Hooking up with riders of like skill (and better than you) is a great way to have accountability. There are days when you need to ride alone. There can actually be too much group riding. Holding a wheel in a slipstream for miles and miles does not do much good to achieve certain aspects of your game. Balance is essential. There is also going too hard all of the time; something I noticed when following UCI professionals on Strava who many times a week will ride 40-50 miles at 16 mph.
Last year, an article on Bicycling.com discussed the issue of OTS (over training syndrome). “It’s very common among endurance athletes,” says Dr. Frank Wyatt, a professor in the department of athletic training and exercise physiology at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. “In fact, when most athletes are peaking, they’re right on the edge of over training.” To make a long article short, it has everything to do with feeling fatigued all of the time. Cement legs, heart rate stays elevated on “easy” rides, can’t sleep at night (even though you feel exhausted), ebb and flow of often being physically sick, depression, and decrease in appetite are some of the obvious signs. Many of us who are serious about training and being our best respond to these signs in one way: we train harder. And the cycle continues. We dare not mention this to other cyclists, as not to appear fragile . . . because after all, they never feel like you do. Wrong. It happens to everyone.
Avoiding this pitfall can be simple. The main one is to have a recovery day that is set. Using a day to allow the body to heal from hard work will bring forth much reward. No, I’m not saying that it has to be the next day after a hard ride or workout but needs to be set in your training schedule. Training schedule? Yes. You need to have some kind of plan, week to week, what you are doing. Okay, sure if you are pedaling 14 mph for 4 miles to work everyday, don’t worry about it. The hardcore riders need to recover as much as they need to train. Use that recovery day to get a massage, purging toxins from your muscles and bloodstream that build up during training and racing (professionals don’t get massages because it’s a cool thing to do). Active recovery is also an option. Riding very easy, just spinning, is great for your training, but many of us freak out when thinking about posting something to Strava with a 15 mph average, just title the ride as Recovery. I know from experience that it also sucks when another rider blasts by you when you are on a recovery ride (I’ve been tempted to wear a sign with RECOVERY written across my back). Cycling Coach Fred Matheny of roadbikerider.com sums it up quite nicely, “Rest is what makes you stronger because it’s while you are resting that your body rebuilds from the tearing down process of intervals, hard climbing and trying to stick with a fast group. So if you ride hard too often, your body won’t adapt and you’ll get worse instead of better. Also, riding hard each time you get on the bike can get old in a hurry, especially if you obey a tightly structured training program. Sometimes it’s a lot more fun to cruise along scenic roads rather than watch your heart monitor and suffer through more intervals. It isn’t a question of physically toughing it out. It takes considerable mental energy to train hard and we all have a limited supply. Finally, while hard riding can bring you to a peak of fitness rapidly, you won’t be able to stay there. Continued hard riding will overtax your adaptive systems and you’ll lose your peak quickly. This is why most coaches limit hard, structured training to blocks of 4 to 12 weeks. Then they recommend easy-to-moderate riding for at least one month before the next block of high intensity.”
Sometimes when it’s not technically your recovery day, try working out in a cross-training kind of atmosphere. Do something like jogging or rowing or yoga. It will be shocking to find that you are sore the next day, because you didn’t use the same “cycling muscles” you always use. Being fluid with training will make you an all-around better athlete. Speaking of fluid . . .
Most of cyclists consume lots and lots of fluid when on the bike, but not so much when not. Hydration is crucial to flushing the system of toxins and keeping cellular tissue at peak. The newest standard is to half your body weight and drink that in ounces per day. It’s a simple rule that will keep you in the right area, more or less.