The Post in which I Finally Call BS on the Notion of “Rest Days” and Cycling: I Need Rest Like I Need a Hit in the Head… IF One is Intelligent About It (and that’s the problem).
I’ve gotta head up north today to set up my hunting blind for the coming bow season so there is a very good chance I won’t get a ride in, we’ll have to see. If I don’t, it’ll be my first day off in two months, since July 11th. I’ve ridden, after my sixteen miler this evening, well over 2,150 miles in those two months, about nine centuries (I don’t know, I lost count, it may be ten), including three in a row at just short of max effort, followed by a 72 miler at max effort the day after (that’s 380+ miles in 4 days after more than 50 days in a row on the bike). I’ve averaged a little better than 35 miles a day over that stretch and my average speed was over 18-1/2 mph. The trick, of course, is the distance and speed. Anyone can get on a bike for the first time and ride five or ten miles a day at 10 mph. Anyone. If the bike’s set up right and you push the pedals, it’d be akin to walking. You start talking about an average of two hours a day, with three of those days (and the longest of them) at average speeds above 20 mph, well now you’re talking about something.
Zero injuries, zero back pain, zero neck pain… My legs were a little smoked after that four-day tour, but they’re coming back just fine and without time off.
Two days after my tour I was right back to hammering on the Tuesday night club ride, Wednesday was an easy ride, as was Thursday evening’s (just 16 miles each, taking just under an hour)… Today, maybe I ride, maybe I don’t. Saturday will be a mountain bike ride with my friend, Chuck and Sunday will be a 50 or so… I’m right back into my normal pattern again and it’s all good.
The trick to my success goes way back to when I first started cycling four years and 25,000 miles ago. I’ve done a lot of things wrong and learned from those mistakes. Eating too much on long bike rides, not drinking enough, not enough electrolytes, not enough caffeine (Is there a such thing as too much? I’m sure there is, but I’m responsible enough to have not found the answer.), too many hard days… I’ve never done too many easy days. Too much food off the bike, too little food off the bike… Cheap cycling shorts, oh that was a big mistake…
I learned from those mistakes. In fact, the only thing I didn’t get wrong, once I started putting some serious miles in on a bike, was that I spent a lot of time with my shop owner getting my setup right. I’d say that took about a year to get everything dialed in and right. Saddle width, that one caused some trouble, saddle height, saddle fore/aft positioning…
See, here’s the point: If I’m going to go two months, cycling every day, everything has to be right. The bike’s gotta be right, the nutrition has to be right, the clothing has to be right, the workout schedule has to be right… Everything has to be set up just so to make this work. If my cleats are off by just a little I’d have ended up with sore knees or ankles. If my saddle is too wide I’m going to suffer through sore hamstrings and saddle sores. Too much padding on the saddle and I’m into numbness or saddle sores, wrong shoes, cleats or pedals and I have foot problems. If the bike’s the wrong size or one of the setup points are off, it’s a sore back. Handlebar is too low? Sore neck. One of the hoods is a quarter-inch lower than the other? Sore shoulder/neck.
On top of that, I need a decent base of miles. I’ve tried completing this before and the best I’ve ever done without my performance suffering was thirteen days – and I was riding a lot back then. I had to build up to this over three years (though much of that time was spent just getting the bikes dialed in).
Then there’s nutrition… I had to stop looking at food as enjoyment and more as fuel. If I ever had the notion that I was going to fuel a four-day, 380 mile tour at an average pace above 19 mph, on donuts, cookies and Coke, I’d have bonked out in the first fifty miles. There’s simply no way. Now, do I get to enjoy the occasional donut because I’m literally riding my ass off? Absolutely, but the bulk has to come from a decent mix of carbs, proteins, greens and fruit. I’d love to lie and tell you otherwise but I had to take fueling up the muscles seriously, because I built up a bunch of them. Now if that wasn’t hard enough, and it is for a lot of people, I actually had to eat at the right time too. See, while the body is complex, it’s a pretty simple at the same time. Proper recovery after a hard ride is imperative if you’re going to ride daily. If I don’t recover fast enough, I’m going to start taxing my system and I end up with a performance drop off after a while. I must refuel my system within an hour of any hard effort but preferably within 30 minutes. 60/40 carbs to protein works best for me, and if I’m going to drink a Coke, during or immediately after a hard effort is best. The sugar goes straight into the system to replenish lost stores so it won’t be an issue weight-wise. I can live with this, without Jonesing for a Coke in between. Others aren’t so lucky, so if you can’t control the soda intake it’s best to skip it altogether. I’ve tried to control my own alcohol intake to no avail so I’ve found complete abstinence the best way to deal with my lack of control – same principle.
Finally, the schedule has to be right. I work a full-time job and have a wonderful wife and two kids. I have to balance everything if we’re all going to be happy. Not only that, I have to make sure I get slow recovery rides in between the hard efforts as well – I can’t go hard all of the time without burning out. Slow recovery rides are defined as “slow enough that you’d be embarrassed if your friends saw you riding that slow”.
In other, simpler terms, when it comes to daily cycling, if you think you’re just going to climb in the ring and box, you’ll probably be in for a rather painful surprise. On the other hand, take the time to do it right, to train for the effort, fuel it right and get the equipment right, that crap about needing days off is for the birds – you just have to know what you’re doing.
Of course, as always, I’m not a doctor. All I know for certain is what works for me and will not take any responsibility if you do something stupid and screw yourself up. I also reserve the right to be wrong – even if I don’t think I am. If you think you need four days a week on the couch, you probably will. Just don’t bother trying to sell that hoo-hah to me, ’cause I don’t buy it – at least until my doctor says to cut it out… We’re still on “keep doing exactly what you’re doing” though, so it’s all good.