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Recovery time when cycling across USA?



Does anyone have some in-depth knowledge/information on recovery principles when doing sports such as biking across USA?

The theory on recovery time states that the body needs to rest between each physical exercise otherwise strength cannot be built and the opposite happens - the body becomes weaker. Recovery time can have a duration from one nights sleep to several days.

Among touring cyclists an anticipated method is often to increase milage=strength=stamina during the trip day-by-day thus starting out as a weak cyclist and then become stronger and stronger. This is often used as an argument when biking across USA: Bike east-to-west - then you will have the rockies towards the end and you have built sufficient strength to fight them.

Now lets assume 2 cyclists, A and B:

Both plan on biking across USA as fast as possible however always observing their physical capabilities. None of them plan on rest days - they will both bicycle each and every day. It is not a race with a support van - still normal biking with a tent, sleeping bag etc.

A: Has done no long distance touring exercise on a bike previously and starts as a happy cyclist from day 1 and plans on building his strength as he is biking across USA.

B: Has done a lot of training approaching the departure date observing the recovery principle and thus building his strength prior to the departure date. One could say that he has a good head start compared to A.

B will have a higher milage from day 1 and will finish faster than A.

Will A over the course of the trip slowly build the same strength=stamina=milage as B towards the end and thus be as powerful after lets say 30-60 days of cycling? Or will he keep struggling with his strength=stamina=milage due to the fact that his body simply needs more recovery than just 1 nights sleep? Or even worse: Will his milage drop?


"Will A over the course of the trip slowly build the same strength=stamina=milage as B towards the end and thus be as powerful after lets say 30-60 days of cycling?"   - Probably not.   Rider A will likely make bigger gains, but Rider B will continue to improve as well, probably just not as fast proportionally.

"Or will he keep struggling with his strength=stamina=milage due to the fact that his body simply needs more recovery than just 1 nights sleep?" Maybe, maybe not.   I used to schedule a day off, once a week but ended up feeling like I never need it.  I always ride at whatever pace feels right.  If I want to stop, I do.  If I want to picnic, I do.  Part of the joy of touring without a fixed end date.

Or even worse: Will his milage drop?   Are you asking, will he burn out? 

Too many variables. 
What's the reason for this question?

Pat Lamb:
On a related note, the further across the U.S. I got, the more likely it became that I would fall asleep as the sun went down, and wake up about dawn.  I probably averaged an extra hour to hour and a half's sleep each night compared to sleep habits at home.  The hills of Kentucky and Missouri were still tough, but I was able to recover and enjoy the next day's ride -- at least until the temperature topped 100F.

John Nelson:
I never found recovery days to be helpful. I occasionally take a day off, but only because there's something there I want to see, never just as a recovery day. I think the trick is to always cycle within yourself, so that you can fully recover each night. On a long tour, you can't afford to get into debt. Get plenty of sleep each night, whatever your body tells you that you need. In almost all cases, I sleep until I wake up. Only rarely do I set an alarm on tour, and that's always because of some constraint.

But I've never tried to get across the country "as fast as possible." I understand why some people would do it that way, but not me.

To answer directly requires a lot of assumptions, but the rider starting out in shape probably finishes first given equal abilities.

Starting out in shape obviously would give you a head start, but riding into shape works fine too.  In any case I find that riding within your abilities is key.  It is much better to never push yourself to the point where you really need to take rest days in the form of zero mileage days.  This is especially important for the first ten days to two weeks of a tour.

Active rest days or as I like to call them half days are better and actually better for recovery in my experience.  Rather than take a full day off I much prefer to just do light mileage some days.  I found that when I was training for racing I recovered better when I rode some on rest days, again active recovery.  I even found it better to ride after hard race days.

I do occasionally take full days off when on tour, but that is pretty rare and is because I find myself somewhere that I really want to do something off the bike that requires a day off.  To give an idea of the frequency of these days We took only one on the Trans America to go whitewater rafting and even then we rode a few miles down the road and stayed in a different camp.  We took 5 days in the Yosemite Valley (it was worth it) on the SC.  I also took one day off at an especially nice spot on the Oregon coast to hang out and explore the local area.  Other than those three cases and twice where I was sick (once with food poisoning and once with trip ending HAPE) I don't recall taking any other full days off.

The HAPE episode was a convergence of errors that I made.  I flew to Denver from sea level and climbed directly to 10k feet.  I left home with no recovery time after a concussion.  There was record heat and forest fire smoke.  I probably didn't hydrate adequately.  I didn't retreat to lower altitude immediately and so on, but that is all another story and testament to my bad judgement in that case.  Maybe I can blame being impaired by the head injury and the altitude sickness.


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