One of the big challenges that every cyclist (or endurance athlete generally, like runners or triathletes) has to face is being knocked out of the usual training regime by illness.
I am dealing with that right now, having lost two weeks of training less than a month out from one of my main race goals for the year. After racing the Metropolitan Championships road race, I had a week in Canberra for work. I was planning on being straight back on the bike after the well-timed rest, but caught a bad cold while down there that resulted in losing another full week of training.
There are a few traps you can fall into with this scenario:
1. Forcing yourself back into training too early.
Remember that you are SICK!! Your body is compromised, you are running at much less than 100%. And your body's already lower resources are being diverted to fighting off the sickness, bugs and nasties... The very last thing your overloaded system needs now is for you to stress it even further by training.
2. Trying to 'catch up' once you are back to training
Another easy trap is trying to fit in extra sessions and make-up the time you have lost. Your body will usually take a good couple of weeks to fully recover and be firing on all cylinders again. And remember, you have probably just come off a week or two of doing nothing at all.
What is likely to happen if you then launch into a higher training volume and/or intensity is that you'll get sick again, or injure yourself.
So what should you actually be doing when you are ready to train again?
Here are the "do's" for when you've stopped sniffling and coughing, and it no longer hurts just to get out of bed and stumble to the bathroom...
1. Take it easy for the first week back.
Don't do any 'high intensity' stuff - keep the heart rate relatively low. What you are trying to avoid is straining your body's systems as they slowly recover that final 10-20% post-illness. Instead, just get the muscles used to exercising again, and give yourself a short period of 'base training' before throwing yourself into any crazy efforts.
2. Get your consistency back and ride often.
While high intensity is to be avoided, consistency is one of the key's to getting back to your previous level as soon as possible. Much better to be back and training for short, easy periods on most days during that first week.
3. Trust your previous fitness base.
It can take a long time (months, even years!) to get yourself to a certain level of fitness. Naturally, you will lose some of that when you get sick. But you won't take the same amount of time to regain that previous fitness level.
A common term to describe this is 'muscle memory'. It basically describes the idea that your muscles still retain a lot of that base fitness you had before, and will quickly return themselves back to their more highly-trained state once normal training resumes.
This is one of the huge pay-offs you get from having trained consistently in the past. So don't try and 'force' your body back to previous fitness levels. Trust all that effort you've put in before, and let it return - it'll happen sooner than you think!
4. Listen to your body as it recovers!
This is a huge one, especially in the first few days post-illness. If your body starts complaining, and you can feel the illness not getting better (or even worse, returning) then STOP! The very last thing you want to do is send your self into a sickness spiral because you've either returned to training too soon, or started doing too much, too quickly.
Heed any early signs of this, and back off. You might lose another couple of days, but that is much better than losing another few weeks due to having 'round 2' of your cold or flu re-occurring...
Take it easy when you are returning from illness. Most of us aren't doing this for a living - its supposed to be fun! So don't risk shortening your sporting 'career' by trying to force yourself back into things too early.
An extra couple of days away from training is insignificant in the context of many years (and hopefully decades!) of enjoying your chosen sporting endeavour.