I contracted Covid in mid-November. My girlfriend Charlie works for the NHS and became sick after treating Covid patients. Our flat is small, so isolating from one another was nearly impossible. It was a case of when I would catch it, rather than whether I would catch it. As soon as she tested positive, I stopped riding.
What I have to say isn’t any more important than the next person, but I do want to try and normalise what I’ve been through for people who are in a similar position. I’m very grateful to be given this outlet to give a deeper insight into what it’s like to be at such a high fitness level, then to have it come crashing down because of an illness I had no control over.
Over the next four weeks, I’ll try and provide a bit of background into how things have changed and hopefully how things are improving. Maybe there are some things that can help you in that process.
I started riding again after taking about five weeks off the bike completely. I did this to let my body recover from the Covid symptoms, which included significant fatigue (I felt like I had ridden thousands of kilometers just from putting up the Christmas tree), joint aches (best described as toothache in my joints), a high resting heart rate (approx +20bpm), and a loss of taste and smell (I put my head in the coffee bean jar every day to see if I could smell them). The symptoms lasted around 10 days.
Given my presence on social media, once my diagnosis became public, many people reached out to me with their own stories and experiences of the virus, often giving me friendly advice on what I should and shouldn’t do. But in reality, this virus is different for everyone and nobody really knew the best thing to do, although I appreciate that people were looking out for me and trying their best to help.
One insight I have gained from all my years of racing professionally is how to listen to my body and gauge what it needs. It can be tempting to rush back into training and racing, but sometimes you have to let it tell you when it’s ready and not let a gadget decide when you’re ready. I have learned this the hard way after years and years of being in tune with my body and my performance, and I believe this is a skill that applies to both elite and recreational cyclists.
As my symptoms eased at the start of December, I decided to get back on the bike, riding as and when I felt like it.
Gradually I regained my confidence, although I was still wary of pushing myself – there is still very limited information on Covid-19 and its impact on athletic performance and recovery, so I felt like I was traveling unchartered territory.
To pass the time and provide some incentive to test myself, a group of us came together to ride the Rapha Festive 500. I’ve always found group riding motivational, and since this was the first time I’d actually set out to do the Festive 500, we made sure to spread the load evenly through the week to manage any lasting fatigue (and loss of fitness!). It was a great milestone for me, allowing me to ride mainly in zone 1 with the odd sprinkle of intensity just to test the waters.
I felt good during the Festive 500, so I decided to take the plunge and enter a short chase race on Zwift to further test my health and fitness. Unfortunately, I promptly got dispatched with just 6km to go on the rolling NYC terrain. I thought that I may get dropped (although you always hope it doesn’t), but until I raced I didn’t know it would happen for sure, so it gave a benchmark to work from.
At this point I had been symptom-free for almost 3 weeks, and had been taking it very steadily. So steady in fact that I was beginning to wonder how much fitness I had lost – not just from the virus, but from other factors out of my control. My racing season had been ended prematurely by lockdowns, leading to a steady de-conditioning in the run-up to my catching the virus, and once Charlie became unwell, I decided to take time off the bike to give my body a chance to fight the virus. This led to me taking a whole month off riding, with very little intensity in my training the weeks before that break.
I was in the dark when it came to knowing where my fitness was, and I knew I needed to do something about that.
At the beginning of January, I used Zwift to complete two FTP tests: a ramp test and then the following day I completed a standard 20-minute test. The 20-minute test is far more suited to my physiology, riding style, and my strengths as a climber. Ramp tests really don’t suit me; however, it did yield an interesting number of 304wFTP. Twenty-four hours later the 20-minute test yielded 309. So, a gain of 5w overnight… just kidding (I’d clearly worked off the Christmas biscuits in sweat).
To put it in perspective, my FTP in October 2020 was 383w, the highest it’s ever been, largely down to my racing background and always changing the sessions and training I do year on year. I’ve taken time off before, a month of no riding usually means a drop in FTP by 40 or so watts. However, as I’m learning here, the larger your capacity, the further you have to fall.
Looking back on the Festive 500, some may be forgiven for thinking that I must be still pretty fit to complete it even post virus with time off. The reality is that I had no symptoms during that period and even with the 85w FTP drop my FTP still stands at 5.2wkg. That’s not a brag, but it’s what you should expect to see in Elite athletes.
Here’s the data from that week, you’ll notice how low the Intensity Factor (IF) for the week is set with an estimated FTP at that point of 320w (I hadn’t done an FTP test at that point). My CTL (Chronic Training Load or Fitness number) was at an all-time low of 40 and keep in mind that the Festive 500, at that intensity, would not have been increasing fitness for me.
These numbers and my performance in the Chase race were a starting point for my journey back to fitness. There’s still a way to go, but I’m optimistic and excited to see what happens over the coming weeks.
I hope you enjoyed this first entry and I’m looking forward to contributing a few more times this month. Take care, look after yourselves, and keep healthy.
Questions or Comments?
Have you contracted Covid and trained yourself back into fitness? Got other questions or comments? Share below!