I’ll admit it. I over-did it last week. This is an easy thing to do when you’re trying to ride your bike as fast as possible. Everyone’s body is able to take a certain amount of overload while still making fitness gains. Many factors effect the amount one’s body can handle: overall fitness, prior training load, recovery, stress, sleep, nutrition, etc.
When I set about planning for this year, I actually planned to train fewer hours than I planned last year (which if I stuck to it, would be more than I actually trained last year). I have been sticking to my goals much better than last year, in part because my time is much more constrained so I have been planning each ride very carefully. Also it seems like something has ‘clicked’ with my training and I have felt very confident as a self coached athlete.
Here you can see my training volume by week. You can also see intensity with the power zones (note the increasing volume of higher zones) and the increasing intensity factor (green bars on righthand chart). Also visible is last week: I was scheduled to do 11 hours. I should have come in around 600-650 TSS (Training Stress Score) points, but I did 13 hours at 750 TSS …But isn’t more training better?
While more training will improve fitness more, it also causes more fatigue. I am supposed to be starting the second week of my third training cycle. Circumstances, weather, and motivation conspired to allowed me to ride more than I was supposed to last week, and I now I have to face the consequences. Due to my high fatigue, I will probably not make my scheduled 13 hours this week, since I had to scrap two workouts already. The first workout I simply slept through this morning. The second I tried for about half an hour, but it was obvious I was not ready for a hard indoor workout during the baby’s nap.
I know my training has been more focused this year, but since I planned fewer hours, I expect to be riding about the same amount. It wasn’t until I looked at the entire last 14 months did I see that I’ve been riding quite a lot more than last year. I think this is a good thing overall but it does put me at higher risk of riding too much.
For anyone curious, I’ll explain what it is like for me when I’m not recovered.
First I notice apathy. Usually this manifests as an excuse that seems perfectly reasonable, like the weather, or more pressing items on my chore list (which I’ll also procrastinate on). But when I’m recovered properly I’m not as likely to find an easy excuse to procrastinate when it is time to get on the bike.
Secondly are the sensations I’ll get on the bike. When I hit the first hill of the day, or start to push harder, I’ll feel heaviness in the legs, like a rapid onset of burning with the slightest input. This is in contrast to when I’m well rested and I can push quite hard before ‘feeling the burn’.
Next is where a power meter or at least heart rate monitor come in handy. I’ll see a sluggish heart rate, characterized by a lower heart rate for a given intensity. This usually persists over the entire ride, even of a long length. A warning sign I had last week was a heart rate about 5 bpm lower than expected on Saturday’s 4 hour ride. I foolishly followed this up with a hard, 3.5 hour ride on Sunday. I even tried to break my record up Lookout Mountain since I don’t get down there very often. My previous (non-race) record: 20m:40s @ 337w and 164 bpm; Sunday’s ride: 21m:00s @ 337w and 152(!) bpm. Obviously the time and power are a good sign for my overall fitness, but the heart rate is a sign of my very high fatigue.
By keeping up with my training plan and riding 13 hours this week I would only be digging myself a deeper fatigue hole and not improving my fitness. To get myself back on track I am going to have to rest for a few days. I am working an overnight overtime shift now, and will probably have to scratch tomorrow’s workout as well. It will leave me better prepared for this weekend’s small race, but with a little less fitness in a couple months time when I’ll need it most. That being said, a little less fitness is better than risking full blown overtraining syndrome, which is basically the above symptoms on a persistent scale which can take months to recover from.