I got up early this morning to ride my bike for four hours as a member of Team Carmichael, participating in the 5th annual Make A Wish Foundation 48-Hour Ride for Wishes in Montreal on the F 1 track. I also rode four hours on Friday and one hour yesterday. Our team, put together by KK’s daughter Alexandra, has raised almost $6,000. While at the event yesterday afternoon I spoke with one of my good friends who is one of the organizers and he told me that so far they have raised over $700,000 (compared to $200,000 last year). Think about that!

Make A Wish grants wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions. This amazing organization fulfills these special wishes in order to bring hope and happiness to those amazing children and their families. Make A Wish Canada is part of the largest not-for-profit wish granting organization in the world, serving 36 countries with international affiliates on five continents. Since inception in 1980, Make A Wish has helped make 250,000 wishes come true for children around the world.

Hundreds of cyclists participated in the event and rode on the Gilles-Villeneuve Circuit on the occasion of the 5th edition of the 48-hour Ride for Wishes fundraiser by the Quebec Make A Wish Foundation. The 48-hour Ride for Wishes, the flagship event of the Quebec Make A Wish Foundation, combines the useful and the enjoyable around a unique event during which many cyclists relay one another, day and night, to collect funds on behalf of the Foundation’s children. Alexandra, my daughter Emmanuelle, and two of their friends rode all night, KK rode just before the sun came up and then it was my turn.

Whenever I have to get up early for a cycling event I get everything ready the night before – clothing, food, bike, water etc. Last night being September 17th, as part of my pre-event preparation, I looked at the weather forecast. They were calling for sunshine but only 41 F at the time I was supposed to start riding. “Looks like fall is upon us”, I thought. And fall means it is time to start training – for 2012 that is. The fall is the ideal time to reflect on the last season and to start planning the next one. The temperature is usually pretty good – not too hot, not too cold – and if you ride in the country you can enjoy fall colours. The fall is no time to put your bike in the basement or the garage.

After checking the weather forecast last night, I checked my emails and by coincidence, I got the following email from Carmichael Training Systems – written by founder and CEO Chris Carmichael:

“The first significant snowfall blanketed Pikes Peak this week, and even though it’s rapidly melting it’s a sure sign that fall and winter are approaching! Some people mourn the end of summer and dread the onset of shorter days and colder temperatures, but as a coach and an athlete, I love this time of year. Here’s why:

All the fitness, none of the pressure: Think about your fitness right now. You’re strong from a season’s worth of training and racing, you can go faster and further now than you could in March, May, or even July. But if your big goals were in the summer, it’s likely they’re behind you now. That means you’re in a sweet spot as an athlete – you have the strength and stamina for high-quality training, and you don’t have to worry about the intricacies of balancing competitions with training. As a coach, that’s why I look at this time of year as a huge opportunity. I use this time for blocks of training that are often too big to fit into the typical race-and-recovery cycle that athletes get into during the height of the summer.

The runway is as long as it’s going to get: To improve from year to year, you have to take time to address your weaknesses. If you wait until January, you’re addressing your weaknesses at the same time that you’re counting down the weeks until you have to be ready to race. It’s better to work on pedal stroke, climbing technique, aerobic endurance – or whatever your season review reveals as your weak link – now. Get it done in the Fall so you can focus all your pre-season energy on maximizing race-specific performance.

Everyone else is watching football: Everybody trains hard in January and ramps up for the season in the first few months of the year. Not everyone trains through the fall. If you want to make real progress, you can’t afford to give up 30% of your fitness and power by sitting on your couch or exercising casually through Christmas. Tired of the regimen of structured training? The athletes I coach sometimes feel that way, too. But the answer isn’t to walk away from training; my job is to utilize varied training experiences to refresh their enthusiasm for training while simultaneously keeping their fitness level high.

You want to kick some butt in 2012? You want to dramatically exceed the performance level you reached this summer? It starts now. You drop off, hang back, or bail out now and it’s going to be you who gets passed, dropped, and disappointed next season. This is the message I give to my coaches because this is the time of year when coaches can make the biggest impact on an athlete’s overall performance. And it’s the message I’m delivering to you – in no uncertain terms – because right now is when you lay the foundations for your fastest Leadville 100, Ironman, Triple Bypass, California Death Ride, etc. in 2012.”

I can so relate to what Chris wrote especially this: “You want to kick some butt in 2012? You want to dramatically exceed the performance level you reached this summer? It starts now. You drop off, hang back, or bail out now and it’s going to be you who gets passed, dropped, and disappointed next season.”

When I think about everything I have been through over the last few months to get to my current fitness level (pain, pain, pain, time away from love ones, boredom, frustration, disappointment, anxiety, sacrifices etc) there is no way I am going to lose a big part of that fitness just because conventional wisdom says that cyclists who live where it snows in the winter should stop training when fall arrives. In fact, I think the exact opposite is true. The fall is the perfect time to step it up a notch. We all know it will be snowing soon and we will have to train inside. And we all know how boring training inside is. So move that fitness level up before you move inside and go into the “maintenance” and recovery mode.

Over the last two years I have trained well into the fall, making sure I put in one last big training block before making time for recovery, skiing and more time with family and friends over the Christmas holidays. The picture below clearly illustrates what I am talking about. The gold bars represent the 2010 weekly total of kilojoules and the black line illustrates the 2010 weekly Training Stress Score (TSS). I think these two items give me the best appreciation of my training load and progress in training I can think of in one picture. TSS is a composite number that takes into account the duration and intensity of a workout to arrive at a single estimate of the overall training load and physiological stress created by that training session. By definition, one hour spent at Functional Threshold Power is equal to 100 points.

You will notice in the picture that in the fall of 2010 I had a pretty good six week training block which was followed by a recovery week. The week without a gold bar is the week when Mary Lou and I took the kids to Las Vegas (dad had promised not to bring his bike). I usually like to finish the season with a camp down south, usually (actually always, come to think of it) in Tucson, Arizona. After the Tucson camp I kept training- more than usual for that time of year – as I knew I had to get ready for the Tour of California in May 2011.

Big fall training block in 2010

This fall is lining up the same way as last year as this past week I posted my best TSS and Kj week since Tour of California – except for the Colorado training camp.

2011 Weekly TSS and KJ

The fall is also the perfect time to start thinking about next year’s goals. As one who has trained a whole year to be able to complete my first 100 km ride and then five years later did all stages of Tour of California I understand the need to set goals, whatever goals you may have. In fact, in the fall I always fill out a goal sheet like the one below. It helps carry me through to mid November – which is when I slow down a bit (hopefully) – and it gets me focused on getting back to structured training either right before or right after Christmas. I send it to my coach and together we do the planning (ok, he does it, I execute it). This was my 2011 goal sheet:

Here’s part 2 of my 2011 goal sheet:

I also write down my known strengths and weaknesses:

So my best advice as we get closer and closer to Thanksgiving is to listen to Chris: “Right now is when you lay the foundations for your fastest Leadville 100, Ironman, Triple Bypass, California Death Ride, etc. in 2012.”

Get a good tune up done, buy leg and arm warmers and start training for 2012.