By Sarah Kaufmann — As we approach fall, a common theme for many athletes over the summer is managing a mid-season slump. Most riders who train year-round or nearly year-round reach a point mid-season, when progress seems to stall, and physical and mental challenges feel overwhelming. Here are some of the reasons why a mid-season slump is so common.
- After months of dedicated training and racing, the physical fatigue has caught up. Even if you are diligent with recovery days and weeks, the months of accumulated load can catch up.
- The months of training can also result in mental fatigue. The pressure of racing and training takes a toll. It can be exhausting to manage work, family, and other outside life stressors alongside a heavy cycling habit.
- You see more signs of progress in the first half of the year. But inevitably, those improvements begin to plateau. This plateau often lines up when the physical and mental fatigue coalesce. This can feel demoralizing and add to the mental/emotional strain.
- Managing all the training can get monotonous. If you are following a structured program, you may be riding the same areas to perform intervals. Likewise, if you always have a similar block of time to ride, you, again, likely ride the same areas frequently.
- Mid-summer heat or rain storms make training challenging. The heat often acts like a governor on your effort and requires more diligent planning around pre-hydrating, in-ride nutrition and hydration, and cooling methods. Summer rain can also impact training times and both weather conditions may force you to modify your ride timing, ride indoors, or skip your rides, all of which can be challenging and demoralizing, as well as add to the mental fatigue.
All of these issues are real and valid. Riders struggle with them every year and if you are or have struggled with a mid-season slump for these or any other reason, know that it’s normal, it happens, and you can get back to feeling good, motivated, and fit again. Here are some ways to overcome these challenges.
- If you notice that training is feeling like a chore, instead of fighting through to keep grinding, stop forcing it. Pull back. Take a few days off or take a week. If you struggle with resting, try to fill the time with recovery modalities. Walking (truly walking, not hiking), naps, massage, gentle yoga are all good options. If you still feel in a rut when you get back on your bike you either need more rest or need to change something else. Try eating/drinking more or different fuels/hydration, ride at a different time of day, or ride different routes. Be honest with yourself and listen to your body through this process.
- You may need to pull back on structure. If you work with a coach, your coach should be able to recognize this and work in more open, fun rides. Intervals are great for building fitness, but they can be mentally and emotionally draining, especially if you are in a funk. Ride with friends, join group rides, ride gravel or MTB if you typically ride road, mix it up as you can.
- If your goal event is still a way out, set some smaller process goals along the way to reignite motivation. Focus on execution items that are within your control.
- Set up a meeting with a coach or sports psychologist for some personalized guidance during this phase. They will have a new perspective, can tailor/modify your trainin] g plan, and help you address mental challenges.
- Do a double check on your nutrition and hydration to be sure there isn’t an aspect you are overlooking that could be holding you back. If you aren’t sure, seek out a dietician to run through your intake and needs.
- Get a full blood panel. Rule out any imbalances, deficiencies, or viruses. Sometimes it’s something going on under the hood.
A mid-season slump is normal and a natural part of the sport. It’s hard to see the other side when you are suffering and deep in a slump. But it does come back around. Understanding the contributing factors and implementing strategies to overcome, cyclists can emerge stronger, more motivated, and well-prepared to finish the season on a high. It’s also a learning opportunity. Experience plays a huge role in cycling success and the more you know about yourself, the better equipped you are at managing the ebbs and flows that will come up again. Embracing rest, setting new goals, seeking support, and incorporating variety into training routines are some of the keys to overcome a mid-season slump and get the most out of your season.