In mid-February of this year, I decided I would attempt a 200 km Brevet two and a half months later, at the beginning of May. As I previously described, by following a standard training protocol, I was able to successfully complete the brevet. What I hoped and expected would happen then is that I would have permanently reached a new level of fitness such that from that base, I could work towards longer brevets. My experience since then has been quite different.
I took it easy the week after the brevet and when I then returned to the 90 mile training rides I had done the two weeks before the brevet. When I did, I found each of these rides harder rather than the previous one rather than easier. In response to what I interpreted as over-training, took one week completely off the bike and then took it easy for the next two weeks. When I then started increasing mileage again, from 36 to 40 to 44 miles, I felt rested, which was good, but also felt like I was right back to where I started; that nothing had improved due to the previous training cycle, that to work my way up to a 90 mile training ride in preparation for a 200 km brevet was going to be just has hard the second time as it was the first. That was discouraging and caused me to revisit training schedules for randonneurs, with an eye this time for what a schedule looks like over multiple brevets and multiple seasons.
Here is what I learned:
1) I had expected to be able to do too much, too soon.My textbook for training for the 200k was the book "Long Distance Cycling" by Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D. and Ed Pravelka. To prepare for my brevet, I extended their 10 week plan for preparing for a century to cover the 124 miles of a 200K brevet. I planned to attempt a 300k brevet two months later. When I found that I could not do that, I read the next chapter in "Long Distance Cycling"on training for a double century (since 300 km is 186 miles, getting towards a double century). It says "You need a solid foundation before increasing your training to the level this requires. ... we don't recommend striving for this level until you have at least 3 full years of cycling behind you ... even though you may have knocked off a century or two without much problem." In retrospect, what I was attempting was unrealistic, especially for a 63 year old man in the steam bath that is Houston, Texas in the summer.
Confirming this was some advice I got when I chatted with the other riders at the May 200k brevet. Hearing that this was my first brevet, one suggested that I "not rush it", that is, to not increase my brevet activity too quickly, but to allow some years work up to my goals, e.g. a 1200K or a Super Randonneur award. I listened to that advice, but didn't think 300 km in two months was "rushing it". Apparently, I was wrong.
2) Fitness is not a simple, monotonic, upward progression. Staying at the peak of fitness is a major stress that cannot be sustained.One of the readers of this blog commented that, once he was in shape, he did not follow a training protocol as intense as what I had outlined because it was too hard on his body.
This is also stated very clearly on a how-to page of the website of the British Columbia Randonneurs Cycling Club: "In qualifying for PBP here in British Columbia, your training will have peaked in early June (to meet a July 1 entry deadline), but PBP is not until late August. Should you try to maintain your conditioning through the summer, or take a time out and rebuild again later? For PBP 1995 I made the mistake of trying to maintain my early-June conditioning through the summer. The results... training fatigue and injury! In the PBPs since then I've taken a break and then jumped back into training in July." (Eric Fergusson http://www.randonneurs.bc.ca/toolbox/training/big_ones.html)
In fact, this notion is implicit in the periodization approach to fitness common to many sports, including cycling. I have summarized the phases of an annual periodized schedule from the Ultramarathon Cycling Association Website:
"Transition: Can last a few weeks or a couple of months. It is a time for active rest, to repair your body and regain mental freshness.
Foundation: Occurs during the late fall and early winter months in which the cyclist accrues base mileage.
Preparation: A time to focus the training effort, gradually increasing volume (time on the bike) and intensity (how hard you ride). Training becomes gradually specific to your goal events.
Peaking: Focuses on the specific demands of your goal events. It is a relatively short period that achieves top form."
(Janice Tower, http://www.ultracycling.com/old/training/training_for_beginners.html)
3) There is more than one way to (not) prepare for a brevet.I highly recommend the following webpage from the British Columbia Randonneurs Cycling Club: Training For Randonneur Cycling by Eric Fergusson http://www.randonneurs.bc.ca/toolbox/training/training.html
It outlines every imaginable training schedule (including not training at all) used by successful brevet riders. I haven't found anything specific to take away from this mountain of experience except encouragement to experiment and to find my own way to prepare for this sport.
Summary:I'm still trying to put all the pieces together and to fill in the gaps to come up with a long term training plan and some realistic goals for brevet riding. In fact, I am wondering if brevet riding is even what I should be doing. I enjoy it very much and I was able to complete a 200 kb brevet, but perhaps the long term wear and tear of such long rides is too much for my aged and neglected body. For now, I am planning on a second 200 kb brevet in October, and depending on how that goes, perhaps a 300 km in November. Depending on how those go, I will re-evaluate.
Besides the training issues discussed here, there were other issues that arose from my first brevet, and I will discuss those in a later post.