The first part of the cycle is being really effing tired. I don't think it's always a reflection of the year, or of my physical state, it's more of a mental/emotional fatigue that's compounded by the sudden change in activity. You spend all year building and building, then all of a sudden just pull the rug out from all of it. Healthy long term, catastrophic short term. I feel pretty numb to everything for about two weeks, in fact usually getting more and more tired each day as everything shuts down. I can't sleep at night because I'm too tired, there's too much change. This is what it would sound like if it were a song:
The next phase is right at the bottom of that trough. Metabolism, hormone levels, etc. all start to equilibrate to the new workload (or lack thereof) and finally I can sleep through the night, feel energetic and alert all day, and eat a third of what I was during the season. This cycle seems to last about another two weeks, each day getting a little better, like the fog lifting from around you. Here's what this, and coincidentally my perfect world, looks like:
The third cycle is where I am now. It's like an overcompensation from the depletion of the season. Everything feels heightened, like an off-season version of peaking. I return to not being able to sleep, but now because I'm not tired at all. It's like an uncomfortable state of mania; I can stay up all night and feel fine the next day, everything feels extra AWESOME, music sounds incredible, every girl is the coolest chick you've ever met, everyday is the best day you've ever had. This is what it's like:
But with that comes a lot of restlessness. I can't sit still in class, my body seems to know it's recovered and supposed to be moving WAY more than we are right now. It's a fun time of year for the novelty of it, but it also feels a bit like I drank too much coffee and am fueled by jitteriness rather than authentic energy.
That's about the time I think it's okay to go back to training: when you're so sick of resting that it literally starts to drive you crazy. Last year I made the mistake of starting back at the end of phase 1; basically, right when I was physically rested enough to begin again but not before I was really ready mentally.
Cycling and most endurance sports are probably very unhealthy at the "professional" level. Training is pushing your body beyond its capacity then hoping it will catch up. And to try to do that better than anyone else means you frequently push too hard, too frequently. Then we compound that with these unnatural cycles of exertion--weeks at a time without a break during the season, then weeks at a time of rest in the fall. I started some gym work and am horrified how weak I became over the season. The first day I could do only 20 pushups. Two days later I was still tired and could do about five. Two days after that I could barely do one. That weekend I went hiking, tripped on a rock, and didn't even have the arm strength to catch myself and face planted. WTF?! Cycling is a very low-strength sport. Throughout the year you lose strength but the aerobic capacity increases. Then in the off season you're like a tiny little car with a big engine... you have the fitness to really rally, but trash yourself in the process.
Anyway, thankfully this little cycle is coming to its end and I can get back the fun kind of cycling. Training, the last phase of the cycle, is just a good old fashioned show down between your mind and body to see who can hold out longest. Just like this: