Burnout, overtraining and knowing when to rest; Strava-stress
After a few months of struggling with injury and mojo-fails, I managed to start picking up my milage a bit in December. Despite upping the training load slowly and steadily, on the run in to Christmas, I started suffering a massive loss of motivation and energy. Twice I woke up with the plan of getting out for a good three or four hours, then finding myself a few hours later, after the obligatory bucket of porridge and vat of coffee, feeling totally unwilling and incapable of swinging my leg over my saddle. Not just physically tired, but mentally sick of taking the same few routes out of town to my typical training areas and mild palaver of preparing for a ride. I guess a combination of an increase in training stress, feeling totally uninspired as a result of a lack of approaching goals, and the general busyness of Christmas, lead to my feeling totally overtrained.
Fortunately, this coincided with a trip out of town back to my parents for Christmas. Having toyed with taking my bike home to keep my miles up over Christmas and avoid the horrendous feeling of detraining and general laziness and overindulgence, I nervously decided to forgo the hassle of getting my bike on the train, instead for a few days away from riding, thinking about riding, cleaning my bike after riding, and all the rest that comes with being near your bike entails.
The first few days away were bliss as I could feel myself unwinding and my legs regathering energy. Then, by Boxing day, feeling horrendously bloated, hungover and bored, the appetite for riding (but not cheese or chocolate!), returned. The break had evidently done me good, and although it was taken with some reluctance, I was gagging to ride again.
Using training software like the PMC in trainingpeaks gives riders a good way to monitor their form and training stress balance, allowing them to be aware of when overtraining is raising its ugly head. But obviously burnout can also come from many other stressors, such as work, boredom or lack of a defined training plan / goal, and sometimes just that nagging sense in the back of your head that you ‘must’ be riding or you ‘should’ be hitting xx miles a week etc. Unfortunately it’s not always very easy to detect the onset of this malaise
Although I use Strava all the time, I think it can be quite damaging with regards to this. Logging in and watching your mates rack up massive training rides when your motivation and fitness is on the wane can only make things worse, and riding to achieve relatively pointless goals like the Festive 500 can lead to overtraining and burnout. Sometimes I think its wise to step away from it or ignore Strava. I’ve toyed with the idea of cancelling my account, but I do find it a useful training tool as I’ve got years and years of data on there, whereas the power-focused info I have on trainingpeaks only dates back a year, when I first got my powermeter. Plus it would be a shame to stop using it… just have one more peek at someone else’s rides…. won’t get hung up on it…
The one productive thing I did over the Xmas period….
Whilst away, I decided to make the very most of my time, and my mum’s well stocked and equipped kitchen, to indulge another of my loves – cooking. I particularly like making energy foods to take out on the bike, as a lot of energy bars and gels can be pretty revolting. So over Christmas I experimented with a few new recipes adapted from creations by the wonderful Hannah Grant / @dailystews. In both cases, her recipes formed the backbone of my cheffing, but a little adapted to my tastes and available ingredients. AM not giving ingredients / methods as (1) I can’t be arsed and (2) top secret!
Cashew Cookie Balls
An overwhelmingly delicious savoury-sweet combination of smashed up mixed nuts (predominantly cashews), ground oats, chunks of dark chocolate, cinnamon, salt, and honey. Perfectly tapping in to my uncontrolled addiction to nut butters. Totally awesome.
Date, prune, orange and hazelnut choc brownie
More of a cake than an energy bar, these are a portable hybrid of Terry’s chocolate orange, Nutella, and Pan de Higo, those awesome booze infused fig and almond cakes from Spain. Again: Nuts: good. Dry fruit: good. Dark chocolate: good. Result: More awesomeness.
I also ensured that I ‘liberated’ some of my mum’s ace homemade Christmas cake whilst home so as to set it free in its proper habitat of the wilds of SE England (via my jersey pockets). There’s something about eating cake baked by your mum when out on a lonely four or five hour ride that really keeps the morale up… Thanks mum!
The cookie balls, brownie, Christmas cake, and my pre-existing stock of home made rice cakes were all nicely deployed on a great ride today, down to my favourite place to be on a bike in SE England; the Ashdown Forest (see also my previous blog for unmitigated raving about the joys of this place). Sun, that forest, great home made foods, and fresh legs made for good times and one of the hardest and most productive rides I’ve put in for months.
Maybe I should take time out more often.