Monday, March 11, 2013

"Cycling Past 50" by Joe Friel

After have read "Total Heart Rate Training" by Joe Friel and finding it so useful, I purchased and read another of his books, "Cycling Past 50". In the same way that "Total Heart Rate Training" addressed so many of my questions about heart rate, I was hoping this book would address my questions about the effects of age on training. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Here are my reasons for disappointment:

  • Although nodding references to age are made throughout this book, only one brief chapter is focused specifically on the impact of age on training. Overall, I would estimate that less than 10% of this book has specific relevance to older athletes.
  • The content on aging that is present is not, in my judgement, particularly novel or enlightening. It is things like "see your doctor before starting a training regimen", good advice, but advice I suspect most of us have heard elsewhere before.
  • That content which is specific and novel is mostly directed towards persuading folks to keep riding as they age, rather than towards people like me who already failed at that and are looking for advice about getting back into the game. By the way, I have this same criticism of "Bike for Life", the other book I have on cycling for the elderly.
  • Similarly, the small amount of age-specific advice given is by necessity split between oldsters who are looking to race, and oldsters (like me) who are interested in other kinds of cycling activities, such as distance riding. In fact, most of the age-specific advice is directed towards racers, leaving even less relevant content for me.
  • This is one of the oldest of Joe Friel's books, having been published in 1998 as compared to "Total Heart Rate Training" which was published in 2006 and "The Cyclist's Training Bible" (which I have not yet read) which was published in 2009. As I was reading "Cycling Past 50", I noted some slight contradictions with advice given in "Total Heart Rate Training" which I attributed to "Cycling Past 50" being out of date.

Am I sorry I purchased this book? In my first blush of disappointment, I did feel that way, but having considered it for a few days, I am not; I did find some useful information in this book. Ironically, none of the useful information I got from this book had anything to do with cycling past 50 (and the useful information I have gotten from Joe Friel about cycling past 50 all came from "Total Heart Rate Training".) To put this question into context, I purchased "Cycling Past 50" as a paperback for about $15. None of us like to waste money, but given the value I place on my time as well as the other costs of cycling, this is not a big expense; I would more reasonably complain about the time I spent reading the book than what I paid for it. That said, in return for the evening I spend reading this book, I obtained the following information:
  • This is perhaps trivial, but I had an "Aha!" moment over the following graph (redrawn, albeit crudely, to avoid violating copyright):
    What is plotted is fitness on the vertical axis, and time on the horizontal. At time point 1, a cyclist does a hard workout. At first, fitness is reduced because the cyclist is tired, reaching a minimum at point 2. By point 3, the cyclist has recovered to the level of fitness he or she had before the hard workout, but fitness continues to increase, which is the expected effect of training. Fitness reaches a maximum at point 4, and then starts to decline in the absence of further training, so by point 5, it is as if the hard workout never happened. The ideal time for the next hard workout is time point 4; points 2 and 3 are too early and will result in over training and point 5 is too late and will waste the initial workout. Joe Friel confesses that he cannot tell us when these points will occur because this will be different for every cyclist and will vary depending on what other things are going on in his or her life. However, by paying attention to how one feels and doing some tests, one can get a useful working estimate of how to space one's hard workouts.
  • There is an entire chapter devoted to how to train for century rides and touring. It contains detailed training schedules for preparing for a first century ride, preparing for a fast century ride, or preparing for tours of various duration. It is somewhat obscurely titled "Testing Your Limits", and its location, coming after "Advanced Training" but before "Racing", suggests how Joe Friel feels about the relative merits of different kinds of cycling, but for me, this was perhaps the best part, the reason I regret neither the purchase price of the book nor the time I spent reading it.
  • Joe Friel describes research on the impact of training frequency on fitness. This research indicates that cycling less than 3 days a week provides very little increase in fitness, that cycling 4 days a week provides significantly larger increases in fitness compared to 3, and that cycling 5 or 6 days a week is better than 4, but by very little. Cycling 7 days a week, as I had proposed to do, is almost universally frowned upon.
Perhaps the best indicator of how I feel about this book is provided by my level of enthusiasm for purchasing Joe Friel's "The Cyclist's Training Bible." As of this moment, I am undecided, despite the fact that this is the most up to date and comprehensive of Joe Friel's books. Contributing to my reluctance is that the (relatively small percentage of) negative reviewers of "The Cyclist's Training Bible" on Amazon complain that it is devoted almost entirely to training for racing, which is not my area of interest. Although I might purchase this book in the future, and although I have become a regular reader of Joe Friel's blog, I feel like I need to digest the training suggestions I have read to date and to gather some personal information based on my own training experiences more than I need new suggestions. That said, Joe Friel's books have already caused me to adjust my current training schedule. Future posts will describe in detail how my training ideas evolve in response to the reading I have been doing.

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