Races can actually be the best form of testing, for obvious reasons. How you perform is often in direct correlation with how well you trained — and if something didn’t go right, that becomes a great data point for finding holes in your training.
After your goal race, it is a smart practice to reflect on what went well and what you want to work on so you can design your training to continue to develop — or maintain — your strengths while working to reduce the influence your weaknesses have on your performance.
A paper training journal is a great place to do a post-race debrief, and you can start the post-race debrief before you even start your event. Pre-race thoughts, worries and expectations are great additions to your post-race analysis since you may be worrying about things you knew you didn’t train for. On the other hand, you might stress over things that ended up not being a factor on race day.
For the post-race notes, you should look at your performance from a few different perspectives:
Your mental state before, during and even after the race is worth reflecting on. If you were really excited (or nervous) did this affect your race? Or did you struggle to get motivated and excited and perhaps missed out on early attacks or backed down during the start of the race. Different people and different races require different types of excitement or ‘arousal’ in sport psychology terms. During the race were you able to stay focused on the task and keep yourself motivated? Where did you find yourself doubting your training and considering backing off, or even quitting, during the event?
These thoughts and experiences are normal. They happen to everyone, even the people winning the race, while they’re winning the race! The secret is to refocus your attention on the things that matter at that moment: the next line choice, tactics like gearing or position, and your effort. If you find you’re struggling with an element of your mental performance, consider consulting a sport psychologist or mental performance specialist to help you develop training strategies that will prepare you to thrive on race day.
Bike races require you to put numerous technical, tactical and specific elements of fitness together to complete your goal event. With this latest result, consider what sections of the course you found easy, or where you were catching up to or closing in on riders. What sections did you ride easily and which ones did you look forward to? If the start or the final sprint is important, then consider how your race was affected by these portions of the event.
Now given the strengths you isolated in this race, would your training over the last few months (or years) explain why this was a strength? Were you strong with attacks in the race after working on short, attack efforts for the last month? If so then you have a good indication that the training you did helped you become stronger. Depending on the time of year and whether you can get better at that element, you can decide if another block of similar training makes sense (why fix something that is working). Conversely, it is good to mix up your training to keep your body adapting, especially if you have limiters that, if improved, could let you better utilize your strengths.
Without being too harsh on yourself, consider what parts of the race are limiting you from placing higher or finishing faster. Every athlete has an element they can work on, and isolating these items can help make your training more effective. If you got dropped, consider whether it was on high-speed, hilly, or technical terrain, for example. If you struggled off the start then you might need to work on your start technique, high-intensity power. If you struggled later in the race, then you might require longer efforts or more endurance to let you survive later in the race to fight for the finish sprint, which you might be really good at.
Technical limiters can quickly make your strength irrelevant, if you give up time on corners or technical descents then your sprint, threshold or whatever fancy intervals you do might mean nothing if you are chasing back the whole race.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Spending a little time after your big race will help you keep doing what is working and get rid of things that are not. Small tweaks in the intensity, volume or terrain that you train on can make big differences come race day. Paying attention to what you are nervous about, where you get dropped (or where you attack) and what sections of the course are difficult (versus easy) will help you continue to improve in your biggest races.