The Case of Walt
Last week I described the case of my client Walt. Walt is an experienced ultra athlete and is training for a 500-mile race in October, longer than he’s ever ridden. Although you probably aren’t a long-distance rider you can learn from Walt’s experience.
- August 18-19 Walt raced the Mid-Atlantic 24-Hour. When the race was stopped at 16:37 due lightning he was on pace for about 435 miles, which would have been a personal best.
- After the race he wondered if he should be riding more miles.
- Walt wrote on August 25 after five days of recovery, “Felt REALLY strong on the team ride today pushing 700 watts without much effort :)”
- Walt then wrote on September 1, “Disappointed in Baseline TT test. I’ve been feeling pretty run down lately and a little burned out. Bummed that my 20 minute power was 310 watts instead of 330 watts like June.”
What Would You Do?
Readers comments on the article, which I’ve edited for brevity:
- Gary Turney, “Walt’s right – he’s burning out. He needs to take a week completely off, maybe two.”
- Bernie Burton MD (long-time friend of mine), “Concur totally with burnout. More is not always better — smarter is better.
- John Shubert, “It’s SO easy to overtrain. And to peak in your workouts instead of during the competition. That’s what your athlete Walt is doing.”
- Randy Brich, “Probably overtrained but not enough info.”
The readers are right — he’s doing too much and needs time off the bike. Brich makes a key point that more information is needed before I can decide if it’s overtraining.
Coach Hughes’ Diagnosis
Coach Hughes responded on August 27 after the 24-hour race but before the time trial. “Training isn’t about volume it’s about results. Look at your recent results:
- August 18-19 on track for a personal best for 24 hours.
- August 20 right after the 24-hour Walt wrote, “Great week with a great race.”
- August 25 after five very easy days Walt wrote, “Felt REALLY strong on the team ride.”
“You have plenty of volume. I looked at your cumulative hours and miles since we started working together in June. You averaged 11:45 hours and 211 miles per week. The averages are misleading because I’m alternating big weeks and lighter weeks for recovery. A month before the 24-hour you did a 250 mile ride with 4,400 feet of climbing in 13:15. Your total riding for the week was 358 miles in 19:40. With that ride you peaked for the 24-hour. We then shifted gears to three weeks of very high intensity heat training and much less volume and a one-week taper.
Training Overload + Sufficient Recovery = Improvement.
If the overload large, like a big race or a week-long hard training block or tour then the result is “overreaching.” If a rider takes one or two easy weeks to recover from overreaching then the rider gets fitter. If the rider continues to train hard then overreaching can develop into overtraining from which it will take months to recover. The two key indicators of overreaching / overtraining are:
- Decline in performance – Walt had a poor TT.
- Mental state – Walt’s feeling burned out.
Walt was definitely overreaching and possibly overtraining and I needed to figure out which.
I looked at his time trial on Garmin. He started out way too fast. For the first five minutes he averaged 354 watts and fell off to under 300 watts for the final five minutes. In the perfect TT the power output is the same for the full TT. Part of Walt’s disappointing result was due to poor time trialing, not too much training or inadequate recovery.
Walt and I then talked on the phone so I could gather more information. A rider’s body doesn’t differentiate among different kinds of stresses: training, work, family, concern for loved one, poor nutrition, poor sleep, etc. They all add to the training overload and increase the need for more recovery. I asked Walt how work is going — he’s stressed with a new job. His wife is very supportive, his grown kids are doing well and he has no issues at home. He’s eating a healthy diet and sleeping well. Other than his job, his non-training life isn’t adding to his stress load.
After we talked I wrote, “I don’t think you’ve peaked too soon. Feeling a little burned out and not having a good TT are both signs that you aren’t fully recovered from the 24-hour.
“I see a pattern of excellent performance at the 24-hour and again on the team ride. You felt strong enough to ask if you shouldn’t be riding more miles. And you’re enthusiastic.
“If you’d had a bad 24-hour and dragged your butt on the team ride and had a bad TT then I’d be worried that you are starting to be overtrained but until this week your performance has been great! If you’d been down mentally about your riding for the last three or four weeks then I’d also be worried that you are starting to be overtrained but until this week your mood has been very positive.
“I think you had one bad week because you aren’t fully recovered from the 24-hour. The prescription is another recovery week so that you are fresh and full of zip to peak for the race in October. This week do no more than four recovery rides of less than one hour each.
“You had a bad week and rode a poor TT. That happens and I’m not worried about your overall training.”
Walt replied the next day, “Went a little off plan today and instead of recovery I rode with eight solid racer friends for a super steady effort 3.5 hours — really good for me mentally as they’re all really supportive and encouraging!
“I have a 50-mile mountainous loop that I’d planned to ride three times this weekend. What do you think?”
Coach Hughes responded, “Your 3:30 hour ride with your racer buddies shows that you’re starting to recover. I still want you to be conservative and just do easy rides through Friday. Then on the weekend here’s the plan:
- Ride the 50-mile loop at 15 mph.
- If you are feeling strong after the first 50 miles then ride another loop at 16 mph.
- If you are still feeling strong miles after 100 miles then ride a third loop at 17 mph.
If you aren’t feeling strong after a loop don’t push yourself to do more. You won’t get any training benefit. You’ll wear yourself out and will need more recovery time.
Walt wrote back on Monday, September 10, “Successful mountain riding yesterday — went 55 miles and did the last mountain climb twice at the END of the ride. Really tough climbs with upwards of 21% grade, which are WAY steeper than in the race in October. I felt pretty good and managed my energy well.”
I told him how smart he was to stop after 55 miles when he still felt strong. He’s not overtraining he’s peaking but not riding extra miles.
Before the Big Race We Need to Address Two Issues:
After the 24-hour Walt wrote, “The limiter on this ride was 100% my crotch! It’s got to be either my seat or my bibs and I’ve ridden with the same seat and bibs for years, but never this far. It seems to be a friction issue. I’ve tried chamois cream and no chamois cream. I’ve tried all the tricks I know and am running out of ideas.”
Because the problem was friction and lube didn’t help I suggested either his saddle is too narrow or his seat is too high so that his hips are rocking.
He had a bike fit on Monday. The tech diagnosed the problem as too narrow a saddle. Walt is now shopping for a new one.
Although Walt is an experienced endurance athlete he’s never done a 500-mile ride. He’s generally anxious about the race — it’s a big deal to him! To be competitive he’ll have to ride through the night, which he’s never done. We hoped he’d try this in the 24-hour but the race was stopped.
In June I started him on a progressive series of exercises to build the mental skills he’ll need for the race:
- Progressive relaxation to clear his mind and body of any stresses and improve recovery.
- Focusing on his breathing.
- Learning to direct his focus to what’s important.
- Creating positive power words and power images that he can use at tough times during the race.
- Creating a ride plan for the 24-hour race to pace himself.
- Visualizing a successful 24-hour race.
We’re currently running scenarios and developing a plan for the October race. Once we have the plan dialed in he’ll practice visualizing the race.
For more information see my bundle of four eArticles Preventing Cycling’s Ailments: Butt, Hands, Feet; Cramps; Nutrition and Sports Psychology.
- Butt, Hands, Feet: Coach Hughes’ eArticle will teach you what you can do to prevent pain in these areas. He reviews the general factors that contribute to discomfort on the bike including your choice of a bike, anatomical issues, bike fit and technique. He covers in detail the different causes of saddle sores, numb hands and hot foot, what to do to prevent these and how to treat each if necessary. 12 pages.
- Preventing and Treating Cramps: Coach Hughes explains why your quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles are the most likely to cramp. He describes what you can do to prevent cramping. With photos he shows you how to stop a cramp and how to prevent it from recurring. 10 pages.
- Nutrition for 100K and Beyond: Coach John Hughes will teach you everything you need to know to avoid hitting the wall with dead legs or bonking with a fuzzy brain. He combines the best of current research with 40 years of riding experience to teach you proper sports nutrition for cycling. He covers how to estimate how many calories you are burning, the best types of fuel, what to eat & drink during a ride and what to eat & drink before and after rides. 17 pages.
- Gaining a Mental Edge: How to use sports psychology to solve problems. Coach Hughes teaches you the mental skills to deal with problems when they do occur. You learn these skills like you learn riding skills. The eArticle uses 10 progressive lessons to help you to master the key mental skills. 17 pages.
The Preventing Cycling Ailments Bundle will teach you how to prevent problems that could make a ride less enjoyable and how to deal with them to avoid DNF’ing.
The 56-page Preventing Cycling’s Ailments bundle is only $15.96 ($13.57 for our Premium members with your 15% discount.)
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.