It’s been a challenging year to be a bike racer. For months, the only thing that’s been certain about what this year’s racing season (or anything else, for that matter) would look like is uncertainty.
With most races canceled, suddenly having nothing to train for is a huge blow, no matter if you race for a living or as a passion. It’s understandable to feel lost in your training—and possibly even your identity—when you find yourself without a goal.
“There was an initial and warranted reaction of disappointment and experiencing a kind of loss,” says Kim Geist, owner of Kim Geist Coaching. “It’s a challenge to regroup and recover motivation to work toward new goals. As a coach, I have taken the same approach with this as I would after a rider suffers a disappointing result. That is, I share that it’s okay to take a period of time to sulk in your misery. This is natural. But then move forward to a fresh start, focusing on making a plan towards a new goal.”
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In other words, get back on the bike and keep riding. But how do you train when no one knows when we’ll be able to race again? Is there a point? Can training when you have “nothing” to train for can actually make you a better rider?
Answering that question can start with taking a step back and examining what riding actually means to us. Having the time to re-connect to your “why” is a powerful opportunity. “It can be easy, as an athlete, to get so focused on racing and results and to forget why we love riding bikes in the first place,” says Powers.
The second opportunity this time offers us is the freedom to train for specific goals we want to focus on rather than having our training dictated by the racing schedule.
“Non-racing goals can actually give a lot of control to the athlete, which is a real plus right now when so many things are out of our control,” says Geist. “Oftentimes, race results come down to who else is racing, the environment on the day, and other unknowns. Non-racing goals can center completely around athletes themselves...and athletes can be very selective with the details of their new goals.”
While this might not erase the disappointment of losing the chance to race this year, we can come out the other side as better athletes than we were before, and in ways that might surprise us. Here are a few new non-racing training goals that have nothing to do with a finish line and everything to do with your love of riding.
Ditch Your Personal Data
We know you love your Wahoo, or Garmin, or whatever your data-delivering device of choice may be. Now can be a great time to experiment with leaving them at home to better reconnect to your body and the feel of riding (and yes, we realize this can feel as uncomfortable as leaving the house without your phone).
“Riding with devices that tell you how hard or easy you’re riding, when to go hard, if your training day was beneficial or not, how much recovery you need, when to drink or eat etc. can really hurt your overall growth as an athlete,” Powers says. “Athletes need to be in tune with their bodies. Always relying on a device to tell you what to do will only hamper your overall growth as a cyclist. Learn to listen to and work with your body.”
Geist uses riding without a device regularly as a coaching exercise. “I actually suggest riders do this at least occasionally: recording the data, but not necessarily looking at it while riding,” she says. “It’s incredibly valuable to learn how it feels to produce certain numbers and to realize that your body's response may actually vary to produce the same numbers in different circumstances. For instance, it may feel all that much harder to produce the same power if it’s hot and humid and you’re dehydrated. Recognizing this can prompt a rider to make changes or alleviate frustration from not being able to perform as expected.”
Go Without GPS
Remember when we used to be able to find our way around without a computer on our handlebar telling us where to go? Remember how fun it felt to not know exactly where you were going? Remember how many cool roads you found this way by accident? “This is an outstanding way to learn new routes around you to keep things mentally fresh,” Geist says. “You may also identify great stretches to accomplish structured intervals on in the future. You’ll tend to remember things better if you piece them together yourself versus being glued to a computer screen.”
It can also be a fantastic way to (re)acquaint yourself with the joys of getting a little lost. “Sometimes the “adventure rides” are the most memorable,” adds Powers.
Master Your Weakest Skill
We’re always working to improve as riders and get faster on the bike, but right now we have the time to laser focus on one specific area of weakness and experiment with new plans of attack for getting stronger. Does your sprint need work? Are you usually getting dropped on climbs? This is an opportunity to finally master these skills.
“Now’s the time to work on weaknesses, fix muscle imbalances within the body, try a different type of bike riding like mountain biking for roadies, or getting on a gravel bike, and spend time with family without the stresses of training, travel, racing, and recovery,” says Alison Powers, Owner and Head Coach of ALP Cycles Coaching.
“Work on personal skills and abilities,” Geist adds. “There’s no pressure to improve on a grand scale in order to improve an impending result, so riders can put a lot of time into really refining technique and their approach to training to find what works best for them.”
[Want to fly up hills? Climb! gives you the workouts and mental strategies to conquer your nearest peak.]
Ride With Someone Less Experienced
The beginner’s mind might be one of the most powerful training tools there is: It can help you see cycling through fresh eyes. Riding with someone newer to our sport can be an amazing way to reconnect to what made you fall in love with cycling in the first place.
As a group, we bike racers often aren’t known for being the most humble bunch. Riding with a newbie can also be a humbling way to learn about some areas in which your own riding could improve. “This is a nice mental refresher,” Geist says. “It may allow you to notice basics in your own riding that could use some refinement. Ask yourself: Have you really mastered the tips you are giving to this newer rider?”
Ultimately having “nothing” to train for right now because we don’t have any races on our schedule this year can end up being a blessing in disguise; all we have to do is to allow “nothing” to simply be “something different.”
Natascha Grief got her first bike shop job before she was old enough to drink. After a six-year stint as a mechanic, earning a couple pro-mechanic certifications and her USA Cycling Race Mechanics license, she became obsessed with framebuilding and decided she wanted to do that next. After Albert Eistentraut literally shooed her off his doorstep, admonishing that if she pursued framebuilding she will be poor forever, she landed an apprenticeship with framebuilder Brent Steelman in her hometown of Redwood City, CA. After that, she spent several years working for both large and not-so-large cycling brands. Somewhere in there she also became a certified bike fitter. Natascha then became a certified personal trainer and spent nine years honing her skills as a trainer and coach, while also teaching Spin. During the dumpster fire that was the year 2020, she opened a fitness studio and began contributing regularly to Runner’s World and Bicycling as a freelance writer. In 2022, she joined the staff of Bicycling as News Editor.