At the beginning of the off-season, I was mentally burned out. I wasted a lot of time on Twitter, lacking the motivation to do more productive things. As I headed for my home stateside, I decided to truly maximize my time there, filling it with as much family and friends and home projects and other fun things I'd been missing as possible, and certainly not on Twitter.
I may have over-corrected a bit, and even if I'm exhausted, I have no regrets.
I always have trouble staying off my bikes during the off-season. I get impatient and can't pass up the perfect mountain-biking weather, so I do a couple of rides per week, and then start training again after a couple of weeks without ever losing much fitness. In 2018, I pushed myself to new heights, setting a new high score for race days in a year, and I was even more mentally drained than physically by the end of Tour of Guangxi.
My coach asked if he would have to convince me to take 19 days off the bike.
"Why not just go for the full three weeks?" I countered.
I knew I could do it, too, because I was going to be thousands of miles away from my bike, which makes it much, much easier.
My wife and I had been planning our trip to Patagonia for months, sneaking in hikes as the season waned to prepare my joints for all the backpacking we would do. As soon as I got home from China, I bought a pack and boots and started breaking them in.
Our backpacking trip around the Torres del Paine mountains was an unforgettable experience, and a new challenge for me. I was far from peak shape, but we didn't find a mountain my aerobic system couldn't handle. After a week of 7-hour days, though, my body started to break down. My knees were complaining with every step and I was bonking daily because my metabolism was outpacing our food rations.
My pride of being a professional athlete was cut down by people who were simply better at walking with heavy packs on meager rations for days on end, including my tough-as-nails wife, a former backpacking instructor. While I needed reminders in the first few days that we weren't racing the other backpackers, by the end of the trip I was just happy to reach camp with enough time to take a nap before dinner.
After finishing our trek, we spent another week in Patagonia riding horses with friends on their ranch, passing amazing glaciers and icebergs along the way and savoring being so far off the grid that a cell phone signal was two hours away by horse.
I worked hard to gain some weight in the week before the trip, knowing that it would be gone again by the time we returned home, and I was right, but it meant that I could stay relaxed as training kicked off the next day.
Just as training was getting into gear, so was our other off-season activity: home renovation. We wanted to bring our home decor out of the 1960s and planned a simple paint/doors/trim project for the upstairs. It would be a learning experience for me, but I like to learn, and the project would be done before training became really intense. Naiveté is cute, right?
For nearly a month, we made painstaking progress around our work and training schedules, every spare minute of the day filled with labor and frustrating learning experiences. My training progressed, but more slowly than usual as my sleep was insufficient and my "recovery" after a 5-hour ride consisted of running up and down my deck stairs for hours to cut and install trim pieces.
As Christmas leapt upon us, I was becoming more and more stressed, watching my time at home disappear as the blasted project seemed never-ending. We finally wrapped it up in time for my big final week of training in the block, which I completed (barely). If there is one time of year to run yourself into the ground like that, it's the winter period, and I definitely did so.
A call with my team's nutritionist the week before Christmas directed me to put on some weight—I was eating like a maniac, but all the training and side-projects were outrunning the calories. Going into Christmas week with such instructions is the best example of "living the dream" that I can think of.
First, we had to drive halfway across the country. The remaining seats of my car were filled with my wife and sisters-in-law. My bike was on the roof along with all our luggage, as the hatchback was occupied by the dog and my bike's front wheel. The wheel didn't start the trip there, but I have a strict [new] policy of only one search-and-rescue mission for a wheel twisted from its mount by crosswinds per trip. The dog was not too pleased with the reduction in sleeping space, but he was still the most comfortable of any of us.
We spent Christmas with the whole family and my coach gave me the two travel days and Christmas off the bike, the rest of the week just easy rides—hard-earned after that training block. If my body was telling me one thing the previous week, it's that I needed to recover from a month of wearing myself out, which I did a fair job of, even while running around playing with my niece and nephews.
A winter storm in Kansas turned our 14-hour drive into 18 on the way home, where I had just a few days of training left before returning to Europe for the team launch and training camp. Colorado did as Colorado does, and since my bike stable does not yet include a fat bike, I settled in for a couple of long rides in the garage. Sometimes you just have to get the work done, but I had plenty of new Netflix content to choose from after all that house work.
After a quiet New Year's at home with friends and family, I was on my way to rejoin my team, where I showed off my pasty white legs and sparkling shoes, which have yet to see the sun. Training is going very well, now that I'm recovering properly. It's shocking the difference that a few more hours of sleep per night (and no home projects!) can make.
Looking back on the off-season, I can say with certainty that I crammed it full to bursting with family, friends, adventures, and home projects. I read books, played the piano, tried new things, and learned new skills. My goal for 2019 is to remember that those things don't all have to wait until the off-season.
American Chad Haga has raced for Team Sunweb since 2014 after two years with the former Optum US Continental team. He was part of the Team Sunweb roster that lifted Tom Dumoulin to the top step of the Giro d'Italia podium in 2017 and raced his first Tour de France in support of Dumoulin in 2018. Haga is a talented all-rounder with a special emphasis on time trials. The 29-year-old Texan got a late start in cycling, joining the race team at Texas A&M University, where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering before starting his pro cycling career.
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