After the Tour of Flanders last week, I came home for the longest time this season so far (9 days) and was eager to get in a solid training block ahead of the Ardennes Classics. My attitude was…”I am going to train the house down!”
However, after another long-winded travel day, my arrival home came with a feeling of deep fatigue. I felt ‘off’ – and just wanted to sleep, eat and hunch over my laptop. I spoke with my coach and agreed that I would take a few easy days on the bike before getting stuck in again. Honestly, I ‘had the feeling’ that I might be getting sick, a very common occurrence around this time of the season, a constantly suppressed immune system, stress, less sleep…
So yeah, I kept riding, not totally resting but not totally training…and then I had a day of performance testing.
A four-minute full gas effort followed by a 15-minute full gas effort. I actually aced them, and then…I crumbled. That night I had a rough sleep and woke to my brains dripping out my nose and brick on my chest. I had pushed the envelope too far. I sort of expected it, and I knew a few other riders who were at this point in the season too where spring allergies, fatigue, and hard racing in all sorts of weather conditions catch up to you.
In the past, on more than one occasion, I have ignored my body’s warning systems and ‘kept training as I didn’t feel ‘sick enough to justify stopping, resting, and waiting until I was fully better again to resume normal activities. Or the idea of putting a halt to the training for a few days or so would be more detrimental to my ‘form’ than racing while not 100%.
Each time I have ignored symptoms and low-level sickness I have either
- Become way sicker, or
- Prolonged my mediocre sickness so that I was never fully recovered for weeks to months.
We have all experienced that feeling before of thinking your fitness, goals, and form are all completely lost the moment you take a forced break.
Despite all the advice to keep on pushing if the sickness is ‘above the chest’ or that it’s okay to ‘ride easy’ – in reality, you just need to let it go and rest.
It’s still hard for me, I can’t say I enjoy sitting on the couch feeling sub-par while my competitors are out training. But, it is the reality if you are constantly pushing the limits physically, on the trainer on FulGaz at home or in the WorldTour peloton, your body will occasionally find those limits.
Interestingly, two accomplished pros told me that ‘often you get sick after a breakthrough performance”. So really, I have chosen to reframe how I view this.
Acquiring a head cold isn’t a ‘fault’ of mine, redirect the intrusive thoughts that I am not ‘healthy enough’ or ‘weak’ but a sign I have extracted the best out of myself, amongst racing and traveling every week, and a few days rest to let my body rebalance is just what is needed. The message sent directly to me via a head cold.
Take some rest, and then take some more.
This is how I help myself through a bout of illness.
- Show some damn compassion. What if your kid was sick, or your significant other? Would you tell them to suck it up and go smash some intervals, or drag their sniffling self to the office? No, probably not – so just be kind and caring to yourself.
- Rest, and really rest. Life still calls errands must be attended to, but don’t see a sick day as a ‘catch-up’ day to fill your plate with all the things on the to-do list. You need to actively eliminate some of these things and focus on one or two that you can do with not too much effort. The stress of running around and ticking boxes also creates stress, and stress slows your recovery.
- You don’t need to ‘compensate’. If you have decided you will skip your FulGaz workout, it doesn’t mean you have to fill it with a core workout or hard yoga session, 10km hike, or run around the block. This is at most a few days to a few weeks out of your entire active life. It will pass, it will hardly leave a dent in your long-term goals.
- Don’t rush your return. Accept that returning to the activity will feel kind of sluggish and slow, you have been fighting off illness after all. Don’t rush back into training trying to make up for any lost form, but calmly rebuild and be gentle – you will get back to your previous fitness, and often, even find the freshness helps later on. One of the best races I had in 2019 for the team came only a week after a mid-season 10 days off due to sickness that I initially tried to push through.
- Drink heaps of water and keep eating. Don’t restrict your calories dramatically because you aren’t exercising and eat heaps of fruit, veg and wholesome meals. I also up my intake of probiotics, as well as zinc lozenges when my immune system is battling. I ensure I am still eating an adequate amount of carbohydrates so I am not totally depleted when I return to training, and to support my immune system.
- Not sure you are ready to get back to training? Add one more day of rest to seal the deal, even if it’s the first day back you feel ‘fine’.
All active people sometimes push the envelope, so it’s good to have a pep-talk to yourself in case you find yourself having pushed it a bit too far. You will come back stronger if you know when to back off.