How Much Is Too Much… A Noobs Guide to Cycling For Speed or Fitness.
There’s a funny thing about about science, especially academic science. It was explained to me like this by someone in the field: You’ve got a whole planet of college professors trying to get published to remain relevant at their University. It’s very difficult to get published for being captain obvious so there’s competition to be all the more outrageous in your subject matter… Do so intelligently, and with the correct slant, and you’re in. Your golden parachute of a retirement and your 25 hour a week job (that’s right… $70,000 and a golden parachute for 25 hours a week – why is college so expensive again?) is safe.
Unfortunately this leads to bad science. Science becomes a contest to prove the absurd.
Well, the same could be said about the fitness industry as well. Not only do we have to sift through companies trying to sell their products, we have to figure out on our lonesome how to outfit and feed ourselves as well. One interesting topic that I love to experiment with is how much cycling is too much. Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time will tell you that if I want to be fast, I ride too often. I don’t take enough days off – and they’re probably right (and I often write about wanting to). The problem is that I really love to ride every day too (or every possible day, let’s say). There’s no doubt that I need a day off every now and again. I just went 16 days in a row and I was really wiped out. I took a few days off for weather and came back stronger and faster than I’ve been all season long.
Ideally, I’m good for 16 miles on weekdays and then I can pretty much go wild on the weekend days and I like to have one rain day off out of the seven. That’s ideal. I can go for 13 days uncomfortably but 16 turned out to be too much. I was really tired.
Now let’s get one thing very clear right off the bat. I’m getting up there in years, I’m no spring chicken anymore. My glory days, as far as sports go, are way behind me. While I do have a bit of a competitive streak in me, when I boil the hoo-ha down I’m really more about just being fit and active when I’m double my 42 years. The problem, what really got the competitive thing going was actually this blog. I knew I could ride ok, I could keep a decent pace, but I had no idea how fast I was until I started writing about it. Once I found out that I was at least above average (naturally with not real “training”), that really clicked something in me and it was on. You see, I’ve never been naturally talented at anything. I have always had to work my ass off to be good enough to warrant “being on a team”… Baseball, hockey, basketball (too skinny for football), any sport I played in, I had to work to be good. With cycling though, just buying some halfway decent equipment and getting into shape was more than enough and on top of that, I quickly became enamored with the endorphin rush that I get on lay ride longer than 30 minutes. If that wasn’t reason enough, cycling has me as lean as I was in college, maybe even high school – and I get to eat whatever I want to boot. Cycling has been like a magic pill for me – something that ‘cured’ a whole lot of ills’ so I won’t do the recommended training programs with base miles followed by lots of rest, then space training days with more days off… No thanks.
So, where is the balance? How much is too much?
Well, answering that gets tricky. Cycling is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise. Unlike running, there is almost no recovery time so riding daily is absolutely possible. On the other hand, if you want to be fast, really fast, time off pretty much has to be a part of the training plan after a base mile phase unless you have a team (including a masseuse) supporting you. I’ve tried to balance both daily riding and riding fast (24 mph + in a group), I’ve tried every combination of recovery rides, interval training, alternating distances and efforts that I can think of and then some that I got from research online and I simply cannot find a anything that works entirely for both.
In the end, it boils down to a choice between frequency or time off and reaching my true potential in terms of speed. My personal choice leans more towards frequency. Simply put, I’m happier when I can fit in a daily ride. I handle stress better and I enjoy life more. I need at least one day off every 14 days (usually a rain day) but can ride faster with one day off per week. Two days a week off are better still but I might only see a week like that a handful of times between April and late October, if at all.
In other words, I have to decide what is more important because I can’t have both max speed and a daily ride. My choice is for the daily fix, though there are things I can do (like slow paced recovery rides) to help keep the speed up too. In my world, there is a such thing as ‘too much’, I’m just not all that happy about it.