Few things derail motivation the way that illness, injury or life’s many non-cycling obligations can. And it always seems to happen when your training is on the upswing, power numbers are going up, relative heart rate numbers are coming down, and the potential for improvement is inspiring to say the least. But the sad fact of the matter is that training derailment due to illness, injury and day-to-day obligations is less of an ‘if’ than a ‘when’. So what can we do but take these situations in stride and try to get back on track as soon as possible.
There are a few things to consider when returning to training that are based on what exactly derailed your training in the first place. Returning from a hiatus around the holidays is usually less problematic than returning from illness or injury since returning too soon after being hurt or sick can postpone training even further and really hamper your season’s momentum. But for the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on typical illness, e.g. colds & flus, and family/holiday obligations while leaving the injury-related recommendations to far more qualified professionals such as sports physicians and physical therapists.
With regards to typical family obligations that usually ramp up during the holidays, my preemptive advice is to train when you can and make every minute matter, i.e. short but high-intensity workouts. But since we’re talking about the post-holiday return to training, I recommend easing back into your training with the understanding that fitness diminishes about as quickly as it builds (except in the case of long periods of detraining, but again, we’ll limit the scope of this article to a typical Thanksgiving/Christmas, 2-4 week training interruption). So if you’ve been away from the bike for about 2 weeks, backtrack to a point in your training plan that coincides with the length of your time away. For example, if you were on Week 5 of Intermediate Base II and you haven’t been on the bike for 2 weeks, start back at Week 3. Often enough, you’ll find that your fitness hasn’t slipped as far as you’d thought and you’re capable of exceeding the demands of the week’s more demanding workouts and you can jump back into your training plan closer to where you would have been without the holiday interruption, especially if you managed to squeeze in a few brutal but quick workouts.
When it comes to returning from illness, the rules are similar with one caveat, don’t push yourself too hard too soon. I almost feel guilty rehashing the same advice I’ve read in countless other publications, but forgive me and allow me to point out that too often athletes impatiently and unrealistically try to make up for lost time by almost punishing themselves with too-high workloads. And there’s arguably no worse time to do this than when your body is rebounding, or more accurately healing, from an illness no matter how commonplace that illness may have been. Something as simple as a cold can lead to a sinus infection which then leads to a bronchial infection and a maddeningly slow return to form. But rather than honestly recognize that one’s body has been put through a wringer, overzealous and all too eager athletes immediately heap stress onto a body that’s barely on top of its illness overload. Maybe it would resonate more deeply if we looked at illness as another form of training stress in order to understand that we can’t pile additional stress onto ourselves until we’ve absorbed (or in the case of illness healed from) the previous stress.
Look at it however you like, but try to be patient with your rate of recovery and gradually make your way back to the level of training you were undergoing when you were derailed. If you find that 3 days of intervals is too much, reduce it to 2 days of intervals and 1 day of tempo or aerobic endurance. Whatever you decide, err on the side of caution for your first 1-2 weeks of training and don’t hesitate to pull the plug on a workout, or at least scale it downward, should you feel as though you’re doing more harm than good. And when it comes to training with power, you have immediate, objective feedback that will ‘tell’ you when you aren’t ready for the task at hand – if the numbers simply aren’t there, you aren’t ready. Consider a reduced workload or a few more days of easy mileage.
And if you truly feel healed, symptom-free and unfettered by the chains of illness yet the numbers still aren’t there, if you simply can’t perform the intervals as prescribed, then reassess. Especially if you derailed during a time of higher intensity like Build blocks and certainly during Race phases of training, but even during lower-intensity phases like Base conditioning, a decrease in FTP means all of your power levels must face a corresponding decrease in order to keep your training progression on track. Decreases in performance capabilities are a part of illness, but they’re all eventually overcome with some perseverance and consistency, so hang in there!
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