Whether you are coming up to the end of the first week commuting by bike, or you are planning to tackle a 600km Audax, we all have our limits.
The rush of endorphins from any form of exercise, combined with the feeling of liberation as you traverse your city under your own steam in a surprisingly short time, is very addictive. However, it is very easy to bite off a little more than you can chew, perhaps by taking on a long commute on too many days without building up to it, or by tackling a sportive with insufficient preparation.
You may also be enjoying the enhanced feeling of wellbeing as formerly under-used muscles are thrust back into life. However, these feelings can quickly turn sour if we over-do it and end up over-training.
Some of the symptoms we cyclists can experience when we over-train include:
- a washed-out feeling
- feeling tired
- getting grumpy and experiencing sudden mood swings
- becoming irrational
- feeling a lack of energy for other activities
- suffering from depression
- having a decreased appetite
- getting headaches
- getting an increased incidence of injuries
- having trouble sleeping
- feeling a loss of enthusiasm for the sport
- experiencing a sudden drop in performance
Over-training is simply training beyond the body’s ability to repair itself. As you exercise, muscle fibres are damaged (microtrauma) but are then repaired, usually larger and stronger as the body over-compensates to reduce the risk of future damage. However, this repair process takes place while you sleep.
If you are not getting enough sleep, you will not recover and improve. If you are over-training, your sleep will be disrupted. You will quickly enter a vicious cycle of exhaustion, depression and low self esteem as you struggle to catch up with yourself.
Like any physical activity, your cycling miles need to be built up gradually. Set yourself a comfortable weekly goal and stick at it. Only when it stops being a challenge do you raise that goal, along with your calorie intake.
A personal story
Back in August 2015 I completed my first Audax. It was a 226km ride from Cardiff Gate, across the bridge, up to Gloucester and back again through Monmouth and Usk.
It was a brilliant day out and I loved every second of it. It was more than I’d ever ridden by quite some distance, but over a day you don’t notice how much energy you have expended, or how much you had emotionally invested in it.
That is, until I landed back down to Earth with a thud. I spent a fair few weeks after that ride feeling under the weather; down in the dumps and unsure of what to do with myself. Yes, I had built it up in my mind well before the event, but the physical and mental come-down hit me like a ton of bricks.
I would have been quite happy to never get back on the bike again. Fortunately the feeling passed after a few weeks and I was back to commuting by bike again. In truth, I had bitten off far more than I could chew, but it was a valuable learning experience and a day I’ll remember for many years to come.
It was the perfect day. The weather was perfect, the characters we met at the controls and on the ride were good fun and very welcoming of a bunch of sweaty people on bikes. The scenery was beautiful and every stretch between control points provided a new adventure. But boy did it take it out of me –but then I did burn around 6000 calories and ate nowhere near that much to replace it.
The moral of the story
Whilst this post has been a challenge of endurance in itself, there is some parting wisdom to share.
It’s ok to hold your hands up and say “I need a few days off the bike”; it’s ok to get the train or bus from time to time and it is definitely OK to spend your weekend with your feet up watching cheesy movies from the 80s and eating carbs!
If it stops being fun, ask yourself why you are doing it.
The hard part is knowing the difference between over-training and other possible reasons for your malaise. The symptoms for over-training are very similar to those of anxiety, stress & depression. Cycling is a tremendous way to keep anxiety and stress at bay, but it cannot fix the underlying cause of it. It merely keeps it at bay.