Monday, February 11, 2013

Second Brevet: Try, Try Again

(For anyone new to this blog, the sport of randonneuring or brevet riding is a branch of bicycling involving challenge rides, most commonly 200, 300, 400, 600, and 1200 kilometers in length. These rides are not competitive, they test endurance and self reliance rather than speed. RUSA, the US governing body for brevet riding, has an excellent description of this sport.)

I began this blog almost 9 months ago, right after completing my first brevet. At the time, I had very ambitious plans about my future in this sport. However, rather than that first brevet being the first in a series of longer brevets, I have yet to be able to even repeat this first 200 kilometer ride. Trying to understand why and to overcome the barriers preventing me from continuing have taken me on an exploration of training regimens, muscle physiology, and the impact of age on training. My next attempt at completing a brevet will be a 200 kilometer ride sponsored by the Houston Randonneurs, on May 18.

A serious randonneur will usually attempt to complete a brevet series, successfully riding 200, 300, 400, and 600 kilometer brevets (abbreviated 200K, 300K, 400K and 600K) in the same calendar year. Besides earning the Super Randonneur award, this qualifies a randonneur to attempt a prestigious 1200 kilometer brevet. Since typically one must qualify in the same year as the ride, a randonneuring club will sponsor a super brevet series starting as early in the year as weather permits and have makeup and other rides for the remainder of the year. The Houston Randonneurs series begins in January, allowing completion of a brevet series by early March. This is the Houston Randonneurs schedule for 2013:

I am not yet sufficiently fit to attempt a brevet series, so I am only looking at the 200K brevets. Looking at this schedule, I realized that the 200K rides in January would be too early in my training. The next 200K brevet is on May 18. To determine how best to prepare for that brevet I needed to consider the first three of the four phases of Periodized training:

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

I am currently engaged in Base training which should last at least three months. I began my Base training at the beginning of December and so the soonest I could begin the Build phase is the beginning of March. Last year, I had a two and a half week Taper phase during which I froze and then reduced mileage to regain energy for my brevet. This is pretty standard and seems to have worked well, so I will stick with that. This leaves March 1 through May 8 for my Build phase. Last year, I used a Build phase adapted from by "The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling" (ISBN # 1-57954-199-2).  To determine if I wanted to do that again, I compared that plan with what I actually did and with what an experienced randonneur does as described on the British Columbia Randonneurs website. For each of these plans, I shifted rides around within a week to make it easier to compare them and placed them on a calendar leading up to my brevet on May 18. For each day of the plan, I indicated the distance in miles of each ride and used a color code to indicate how fast each ride should be ridden:

Aerobic training is what I have been doing for the past few months, riding at a heart rate of between 130 and 140 beats per minute. The speed of that ride will be determined by my heart rate and will vary, hopefully getting faster on the average over time. Pace riding is done at the speed that I intend to ride my brevet. The long ride is also ridden at Pace, but this is the ride that gets longer each week, reaching a maximum a few weeks before the brevet of 70 to 75% the length of the brevet. A fast ride should be done about as fast as I can go for that distance, significantly faster than I intend to ride the brevet. An easy ride is done more slowly than the brevet. As of today, my aerobic training rides are a little bit slower than Pace and quite a bit faster than my easy rides.

Here is the plan that I attempted to follow last year; the number is the length of the ride in miles, the 124 mile ride is the 200K brevet:

This chart shows both the Build phase and the Taper phase. It is assumed that the Base phase has been completed before this schedule is begun. The Build phase runs from February 25 through May 5. The Taper phase begins the week of May 6 when the long ride doesn't increase in length, it is the same length as the previous week and continues until the brevet on May 18.

As compared to that plan, this is what I actually did last year:

I rode significantly fewer mile, had more "easy" days, took more days off, and skipped two of the long rides compared to the plan. My "Base phase" was a hodge-podge of whatever rides I had managed to squeeze around other events, totaling just over 500 miles of riding all done at Pace. For comparison, my Base phase this year should total over 1200 miles of riding. That said, when I compare what I did with what other randonneurs do as exemplified by the training schedule below, I did quite a bit more:

This chart is different from the above two in that is shows Base phase, April 1 through April 21, Build phase, April 22 through May 1, and Taper phase, May 2 through May 17.

Interestingly, the advice I received after my first brevet was that I was training too hard, and that I would exhaust myself, which is what happened. On the other hand, my experience with 30 mile rides over the last few weeks suggests that I will need a lot more training than what I have done so far this season if I hope to ride 124 miles in May. Based on that, and based on my subjective impression that aerobic training is energizing more than tiring, this is what I am going to try to do for my Build and Taper phases this season:

My hope is that the four days a week of aerobic training rides will both maximize the benefit of my long rides as well as to allow recovery between them. Realistically, I expect that I will miss a day now and then due to weather or other obligations, and I expect that my daily mileage will deviate from the mind numbing regularity shown above, especially on the weekends when I ride with my wife. In particular, I have given specific thought to what happens if I miss one of the long rides in the progression. In light of the notion that I may be overdoing the long rides anyway, if I miss a long ride, I will continue as if I had completed it. For example, should I miss the 66 mile ride during the week of April 8, I will do the 72 mile ride during the week of April 15 as planned.

Alternative Plans:

The Taper phase in this plan might be doing more harm than good by repeating the long ride from the previous week. Eliminating the first week of Taper might reduce exhaustion before the ride. The 10% per week increases might be resulting in too many long rides. By upping the weekly increase to 20%, I might decrease the overall stress of the Build phase. For the moment, the above chart is my plan, but I will adjust it along these lines if my experience suggests that I do so, and I will certainly consider abbreviated Build and Taper phases for future seasons.

For those new to this blog, I am posting an update of my training results each week. See my previous posts for an explanation of my aerobic training program, MAF tests, and this graph.

This week's graph shows a continuation of the upward trend in MAF test speed. As this upward trend continues for a longer time, it becomes more convincing.

The last three rides shown on the graph were almost certainly slower due to weather.

It is my experience that at the same effort, my speed on the Rice Track is about 1 to 2 MPH faster than on the road presumably because I never have to stop or change speed on the track. If this estimate is accurate, my corrected speed in these MAF tests is about 1 MPH slower than "Pace", the speed that I maintain on a long ride. I hope that the observed increase in speed will continue at least until I am riding these MAF tests at "Pace". At my current rate of improvement, this would take 38 days.

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