Under-Recovery Got Me

For those following the What Workout Did You Do Today 2023 thread, I’ve failed most of the workouts in Specialty since starting that phase almost three weeks ago. Below is my entry into TrainingPeaks from Thursday and is a decent summary / tldr of what’s going on. Even though it begins with “over-trained / under-recovered,” this is really a story of under-recovery. Confession (err … lessons learned) follow.

Over-trained / under-recovered. Was trying to make it to CFL before taking a break but the lack of sleep and recovery has caught up with me, especially with getting up earlier during 3SHM. In addition to general fatigue, my legs feel heavy and my left knee / IT band is sore.

Will take nine days off and see how I feel when I get back from vacation. Assuming I am recovered by then, switched the plan to Low Volume and intend to fill in days with Z2 rides, structuring it similarly to a Polarized plan but with the option for a long ride on the weekend.

Mountain Mama Road Ride is almost certainly a no-go. I already had concerns about the amount of climbing and this has shaken my confidence.

Need to watch what I eat and my weight. It’s already toward the top end of the band I like so now I need to really put effort into making healthy choices.

I’m writing this in the car on our way to family vacation at CFL as my wife drives. This has given me a little time to reflect and will be a bit of confession to hopefully get this off of my mind for the next week.

With long work hours I’ve always been a morning workout person, usually being done by 5:30 or 6:00 am so I could be to the office in time. Three years ago we moved and my commute went from 20-minutes to 60-75 minutes each way. In January work travel significantly increased. At the beginning of June I transitioned to a position of increased responsibility and while I haven’t traveled much the last three weeks, that will change as soon as I get back from vacation. Mid-June my wife and I also started carving out some time each morning. Additionally, I switched from Polarized Base and Build MV (with effectively two days of intervals and one long ride per week) to Sustained Power Build MV (four days of intervals per week).

In an effort to not miss interval workouts (some might say I have a little bit of OCD), I started waking up 20-30 minutes earlier. Then with all of the work travel, I often did back-to-back days of intervals. After two months of Sustained Power Build, the increased off-the-bike stress combined with lack of sleep (recovery) finally caught up with me and I started failing nearly every Specialty workout.

So… I’m taking a week and a half off. I already am starting to feel better after two days. The wife even offered to let me bring my bike on vacation but I decided against it to force myself to stay off of it. Nine days may be excessive but I’d rather fail conservatively in this case since I’m not racing and have no real attachment to the Mountain Mama Road Ride, other than it being a great challenge to complete.

Lessons learned, in no particular order.

  • Off-of-the-bike stress is real. Even though I knew the increased work demand was adding life stress, I thought I could compartmentalize it separately from cycling. Nope, the body doesn’t care. Stress is stress.
  • Listen to your body, it really does tell you what is going on. I was recognizably more tired and cranky, especially after work when I should have be joyous to see my family (I’m usually out of the house before anyone is awake).
  • Listen to your spouse, they also tell you what is going on. This is the “I told you” section, even if they don’t use words that directly connect the dots between mood at home and the cause (e.g. lack of sleep / recovery).
  • Put away your ego. This might be the one I’m struggling with the most. I really do feel that I should be able to ride a 5 - 5 1/2 hour century on a whim. Given everything else going on that is probably not realistic, not that I even have the time on the weekend to ride that much without a lot of coordination of family schedules. So why am I sacrificing sleep to train so much?
  • Be flexible. I’m going to finish out Specialty on a LV plan and add in 1-2 Z2 rides per week, travel permitting. I also need to be ok with missing a ride or two when life gets in the way. I’m hoping that by reducing hours on the bike each week in favor of sleep / recovery, I’ll actually be fresher and faster. I’d be happy if I just maintained my same level of fitness.

Anyway, it’s probably my time to take a shift driving. Thanks (again) for the one way therapy session. I would be interested in anyone else’s story of under-recovery and what you did to overcome it.


Even a lot Z2 fill can make your legs tired. Z2 feels super easy to me but I’ve had to intentionally tone it down by 20-30 watts if my intention is recovery or to be fresh for the next workout.

I use the legs going up stairs test in our house to gauge fatigue. If my legs feel sore day to day going up the stairs, I know it’s time for a rest week.


Yes, this!


Instead of 3.5 hours, for various reasons this is what I felt like doing today:

Trust the body, turn off the ego. I feel so much better after some “junk miles” and knowing that I was likely at or near my max stroke volume.


I’ve been there before, so I really feel for you. It’s a terrible cycle when you start to realize you’re worn down, but you have a goal or a vacation or something coming up, so you convince yourself, “oh, I only have two more weeks until X, so I will just power through”. A few days later you reach, “man, this is really starting to feel bad, but I’ve come this far, I can make it…only 5 more workouts, and 2 of those are Z2!” And then you hit that wall and either end up sick, or start suffering both on and off the bike, etc.

It’s so hard to just let it go and say, “I’m not a pro. There is absolutely no reason I can’t skip a workout, or insert a recovery/rest week”, etc. I’m finally waking up to the message that steady consistency is more important than trying to “keep up with the advice I saw from Mr. Smartguy online” which leads me to crush myself, end up in bad shape, recover, feel good, crush myself, end up in bad shape…

We do this for fun and health. We need to learn to keep it fun and healthy!

Hope you enjoy your holiday and get healthy quickly.


@Pbase thanks! I’m already starting to feel better after two full days off and looking forward to a couple more. Just need to keep the scale away. :wink:


One of the most important things I’ve noticed (and again, thanks to @WindWarrior for pointing me in this direction), is the difference in recovery for legs and central nervous system. At 51, I’ve noticed there’s a middle ground where my legs can feel (and sometimes be) perfectly fine, but the physical stress combined with work/life stress keeps my CNS on high alert and is a disaster for recovery.

I rarely have trouble falling asleep, but when I’m in this state I wake up crazy early (like 3-3:30) and have a great deal of trouble falling back asleep, which puts me in a terrible spiral.

The solution for me has been pushing volume from 5-7 hours to currently 9-10 hrs/wk, with a plan to settle on 10-12. It does involve waking up ridiculously early sometimes, but I’m still tremendously better rested and my mental health is way better.

I’ve been mostly following a JOIN plan with a focus on riding outdoors as much as possible, subbing in whatever I felt like doing sometimes but with a focus on using it (along with intervals.icu) to help set a sustainable ramp rate. I do intensity 2, maybe 3 times a week, but sometimes less depending on how I feel. The JOIN workouts are a great mix of endurance with intervals, and they’re usually quite easy to remember so you don’t even need to load them to your head unit.

I also just set an all time power record yesterday on a whim when I hit a Strava climb segment that’s a lot of fun. Old record for 10 minutes was 309 but I bumped up to 329 and probably could have gone higher but didn’t want to risk pushing too hard. The extra flexibility makes things a lot more fun, which gets me on my bike more, etc. Didn’t beat my PR on that segment, sadly, since I didn’t decide to try for it until I was like 2 minutes in.


:+1: when I feel that stress, from off-the bike stuff, I simply take it easy and log “junk miles” which oddly enough appear to have fueled performance gains. Can’t speak for others, but more volume at any intensity is still delivering gains for me at 10+ years (sixty one) and 7+ years structured training.


@FergusYL very interesting that increasing your volume to 9-10 hours per week worked better for you. That’s the range I’d like to be in, but really need to get the new job and travel sorted out first. Any other info you have on JOIN would be appreciated. Thanks!

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IMO the points about being tired/cranky and your spouse’s observations are great and so often missed. I find it useful to keep an eye on things like that- I can find it hard to tell what’s ‘normal’ fatigue in a closed system, but other people can act as a reference point. If I start feeling unusually snappy/irritated all the time or with no reason, or lack the motivation to see friends and do other hobbies I usually enjoy, that’s usually a sign for me to take a good look at my training and fatigue levels- usually it coincides with other symptoms, so often that’s the thing that keys me into the larger picture and gives me a bit of perspective.

A vacation sounds like the perfect antidote. Naps help me a ton when it comes to recovery, so I’d highly recommend a few of those if your schedule allows and it doesn’t disrupt your sleep too much. Bit of walking or other light activity if it feels good. Eat mostly well, and ideally don’t hit the beers too hard unless you really want to :stuck_out_tongue:


I really like the walking up stairs test. That’s a nice idea.

I think it’s critical regarding Ego. I tend to train a lot and rest week has been hard for me. I’m still hit and miss with it.

When you do get those PRs when fresh though, the feeling is great. If that were a supplement…

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@rkoswald - lots of mostly-coherent thoughts incoming (but no guarantees): Yeah, lots of outdoor endurance rides (aka just riding my freaking bike) have been fantastically helpful, and kill two birds with one stone: volume very concretely seems to be the biggest indicator of overall strength on the bike, and these rides are also a great time to decompress mentally. I ride them mostly on RPE (usually 3-4 for me), keep a very casual eye on HR, and barely pay attention to power while I’m riding, taking into account Totally @The_Cog 's reminders that the zones are descriptive not prescriptive. I’m still doing plenty of intensity (JOIN is ramping up my VO2 Max eight weeks out from my A race), but I’m primarily focused on just getting out on the bike and putting in the miles first. In terms of rest and recovery, I’m using volume as the gas, and RHR as the brakes.

The other big change to that equation is the mental health angle. Going out for a couple hours first thing in the morning before anyone else is up (frequently on the bike by 5AM) is just really, really nice. It’s peaceful, I get to enjoy the scenery, and since I live rurally I’ll see maybe one or two cars on the backroads/gravel where I live, if that. So the volume is a big improvement to both fitness and stress levels, and it’s a truly wonderful cycle: increasing my fitness while reducing my stress levels.

And like @toribath mentions, I’ve also been thinking a lot about open vs. closed systems in training. TR at this point is a very closed and highly-prescriptive system. It prescribes a pre-determined number of workouts each week, you feed your data back into it (aka do your workout), then it makes an adjustment and spits out a result that determines the next week for that workout slot. It also can’t account for volume or workout stress outside of that system, so in order for it to be successful TR has to constantly steer you back into the system. If you’re going to do work outside the system, it must necessarily make sure that those extra workouts aren’t going to impact your ability to do the prescribed workouts (“Zone 2 only” outdoor rides) because it doesn’t understand or care that fitness and readiness vary naturally throughout the week.

The effect on the user (or its effect on me, at least), is that it makes riders a bit myopic, sometimes to the point of wearing blinders on what kind of riding does or doesn’t benefit your fitness. But because TR is heavily focused on time-crunched athletes, the workouts are mostly intense workouts that create stress, and because they are frequently designed to be complex enough to keep you interested on the bike, they require a lot of focus, which also increases stress.

Open systems like JOIN (link to the JOIN thread here) provide a broad framework for consistent riding and ramping up volume sustainably, while giving you reminders when you’re going too hard or missing too many rides (rides! not just workouts!), so it feels like it weaves much more naturally into the process. The workouts themselves are also easy to remember: my Tuesday ride is 2 hours, 4x12 tempo with 5 minute rests in between. I’m not even going to bother loading it into my head unit, and JOIN doesn’t care where in the ride the intervals happen.

This isn’t to disparage TrainerRoad, they’ve got far and away the best UX of any training app out there and it clearly works very well for a whole lot of people. They’re also obviously aware of this and are working on solutions like WLv2, Red Light/Green Light, and others, and it sounds like they’ll get there. But I do think being open-ended is kinda table stakes for a modern training app, given apps like JOIN, Athletica, Spoked, and others are already doing it, and doing it pretty well.


@FergusYL thank you very much for this. I’ll check out JOIN in the coming weeks. Riding outside is one of the things I definitely want to do more of, but riding inside is just so efficient. I am within a mile of a bike path along a parkway, and am about 10 miles from nice rural roads. I could also commute to work early and ride on Hains Point in DC (similar routine to what I was doing when I was running), but the gates are only open dawn-dusk, so time gets tight in the spring and fall and is a no-go in the winter. Anyway, I digress. Thanks for the info!

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