Working Overtime – Minimizing stress is key to balancing racing and a full time job

(Originally published in Velonews Magazine in 2007) by Head Coach Kendra Wenzel

Two racers follow a nearly identical, demanding training pattern. They have similar goals, racing schedules, talents and strengths, plus a common team. One is a full-time athlete; the other has the hours available to ride, but works nearly full time at a regular job. What kind of condition do you think each will be in once the racing season rolls around?

I predict that while the full-time athlete will be primed and ready for the racing season, the full-time working rider will be overtrained and burnt out — unless she reduces her training hours.

Does this mean that a rider with a full-time job can’t compete with a full-time athlete? Absolutely not. There are plenty of successful riders who juggle working, training and racing. But it takes a lot of skill to keep those three balls in the air.

Racers trying to train around a full-time job generally run into one of two problems. Either they have too few hours to train in the daylight (or train at all), or they have a flexible schedule that allows them plenty of training time but little real recovery if they use all their available hours to train.

When you work full time in addition to trying to race regularly, you have to consider all the stresses that can affect your training and recovery. You may not be on your feet for hours every day, but if your job is stressful — rife with deadlines, politics or other pressures — it can hamper your ability to recover and adapt to the strain you are putting on your body’s systems.

While having more time to train certainly is an advantage, available training hours aren’t everything when it comes to making improvements. It’s a coach’s duty to set a realistic schedule of limited training hours for a rider, even when that rider may have more time available to put in more miles or more intensity. Working from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, may leave four or more hours for training each day, but an athlete who tries to fill those hours most days is at risk of overtraining. You must schedule recovery time, too, because a program that has you recovering on the job will not give your body the rest it needs.

Think of every workout you do as digging a hole. Longer or more intense rides dig deeply, as do work tension and emotional stress. Recovery time — relaxing days, massages, proper nutrition and self-care — fill the hole back in. The idea is to avoid digging a hole you can’t fill back in, which is just what may happen if you train continuously, without proper recovery, on top of an already stressed system. Sickness and injury are usually the result of digging too deeply. It’s simple, but many riders lose sight of this.

A teammate of mine was a finance banker when she began racing. She divided her day down to the half hour from workouts to sleep, to work and meal hours. She made time for her workouts, recovery and everything else in her life. This structured approach may work for those who thrive on detail, but could create stress for others. It may be that on some days you simply need to drop a workout for a nap. In the overall scheme of your training, missing a workout for a relaxing day off here or there will do you good, particularly if you are someone who normally feels guilty about missing training. Chances are, the more stressed you are about missing a day of training, the more you need the break.

Should you miss a day of training due to lack of time or an unscheduled relaxation day, don’t try to cram in the workouts you missed along with your scheduled training. Simply jump back into your plan, or switch your training around so that you get in the quality workout for whatever phase of training you are focusing on at the time. For instance, in the early race season, you could make up for a missed interval day by dropping a more moderate workout; in the winter, a missed weight-training day might be made up later in the week, as long as two weight-training days aren’t scheduled back to back.

If you work full time, realize that the majority of your competition does also, and you aren’t alone when you are doing minimal rides during the week and riding the majority of your miles on the weekends. Our experience as coaches working with hundreds of working athletes over the years has shown that as long as you can get in a minimum of seven hours of training per week through consistent, short workouts during “business hours” and longer rides on the weekends, you can continue to make improvements in your training and racing. Be creative in your planning. Divide your workouts into an hour of endurance riding in the morning and another hour-plus at night, or start doing some of your commuting on the bike.

Indeed, training during the week is a great way to escape the rat race. There’s nothing better to cure the angst of a board meeting gone awry than an hour-long hammer-fest — as long as you allow yourself enough recovery to go along with it.

Above all, whether you are a full-time athlete or a weekend warrior, avoid turning cycling into work. Keep it as a fun part of your day by varying your schedule and continually reminding yourself of why you head out on your bike.