When you finish a big ride or race, you usually feel more motivated to keep the thrill of that big ride alive. The reality, though, is that after an epic event that pushes you to your limit, you have some debt to repay in the form of recovery. For a period of time ranging from days to weeks to even months (in the case of epic multi-day events), you can expect some decline in energy, fitness and motivation.
Knowing how long to wait before training again or undertaking another big epic takes some experience and patience, but there are a few rules of thumb to help guide you.
Your fitness level relative to the demands of the race: Pros will have higher fitness for an event, so their normal day is more similar to the race day, and it’s less disruptive. If you randomly decide to ‘Everest’ or ride 200 miles after not riding for months, you can expect to have to recover longer than if you trained for it.
Pacing strategy, or how deep into the fitness reserve you go: Some people are not racing maximally in long endurance events like Gran Fondos, whereas some people go very deep. So, your approach to the event could shift the recovery needed from days to weeks.
Duration: As events get longer, the recovery time generally increases. Multi-day events like the Race Across America can cause extreme fatigue, so recovery may take months.
Environment: Riding in very hot conditions or at high altitude can put extreme stress on your body. Even if the event is not overly ‘epic’ on its own, you might feel off for a couple of weeks.
Schedule: If your sleep gets disrupted due to early starts, travel or multi-day competition, then your body’s usual rhythm is off and this can affect how quickly you bounce back. The same event done at night might require more days to get back to feeling normal.
Your own physiology: Some people recover very quickly while others are sore for days. As we age, we expect a slower rebound from an epic ride that pushes our limits. Your nutrition, lifestyle and training practices can affect this.
Studies show your motivation to train, soreness, fatigue and mood are good indicators of where your physiological recovery is. If you are grumpy, tired or feeling fatigued while climbing or performing intervals (or walking upstairs), then take more recovery. For some people, the motivation to get on the bike is a good indicator it makes sense to gradually ease back into riding with a few short low-intensity rides to support further recovery and to help begin the process of training again.
With all of these factors affecting recovery time, your best bet is to plan for recovery weeks and then adjust for more recovery time based on the signs and symptoms your body provides.
You can greatly increase your chances of success by planning your season in advance. Use a calendar (paper or digital) to plug in the 1–3 big races (or rides) you want to perform your fastest. You can do more events, but focusing on a few helps clarify your need for recovery and guide your training. Generally, athletes who plan their epics are more successful and happy with their event and recover faster because they have trained specifically for their event and anticipated some fatigue post-epic.
Your time off might include travel home from an event or a vacation with the family or simply going to work each day and aiming to get to bed at a good time. A week away from the bike can be good to avoid the temptation to go hard or long or both to ‘test the legs.’ Use this time to get your doctor’s appointments, extra sleep, walk or cross-train, spend time with family, and you’ll come back healthier and more motivated.
To epic at your best and recover for the next event, your smartest move is to plan recovery periods on the calendar and acknowledge the need for recovery ahead of time. As you recover, use the signs your body gives you to fine-tune how long you recover before training hard or taking on another epic ride.