Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Alternatives to Periodization

I seem to be developing a "two in one" post style where the pictures in some of my posts tell a second story unrelated to the text, and today's post is an example of that. Today's pictures eulogize Bob Tetzlaff, one of the finest men I have known, an important figure in US bicycle racing in the 1960s, an all around good person, and an important influence on the Modesto Roadmen. The Modesto Roadmen worshiped Bob Tetzlaff and I would go out of my way to photograph him at the races we attended. In this picture, Bob Tetzlaff is the second racer from the left in a gold-colored jersey, one of his favorites.

This is the latest in my series of posts in response to the realization that my plans for randonneuring have been massively over-ambitious; I will not be ready for Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) in 2015, and unless something unexpected happens, not ever. Using the plan I have been following, it appears that the most I can hope for is to ride one 200K brevet a year. Worse, I am extremely exhausted after that brevet, not immediately but in the weeks following, to the extent that I worry it is harmful to my health.

So what is this plan have I been following? As readers of this blog know, I have been trying different plans over the last couple of years, but all are similar because they are all based on similar plans for preparing for a century ride (100 miles) which I then adjust for the slightly longer distance (124 miles) of a 200K brevet. What all these plans have in common is a weekly long training ride that gets 10% longer each week until it reaches length 2/3 to 3/4 of the goal, 66 to 75 miles for a century or 83 to 93 miles for a 200K brevet. In both 2012 and 2013 I used these plans to prepare for a 200K brevet, the shortest of the brevet series. Both years, I attempted to complete a second 200K brevet that year, and in both years, I succeeded at the first and failed at the second, leading me to the conclusion that one 200K brevet a year is my limit. Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Not liking these results and not wanting to be insane, I have resolved to try something different. But what? That is what I am currently trying to figure out.

This is Bob Tetzlaff racing in his US National Road Race Champion jersey. Besides being national champion, Bob was a member of the US Olympic cycling team in 1960 and 1968 and won a silver medal in the Pan American Games in 1963. Between being a very active and successful bicycle racer, a full time elementary school teacher, and a husband and father, he was obviously a very busy man. But he was not too busy to drive to Modesto as we were trying to organize the Modesto Roadmen to help us out and to go on a bike ride with us.

So, in reference to the title of this post, what does this have to do with periodization? I have previously discussed what I mean by periodization, and so as to avoid repeating myself more than necessary, let me, for the purposes of this post, define periodization as first building a base of fitness, next working my way up to a 90 mile training ride, then completing a brevet, and finally collapsing into exhaustion. It is to this which I am looking for an alternative.

A wonderful aspect of this blog is that, over this time, I have gotten lots of great advice from a number of different cyclists. One piece of advice on which I have yet to comment came from an anonymous poster who suggested the following:
training for a 125 mile ride you should do 50 mile rides consistantly. as in three 50 mile or longer rides a week. the old adage; you can ride 2.5 times farther than you are normaly riding
Would riding three 50 mile rides each week leave me more or less fatigued than one 90 mile ride? Even assuming it left me less fatigued, would I be as well prepared for for a 200K as I was in 2012 and 2013? Exploring this alternative seems intriguing, but for what it's worth, Joe Friel specifically advises against substituting multiple shorter rides for a single, weekly long ride. Practically speaking, between getting ready for, driving to, riding, driving back, and recovering from a 50 mile ride would take me all day. (The options for 50 mile rides starting from my door are limited, requiring the drive.) It would be hard for me to devote that much time to cycling three out of five weekdays each week. (Weekends are reserved for my wife.) For all these reasons, I have tentatively eliminated this plan as impractical. That said, what I like most about it is that it does not depend on an unsustainable leap to fitness, and I will try to incorporate that aspect into my training going forward.

We lost Bob Tetzlaff a couple of years ago. This photo is from his obituary that noted both his success as a bicycle racer but also that he was at least as well known as one of the finest elementary school teachers in his home town of Los Gatos, California, the kind of teacher that students idolize.

I have also been prowling the Internet for thoughts about periodization and the casual athlete, and came across an article entitled "Personal Trainers Shouldn't Periodize" that really resonated with me. It was written by a personal trainer whose clients were average adults who used his services to stay healthy or to lose weight; average, non-competitive folks like me. The article was written for other personal trainers to share the author's insight, that periodization simply doesn't work for people like us. The reason periodization doesn't work is that for most folks, athletics is secondary to every day life, and so carefully crafted periodization plans are interrupted by life events. This sounds like me. What this trainer came up with was a more flexible, modular approach that allowed easy adjustment when life impacts training. One example he gave was a client who had a family celebration coming up at which she admitted she planned to enjoy the food. In response, the trainer scheduled particularly demanding workouts before that event so that the overindulgence would go more towards muscle building and less towards fat. I don't see a way to use the specific modules designed by this personal trainer in my training, but I do see ways of applying his approach more generally. The generalization is that each week's training should be based on what is going on in my life at the moment as much as my long term strategy. For example, last week I was in California visiting family. I knew I was unlikely to be able to train much if at all for the six days of that visit.  In anticipation, the week before I trained harder than I would have otherwise, forgoing rest days and doing longer and faster rides. The logic is that, by doing this, my body would, to some extent, use the six day vacation to recover from my excessive training and to build rather than to lose fitness. Although it is impossible to be certain based on one experiment, I feel like this strategy worked in limiting the damage of the forced pause in my training.

In my next post, I will describe the training I have been doing the last couple of months and what conclusions I have drawn from it.

It has been over three weeks since my last post, but I hereby resolve to stop apologizing for late posts. I started this post in a timely fashion, but sometimes I find it difficult to organize my thoughts and words to complete a post, and today's post is an example of that. Rather than apologize, I will instead use that energy to push as hard as I can to post on schedule (once a week) as often I can.

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