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Training in traffic and training too much

Our resident fitness vegetable is still working through the backlog of training requests so apologies if he hasn’t got to yours yet.

Tonight, the horrors of training with Cullen and dissecting the diary of an overtrainer.

If you have any questions about the advice we give here, or want to ask some questions of your own feel free to write in to the spud coach and he’ll do his best to answer.

Hi Coach,

Inspired (or deluded!) by your latest Coach Potato article I thought I’d drop you a line to seek your advice.
I currently ride 2 – 3 times a week:
Tuesday night with Cullen – 10 – 15 miles (sometimes on road, sometimes off); Thursday – ride into work (5 miles) and do a 10 – 15 mile ride home mostly on road and canal tow paths; Sunday – 10 – 20 miles off road.
I was jogging during my lunch hour twice a week as well but recently twisted my ankle and am waiting for it to get 100% better before I start again. (Cycling doesn’t seem to affect it)
Cullen has just started using his HRM again and said he was surprised on how hard he was working in comparison to how hard he thought he was. This is what I have experienced when commuting. I used to ride into work 3-5 times a week, but the nature of riding in London means I ended up sprinting from one traffic light to another (just couldn’t let those wanna-be couriers on Appollo’s beat me!) resulting in me doing intervals without the rest period and feeling worn out by the weekend.
I am now considering buying a HRM to stop me thrashing it generally so that I can put in more effective long commutes during the week and reap the benefits at the weekend!
I’m considering something like –
Monday: Rest day.
Tuesday:10 – 15 miles off road
Wednesday: easy / recovery ride to and from work.
Thursday: 15 – 20miles road / canal tow path
Friday: Rest day
Saturday: Easy ride
Sunday: 15 – 20 mile off road
What do you think?

Coach Potato says:

Commuting, espescially in traffic always ends up being far harder than it should be, as there’s always someone to race for whatever reason. A pulse rate monitor is the obvious way to put a check on this but you still have to obey the numbers even when those courier wannabees charge past.
As for your revised weekly planner, it looks good. The Sunday and Tuesday rides will both be high intensity thrashes I imagine, so a rest day between is smart thinking (try stretching if you can). Wednesday recovery ride also very good but active recovery speed is really, really slow (like 120 130 bpm) and if you stray above it you’re blowing all the gentle blood pumping / flush through / energy store replenishment benefits. In other words don’t even think about racing pedestrians, let alone wannabee couriers. The Thursday ride is an ideal opportunity to get in a controlled steady state ride rather than a sprint and stopper. This will build up your stamina base and ability to ride at a steady intensity, and you’ll soon be feeling a lot stronger at the end of longer rides.

Second installment

Right, so I’ve splashed out and bought a HRM – a Polar M21 and quite nice it is too! Been doing a bit of reading up on training zones as well. So here’s the question:
I’ve read that training in the 50 – 60% zone is where you burn fat, and that you need to do a fair amount of work in this zone to get your body used to using this source of energy as opposed to the glycogen (?) stored in your muscle which your burn at higher intensity training zones.
Is this right? If so I’ve hardly ever done any training at this level (trying to keep up with Cullen & Tony Wade puts me in the 80 – 95% zone I think!!!). This would also explain the fact that I excersise regulary, watch my diet(ish), but don’t lose wieght.
I used the HRM for the first time this morning doing the 5 mile ride to work, and couldn’t believe how slow I was having to cycle to stay in that training zone!
I read that by training using the various zones I should get faster by becoming more efficent – eg. my commute time in that training zone should start to get better.
(BTW, I’m 32 and have used the 220 – 32bpm to get my maximum HR. But am racing at Beastway tonight so should get a more accurate reading then.)

Coach Potato says:

Heart rate training manuals are often very oversimplified. For a start the 220 minus your age test can be horrifically inaccurate, I know it is for me. Instead, find a hill, warm up, and sprint till you puke. That is your true maximum, it’s just that they can’t advise Florida retirees who’ve bought a monitor to go and do that. Then check your pulse rate every night for a week just before you drop off. The average number here is your resting pulse. Subtract this from your maximum pulse and you have your heart rate range. Work out your training percentages from this.
Secondly there is no big fuel tap that switches from fat to glycogen at certain revs. Your body will always use fat – either directly or to process and replace muscle glycogen – but the harder you go the more it will also use glycogen straight from the muscles and other storage organs.
Exercising at a lower intensity means you can ride for longer, and it does teach your body to burn fat efficiently at a steady state, but you’ll still burn more overall calories the harder you work. Combining the information from both your letters, it sounds like a steady state Thursday ride (50 – 60%) will be an excellent way to balance your Cullen and Tony thrash sessions with a more controlled intensity work out. That way you’ll build balanced fitness rather than just about recovering from the last ride in time for the next.
Talking of which, wasn’t Wednesday supposed to be an easy ride day, so what you doing racing at Beastway?

Here’s another one pushing too hard to actually move anything!


My main concern with mtb is whether to push for more speed or endurance. I seem to be good at both (which reflects my current routine). However I have problems with what I believe is overtraining (reoccurring mild illness etc), but I don’t seem to be doing that much.
I do a 50 mile ride on a Sunday and then about 5 hours scattered throughout the week of varying levels of riding – xc fast, tarmac fast, xc slow, hill work etc… etc.
What I want to know is – how much more riding I should do and whether I should ride more than I am currently doing. I have made a lot of progress but when I go out with my mates who do less than half of what I do, they seem to be able to keep up with me on shorter rides, how is this so? Some of them haven’t been out for months? And yet I am busting my balls, don’t get me wrong I can beat them most of the time, but I’m at my limit to do it when I feel I should be able to get a comfortable margin on them because I do lots of work.
Sorry its long winded but its not straight forward.
Regards, Tyrone Braithwaite.

I only recognise this one so well, because I spent years banging my head on exactly this wall. What you describe – as I think you know but don’t want to really admit (another classic symptom) – is textbook overtraining: Constant slight sniffles / mild illness, lots of training but no really significant gains compared to untrained mates.

The truth is you’re knackered. 5 hours a week is a hell of a lot of training if you’re working full time as well, and the way you’ve written the loose structure down, it sounds like you ride as hard as you can whenever you can, with one XC slow tacked in to make it sound like you take it easy sometimes honest. The fact you’re so anxious about not getting better and “how much mor should you do” sounds exaclty like I do when I’m tired and emotional. Like I said i’ve been here and done this time and time again. Essentially your body hasn’t recovered from the last effort before you hit the next one so it’s always working at 70% at best.
The answer isn’t long winded and is straight forward: Have a rest;
If you’re riding whenever you can, expect to come down with genuine cold turkey style withdrawal if you’re off the bike (warn close friends that you’re going to get nasty), but stay on the couch for at least 3 days. Then do a really gentle ‘look at the lovely trees talk to the fluffy bunnies’ ride on your own, just to stretch your legs. I always find riding normal shoes on SPD’s is a sure fire way to stop unneccesary exertion. Then rest again for a couple of days and take another troll round the lanes / shops trundle. Hopefully you’ll have gone through the absolutely apoplectic frenzy of adrenalin / endorphin cold turkey and will now be rested and chilled out. Once you’ve lasted the week without sweating get in touch and we’ll work out if you’re rested enough to go out and play properly.
If you don’t do this now, expect a big proper illness or injury to sideline you very shortly. Then you will be mad.


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