgrade).  Early season racing means your winter should look more focused than if NICA races are your primary concern.  (I still recommend spring racing to everyone, but for the experience and skill building rather than for the results.)

I’m always happy to help, so please don’t hesitate to email ( or text (614-580-1411) if you need anything!  Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you on the trails and slopes!