My client Joe sent me this e-mail last week, “Sunday was one of those days where I couldn’t do a thing … could barely get out of bed until late morning. This seems to be an early warning notice from my body, as I now am suffering from a full-blown chest cold. Welcome to fall … well, at least I was healthy on vacation…” When I asked this Monday on how he was doing he responded, “Not so great … nothing fatal but the usual bad cold symptoms.”
Why did poor Joe get sick? Just bad luck? Joe is 64. Last week I wrote about Recovery Tips for Older Riders. If you don’t recover sufficiently, then your body reacts. You may become very tired and aren’t riding as well – you’re on the verge of overtraining. Or you may get sick.
During June Joe didn’t ride much because of business travel. In July and early August he rode about 300 miles averaging about 50 miles a week, his normal summer volume. He alternated weeks with more or less volume. His biggest week was 83 miles and his smallest was 17 miles. Using this pattern he had plenty of recovery.
Then he went on vacation and rode 250 miles in three weeks, averaging 83 miles / week, a 65% increase over what’d he’d been doing… and then he got sick.
What to do?
1. Recognize early symptoms.
Often illness is preceded by feeling more tired than usual. If you start to feel this way, listen to your body and cut way back exercising. Sure, you lose a few days of riding, but isn’t that better than being sick for a week or longer?
2. How are you sick?
If you’re sick above the neck with a head cold then it’s okay to keep exercising if you feel like it, but cut back on the volume. If you’re sick below the neck with a chest cold or the flu then stop exercising.
3. Don’t fret.
Depending on how hard my clients are riding, I plan their programs so that every two to four months they have a full recovery week with almost no riding. Two harder months (significantly more volume or intensity) lead to a week off the bike. Four months of building base endurance is followed by a week off the bike. If you’re sick for a week, that’s a needed recovery week.
4. Analyze why.
Here’s where keeping a training log pays off. What have you been doing recently that’s causing too much overload? Remember that other things add to your stress load, things like lots of travel, a change in your job or retiring, a change at home, moving or selling your house, significant illness in your family – including parents and grandkids, etc.
5. Rest more.
As much as you can, cut back on your normal activities.
6. Catch up.
Many roadies put off things because it’s more fun to be out there on the bike – I do. Spend more time with your family – but don’t get them sick! While still getting enough rest, you can use this break to get a tune-up of your bike (or car) and take care of things around the house.
7. Learn more.
My most popular publications are:
- Endurance Training and Riding bundle, which includes 3 articles: Beyond the Century, Nutrition for 100K and Beyond and Mastering the Long Ride.
- Cycling Past 50 bundle, which includes 4 articles: Healthy Cycling Past 50, Nutrition Past 50, Performance Past 50 and Off-Season Past 50.
- Cycling Past 60 bundle, Part 1 for Health and Part 2 for Recreation
8. Do complementary activities.
Perhaps you don’t stretch regularly, do core exercises or practice balancing. Now is the time to catch up a bit. See the Resources section of my website for core strength and stretching programs both illustrated with how to do photos.
9. Work on mental skills.
Almost without exception, a roadie can improve more if he or she works on mental skills instead of spending more time on the bike. Mental skills are often the difference between a great ride and just a good ride… or a DNF. You can accomplish a lot if you practice just 10 minutes a day most days of the week. Here’s a series of exercises to make you a better rider: On the Rivet.
For more information see my column 4 Tips for Sick Cyclists.
I hope that by balancing training, recovery and the rest of your life you stay healthy!
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.