Monday, May 20, 2013

The Wall

It's funny how in training for endurance sports we walk a fine line, the line of peak fitness and assumingly optimum performance. The reason that it is a fine line is that building up capacity and endurance through repeated stress on the system takes a toll. That toll is cumulative if you are not careful and diligent about recovery. This is a basic principal in all physical conditioning, that the body needs time to repair from the stress the training puts it through.

Some times the most basic concepts are the hardest to come to grips with. For me, as a cyclist and one who relishes riding my bicycle, I've long struggled with this principle. Over the years I've made huge improvements but almost without fail I seem to get caught out by overloading. It's as if I know that the wall is out there looming on the near horizon but that I often misjudge just how rapidly it is approaching, until of course I slam into it.

Over the past few weeks I've known that the wall was just up ahead of me and that I was really moving way too fast toward it. The hard rides were still just as hard but were starting to feel a bit harder. The races were good but taking more toll. I knew it was coming and I knew that I needed to back off and get in some legitimate recovery. In fact, after racing the SS at the Wrath of the Boneyard MTB race I knew that I was fried and promptly confirmed an active recovery week for this past week.

The week started well with a short and super easy spin on Sunday followed by another nice recovery ride on Monday. Tuesday was the Turkey Vulture road ride but the plan was to just sit in. That was working great, well, OK, it worked great for three minutes and then we had mechanical issues and nasty traffic and then rage set in. Shortly after that finally subsided we started splintering and I worked to help pull riders back in. After that the strongest riders rode off the front and kept hammering, shelling people quickly from that group. Cathy and I picked up the stragglers and I was determined that with a coordinated effort we would chase the break down.

The problem was that the folks with me were already struggling a bit. We also seemed to hit every traffic delay imaginable while the break sailed right through. Never the less we continued on each person giving what they could. The unfortunate result was that I gave a bit more than I wanted to and ended up crushing myself, undoing any gain from the two recovery days and further digging myself deeper into the hole. The power details confirmed what I already knew, two hours at steady threshold watts was not what I needed.

Wednesday I was dead tired so did another easy recovery ride. Thursday was supposed to be a moderate geared MTB ride but one of the (fast) guys I race with was interested in a bike I was selling so came out to ride. He brought his SS so I switched to mine and the longer endurance ride turned into a shorter more intense ride. I felt pretty good though through much of the ride and had one of the best SS rides I'd had all year netting a couple of PR's on two of the legitimate Strava segments in those woods. On the final push out though I blew up, my legs having nothing at all left to give. We made our way back to our place for food and beers and later that evening after consuming too much I decided it would be a good idea to register for a road race on Saturday. On the surface that seems OK but the reality was that we already had an MTB race planned for Sunday.

My hope for Friday was that the legs would hold together for the weekend so we did one hard opener effort on the MTB, which also netted a Strava PR on a segment and then a nice gentle trail ride the rest of the evening. The legs felt OK so I was optimistic. Come the very early start to the Sunapee Road Race on Saturday however, the legs had a different story to tell. After a few hard efforts in early breaks that didn't get far I quickly realized the extent of my troubles. When we hit the rollers on the back side it was all that I could do to get over them. I had nothing to give and watched the large break ride away, choosing to stay instead within the shelter of the larger field who would pretty much be riding along to the finish the rest of the day. I didn't like it but understood the reality.

By Sunday I held hope that I would somehow recover from the further beating and that my legs would miraculously rebound. Unfortunately when Cathy and I started out with our pre-ride of the new Winsted Woods MTB course, which by the way was absolutely awesome, it quickly became apparent that it was not so. My legs immediately loaded up and simply refused to push. I was barely able to make it over some of the technical, high power low speed climbs. Further, I was struggling with the bike in the rocky technical sections, trying to baby it for fear of slicing a tire on the sharp rocks.

When the whistle blew I went as hard as I could and though really painful, I was hanging with the lead. The first rocky, loose climb was excruciating but I got over it and fumbled my way through the following technical section unscathed. Down the steep rocky descent I was still in a good spot but at the bottom hard right turn onto the access road I washed out and slid across a big root with my upper arm, ribs, hip and knee. This hurt like heck and took the wind completely out of my already deflated sail. I slipped back to forth position and barely made it up the long shallow loose rocky access road climb to the top of the course. It then took some time before I finally bridged back up to Mike W. who was sitting in third and almost the entire lap before I was recovered enough to be able to come around him. Meanwhile, Robert C. and Matt B. had both ridden away and were completely out of site.

Cathy finishing up strong.
A full lap later I caught a glimpse of Rob up ahead. He was riding super strong and having a great day, a just reward given all the work he put into the race coordination. A little more than half way through the lap I was able to put a surge in and come by, continuing to move forward. The long hills still gave me trouble and my legs felt completely empty. Coming through for the final lap I caught a glimpse of Matt who surprisingly, was only a short distance ahead. Unfortunately, he saw me as well and punched it leaving me with no response at all. The gap had increased substantially by the top of the first loose rocky access road climb and in the following technical section I hit traffic as well, allowing a bit more gap to run. By the second long loose climb my legs were throbbing and I could barely crawl up it. Matt was gone. I managed to hold position and finished up cleanly about 37 seconds after Matt.

So once again, I knew that the wall was looming out there in the fog ahead of me and once again, I ran headlong into it at full speed. As the old saying goes, there's no cure for stupid I guess. What's on tap for this week? Some legitimate recovery and lots of hoping that I didn't push it too far. I suspect that other than blowing two races, the real damage was minimal. Realistically this was just a big training block, a tear down period for which I hope the rebuild after recovery will allow me to take it higher still. 'll let you know how that works out.


Hill Junkie said...

I'm finding these walls come at you quicker/sooner as I get older, a sucky reality one has to deal with. With a huge "masters base," I don't notice much loss in fitness, say in a 5 minute power meter test or climbing benchmark. But I can't do as many hard days per week anymore. Hard efforts hurt more a day or two later than they used to, and doing 2-3 day blocks require almost equal time for recovery. Too often, I go out for planned interval session, quickly realize it just ain't happening and shut it down. As someone almost addicted to continuous self flagellation as you are, it is really hard to listen to my body. As we get older, it isn't just reduced competitive advantage that can be lost by over-reaching or over-training. Risk of injury goes up too. Anyway, keep us posted how the recovery week goes. Rest weeks never go well for me...

CB2 said...

I was going to suggest to Cathy that she needed to get off the MKR training plan and get some recovery in; we all can't be like Mike (maybe not even Mike all the time).

mkr said...

Good points for sure. I do indeed have more trouble recovering with each passing year and certainly feel the cumulative stress of the volume. This year has been crazy as there was no real break after cross, since that ended Feb 1. My take is I'm hitting the downslope from all of that. I've also had some big weeks in the past month and half with two over 17 hrs and another over 15. I'm used to more of a 12 to 13 hour norm so that was a significant uptick. That combined with steady mostly MTB (ie more taxing) racing on the weekends or at least one huge effort in it's place and the TVR during the week as well as a solid MTB ride and other rides on the off days just has me at a deficit. Reality is I knew it was coming because I wasn't stoked to ride and have been really tired. I think a week of easy spins will make a big difference and then I'll probably switch gears a bit and sub in some shorter intensity. After all, how many +2hr threshold rides do you need a week?