Equipe Flamme Rouge  

FAQ ~ Over Reaching

over reaching...

One of these riders has "over reached" the other is a renowned slacker...

I am almost 48 years old.  Have been riding up to 24,000km per year for the last 10 years or so and ride solo 99% of the time.   Suddenly at the end of March, I felt riding was no longer fun and training had become a chore.  So I stopped riding. 

I quickly gained about seven kilos.   After a several weeks of sitting on a couch I finally started doing a few short easy rides but I seem to have no endurance.   After two hours I am cooked. 

I am use to riding six times a week, with two of those rides being five to six hours and twenty hours or more total.  Now in hindsight I can see I was over-trained. 

Since I am still struggling to do a solid two hour ride, do you think I need more rest?

Name Withheld

The very first thing I'd recommend is getting a blood test from your doctor, to make sure there are no physiological discrepancies that are outside of your control. Low iron, etc. If all is well in that area, then we'll look at what is within your control.

track race

Quennevais Crit 1986 ~ on the front, suffering well but recovering quickly

First off, you are not alone! This is as "classic a case" of the "over-extended mature rider", as I've seen and experienced. 

You need to understand that it's not you.  It's us!  Us "men of a certain age".  I'm heading for 55 now, but I haven't always been this old or slow, I used to be young and slow (above with a pink bike). We think, in our own little world, we are still in our mid-twenties. 

We know we can still do it.  We know we can "bang out a good ride" and we know what we are capable of.  The only thing is, our body isn't as convinced that we are the riders we think we are.  This is one body versus mind game, where the body usually wins; eventually.

I'm now ten percent older than I was when I was 50.  In my head, I'm one percent older (if that!).  But my overall "training, racing and recovery" physiological package is probably twenty percent less than it was just five, short, years ago.

First, muscle mass has decreased.  And although the lungs and heart may be the same size, the second part of this equation is that they are slowly becoming less efficient and effective. 

Oxygen carrying capacity is down, heart/muscle/enzyme delivery systems are compromised, lactate clearing and toxin removals are not as tip-top as they used to be.  And my post-ride naps are becoming a little longer, and deeper, as time goes by.

On a good day, I can still bang out a climb, or a ride. But these now come once a month, not once a week.  For the twenty-five year olds, they come once a ride!  And that's where the problems rise. 

In our heads, we're still twenty-five. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but once we realise we're not, we can do something to address it.  


2014 Trois Ballons ~ holding off the chasers before the big climb

Climbing out of the hole
All you've done (along with thousands upon thousands of others), is gradually slide over the edge of the over-achieving precipice. 

I'm not so sure that you've "over-trained" as you were clever enough to recognise the signs sooner rather than later and never developed the full-blown, almost catastrophic, symptoms. 

I think, you are probably "under recovered".  This isn't to play down your plight, it's still a terrible place to be both mentally and physically, but it is recoverable in the short to medium term. 

There are subtle, but monumental differences, between over-reaching and over training.   These differences have huge ramifications on how you come out of it and get back to a "controlled version" of your old self. 

Under-recovered, is a physical tiredness.  Over-trained is a chronic, medical, physiological condition.

The weight gain?  That's the body "bouncing back" to where you'd normally be if you consumed the calories you do but aren't covering 1500-2000 kilometres a month to burn them off. 

There is also a chance you may have been "under-weight" for too long.

In a way, the extra weight is good, as it provides a safety blanket and keeps you "in check".  Your first job is to slowly get your weight back to "normal", plus a couple of kilos. 

Not what it was, but normal for your peer group.  If you're normal "racing weight" is 70 kilos, 72 is healthy and manageable, 68 could be too low and unsustainable.  It's all about balance.

Being two to three kilos over your "racing weight", will compromise you just enough to keep you in check.  But it will allow you to remain healthy while letting you to do what you physically need to do to "get better". 

Lose the current extra weight through portion control and gentle riding.  Don't attempt any quick fix diet, or radical eating regimens.  You need to be healthy if you are to get your strength back. 

Using the example above, head for 72 kilos.  We can lose the extra two in the run up to future events, and allow them to drift back, as our comfort blanket, after them. 

Keeping at "racing weight" all year round is very stressful on the body and can lead to illness, lethargy and over-reaching.  Which could be what led us here in the first place.


Burning Fuel
The reason you are cooked after two hours, could well be because your body is burning glycogen, not fat as it's primary source of fuel. 

Ultra endurance athletes burn fat; they are very effective at doing big miles and conserving their glycogen.  This is what you've probably been doing previously.  Maybe now, not so much?

All that's happened, is your body has "forgotten" how to do this.  Which is ironic, seeing as you're carrying a little extra padding! 

Or it could be that you are chasing the fitness, riding too fast for your current physiological level and not riding in Zone Two; the fat burning zone.  Many people (and clubs) try to "recover" by riding Tempo in Zone 3, the Dead Man's (junk miles) Zone.

Your objective now (now that hopefully decent weather has arrived) is to fall in love with the bike again, but slowly. 

recoveryActive Recovery
Once our age gets up around the mid to late forties, it's all about recovery.  For us, recovery is king.

A fit recovered rider is a fast, happy rider.  A fit, tired rider, is fit for nothing, and as you have seen, not very happy.

You need to bring your base fitness back slowly, as you'll be able to hang on to it for longer, when you return to full fitness. 

Which you will, as long as you let it come to you.

As we're well in to the season, there's no point trying to get your full fitness back rapidly before the end of the year.  You'll just crash and burn again. 

You should now be looking at an eight month build up to next season, when you'll come back fitter, faster, stronger and more recovered than you've been in years.

But first you need one of our Re-Hab Programmes.  These sessions will get your body used to the rhythm of the training again, without smashing your glycogen levels.

After this initial period of rebuilding, you slowly ramp up but do much less than you did before.  Maybe just ten to twelve hours.  Intensity will be up, volume down; recovery doubled!

That's how us Masters mix it with the kids.  Do less, but when you do it, do it properly, no half measures.

Keep all weekend rides down to ninety minutes or less, at a steady Zone Two pace, without going in to oxygen debt or elevating lactate levels.

You will probably only need to follow this for a month to six weeks, before it all starts coming back and you can ramp up the intensity and the volume, but only to a Base Build level

Your objective is to get fit for your winter training! Then come back in the spring, feeling "normal".

Preventing Future Dips
This graphic tracks weekly training sessions in pink and overall fitness in blue.  The harder you train, the fitter you get.


But the fitter you get, the harder you have to train to raise your fitness.  And that causes fatigue, which is tracked by the yellow line.  It's clear to see that the yellow line drops relative to the pink line. 

If you keep pushing the blue and pink line up, before the yellow line has had time to rise, you start heading for the depths of fatigue. 

Sadly, this is where most un-coached athletes start to train harder, in an effort to recover their expected fitness.  Its a descent in to fatigue that's as debilitating as it is inevitable.

Your years of ultra endurance have not been wasted.  All that stuff is still there, you just have to tease it back out.

The harder you go looking for it the deeper it will hide.  So a gentle comeback is the order of the day. Your years in the saddle will put you in good standing once everything is lined back up again.

It will come quicker than you think. It's not lost, so don't give it a second thought. One day soon it will "click" and you'll know you're back in the game. 

Getting fit is a bit like catching a dog.  Chase it and it runs away, you will get tired long before it will.  Stand still (metaphorically!) and it will find you.  When it does, you'll be as fresh as a daisy, ready to go and back to your old self. 


twenty-five years later, same corner, still on the front but recovering slower...

Let the fitness come to you and all will be good.

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