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.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Frankenbike at the Velodrome

Two Houston cycling attractions that I have wanted to visit for a long time are the Alkek Velodrome and Frankenbike.  a velodrome is a specialized facility with a banked track allowing for high speed bicycle racing on a small circuit and which uses specialized track bikes. Houston is one of the few cities in the US with a velodrome.  Frankenbike is the name of a bicycle swap meet held in various cities in Texas.  It gets its name from bicycles which have had parts substituted from what came from the factory; it is an obvious play on the title of the novel "Frankenstein." (Pretty much every bike I own is a frankenbike.) In Houston, Frankenbike is held once a month at different venues each month.  Imagine my excitement to find that in October of 2012, Frankenbike was to be held at the Alkek Velodrome.  So, after our Saturday bike ride, my wife and I popped across I10 so I could take my first ever looks at both Alkek Velodrome and the Frankenbike Swap Meet.

The Alkek Velodrome is shown at the beginning of this post in aerial view, thanks to Google Maps.  It is located in Cullen Park as part of a sports complex, this soccer and baseball fields on either side:

This is a more down to earth view, showing the banking of the track:

The Alkek Velodrome attracts racers from a large portion of Texas, including College Station, the location of Texas A&M University and Austin, home of the University of Texas.  That said, the Alkek Velodrome would appear to be a rather low key affair.  The "victory stage", shown in the picture below, is consistent with that assessment:

The Frankenbike Swap Meet turned out to be a smaller affair than I had imagined.  There were a few items for sale scattered to either side, but the picture below shows most of it:

The next picture shows a few more things from the swap meet, but is mostly included to show the red and yellow bicycles in the middle of the picture.  Because most people don't keep track bikes laying around their garages, the velodrome rents track bikes.  These two bicycles are two of these rental bicycles.

Because Frankenbike was held at the velodrome, I gather there were more track people there than usual.  This is a picture of a track bike for sale:

I'm glad I got to visit the Alkek Velodrome and Frankenbike, two landmarks of the Houston bicycle scene.  I have to confess, I was not inspired to attend another Frankenbike.  Similarly, I doubt very much I would be want to race at the velodrome, but it is possible that I would return to watch one of the evening bike races.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fast Twitch, Slow Twitch, and Training Regimens

I continue to struggle to come up with a satisfactory training regimen.  I am constantly looking for new sources of information, and a couple of months ago started thinking and reading about the difference between fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers.  Fast twitch muscle fibers are used for high intensity, low duration activities like weight lifting and sprinting, and slow twitch muscle fibers are used for endurance activities like most cycling and long distance running. Despite having a Ph.D. in biochemistry and a lifelong career in biomedical research, I was stunned to learn that the preferred fuel for slow twitch muscle fibers is fat!  In all of my research into distance cycling, I kept reading about the importance of eating regularly during a ride to avoid "bonking" due to a lack of carbohydrate (stored in the body as glycogen) when I have enough fat around my waist to ride from Houston to New York City with plenty to spare.  (This is literally true, not an exaggeration.)  Actually, as I continued to read, I learned that muscle cannot use lipid for more than 50% to 70% of its fuel, that the rest needs to be carbohydrate (though I have no idea why this is true), so the need to eat is real, but I only need to eat 30% to 50% of the calories I am burning.  With luck, the rest will come off my waist.  As I researched how I might derive as much of my fuel as possible from fat, I came across a highly recommended book, "The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing" by Dr. Philip Maffetone and Mark Allen (ISBN 1616080655).

As a card carrying member of the conventional medical establishment, there was a lot that made me uncomfortable about this book.  Its primary author, Dr. Philip Maffetone, is very much a member of the alternative medicine community, but despite that, the book is so focused on the issues about which I am thinking, about how to train your body to favor slow twitch/fat burning muscles rather than fast twitch/carbohydrate burning muscles, I felt like I needed to read it. Although this book considers nutrition, various kinds of muscle manipulation, and even the choice of music best suited for training, I am going to ignore all of that in this post.  Rather, I am going to focus on a novel training regimen recommended in this book which promises to develop your muscles and metabolism to favor fat burning and endurance while minimizing over training and injury.  Better yet, it provides clear predictions as to what to expect so that I can experimentally determine if this approach works for me, something that, as a lifelong scientist, I appreciate very much.

If you are interested in applying the recommendations made in this book to your training, do not try to use the information in this post.  What I have written here is a drastic selection and summarization of just a few points made in the book mixed in with a lot of other things I have been reading and significantly modified by me to come up with a potential training plan targeted to me, my particular interests, and my particular needs.  Rather, if you are interested in this book, buy it and read it.  That said, the rest of this post is the training plan I came up with after reading this book.

If you have been reading very much about training, you probably have come across  formula for calculating your maximum heart rate, most commonly 220 beats per minute minus your age.  I am 63, so this formula would give me a maximum heart rate of 157 beats per minute.  Various kinds of training are to be done at various percentages of this maximum heart rate, typically 50% to 97%.  Dr. Maffetone, on the other hand, is more interested in something he calls the maximum aerobic heart rate which he calculates as 180 beats per minute minus your age plus or minus a correction factor based on your overall health and fitness.  The correction factors are as follows:
  1) If you have recently have been ill or are currently on medication, subtract 10 beats per minute.
  2) If you recently have:
      a. Suffered an exercise injury OR
      b. Have observed "regression" in your "MAF test" (see below) OR
      c. Have been training for less than 2 years:
      Subtract 5 beats per minute.
  3) If you have been training for about two years, don't add or subtract anything.
  4) If you have been training for longer than two years, add 5 beats per minute.
Although I have been riding since 2008, I have been actively training for less than two years, so for me, the calculation is 180 - 63 - 5 = 112 beats per minute.

At the center of  Dr. Maffone's recommendations is what he describes as an apparently easy training session.  What this session consists of for me, which I refer to as an aerobic training ride, is as follows:

  1. Warm up for 12 to 15 minutes.  My heart rate should gradually go from my resting heart rate to my maximum aerobic heart rate over that time.
  2. Ride for 30 to 45 minutes so as to maintain my heart rate within 10 beat per minute of my maximum aerobic heart rate without going over (102 to 112 beats per minute.)
  3. Cool-down for 12 to 15 minutes at the end of the ride.  During the cool down, my heart rate should decline to within 10 to 20 beats per minute over my resting heart rate.

The prediction is that if I do aerobic training rides regularly, my speed should improve without any increase in heart rate, beginning no later than 1 to 2 months after the beginning of training, and should continue to improve every month throughout the season.  To determine if this is true, one is to perform a "MAF Test".  A MAF test is nothing more than the above training ride in which you record your speed during the training part of the ride.

In my blog post, "Another Brevet?", I described the four phases included in most training plans:

  • TRANSITION: The rest between seasons.
  • FOUNDATION: A base training regimen to provide a foundation for the rest of your season.
  • PREPARATION: Training targeted to the events you wish to complete.  
  • TAPER: A relaxation in training just before an event to build energy for the event.

Most of the reading I had been doing up until now focused on Preparation and Taper.  In contrast, "The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing" is at its most specific when describing Foundation.

So what are the events I am targeting?  My goal is to be a randonneur and thus the events are brevet rides as described on the RUSA website.  To this end, I am a member of the Houston Randonneurs who sponsor brevet rides once a month.

Putting it all together, I have developed the following schedule for a one year brevet season:

  • TRANSITION: I plan one month of no training between one season and the next.  Given the schedule of the Houston Randonneurs (and Houston weather) this month would be June.
  • FOUNDATION: I plan three months of almost daily aerobic training rides with no long distance rides; July, August, and September.  Although these months are very hot in Houston, the aerobic training rides are quite short and can be done in the early morning.
  • PREPARATION 1: In preparation for my first brevet of the season, a 200 km brevet, I will replace one of the aerobic training rides each week with a long distance ride.  This ride will start at 40 miles and will increase by 10% each week until the ride reaches 90 miles.  This will take three months; October, November, and December.
  • TAPER 1: I will allow at least a week and a half between the last 90 mile training ride and the first brevet.  I will schedule no training rides for the two days before the first brevet.
  • PREPARATION 2: During the brevet season, I will eliminate the long training ride each week.  Aerobic training rides will continue and distance training will be provided by the monthly brevet rides, which can vary between 200 and 1200 km.  These will be ridden in January, February, March, April, and May.
  • TAPER 2: Because all of my training will come from the brevets themselves, and because these are a month apart, a good part of a Taper will come naturally from that.  In addition, I will schedule no training rides for the two days before each brevet.
The above schedule has a number of problems:

  1. It is very rigid.  It has no room for family events, illness, or setbacks.
  2. The three months of Foundation training I propose, featuring only aerobic training, are at the low end of what Dr. Maffetone recommends.  Four months of Foundation training might be preferable.
  3. It is far from clear that I am capable of completing some of the longer brevet rides.
  4. Riding with my wife on weekends is an essential part of my life and a major reason I find cycling fun. Although she is a strong rider and I get a good workout on these rides, her goals are different than mine. She is not interested in training, she just wants to ride.
  5. Interesting brevets often occur after May.  For example, Paris-Brest-Paris, which will be next held in 2015, is in August.  (I have posted previously about the difficulty of having to complete the qualifying 200, 300, 400, and 600 km brevets by June and then waiting to ride Paris-Brest-Paris until August.)

I would like to address the first three problems together as they are closely related.  The key to all three is flexibility.  I accept that I don't know what length brevets I am capable of completing.  Testing of this new training regimen includes a test of my ability, at my age, to be a randonneur.  Facilitating this, the Houston Randonneurs often have a 200K option at the same time as whatever brevet they are running that month.  Thus, if I find at the end of three months I need more Foundation training, I will extend Foundation training by a month and do my first 200 km brevet in February instead of January.  Similarly, should life intervene, I will simply revise the schedule as necessary so as to not reduce the Foundation training, but to delay the start of my brevet training as necessary.  If I find that 200 km or 300 km or some other length brevet is as long as I can tolerate, I will simply choose brevets that length or shorter.

The third problem is how I integrate this new training schedule with recreational rides with my wife. Although it might be ideal to do aerobic training rides six days a week, riding with my wife is more important to me than advancing my career as a randonneur.  Thus, during Foundation for example, I plan to do aerobic training rides four days a week, to rest one day a week, and to spend Saturday and Sunday riding with my wife with neither plan nor heart rate monitor.  Honestly, I doubt this will negatively impact my training at all, but even if it does, that is my plan and I am sticking to it.

Finally, the answer to the fourth problem, how should I alter my training schedule if I want to ride brevets after May, is anticipated by Dr. Maffetone.  He suggests splitting a long season into two parts, with a month and a half of base training (short aerobic rides) inserted between.  For example, should I be fit enough to attempt Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015, I might complete the brevet series needed to qualify by the beginning of April, repeat base training for the remainder of April and much of May, and then spend the rest of May, June, and July training for Paris-Brest-Paris.  This, of course, would require adjustments to the schedule the following year, but this is a bridge I will happily cross should I be so fortunate to come to it.

Three final points:

  1. Obviously, it is too late to execute this plan for the 2013.  What have I been doing so far to prepare for 2013, and in light of my new training plan, what should I do for the remainder of 2012?  Answering these questions will be the topic of a future blog post.
  2. At the beginning of this post, I expressed some reservations about the "alternative" aspects of Dr. Maffetone's ideas.  Given those reservations, why should I invest so heavily in testing Dr. Maffetone's training schedule, and conversely, why am I not looking to the conventional medical establishment for training ideas?  These are questions I have asked myself and in response, my wife helped me by finding the following chapter in a Medical School textbook: "Exercise Physiology and Sports Science" by Steven S. Segal in "Medical Physiology: A Cellular and Molecular Approach, 2nd Edition" edited by Walter F. Bron and Emile L. Boulpaep (ISBN 978-1-4377-1753-2).  In addition, I have read the publicly available lecture notes from Dr. David Q. Thomas' courses in exercise physiology from Illinois State University.  I find these all very interesting, but nothing I have read therein would discourage me from trying Dr. Maffetone's training regimen.  On the other hand, neither the textbook nor the lectures offer much in the way of practical training advice of their own.  Nonetheless, as a card carrying member of the medical establishment, I intend to continue reading this literature so I will know the parameters within which training strategies should lie.
  3. Dr. Maffetone's book is intended for young racers.  I am not a young racer, I am an old man whose goal is to finish brevets within their time limits.  Dr. Maffetone's book is not unique in this regard, very little of the training literature is written for me.  That said, the fact that Dr. Maffetone's recommended training regime is so gentle even though targeted at a much more aggressive demographic makes it all the more attractive.

In the end, I have purchased a heart rate monitor and will be trying Dr. Maffetone's training ideas.  In future posts, I will report how they worked for me.  Finally, I still have many other questions about training and will research and discuss these in future posts as well.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Terry Hershey and George Bush Parks

In my opinion, the hike/bike paths in Terry Hershey and George Bush parks are the crown jewels of the Houston biking infrastructure.  They are the most beautiful, the safest, and the most interesting bike paths I know.  Everyone I have introduced them to has fallen in love and most declare them their favorites.  The soul of these parks is the Buffalo Bayou.

The City of Houston has three major Bayous; Braes Bayou, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, White Oak Bayou, which I hope to write about in a future post, and Buffalo Bayou.  Buffalo Bayou is the main Bayou and is much closer to its natural state than the other two; it retains its dirt walls over much of its length.

Buffalo Bayou as it passes through George Bush Park.  Compare this to Braes Bayou.

The biggest exception to this natural state was created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when Buffalo Bayou east of downtown Houston was dredged to create the Houston Ship Channel. This completely eliminated any trace of the original bayou in this stretch, but allowed Houston to become one of the United State's busiest ocean ports.

Since the 1980's, Buffalo Bayou has been the focus of recreational development, and the city of Houston recently received recognition from the American Planning Association for these efforts.

From the Houston Chronicle, October 4, 2012

Two stretches of Buffalo Bayou have hike/bike trails, the section around downtown, and a section almost 10 miles away at the west edge of the sprawling city limits of Houston, through Terry Hershey and George Bush parks.  I ride the former occasionally and hope to post about those rides in the future, but the Terry Hershey/George Bush section which I am writing about here is the site of my most important training rides.

Terry Hershey park is a skinny park in the shape of a distorted T which follows Buffalo Bayou from Beltway 8 to Highway 6.  The short stem of the T goes up one side of Bear Creek from where it flows into Buffalo Bayou for about a mile and then back on the other side.  At the west end, the trail goes under Highway 6, crosses the bayou on a skinny path along the bridge and then enters George Bush park.  George Bush park is roughly oval shaped and has a dual function.  The park houses a staggering range of recreational venues including the hike/bike paths which are the subject of this post. However, it is also home of the Barker Dam and reservoir.  Normally the reservoir is empty and the land is used as a park, but during times of heavy rains the dam is closed and the park floods to prevent flooding of the city of Houston.  A number of times I have been out riding only to see the path disappear underwater in front of me:

Terry Hershey and George Bush parks contain both paved and dirt hike/bike paths.  For my training, I use the paved paths, and my normal ride covers most of these and is about 18 miles one way.  It goes from the east end of Terry Hershey park to about half a mile past the west end of George Bush park.  By including side paths, this can be increased to 20 miles.  Although there are options for some small internal loops, for the most part your only option is an out and back route, so a round trip ride will be 36 to 40 miles.  For longer rides, I repeat all or part of the route.  My longest training ride, 90 miles, represents 2 1/2 out and back repeats of this route.

The one disadvantage of this route is that it is about 30 minutes away from my home by car.  I am painfully aware of the irony that I burn more gas going to and from bike rides than for all of my other driving combined.  Some of the features that make these paths so attractive (and worth the drive) are as follows:

1) These paths are bordered by multiple parking lots, contain many water fountains, bathrooms and even the occasional shower for cooling off during the summer.

2) There is almost no traffic on the 20 mile route.  Every place where the path crosses a road, it makes use of the bridge over the bayou to route the path under the road.  The only exception is that in the middle of the path through George Bush park, the route briefly exits the park and joins about a mile of extremely quiet residential street, an exception not worth noting.

Hike/bike trail in Terry Hershey park passing under Dairy Ashford Road

3) The east end of the path in Terry Hershey park contains what may be the closest thing to hills in the entire city of Houston.  These hills are not very long since they derive from going up and down the bank of the bayou, but they can be fairly steep in places.

I don't know how to photograph hills, but hopefully the sign lets you know what the trail is up to :-)

4) The scenery is gorgeous.  Terry Hershey park is landscaped in a semi-wild style and is complemented by the landscaped back yards of the homes which can be clearly seen butting up against this skinny park.  George Bush park is, in many parts, just plain wild.

5) Other interesting features include wood bridges and cobblestones.

6) These parks may be the best places in Houston (outside the zoo) to see wildlife.  Terry Hershey park because of its proximity to houses and limited landscaping has less wildlife, but in addition to Houston's typical plethora of birds, I frequently see rabbits and snakes in this park.  George Bush park almost always hosts of a staggering variety of waterfowl, but I have seen deer and turtles there as well.

Perhaps the one disadvantage of this venue is that, between walkers and strollers and dogs and skaters and wheelchair racers (not to mention other cyclists) these paths can get quite crowded.  Repeatedly calling out "on your left" significantly increases the cardio aspect of my workout.

It took me almost two and a half years after I restarted cycling to discover the trails in Terry Hershey and George Bush parks.  If you bicycle in the Houston area, don't delay, check them out as soon as you can.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Rice Bike Track is Open!

Four posts ago, I wrote an overview of cycling in Houston.  In that post, I commented on Houston cycling attractions which were temporarily unavailable due to construction.  While riding last week, I went by the Rice Bike Track to check on progress, and to my delight found that the construction was complete and the track was once again open.  Thanks to Google, here is a satellite view of the track: 

The track can be seen in the middle of a parking lot to the left of the Rice University football stadium.  Most of the time the track is blocked off from traffic:

It is my impression that during football games, when parking is at a premium, the track is closed to bikes and opened up to parking, making this a very efficient multitasking of this space.

The track is not heavily used.  My guess is that about half the time I ride on it I am the only rider and there rarely is more than one other rider:

I have measured the track using my bicycle odometer and found it to be about 0.3 miles around, and as you would expect from it being part of a parking lot it is dead flat.  That said, I have never had any trouble with the corners:

As I confessed in my Houston Cycling post, Houston is one of the few US cities to have an actual velodrome, but after almost 25 years, I have never visited it.  What explains my enthusiasm for the primitive Rice Track over the Alkek Velodrome?  In the first place, the Alkek Velodrome is a specialized facility which may only be used with a track bike. So, unlike the Rice Track which I can use for interval training with the bike that I plan to use for brevets, I would have to rent or buy a special bike for the Velodrome.  In the second place, the Velodrome is dedicated to racing, something in which I have no interest at present.  Finally, however, is location.  The Velodrome is over 20 miles from where I live and realistically is only accessible by car.  The Rice Track (the red dot towards the center of the map) is located right next to the Texas Medical Center, within a couple of miles of where I live:

In summary, the Rice Track, which apparently is open to the public (I have never asked, but never been questioned) represents and extremely safe, extremely consistent place to ride, perfect for interval training and testing one's fitness. I'm sure I am not alone in being delighted that it has reopened.