Severe overtaining and burnout - anyone come back from it? (4.7w/kg FTP to depressed couch potato...)

Long story short. In 2017 I averaged over 170 miles a week - 5/6/700+ TSS a week of racing,sportives, club rides, commuting. I got minor illnesses constantly, mood swings, gut issues, etc. but pushed on as there was no apparent drop in performance. I was aged 37/38 so not exactly young.

One day I bailed on a race and decided I hated cycling - sold the power meter, race bike and garmin. That was 15 months ago. I carried on commuting for a while (financial reasons) but I hated every second of it.

I’ve now been off the bike completely for four months but my new job will require me to cycle at some point in the future for financial reasons. This new job is located right by the most popular training loop in the country…

I realised I no longer hate cycling, started looking up old club mates on strava, listened to the TR podcast again!

So to the point of my question. Has anyone come back from serious overtraining and burnout? Did you aim to get back to previous levels or did you learn your lessons. I fear I am an ‘all or nothing’ person so if I started again I would want a power meter and to set a target. Is it even possible to come back or will I hate cycling again - especially as I will be commuting in wind and rain at 6AM. Can you come back with ‘fresh’ enthusiasm?

3 Likes

Yep it can happen. I posted a thread on here about how I bounced back from overtraining syndrome. It can happen, just need to take your time when coming back. Don’t expect it to come back overnight.

2 Likes

Hi

I haven’t been in your position but I know a few guys who have.
The one thing they all said we in order to love cycling again they delayed their initial desire to get a power meter and fall back into the issue of assessing ‘fun’ or ‘worth’ as a set of data.
All of them without exception went on feel and tried to learn to loosen their requirement for data as ultimately that was what caused their loss of enjoyment with cycling in the first place.
So maybe (and it’s just a suggestion) you could start cycling again and ignore power data and focus on what it actually is you get out of cycling? Focusing on emotions or feel can be really hard if you are an All or Nothing type but look back at what started to get you to burnout in the first place and if it involved focusing on stats, beware you don’t immediately start to fall back into that exact same routine as soon as you start cycling again.

I hope you enjoy being back on the saddle however you do it though :slight_smile:

2 Likes

First off, despite everyone on TrainerRoad having an FTP over 400 and 6 W/kg, you should be very happy and proud of your W/kg and FTP, as they are nothing to scoff at. No doubt your W/kg and/or FTP has dropped in the last 15 months, but with a moderate amount of time on the trainer, you’ll start improving again. The worst is those first 2-4 weeks… I took 4-5 months off the bike last year, and felt like I was starting over. Eventually things came back, but those first few weeks were really demoralizing.

Furthermore, a weekly TSS of 700 is hard to sustain. I was cycling quite a bit in the spring (not nearly 700 TSS, though), and I was so tired of my legs being in constant pain with DOMS that I finally just stepped back, reduced the TSS load, and everything was a lot more enjoyable. I have a power meter, head unit, all of the other tools, and my W/kg is a third lower than your peak. Necessity? No. Nice to have? Absolutely.

Also, your screen name says it best—you’re a dad with a full time job, not a professional cyclist. The tragedy of social media is that everyone compares themselves to an artificial base (i.e., your Strava friends), rather than a macro reality. I guarantee that for a dad with a full time job, your FTP and W/kg is better than 97% of cyclists out there.

7 Likes

Unfortunately life gets in the way of our goals and that sometimes impacts on the people and pastimes we love.

I’ve recently returned to cycling after 18 months away and had my backside in my hands as I looked over where I was previously in terms of w/kg and y average speed over 100 miles to where I am now, 1.88w/kg, somewhere near half of where I was and nowhere near the level of the OP.

I fell out of love with cycling as life started to bite hard into my day to day existence, cycling held no interest what so ever and my food intake was totally without any discipline or interest of the consequences.

The harsh reality for me is there are plenty of hours of pain and discomfort to go, not just to get back to where I was but to surpass my previous PB’s. I’ve come full circle, tightened the nut on the food discipline and I’m really enjoying the TrainerRoad journey.

Cycling for me is a great stress buster and a counter point to life’s noise. Fortunately a few easy rides over the summer reignited by love and desire to get back on the bike.

Like the OP I can’t do things by half measure and I’ve always wanted to do an event in the UK called the Fred Whitton, my goal is to complete the ride in 9 hours, why? a friend did the ride in just over 9hrs 30 mins and I really really want to smash that time.

I’ve come back with new enthusiasm but also an eye on the fact that I’m in my 50’s and I need to apply equal weighting towards my recovery and calorie intake but I’m really loving being back👍

@slowmart - good to hear your story, the Fred Whitton is a fantastic goal

I bet you could just go and do it anyway and still get a tonne of enjoyment even if you didn’t beat your mate’s time - the process / journey can be and often is, more fun than the end, for pretty much any endeavour, not just cycling. :+1:t2:

Having said all that; I totally get the appeal of smashing an achievable ‘stretch’ target - there is something special about the sense of self satisfaction that can be derived from success however moderate or lofty the relative goal may be …, :muscle:t2::muscle:t2::grin:

1 Like

for sure! welcome back!

however, just because you are all or nothing type personality doesn’t mean you can ignore physiology. You need rest, you need to recover from workouts, and you can’t just smash yourself all the time.

take it easy, start with 400 tss for a while, make sure it’s not 3-4 hammerfests.

get some solid endurance rides in. work on base miles. enjoy riding again. then look for structure down the road.

good luck!

Brendan

Would say that physiologically I’m not sure you were “severely overtrained”, definitely sounds like you crossed the line into overtraining but that you stopped riding for psychological reasons before you dug yourself into a really deep hole physically that could take months or years to come back from. That’s a plus! I’ve known people who have seen performance plummet (sounds like yours didn’t despite the immune system and mood issues) and done some really longstanding damage.

So really a question of how you manage your comeback so that you can enjoy cycling without digging yourself into a hole again. Some good tips above. Personally I find that I can’t enjoy racing and drop rides unless I’m fit enough to be in the mix. I get no pleasure from being cannon fodder on a fast ride or race. So when there have been times in my life when I’ve made a decision to put training on the back burner for a bit (when the kids were young, starting new jobs, moving house, etc) I just have to avoid that type of riding. Ditch the power meter, ditch the plan, just ride for enjoyment when I can. Including commuting, and going out with friends (non-racer ones who just want to get some fresh air and exercise and maybe a slice of cake). Maybe a sportive with those friends, but a genuine sportive where you start in your own time and ride round with your mates, not a pseudo-race where you’re trying to qualify for the World Gran Fondo champs or something.

The choice of bike can help as well. I used to commute on a steel single speed with Schwalbe Marathon tires (absolutely bulletproof though they’re a b***h to put on). Not too much danger of me setting any speed records with that setup, so it naturally put me into more of a cruising mindset rather than trying to race every other cyclist on the road.

Last thing is if you do want to get into racing again then learning the lesson that going hard all the time isn’t going to make you faster. Recovery weeks and days are critical to getting stronger. Sounds like you’ve had enough of a scare that you should be able to remind yourself of that regularly. Having a TR-type plan with scheduled recovery time, or a coach to tell you to back off can also help. I’ve had a few lightbulb moments over the years when I’ve put in much stronger performances than I was expecting because I’ve gone into races with less training and more recovery.

1 Like

Thanks for sharing! I’m currently coming out of a similar relationship with the bike. I was riding very well at the start of 2018 (4.2 W/KG) and was charged and ready for the season when I had a bad mtb accident that shattered my pelvis. I started training again around August that year. I cranked out the TR workouts all winter and felt as good as one could expect after such a serious accident. I did an early season gran fondo and returned to the 10 Hour mtb race that broke me the year prior…all seemed good. In May I started seeing my power numbers decline slightly, but didn’t think much of it. I decided to enter one of my favorite races, which happened to be the WA State Champs this year. I got about 20 miles in and had a “what the hell am I doing here” moment. I barely rode my bikes over the next 2 months and considered selling them. However, over the past couple months I’ve taken time to reassess the reason(s) I ride. I ride for fitness, fun with friends, adventure, and the youthful thrill of “flying” on two wheels. All of this training stuff is great, but I think we get so caught up in focusing on numbers and constant power gains that we lose sight of the reasons we ride. I took a break from Strava (so liberating!) and only do rides that meet one of the reasons listed above. Some of those rides are hard rides with friends, but I make sure to stay true to the “fun WITH friends” part of those rides now. I have found all of these “steps” have helped me enjoy riding again. Sorry for the rant. Your post just really struck a chord with me.

5 Likes

Watch the new Matt Stephens vid and pay attention to what Mr. Oss has to say:

1 Like

Thanks all - I will watch that video when I get a chance.

My problem, I think, was realising that I was fairly good at something and getting obsessed over making the most of it. A power meter was a slippery slope (started out using a wattbike a few times in a gym and spent ages deciding to buy a PM) and I felt severly comprimised if I had to cycle to work with no PM and only a heart rate strap. I never really got a buzz out of racing - it was almost a chore that I had to do just to be able to say I’d done it. The numbers (especially TSS) and smashing club mates was more fun to me. I did club rides like they were one-off races then had to cycle to work at 5AM the next day.

In terms of overtraining it was physical issues that triggered psychological ones - I had gotten quite badly sick again and again and the last time was the final straw. I’ve always had a poor immunue system and a high pain threshold which is not a good combination.

I am on the fence about a proper comeback so purposely doing nothing about it for at least a few weeks to see if it lasts. When I do cycle to work it will be on a cheap fixie and I’ll try and focus on track stands and whip skids.

What’s the deal with the commuting? You mention you do it for financial reasons. Are you willing to elaborate on that?

I see the commute as the crux of your problems based on the limited info provided. Is parking outrageously expensive where you live? If so, I might suggest an e-bike, but those are also expensive.

I was in a similar place in March. Trained and commuted all winter, was hitting PRs indoors and out, and then life plopped on me a pile of usual life headaches, but all within weeks.

I had just snagged the green jersey on Zwift, and as I was catching my breath, I felt a spasming in my chest and my heart started racing. TL;DR (many details omitted), I thought I was having a heart attack. Paramedics, ER, doctor, cardiologist, drugs, fear, the whole shebang.

It wasn’t a heart attack. It was my first panic attack. And since that panic attack happened during a sprint, I feared any effort that increased my hr, despite my doctor urging me to return to riding. I just recently was able to complete the TR ramp test without having a panic attack and have resumed training.

Stories like those in this thread about returning from setbacks have helped me to have enough courage to do more than noodle on the bike.

3 Likes

Did you change anything in your routine to stop getting sick like decreasing intensity or getting more recovery periods in your training blocks?

This is exactly what I’m currently riding! :exploding_head::+1:

:thinking: Hmmm…I must have missed that memo. Yeah, sure, these days it’s all about cruising speed but in the past it was definitely all about warp speed fun! Will agree though, I cried a little the day I swapped from GP4000’s to the Marathons…they really are s l o w.

Slow but incredibly durable! I used to get 5000+ miles of puncture free riding on crappy London roads with potholes, glass, nails, etc. Could probably have got more but after that much wear the profile was so square that they didn’t want to go round corners…

Happy to trade a bit of speed for not having to change a puncture in the cold and rain while running late for work, and those weekend rides on the GP4000s will feel like you’re flying effortlessly down the road!

@avergagedad ditch the PM and stop chasing TSS/CTL. You’re welcome.

2 Likes

I have never been close to overtraining, but life just gets in the way of training (btw im slow, barely over 2 W/kg). However, as an engineer, i like data, and always try to match segments on Strava. I am finally consistently back to training, but have found so much enjoyment of at least once a week riding with my wife (who had bulging discs earlier this year) or the kids. This forces to ride slow and really enjoy the company and seeing the area we live. When I ride with folks from work at lunch, other than being faster, it seems to always be a slugfest and i have skipped many rides because I don’t enjoy being dropped (yes training needed) and particularly the beat-up feeling in the afternoon.

Worst health issue I had was shortness of breath. It happened a few times for a week or so when I just couldn’t get a full breath in. It was similar to my childhood asthma.

Commuting was the problem as in bad weather and on busy roads it’s hard to ride slow and steady so that would usually be 100TSS a day.

I didn’t have rest blocks or anything just eased off when I got noticeably ill or tired. I did 3 900 TSS weeks in a row for example then was forced to back off for a week to about 400. Generally I found consecutive 750+ weeks would trigger a mild throat infection but I never learned to establish my limits and had a boom and bust type routine.

Re commuting my Old job was 3 trains and approx 70 minutes travel time on a good day. On a bike it was around 60 minutes including the shower afterwards. I forget exact costs involved but very high.

Current job travel costs about 9% of my take home pay. Trains are horrible and crowded, frequent delays.

I have two very expensive daughters so I feel like I need to prioritise money.

I went 7 years without more than a week off the bike. Minimum 4000 miles a year and ended up on 9000 in 2017 before my 2018 burnout. I know people do higher miles but intensity was my problem. Long slow rides just not enjoyable to me.

Kind of easy to see how it all went wrong in hindsight!

1 Like

Another good read of a recently retired professional and his take on burning out:

1 Like