The Secret to Handling a Long Season with Dylan Johnson

4 Jan
10 MIN

We chatted with Jukebox Cycling's Dylan Johnson about how he planned and prepared for the Life Time Grand Prix series plus plenty of other gravel and MTB races throughout the 2022 season. With the new Life Time series addition of a seventh race and an ever-expanding calendar of great races on the schedule, it's easier than ever to get overbooked for the season. Here, he explains how to navigate those busy schedules.

Overall, how did the 2022 season feel?

It is definitely a long season. There's a six month span from the first Life Time Grand Prix race to the last! That's a long time. And in 2022, I did a couple races before the first Grand Prix race as well. The interesting thing with the  Grand Prix is that the the competition level is so high: There's never been this level of competition in gravel. That adds a whole other dynamic to the racing: Before, it was rare that you would get all 60 of the top athletes at one event at one time. Now, that will happen seven different times in a year.  

In this past season, a good result for me was if I could make it into the top 20 in the series overall, which I normally wouldn't consider a good result. But I had to take a step back and gain a little bit of perspective and say, 'look at who I'm racing against here.'

How do you handle different races going different ways, especially with the overall series?

I don't tend to dwell on a bad race. I used to, but I think as you get more race experience, there's always another race over the horizon. And because of that, I don't dwell on a bad race. It goes both ways: If I have a really good race, I'm definitely happy about it. But that doesn't mean it's time to slack off on the training or anything. Whatever race that I have on the calendar coming up, I am 100% focused on that, until that race is over. And then it's 100% focused on whatever the next one is.

That's also hard now that races range from 40 to 200 miles, even within the Grand Prix! How do you shift gears?
I've changed my training up a little bit for the different races. Going into Unbound, I was prioritizing volume.  I was trying to get ready for a 200 mile race. And then, for example, leading into Chequamegon, I was doing a ton of VO2 Max efforts, really training as if I was racing cross country mountain bikes again. I hadn't  trained like that in a very long time because I haven't raced cross country mountain bikes in a very long time. It's interesting, though! And it reminded me of why I shifted focus to longer races, I think that the longer distances really suit me. When  the race is two hours or less, at least relative to the competition that I'm up against, it's probably not going to be a great day for me.

During the super long season, did you deal with any burnout?

Definitely physically. Before Unbound, I just over-raced. I was racing too much. There was is a stretch where I think I did five race weekends in a row. And three out of those five were not necessary to do. I could have totally left them off the calendar and it would have been fine. And looking back on it, I wish I had because I got to the end of that five weekend stretch and I was smoked. And unfortunately, Unbound was two or three weeks after that block. So the two or three weeks leading into Unbound was me kind of trying to recover, then get in a little bit of volume last minute, then recover for Unbound again. It wasn't the perfect preparation. But given that, I think that Unbound actually went really well. And ultimately, I think it's important to love what you're doing. I mean, if it's getting to the point where it's not fun, then it's either time to take a step back, or just take a break, and the love will come back. But I haven't felt mentally burnt out at all this season. I was excited for pretty much every race on the calendar this year, which is a good place to be.

How do you set goals when you have so many races in a season?

I set my goals before base season, primarily so that I have an idea of what I need to train for this season. In 2022, my goal was very obvious, I got into the Life Time Grand Prix. So obviously my goal was to do as well as I could in that. I don't necessarily put a precise number on any goal. I've come to the realization that if you say you need to get top five or top 10, it's totally dependent on who shows up. For example, at the Grand Prix, every fast racer in the country has showed up for every single race.

When I was younger, I was very concerned about results. And I'm not saying I'm not concerned about results now, but that used to be my fixation. If I was in a race, and the race wasn't going how I would like it to, then I'd kind of shut down and I would mentally give up. Even if I didn't physically give up the race and DNF I would mentally give up. I had a mindset shift that whatever place I'm in, however the race is going, whatever the level of competition is, I just want to do as well as I can possibly do for me. The goal is to cross the finish line and feel like you couldn't have possibly done any better. You put everything out there on the course. And interestingly enough, when I started having that mindset, my results started getting better.