Monday, December 31, 2012

Personalized Training

...or how I modified Phillip Maffetone's training regimen without even giving it a chance.

The title of this post is a take-off on the phrase "personalized medicine", a phrase describing one of the most important ideas in contemporary medicine. The motivating concept of personalized medicine is that different people have different responses to the same drug or treatment. With that in mind, medical research is devoting great effort to learning how to determine for each person which drug or treatment is best.

The premise of this post is that, just as people's medical treatments need to be customized, people's training regimens do as well. (This is certainly not a new idea!) This post reports my results to date with Phillip Maffetone's aerobic training regimen as described in his book "Endurance Training and Racing" and explains why I have modified it after only a few weeks of experience.

Heart Rates

Having decided to undertake Dr. Maffetone's aerobic training regimen, the first step was to determine the heart rate at which I should train, a heart rate Dr. Maffetone calls "Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate." Dr. Maffetone gives a formula for determining that heat rate, and using his formula, I calculated a heart rate of 112 to 122 beats per minute (BPM), depending on how I evaluated my prior training. When I acquired a heart rate monitor and began noting my heart rate under different conditions, this estimate seemed unreasonably low. Given Dr. Maffetone's assertion that base training should seem exceptionally easy at first, should I not have ignored my misgivings and given his approach a chance?

To explain why I chose not to accept Dr. Maffetone's formula for determining the heart rate at which I should train, I need to talk about the use of heart rate in training. There are several relevant heart rates:
Maximum Heart Rate
The highest heart rate it is possible to attain.
Heart Rate at Lactate Threshhold
The highest heart rate it is possible to maintain in a 30 minute time trial.
Resting Heart Rate
The heart rate measured first thing in the morning.
Heart Rate Zones
Various heart rates defined differently by different training programs to describe different kinds of training. (Heart Rate Zones are discussed below.)
Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate
The heart rate Dr. Maffetone recommends for base training. This probably corresponds to one of the above heart rate zones.
Many heart rate zones are calculated relative to the Maximum Heart Rate, making this heart rate important to know. Maximum Heart Rate does not change with exercise, varies from person to person, and for any one person, decreases with age. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine. The general recommendation is to have it determined by a cardiologist as part of a cardiac stress test, with medical personnel and a defibrillator standing by. Given the age of my heart, I doubt very much if my cardiologist would approve such a test. There are formulas for estimating Maximum Heart Rate which take into account age but which cannot, of course, take into account person to person variation. Using the different formulas for determining Maximum Heart Rate, I estimate values for my Maximum Heart Rate of between 157 and 163 BPM. According to Wikipedia, the person to person variation in Maximum Heart Rate is 60 BPM, such at if the average Maximum Heart Rate for a man my age is 160, my Maximum Heart Rate could vary between 130 and 190. Since I can ride for several minutes with a heart rate of over 160 BPM with no great discomfort, I have to assume that my personal Maximum Heart Rate is greater than average. It is generally reported that, whereas it is difficult to achieve 100% of Maximum Heart Rate, most people can achieve 95% of Maximum Heart Rate by riding at a subjective effort of "as fast as I can go for a short time." That I did and measured a heart rate of 173 BPM. I could well imagine this is less than 95% of my Maximum Heart Rate, but it is hard for me to imagine it is more. Thus, if I assume 173 is 95% of my Maximum Heart Rate, then my Maximum Heart Rate can be extrapolated to be at least 182 BPM.

The Heart Rate at Lactate Threshold does vary with training and is typically between 75% and 85% of the Maximum Heart Rate. Generally, the more fit you are, the higher your Heart Rate at Lactate Threshold. Heart Rate at Lactate Threshold can be measured relatively easily as the heart rate measured during the last 20 minutes of a 30 minute time trial. This is a measurement I hope to make in the future, but based on the experience described in the previous paragraph, I am estimating my Heart Rate at Lactate Threshold to be 160 BPM. The highest this would likely be is 85% of Maximum Heart Rate giving an minimum estimate for my Maximum Heart Rate of 188 BPM.

Given the above two estimates, I am estimating my Maximum Heart Rate is 185 BPM.


Periodization seems to be almost universally recognized as a valuable structure for training. Periodization consists of four phases:

BaseProvide a foundation for later training
BuildMaximize fitness for selected event
TaperRegain energy for the event
TransitionRecovery between events and between one season and another

That said, there seems to be two major schools with regards to what constitutes base training. To use training for a 200k brevet as an example, one school would include mileage increases in base training with the longest ride during base training reaching 150 km. According to this school, the Build phase would add high speed interval training to the regimen. The other school would argue that base training consist of relatively constant, relatively easy training rides and save the mileage increases for the Build phase. Dr. Phillip Maffetone is clearly in the second school, and that is the approach I am currently testing.

Training Zones

Different training regimens have different numbers of training zones. In the following table I have tried to merge zones or interpolate between zones to compare three common training regimens:

AuthorBurke & PavelkaABCC/BCFFriel
Base Training120(137)111138130142
Aerobic Training(138)155138151144149
Lactate Threshold157174151164150158
Interval Training176185165185160185

Burke & Pavelka is "The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling" (ISBN 1-57954-199-2). Burke & Pavelka calculate only 4 levels. From my reading of the book, I inferred they merge Base and Aerobic Training, and so split these, interpolating a value (shown in parentheses) half way in between. ABCC/BCF is taken from the Association of British Cycling Coaches/British Cycling Foundation Calculator. Based on their description of what the levels were, I merged the 7 levels calculated into the 5 levels shown here. Friel is from Joe Friel's blog.

Adjusting Dr. Maffetone's Heart Rate

What is Dr. Maffetone's Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate?  It is logical to assume it corresponds to Base Training in the above table, given how it is used. Another way to infer what it might be is to take advantage of the fact that it is calculated based only on age similarly to how Maximum Heart Rate is calculated:
    220 - age = Maximum Heart Rate
    180 - age = Maffetone Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate
If I do a reverse calculation using the HR of 185 BPS I estimated for my Maximum Heart Rate to calculate a "personalized age" of 35 years and then plug that personalized age into Dr. Maffetone's equation, I determine a Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate of 140, consistent with the HR values for Base Training in the above table. Based on these two lines of reasoning, I am now training at a HR of 140 BPS.

Training Results to Date

During my first month of using the Maffetone training regimen, I increased the heart rate of my Maffetone training from 125 to 130 to 140 BPM. I did two types of rides:

  1. A 45 minute ride (after warm up and before cool down) at heart rates of 125, 130 BPS or 140 BPS.
  2. A 14 mile (just over 1 hour) ride (after warm up and before cool down) at heart rates of 125, 130, or 140 BPS.
If I record the number of miles ridden in 45 minutes, any ride of the first type can be a MAF test. If the Maffetone training is working, then the speed for MAF tests should increase, "within two or three months". These are my results so far:

There is a lot of day to day variability some of which is due to the amount of wind that day. Given that Dr. Maffetone recommends waiting for two to three months before passing judgement and given the large day to day variability, this almost certainly is not enough data to draw a conclusion. I will continue to collect and post data.

More subjectively, I feel like my heart rate has trended lower over this first month of training. I notice this the most during warm up. I also notice that my heart rate tends to drift up over the course of a training session. I notice this in two ways. First, when I hold my heart rate constant over a 45 minute ride, my speed tends to drop. Second, my heart rate is significantly higher on the cool down ride after training than during the warm up ride before training. One final subjective point: even at 140 BPM, I feel like I am holding back, and that I am riding at more slowly than if I were riding at a comfortable pace on a ride lasting several hours.

In summary, I am guardedly optimistic about this training regimen so far. Although there are not enough data to draw objective conclusions, my subjective impression is that my performance is increasing at a constant heart rate. Finally, the regularity of this routine is resulting in my riding on the order of 400 miles each month, a relatively high number of miles for me, giving me some confidence that this is enough training to be of value.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Gaps and Connections

"It's long past the time for us to what I like to say 'string the beads' to connect the [bike] trail segments to connect Houston" Mayor Annise Parker said at a news conference... (Chris Moran, The Houston Chronicle,June 22, 2012)

It has been wonderful living in Houston under two mayors who support cycling, Bill White and Annise Parker. As a result of their stewartships, Houston has experienced a steady improvement in bicycling infrastructure. If I were to make one suggestion for future development of that infrastructure, it would be to look for places where relatively modest investments could produce large gains in functionality. With this in mind, I find Mayor Parker's comments, quoted above, heartening. In this post, I will discuss both places where the existing infrastructure connects nicely together, and places where improvement is in order. As an example, I will be focusing mostly on the Braes Bayou hike and bike trail because that is the part of the infrastructure with which I am most familiar.

As I previously posted, the Coats "bicycle" bridge is gorgeous and wonderful to ride on, and it does make all of Hermann Park available for the first time, but what it doesn't do is significantly extend the Houston cycling infrastructure. Interestingly, some adjacent improvements do just that:

This picture illustrates both an improvement and a gap. The concrete trail coming in from the bottom right of the picture is new, and almost eliminates the dangerous crossing of Alameda Road, greatly facilitating safe cycling all the way from Gessner in the west of Houston to McGregor park in the east. However, in the center of the picture, a few dozen yards of missing trail can be seen. Practically, this is no big deal, this short stretch of dirt is quite ridable. Symbolically, however, it represents a perplexing gap in an otherwise wonderful trail system.

There is a second gap in the trail, between the Coats bridge and the Medical Center:

This short, downhill gap extends from the end of the old trail at the very bottom left of the picture to the start of the new trail on the middle left.

This second gap is the more difficult of the two because of its steepness.  I find neither gap particularly challenging, but my wife has trouble with this second one. To my mind, more important than any real problem these gaps cause is their symbolism. They send the message that the trail is not finished, discouraging people from using it.

In contrast to the gaps noted above, the crossing of highway 288, a freeway that would otherwise represent a very dangerous crossing, has been very nicely done:

Another nice feature of the Braes Bayou trail is east of highway 288. There, the Braes Bayou trail connects with another trail, the Columbia Tap Rails to Trails path:

This is not my favorite bike trail in Houston. For one thing, it crosses a street every block:

However, Columbia Tap does represent a route from the Braes Bayou Trail to downtown Houston, a ride that otherwise would traverse some fairly busy streets. Unfortunately, once it reaches downtown, Columbia Tap dumps you unceremoniously on the east side of downtown with no safe path to anywhere else. In the Houston Chronicle article quoted at the beginning of this post, the focus was on connecting two other trails, the Heights Bike Path (actually a multi-use path) and the Buffalo Bayou path. Should the Columbia Tap path be connected as well, this would result in a continuous path from well to the north of Houston to the south side, and from the west side to the east. In addition to being of great recreational value, this would provide a safe bicycle commute between downtown and the Texas Medical Center as well as to a number of significant residential neighborhoods.

Whether for recreational use or commuting, it is important that major trails, such as the Braes Bayou trail, be connected to the residential neighborhoods they serve. The connection between the Braes Bayou trail and my neighborhood is acceptable if not perfect. I travel to the Braes Bayou trail via Brompton Street, a street not listed on the City of Houston's Bikeways map, but which is listed as a "bicycle friendly" street by Google. I frequently disagree with Google's designation of particular streets as "bicycle friendly" and would rate Brompton Street as a B- at best. By contrast, some of the neighborhoods west of me have better connections, however.

There is a rather unusual connection between the City of Bellaire and the Braes Bayou Trail. The City of Bellaire has a rather nice "super sidewalk" style path along Newcastle Street:

This path terminates at Beechwood street on the border of Bellaire. Just across Beechwood is a sewage treatment path and signage would not encourage one to bicycle through:

And yet, if one persists past these signs into the parking lot, one finds a bike path on the far side:

Definitely a mixed message! And yet, this somewhat confusing route represents a very good connection between bike infrastructure in Bellaire and the Braes Bayou trail.

When I first reviewed the Braes Bayou trail, I commented on two lovely new bridges across the Bayou that had been added:

Although I did not mention it at the time, as much as they were lovely, I wondered if they were the best use of resources. One of them replaced and existing, run down yet popular bridge, so upgrading that was probably a political necessity. The second bridge appeared to be a bridge to nowhere. I revisited this bridge recently and found that connecting paths had been completed and this now represented a connection to a lovely, adjacent neighborhood:

This is what the path looks like as it leaves the neighborhood to cross the bridge to the Braes Bayou trail:

I would like to close with a rather unrelated point, but one which is of concern to a number of Houston trail users. As part of the very unusual weather we have all been experiencing, Houston has suffered from droughts. The soil in Houston is such that it contracts significantly when dry, and a consequence of that is trail cracks:

This crack is just the right size to hold a bicycle tire. The City of Houston has been diligent at filling these cracks, but as fast as they fill them, new ones open. These are especially dangerous to commuters bicycling home after dark. I don't know what the solution to this is, but it is definitely a "gap" which limits the utility of our otherwise excellent trail system.

MAF Test Results

My Garmin 500 lost the data for my ride today, so there is no update on MAF testing from what I posted last week. (I will be reviewing the Garmin 500 in a future post.) Next week I will be posting a description of my first month of my aerobic training regimen along with measures of its effectiveness.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Progress on Riding Comfortably

Back in the beginning of September, I posted a discussion of changes I was making to my Surly Crosscheck to make long rides more comfortable; replacing the stock plastic saddle with a Brooks B17 leather saddle and raising the handlebars using a stem extension. At that time, I was limited in how high I could raise the handlebars by the relatively trivial problem of the front brake cable being too short. However, I rode on my bike in that configuration for three months before resolving the brake cable issue. I rode my Surly over 1200 miles with the above changes including four rides of more than 70 miles.


On  one of these four rides, I had a minor issue with saddle sores, but I attribute that to dressing incorrectly. My impression is that the saddle sore problem has been reduced by switching from a plastic to a leather saddle, but because this problem is so occasional and only occurs on the longest rides, I am not yet certain of that. I do know I don't enjoy worrying about rain damaging my leather saddle and in that sense the plastic saddle was more practical. However, I intend to continue using the Brooks saddle until experience suggests I do otherwise.


The intermediate increase in handlebar height I used for 1200 miles seemed to significantly reduced the incidence of pain in my neck, arms, shoulders, and hands. However, it was not enough to allow me to use the handlebar drops comfortably.

Recently, have succeeded in replacing the front brake cable and thus getting the handlebars to the maximum height allowed by the stem extension. This photo shows the effect of lengthening the brake cable and raising the handlebars as high as possible:

Note that the stem is now at the top of the extender, with the spacers all below the stem. Previously, the height of the handlebar had been increased by two inches. Now it has been increased by three inches. This turns out to be significant. Immediately after making this change I went on a 17 mile ride and was able to complete the entire ride on the drops, something that I would not have been able to do previously.

This photo shows the impact on the bike as a whole:

The bags on the back of the bike contain approximately 40 pounds of produce. One of the standard rides my wife and I do is to is to Canino's Market, a 20 mile round trip that I will be describing in a future post.

Note that the handlebars are now significantly higher than the seat.

The difference in height between the top and the drops of the handlebars is 6 inches. Thus, riding on the drops, which I could not previously do, positions me about 3 inches lower than previously, and riding on the tops, 3 inches higher. This should give me much more versatility in future rides with one position more aerodynamic than before and a second more comfortable.

My current training regimen calls for short rides; 8 to 14 miles of training preceded and followed by a couple of miles of warm up and cool down. (As the season procedes, I will be both extending these rides as well as adding in a weekly long training ride.) I have been doing the warm up and cool down on the top of the bars and the 8 to 14 miles of training on the drops to become more comfortable with that position. Only time will tell for sure, but so far I am optimistic that my Surly is now configured to make long brevet rides more comfortable.


(Heart Rate of 125 BPM)
December   3, 2012: MAF Test = 10.3 MPH
December 10, 2012: MAF Test = 10.8 MPH
December 17, 2012: MAF Test = 12.0 MPH

A MAF test is the average speed for a 45 minute ride at the indicated heart rate, in this case, 125 BPM. I will be reviewing my experience with Dr. Maffetone's aerobic training regimen at the end of one month of training but as promised, I will list the results at the end of each week's blog as well. In my experience so far, there is a fair bit of day to day variation in the results of the MAF test, some due to conditions (e.g. wind), some do to minor variations in health, so a change from one week to the next may not be significant; consistent changes over longer times will probably be a better indicator of real improvement.

According to Dr. Maffetone's regimen, the heart rate at which one does a MAF test should be the same as the heart rate at which one trains. For reasons that I will explain at the end of the month, I have been increasing my training heart rate but leaving the heart rate for the tests constant.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Marsh Creek Road, Marsh Creek Trail

Last fall and winter when I was in California taking care of my parents, my wife and kids purchased a used Bianchi Volpe for me so that I could keep up with my cycling.  My parents live in Brentwood, California. My challenge, once I had the bike, was to figure out where I could ride it. I found that the East Bay Bicycle Coalition produced a map of bike routes which could be purchased at the Brentwood Bicycle Co. My time was devoted primarily to caring for my parents so free time was scarce.  Given a choice between riding and researching riding, I chose to ride and so I did some exploration on my own before I managed to get to the bike shop.

I grew up and went to college in California, and while an undergraduate, one of my favorite rides was up Mount Diablo, a 3,864 foot mountain with a spectacular view over a wide swath of California, a favorite of cyclists for decades. Thus it is no surprise that I contemplated a ride up this mountain. It turns out that is more difficult to bicycle from Brentwood to Mount Diablo than I originally hoped and thus this ride remains an ambition for another time. However, before I gave up, I asked Google Maps how best to bicycle from where I was in Brentwood to the top of Mount Diablo, and this is what Google suggested:

Google Map's chosen route for bicycling up Mount Diablo

As Google cautions, "Bicycling directions are in beta. Use caution and please report unmapped bike routes, streets that aren't suited for cycling, and other problems...". Their caution is well placed. I had occasions to report two mistakes (which they corrected within a day) but in addition, had other occasions to question their judgement.  Although I never made it to the end of Google's suggested route, my California family, who are very familiar with Mount Diablo, assured me in no uncertain terms that the last part of Google's suggested route was impassible with a bicycle (or perhaps even with a Jeep.)  The part that I did ride, Marsh Creek Road, was absolutely gorgeous and is marked with "Share the Road" signs, but due to its high speed limit (55 mph), twists and turns, and absence of any shoulder I found Marsh Creek Road terrifying, though I did ride it twice. When I finally got to the bike shop, they assured me in all confidence that, although they were out of the map I wanted, I didn't really need it, because the Brentwood area was a wonderful place to cycle, I could just ride any of the roads with confidence.  However, when I asked specifically about Marsh Creek Road, they blanched and urged me on the pain of death to never, ever bicycle on Marsh Creek Road.

On the other hand, Google Maps also alerted me to the Marsh Creek Trail.  Marsh Creek provides drainage to an important region in this part of California and runs along both Marsh Creek Road over its upstream course and Marsh Creek Trail over its downstream course.  Marsh Creek Trail is much like the various bayou trails in Houston that I have posted about and follows Marsh Creek downstream of Marsh Creek Road to its end where it empties into the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. It is a multi-use hike/bike trail like the Houston bayou trails and is approximately 10 miles long. Like similar trails in Houston, it has both useful connections to other attractive cycling venues as well as infuriating "near misses" where a small amount of development could produce a dramatic enhancement in cycling opportunity.

Marsh Creek Trail can be seen at the right edge of the picture, the creek is in the middle, and towards the left is one of the many charming steel bridges which connect the trail to the surrounding neighborhoods.

A closeup of the creek itself.  It gets larger as it approaches its end and is popular with local fishermen.

As with the Houston bayou trails, Marsh Creek Trail sometimes goes under the roads it crosses, and sometimes crosses the road.

Marsh Creek Trail crossing under a cross street.

Marsh Creek Trail crossing a street.

In places, the trail joins a sidewalk, resulting in a "super sidewalk", the extra width allowing use by both bicycles and pedestrians.  In the picture below, such a super sidewalk splits with the sidewalk going to the left and the trail going to the right. The "super sidewalk" concept is used by some trails in Houston as well, something I will be illustrating in a future post.


My cycling in an admittedly small subsection of California left me with the impression that the cycling opportunities and frustrations in California and Texas are much more similar than different. Some common lessons I have learned from both:
1) Just because something is legal does not mean it is wise.  The State of California may encourage me to bicycle on Marsh Creek Road, but I may have more regard for my own skin that they do.  I have previously posted that the same is true in Texas; there are many roads on which it is legal to cycle, and which many cycling clubs use, whose use I find unwise.
2) Without knowing all the facts about what this would cost, it seems to me that adding wide, paved, smooth shoulders to many rural roads would make a lot of sense.  Besides encouraging cycling with all the benefits thereof, this shoulder makes breakdowns by cars a lot let dangerous.
3) If governments want to really encourage cycling as opposed to simply build projects they can point to, thinking seriously about how a cyclist can get from one place to another and focusing on strategic gaps in infrastructure should be very cost effective.

MAF Test Results

December   3, 2012: MAF Test = 10.3 MPH
December 10, 2012: MAF Test = 10.8 MPH

See last week's post for the definition of a MAF test. I will be reviewing my experience with Dr. Maffetone's aerobic training regimen at the end of one month of training but will list the results at the end of each week's blog as well.

On December 4th, and 5th I measured significantly higher speeds than those above on training rides that were essentially MAF tests.  I think the critical difference may have been how windy it was for each ride. December 3rd was quite windy, and December 10th was even windier, whereas the 4th and the 5th were much calmer. This sensitivity to conditions is an obvious limitation of the MAF test. This could be overcome by doing the MAF test indoors on a trainer if I had one.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A New Hope (Aerobic Training)


The goal of this post is to share my experience with Dr. Philip Maffetone's training regimen.  In my return to cycling, I benefited greatly from reading other cyclists' experiences, and I am trying to return the favor. My apologies for the absence of pictures, I couldn't think of anything relevant. In future posts I will discuss what I have learned in my attempts to tune my bicycle for long distance cycling, complete with pictures.

This post builds on previous posts:

Fast Twitch Slow Twitch and Training Regimens
  • In this post, I described Dr. Maffetone's training regimen, built around the concept of "maximum aerobic heart rate", which I started today.
No Second Brevet in 2012
  • In this post, I described my revised training schedule starting with November 2012 as a rest month and beginning Dr. Maffetone's maximum aerobic heart rate training regimen in December.
If you want to know what a brevet is, read the brevet FAQ

Training at Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate

If I were to distill my life experience to one phrase, it would be "It Is More Complicated Than That."   In theory, nothing could be simpler than the new training regimen I am testing: warm up for 15 minutes such that my heart rate gradually increases from resting to my maximum aerobic heart rate, ride for 45 minutes at a speed that keeps my heart rate at that maximum aerobic heart rate, then cool down for 15 minutes until my heart rate decreases to within 10 to 20 beats per minute (BPM) above resting. My experience so far (admittedly brief) has definitely been "more complicated than that."

In this article I discuss two heart rates. The first I refer to simply as maximum heart rate and is a number used broadly in the exercise literature. It is the maximum rate that a person's heart is capable of beating under any circumstances.  The other I refer to as maximum aerobic heart rate. This is a number used by Dr. Maffetone as the optimum heart rate at which to train in order to develop endurance without producing stress (e.g. overtraining). These two are estimated similarly using calculations based on age. A third important heart rate is resting heart rate which I measure each morning when I get up.

As I previously described, I calculated my maximum aerobic heart rate, based on my age and my experience, to be 113 beats per minute (BPM).  I installed a Garmin 500 bicycle computer on Friday and synced it with its associated heart rate monitor and on Saturday went on an easy 17 mile ride along Braes Bayou with my wife.  Long term, I don't plan to use a heart rate monitor on weekend rides with my wife, but I was testing it in preparation for starting the following Monday. On that ride, I found that riding at a very easy, comfortable speed, well below the speed at which I normally train, my heart rate was 135 BPM.  Because that was so at odds with what I expected, I compared the heart rate measured by the Garmin with that measured by the blood pressure meter I use to measure my resting heart rate, and they agreed.  (This comparison has been repeated multiple times over three days.)   On Sunday, my wife and I made the 20 mile ride to Canino's Market and back to buy our weekly produce.  I noticed that my heart rate was up to 120 BPM within a block or two of leaving our house despite the fact that I was not trying to ride at all fast at the start of the ride. On the way there, I rode at a pace that produced a heart rate of 135 BPM, and when we got there, my wife (who normally rides slower than I do) noted that she "could have gone faster."  On the way home, if I got up to 145 BPM, she asked me to slow down, and at 140 BPM, she was able to keep up but was riding about as fast as was comfortable for her. There is a mild uphill on the way home and I was carrying about 40 pounds of produce which gave me an opportunity to push a bit, and I managed to get my heart rate up to 164 BPM.  This is significant because calculating my maximum heart rate, the heart rate I should not be able to exceed no matter how hard I try, gave a value of 163 BPM. At 164 BPM I was definitely breathing hard, but I certainly felt I could have pushed harder. Clearly, the theoretical calculations of my heart rate are at odds with what I actually measure.

Based on my first two days' experience, I revisited my calculation of maximum aerobic heart rate.  Because I could easily exceed my calculated maximum heart rate, I wondered if 163 BPM was an underestimate.  This might not be surprising given that the Wikipedia article on heart rate states that maximum heart rate can vary from person to person, among people of the same age, by as much as 60 BPM.  Thus, if 163 BPM were an average maximum heart rate for a man my age, my actual maximum heart rate could be as high as 193 BPM. Even if my maximum heart rate were low by 30 BPM, it is not clear if my maximum aerobic heart rate would vary similarly. Despite all these uncertainties, I guessed that I should add about 10 BPM to my maximum aerobic heart rate. Another way to think about this is that as part of calculating my maximum aerobic heart rate, I subtracted 5 BPM based on my subjective judgement of my training experience. By evaluating my training experience somewhat differently, I could have added 5 BPM, a different justification for increasing my estimated maximum aerobic heart rate by the same 10 BPM. Thus, before starting any training, I increased my estimate of my maximum aerobic heart rate from 113 to 125 (rounding up a bit.)

Even having revised my maximum aerobic heart rate upwards, I found completing the training regimen without exceeding this heart rate very difficult.  I decided that, at least at first, I would do my training rides on the Rice Track so I could focus on maintaining my heart rate without worrying about traffic.  It is just over a mile and a half from my home to the Rice Track.  Even though I tried to ride slowly, my heart rate was up to 120 BPM within a couple of blocks.  Worse, my heart rate would get up to 135 or 140 BPM in the process of crossing busy streets or otherwise navigating the suburban landscape between home and Rice.  Once I got to the track, I started my Garmin set to alert me if 1) my heart rate exceeded 125 BPM and 2) when I had completed the 45 minutes of training.  My heart rate was still elevated when I started which accounts for a maximum heart rate durring the training ride of 132 BPM.  My average heart rate for the 45 minutes was 121 BPM, I covered 7.75 miles, and rode at 10.3 MPH. This felt painfully slow (and is much slower than I normally train), but even at this speed it was a struggle to keep my heart rate from going above 125 BPM.  Of the estimated 25 laps I did, my guess is that for no more than 5 was I able to avoid going over 125 BPM.  Dr. Maffetone does warn that this is what one will experience at first. What is supposed to happen is that my speed will increase at a constant 125 BPM heart rate.

Once I completed the 45 minute training ride, I decided to revisit the question of my actual, maximum heart rate.  I picked up the pace for a few laps, and then did one lap all-out, which left me thoroughly winded and uninterested in going faster or even continuing.  From everything I have read, this is less effort than is required to actually reach maximum heart rate (fainting and the desirability of having a defibrillator nearby are often mentioned in this context) but even at that I reached a heart rate of 173 BPM.

According to this training regimen, I should finish with a 15 minute cool down during which my heart rate should decline to 75 to 85 BPM, 10 to 20 BPM over my resting heart rate.  I went a few more times around the track to begin the cooling off process and then headed home.  On the ride home, as on the ride there, I found it difficult to keep my heart rate below 135 BPM, so once I got home I circled the block to try to get my heart rate down.  By slowly, I mean I did more coasting than pedaling and tried for a speed of 5 MPH.  I was never able to get my heart rate below 115 BPM, and it would pop back up to 120 if I let my attention lapse for just a second.  After giving up and sitting at my computer for 30 minutes, my heart rate was still 105 BPM.  It has now been over three hours, and my heart rate is still 96 BPM. Clearly my heart rate does not decline after exercise as quickly as Dr. Maffetone would expect.

Out of fairness to Dr. Maffetone, I have not exactly followed his program.  On both Saturday and Sunday, I rode at a heart rate much higher than he recommends.  (I had an even faster ride on the previous Thursday, before my heart rate monitor was installed.)  Even today, on my first ride of the program, I added that gratuitous attempt to measure my maximum heart rate at the end of my training, before beginning my cool down.  Realistically, my life priorities dictate that I am not going to cut back on the weekend rides with my wife (which I had previously considered recovery rides.)  That said, for the remaining four training days of the week, I will make every effort to conform to Dr, Maffetone's plan.  I anticipate trouble with the warmup, and there would appear to be very little I can do about the cool down, but I will do my best, and will stick to the program during the 45 training ride.  Each week, regardless of what the post is about, I will post a MAF test for that week at the end of my blog, a measurement of average speed obtained at a heart rate of 125 BPM.

Here is the first:

December 3, 2012: MAF Test = 10.3 MPH

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Opening of the Bill Coats Bicycle Bridge

[I will not be posting to this blog next Monday, November 26.  I will be visiting with my family for Thanksgiving and will not return in time to post.  Weekly postings will resume on December 3rd.]

From the Houston Chronicle

Last Friday, the brand new Coats Bike Bridge across Braes Bayou was officially dedicated.  I have mentioned this bridge and the rather awful bridge it replaces before, back when this new bridge was under construction.  I was unable to attend the dedication on Friday, but went by on Thursday and the bridge and the associated underpass into Herman Park were open and functional.  The bridge itself is gorgeous; it is supposed to evoke the image of bicycle wheels.  It is definitely much more functional than the bridge it replaces. What I find most exciting about this event is the evidence it provides for the continuing and significant commitment the Houston community has to recreational and cycling infrastructure.

From the "Per Square Mile" blog

From the above map (taken from the highly recommended "Per Square Mile" blog), it is apparent that the City of Houston does a good job providing parks for its residents.  Houston is the fourth largest city in the US, and does much better than the three larger cities, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.  To be fair, we are behind the 6th largest city, Phoenix, and many other cities in the top 10 are not shown, but with the exception of Albuquerque (the 32nd largest city), we are right up there with the best cities among those studied in parkland per capita.

Similarly, in the last election, Houston area residents approved by an over 2 to 1 vote a bond to support continuing improvement in both parks and bicycling infrastructure:

City of Houston Prop B

Precincts Reporting: 992 out of 992 precincts 100%

CandidateVotesVote %Winner

(From the TV station KHOU website.)

Although the focus of reporting has been on the Bill Coats bridge per se, in fact, an associated underpass going under MacGregor Way is at least as important.  The stated goal of these two infrastructure improvements is to restore access to a piece of Hermann Park that had been cut off by MacGregor Way, a very busy street, and by Braes Bayou, as shown on the map below:

From the Houston Chronicle.  This map shows the underpass, the Coats Bridge, and the new section of Hermann Park they open up.

Even though the bridge is explicitly named the Bill Coats bicycle bridge, my prediction is that it will be a lot more useful to pedestrians than it is to cyclists.  The part of Brays Bayou trail on the south side of the bayou really doesn't add much that benefits cyclists, whereas access to the previously cut off park will be very important to pedestrians.  The underpass will be of greater value in that it connects the carriage path that goes through Hermann Park to the Braes Bayou trail, eliminating a somewhat hair raising crossing of MacGregor Way.  Although my preference for day to day riding is a paved path, the dirt and gravel carriage trail is of extremely high quality and is currently heavily used by both pedestrians and cyclists, both for recreation and for commuting into Texas Medical Center, shown on the map above. The transition between the paved path through the underpass and the carriage trail is shown in the pictures below:

The underpass seen from the Bayou side.  Note that the trail leading through the underpass, under MacGregor Way, is paved with concrete.

The transition between the concrete path through the underpass and the dirt and gravel carriage trail through Hermann Park.
Beyond being simply functional, the carriage path has a lot of charm in its own right, as shown below:

The Hermann Park Carriage Path

A charming  bridge on the Carriage Path

When you cross through the underpass, you have no choice but to ride on the carriage path.  However, as you continue on into Hermann Park, you eventually reach a point where you could continue on the Carriage Path or ride on the park road with the cars. In the past, I had assumed that the carriage path was only for pedestrians and had always ridden on the roads. Now that I know otherwise, this presents an interesting choice.  Early weekend mornings, the park roads are quiet and represent the obvious choice, but as is seen in the picture below, the park roads can be quite busy during the week, making the carriage path an attractive alternative:

The road (with cars, buses, and cyclists) is on the upper left, the continuation of the carriage path (with joggers) is on the lower right.

In either case, the Hermann Park roads and paths represent excellent entrees into the mid-town neighborhood of Houston, so the MacGregor Way underpass represents a welcome way to move between this neighborhood and the Braes Bayou bike path. Having said that, the most exciting part of this latest development for me is not the development itself, but what is promised for the future.  From the November 15, 2012 Houston Chronicle article on this project, "The [newly connected part of Hermann Park opened up by the bridge] connects to a Brays Bayou pathway - part of the Harris County Flood Control District's $535 million Project Brays - that eventually will follow the stream from Barker's Reservoir to the Houston Ship Channel." Extending the Braes Bayou trail to the Houston Ship Channel would be a lot of fun all by itself.  The Houston Ship Channel is a fascinating piece of Houston geography and history that is currently fairly inaccessible to bicycles.  To me, however, the truly exciting part of this promise is the connection to Barker's Reservoir, a.k.a. George Bush Park, about which I have posted previously.  This would connect a bike path close to my home to what I consider the crown jewel of Houston cycling infrastructure and would provide an opportunity for some significant rides (on the order of 50 to 100 miles), all on protected bike paths.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Buying a Commuter

The Breezer Uptown 8, a dedicated commuting bicycle with an amazing collection of features.
My wife started commuting to work by bike last April.  The social, financial, and personal benefits of this change have proven to be substantial.  The social benefits of bicycle commuting are widely known. Besides the reduction in fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas production, my wife's bicycle commuting have saved us from buying a second car with all the environmental impact that would entail.  The financial benefits of avoiding the purchase price, taxes, and repairs of a second car are similarly obvious.  However, a big source of additional savings comes from not having to pay for parking.  Texas Medical Center (TMC) where my wife works is the largest medical center in the world, and as such, is very large, very busy and very crowded.  As a result, parking in TMC is expensive indeed, and canceling my wife's monthly parking contract had a significant impact on our budget. The personal benefits of bicycle commuting were the a surprise.  It takes less time and is less stressful for my wife to bicycle to work than to drive to and park in the busy TMC. In addition, although the ride is only 3.5 miles long, the 7 miles a day makes a noticeable difference in her fitness. The point of all of this is that we are highly motivated to remove even the slightest impediment to her bicycle commuting and can justify a significant investment to do so.

Aerial view of Texas Medical Center.  If you look at it on Google Maps, Texas Medical Center is almost as large as all of downtown Houston. (Image from Wikipedia by permission.)
Commuting by bicycle worked great until the days started growing shorter and daylight savings time ended.  Before that, there was plenty of daylight for the ride home even though my wife left work late to avoid the peak of rush hour traffic.  However, between the shortening of the day and the fall back of an hour, she now has the difficult decision of riding home in the dark or contending with rush hour traffic.  She has been commuting on her Surly Cross Check equipped with a Catseye Opticube HL-EL300, an inexpensive, battery-powered headlight, but has found that this provides too little light for a comfortable ride home after dark.  In addition, worrying about the batteries, although objectively a small issue, is one she finds distracting.  Thus, the temptation to revert to car commuting was growing. To stave this off, we have been in search of a perfect commuter bicycle.

The obvious question is why not just put a better light on the bike she has? In thinking about the "perfect light", we decided that one powered by a front wheel generator hub had the most appeal, and my wife didn't want to encumber her "fun" bike with such a hub. Similarly, although commuting with her existing bike has been working OK, the switching of bags back and forth each week to accommodate commuting during the week and fun riding on the weekends is a hassle that we would enjoy getting rid of. Once we contemplated a dedicated commuting bike, features like fenders and a full chain cover offered themselves as desirable upgrades. Finally, although my wife loves her Surly, stepping over its diamond frame is a challenge she loves less each year, so we were interested in looking at step-through frames.  Houston is very, very flat so a single speed bicycle would seem to be in order. Getting rid of the derailleur would both improve reliability of the bike and allow the use of the desirable chain cover.  That said, my wife finds starting from a traffic light or other stopped situation stressful and appreciates a lower gear to facilitate such starts. The obvious solution is an internally geared hub. A three speed hub would probably be more than adequate, but given the reasonable price of seven and eight speed hubs, they are in the running as well.

Trek Cocoa.  Full chain cover, dress guard (a plus), internal gears, and fenders.  Add a front generator and light and a rack, and it is perfect.  This bike is definitely in the running. My wife is not, however, in love with its appearance.

An invaluable resource in exploring the options available to us has been the "Lovely Bicycle" blog.  Its author is a fan of commuting bicycles and has reviewed an amazing number them.  Ironically, the first bicycle I came up with in a Web search that seemed to meet our needs perfectly, the Breezer Uptown, was panned on Lovely Bicycle.  This did not eliminate this bike from our consideration, but it did cause us to look harder at other options.  Most of the commuting bicycles favorably reviewed on Lovely Bicycle are unobtainable in Houston, but from those suggestions we were able to add the KHS Green to our list, and searching the web added a few more.

Last Sunday, after having done our Internet homework, we set out to a few of Houston's many fine local bike shops to look at our choices.  We had tentatively identified the KHS Green 8, The Specialized Daily 3, the Trek Cocoa, and the Breezer uptown 8 as bicycles we wanted to see.  We identified shops that carried each of these bikes from their manufacturers' websites. However, in no case did these shops have in stock the exact model in which we were interested.  In addition, we ran out of time before we made it to the shop that carries KHS bikes, and the shop that reportedly carried Breezer bikes in fact does not.  Despite these setbacks, we learned a lot from the test riding my wife was able to do.

The first shop we visited was listed as a Trek distributer, and we went there to see if they had a Trek Cocoa.  They did not, but my wife was able to test ride a comfort bicycle with 26 inch wheels and a more conventional hybrid with 700c wheels, the closest thing they had on the floor to the bike we came to see.  The first of these had a very low step through frame (like the Breezer, shown above) and the second a more moderate step-through (like the Specialized Work, shown below).  To my great surprise, my wife significantly preferred the handling of the second bike to the first. Was this because of the difference in the wheel size, the difference in the step through, other differences in frame geometry, or something else?  This is important because the Trek Cocoa, which we had gone to the shop to try, has 26 inch wheels, similar to the bike which my wife did not like. The bike shop staff opined that the frame geometry of the Cocoa made it likely that my wife would like it, and they offered to get one in for us with the understanding that if she didn't, we would owe them nothing. On this basis, the Trek Cocoa is definitely an option. What we learned is not an option is purchasing a bike without trying it first, which also lets out a custom bike. Because there is apparently no distributer of Breezer Bikes in Houston, the Breezer Uptown 8 is eliminated by our inability to test ride one. Finally, we learned that my wife has no problem with a frame with a higher step-through, expanding our range of options.

The second shop, where we went to look at the Specialized Daily 3, is the shop where we purchased our Surlys and with whom we are very happy.  From our experience with the Surlys, we know that they are willing and able to customize bikes for the difference in cost between what the bike comes with and what we want, a very good deal.  Although this shop did not have a Specialized Daily 3 with a step through frame, they did have similar models to try, and also pointed us towards a model of the Specialized Work that we had not previously noticed that also came close to what we were looking for.

Specialized Daily 3 (upper) and Work 3 (lower) bikes.  Two similar bikes feature 700c wheels, 7 speed hubs, fenders, and chain guards (but not full chain covers.)  Both would require addition of a generator hub and light in front and a rack in back.  The Daily features an extraneous front basket.  Because these bikes come from a local bike shop we know and trust, these bikes are high among our choices.
My wife has not decided on a bike yet. When she does, I will post on what she picked and why.  However, we have learned a lot about what is available. More generally, we learned that the combination of searching the web to learn what's available and to get detailed specifications combined with in person visits to the local bike shops is an invaluable combination, much more useful than either by themselves. Finally, it seems to me that the bicycle market changes rapidly, and that fashion as much as technology dictates what is available.  A few years ago, internal geared hubs were all the rage. This year, we saw hardly any in the bike shops, and the selection of practical, commuter bikes in general seems to be reduced. A few years ago my love for the Bianchi brand and their local distributor would have definitely put a Bianchi commuter on our list, but Bianchi is offering no internally geared commuters this year. We have become true believers in the real practicality of bicycle commuting and look forward to the day when every serious bike shop will routinely offer a selection of no-nonsense commuter bikes with excellent lights, fenders, and a full chain cover along with the latest offerings of fashionable road and mountain bikes.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Update on the White Oak Bayou Trail

The White Oak Bayou bike trail was the second Houston bike trail I discovered after I restarted cycling in 2008. For the two and a half years before I discovered the trails in Terry Hershey and George Bush parks, the White Oak Bayou ride was my "long ride". With no detours, it is a 28 mile round trip door to door. Unfortunately, only 10 miles of that is on the White Oak Bayou trail, 5 miles each out and back, the remaining 18 miles are on city streets.  Over time, I found extensions to this route that I could use to increase the distance up to as much as 40 miles, but all these extensions were on city streets, making the ride even less about White Oak Bayou. The advantages of the White Oak Bayou trail are that it is beautifully paved, has few cross streets, and has some nice scenery in places, but its biggest disadvantage used to be that it was short. Last year, two things happened. First, construction began on an extension to this trail to make it longer.  A few months later, construction on Houston's major loop freeway, 610, created a block in the middle of the trail.  This post is an update on the progress on both these fronts.

I will cover the nine miles of city cycling leading to the start of the White Oak Bayou in another post since these same routes are a part of other of my standard rides, but once you get to the south end of the White Oak Bayou trail, you are greeted by a whimsical pedestrian bridge across the Bayou:

Unfortunately, that bridge doesn't buy very much, there are no bike trails or lanes or anything else on the other side, but it is part of the charm of this trail, one of the things that initially attracted me to it.  (One other thing to notice is that, like Braes Bayou, and unlike Buffalo Bayou, White Oak Bayou "features" a rather depressing concrete lining over this part of its course.)  There is another, similar bridge at the north end of the trail, which used to be almost as pointless.  However, this northern bridge now leads to a whole new stretch of trail, as is discussed below.

Another attraction of this trail is a very high quality surface:

In general, this trail is a class act with lots of amenities, such as this sign explaining the local wildflowers:

In terms of street crossing, the White Oak Bayou trail has only two, making it intermediate between the many crossings of the Braes Bayou trail and the virtual absence of crossings in the trails along Buffalo Bayou.  Below is a picture of one of the many underpasses that are used to eliminate traffic crossings:

A feature of this trail that is unique in my experience and one which I find very charming is that bicycles have their own train crossing:

Sadly, about half way through the trail, construction on highway 610 has blocked the trail until some time in 2013:

As a bad citizen but good blogger, I blasted right through these signs in order to get a picture of the obstruction:

This blockage is about ten feet high, so there is no going around or over it.  The good news is that the city of Houston has provided a bicycle detour around this blockage.  The bad news is that this detour is on one of Houston's typically low quality "bike lanes:

This lane is narrow and dirty, filled with broken glass, and is along a very busy street featuring impatient drivers making it a most unpleasant and relatively unsafe ride.  If all this were not bad enough, on my way home I found that the city was performing construction blocking even this this detour!

So much for the bad news.  Once I made my way through this detour, I made my way across the north end bridge to what had previously been the end of the trail to find new concrete leading forward:

The new trail is even nicer than the old trail.  In the picture below, notice the delightful iron bridge which crosses a side channel that flows into the White Oak Bayou.  If you look carefully, you will notice that at this point, White Oak Bayou manages to free itself of its concrete shackles:

When left to its natural soil banks, the White Oak Bayou becomes quite pretty:

This extension adds 2.5 miles to the original 5 miles of the trail, resulting in a 15 mile out and back ride.  This is still shorter than many similar trails in Houston, but given how attractive this trail is, this extension is much appreciated. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the detour.  This detour is so unpleasant and unsafe, I'm afraid that the White Oak Bayou trail ride will not return to my rotation until the blockage on the trail is removed.

Monday, October 29, 2012

No Second Brevet in 2012

Since I restarted cycling in 2008, I have been repeatedly over-optimistic about what I could do.  This has been particularly true for brevet riding.  As I was training for my successful 200K brevet in May of this year, I imagined I would be riding a 200K or 300K brevet for each remaining month of 2012, ride the 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K super brevet series in 2013, would earn the super randonneur and  R12 awards by April of 2013, and then ride the 1200K Gold Rush Randonnée in June of 2013.  (See the Randonneurs USA website for a description of brevet riding and the various awards that can be earned.)  Because the Gold Rush Randonnée and I are both Californian, the 1200K Gold Rush Randonnée holds a special place in my heart, and because it is held only once every four years, it seemed important to try to ride it in 2013 before I got too old.  As I reported previously, shortly after completing the 200K brevet in May, I realized that I would not be able to ride another 200K the following month, that I needed time to recover, and that I would not be able to stay fit for future brevets, but would have to once again execute an extended training schedule to become fit for them again.  On that basis, and in order to accomodate the brutal Houston summer, I reset my goals to ride a 200K brevet in October of 2012, and depending on how that went, perhaps a 200K or even 300K brevet in November.

At the same time I realized that I needed to scale back my goals, I also realized that what I had learned up to that point about training was insufficient and began researching how training works over longer periods of time.  Because I was learning as I was riding, because life contains more than cycling, and because some of life's events take precedence over training, my training schedule for the October and November 2012 brevets was not particularly logical.  Based on the training plan that allowed me to complete the May brevet, I initially planned to reach a training mileage of 70% of a 300K brevet (130 miles) a week or two before the November brevet.  With that goal in mind, I planned to use the October 200K brevet as a training ride, meaning that rather than working up to 70% of 200K (90 miles) for October, I would work up to 90% (110 miles) so that the October brevet would be part of the ramp up to a 130 mile training ride in mid-October. Calculating a ramp starting at 40 miles and increasing 10% a week leading to a 110 training ride in mid September is what forced me to restart training five weeks after the May brevet.  Worse, because I did not immediately recognize the need to rest after that brevet, two of those five weeks contained 90 mile training rides which certainly cannot be counted as a rest.  As I tried to execute a training plan for the October and November  I started missing my weekly long training rides, sometimes due to competing life events, but sometimes because I was too tired to complete them.  As that happened, it became mathematically impossible to execute my original plan.  My first revision was to plan on treating the October 200K brevet as a challenge ride rather than a training ride, such that my long training ride the week before was reduced from 110 to 90 miles.  When even that became impossible, I gave up on the October brevet and planned on a 200K brevet for November.  An unfortunate consequence of these evolving plans was that I spent many more weeks riding long training rides than I would have had I started with the plan of riding a single 200K brevet in November.  In summary, I have two major regrets about this training schedule:
  1. I should have rested longer between the May brevet and starting to train for the October brevet.
  2. I should have ramped up my mileage for the October brevet more quickly and planned on doing fewer training miles for the October and November brevets
The graph below visually illustrates the elongated training schedule that resulted from my evolving training plans for a November brevet:

Length in miles of the longest training ride for each week of training.  Note that in my preparation for the November brevet, there were more total rides (and thus more wear and tear on my body) and that I was never able to attain a 90 mile training ride.

Last week this all came to a head. Up until then, I had succeeded in ramping up my longest training ride to 80 miles three and a half weeks before the November brevet as planned, but when I attempted a 90 mile ride the following week, I was unable to complete it, abandoning after 70 miles. I thought about trying again the following week, but after careful consideration, felt like this was exactly the wrong response. If the problem was over-training and exhaustion, then the answer was a significant reduction in effort and a refocus on recovery and foundation building, not to push on in the face of experience. On that basis, I decided not to ride a 200K brevet in November.

Goals are important, even if we fail to reach them. My next set of goals are to complete the super-randonneur series in 2014 and to ride Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015.  By effectively delaying my plans for two years, I should have time to more effectively prepare.  In a previous post I described a training plan for 2014.  All that is left to decide is what to do for the remainder of 2012 and for the first half of 2013.  What makes sense to me is to use November for transition (the rest between seasons), use December, January, February, and perhaps March for foundation (aerobic base training), and then April and May to try some experiments involving a brevet or two.  June would again be a rest month followed by preparation for the 2014 season as previously outlined.  It is heartbreaking to give up on the 2013 Gold Rush Randonnée, but given where I am today, this modified plan seems to me like the way to go. Perhaps 68 is not too old for the Gold Rush Randonnée in 2017.

A Note on Subjectivity

How do I know if I am over-training? According to my reading, most of the symptoms of over-training are at least somewhat subjective. The one objective symptom of over-training is an increase in resting heart rate which I have never observed. Another fairly objective symptom is soreness in the legs that doesn't go away, which I have definitely experienced the last few months. Moving one step farther towards subjectivity, in my opinion, is a systematic decrease in the speed with which I complete my training rides. I consider this more subjective because I might be slower because I can't go any faster, or because I don't want to go any faster. It seemed to me that my average speed on my weekly, long training rides had decreased while I was training for a November brevet compared to what it was when I was training for my May brevet, as shown in the graph below:

The average speed measured on my odometer for each of the long training rides preparing for the May or November brevets.  The length shown is the miles I actually planned to ride.  In the case of the training schedule for November, the day I planned to ride 90 miles I only completed 70.

However, when I did an analysis of the data, the difference in speeds of the two sets of training rides were not statistically significant - this observed effect could just as well be due to random ride to ride variation. Even more subjective than speed, to my mind, is the "inability" to finish a ride, which was the factor that caused me to abandon a second brevet in 2012. In one way, the question of whether I am over-training is an important one; if I am truly over-training, then I should cut back on my training whether I want to or not. In another way, doesn't matter at all. The number of miles I need to ride for optimum health is way below what is required for brevet riding, so if I have lost interest in brevet riding, it is also time to cut back on my training. The end result is the same; cutting back on training is the right response to decreased performance.