Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Training Programs Compared

In previous posts, I have described five books on training I have used:
  1. "The Big Book of Endurance Training" by Phillip Maffetone
  2. "Total Heart Rate Training" by Joe Friel
  3. "Cycling Past 50" by Joe Friel
  4. "The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling" by Edmond Burke and Ed Pavelka
  5. "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach
All these books contain good advice on training for long bicycle rides, my area of interest. The reason I read all five of them (and that I plan to continue reading books on training) was (is) to compare what they say, and from this comparison, craft a personal training plan. The last three of these books each contain a complete training plan for preparing to ride a "century", a 100 mile bike ride. Because this ride is reasonably close to the 200 kilometer (200K, equal to 124 mile) rides I have been attempting, these plans were of particular interest to me. Although I had previously read and compared these plans generally, when I attempted a detailed, ride by ride comparison, I realized this would take some work. Thus, I thought sharing the results of this effort might be worth a post. As always, this post is not and cannot be a substitute for the books on which it is based. If you find any of these training plans of interest and want to follow them, you should get ahold of a copy of the book(s) containing them.

What did I do to compare these plans?  In the first place, each book presented its plans in a different format; I needed to reformat all of them to make them visually and directly comparable. Also, some of the plans include the opportunity for customization. In order to facilitate comparison, I needed to make some reasonable customization choices which, insofar as possible, were similar between the plans. A final issue, one deserving of more comment, is that some plans indicate ride length in miles and others in hours.

Miles vs Hours

In later part of this post,  I will show visualizations of all the different training plans in which I have converted them to use miles rather than hours to facilitate comparison, but in this section, I would like to pontificate a bit on the intrinsic advantages of miles vs hours in these particular training plans.

The more obvious and traditional way of indicating ride length is in miles. What would be the reason for indicating ride length in hours? The reason given is that it accounts for differences in ride difficulty; 50 miles on flat roads on a windless day is a very different workout than 50 miles in the mountains, for example. The saying goes "our body knows hours, not miles." If you specify a training ride as 50 miles, it might be harder or easier depending on conditions. If you specify a training ride as three hours, conditions will have less of an impact.

The above concept makes sense to me, and I can see how using hours to standardize training could be beneficial. However, in the context of training for a ride of a specific distance such as a century or a 200K brevet, it seems to me that using hours creates more problems than it solves. I have two reasons for saying that:
  1. Different Riders Ride at Different Speeds. A rule of thumb I have encountered over and over in my reading is that when training for a century, your longest training ride should be between 66 and 75 miles. If this is the goal and if the length of training rides are given in hours, there is an assumption as to how fast you are riding. Joe Friel's century training plan has as its longest training ride a 4½ hour ride. Putting this together with the need to ride 66 to 75 miles, Joe Friel is assuming you are riding between 14.7 and 16.7 miles per hour, not unreasonable but faster than I can consistently ride a 66 or 75 mile ride, much less a century. Hughes and Kehlenbach, on the other hand, give you a choice between a longest ride of 5¼ or 6½ hours, which translates to speeds of between 10.2 and 14.3 miles per hour, more similar to the speed I ride. (For comparison, one needs to average 9.2 miles per hour to complete a 200K brevet within the 13.5 hour time limit to get official credit for the event.)
  2. Different Century Rides are Ridden at Different Speeds. All things being equal, a hilly century ride will take the same rider longer to complete than a flat century ride. Thus, the hillier century will be more of a challenge and require more hours of training to prepare for. (Ironically, this is exactly the reverse of the rationale for expressing training rides in hours in the first place!) If training rides are given in miles (not hours) and If training is done on the same kind of terrain as the century, then a rider who successfully completes this plan will be prepared for the relevant century, as flat and easy or hilly and hard as it might be - the difference in terrain of the training ride compensates for the difference in difficulty of the century rides. Of course, finding suitable terrain close to home can be a problem, one with which those of us training in the pancake flat environs of Houston are most familiar. That said, I have not found anyone who claims to have a conversion factor for how many flat miles you need to ride to prepare for how many hilly miles, assuming that is even possible.

    Different Kinds of Training Rides

    In general, the training plans discussed here consist of four kinds of training rides:
    1. The Long Ride
    2. The Pace Ride
    3. The Fast Ride
    4. The Recovery Ride
    At the beginning of the training period, the long ride starts at a distance you can already ride and over the course of the weeks of training increases in length to 66 to 75 miles to prepare you for the 100 miles of a century. It is ridden at the same speed as the century ride, and is a kind of rehearsal of that ride during which you try the food, clothing, and equipment you intend to use. Most people cannot do more than one of these per week without exhausting themselves. (If you are using a heart rate monitor or other means to define training zones, this ride is done in Zone 2. See this post for a discussion of training zones.)

    The Pace Ride is a shorter version of the long ride, ridden at the same speed or perhaps slightly faster. Although you cannot do more than one long ride per week, one ride per week is not enough to get you ready for a century. Inclusion of this shorter ride helps bridge that gap. (If you are using a heart rate monitor or other means to define training zones, this ride is done in Zone 2.)

    The Fast Ride is done to build up your speed. This is the most variable of the training rides plan to plan, even comparing different plans from the same book. That said, one of the more common kinds of Fast Ride is intervals; you might ride as fast as you can for one minute and then one minute very slowly to recover, repeating this cycle 5 to 10 times. (If you are using a heart rate monitor or other means to define training zones, intervals are done in Zone 4 or 5 and the rest period in Zone 1.)

    As is oft noted, Fitness = Stress + Recovery. The three previous rides stress the body to provide that part of fitness equation. Days that you don't ride provide recovery, but so does the Recovery Ride. The theory is that easy riding actually helps the recovery process above and beyond doing nothing, a process known as active recovery. Also, if I am understanding what I am reading correctly, these rides also contribute to fitness directly. (If you are using a heart rate monitor or other means to define training zones, this ride is done in Zone 1.)

    Training Plan Conversion and Presentation

    1. As noted above, the distance of all rides and all plans were "normalized" by converting ride lengths expressed in hours to ride lengths expressed in miles. 
    2. Different kinds of rides are ridden at different speeds, so I used my average speed for that kind of ride to make the conversion. I rounded the mileage pretty freely to get even numbers.
    3. Because the speed Joe Friel assumes for his plan is so much faster than I ride, I used a conversion factor based on this difference to increase the length of the rides in his plan. 
    4. Each of the three books on which this post is based provides more than one training regimen. For example, different plans might include one for a first century, one for a fast century, one for a rider more fit at the beginning of the regimen or one for a rider who is less fit. With one exception (noted below), I used the easiest plan.
    5. Some plans specify that certain kinds of rides are done on specific days of the week, whereas others allow the rider to vary this to some extent. Where I could, I adjusted the plans to put similar rides on similar days of the week, but did not move rides that had been specified by the plan.
    6. I assumed that I was doing a weekly training ride of 35 to 40 miles before I started each plan and deleted any early the weeks of training that involved training rides shorter than that. Thus, some of the plans are truncated.
    7. The tables below have days of the week (Monday through Sunday) along the top of the table and the weeks of training along the side. For each day, the length of the ride in miles is given and the kind of ride is indicated with a color code: Yellow = Long, Blue = Pace, Red = Fast, Green = Recovery. Optional rides are shown in lighter color.

    The Training Plans

    Color Code for Ride Types

    Overall, I find the four training plans shown below to be fairly similar:
    • All of them have at least one rest day each week. 
    • All of them have one long ride per week which, in general, gets longer each week. 
    • All of them include one fast ride each week. 
    The differences between the plans are discussed below.

    The training plan from "The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling"by Edmond Burke and Ed Pavelka

    When I started preparing for my first 200K brevet in May of 2012, I based my training on the plan above, from "The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling" by Edmond Burke and Ed Pavelka. In retrospect, this turned out to be the most difficult of all the plans. (There is actually an additional, harder plan in this book.) It contains three Pace rides a week. It has no recovery weeks. Although this plan does include a taper week at the end, the long ride was the same length during the taper week as the week before. Contrast this to the other three plans where the long ride during the taper week is much shorter than the previous week. The Burke and Pavelka plan includes six rides a week, the most of any of the four plans.

    The 8 week training plan from "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach. The Recovery Ride on Thursday is shown in a lighter color because it is optional.

    The plan shown above is from "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach, the 8 week plan for those who are generally fit when they start. This plan is much gentler than the previous plan by Burke and Pavelka. The rate of increase of long rides is faster in the Hughes and Kehlenbach plan it is true, but that is in part due to a recovery week inserted at Week 4. In addition, Hughes and Kehlenbach have 1 Pace ride a week rather than 3, 3 to 5 total rides a week rather than 6, and includes more recovery rides.

    The 16 week training plan from "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach, truncated to 13 weeks by removal of the first three weeks of the plan.

    The plan shown above is also from "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach. This is the 16 week plan (which I truncated to 13 weeks) for those who feel like they need more time to build fitness. The reason I included it is because it is closer in length to the next plan, from "Cycling Past 50" by Joe Friel. Thus, I will discuss it below, along with the Friel plan.

    The training plan from "Cycling Past 50" by Joe Friel

    The final plan shown above is from "Cycling Past 50" by Joe Friel, and is the longest even after I truncated it. What makes Joe Friel's plan so long is that it is based on a four week cycle where every fourth week is a recovery week; Hughes and Kehlenbach include only one recovery week in thirteen weeks. Friel increases the long ride for the first three weeks of the cycle, but then drops it dramatically during the fourth week to allow for recovery. In the next cycle, he does not pick up where he left off like Hughes and Kehlenbach, but almost starts over. Week 1 of the second four week cycle starts at the same mileage as Week 2 of the first four week cycle; you only progress 1 week every 4 weeks. Other than that, Friel's plan is similar to Hughes and Kehlenbach, it involves four or five rides a week, and one to two recovery rides every week.


    • By chance, the first training plan I tried happened to be a rather intense one. Every rider is different, of course, but because of this choice, I may well have started out with a training plan that is too exhausting for my 64 year old body. 
    • Every single one of these plans includes a weekly Fast Ride. A Fast Ride as part of a training plan for endurance cycling never made sense to me, so I had not been doing one. However, the near universality of this in training regimens is making me reconsider.

    What I have been experimenting with over the last few weeks is to include a Fast Ride each week, reduce the number of Pace Rides to one per week, and add one or two Active Recovery rides each week. In the next few weeks, I plan a post describing in more detail these and other changes I have made to my training.

    Final Thoughts

    With luck, all the above may become moot. A goal of mine is to reach a steady state level of fitness where I no longer need to train specifically for a 200K brevet. Rather, I hope to be able to comfortably ride a 200K brevet every month. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the attractions of "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach is that it provides a training plan for doing just that, and here it is:

    Training plan from "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach. This plan is for riding a 200K brevet every month and repeats every four weeks. Week 3 can be deleted or duplicated as needed when brevets are more or less than four weeks apart. The monthly 200K (124 mile) ride reduces the need for long rides during the intervening weeks.

    MAF Test Results

    Apologies for the grey background. This seems to be a recent Blogger bug :-(

    For those new to this blog, each week I am posting an update of my MAF test results; see my previous posts for explanations of my aerobic training program, MAF tests, and this graph. The plateau in performance continues. I have nothing new to say about it yet, but hope to comment on both the plateau and the role of MAF tests going forward in a future post on training.

    Monday, September 16, 2013

    Support your LBS or DIY?

    West End Bike Shop, where I purchased my Surly Crosscheck and have repairs done that I do not do myself

    When I was a young cyclist back in the '60s, one of the jobs I held was working in a Local Bike Shop (LBS). Over time, the owner of the shop (referred to here as BB) became a friend and a supporter of my bike club, the Modesto Roadmen. Thus, the oft-heard admonition to "Support your LBS" has special meaning to me. The issue of supporting your LBS seems to be an obligatory topic for cycling bloggers who are required to make a plea for that position while explaining and justifying their own personal practices, almost always some sort of compromise. I regret being part of that parade, but there were things I wanted to say which I hope are at least somewhat personal to me, so here is my version of that post.

    Some of the well known and oft discussed reasons given for supporting your LBS are:
    1. If I don't support my LBS, it won't be there when I need it.
    2. Because I have less experience than the LBS, by using them, I make sure I purchase the correct products and that repairs are done properly.
    3. My LBS is a center for bike culture and, as a tax paying business, a powerful advocate for cyclists with local governments and thus deserves my support.
    4. It is better to purchase from local businesses rather than from national or international sources (e.g. most online sources) because so doing means that money spent stays in the community.

    Daniel Boone Bike Shop, who restored my Bianchi Specialissima

    Even while I was a LBS employee, I (and the rest of the Modesto Roadmen) often purchased our bike supplies from places other than BB's Bike Shop and rather than bringing our bikes to him, did most of our own repairs. I never got the impression that BB was unhappy about this; he knew where his money was made and it wasn't on us pre-1970 racers, it was on the neighborhood kids. He stocked what they wanted, not what we wanted, so when we went elsewhere for our tubular tires it was because he couldn't make money selling them in our relatively small town. As for our Do It Yourself (DYI) repairs, I got the very clear message that BB, who was an old school mechanic before "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" celebrated the concept, agreed that our taking responsibility for our bikes was a Good Thing.

    My situation today is different than it was in the 60s. Houston, Texas, is very much a big city, cycling has gone mainstream, most of the local bike shops carry a wide selection of high end bike components, and as an adult cyclist, I am no longer a fringe rider of little economic interest but smack in the middle of of the shops' core demographic. Still, I often work on my own bike, and the reason why is the topic of this post.

    My messy garage, my Park Tools bike stand, and my Surly undergoing the indignity of DYI

    I don't DIY because I think I can do a better job than the shop, I am a fair handyman at best. Neither is money the deciding issue. The reasons I DIY are as follows:
    1. Being a handyman runs in my family. Many of my relatives on both sides of my family built and fixed things. My Dad, in particular, is an excellent handyman.
    2. As noted in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", there is value in having the kind of intimate relationship with your bicycle that can only come from maintaining it yourself.
    3. In many ways it is more convenient to do it myself. Taking my bike to the shop and picking it up a few days later I find much more disruptive than a few hours in the garage working on the bike. This can mean I perform time critical maintenance (like changing the chain) on time when I do it myself rather than putting it off until it has been too long when I take it to the bike shop.
    4. Sometimes I want to try something embarrassing that I don't feel like discussing with a LBS mechanic, like adding a rear cog a bit beyond the specs of my derailleur or adding a fork extender to raise my handlebars.
    5. Randonneuring is about self sufficiency. If one's bike breaks down during a brevet, one is expected to fix it. Maintaining my bike myself when I am not under pressure gives me the familiarity and practice I might need to be able to make repairs during a brevet.
    I guess I am at peace with what I do with regards to bicycle repair. I try very hard to be fair to my LBS. I don't "showroom" (look at parts in the LBS and then purchase them online.) When I want a new bike, I purchase it from my LBS. Once I decide something is a job for the LBS, I listen to their recommendations and don't quibble about price. I am currently of the opinion that what I do is, on average, fair to my LBS and the Houston cycling community but I am always open to changing my mind as new arguments or experiences require.

    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. This week continues the long plateau (lack of progress) seen in recent posts. Last week, I proposed two hypotheses for explaining this lack of progress:

    1. The progress leading up to day 145 was due to the weekly long rides I was doing to prepare for my May brevet. When I resume such rides to prepare for a November brevet, a resumption of progress will be seen. 
    2. I am training while tired, preventing progress. 

    In recent weeks, I have cut back on my training for a variety of reasons, so hypothesis 2 is looking less likely. I plan to increase my training in the weeks to come which should provide the final test.

    Saturday, September 7, 2013


    Illustration of how a herniated disk (shown in blue) can cause spinal nerve inflamation (shown in red). If this happens in the lower back, sciatica results. This picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

    It has been almost three weeks without a blog post, and I regret that very much. There are a number of reasons, including:
    • My wife and I were on vacation. We used this vacation to stay home and focus on some home improvement projects. I had hoped I would be able to continue with my posts during this vacation but...
    • The post I had planned for two weeks ago, a discussion of the virtues of working on my own bicycle as opposed to having this done at my local bike shop, turned out to be harder to write than I had expected, making it impossible to complete whilst home improving and whilst suffering from...
    • Sciatica.
    Although I have had sciatica for couple of years now, recently it has gotten significantly worse, and the pain is sufficiently distracting as to make it difficult to focus on anything, including this blog. Besides being an excuse, my sciatica might result in part from my cycling (see below), which if true, will dramatically impact my future cycling, making it a topic for this blog.

    As Wikipedia notes, sciatica is a symptom that can result from a number of diseases, it is not a disease in and of itself. The symptom of sciatica is shooting pain or numbness in the buttocks or rear of the leg caused by inflammation of the sciatic nerve. There are many diseases that can cause this inflammation, but the most common is when the disk that separates the bones of the spine herniates, causing it to pinch the sciatic nerve where it exits the spine to go into the leg (illustrated above). This herniation can itself be caused by a number of things, but in my case, the most likely cause is simply aging. Thus, it would be unfair to blame cycling for my sciatica. That said, once sciatica occurs, there are many things that can make it worse, such as poor posture, sitting incorrectly, standing too long, etc. In the best case, sciatica can be managed by over the counter pain medication and behavior changes such as sitting less, back supports, better posture, etc. I have never read that cycling aggravates sciatica, but my sciatica got dramatically worse immediately after my 200K brevet last May, a fact I noted at the time. Back then, my explanation was that this was a generalized effect of exhaustion, like the cold I got at the same time. As I have researched sciatica in order to manage it, however, another hypothesis has recommended itself, that the posture I assume when sitting on my bicycle might itself aggravate my sciatica. If this is true, what would have prevented me from noticing this immediately is that the behaviors which aggravate sciatica do not necessary hurt at the time; cycling would not need to be painful to be an aggravating factor. For example, I always feel fine while sitting, it's only later I notice my sciatica is worse. I am far from convinced this is the case for cycling, but it is one more thing I will be watching. In a week I will be riding 63 miles in the Tour de Pink, and a week after that, 65 miles in the Back Roads Century. If I notice my sciatica getting worse, I will consider cutting back on riding significantly to see if that reverses the effect. As always, I will report on progress in future posts.

    Next week I plan to finally post on do it yourself bicycle repairs vs the local bike shop.

    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.

    For weeks now I have been arguing that my MAF test results had plateaued, that they were not increasing. This week's graph is certainly consistent with that, but if you squint real hard, you might imagine that the last several results have been tending upwards. That could correspond to riding some longer rides (up to 50 miles) with my wife to get her ready for the Tour de Pink. Time will tell.