Up until now, I had been setting my cycling goals based on what I wanted to do, more or less assuming that I would be able to devise a training regimen to allow me to reach those goals. I no longer believe that, so I have stood the paradigm on its head; I will determine what is possible, and then use that as a filter to select feasible aspirations.
The model I have developed based on my reading of the training literature is that there are a series of processes required to recover from the fatigue resulting from training, and that these different processes take very different amounts of time. Some recovery is completed in minutes, some in days, and some takes weeks or longer. Consider, for example, interval training. The time between intervals (minutes) allows me to recover for the next interval, but there are only so many intervals I can do in a day before I need some days for recovery, and if I train too hard week after week, my performance starts to decrease rather than improve, indicating a need for rest over weeks or months. My goal is to determine how much training I can tolerate and how much rest I need. In this discussion, I use the words form, fitness, and fatigue in the same way Joe Friel uses them.
I've read that two important factors in reaching a goal are:
- Making the goal specific.
- Having metrics for progress towards the goal.
In terms of making the goal specific, I plan to begin by measuring the impact of the training rides I do to improve my distance cycling on residual tiredness. I will begin with one of my standard rides known as the MAF test: 15 minutes warm up in heart rate Zone 1, 45 minutes in heart rate Zone 2, and 15 minute cool down such that I am at the low end of Zone 1 by the end. In terms of metrics, I will use resting heart rate and subjective feelings as my metric for fatigue. Although the primary goal of this experiment will be to measure fatigue, I will also record my speed during the 45 minutes in Zone 2 as a metric for increased fitness due to the training effect of the previous rides.
These particular experiments come from two observations I made just before taking my two week sabbatical:
- I found that, when done carefully, my resting heart rate measured in bed before getting up in the morning appears to be fairly reproducible. It is between 62 and 64 beats per minute (bpm) when I am well rested and have abstained from alcohol. When I am tired, my resting heart rate decreases. A heart rate of 60 bpm is a good indicator that I am not fully recovered from the riding of the day before, and anything below that is a strong indicator of significant fatigue.
- Two weeks ago, I did MAF tests on Monday and Tuesday. Monday morning before the first ride, my heart rate was 63 bpm. Tuesday morning after the first but before the second ride it was 60 bpm. Wednesday morning after two rides in two days it was 57 bpm. This suggests that it takes me more than 24 hours to recover from the fatigue generated by a MAF test.
The initial questions I will be asking are:
- Is my preliminary result from two weeks ago reproducible?
- How long does it take for my resting heart rate to return to normal? If I skip a day between MAF tests, is that sufficient?
- As an alternative to skipping rides on the days between MAF tests, I will test the effect of doing an active recovery ride, a 30 minute ride in Zone 1, on my rest day. How does my recovery after an active recovery ride compare to that after a rest day?
- What happens as I continue this routine? As I increase fitness, do I need less rest after a MAF test, or does tiredness accumulate so that I need more rest?
- If I find I need less rest after a MAF test as time progresses and my fitness increases, I will increase the length of one of my weekly Zone 2 rides at a rate of 10% a week. How will this affect my rate of recovery from fatigue (and increased fitness as measured in a MAF test?)
- I assume I cannot increase the length of my training rides indefinitely without experiencing fatigue that won't go away. One approach recommended to manage that is to not monotonically increase the length of the ride, but rather to increase for two or three weeks followed by a rest week. I will test this schedule as well.
I expect a lot of unexpected results from these experiments and as a result, I expect this plan to evolve. What will remain constant is the goal, to determine the effect of training on the body I have today. Stay tuned.