I don’t know what it is with me, but I have major problems with recovery. I’m better with cycling than I was with running, probably because bicycles have built in intensity buffers that running shoes don’t, i.e. wheels, but this is the second time I’ve put myself into major overtraining since getting hooked on bikes in the Spring of 2015.
The first time wasn’t a big surprise. I had suddenly discovered how wonderful it is to bike for the sake of getting stronger instead of just to get somewhere and I rode over 2300 kilometers in two months after only having ridden 600 in any given month before that. It took me months to recover from this extreme burden, but I didn’t really give much thought to actively recovering from it since I really didn’t have any baseline to compare to. I figured if it eventually went away, then I was good, and eventually, it did.
This time is a different story. I have a baseline and I have goals. It all started with the turn of the year when time off from work meant I had extra time for biking. I went crazy. Mountain biking, trials, an insane long ride where I biked 167 km with over 2000m of climbing in a single day. It was my “Dawn til Dusk” ride and my goal was to spend all the available sunshine in one day out on my bike, and I did. The next Sunday was 初詣 (hatsu modeh*) and it was a big “cycling event,” not practice. I wanted to ride hard and have fun, but I got stuck with frumps and a noob who picked the wrong group to ride with. It was painfully slow and I eventually just took off on my own in a red haze of frustration. After that, we rode a new course which I found to be dull. My legs were crunchy and lethargic that day, but I held on because the purpose of the ride was to feel out the new course, not to hammer it. It was the following week that I realized I was in trouble. Not only could I not hang on to the group I usually ride with, but I couldn’t even finish the course. I limped home with shredded confidence as I realized I had dug myself deep into another overtrained hole.
Four days of zero riding plus two days of gentle spinning followed by bad weather and a cancellation of my usual practice left me feeling a little better than I was. The crunchiness was starting to subside, but my legs were still not springy and when the pavement angled upward I still felt it. I committed to another gentle week. My goal was to not exert myself on the bike at all for five solid days. It was incredibly difficult, but also enlightening. Once I made riding slow my goal, I discovered a whole new side of cycling that I had forgotten about. Yesterday’s practice was canceled again (more snow), but I went out on my own with some new cycling buddies. They didn’t have the drive that my You Can team does, but they love the bike and we went on a good course for the weather. I found that I could hold it on the flats again and there was a lightness to my spirit that had been absent for weeks. All of this good, but the hills still had me feeling like I was riding backwards.
In the evening I went to pick up my overhauled wheels from the shop. I talked to my coach again about my training goals and left heartbroken. In his sideways way he said he was concerned that I wouldn’t be ready to race come spring. He said I needed to up the intensity of my rides or it wouldn’t be worth it, and that I should treat every Sunday like it was the real event. I thought I was doing that! He told me I needed to take everything but racing off the to-do list and I told him it was already my top priority. I don’t know what he thinks I should be doing that I’m not. Between a month of shit performance and the knowledge that I am again in the depths of overtraining and therefore helpless to do anything to improve other than not ride, I’m just devastated.
As I lay in bed I committed myself to one more week of nothing but gentle spinning. Murakami-san said that recovery is always the first priority, so until I’m recovered, that’s what I’ll be doing.
As I drifted off I imagined what my first race would be like. Would I even be able to fight in the sprint for the finish? Would I eat people? My hair stood up as I could feel the beast in me begin to stir.
I think yes.
*初詣(hatsu modeh) means “the first prayer” and it is the first time that we visit a temple in the new year in order to ask a blessing from the gods.