Unexpected (and welcome) Lessons in Recovery

When you’re in top form all you want to is keep pushing the envelope. How much faster can I go? How long can I sustain the speed, the effort? It’s an exciting time in the training calendar and you don’t want to it to end. But end it must, for whatever reason.

My summer form came to a crashing halt a few days after my Everesting ride. I’d been sick before the ride but after it I came down with a serious throat infection which turned into scarlet fever. No fun at all I can tell you It was surreal going from being able to climb 6500m on one ride to not being strong enough to stand on my own two feet for more an a couple of minutes. Of course my riding came to a complete halt too.  I did do a couple of short rides after about 3 weeks but these just damaged my recovery and I ended up worse than before.

The time off was interesting. Much to my surprise, I was ok being off the bike. I was dealing with this much better than I normally would if I had a cold or something ordinary. I was able to appreciate having a break; having a break not just from riding but from the weekly and monthly targets. I also enjoyed having a bit more time for other parts of my life. Of course I thought about riding, dreamed up epic rides and spent hours looking at bikes but it didn’t trouble me that I couldn’t ride. The thing is my perspective had changed. For starters, I was taking this illness seriously. It was clear that I needed to respect my body’s need to rest.

Normally I’m focussed on meeting targets for each week or month but these had suddenly become completely meaningless. It was useful to look at Joe Friel’s training bible to be reminded of the different phases in a well-designed schedule. As the weeks went by it was also clear that I would not be playing catch up to get back the time I’d ‘lost’ in the saddle because the truth is I hadn’t lost time at all. The more I rested now, the faster I would recover and the sooner I would be riding again. It was that simple.

So the critical thing was seeing this recovery phase as just a small chapter in my cycling story. I didn’t know how long it would last but I was confident it would end sooner rather than later. The long view was the key and I recognised how important not riding was to my long-term recovery. So not riding became one of my central strategies to ensure that I got back on the bike.

This was softened by the fact that I still felt very much a part of the cycling community, maybe even more than before. I wasn’t riding with my friends, but through social media networks I was more connected than ever. This is one of the great things about social media, and Strava; the way they connect you to a bigger world of fellow-cyclists. Indeed, it has been through these networks that I’ve received the most support, encouragement and constructive dialogue both leading up to big challenges and during this recovery phase.

Clouds gathering over Kinglake

Clouds gathering over Kinglake

Getting back on the bike…

I didn’t wait until I felt 100% well to get back on the bike. In fact I was still feeling pretty sick most days, but I wanted to give it another shot.

I was very cautious at first. The intention was to do the easiest ride I could; to find the flattest route in this hilly part of Melbourne. I was also really afraid of going backwards again and this fear stayed with me for a couple of weeks. In a way it was probably good that it did because this fear made sure that I rode well and truly within my self rather than pushing it too soon.

The test was recovery. On the rides I did when I was sick it was in recovery where I really felt how sick I was. So I determined that if I recovered ok, then that would be a good marker or readiness. Lo and behold, I found that not only did I recover well, but that I stopped feeling sick. Maybe it was coincidental timing but my feeling was that at this stage in my recovery riding was actually helping to speed this process along.

The first couple of weeks back on the bike were tough. Climbing is the real test of truth, and It was disheartening at first as I’d lost about 30%. from my recent peak. Climbing was extremely difficult and after 50km I felt more like I’d done a big 150km. As hard as each ride was though, I was still recovering both during rides and after, so I upped the frequency of my rides; 100km over 2 rides in the first week, 200km over 4 in the second, 360km over 6 in the 3rd (with two longer rides of 80+), then last week I backed up with another 330 over 5 days. So over the first 24 days back on the bike I’d racked up 1000km and over 15,000m of climbing. a good haul at any time. I’m already starting to get some speed back as well. Each week I’m making my longer rides a bit longer, and building in more efforts into rides.

Ultimately, I was just happy to be back on the bike again regardless of how much condition I’d lost. I know I’ll get it back. I’ve done that many times already. I was just grateful to be able to ride out in the hills again and give my spirit the space and air that it longs for. That’s a big part of it for me, being immersed in the beauty of nature and clearing my mind for a bit. Riding also simplifies things in a way that allows me to enjoy the rest of my life as well. In this way, riding has been a big part of not just the recovery of my body but my spirit as well.

I do want to use this as an opportunity to thank all my friends who helped me through the rough patch. It really meant a huge deal to know you were all in my corner. Thank you.


Last weekend my mate Alex and I joined the incoming Greens Senator, Janet Rice, as she started her journey to Canberra. It was a cold and windy down but it was lots of fun rolling along with a big friendly group of people. We certainly stood out with our racing bikes and it was hard to pedal without losing contact with the group. Indeed, the hardest thing was staying warm. But a slow, easy, and long ride was exactly what I needed. Yesterday was our GreenWEDGE monthly ride. I’d missed the last one, so it was great to be able to join the gang; some familiar faces, some new ones too.

Mist over Kangaroo Ground

Mist over Kangaroo Ground


Finally, I’ve got new riding mate too. My son Will. Best training buddy ever!

Back on the bike with my new riding mate.

Back on the bike with my new riding mate.

3 thoughts on “Unexpected (and welcome) Lessons in Recovery

  1. Hi James! Glad you’re feeling better and that you’re back on your bike making strides. Funny. I thought about this very topic of pushing myself to play lots of tennis b/c I’m feeling great overall. (The knees aren’t always thrilled, but they only complain before and after play, lol.) I keep telling myself the day I can’t, i will be grateful for all the days I did play.

    Ride, captain, ride! Beautiful photos too. Love your training buddy.

    Be well 🙂

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