I think the biggest challenge most riders who are wanting vast improvement have, is sticking to a plan. I'm no different. Life is a wonderfull thing, but it often gets in the way. Family, work, weather, and our bodies can sometimes get in the way of doing a specific workout we had planned for a particular day. My biggest advice would be to be flexible but yet steady in your course. Sure, you may not get the 3 hour ride in today that you planned, or the power hour yesterday in my case. The biggest difference between the top end guys, and the others, is that even in the face of those things that get in the way, they still push on and get solid workouts in regardless. To me, getting in 5 rides a week is my goal. How I go about that sometimes changes. But out of those 5 I know I want 3 to be good solid, hard workouts. The other two being long slower fun rides.
Yesterday I hooked the bike up to the trainer and set out for what was to be an hour of power. I haven't done this workout since late last spring, and there's no doubt it's a very challenging workout. I choose a 43x12 gear to push, with my mediocre trainer set on the hardest setting. 15 minutes in and I knew that I wasn't going to be accomplishing my hour. I guess I overestimated the gear choice, and so with that in mind, and knowing I would do no good by dumbing down the hour, I choose to do a 2x20 minute workout.
This is another great workout that helps you work on your sustained power output. For me my goal this off season is to build a very solid hour and a half base. That's my typical race length. If I can come into February with being able to ride hard for an hour and a half, then all I have to do is fine tune and sharpen that hour and a half. I need to be able to sprint over, and over, and over, and over again for an hour and a half to be competitive in my level. For most though, just having a solid hour and half fast pace base is plenty to be competitive on the local level. Ideally, I'd like to race an hour and a half on any given course at 12.5+ mph come February. I'll then need to fine tune that and push it to 13.5+. Yes, that's how fast the big boys run. Hopefully I can be a big boy too...
So back to the 2x20. 15 minutes in I decided to take my workout and break it into two longer sets. At minute 18 I was really feeling it. These are called walls. I wanted to quit and call it good. Problem is that's not what you want to do. NEVER SHORTCHANGE YOURSELF! Rule number 1. Walls are meant to come down. You'll never get faster if you're not willing to break down fitness walls and push past them. So even though those last two minutes hurt, I pushed even harder. I sprinted the last minute and ended up hunched over my bike with little air left in my lungs, and legs that felt like burnt toast. If you don't push through walls in your training, then come race day, you'll suffer by not knowing what to do when the the going gets tough. Pain management is huge in mountain bike racing. We all hit walls during racing, but being able to push through those walls, and continue racing at high speed is what will nab you the finish you're after.
I took 5 mintues to recover, and then began the second set, same gear. It was tough to get going, even thougher to get past the 10 minute mark. Another wall, another push. Minutes 10-15 were easier, and then begins the 5 minute countdown. Same as the first set, I sprinted the last 2 minutes and put everything I had into the pedals. I was offically spent afterwards.
To make a good workout even better I capped it all off with a 400 rep core workout circuit. Basically I did a series of core and back workouts, in sets of 20, until I hit 400 reps. All in all I finished right at 15 minutes. As the weeks progress I'll increase each workouts by 60-100 reps.
So no, I didn't do the workout I had planned. I did however adjust to my body, and in the end accomplished a solid workout that will benefit me on my overall goal. That's what you have to do. Find out what your goal is, have a good solid plan to accomplish that goal, and learn to adjust as neccessary.
Some days you won't have it, other days the weather will get in the way. Bottom line is if you train smart, and train to your weaknesses, you'll be far better off than those that mindlessly train just to train. Riding 3 hours when you feel like crap, and having that 3 hour ride be less than stellar most likely won't help you. Take the day off and train the core or upperbody. Take a easy spin. Then go out and hit it hard and get a good ride in the next day.
I'd rather have 3 rides a week that were solid, then try to get 5 in that were half ass. Don't forget the most important part of training though, rest and recovery. That's were the body mends and rebuilds. Sleep, proper diet, and good living will go a long way.
I'm going to document my training this off season so that you can see exactly what I'm doing, and how it's going. I don't recommend following my plan to a T, as it is my plan that's I've put together to accomplish my goal. Your goal might be different, and your weaknesses different than mine. Either way, it's sort of for my own record keeping, and partly so you can hopefully get something out of it.
2012 will be won in the off season. Don't forget the most important time of the year...