Spaghetti legs and sh*t for brains – overtraining

Tired cyclistWe’ve all been there. Hitting the roads hard and fast, all day, every day. Exhausted. Beaten. Weary. Spent. Shattered. Fried. Bushed. Jiggered. Frazzled. On we push. Bosh. An extra ten miles. Boom. A quick zone five interval session. Bang. Another all out sprint to the traffic lights. Va-va-voom. I am superman, hit me with five hill climb repetitions. Ka-pow. Give me more, a metric century at the weekend. Zap. Hell, let’s throw-in a quick chain gang on Tuesday.

We are invincible. Given the chance our spindly legs would keep on pumping forever. Forrest Gump on wheels. The Duracell Bunny on amphetamines. We are roadrunners, chased down long lonely roads by our very own coyote, a hunter who goes by many names, ambition, Strava, self-satisfaction, a PB, madness and masochism.

If the wheels are a-turning, we are a-improving. To stop pedalling is to stop progressing. Or so we believe. Week after week we punish our poor legs. Just a few more miles. One more ride, look the sun is out, mustn’t waste this opportunity. There’s no rest.

Long rides at weekends, intervals on weeknights and perhaps worst of all, commuting five days a week. There’s always a man on a Brompton to overtake. Who does he think he is timetrialling it past you in his suit? You simply have to put the hammer down. Oh, what’s this? An old man wearing a flat cap, is he trackstanding to beat me away from the traffic lights? Oh no you don’t.

Keep on keeping on

I'm really enjoying this new seat

I’m really enjoying this new seat

Rest is our bogeyman. We religiously follow training programs from cycling magazines until that is, it comes to the rest part. This we conveniently ignore. That’s for newbies. Amateurs! Three weeks on, one week off? Pah! I can keep on going. I’m feeling good. I’m fresh yeah, I can handle it. A zone one spin? What’s that gonna do for me? I’m a hard man of the road. Look at the pros, they go on and on, for like, forever. They’re human, right, just like me?

Our sports psychologist stares back at us in the mirror. Harden The Fuck Up, he shouts, looking the worst for wear himself. Dude, you need a rest, you think, staring into his tired eyes before walking away from your reflection in the mirror and climbing back on the bike.

We are not pros. We don’t check-in with a masseuse after each ride or follow elite training plans powered by computer programmes NASA would be proud to call their own. We do not ride bikes that cost more than our home. Or eat diets calculated to the calorie. Well, most of us don’t. [A forthcoming blog will be dedicated to the plastic pros of this world. We all know at least one and many of us succumb to such behaviour, myself included!].

Enough is enough

What do you mean, 'that wasn't actually the finish line?'

What do you mean, ‘that wasn’t actually the finish line?’

One day your legs fail you. No matter what you think, do or say, they simply refuse to budge. Mentally you’re shot through. Yet still you sit on the bike and stare in disbelief at your unmoving legs. If you had a whip you’d strike them. Everything is heavy. Head, legs, bike. Did somebody inject lead into the frame?

Coffee, power gels, a tailwind, protein shakes. Nothing helps. We saw the signs coming a long time ago and yet we chose to ignore them. Oversleeping. Your legs hurting every time you stand up. The inability to look at a bike without your legs throbbing in protest. No longer do you want to ride.

Everything and anything becomes an excuse. A slight breeze. An imaginary hamstring twinge. There’s always something better to do. Like desperately searching cycling forums for keywords like miracle recovery and magic cycling beans. Anything to get you back on the bike. You know the answer but you simply can’t face it. Your prescription is the cyclist’s naughty four-letter word. Rest.

Shut up legs

My hill climb bike. Not so sure about the 10

My hill climb bike. Not so sure about the 10″ cog on the back.

I’ve been guilty of all the above recently. I’d been riding hard month after month, climaxing with a five day, 400-mile cycle holiday in Majorca. There were 18,000 metres of climbing in my weary legs when I returned and yet still I went out chasing the miles.

The sun was shining in October. October! No wind. Such days are too good a cycling opportunity to miss. Out I went, spaghetti legs aching with each and every revolution. Just warming up, I told myself, heading for Swains Lane, my local hill climb, a 20 percent leg opener that has you screaming for oxygen and relief at the summit.

The battle began. Up and out the saddle early, too early. My brain sent the power signal down to my heavy legs and they chugged into action, an old car on a frosty morning. I turned the key in the ignition but the engine was barely turning. I was cooked. Must push on. Stamping on the pedals, cadence slowing, I mashed my way up the hill in slow motion, drunk on fatigue, zig-zagging all over the climb.

Idiocy. Weak, I climbed off the bike and stared at my shaking legs, now quivering like a timid dog that has disobeyed its master. I knew at once it was time to go home. So off I cycled, not towards home, but over to Regents Park for a few laps. The sun was shining after all. There was no doubt in my mind I would recover. One horrid, slow lap of the park later and I finally admitted defeat. I returned home to lick my wounds and stare out of the window at the perfect blue sky like a cat with no cat flap.

A dreadful day. It’s rare you hate cycling. This was one of those days. I forced myself to rest for almost two weeks. It was hard at first but eventually you realise there is life away from the bike. I know, who would have believed it! What? I have a girlfriend? Wow!

Recovering

But I don't want to ride the Vuelta...

But I don’t want to ride the Vuelta…

I returned to the bike like a child eager to take his Christmas present out for a first spin. Legs fresh, in a matter of days I had finally achieved something I’d been building up to for two years by climbing my local hill in under two minutes. Therein lies a lesson.

Rest. Don’t chance losing your legs mid-ride. Structure your sessions on the bike to include down time. It will make you a better, stronger rider. Your legs, head, friends, family and other halves will thank you for it.

How to spot signs of overtraining on the bike

  • Your get an illness you can’t shake
  • Your legs ache every time you stand up
  • You don’t want to get out of bed. More than usual I mean
  • You find yourself avoiding eye contact with the shed / bike
  • Your legs remind you of the cold spaghetti you ate at breakfast
  • Your max heart rate bears a striking similarity to your resting heart rate
  • You look at your training diary and realise the only day off you had was Christmas
  • It’s Sunday morning and you’ve chosen to clean the toilet rather than go out for a ride

Resting is an art form all of its own, one deserving of its own special cycling and resting blog which I shall read when I inevitably repeat the above mistakes and my spaghetti legs return.

Images courtesy of 1) Otto Millar 2) Still from great slow-mo video by Chris Cairns 3) Daniel Dal Zennaro/EPA 4) Unknown 5) Kristof Ramon

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14 thoughts on “Spaghetti legs and sh*t for brains – overtraining

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