Recovery Rides Can Be Tough

Cyclists in training are urged to alternate hard and easy days. If you have a hill workout, take it easy the next day. If you ride 50 miles at a quick pace, ride a much shorter distance at a much slower pace the next day.

Over the weekend, I had a chance to put that to the test. On Saturday, I rode 50 miles. A co-rider was strong enough to challenge me on the hilly parts, and we made good time. I finished with a 15.6 mph average, not bad when you throw in a couple of long hills,  broiling summer sun and temperatures around 94ºF (34ºC).

On Sunday, my wife wanted to do a training ride for the Mamma Jamma ride against breast cancer, which comes up in September. Her recent bike issues have kept her from building up much of a mileage base, and she said she wanted to take the 30-mile option on this ride. It was the same route that I rode Saturday, just turning around 10 miles earlier.

Again, she asked me to stay with her. Now that her bike is performing well, she thought I might be able to do some in-saddle coaching. I figured it would give me a good chance to get in a recovery ride.

It did. I pedaled along easily at about a 12 mph average, going slower on the long easy uphills that were hard for Pat. I stopped several times to wait for her to catch up. But despite the slow, easy riding, I was having trouble maintaining a Zone 1 pace.

Pat, leading her friend Cynthia, catches up to me.

What I really wanted to do was push myself a bit. The hills on this route aren’t difficult, but they are longer than the ones I ride near my house. But I knew I couldn’t. First, I had to stay with Pat. Second, I knew deep down that I needed to take it very easy today. I’d get in a decent number of miles, but would not knock myself out.

I could let the bike go on the downhills. Coasting along, I watched the speed inch past the 30 mph mark. At the bottom of each long hill, I stopped to wait for Pat and her friend to catch up to me.

The day before, we had cruised along on the return route at a pretty good clip. This time, it felt like I was beach riding in the sand on a wide-tired cruiser. With 25 miles down, I still felt pretty good, although the hot sun was beating down and we were pushing into a headwind.

With two miles to go, we pulled into a gas station, and Pat let out a yelp. She was already bonking, and needed a break, but suddenly she cramped up in her thighs. She was just able to get off her bike and start massaging her muscles. I decided to ride back to the starting point and bring the car back to pick her up.

At the end of the ride, I had covered 30.6 miles, but unlike Saturday’s 15.6 mph pace, this time I averaged 11.8.

I think Joe Friel would approve.


  1. says

    Speed is not the indicator for a recovery ride, the only way to know if you are in the recovery zone is with a power meter, even a heart rate monitor will lie in its reporting of the work you are doing. Just throwing that out there.

    If all you have to rely on is speed Joe Friel’s rule of thumb is anything over 14 mph is not recovery.

    • says

      Mike, I don’t disagree about a power meter. But since I use neither a power meter nor a heart rate monitor, I’m fine with perceived effort, which was next to nothing on this ride. In the Friel post I link to, he just says to alternate hard and easy days. That works for me.

    • Tim says

      I’m not sure I agree with the 14 mph rule of thumb. I’ve gotten benefit from “recovery” rides on a gym stationary at 14 or higher.

      HR may not be a good measure of work but it helps calibrate perceived exertion. Besides that it’s far cheaper than power meters. :)

  2. RamonH says

    Yes, riding at an easy pace are probably some of the hardest rides I have done. I usually like to put in a “spinning” ride on the Thursday before a big Saturday event. And it is always a major feat just to make sure I keep the pace low and the cadence relatively high, so that my legs can be fresh for the Saturday event.

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