I used to run three or four days a week. I could live with three, four hurt. Then I started training for triathlons and things got a lot more interesting – and busier. I still ran two days a week but I rode five.
One thing I learned by chance was that if I rode my bike after I ran, I could recover from the run up in half the time. Running distance didn’t matter… Half marathon? Ten to fifteen easy miles on the bike immediately after and I’d be fine the next day. I spoke with a few of my distance running friends about it, they called it “active recovery”. I had to look it up on the web. This was my introduction to what would end up unlocking almost unlimited weight loss potential. I’ve written about active recovery a ton but not much about the fact that I was doing it wrong.
My biggest shortcoming with active recovery was that I had a tendency to ride too fast. My full-on efforts worked out to 20-21-1/2 mph, my medium efforts between 19&19-1/2 and my easy efforts all pegged around 18 mph (all solo of course). I would inevitably come to the conclusion, often within a few hundred feet of my driveway, that once my legs loosened up (or if I still felt pretty good) if I went slow I’d be misusing an opportunity to get faster. Inevitably I’d end up with dead legs after a couple of weeks of doing this and be forced into taking a day or two off the bike. My body would literally force a slow-down – I would get to a point where I couldn’t physically go faster than 18-1/2 mph, no matter how hard I tried.
Then my wife started riding with some regularity. Every Friday became our day to ride together and it was good… A major benefit is that she rides at about a 16 mph average, a perfect recovery speed for me and a decent workout for her. I read an article that said a good active recovery speed on a bike is one that has the cyclist going slow enough that he or she would be embarrassed to be seen riding that slow should they see one of their friends. Well, 16 mph would do that if I wasn’t riding with my wife, in which case I don’t care what my friends think. Not only that, I don’t ever have to worry about losing my head and picking up the pace because when I’m with my wife, it’s all about enjoying a nice time with her.
This has led to incredible gains this year. At first I doubted it could work but after the last couple of months of hanging with the big dogs on the club ride and turning out averages more than a mile an hour better than anything I could hope for last year, there’s no doubt that taking it very slow once or twice a week is where it’s at. For me, it gets even better though. Ever since I started cycling I’ve been a “head down, hammer all the way” kind of guy because it’s always been about getting faster. I’ve never bothered to check out the scenery (with the exception of traffic and where I’m going, obviously), I’ve never stopped to smell the roses if you will.
How this translates to riding every day…
In my first two years, the best I could do was thirteen days in a row on the bike before I’d have to take a day off or risk slowing down. My first year I limited it to one day off of the bike every two weeks and did well enough. My second year, because I was fast but plateaued, I changed that to one day a week off and that worked quite well, culminating in a personal best 4:36 century. This year, because I’ve been riding once or twice a week slow, I’ve been able to throw the day off out the window, reserving them for rain days only. At least twice this season I’ve been able to go more than three weeks without having to take a single day off of the bike – and I have gotten faster in the process. There’s no doubt this year has been a strange work in progress, but it’s been infinitely more interesting and rewarding for having slowed down a little bit more a day or two a week.