Good Sleep or Ride Lots

This post is equal parts observation, confession and appeal. I posted a few weeks back in Rest as Hard as You Train about the necessity of giving your body plenty of recovery time as the miles increase. Ideally, we should all be getting 9 hours of sleep a night and a good nap after long base mile training. But apart from Saturday afternoon family nap time, I find this incredibly difficult. Maybe you do too.

In the 1970′s, when asked what his secret to training and winning races, Eddy Merckx famously responded, “Ride lots.” A great deal has changed in cycling in the past 40 or so years since The Cannibal was winning everything in sight: technology, training methods, and the sheer number of people who have fallen in love with rolling around on two wheels. But the connection between riding lots and success in cycling (however you define that) still has the ring of truth. In reality, if you take out the use of VO2 blood tests and time in the wind tunnel, the pro’s actually train in a very similar manner to you and me. Riding. The only difference is volume. And it’s a huge difference.

Observation: In order to maintain and possibly even improve as an extremely amateur bike rider and racer, I simply need to “ride lots.” Not as much as Eddy obviously but at least as much as Joel Friel thinks I should for my category. My goals aren’t too lofty, maintain some fitness and not get dropped too often.

I can’t think of a more time intensive recreational activity as cycling. A round of golf may take 5 hours but that’s usually not an everyday activity. Cycling takes time. Lots of it. It’s virtually a daily thing. As is often the case in life, when one says “yes” to one thing then one must also say “no” to something else. In my case, when I say yes to riding lots, I also say no to good sleep. I know that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. When you train more, you’re supposed to sleep more, giving your body the proper recovery time it needs.

Confession: But practically, to get the time in the saddle to be competitive in my race category, I need to get 3-4 pre-work rides (group rides usually) in during the week on top of long weekend rides. Usually, that’s between 6am and 8am. Which means a 5:30am wake-up call. Which translates to about 7 hours of sleep or less if I’m really disciplined and we can get our little one to bed on time. Add to that, I’ve been really enjoying this blogging thing but it’s a late night activity (the only free time I have to write). So that’s a late-night activity on top of an early-morning activity. Not a great combo for rest and recovery.

So for now, I have a choice: get good sleep or ride lots. I haven’t quite figured out how to do both and I may never do.

Appeal: Here’s a question for you: if you have a busy life full of work and family duties and privileges, have you figured out how to get good sleep AND ride lots? What does this look like for you? I’d love to hear how you balance it all. Thanks.

Ride on…

9 responses

  1. john van dyke

    I’ve had the chance to watch the very best endurance athletes and indeed, they also have a natural disposition to extreme rest. They also listen to their body and turn around in a workout if it doesn’t feel right because even the best are limited, so they don’t try to be good at everything, and instead focus efforts on what they’re good at, spending the rest of the time actively recovering. If the group ride’s not fun, you wake up very tired, or there’s a conflict, then don’t do it: you won’t loose your friends, or loose interest in the sport, and it will be there next week.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    • The Art of the Group Ride

      Thanks for the insight John – so if you’re not feeling it or your body is saying “no go” or needs more rest then discipline or good training in that case is not to soldier on but to call it a day?

      January 14, 2011 at 3:49 pm

  2. bruce hedges

    another great post… thx, Schoolie! constantly trying to balance this out. for me it’s also trying to work yoga into the equation. (1.5hr class, but with prep, travel and recovery really more like 2.5hrs, also leg intensive workout) sw…ap out child rearing w/going to kava bar and hanging out w/the peeps and I’m having to make the same sacrifice, less sleep. and very very rarely do I get the post ride nap which is so delicious and effective. so last year most of the weeks I overtrained and made up for sleep loss whenever I could, did a lot of two-a-days, cycling in the morning and yoga in the evening. my efforts did yield better, faster riding, definitely improved last year so I’m happy with it. this year I’m trying to do a more balanced approach, alternating riding days with yoga days. what a lucky issue to have to work on, eh?

    January 14, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    • The Art of the Group Ride

      Hey Bruce, thanks for the comment bro. Does alternating yoga & cycling help with recovery or do you have to be even more diligent about recovery days & enough sleep?

      January 14, 2011 at 3:53 pm

  3. I have four kids and an intense job and feel the same rub. And my blog writing or “extra” stuff is often running into sleep time as well. To be honest it is still a matter of letting more things go if my cycling commitment is going to stay at the priority it is.

    I get between 7 & 8 hrs a night, which is new with cycling, used to only get 6 or so.

    I don’t know if there is a secret beyond taking a look at where cycling fits and seeing what its goals are versus the other commitments in life.

    January 16, 2011 at 7:14 am

    • The Art of the Group Ride

      Thanks Tony. I was actually wondering about how you manage to fit it all in-you’re a busy guy too! I agree on the constant evaluation of priorities. Interesting that you get more sleep now that you’re riding. Is that a result of riding being a motivation to just be more disciplined? I also forgot to mention that a supportive family makes all the difference and sounds like yours is really behind you!

      January 16, 2011 at 1:14 pm

  4. A supportive family is huge – my wife believes in me as much if not more in this cycling journey – which is amazing.

    I think you hit it, I’m more motivated for rest because of its training and results necessity. I don’t want to crush on a long ride only to lose fitness because I couldn’t get myself in bed. That said I didn’t get the nickname at work “t-bone crusher” for a lack of tenacity – LOL.

    It’s not always perfect, but I’ve tried to become as invested in my training as I am in my resting because one without the other leaves the results wanting.

    SO, there are several things I’ve let go off. I don’t have as much time to blog and read as I was used to, the weekends have their own schedule and racing will soon take a lot of that, don’t catch movies or hang out with people (outside of cycling) nearly as much. So, I’ve let a lot of things go and am leaning in to my cycling a primary commitment.

    January 16, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    • The Art of the Group Ride

      It’s consuming, this cycling thing! Funny how it can creep into other areas of life in a positive way. We learn how to prioritize and use time better when we get out and ride on a regular basis. Sure, there’s less time for TV but what are more hours on the couch gonna do for us? In it’s proper perspective and in the right priority (well below family and well above The Office), its a great investment. Thanks for sharing some of your story- it’s inspiring!

      January 16, 2011 at 10:08 pm

  5. Andy Wilson

    Matt, I sure have the same challenge, not to mention the limited season that New England provides. I have to ride in the morning before work. That’s the only real time with the kids activities and a working wife. This also forces me to do most of my riding on my own, because all the groups ride around me are after work. I need to find a way to get consistent group rides into my routine and this is a priority for me this coming season. Here’s an interesting article that I thought pertained to the topic:

    http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/?pg=fullstory&id=9025&status=True&catname=Latest%20News

    January 18, 2011 at 5:55 am

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