What a 2 week holiday did to my fitness


I’ve just returned from holiday in Bali. For the past 2 weeks I’ve been mostly eating, reading, sunbathing, eating again, and trying not to die from rabies.* I did hire a bike for a few days but only rode it 3 times and for not much more than a hour each time, so I’m not counting that as training. I also went for a run which rendered me almost incapable of walking for the final 4 days of the holiday. Running is bad.

So let me answer a question I know worries many amateur athletes: how does a 2 week break from training affect one’s fitness?

This has been the longest amount of time I’ve taken off the bike since I started seriously cycling 2 years ago. I value the consistency of my training. The thought of more than even 1 day away from training makes me anxious. I know first-hand the amount of hard work and discipline it takes to build up a competitive level of fitness, and I’m still nowhere near where I want to be. I know what a pain in the arse it will be to take a backwards step and have to build it back up again.

Becoming a faster cyclist is what I aim for every week every day. Sometimes it consumes me. Every time I ride my bike, every time I choose what to eat and drink, I always ask myself how it will help make me a faster cyclist. Yes its obsessive, yes there are other things I should often focus my energy on, but that’s how I operate. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to train for 2 weeks had me worried.

There is a lot of conflicting advice online about what ~2 weeks rest will do to one’s fitness. I’ve read someone say that the rest will do you good and you will come back completely refreshed and able to push out better numbers than before the rest. Others warn that anything over 5 days will start to seriously impact your aerobic fitness. Some say its only the top-end high intensity fitness that will be effected. I read several ‘experts’ state that however long you take off the bike, it takes double that time to regain the fitness.

So today, 24 hours after landing back in the UK I decided to stop reading other people’s opinions online and get out there for a field test.

The plan: warm up for 10 – 15 minutes, then ride a flat out 20 minute block to calculate my FTP. (After deducting 5% from the average power over 20 minutes.)

What was my FTP before the holiday you ask?

A few days before flying to Bali, while feeling fitter than I ever have, I rode a 20 minute interval at 295W which on the day gave me an FTP of 280W.

So lets get down to the numbers today. How did I do? Did my FTP plummet? Did the fresh legs allow me to push harder than I ever have and actually increase my FTP? Was there no change at all?

Ugh, well this is awkward….

I couldn’t finish the test. I blew up in a big way 10 minutes into the 20 minute effort and had to pull over to the side of the circuit, coughing and spitting blood flavoured phlegm on myself. It wasn’t pretty.

Funnily enough my pace for the first 5 or 6 minutes felt great. There was a freshness in my legs that I’m not used to and I when I checked my average watts a quarter of the way through, I was comfortably over 300W. This was significantly higher at this point of the test compared to my pre-holiday effort. I was feeling confident. Maybe I’d actually increase my FTP today! Just hang on for the next 15 minutes I thought to myself.

Then the mushroom cloud appeared.

Just a couple of minutes later my power began to avalanche. At first I was struggling to hold over 300W. Then holding 300W became too difficult. Okay, no need to panic, just hold 280W-290W for the remainder and I’ll still have a good average. Nope. Not too long after that I was barely holding 250W. My chest was tightening up and my legs were heavy. I pulled the plug and stopped the bike, defeated.

how does 2 weeks off the bike affect your fitness

My data for the effort which I stopped at 9min 36secs. Notice my heart rate which got as high as 195bpm. My official max heart rate is 193bpm and the highest I have ever seen before today has been 195bpm. No wonder I blew up.

I’d like to mention something. No one should ‘fail’ an FTP test. An FTP test should be the best representation of what you can do on a given day. Sometimes the numbers at the end will be better than expected, and sometimes they will be worse. The point is though, you should pace the effort to how you feel on the day.

I made the mistake of watching my power meter too much during the test. Bad idea. I started the test with good intentions and willing to accept that I would to not be able to push the sort of numbers I’m used to seeing. However as soon as I got going I became fixated on trying to hold at least 300W for the 20 minutes. Ultimately this was more than my body could cope with today, hence the blow up.

Amateur tip: do not watch your power meter during an FTP test.

That’s the most important lesson I leant today. Although I can’t ignore that fact that I really do feel a lot less fitter than I was 2 weeks ago. (Sad face). It’s nothing I can’t rebuild though and I’m certain it wont take long. Give me 2 weeks of good training and I’m sure I’ll be firing again, provided I don’t die of rabies.

See ya.

* I was bitten on the leg by a dog while riding through a small village. I’ve been going through the standard post-bite vaccination procedure for anyone concerned. ?