I’m done, I’m cooked, I’m fed-up, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m grumpy, I’m depressed, I’m burnt-out. I’ve been training hard since December of 2007 and I think I finally popped my own cork.
After I finished the Cascade Classic Stage Race (a major goal of the year) a few weeks ago, I suddenly lost all desire to ride my bike. I was hoping to hold my form through July and finish strong at the State Road Championships before taking a break. Instead my bike has sat almost dormant in my garage, still riddled with dead bugs from Bend, Oregon.
What happened, where did I go wrong? Am I over-trained, over-reached or just a big pussy? This is the first season that I kept a detailed daily record of all my training data, including stress and recovery systems. In theory, analyzing this data will reveal the answer to my lack-of motivation.
Mantra to Form & Fitness Enlightenment
Working out hard, followed by recovering even harder brings adaptation and an increase in fitness. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam. That’s training in its simplest terms. Workout hard; recover harder. Recovery > Workout.
It took me years to grasp this concept. And as simple as it is, I still haven’t mastered it. Whether it’s the lure of a fast group ride, a doubt in my form that provokes an extra training session or simply too many junk miles; upsetting the recovery balance is frighteningly easy. Even with the foresight of my over training temptations, I often still find myself grinding along on tired legs, digging my own recovery grave. For optimal growth to occur, that recovery grave-hole needs to be filled back up again before I dare go near it. And not only does that dirt need to packed down, but there should be a layer of grass growing on top as well. If I come back too soon, shovel in-hand, I’ll be working with loose soil – which makes it even easier to dig a deeper hole.
During my eight year journey in bike racing, I don’t think I’ve stood on green grass very often, and I sure as hell haven’t stayed fresh enough to let any flowers grow. But this season was going to be different. By using daily stress monitoring methods, I planed on turning into the “Johnny Appleseed” of balanced training.
Starting this year, I began tracking my training loads using a method know as TRIMPS (Training Impulse Score). The basic calculation for TRIMPS is duration times average HR (heart rate). I add weight to the equation by incorporating perceived exertion (scale of 1-10) and heart rate zones (zones 1-5).
(Zone A Minutes x Zone A Average HR) x A
(Zone B Minutes x Zone B Average HR) x B
Perceived Exertion = TRIMPS
This formula gives me a numerical representation of total training load for any given workout. The differences in TRIMPS scores from day-to-day and week-to-week are usually confirmed by my waking HR and perceived level of fatigue. So by comparing the following three values;
- TRIMPS Score
- Percieved Level of Fatigue
- Waking HR
I am able to quantify my training, recovery and responses. By monitoring this data I am able to plan and adjust my training schedules accordingly.
I have graphed out a portion of the 2008 season using TRIMPS, noting the major events of each week. My training loads are planned around the A priority events (in red), gradually building intensity and duration. Before an A level event, I typically take a rest week to achieve total adaptation.
By combining Average Waking HR and Perceived Level of Fatigue on top of TRIMPS data, I can construct a pretty good picture of how, where, what and why.
Breaking Down the Data
Upon analyzing the chart, it appears that I was able to keep my fatigue levels under control through the 4th week in May. From January through May, I had the appropriate amount of rest versus work load as indicated by my waking HR and fatigue levels returning to baseline.
During the 3rd week in March I had my highest recorded TRIMPS levels of the season. Copperopolis Road Race coupled with a very high training volume in the same week led to the high numbers. Obviously my performance at Copperopolis suffered because of the energy expended that week. Fortunately I took it very easy the following seven days, and was probably lucky that I flatted in the first six miles of Wards Ferry as it gave me another full week of rest.
Farther down the year, my results during the 5 week period of Sea Otter, Gila and Mt Hood reflect an almost perfectly timed peak of form. It was the workout hard, rest harder and adapt mantra executed to a T. But then I flew a little close to the sun.
It’s a bit tricky to spot on the chart, but I melted my wings in the week following Mt Hood. The results of which caused a ripple effect through the rest of the season. After finishing Mt Hood I flew straight to Italy for a two week vacation. My body had a chance to super-compensate while sleeping on the plane for 2 days, and my recovery was further boosted by living at sea level once in Europe.
After my flight landed I went for a quick spin. From my very first pedal stroke, I could tell that the super-compensation had funneled some tremendous power into my legs. Yet I was hesitant to go hard. The idea behind my vacation in Italy was to get some true rest and effectively split my season in half. I was still going to ride, just not very hard. Recovery > Workout, remember?
The next day I mapped out what appeared to be a fairly easy ride, but instead it turn out to be an epic mountain pass filled jaunt into Switzerland. Once again, I was feeling amazing on the pedals, strong than I have felt all season. Without trying, I was ascending 2-3mph faster than normal, and I had the power to climb like that all day. I tried to throttle my efforts, but it felt so good to be able to charge so hard. It was a no-chain day, where riding seemed effortless. It was the culmination of fitness built from back-to-back stage races and 6 months of solid training. But…
And It Was a Trap
The rest of the trip was spent doing long, epic, body draining rides as I savored this penultimate form. I threw all plans to rest peacefully out the window. I had lost all sense of logic and Workout > Recovery. As a result, my fatigue levels following Italy were at a record high (and they were already high). I had sore legs for a week when I returned to stateside. I should have been resting in Italy, instead I was doing the hardest rides of my life, and digging myself a huge recovery hole. My TRIMPS scores for these two week reflect how good I felt, as my perceived exertion was minimal and resulted in very low stress numbers. While I had the legs to ride hard, I didn’t have the reserves or cortisol buffers to tolerate so much volume and intensity.
My next mi
stake was to jump right back into my training plan post Europe. Since Italy was logged as rest weeks in my diary, and the TRIMPS scores were reasonably low, I assumed I had it in me to continue with Goal #2 of the season, the Cascade Classic. All the while I was blatantly ignoring my fatigue levels. I stacked three huge training/racing weeks before Cascade. These three weeks combined equaled about six weeks of normal training load. No wonder I blew up.
I have some scary notes in my logs from that period. All I talk about is needing more sleep, feeling tired, slow and sore. My fatigue levels stayed really high throughout this period. Going into Cascade, I just didn’t feel right. I had fitness, but absolutely no form. Meaning I had the engine to power the legs, but my motor had been running too hot for too long and was starting to seize up. I needed an oil change, a new air filter and some cool-down time to polish my abused pistons back to spec.
It finally all came crashing down post Cascade. Not only was I physically worn down, but the day-to-day minutiae of training right, eating right and sleeping right cracked my morale. I started getting dropped on group rides. My muscles felt like crackling dry dog-crap through every pedal stroke. My placing in races had become mediocre. My mind started to wander from the dedicated life of an athlete. Cycling is 90% mental and I’m already mentally unstable. So tossing a wrench of failed expectations into my psyche is a surefire way to derail all training plans.
And that’s where I stand today. The desire to compete still hasn’t returned. I’m trying my best to keep riding, as I don’t want to lose my hard earned fitness. I’m sorta watching my weight, sorta monitoring my diet and sorta exercising with a modicum of enthusiasm.
Was I over trained? Yes, as indicated by abnormal fatigue and motivation levels. Am I a big pussy? Possibly. Is bike racing the most selfish sport in existence, leading to douche bags spewing endless online tales lamenting over their own fitness? That’s a question for a real man to answer, not a giant weeping vagina on wheels.