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How to debrief your season

Now's the time to reflect on your year of training and racing to set yourself up for success next season.

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As human beings we have a tendency to label experiences as either good or bad, but in all reality, there are very few things that fall squarely into one of those categories. Almost every experience has some nuance to it. A race or an entire race season is no exception. 

As many of us wind down our race season for the year you may be desperately waiting for some time off or you may be already anxiously planning for next year. Before you get too far removed from this season, though, take some time to pause in reflection. Looking through a season is not only a cathartic exercise for some, but most importantly it allows us to view the season through a new lens and opens up possibility for improvement in the years to come. I’ve listened to, read about, and participated in many conversations about analyzing a season and sometimes it just seems too complicated to attempt on your own. So, here is my best attempt to cut through all of the noise and simplify what we’re really looking at.

Identify the highs and lows

Whether this was the best season of your life, or you feel like you were faced with more than your share of adversity, there were both highs and lows associated with your season. Take some time to find what you consider to be the best parts of your season as well as what left you feeling a bit discouraged. We can learn and take away from both instances. Here are the things you can look at to identify these areas of your season:

  • Wins vs. Losses: The most obvious thing you may initially think of is the races that you won (or achieved your goal) or the races that you lost (or where you fell short of your goal). This is a great place to start your analysis, but it’s important to dig deeper into these moments and relate them to other things that were going on at that time. In the races where you achieved your goals what else was going on in your life? How was your training leading into that race? What were your stress levels like and what to do you attribute that to? When we answer these questions in relation to the circumstances we encountered, we find scenarios that we can attempt to replicate. 
  • The Way You Felt: There’s a lot to be said about the way we feel throughout the course of a season. This is one reason why it’s important to leave notes in a training journal because you may not remember several months down the road how your legs felt during that particular workout. When we feel good we can ask ourself similar questions to how we felt when we won in order to replicate the scenario. When we feel bad we can use that feeling in conjunction with performance assessment to see if our feelings were in tune with our performance. For example, if you felt tired but still managed a personal best then that can be valuable insight for the future and for setting expectations around sensations. 

It’s also important to note your feelings around the season in general. Were there times when you felt more motivated than others? Were there times when you felt like you needed a break? Identify those periods and analyze why you may or may not have been feeling that way and adjust your season accordingly next year. For example, if you put in a ton of hours on the trainer in the winter and then felt burned out in the spring, maybe next year you back off your winter training a tad in favor of having motivation high when the weather starts to shift. 

  • Power Metrics: While wins or losses may be impacted by outside variables and feeling is a subjective metric, power metrics allow us an objective view of how the season went. When were your power numbers the highest and did that correspond with when you felt the best? Did it also correspond with when you felt motivated or did getting your power numbers to that point cause burnout when you were actually at your strongest? Take a moment to look at the objective metrics from the season, see what training made you the fastest, and correlate it to other more subjective measures as well.
  • Chronic Training Load and Form: For the data inclined out there we can also look at slightly more details metrics such as chronic training load (which measures training or TSS over time) as well as form which balances training stress and fatigue. We can look at when our training load was the highest verses when we were performing our best and we can try to time the next year’s schedule similarly. We can also look at the form that we had during our best races and training sessions and use that as a blueprint for future A-events.

Identify your biggest obstacles

After you analyze your year, you may find some trends. It may be that when work was the most stressful, your training suffered. It may be that when the weather was at its best, you were the most motivated. Finding the obstacles to your success is key toward being able to remove them or plan around them in the future.

Set new goals

Now that you’ve analyzed your year and discovered the keys to having an optimized season, jot down a few goals while it’s still fresh on your mind. While you’ll have plenty of time to make goals during the off-season, it’s important that those goals are balanced. In other words, you may be overly enthusiastic after your off-season and you may be a little too timid while you are still tired from the current one. Setting goals both at the end of the season and at the start of the new one can help you find the perfect in-between.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.