I've never been one for organized training plans. Perhaps I'll hit a point where I need one, but to date, I've never been able to follow one. They just seem to make me bummed out. That said, I still need to train - a lot. Especially in the off-season. I'm certainly not a coach, and most of these training techniques could get you hurt, so don't come suing me, but without a lot of structured training I've settled on a few things that I mix into my week pretty regularly to ensure I'm fast on race day.
1. Find another sport. Seriously. Cross training is good for the mind and the body. In the winter I ski. Sure, I have a trainer and I ride a few days a week indoors to keep in touch with cycling. But there are dudes who ride year-round in New England. They're crazy. Snow is for skiing. Go earn some turns and you'll maintain some fitness and come away with a huge grin on your face.
2. Find your local pump track. For real. They're awesome, tons of fun, and wicked good for your skillz. You'll find yourself pumping rollers (and saving energy) in races, hitting more jumps, and having more fun on the trail. Plus, pump tracks help build your upper body strength, which a lot of bikers ignore at their peril. Mentally, it's a nice change of pace too.
3. Ride the wrong bike. Okay, I have to give my good friend Pat credit on this one. Try riding your road bike on a mellow trail, airing out your xc bike at the dirt jumps, or doing hill sprints up a road on a squishy dual suspension rig. Just don't come yelling at me if you crash or break stuff. Even better, piece together a crap bike out of junk parts and rage that for a while. I once had a friend ride across the Sierra Nevadas to CA on a free, junky fixed gear that didn't look like it could make it across the parking lot. Just saying. It makes you sharpen your skills, have fun, and if your bike breaks in a race, hey, you're used to it.
4. Find an interval workout you like. So, this is a kind've standard one, but it's important. Intervals can help you go faster. Finding a workout or two that you can throw in as the spring winds down that can get you that last little bit of fitness without burning you out is key.
5. Just ride, a lot. Really, that's what makes it happen. Ride your bike. Ride it on trails, on roads, to the grocery store, to the creemee stand, to the coffee shop, to dinner parties. Riding is riding - it all counts.