In 2007 I crashed very hard during the Endurance 50. Bruised and bloodied, I finished the race. In the days afterward it became very obvious that I was severely fatigued. I stayed that way for months. In fact, most of 2008 I spent riding, but not training or racing very much. That was mostly due to our twins being born in July of 2008, but even preceding their arrival, my training volume (and ambition) dropped. That crash was the beginning of a long bout with fatigue that didn’t end until 2009.
We often associate recovery with vacation. A little R&R. Sometimes we think that rest and recovery will produce stagnation, and cause us to fall behind our competitors. But that is incorrect. Rest is as important, if not more so, than training. That is, intense blocks of training will mean very little if they are not offset with recovery. Stagnation will occur when we simply stop training altogether. Recovery is a part of training, and will help lead to fitness gains.
For many of us, recovery is hard-wired into our lives. Our jobs, family obligations, and other responsibilities force us to ride less often, or for shorter durations than we’d like. Those same commitments cause us to maximize our training time (smarter, not bigger) as well. But still, recovery is needed, and shouldn’t be discarded.
Joe Friel’s recent focus on recovery has sparked my own obsession (Recovery 101 here) with the topic, partly because I am in the midst of trying to correct some training errors, but also because recovery is something that I don’t think I’ve ever been exactly good at. I seem to recover slowly. Of course, that may be perception, it may be genetics, and it might be user-error. Or maybe all three.
If you never feel tired then you don’t need recovery weeks. If you do accumulate fatigue over several weeks of training then a periodic break from the norm will be good for you. How often you do it depends on how great the fatigue is that you experience.
And how do we categorize fatigue? How do we know when enough is enough?
Joe’s answer is simple: trial and error. As we train and ride more, we will learn to hear our bodies, and to recognize its various signals. We know when we are feeling good, and we know when we are not. But that knowledge comes slowly, and often with a little (or a lot of) frustration. Sometimes we will have to skip a workout or two in favor of an easy spin, or a day off the bike entirely. Joe also tell us that “[hard workouts] don’t result in fitness improvements unless there is rest.” Training is a long term process, and being as smart as we can about it, will lead to long term success.
But what about specifics? Other than recovery rides, and resting, how can we enhance our resting to make it more effective?
Sleep and nutrition.
Sleep is the most important factor in recovery. Joe points out that:
As we get older adequate sleep is especially important…. Sleep quantity and quality are necessary to allow the body to cope with this stress…. [A]thletes must be very careful not to compromise sleep in order to fit more activities into their lives.
Getting a good night’s rest is a pretty simple concept. But it can be very hard to execute. But sleep will speed up our recovery (and our fitness gains) and help keep us energetic, and ready to ride.
What we eat has a significant impact on our recovery. Again, from Joe Friel:
The second most effective modality for improving recovery is nutrition. There are two primary areas of concern: adequate macronutrients, especially carbohydrate and protein, in the recovery period following an intense workout and a micronutrient-dense (vitamins and minerals) diet for the remainder of the day.
Recovery actually begins during our workouts. The length and intensity of that workout should determine what we consume. Replenishing our glycogen stores with gels, sports drinks, and other “race day foods” during and immediately after a workout will help short-term recovery. High-quality long term recovery food include fruits and vegetables and lean animal protein.
As I noted yesterday, recovery can be quite simple. Rest, and eat well. But the discipline involved is often too strict for the ambitious, delusional bike racer. It’s very easy to chase phantom podiums and race-day glory. Too often we think that the path to those riches is big hours, big intensity, and no rest. But without rest, our delusions will remain such.
Disciplined, honest recovery will help turn ambitions into reality, and imagined podium finishes into actual podium finishes.
Ride hard. Rest hard. It can’t be said enough.