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:
- I should have rested longer between the May brevet and starting to train for the October brevet.
- 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
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:
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.