Knowing when to call it a day

Or in this case, it’s knowing when to call it ‘two months’, which is the length of time I went without a rest week. Most people come down here to Tucson either fresh or relatively out of shape and leave cracked after a week or two of hard training. I’m the opposite. I came down here in need of a rest week.

I didn’t plan it this way. I had huge ambitions of finally hit a 30-hour week, which is something I haven’t done since I was a cat new 3. “So what you’re saying, Kennett, is that your ambition is to train like a cat 3 again?”

No, no, no you’ve got it all wrong I swear!

It’s not like I didn’t know what I was doing; I’d been keeping close track of my training, including paying extra attention to my Excel spreadsheet bar graph, which compares every year of training I’ve ever done since getting on the bike.

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While I was certainly paying attention to it, that doesn’t mean I was being completely smart about it. In fact, the more I trained and saw the big numbers roll in, the more drive I felt to completely smash what I’d done last year. As of this week, I’ve done 41 more hours this year than last, with both “years” starting in mid November when I began training. That doesn’t sound like a lot since it’s only an average of 2.5 extra hours per week, but adds up.

Still though, there are so many guys out there that train quite a few more hours than me. I’ve only averaged 19 hours a week for the past 8 weeks. From talking to people and reading interviews/books/blogs/whatnot, there seem to be plenty of guys out there that average 20 or more. Maybe they’re riding at a different pace or not including rest/sick weeks, or they’re just stronger-bodied and stronger-willed than me. Who knows how they do it but I sure can’t yet.

At times, I catch myself wondering if I really do train hard enough. It’s difficult to get a grasp of what “hard” really means, since there’s no ceiling to it. You can always do more. You can always try just a little bit harder. I guess being smart is more important, and finding the best ratio of work-to-pay-off is what gets results.

Usually it takes me one or possibly two days of easy riding to recover from a 2- or 3-day block of hard riding. I did intervals and rode long on Monday and Tuesday this week, rode easy Wednesday morning and flew on Wednesday night. I did an easy 2 hours on Thursday, feeling worse than I thought I should since it was my second day of rest, but still figured I’d be good to go on Thursday for 5 hours and 3×15″ intervals on Mt. Lemmon. I did one set of intervals on Lemmon, shrugged off the fairly poor performance due to fatigue, and started the second set. Wait. Shrugged it off to fatigue? Wasn’t I planning on doing 6 hours the following day, including the Shootout in the morning and Old Pueblo GP in the evening? I decided to be smart and turned around to go home a few minutes into the second set (actually I kept riding for 20 minutes up to mile post 4 so I could write “2.5 hours” in my training log instead of just 2.25 hours…neurotic much?)

That night I got almost no sleep after picking Adelaide up at the airport at midnight. Part of my inability to sleep was the late night drive and the even later night bike build so Adelaide could do the Shootout early the next morning, but there was something else there too. Some extra deep fatigue that made me tired but wasn’t letting me fall asleep. I pondered, like I have been recently, about a few things from the past week and a half that had been worrying me just a bit.

1) My left quad had just suddenly developed a strange stabbing pain when I bent my knee.

2) I’d been able to do my intervals and ride long day after day for weeks, and even during my rest days I’d been able to climb fairly easily at 300 watts up Lee Hill (my rest days involve climbing both sides of Lee Hill and sometimes Deer Trail). The constant “openness” of my legs was encouraging as well as startling. This is what happens when you never fully rest.

3) My sleep pattern had been way out of whack. I’d have trouble sleeping for a day or two, then the next couple nights I’d sleep for 10 hours straight. (Last night I slept for 11 hours).

4) Strange parts of my body were aching without having been used for any activity. Last night my forearms ached for some reason. I hadn’t lifted anything heavy for days and I hadn’t even ridden long since Tuesday.

5) I’ve been EXTREMELY scared of getting sick. I keep getting imaginary sore throats and sick-trickles in the back of my mouth (just made up that word–sick trickle. I like it).

This last warning sign was definitely my subconscious telling me to back off and rest. Also, from looking at my “Graph of Training Years” Excel spreadsheet, I’ve noticed that I tend to get sick the first week of March just about every year. As of today, I’m still holding strong.

With all of this in mind, I decided to not do the Shootout Saturday morning. When I ended up not falling asleep until 6:30AM, I decided to not race Old Pueblo GP. It was a good decision. Adelaide was practically dropping me on the way to meet Quinn and Allie at their house to ride over there together and watch the race.

But wait there’s still hope!

I had been planning this sort of catastrophic breakdown and ensuing super compensation all along, just not quite to this degree. And while I wanted to make it another 10 days through next weekend’s Tucson Bicycle Classic before resting, I guess I can live with this scenario. Recovering down here in Tucson isn’t ideal because it’s so warm and the rides offer a fresh landscape on which to smash the pedals, but it’s the right decision.

I can tell the difference between truly overtrained and just overreaching and I’m happy it’s the later. The main difference, between the two, for me anyways, is the ambition. I still want to get out there, which means I’m tired but not utterly drained. My power, through Tuesday that is, was still on the rise as well, so I think I’m in the clear as long as I’m smart about the next week. I’ll still race Tucson Bicycle Classic but I’m resting (for the most part) until then. And when I get back to Boulder on Sunday night I’ll continue to rest until I’m fully recovered and fresh for San Dimas, Redlands, and Europe.

I knew it would be difficult reigning in my willingness to train after leaving SmartEtailing and being given all this time. This was the first true test. The old Kennett would have finished Friday’s ride, struggled through the Shootout and Old Pueblo yesterday, and would have slogged through the originally planned 5-6 hours today as well, just to get in those 31 hours. But I’m smarter now. This week will only be 17 hours, which definitely counts as a rest week…

5 thoughts on “Knowing when to call it a day

  1. From reading your blog the key mistake you seem to make that many other pros do not, is that your long rides all seem to be at tempo in order to hit some kind of “hard” numbers target so they look better. Most pros do a lot of easy, long, low zone 2 rides, which is how they rack up the mileage. Friends of mine on the World Tour do much less tempo riding than you do and aren’t doing vo2 max intervals during base either. Same with the few successful domestic pros I know. Do you use WKO or TrainingPeaks and monitor your TSS/week and Intensity Factor? If you simply peruse Strava you will see many examples of what I mean. Riding in low to mid zone 2 is one of the best ways to achieve basal mitochondrial and capillary adaptations and although riding in mid to upper zone 3 can do the same (more x’s in the Coggan box), the stress that it induces takes much longer to recover from and the net amount of time spent training such adaptations is lower. You’re doing 5-6hours aiming for 300w when even Cancellara’s winning Roubaix ride was a hair over 6hrs with a 265w NP. I’d bet that many of your rides such as this are harder than grand tour stages. Personally, you really sound like you could use a good coach. I’ve followed your blog for a few years now and it seems like you are treading down the same path that led to inconsistency and an inability to realize your full potential.

    Best of luck,

  2. There’s probably some truth to what you’re saying Karl. I think I’ve also taken on the tempo approach because that’s what I’m good at, so therefor that’s what I like to practice…even if it isn’t what I should be focusing on. I don’t use WKO or Training peaks, just Power agent and Garmin connect. I could be tracking TSS and IF just on my own though I guess. I’d be really surprised if Cancellara’s Roubaix was only 265 NP though. Maybe if the first half was just super easy spinning and coasting. I’m sure I could use a good coach, the problem for me is finding one that I trust. Someone who’s on top of the most recent sports science and who I know won’t give me a copy and paste plan. I also don’t have the money to afford a coach, so there’s that problem. I’ll definitely pick the brains of my European teammates this year and try to figure out what I should be emulating. It does seem that, no matter how hard I try, my training is always way different than anyone else’s. I’ve attempted to do what others do but I always end up back where I started, with too much tempo and fatigue. And I even cut way back on it the last two years! I’ll continue to cut back on it. It’s hard to go cold turkey.

  3. Oh, and thanks for reading and thanks for the advice too. It’s always good to hear.

  4. Cut the tempo and focus on a more polarized approach. In the literature almost all professional endurance sports that have been studied tend to favor a polarized approach a’la Seiler with a division of labor of roughly 80% of training time easy (Coggan’s zone 1, zone 2, and up to low zone 3) and 20% hard (threshold and above) as a very rough starting point. I once spoke to an old trainer from the Australian Institute of Sport that worked with their junior team and they did many vo2 max/zone 5 sessions such as those you have mentioned in your blog, but the rest of the time was really easy. Sustained threshold climbing was typically done very hard. The reason being is that, for a gifted endurance athlete your vo2 max is naturally fairly high, but not as high as a World Tour Pro. Tempo work might only be at 75%-85% of vo2 max for them, but for you maybe 70% at most, however, the fatigue is roughly the same. So you operate at less a percent of vo2 max thus eliciting less of a stimulus with the same fatigue. When a pro goes and does a 2×20 at threshold, it is often at 90% of their vo2 max, whereas for an amateur its far lower, yet again, since many of the metabolic pathways are the same, the fatigue is still about the same in terms of rider perception. Lastly, riding tempo alone, riding tempo in a race, and riding it behind a moto are very different things. Most pros do a lot of motorpacing because the neuromuscular demands are similar to racing, but you will almost never be doing long stretches of solo tempo. If you are its because you’re out the back not off the front or in the peloton. If you’re in the break its very on/off with an average power similar to tempo, but in reality its a short anaerobic effort, then soft pedal, repeat

    I bet its hard from the POV of a person trying to break through that level and not really know exactly what will produce that last 2% to get you to where you want to be. Being conservative at least helps you get to races fresher and you’re more likely to race your balls off fresh and impress then coming in so fatigued that you’re dead by day 3. A 3-5 day European stage race will typically be 12-20hrs and it will be either really easy pack riding, or ape shit ballistic full-gas madness.

    I will keep reading and best of luck in the upcoming season. I’m sure your Euro teammates will have tons of valuable input and hopefully this adventure turns out to be exactly what you want!

  5. Thanks Karl. I’ll definitely take this all into consideration. I’ve now had a couple people tell me that tempo is too fatiguing with too little benefit. I really have cut back on tempo. I probably actually need to cut back on hard zone 2 since that’s really what I do more of.

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