A Primer on Recovering as an Athlete

This year I’m way faster on the bike that I was last year. I’m not talking a few seconds, I’m talking minutes faster with lower effort on the same hills. Here’s the funnier part, I’m training with less focus this year than I was last year. I’m mainly just riding my bike for fun.

I really attribute my extra speed to recovery. I’m riding less days and being more intentional about the days I take off the bike. I’m also way more intentional about after ride nutrition. So here are a few tips followed by lots of extra reading on the topic of recovery and rest days.

### Tips
– check your resting heart rate every morning at the same time. If it’s 10 beats a minute higher than average for a few days, take extra time off.
– Sleep is so important. If you’re not sleeping right your shortchanging any workout before you’ve even gone out the door.
– Every 3 weeks take the 4th light. Known as periodized training.
– A rest ride/run should be so slow you feel silly. If you’re just starting to run, a walk is probably all you should be doing if even that.
– It’s harder to get most athletes to rest well than train hard. Don’t be that athlete.
– If you’re feeling slow/dead a few days in a row, take a few days off. It takes a week to really start to loose any fitness and it will come back quick.
– Don’t push through injuries. I once pulled a tendon in my finger rock climbing. Then I was an idiot and pushed myself. I couldn’t climb for 6 months. I should have just taken 2 weeks off instead of complaining and being an idiot.

Those are some basic tips. There are more links below, mainly from Joe Friel. If you’re an athlete and not following his blog, subscribe now, and comb through the archives.

### Resources

– [Why Recovery Days][whydays]
– [Cycling360 Podcast on Recovery with Sage Roundtree][pod]
– [How to Recover][howrec]
– [Recovery and Overtraining][recover]

#### Books
– [The Athletes Guide to Recovery][athguidebook]
– [Cyclists Training Bible][trainbib]
– [Triathlete’s Training Bible][tribib] (will have stuff on running)

If there is one thing I could teach athletes starting out, take the right amount of rest no matter the ribbing you may endure.

[tribib]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1934030198/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1934030198&linkCode=as2&tag=strugwithfait-20
[trainbib]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008HTYM50/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B008HTYM50&linkCode=as2&tag=strugwithfait-20 “Cyclists Training Bible”
[recover]: http://www.joefrielsblog.com/2012/06/recovery-and-overtraining.html
[howrec]: http://www.joefrielsblog.com/2010/09/how-to-recover.html
[pod]: http://www.cycling360media.com/recovery/
[athguidebook]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1934030678/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1934030678&linkCode=as2&tag=strugwithfait-20
[whydays]: http://www.joefrielsblog.com/2012/05/why-recovery-days.html “Why Recovery Days”

Beginning Cyclist Training – Training to Train

If I could do one thing when I meet a new cyclist, it would be to impress upon them the need to rest when training. In fact a new cyclist needs to rest much more than an experienced cyclist. Their body has not even learned how to train yet. Your first year (maybe 2) of serious cycling, your simply training so you actually have the fitness to train hard. There are [very bad things][bad] that can happen when you overtrain.

> Palmer took a break from exercise on Thursday, but the next morning he went for a long bike ride. The following day his arms were uncharacteristically sore and swollen, his urine the color of black tea that had been seeping for hours. Instead of suiting up in workout gear on Sunday, he found himself in a hospital gown hooked up to an IV drip that flushed his kidneys with more than nine liters of saline.

The above quote is from an article on the Cross-fit phenomenon. I certainly don’t think that Cross-fit in and of itself is a bad exercise routine. The article sums up to say that so many people are getting in to it and so many trainers are learning to teach Cross-fit that it’s hard to find a really experienced trainer.

Add to that the fact that, as with any fad, so many people are getting in to it that are not athletes. These people don’t know the difference between training hard and injury, it all just hurts.

If I can recommend 1 book for any beginner cyclist it’s the [Cyclist’s Training Bible][bible]. It’s a big read but you’re going to learn so much about how to train properly and get fit/fast that it’s totally worth it. Don’t worry if you don’t get it through it first time, it took me 3 tries to read it and 4 to really understand it. Despite that, I learned more about how to train properly every time.

[bad]: http://www.livestrong.com/article/545200-the-fall-of-fitness/ “The Controversy Behind Crossfit”
[bible]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1934030201/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=strugwithfait-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1934030201 “Cyclist Training Bible – Amazon”

Again, Take a Break or Burnout

Certainly not the first time I’ve mentioned the need to take a break and risking burnout but here is another note.

I once knew a pro triathlete who I came to coach who decided to skip recovery weeks and press on regardless of how tired he was. He was never the same again. Overtraining took a big bite out of his performance and he never fully recovered from it. Two years later he retired, prematurely, from the sport.

Professional athletes track so many stats on their health so that they know when they need a break. I’m a professional programmer but I don’t track stats really on my mental health to see if I need a break from work.

I wonder how many programmers designers…leave the field early because they ‘overtrained’ and didn’t take the breaks they needed to have a healthy long term career. I’d bet there are more of those than athletes that burned out.

The quote comes from Joe Friel, probably the voice on training for Triathlon or Cycling.

June Monthly Goal 2011 Edition

For the month of May I set a goal of 1000km of riding in the month. This month I’ve decided to up the ante a bit by going for 1000km and 10,000m of climbing. I managed to get 6700m of climbing last month. So it will be a bit of work.

The reality is that I’ve set a goal of 10,000m per month for 12 months. Unfortunately Strava doesn’t start it as of the current month which means I’ve got to get more than 10,000m a number of months to actually meet the goal of 109.8k meters of climbing.

The hardest part about getting that much vertical is that it’s pretty dang flat around Chilliwack. Sure I’m in BC and I’ve got mountains but I’m in the middle of a valley, I’ve got 20km of riding to do before I even get to a hill of note. To accomplish this goal I’m probably going to have to ride loops once I get in the mountains or drive out to Abbotsford and ride loops around Sumas Mountain.

In all honesty my secret goal is to train hard enough to win the Strava monthly challenge which means I’ve got to beat [this guy](http://app.strava.com/athletes/brian-toone-2919) who had something like 31,000m of climbing last month and is a Cat 1 racer.

Well wish me luck and [follow my progress](http://app.strava.com/athletes/23033) on Strava. If you’re not familiar with Strava then check out my [recent review](http://back2cycling.com/2011/05/10/tracking-your-climbing-performance-a-strava-review/).

RunKeeper Review

If you’re training with any amount of seriousness you start tracking the distance, time, heart rate and anything else that you can. For a while now I’ve used RunKeeper to do all my tracking and workout comparison so let’s take a look.

The Good

RunKeeper starts off with a great design and lots of information. Want to record your weight and % of body fat, RunKeeper can do that for you and show the changes over time. It also includes all the standards; time, distance, pace, elevation to make it a reasonably full featured fitness tracking site.

Second up is the awesome iPhone app. It’s easy to use and will track your elevation and pace so you can have a good hill comparison over multiple rides. If you’re an Android or Windows Phone 7 user there are also apps for both platforms which seem to have the same functionality. I’ve found that I can get a 4 hour ride in while listening to something and going through a few areas of spotty cell coverage and still have a bit of battery left. I need to charge my phone to have use of it for the rest of the day but it’s got enough to keep playing till I get to my desk for the day.

Want to do a set of intervals? Well the RunKeeper iPhone app lets you design interval sets and will provide audio triggers during the workout. It’s a bit short on options (can’t set warmup interval and you only have 3 speeds) but it’s enough for a basic interval session.

RunKeeper iPhone Workout Planning
RunKeeper iPhone Workout Planning

Not everyone has a smart phone so RunKeeper also provides manual mapping. I’ve found this useful when I’m racing since I’m not carrying my iPhone. Once I’m done I plot the course and record my time and heart rate during the race. Sure I don’t get a full profile of pace at different points in the race but it still gives me some data for later.

Build Your Route Map with RunKeeper
Build Your Route Map with RunKeeper

If you have a GPS based tracking device (Garmin 500, 800…) you can also upload a GPX or TCX file. This will track most of the data provided so you can map your heart rate against climbs against speed… This also presents a few issues which RunKeeper claims are not totally their fault, but we’ll get in to the specifics later.

RunKeeper also integrates with both Twitter and Facebook and while that may not be a selling feature to some I like it. I work from home so getting some extra interaction in my life in the digital realm does help keep me sane. There are also a few cyclists that live just far enough away that we can’t ride together regularly so having our workouts posted helps keep us all training so we’re not the weakest on ride days.

Keeping Up with the Jones's Workouts
Keeping Up with the Jones's Workouts

Finally RunKeeper also supports uploading of heart rate data from Polar devices. So even for an indoor ride it doesn’t have to be all manual. Theoretically (though I haven’t tried because my HR monitor is way to old for anything fancy like a file you can get off it) you could sync up the uploaded GPS data with the HR data to get a good profile of how hard you worked for each change in grade.

The Bad

One of the major failings of RunKeeper is the fact that you can’t set up a training schedule unless you pay for and use their training plans. Even if you’re already paying for RunKeeper Pro you have to pay extra for the training schedules. Obviously the functionality is built in to the system and I can see paying for a prebuilt plan but the fact that you can’t build your own is a large missing piece of the puzzle. Add to that the fact that they don’t have any ‘Fitness Classes’ for cycling and it’s a double fail.

What No Classes for Other Sports?
What No Classes for Other Sports?

Second up is the fact that snap to road isn’t the default setting when building a manual map. At the very least it should remember that you picked ‘snap to road’ in your last session and have it on by default, but no you’ve got to manually click the box every time you enter a map manually.

Snap to Road????
Snap to Road????

As I stated above you can import your GPX or TCX file to RunKeeper but the Garmin Edge 500 and Edge 800 both use FIT files. Without delving too deep technically, FIT files are just more flexible than TCX files, we can get more different types of data for all our sensors in to a FIT file, you can read more about FIT files here. According to RunKeeper the issue sits with Garmin’s Connect plugin not working with FIT files. While this may be true other sites, like Strava and Garmin Connect support .FIT files so there is obviously some way to do it that RunKeeper hasn’t got to yet. In fact both required wanted me to install the Garmin Connect plugin so they could access the FIT files on my device. It’s still possible to get information from your FIT files in to RunKeeper but it takes the extra step of uploading it to a site that supports FIT files (like Gamin Connect) then exporting the GPX, or TCX file after they have done the heavy lifting on the FIT file. I’m not convinced the stats from RunKeeper are so ‘unique’ that it really warrants this extra work.

While this isn’t currently an issue for me, many cyclists will find the fact that RunKeeper doesn’t work with your power meter a non-starter. Sure you could fill the numbers in to the comment field but that’s of little use long term since it isn’t mathematically tracking it so you can’t really do any comparisons. The fact that power meter tracking is so widely available now for anyone training with a middling level of seriousness means many can’t even look at RunKeeper as an option.

I'm sure I train with more information than that
I'm sure I train with more information than that

RunKeeper also doesn’t track your cadence data. This is a good stat ‘in the moment’ while cycling and may or may not have long term tracking value but if the data is in my cycling computer I’d like to see it stored and tracked.

A feature you see in many other fitness tracking applications is the idea of a ‘ghost run/ride’. Typically you’re comparing the current effort over a given course with a previous best effort over the same course with audio cues letting you know if you’re faster or slower than the other efforts. This can be done with your own efforts or trying to beat efforts of other athletes on the same course. Unfortunately this is not a feature of RunKeeper, though it’s been a request for a while.

Sure this last one will change depending on your location but for me there is little regional information. 99% of the routes I find in their system are mine and the others just aren’t all that long/hard so I don’t really bother. The route information also lacks some of the extra details that MapMyRide has like who’s fastest on a given route. I know we’re not all in competition for real but if we’re honest all of us like to know how we stack up against others.

At the End

Like I said I’m a RunKeeper user so the big question is why? In all honesty it’s probably because I have a bunch of my Twitter friends there and that makes it a bit social. As stated above I work from home all the time so getting some extra social interaction (even if it is digital) is a big part of what keeps me sane day to day. Combine that with the fact that I don’t have a power meter so I don’t have more extensive tracking needs and RunKeeper is a great fit. Now that I have a Garmin Edge 500 I’ll be looking at my options again and see what fits.

How are you tracking your cycling?

Train Where You’re Weak

We all have areas in our sport that make us cry (well at least parts we don’t look forward too) like hills, headwinds, group rides…and part of progressing as a rider is learning to love the things we hate.

Typically the things we don’t like are also the things we’re not all that good at. Look at someone that doesn’t like hills and you’re also likely to find the last person in any group going up a hill. Find the person that doesn’t like riding in groups and remember to stay away from their twitchy scared movements.

The thing is if we keep avoiding the things we don’t like we’re always going to suck at them, they’re always going to be the hardest part of the sport for us because we’re not getting any more experience with them, we’re not training to our weaknesses we’re training to our strengths.

When rock climbing was my main focus we always ascribed to the thought that you needed to train the thing you were weakest at or most scared of so that you were a better all around climber, and the same should be said of any sport.

My weakest cycling skill right now is climbing. This week I easily hung with a local group ride at around 40km an hour (after a solo of 45km to get to the ride) through all the flats but as soon as we hit the hill I was dropped like a sack of mouldy potatoes. After racing a bit this is a pattern for me, hang with the group in the flats but as soon as we get any hill my legs just can’t keep up the power.

The best I’ve been able to do is to grind up a hill with a group only to be dropped as they accelerate at the top (it’s a good tactic) then I usually finish out the race solo hoping that I redeem some pride by not getting lapped.

With that in mind my focus will be on hills for the next 3 weeks. I do luck out in that although I’m slow on the hills I love a good hill workout (really I just love busting my ass) Three weeks of hills leaves me enough time to taper a bit before the next race (a morning Crit and afternoon TT) and hopefully not get my ass handed to me on the hills.

What’s your weakness? How are you training it in to a strength?

Getting and Staying Hydrated

Inspired by this thread I figured I’d share a trick I use to drink water regularly.

Like many people today I have a job that doesn’t really demand much of my physically. I sit at my desk all day and type or click a mouse and that’s about the extent of my physical activity during the work day.

As such I also don’t drink near enough water during the day which puts me behind when it comes to ridiing, this is especially problematic during the hot summer.

Last summer I found a great ‘trick’ to help me drink lots of water daily, put it in my coffee cup. I’ve never had a hard time finishing multiple cups of coffee in a day while they’re still hot so one day I wondered if I could use this fact to encourage myself to drink water. Sure enough some switch flips in my head and I refill my cup multiple times a day with water. When I tried a water bottle or regular cup it was unlikely I’d finish the first fill.

Please feel free to steal this trick and let me know your results.

Motivation It’s Dang Hard

So I’ve got something to admit, I’ve barely got on my bike in the last two weeks. Sure one week I was sick and swamped at work so I just took it off but that was two weeks ago (Hrm I guess its been 3 weeks). I could blame the snow locally (we have had a bit) but the reality is that I’ve ridden in snowy/slippery conditions lots. I’m just not motivated.

I’ve found over the years I’ve been riding (over 15 now) that getting back at it is the hard part, once I’ve got a solid week of training under me again it’s easy to keep going. I feel like I’ve accomplished something and I hate going back on the progress I’ve made.

Anyone have tips they’d like to share for kicking your butt back in to gear?

5 Minute Splits – Cycling Interval Workout

5 Minute splits are a pretty standard interval and can easily be fit into an hour long workout. they should get progressively harder and your 8 out of 10 effort should yield diminishing speed the farther into the workout you get.

  1. Warm up for 10 minutes
  2. Jump to 8 out of 10 effort for 5 minutes
  3. Step down to 4 (recovery pace) for 5 minutes
  4. Repeat

Best Resources for Cycling Training Information

Since I’ve been reading lots about training lately in prep for possibly racing in the 2011 season I figured I’d round-up the list of resources I’m looking at for the latest information on training. I have a preference for sites that are using actual scientific research when commenting on training.


VeloNews is not only the best resource (that I’ve found) for pro racing news, it’s also one wicked spot for training. Not only do they answer reading questions they really dig into the science with some pretty in-depth articles (check this one on pedaling). The only complaint I have about the site is that I can’t just subscribe to the training category. As ‘interesting’ as pro news is I really just want to read about training, not about who got caught doping this week.

Training Peaks

Not only does TrainingPeaks offer some of the most complete training log software (although ugly) around they also have a pretty decent blog. They have access to some pretty high-profile athletes who consent to have their race power profiles published for us to see an analyze.

Joe Friel’s Blog

Joe Friel is one of the big names in bicycle training, he’s even written one of the best cycling training books. His blog covers everything from power meter profiles from a race to continued performance as you get older.


Now I’ll warn you right now there are a ton of popups and ads all over but if you have your popup blocker on and can ignore flashing things flying around then hit up the site and specifically the training/nutrition section.

Those are the best sources I’ve found so far. Any great sites I’ve missed?