Ride Slow to Get Fast?
There is this story in cycling that says that to get faster, you have to do some rides slower. The story goes that the main difference from amateur to pro cyclists training is that amateurs don't ride slow enough on their slow rides, and not hard enough on their hard rides. I'm not a trainer, and I can't give any scientific evidence on this. But I've tried it for a few weeks now. Here is what works for me now...
In my process to get back to my level of pre-accident cycling, I was already in a good spot. Doing a lot of gym sessions in the spring, brought some power back to the hurt leg. I've been cycling for quite a while now again, so I was slowly working up. Also as reported, I've done a few harder weeks, when friends visited and we basically cycled as much as we could.
Recovery rides without flat roads
Then, when I stopped the gym for now, I had an online discussion about recovery rides. I complained again about the lack of flat roads around me, and the other guy told me to try riding slow using my low gears. After that discussion, I told myself to just give it a try. I selected the easier and more regular of my main two starting climbs around here, and headed out "one fine afternoon".
Keeping an eye out
I kept one eye on the heart rate monitor display, and the other one on the very beautiful landscape. The first few hundred meters I had to restrain myself to go too fast. Also I had no idea what kind of heart rate would be feasible. But just right after that, things started to click. I was moving slow, and enjoying myself. Sometimes my heart rate would "spike" a bit, but it was easy to relax and bring it back again. My cadence was obviously quite low. Apart from the heart rate, I watched out not to put too much pressure on the legs. It took a bit more patience on the steeper parts, but then I had lots of fun.
On one of the rides, there were some tourists with their cars stopped near the top, taking pictures. As they saw me coming, really slow, bend over the handlebars, they shouted encouragements. It probably looked as if I was suffering terribly on a really steep climb. I wanted to shout: "No no! It's not what it looks like! I can actually go fast! It's just a recovery ride..." But then I didn't bother. They're probably still talking about that poor guy on his bicycle up that steep climb.
So I've been doing these rides for 3 weeks now, twice a week. They work well for me, because, I can go for a fun ride after a day of work, without getting tired After the "harder" weekend rides, I can ride to recover, instead of just "sitting around". The theory is that lactic acid gets removed from your muscles, but there are no new micro-tears in the muscle tissue. After these rides, I feel my legs are feeling really warm, but not tired or sore. The next day there is no tiredness.
My kilometers per week and hours per week have been going up a lot this way, while there is no more fatigue than before. I noticed my heart rate on "normal" rides has become a bit lower, and my ability to go on longer rides has improved. I've also become much more tolerant to going slow, the old tension to go as fast as possible all the time has eased up. None of these results I can prove to be caused by the slow rides. They might as well be because of more time having passed and the legs building up again (combined with the gym work). But since I like doing them anyway, I'll keep on going slow.