Wednesday, July 29, 2009 a rest day

it's a little-known fact of the Tour de France that the competitors do not uniformly like rest days. in fact, most (if not all) the teams continue to hold bike rides on the days off.

they don't do this as an expression of some cycling-related obsessive-compulsive disorder. Bob Roll, cycling commentator and former Tour cyclist himself, regularly notes that rest days are actually viewed upon with some tension by cyclists, because they find that their bodies react in very unpredictable ways the day after: sometimes they return refreshed, other times they come back sluggish, a few times they come back completely out of sorts with the performance levels they'd been sustaining before the day off and find themselves spending hours, days, or even the rest of the Tour trying to find their racing form.

the rest days, while giving recovery time, also break up the daily schedule. this means that your body, which may have become accustomed to a regular daily routine that induced a regular bio-chemical cycle of performance, refueling, and regeneration, is suddenly confronted with a disruption that throws it off-balance. the disruption, even if seemingly minor, can be enough to produce a major impact on a body already on the edge of its performance limits--perhaps even pushing it into biological shutdown...which is not what a person in the heat of competition like the 21-day Tour de France wants.

this phenomenon is often noted in endurance sports in general. athletes are warned that rest days, while a necessary component of the training cycle, can produce some very unexpected complications. while the complications vary on the individual, the most commonly encountered situation is a general sense of sluggishness on the day(s) following a rest day, particularly when finishing a particularly heavy period in volume or intensity.

the typical explanation i've heard is that your body has a "delayed fatigue" effect, in the sense that the physiological events of fitness-building (e.g., breakdown and rebuilding of muscle tissue, expansion in blood vessels and air sacs, escalation of hormones and chemicals, accumulation and flushing of oxidants, etc.) tend to respond to training with a slight lag. as a result, the cessation of physical exertion and adoption of a rest period allows the fitness-building process to catch-up--and since most fitness is built during the recovery phase, your recovery system will occur in the wake of the rest period. hence, you don't necessarily feel the most tired on your rest day, but instead the day(s) after.

i'm thinking about this now because i've spent the past couple of days feeling all the above.

i've had a series of build weeks, with increasing volume and intensity, and took my regular rest this past Monday. i had planned for Tuesday to be a regular training day (with a morning swim and weight training session, followed by an evening long run), mixed in with a fair amount of work (researching, grading, etc.).

instead, i woke up Tuesday morning with a severe level of grogginess, and managed to shower and eat breakfast just in time to go back to sleep...for another 2 hours. of course, this meant that i'd lost time originally planned for training or working, and given my priorities this meant that i lost my morning swim and weight training. i spent the remainder of the day catching up on work, and just barely fit in the evening long run--which turned out to be an adventure in slogging, stumbling, sloughing along the trail, barely conscious enough to even see where i was placing my feet. the entire day, i was in a state of complete lethargy.

and it didn't really get better today, even though i did manage to make it through the 2-a-day (that morning swim and weight training i should have had yesterday, with an evening bike). i'm still feeling sluggish, like i'm having to work out the molasses from my veins and get the cobwebs out of my skull.



as in:


it's not a pleasant feeling.

ugh. i'm starting to have the same mentality as the Tour de France guys: i'm becoming a little nervous about rest days, because the days after are a real pain in the butt. in some ways, i'm tempted to take the same approach the cyclists on the Tour do and just train right through them.

except that i know that recovery is crucial. and i know that if i'm feeling like this and sleeping like this and--oh yeah, incidentally--eating like this, then my body is telling me it really needs this. and since i'm not racing, but training, and hence not performing but building, then maybe i really should listen to my body and just give it what it needs.

and just let the rest days, and the day(s) after, be about that: rest.

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