When you have been off the bike for a while getting back to any level of fitness is a considerable effort. A holiday or a a short break is normally a couple of weeks of struggling towards the back of the pack and then slowly getting faster and fitter.
A longer time off due to injury seems to take twice as long to regain lost pace as the time off so will-power seems to be the key. A planned program can help or even returning to old habits may be enough but if you are trying to re-gain Tuesday pace then life can be a little harder.
As a first step riding solo starts off as fun with no pace to follow and if you choose carefully new trails to find or something old and familiar to re-visit. Then you start to push up a hill or try and maintain a gear and the time off makes itself apparent. Dragging yourself out at any spare moment can help but this makes you choose a dry weather window or a wintersure trail.
Recovery time is the next thing to stop you and the lucky riders who can ride every day and recover the following morning with a spring in their step have the advantage. Not for long as we all get older. So then you start to manage things. Ride this day, miss a day and then ride again. But that is just a way of prolonging the agony as you are well behind your previous pace.
If you can dig in at this point and magically get fitter like some recently injured riders then you are on your way back however you may have to travel a longer road back to fitness. At first Thursday and Tuesday night pace seemed a long way ahead so I clipped on my Etrex and looked at averages. Mr garmin is faulty because it seems to reduce my average by about half as I obviously ride much faster than it was recording. The cumulative distance was also amiss as two hours riding covers lots more miles than the display would show but I kept going and tried for an initial 100 mile target. It took a while before it seemed the electronics had magically repaired themselves and the averages beat walking pace.
I then tried riding in sympathy. Every Tuesday and Thursday I rode out into the dark on my own with the encouragement that lots of other riders were enjoying the cold and the rain too. This forced me to ride the poorer conditions and suffer into headwinds and struggle with the mud. Amazingly this seemed to help convince me that Thursday pace would be manageable and although the first couple of weeks was a push up the hills and everyone had to wait as bit I feel that I am not dragging the pace down.
I still have to ride at the back in singletrack until I can find a miracle left turn tyre and if you ride behind me it seems the major difference in turning left and right is really off-putting but you can easily overtake on the next left hand corner. I have been forced to ride with maximum control as my recovery skills are poorer but some other riders seem to ride in a similar fashion after a break.
Alex had the best approach after his major tumble as he had decided to forget getting back to the level he was before the off and just try and continue to improve. So I have managed a few Thursday rides and rode in sympathy every Tuesday through the dark on my own until last night.
I had to play taxi driver to Sussex Uni at 6.30pm so took the bike with the intention of following the route planned by Tom albeit miles behind. Although there was a good turn out he persuaded me to ride as the pace would “maybe be hot to start” and then it would be easy.
I appreciate all the waiting involved for everyone where I dropped off the tail up the hills and they waited at the top. Nine longish waits in two hours was much appreciated but I was surprised by how much faster and stronger and better everyone was compared to me with big gaps on relatively short hills where I was still in the middle ring all the way.
I did bring sweets for the one brisk puncture stop and never stopped for the whole ride to minimise the waiting time for the others but I need to get fitter again.
So my suggestion is that if you have had a break from the saddle then follow Alex’s approach of just getting a bit better and maybe a try riding in sympathy until you get your old legs back. For me I will continue to fight my way back to fitness but it may take a while and for all the riders from last night thank you riding in sympathy with me.