Whether it’s an easy ride, intervals, a hard tempo ride or a fast drop ride with some friends, in most cases you’re better off just sticking to it and getting out on your bike. Even if you don’t ride quite as strong as you’d hope, whatever effort you give is still valuable and will contribute to your overall fitness. It might also be a lot of fun and just the thing you needed to make your day great. But sometimes, bailing on a planned ride is actually the better option. Here’s when:
You are injured – This one should be a no-brainer but you’d be amazed at what we can talk ourselves into doing. If you’re injured (be it achilles or petellar tendinitis, saddle sores, back or neck pain) resist the urge to go for a long ride until the issue is under control. You should have little to no pain when riding. If it gets worse while you’re in the saddle, take some time off the bike. Trying to ride through an injury could potentially set you back weeks or even months. On the other hand, if you identify an issue and address it immediately, you might only miss a few days of riding. Knowing the difference between the pain associated with an injury versus the routine aches and soreness of training is an important skill to develop and requires experience. Remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry so consider being conservative and proactive.
You are (very) sick – Having a cold or runny nose don’t exactly count here, but a fever, the flu or an infection mean you should probably take a break from hard riding. Hard or long rides could weaken an already compromised immune system opening the door for further sickness or a delayed recovery. If you’re really sick, take some time completely off, rest, hydrate and possibly see a doctor. If you insist on riding, keep it short and easy. The rule of thumb is that if it’s above the neck (such as a headcold), you can still ride but back off as necessary. If it’s below the neck (such as in the chest/lungs), you should avoid hard training.
Fatigue – Your body will send you signals when it’s running on fumes. One good indication is your heart rate which can be monitored over the course of a couple of rides to get any idea how your body is doing. If your perceived effort is very high but you are having difficulty getting your heart rate into zone 2 or 3 a couple of days in a row, then it may be a sign to back off and take a little rest. If you continue to dig too deep, you may become over trained and burnout. Volume and intensity should both be reduced when you are fatigued so it’s OK to take a day or two off the bike before easing back into riding. Your muscles will also tell you when enough is enough. If your muscles are sore multiple days in a row it may be time to take a day off the bike in which case it’s okay to not ride for a day or two.
You are (very) tired – Being tired is an all-too-common experience these days. Most of us don’t sleep as much or as well as we should (seven or eight hours a night) and once you add all the responsibilities at home and at work, that doesn’t leave us with much time or energy for ride. Yet somewhere we find or make the time to ride.
Riding when a little tired is more likely a necessity than a choice. Oftentimes, you’ll be surprised how good you feel after a nice easy ride. The post ride coffee doesn’t hurt either. Occasionally though, if you’re feeling totally drained and lack the energy or enthusiasm, it may be necessary to plan a shorter ride, bail entirely or reschedule a big ride for another day. Be honest about how you feel. Sometimes you can ease into a ride but you don’t want to push your body to the limit when you’d be better off resting.
Stress – Just as being sleep-deprived or fatigued from life’s daily toil will affect your energy, so too will stress– be it physical, emotional or even social. Finding ways to regulate and cope with stressful situations is an important and valuable skill. For many, cycling is an effective means of relaxing, unwinding and escaping, if only for a couple of hours each week. Sometimes though, stress can carry over leaving you unmotivated. Be aware of if, and how much, you feel this happening.
Family – While you may get a lot of flack from your friends who tease you for being so busy with your family, you do it for a reason. Time with your loved ones is valuable and the is nothing wrong with making it your priority. Even if you have committed to a ride with friends or set yourself an amitious goal for the week, there is nothing wrong with calling off a ride when you need to focus your energy on family.
You just don’t feel like it – Sure, some reasons for not riding are better than others but ultimately getting out in the saddle should make you happy. If you just aren’t having fun riding it may be a good idea to take some time off. Come back to riding once it gets you exciting again. This shouldn’t take more than a week or two. The mental and physical break will do you a world of good even if you loose a bit of fitness in the process. You’ll come back happier and more motivated.