Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Iron Rider's Recovery Based Training

I began a recent post on training with the statement "I don't get very many comments on my blog, but I love it when I do" and Iron Rider obliged me with the following friendly and helpful comment on that post:

How often are doing your MAF tests and training rides? ... What prompt[s] me to ask the question was your description of riding the MAF tests at a heart rate of 130-140 bpm for 45 min (not including the 30 45 min of warm up and cool down!) That seems to be a fairly strenuous aerobic workout. While I don't know your max heart or heart rate at lactate threshold, 130-140 bpm would almost always fall into the high aerobic zone for a man over the age of 45 ... doing 4-5 high aerobic zone workouts week is definitely working hard with very little recovery time. 

One possible reason why your 130-140 bpm sessions may seem "easy" (Zone 2) is that if you do not recover adequately then you start each day with an elevated resting heart rate. As a result, an easy workout gets the rate up to an extent that it would would not if you were fully rested. If this makes sense to you and you are concerned about recovery and overtraining, I suggest monitoring your resting heart rate first thing in the morning. If it increases, you are not recovering. If it decreases you are getting the result you want. 

(I have edited his comment to emphasize the points I am making and hope I have not thereby altered the meaning or tone.) Let me start with the following points:
  1. I really appreciate comments; even if I happen to disagree with a particular comment, I appreciate that someone has taken the time to talk to me. That said, I certainly did not disagree with this comment.
  2. I am a scientist by training, and one of the rules of thumb in science is that a fact is more valuable the more surprising it is; an unexpected fact is more likely to tell you something you did not already know. Iron Rider's comment was very surprising to me; I had been convinced that a training ride consisting of just a MAF test was not at all strenuous. Thus, his comment really made me reconsider what I am doing. And, to answer his question, his point makes a lot of sense to me and I am very concerned about recovery and overtraining.
It seems to me that there are two main points to Iron Rider's comment:
  1. Based on the standard calculations used to estimate the maximum heart rate for a man my age (64), my MAF test rides seem like they might be quite strenuous and that as a result, adding rest days to my schedule might be beneficial.
  2. By monitoring my resting heart rate, I might be able to determine when rest days are needed.
    Let me start with Iron Rider's first point, that my MAF tests are being ridden at a high heart rate for a man my age. I take this point very seriously, and here are my thoughts on this issue:
    1. I have previously posted on how I have estimated my maximum and lactate threshold heart rates and why I think my heart rate is higher than average for my age. These estimates are not as good as I would like them to be, but I do find them plausible. That said, I admit that the values I am estimating for my maximum and lactate threshold heart rates are very high, well outside most predictions.
    2. I have not yet made a direct determination of either my maximum heart rate or my heart rate at lactate threshold. Joe Friel argues that it is unnecessary and unwise to measure your maximum heart rate, that lactate threshold heart rate is just as useful while being easier and safer to measure, and I suspect my cardiologist would agree (though I will ask him at my next visit.) I hope to make a better measurement of my lactate threshold heart rate in the future, but until I do, there is not much more for me to say.
    3. In support of the heart rates I determined, I used those heart rates to define my heart rate zones for training, and the level of exertion I perceive match with the Joe Friel's perceived levels of exertion he associates with the various heart rate training zones. Iron Rider argues that this match could be misleading because it might result from training with inadequate recovery. However, because this match always exists, independent of whether this is a MAF test ridden after a day or two off the bike or is the fourth MAF test in a row, I am inclined to give it some weight. From Joe Friel's data, I have compiled a table showing the linkage between training zone, heart rate, and perceived effort. I cannot sing during my MAF tests, but I can talk in complete sentences.

    This brings me to Iron Rider's second point, that resting heart rate can be used to determine when one has recovered and thus when to plan the next strenuous training ride. He has built a training program around this idea which he named "Recovery Based Training". He provided a link to one of his blog posts on this program in his comment:


    ...and that post contains a link to the original post describing the plan:


    You should read about this plan on Iron Rider's blog, but to my eye, it is truly inspired and seems to have worked very well for him indeed. Fortuitously, I have been measuring my resting heart rate first thing each morning for over 16 months, since before my first brevet or blog post. My records are not perfect, there are many days when I forgot to measure my heart rate and the way I am measuring my heart rate (discussed below) may have problems, but there is enough data to do a preliminary analysis. Thus, I am in a position to ask retrospectively, if this same approach would have worked for me? In addition, I can ask the related question, am I riding MAF tests with too little time for recovery between them?

    Simply looking at my resting heart rate data, I see no evidence of it changing in any organized way; it has varied from 54 to 76 bps, mostly between 65 and 70 bpm, but not with any pattern I can fathom; it is not obviously lower after a rest day or higher after a hard day. At a first approximation, this answers the question; if I cannot see obvious changes in my resting heart rate, I cannot use my resting heart rate to decide when I have recovered and when I have not. However, I wanted to dig a little deeper, so I did a statistical analysis of the data to see if I could uncover trends in the data not obvious to visual inspection. What I did was to define 6 groups of heart rate values:
    1. Those measured the morning after one full day or more entirely off the bike. This should be a fully rested state.
    2. Those measured the morning after one day of MAF tests (the previous day being off the bike.)
    3. Those measured the morning after two days of MAF tests.
    4. Those measured the morning after three days of MAF tests.
    5. Those measured the morning after a 200K brevet. (There are only two of those.)
    6. Those measured the morning after a long training ride, one 60 or more miles long. I selected this distance because it is at about 60 miles I start finding these rides difficult to complete.
    For these comparisons to be valid, it is important that my resting heart rate not be changing over the time that I rode these MAF tests. That turns out to be the case. For my measurement of average resting heart rate after rest days and MAF tests I used data from 2013. Here is all my heart rate measurements from 2013, and although there is considerable day to day variability, the data is not trending up or down, so averaging the data over time makes sense. 

    "Resting" heart rate each day I measured it in 2013. The darker line through the data is the least squares trend line through the data. The fact it is close to level indicates that my average "resting" heart rate has been constant over the time interval in which I am interested.

    The following table gives the averages of heart rates taken the day after the above six kinds of training days described above. The first column lists the kind of training day, the second the average of the heart rates measured the day after each of these kinds of rides, the third the standard deviation (a measure of how much individual measurements vary from each other), and the last the number of heart rates averaged.

    Average Heart RateSDN
    Rest Day
    1st Day MAF 
    2nd Day MAF
    3rd Day MAF
    200K Brevet
    Long Ride

    Iron Rider defines three ranges of heart rates. The first, called "Rested", is a heart rate equal to or less than his resting heart rate. The third, called "Elevated", is a heart rate 10% or more higher than his resting heart rate. The second, called "Tired", is anything in between. I am a bit confused by this division because any measurement is going to have some variability and normal variation will mean that, even if one is never tired, one's heart rate will be above one's average resting heart rate half the time. I will assume that Iron Rider has a very stable heart rate and he simply doesn't see much variation, so this is not an issue for him. Unfortunately, that is not true for me, and therein lies a tale.

    If I round my normal resting heart rate to 66 beats per minute, anything above 73 beats per minute would be "Elevated", and anything between 67 and 72 beats per minute would be "Tired". The problem is, given the observed variation in my heart rate (shown in the SD column in the table above), even if I am never tired, I would expect to experience an "Elevated" heart rate every week or two and a "Tired" heart rate every other day. This probably makes it impossible for me to follow a "Recovery Based Training" regimen.

    Even though I cannot use the "Recovery Based Training" regime on a day to day basis, by averaging the data from multiple rides, I might be able to reduce the variability in my heart rate data enough to ask the question "are MAF tests leaving me tired?" Simply looking at the average heart rates would suggest that they might be; my average heart rate increases with every sequential MAF test. However, once again variability rears it ugly head; when I used a standard statistical test (the t-test) to compare the average heart rate after rested days to that after 2 or 3 days of MAF tests, the difference was not significant. That is, the difference in average heart rates could well be due to chance. The only comparison which was significant1 was that between my average resting heart rate and my heart rate after a 200K brevet. In fact, my average heart rate after a brevet qualifies as an "Elevated" heart rate. I definitely need to rest after a brevet!

    An obvious question at this point is am I measuring my resting heart rate correctly; can I reduce day to day variability by changing how I do that? The way I currently measure my heart rate is based on convenience. I get up, brush my teeth, get dressed, walk down stairs, and use my blood pressure monitor to measure both my blood pressure and heart rate. A few days ago, I tried something different. I took my Polar heart rate monitor upstairs when I went to bed, and then put it on when I woke up, while remaining still and in bed. What I found is that my heart rate varied between 63 and 69, all while lying quietly in bed. I left the Polar on as I went through my morning routine and saw heart rates up into the 90s. When I sat down to measure my blood pressure, it dropped to 75 while the heart rate measured by the blood pressure meter was 74. The lesser problem was that the variability in heart rate before I got out of bed was at least as great as what I am doing now and thus changing my routine will not solve my variability problem. The greater problem was that my wife was not at all pleased by this change in routine. She is used to sleeping in for a few minutes after I get up and her sleep was disturbed by my heart rate experiment. Today, at her suggestion, I came downstairs as usual, laid down on the couch, and used my blood pressure monitor to measure my heart rate five times in a row while lying quietly. I measured heart rates of 72, 70, 69, 67, and 71, in order; variability continues to be an issue.

    Why is my heart rate both so variable and so high? I think this is just an example of the fact that we are all individuals and that as a result, we are all different one from another. That is why the medical community is so excited at the prospect of personalizing medical care ("precision medicine" nĂ© "personalized medicine") and why the exercise community has advised us for years to personalize our exercise routines. Thus, I completely believe that  Iron Rider's "Recovery Based Training" works for him and suspect it will work for most of you. If it does works for you, I highly recommend you give it a try. I would if I could, but I can't. That said, I certainly found Iron Rider's comment useful and I haven't completely given up on using his approach. I have been re-motivated to directly measure my lactate threshold heart rate and I will continue to experiment to see if I can find a way to measure my resting heart rate that yields less variability.


    1) I am aware that doing multiple t tests on the same data can make data seem more significant than it is. I did so because I knew I was going to have trouble finding any significant differences at all and I wanted to maximize sensitivity. Because the results I got were NOT significant, this concern does not arise.

    2) I decided not to post MAF test results this week because household duties cut into my training last week so, compared to last week, I have nothing interesting to report.

    Monday, August 12, 2013

    "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach

    I purchased "Distance Cycling" because I recently started reading "randon1", the Google group on randonneuring, and one of the authors, John Hughes, is an active contributor there. When I read one of his posts on an older cyclist he was coaching, it struck a cord in me so I looked into him and discovered this book. I purchased the Kindle version of the book, but if I had it to do over, I probably would purchase the paper version; I find it much easier to jump around in a paper version as one is wont to do with a training guide.

    I confess that my first reaction to this book was disappointment; it seemed superficial, offering up the same platitudes one can find in every other book or free on so many websites. Also, certain aspects of style in which this book is written were not to my taste. The authors chose, in many places, to use a story-telling style in which they refer to a fictional cyclist and tell stories about him or her. Some examples:

    "Kyle practices riding with a smooth pedal stroke of 80 to 90 revolutions per minute (RPM) in his middle gears."

    "Kyle practices eating and drinking regularly while riding safely."

    Does this remind anyone besides me of Goofus and Gallant from the children's magazine, Highlights?

    As I continued to read, however, I warmed to this book because of its breadth. In particular, it is the only book I own that discusses training for the standard brevet series2 of 200K, 300K, 400K and 600K rides or for riding 12 brevets a year, one per month, all year long. Using the Amazon scale for rating books, I would give this book three of five stars. On the one hand, I am not at all sorry I paid for it or took the time to read it, but on the other, it is not my all time favorite training book.

    The chapters of this book are as follows:

    CHAPTER   1     Going the Distance
    CHAPTER   2     Selecting Your Event
    CHAPTER   3     Baseline Conditioning
    CHAPTER   4     Fueling the Distance Cyclist
    CHAPTER   5     Gearing Up for the Long Haul
    CHAPTER   6     Preparing Your Body to Go the Distance
    CHAPTER   7     Conquering the Century and 200K
    CHAPTER   8     Ultimate Training for Ultra Events
    CHAPTER   9     Mastering the Multiday
    CHAPTER 10     Ultra distance Riding
    CHAPTER 11     Preventing Injury

    The material I found to be of the most interest were in Chapters 8 and 10. Throughout the book, the authors provide detailed, day by day, week by week training plans including cycling, resistance training ("weights"), stretching, and psychological conditioning. (I did say this book was comprehensive.) This material was of some interest to me, especially to compare to other training programs I have encountered to see what I can learn from the similarities and differences. However, it was the extension of these programs into some new territory, extensions I was having difficulty imagining on my own, that made this book worth my time.

    Chapter 8 includes information on moving up from a 200K to a 300K brevet or from a century (100 mile) to a double century (200 mile) ride, information duplicated in some of my other books. However, what it has that I didn't find anywhere else is a 4 week maintenance program to execute if, in contrast to the waxing and waning of a traditional training program, one wishes to ride one 200K brevet a month, all year long, what one needs to do in order to earn the RUSA R12 award.

    Chapter 10 describes a training program for a brevet series, in which one rides increasingly long rides, one month apart: 200K (124 miles), 300K (186 miles), 400K (248 miles), and 600K (372 miles). There probably are more theories of training than there are cyclists. I am personally unlikely to follow any program exactly, including this one. What makes this program interesting to me nonetheless is that it gives me a place to start thinking about what I want to do, a program which is reasonable and conventional. Along those same lines, one table in this chapter particularly caught my attention. It came right after a discussion of planning how a brevet might go, pointing out that one's average speed will drop as the brevets get longer. The table was for planning purposes, and listed assumed completion times for various length brevets:

    Distance Assumed
     Completion Time
     Completion Time
    200K   9:00 to 10:30 13:30
    300K 14:30 to 16:30 20:00
    400K 21:00 to 23:30 27:00
    600K 34:00 to 37:30 40:00

    I completed my first 200K brevet in 12 hours, and felt good about that because it was well under the required completion time. I completed my second 200K brevet in 11 hours, and felt good about that because it was an hour faster than my first. However, I see that these times are still slower than what was assumed in this book, suggesting to me that I might not be ready for longer brevets, a useful cautionary note.

    This book is not specific to randonneuring, it includes information about all kinds of long distance cycling, including bicycle touring. Chapter 9 focuses on touring which why it was of less current interest to me. In summary, this is a good book covering a lot of material while making few assumptions about prior knowledge. For these reasons, and because it adheres to conventional practice rather than advancing novel theories, it might be particularly suitable for a beginner.


    1) https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/randon

    2) For background about randonneuring in general and what a brevet series is in particular, no better source can be found than the RUSA website.

    MAF Test Results

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

    The plateau in performance seen for the past few weeks continues. Recently, I got a very provocative comment on my last training post from Iron Rider. I plan to devote my next post to a consideration of this comment, some of Iron Rider's training ideas, and comments on this plateau.

    Monday, August 5, 2013

    Cycling in the Aughts: Fredericksburg Weekend

    • In 1979, my wife and I took what was to be the last bicycling vacation for 29 years.
    • In 1981, the first of our two sons was born.
    • In 2007, the second of our two sons graduated high school and moved away to college.
    • In 2008, my wife and I took a long delayed, second bicycling vacation together.

    Do I see a pattern?

    Zombie's wife, 1979, Brandon, VT
    Zombie Cyclist, 1979, Dorset, VT

    A lot happened during the 29 years between bicycling vacations, most of it truly wonderful, but none of it relevant to this blog. One thing happened which, although inevitable, was nonetheless un-wonderful; we got old. Thankfully, neither of us is too old to ride a bicycle. Another thing that is definitely relevant to this blog is my wife's determination to ride with me. The bicycle ride I took on August 1, 2008 represented a clear watershed, the first day in many years I rode my Bianchi Specialissima and the day I restarted cycling on regular basis. My second ride was on August 5, and already my wife was riding along side me. Our second bicycling vacation, taken a mere three months after our cycling restart, was modest compared to the one 29 years earlier, constituting only two days of riding over a long weekend, but my wife's enthusiasm can be seen in that she chose this vacation as her present for a very special birthday. Both the similarities and differences between these two vacations are striking, and at the expense of repeating some pictures from my last post, I have tried to highlight this.

    Zombie's wife, 2008, Luchenbach, TX
    Zombie Cyclist, 2008, Fredericksburg, TX

    In Vermont, in 1979, we stayed in inns. In Texas, in 2008, we stayed at a bed and breakfast, a very similar kind of accommodation. Although The Town Creek Bed and Breakfast (where we stayed, highly recommended) did not supply dinner like the inns in Vermont, it was within easy walking distance of the excellent restaurants of Fredericksburg, so the overall experience had the same luxurious feel as Vermont.

    The Garden Cottage at Town Creek Bed and Breakfast, where we stayed.

    Whereas the route we followed in Vermont was provided by the Churchill Inn who organized the trip, in Fredericksburg, it was provided by Cycle Texas, a consortium of local cyclists led by the local bike shop. In short, the Vermont vacation was more Prix Fixe, the Fredericksburg vacation more A La Carte, but the overall effect was quite similar.

    Working barn in the countryside around Fredericksburg, Texas

    Both vacations provided rides over quiet roads through authentically rural scenery. Vermont is a little greener and more New England, Texas is more rugged and Old West, but both were variations on the same theme. Both involved a lot of climbing, and the maximum elevation achieved was the same for both trips, just over 2,000 feet. I was unable to reconstruct if the amount of climbing was similar because I was unable to determine the lowest elevation we reached in Vermont; Fredericksburg is at just under 1,700 feet, but rides from there go down to about 1,500 feet increasing the climbing a bit.

    Rolling hills near Fredericksburg.

    The cycling routes provided by Cycle Texas are superb, both for the rides themselves as well as the information provided on Cycle Texas's website. These rides vary between 19 and 88 miles in length. For this trip, my wife and I completed a 30 and a 23 mile ride together, and I rode an additional 20 mile ride one afternoon while my wife caught up on her reading. Although the vagaries of life prevented us from returning to Fredericksburg as quickly as we hoped, we continue to hope that, with more miles in our legs, we can go back and try some of the longer routes Fredericksburg has to offer.

    Livestock on the road (contained by cattleguards) is evidence of the very low traffic.

    I cannot say enough about the opportunities presented to cyclists by Fredericksburg, Texas. I have revisited the roads of my California childhood, and found them delightful but much busier then when I last rode them 40 years ago. By contrast, the roads around Fredericksburg remind me of the roads of my childhood, not the roads of today. I have previously mentioned Cycle Texas, but here again is a link to their website:


    The town of Fredericksburg is filled with some of the finest accommodations and restaurants in the world. The only place we have stayed is Town Creek Bed and Breakfast, so we cannot talk from personal experience about any of the others in Fredericksburg, but we can say Town and Creek is one of the loveliest experiences we have had anywhere. By the end of the visit, we considered the owners as personal friends. If you are traveling to Fredericksburg, you should definitely give them serious consideration. However, as best I can tell, the do not have a website, you have to telephone them:

    304 N Edison St
    Fredericksburg, TX 78624

    For those new to this blog, each week I am posting an update of my training results; see my previous posts for explanations of my aerobic training programMAF tests, and this graph.

    My MAF test results seem to have plateaued. I will be interested to see what they do when I move from base training to build training and start doing longer and longer weekly rides.