AT Broke Me - thoughts for recovering and learning from the experience

After a week of over-reaching into severe burnout I’ve got a few minor AT-specific questions further down but I think just writing this all out has helped me process everything well enough to find the most important answers on my own. I’m leaving the details in mostly just in case it helps someone going through similar. Look after yourselves everyone!


So after progressing from Threshold 2.9>4.7 over the course of nine days (Thursday-Saturday ending a week ago) I found myself totally spent and unable to complete the next day’s Sweet Spot workout (5x10 threshold to 4x12 SS seemed like it should have been easily doable but just wasn’t). Monday rest day put me right though I felt good and nailed my Stretch VO2 workout on Tuesday (4.3>5.8) which felt great after rating all my VO2 workouts ‘moderate’ for a few weeks and finally getting adapted up by AT. It was pretty much at my limit though, so also really took everything out of me again.

AT then gave me ‘Black’ for my easy Wednesday ride, which, at .68 IF, wasn’t actually that easy as 60 minute z2 endurance rides go. I remember thinking at the time that I had done a bit too much recently and would have chosen something more like Lazy Mountain if I was making the schedule, but I decided to trust AT and stuck with it. Later that day I had to drop the car off for service and the bike was the best way home - 18 minutes of stop-start surgey city-centre riding into a wild headwind.

By the time Thursday came around I was in a bad place but couldn’t really see it. Big symptoms of burnout, likely compounded by SAD (I have a mid-January birthday so my low point is usually the last week of the month rather than the more traditional Blue Monday). I put off my workout for most of the day, finished zero work, and then when I finally got on the bike for my 4x10 threshold session I could tell during the first interval there was no way I was capable of completing the workout. I was surprised to find myself able to make it most of the way through the second interval, but I still failed the workout well before the midpoint.

Made it to and through my 3hr in-person work shift on Friday including the 2 short (12min) commute rides, but I really didn’t want to be there and had considered calling in sick (which would be very out of character for me). I couldn’t face my desk when I got home so couldn’t do any more work the rest of the day. Was starting to feel really depressed too. And I was a bad partner and upset my other half while she was trying to cheer me up. It was only at this point I recognised how much this must be related to training fatigue.

On Saturday morning I started to feel better almost immediately once I made the decision to move my workout to Sunday (today). It made for a much more restful morning on the sofa and by the afternoon I found myself feeling energetic and positive, tidying the house, catching up on laundry and other household maintenance I’d put off all week, etc.

I was going to do my Saturday workout today so I still get the key workout in (thankfully after recent failures AT has swapped my Threshold session from a 5.2 to a 3.5), skipping my Sunday SS session instead. But if I got on the bike today it would be because I feel like I should, not because I want to, so I’m going to take another day off and be really ready for VO2uesday in a couple days time.

Things I’m pondering:

  • I’ve got one more loading week before my recovery week - I’d consider just moving up the recovery but that would throw everything else off in plan builder. I assume I’m best to just push on following this mini-break unless the wheels start to come off again?
  • When I failed Thursday’s workout I put ‘intensity’ as the reason - should I go change it to say ‘fatigue’ now I have the benefit of hindsight?
  • There’s no survey for missed workouts, so how do I tell AT that I’m taking this weekend off due to training fatigue rather than just skipping the workouts because I was busy or something?
  • What’s the best way to ‘train’ AT about all of this? Is it advanced enough to know that in a similar future situation it should swap a high z2 ride on a Wednesday for a 30 minute recovery spin, or will I need to do that myself? I think that alone might have kept me on track into this weekend.
  • Would I actually be better off just dropping from Mid to Low volume and then choosing my Wednesday and Sunday workouts either based on my own judgement or using TrainNow? I already replace my Sunday workout with my club ride or a big long adventure whenever the weather’s OK, so Wednesday would often be the only gap anyway.

Thoughts or anecdotes in solidarity welcome, but mostly I just hope it helps someone else identify when it’s time to back off to avoid digging a hole. And I hope this detailed review helps me to see the shape of what’s coming and adjust a wee bit sooner next time!

2 Likes

What did you rate this workout? From your description I would have given it “Very Hard”, maybe even “All out”

I just leave skipped workouts and let AT do its thing - not that I’ve skipped any.

I’d definitely consider dropping to LV even though the workouts in that plan are more intense to make up for the lack of volume.

It’s often hard to spot the signs of over-doing things until it’s too late, the symptoms are very similar to just feeling tired after a workout.

Just wondering: Did you select this stretch workout yourself or did AT put it on your plan? I have never seen those kinds of jumps when letting AT decide, so I’m just curious.

Also: What I’m reading sorta between the lines here is that you really wanted to progress very fast and coerced AT into that, possibly by rating workouts low. Is that the case?

Rated Very Hard (“could not have done one more interval” per the fantastic chart here: AT: Easy vs Moderate vs Hard vs ... [Pass / Success Survey Responses] - #100 by IvyAudrain)

EDITED TO CORRECT THE QUOTE FROM LINKED CHART. Original post read “could only have done one more interval” which corresponds to ‘Hard’ rather than ‘Very Hard’

Nope, all chosen by AT. Have been using the chart I just linked to in my other reply and rating every ride based on how many more intervals I think I could have done if I had to (I’m treating a 10min threshold interval as a ‘set’ rather than a single interval though as that seems to best fit the spirit of the guidelines).

I do think I might have challenged AT a bit given Amber’s adage that ‘progress is not linear’. I’d been pretty stagnant up to the end of last year and then suddenly had a bit of a leap in fitness once all the extra stress of the holidays was behind me. From the adaptations I was served it certainly seemed like AT was running with my rapid progression and trying to see how far it could push me before it needed to back off. That’s fine in a single progression type, but I think trying to do it simultaneously with Threshold AND VO2 was too much. It seems almost a bit like riding in ERG mode, where if you’re consistently near the path it expects you to follow then it does a really good job of making minor corrections to keep you there, but if you suddenly swing the needle way over or under the predicted path then there’s a bit of over-correcting involved before things stabilise again. I almost expect to be under-challenged for the next wee while before it realises it can come back up to not far below the levels that broke me.

From my reading:

Very Hard → Could not do one more interval

2 Likes

You describe what I struggle with in the TR plans. The points for you to assess is what type of ride you can do after a threshold day. The other part is it may help to insert a week of endurance when you feel tired. I wouldnt do the loading week in your state.

I would change your response to fatigue but no idea of what it will change.

I do a VO2 on Tuesday and a Threshold on Thursday… If I want to do a sweet spot to progress more it works better to move it to Saturday. Friday is fine to be an endurance day. I also do an endurance day on Sunday.

I find what AT doesnt do that you can do better is assess how you feel. If you are feeling draggy or your legs lack some snap…add in a week of endurance and then go back to the plan. We can still progress by keeping our energy in check. AT works off of our feedback but after the fact. If you know you are tired I just find you are better to take it easy. Now I am 61…so some of this is learning I do better when I am not dragged down. AT and TR plans as currently designed need adjustment for me to succeed. I tweak low and mid volume plans to end up with 2 hard days and 2 days of endurance or an easy sweet spot depending on how I feel.

1 Like

How have you tested FTP?

Correct. My error. I promise I read the chart when I answered the survey, just failed to look again when I posted the reply!

I came to the same conclusion as both my VO2 and Threshold were being pushed to PLs that I had never done before. As the weeks went on I purposely slowed my rate of progress in threshold via alternates. I let my hardest day be my VO2 day.

1 Like

I would take this now, absolutely nothing to lose by doing so and pushing on could do more harm than good!

It’s only Jan and if you’re feeling burnt out now, Summer ain’t going to be much fun.

1 Like

As a comparison: I spent 5 weeks progressing from 3.4 to 5.2 in vo2Max (including one recovery week) and for me this was a doable progression that did not break me, even though I started to struggle to complete on 5+ vo2Max. Most workouts were marked as moderate or hard up until the 5s. And it felt like a challenging but good progression. What is making your plan progress so much faster, I don’t know. But it seems kinda strange to me.

1 Like

Ramp test as prescribed by plan builder. Tracks pretty well with sensation/RPE/HR during over-unders so I think it’s definitely close enough to be useable. Also hasn’t moved much in the last 2-3 months, just 1w increase at my last test.

1 Like

I would personally move my rest week up and take it now if I were you. And feel free to make it even lighter than prescribed if needed (fewer days, easier workouts).

Based on personal experience, when you start to get these early overreaching symptoms (failing workouts that were previously achievable, mood changes, etc), you can’t progress in your training anymore until you fully recharge, and that usually takes a week or sometimes more until your body is ready for high intensity work again. If you go back too soon, you just end up digging the hole deeper.

2 Likes

It’s likely their survey response of “moderate” to the VO2 max workouts. Their described progression rate is the same as mine when I answered moderate to most of mine - currently in SPB and went from 2.x to 6.4 in three weeks by this.

And actually after rereading your post, one other thing. In retrospect you may have needed to take a rest this week, after you failed your SS workout, rather than pushing through the week.

Anecdotally I find threshold/some SS workouts to be much more draining than VO2 work. This may just be a reflection of personal strengths, but because of the short duration, even when I’m starting to over reach I can still squeeze out a VO2 session.

SS and threshold work performance falls off quite nicely in line with over reaching for me, unlike VO2.

I would also be willing to bet that if you plugged your workouts into something like intervals.icu, you would notice that your heart rate decoupling was super high on your z2 workout this week, and may even have been elevated last week.

3 Likes

One thing this illustrates is that you still need to listen to your body. It doesn’t matter what a computer algorithm tells you. If your body is telling you, you need to rest, then do it.

5 Likes

I often do as well. VO2 less mentally stressful than Threshold. Might suggest am not doing VO2 properly, but have always assumed it’s a duration of focus / mental issue. For me, turns out that long term endurance training is hard. It’s a lot easier to do a HIT or spin class or crossfit type workout and feel good than it is to stick to a proper endurance plan and grind it out for months on end.

You have a lot going on and we are living in interesting and stressful times. I’ve also struggled with finding a balance of athletic activity, desire to train and managing stress and other issues. Cold and winter and grayness exacerbates everything. Let’s not forget that we are living in a covid pandemic (or endemic) and none of us were trained for that!

Rest assured you are not alone in having a tough go of it.

In terms of athletics, I think part of the weekend warrior issue is we all have goals and objectives. Sometimes we make those goals and objectives much more important in terms of self worth and ego than we should. Sometimes that becomes unhealthy. Physically and/or mentally. Many, or at least myself; I want to be better than I am and better than I likely can be. That can lead to over reaching, bad training decisions and a cycle of some gains followed by disappointments. At some point, one wonders if the rollercoaster of setting goals, pursuing them, meeting some and missing many, is really worth it.

In a more training parlance, it means I tend to over reach and add stress and anxiety. Knowing that is happening doesn’t necessarily stop it. Human weakness and all that. The irony is we supposedly do this stuff for the health benefit and then often over do it and create an unhealthy situation.

AT doesn’t know much about how you are feeling and AT is an algorithm that may or may not work for you. It may work for a period and then not work. Nobody knows but we know its early days for ML/AI and athletic training. A human coach may not help either. Coaches tend to push athletes, and athletes tend to value coaches who yield short term gains. That stacks the deck in the wrong direction too.

So what to do?

I would first identify the stress points and what is in your control. Work is work and most of us need to earn a living. Relationships are a priority and sounds like you have a helpful partner. Health and fitness are important. Your (and my) FTP is not important. You and I and our TR forum friends here might all make it important, but it really is not.

But you know, training for athletics is supposed to be fun. If it’s not fun the way you are currently doing it, then just change it up. It doesn’t matter if you gain 10% FTP at peak of the season if you are 100% miserable and anxious getting there. Nobody but yourself will judge you. There is always someone stronger and always someone weaker. But we put so much emphasis on FTP and numbers and workouts that we are our own worst enemies. Physically and mentally.

The only advice I’m able to give is to step back, put the priorities in order and give it a good think. Maybe this day, this month, this year is not the right time to reach for that new FTP mark or other bike goal. No worries!!! That is absolutely fine. Give yourself permission to ride and train for fitness and enjoyment and see where that takes you.

Hope you are able to feel better.

-Mark

9 Likes

Those are pretty much my exact thoughts reading this thread. My experience so far is that AT has some nice tools to automate the adjustment of plans based on how things are progressing, but I think those who say “just listen to AT” are misguided. Makes me think of that iRobot movie - “A person would have know x% was enough to save the girl” or something along those lines. That said, that damn robot saved the world in the end, so maybe we should trust AT blindly.

image

3 Likes

Maybe also help AT by going back in hindsight and changing the workout ratings? I haven’t used it myself and don’t know how far back you can go to alter future pathing of plans.

By the time you notice the hole you’re probably a week in.l, at least.

Maybe there’s a recommendation for how to handle this, from someone at TR. It may already be documented, but I can’t be bothered to look for it.