Monday, March 31, 2014

K-Hounds On My Mind

Background on Randonneuring

If you don't know much about randonneuring, this section of the post is for you. If you do, skip ahead to the next section.

RUSA stands for Randonneurs of the United States of America. Randonneuring is a kind of recreational cycling focused on attempting the challenge of completing very long bicycle rides. Although the rides have to be completed within a fixed time, that time is fairly generous and the rides attempted by randonneurs are most definitely not races. Perhaps you have heard of a century ride, a 100 mile bicycle ride considered a rite of passage for some cyclists. The shortest brevet (what the rides of randonneuring are called) is 200 kilometers long or 124 miles and they go up from there. Regular readers of this blog know that I find it a challenge to complete one of these 200K brevets a year. Serious randonneurs do much more. There is no such thing as a standard season, but if there were, it would probably consist of at least one brevet a month with each year including at least one brevet of 200, 300, 400, 600, and 1200 kilometers in length. Besides the awards randonneurs receive for completing individual rides, there are additional awards for cumulative accomplishments. For example, completing a 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K brevet in the same year earns the "Super Randonneur" award and a rider who rides at least one brevet in each of 12 consecutive calendar months earns the R12 award. This post is about a new award introduced for 2014 called the K-Hound award, given for completing 10,000 kilometers of brevets in a year. Remember how I said I find it difficult to complete one 200K brevet a year? To earn the K-Hound award means averaging one 200K brevet a week. Final point: each and very member of RUSA is identified by a number. I am RUSA #7759 for example. RUSA #7560 is one of my fellow randonneurs, and as to why (s)he is the focus of this post, read on...

The K-Hound Award

As a member of RUSA, I always look forward to a new issue of our magazine, "American Randonneur." The Spring 2014 issue just arrived, and in it is the announcement of a new award, the K-Hound, given for riding at least 10,000 kilometers in RUSA sanctioned events in one calendar year. Although new as an official RUSA award, the K-Hound award has been around for a while and was invented in my home state of Texas. As noted above, I am a particularly weak member of the randonneuring community, struggling to complete a single 200K brevet a year, so the announcement of yet another award well beyond my reach is not that big a deal. What made it a big deal was how this award was announced, with stories from people who had earned this award before it became official.

RUSA # 7560

One story in particular caught my eye. The author chose to be anonymous, identifying himself or herself only by his or her RUSA number, #7560. What attracted me to this story is the similarity between it and mine. To quote:

I [was] 50, overweight, with high blood pressure... Things were dire on July 4, 2011 when a Walmart bike ... changed my life. Day by day, five miles at a time, the pounds slowly melted.

Change July 2011 to August 2008 and 50 to 60 and this is my story. However, from there, the stories diverge drastically:

  • In February of 2012, #7560 completed his first 200K brevet.
  • In May of 2012, I completed my first 200K brevet.

  • After this first brevet, #7560 discovered the R12 award.
  • Even before my first brevet, I planned it to be the first of twelve leading to my R12 award.

  • #7560's first brevet was the first of twelve leading to his/her R12 award.
  • I was unable to complete a second brevet for a year.

  • In his second year, #7560 completed two 600K brevets one week apart, his first 1200K brevet followed by weekly 200K or 300K brevets to earn his first K-Hound award.
  • In my second year, I barely managed to complete one 200K brevet and actively failed in my attempt to prepare for another 6 months later.

A final quote from RUSA #7650:

[I] went from couch potato to K-Hound in twenty-eight months, and really, I'm nobody special. I firmly believe anyone can do it.

I am awestruck at #7650's accomplishments. However, say as (s)he might that "anyone can do it," that has not been my experience. But why not?

What Am I Doing Wrong?

My previous post entitled "Stories We Tell Ourselves" is about how any given set of facts can be explained many different ways. One strategy we scientists employ to root out the truth in this situation is to list as many of these explanations as we can and then devise experiments to distinguishing between them. With that in mind, let me list some obvious explanations for why #7650 might have succeeded while I failed:
  1. I am too lazy or too timid. I could do it if I tried.
  2. I am training incorrectly.
  3. I shouldn't be training at all. Just ride.
  4. #7650 is 10 years younger than I am.
  5. Genes matter. Some people can do many long rides, others can't.
Regular readers of this blog will stare suspiciously at the above list, growling "Haven't we seen this list before?" Yes you have, or something like it. I am repeating it here for two reasons. First, I couldn't think of any easy way to refer to it without repeating it. Second, although I previously addressed these questions from a theoretical point of view, in this post, I would like to address them more practically; what are the experiments I could do to distinguish between them? As a professional scientist, I would have to say there are none; professional science frowns on experiments of one. However as a person living their life as best they can, I have no choice but to try. Given that, testing Explanation 1 is fairly straightforward; I would just go out each month and attempt a 200K brevet, no matter how my training had gone, no matter how I felt. I confess I find that prospect daunting, but this doesn't have to be an all or nothing experiment. What this line of thought inspires me to consider is to be a little more aggressive about just trying a brevet and see how it goes even when everything is not perfect.

I would like to consider Explanations 2 and 3 together because, to my eye, no training (Explanation 3) is just one extreme example of a training plan (Explanation 2.) No training is not as silly a plan as it sounds. In this same issue of "American Randonneur" is an article by Bill Olsen who rode every 1200K brevet offered in the Americas in 2013. He very deliberately did no training other than the 1200Ks themselves, even abandoning his daily bicycle commute to provide extra recovery time. (This makes the point that what "no training" really means that your training consists of the brevets themselves; no additional training might be a better way of saying it.)

Testing Explanations 2 and 3 is not so straightforward; there are too many possible training plans. I have been advised by various of my readers to train faster, to train slower, to train less, to train more, or to not train at all. I have previously reviewed various published training plans. There are many different training plans described on various web sites. Finally, based on my cycling as a teenager (a century ride most weekends, racing against members of the U.S. Olympic Team, a summer riding up and down the mountain passes of the Alps) I have my own ideas about training. Unfortunately, this results in way to many training ideas to try; I have no choice but to use my intuition to pick the ones that seem most plausible to try first. As regular readers know, I am already doing that. This experiment will continue, but I feel like I have already learned some things. Unsurprisingly, nothing I have learned has been a game changer. I feel like it is important for me to train regularly and sensibly, but the details of that training seem not to be all that significant.

I would also like to consider Explanations 4 and 5 together. They are very different in their causes and their implications for my past, but come to the same thing for my present and future. If I am too old to become a K-Hound or if I simply lack the genes for it, either way there is nothing I can do.

In my experience, being too old is more of an issue than it might seem to younger riders. In 1996, I went on a week long backpacking trip with the Boy Scouts at Philmont High Adventure Camp. I was 47 years old and arguably the strongest of the 6 scouts and 4 adults in our group. In 2003, I went on a week long backpacking trip with the Boy Scouts at Whitsett Sierra High Adventure Camp. I was 54 years old and arguably the weakest of the similarly-sized group. Age matters.

I also believe that genes matter. This is well documented in the training literature, but I would like to focus instead on some anecdotal evidence.  I began reading about randonneuring at least a year before my first brevet. I assumed I would, with reasonable preparation, be able to ride any brevet, including a 1200K (750 mile) grand randonnĂ©e. We cyclists like to document our cycling and so I avidly read as many ride reports by randonneurs I could find. The first chill wind to affect my confidence was one such report. This report by Jennifer Chang described her failed attempt to complete the Cascades 1200K in 2010; failed because to count as an official finish she would have had to complete it in 90 hours and took her, after many trials and tribulations, 90 hours and 25 minutes. This is a beautifully tragic piece of writing and I recommend it to everyone, but the one simple line in all this magnificent prose that chilled me to the bone was this one: "I don’t think I have the randonneur’s body."She didn't have a randonneur's body? There is such a thing? You mean, you can't do whatever you set your mind to? What if I don't have a randonneur's body?

Both explanations 4 and 5 are difficult to test experimentally except by process of elimination. If I try everything and nothing works, then that suggests that either due to age or genes, being a K-Hound is not in my future. In theory, this experiment will never finish because there is always something else to try. In practice, I'm afraid I already have the answer; I don't think I have the randonneur's body. However, the experiment will continue. Why not?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Stories We Tell Ourselves

I have been compulsively documenting my training experiments on this blog. At present, I do six different kinds of rides: MAF Tests, Pace Rides, Long Rides, Fast Rides, Social Rides, and Challenge Rides. The first four are "training" rides. I put the word "training" in quotes because it has too large a connotation of painful hard work and sacrifice; by and large I really enjoy my "training" rides. The fifth, the social rides, are easy rides my wife and I do together and I would not give these up for the world. Although these are my easiest rides, I believe they also contribute to my fitness. The challenge rides are rides like the Tour de Pink, the Back Roads Century, and brevets. They are done for fun, but also, as their name suggests, as a challenge: can I successfully prepare for and complete these rides? Not only are these rides fun in their own right, they make my "training" rides more fun by giving them a purpose: to get ready for the challenge rides.

Of all my training rides, the MAF Test has attracted the most criticism from my readers. It is a 45 minute ride (with another 45 minutes total of warm up and cool down before and after) ridden within Heart Rate Zone 2 on Joe Friel's Heart Rate Zone scale of 1 (slowest) to 5 (fastest). By comparison, my Pace Rides are about as long as my MAF test rides but are ridden significantly faster (perhaps Zone 3), my Long Rides are ridden at about the same speed as a MAF test or perhaps a little slower but are up to 6 or 7 hours long, and my fast rides are ridden as fast as I can go (Zone 4 to Zone 5) with anywhere from 6 to 30 minutes spent at this higher level of exertion. Thus, I view MAF Test Rides as relatively easy; strenuous enough to provide some training but easy enough to allow for recovery.

The criticism from my readers, if I understand it (a big if), is that I am underestimating the difficulty of my MAF Test rides. As a result, I experience no recovery on a day I ride a MAF test and if I do too many MAF tests, I am riding fatigued, which is harmful to fitness. The explanations of my critics as to why I am misled about the difficulty of my MAF Test rides vary, but include the following:
  1. My Heart Rate Zones are set at heart rates which are too high, so when I think I am riding in Zone 2 I am really riding in Zone 3.
  2. Due to chronic fatigue, my heart rate is no longer a good measure of my exertion.
I want to start by saying that I take the suggestions of my readers very seriously, even when I argue with them, and am constantly re-evaluating my training based on (among other things) these suggestions. That said, I have previously discussed these theoretical issues ad nauseam and so won't repeat my rationalizations for rejecting the above two assertions but rather want to come at this from a different angle. For reasons both deliberate and fortuitous, my training schedule has varied over the years. If I look at MAF Test results and compare them to those changes, will I see patterns that suggest MAF Test rides are relatively easy and allow for recovery, or will I see patterns that suggest MAF Test rides are causing me to over-train? Unfortunately, this approach is susceptible to "over-fitting", a technical term which describes the problem when you have too many ways of explaining things and too few facts. I might look at the results from my MAF Tests and tell one story while someone else might look at exactly the same ride data and craft a completely different one. In short, this whole post is a plunge down the rabbit hole of subjective nihilism. Unfortunately, I believe that this subjective nihilism is inescapable, so onward into the abyss.

MAF Test results (blue, in miles per hour, scale on the left side of the graph), wind speed (green, in miles per hour, scale on the right side of the graph), and cumulative training effort (red, in arbitrary units.) The gray line through the MAF Test results is the linear best fit trend line. The date of the MAF Test is indicated on the bottom of the graph, ranging between January 2 and March 20 of 2014.

The rather complex graph above is my usual MAF Test plot in blue overlaid with two other kinds of data. The green bars indicate the wind speed as reported by Yahoo Weather for the City of Houston on the days and times of the MAF tests. The red graph is my effort to indicate how hard I was training leading up to the MAF test. In Joe Friel's Training Bible, he suggests a metric of training volume which is calculated by multiplying the heart rate zone at which a ride is ridden times the hours the ride is long. Thus, a two hour ride in zone 3 would get a training volume of 6. To make this easier to look at and perhaps more meaningful, what I plotted was the average training volume for the week preceding the MAF test; the red line is that running average. So that I could talk about this graph, I marked five points on the graph with a 1, 2, or 3.

Story 1: Wind decreases MAF Test results

I begin with this story because it is simple, obvious, and hopefully uncontroversial. On a flat road, the biggest factor (by far) influencing bicycle's speed is wind resistance. The relationship between wind speed and bicycle speed is complex but I think it is not totally unrealistic to assume that the a headwind will reduce a rider's speed by at least the same amount that the equivalent tailwind will increase it. Consider a flat, out and back course, 17 miles long. On a windless day, I might be able to ride that in two hours, one hour to ride the 17 miles out at 17 miles per hour, one hour back. On a day with a stiff headwind going out which reduced my speed to 12 miles per hour, the most the tailwind coming back could help me would be to increase my speed to 22 miles per hour. At these speeds, it would take me 1.4 hours to complete the ride out and 0.8 hours the ride back for a total of 2.2 hours. As most experienced cyclists know, the damage a headwind does exceeds the benefit a tailwind provides. I ride my MAF tests on an oval course which is similar to this out and back course in that head and tailwind are present for an equal number of miles, and so I know that my speed on a windy day will be lower than on a still day. This is confirmed by the data on the above graph. In particular, the two rides marked by a number 1 show high winds and slow rides. To my eye, every day it is windy, there is evidence that my ride is slower than it would have been otherwise. Thus, when I have a slow ride on a windy day, my story is "Ignore that poor result, it is due to the wind."

Story 2: There is unexplained variation ("noise") in the MAF Test results

Although I believe that every windy day is a slow day, I do not believe every slow day is a windy day. Note the two rides on the above graph labelled with the number 2. The ride on the date 2/6 is clearly noise; it is a slow day but not a windy day. In addition, nothing about my training volume leading up to the ride explains this slow day. On the other hand, the ride done between 3/13 and 3/20 lends itself to two different explanations, and therein lies a story. Although this slow day cannot be explained by wind, note that a drop in training volume precedes this slow ride. In fact, I initially explained this slow ride by the fact it was preceded by three days in which life prevented me from riding; three days off the bike and my fitness was gone! However, upon reflection, it is obvious that it would be rash to jump to that conclusion, this slow ride could equally be due to noise. In short, the story I should not tell myself is "Taking off as few as three days completely destroys my fitness; I must never take off more than one day a week." Rather, the story I should tell myself is "Hm, a bad day. I wonder if it is just noise, or if it is due to missing three days of riding in a row? I will pay attention in the future and see if a pattern develops."

Story 3: The effect of daily MAF Tests on performance

Note the four rides around the number "3" on the graph above. Each one is faster than the one before. The story I am telling myself about these rides is that "If I ride three or more MAF Test rides in a row, I tend to get faster for each one. Apparently, riding back to back MAF Test rides is not harmful, and may be helpful." How can I justify that story given what I have just said about noise? Because, in this case, I did pay attention and a pattern did develop over time. I have been riding MAF Tests since December of 2012, and I went over all that data and found 14 times I did 3 or more MAF tests in a row. In 10 of those cases, the last MAF test was faster than the first. In only 2 cases the last MAF test was slower than the first, and in 2 others the first and last speeds were the same. The trend is clear; my performance improves when I ride back to back MAF tests.


The point of this post is not in the specific stories, I don't think they are all that novel. Rather, the point is that the stories we tell ourselves about our training are inherently ambiguous. In that context, there are many more players I could add to my stories. I have the impression I ride slower on cold days, maybe because the heavier clothing I wear on those days or maybe because of the effort required to stay warm. Maybe I ought to discount cold days the same way I discount windy days?  I keep a daily training log, and in that log I record a subjective measure of how fatigued I am feeling. Maybe if I quantified that subjective fatigue and included it on the graph, some of the "noise" might be explained? Maybe cause and effect take place over longer periods of time than I have considered. What if a slow ride is due to cumulative training effort not the days before a MAF test but weeks or months before? The problem is, each time I add a new player, the problem of "over-fitting" becomes greater; by bringing in the effect of more players, it becomes possible to explain anything and reach any conclusion I like. As a scientist, I deplore my efforts to be my own experiment of one. As a person living a real life in the real world, I realize I have no choice but to do just that. I certainly do not claim to be a philosopher, but the same necessity that drives me to be an experiment of one forces me to develop a philosophy for keeping my experiment of one from leading me astray. My feeling is that the application of skepticism, a heavy dose of common sense, and a willingness to reconsider and re-evaluate as necessary may be the key to moving the stories I tell myself from the category of fiction to that of non-fiction.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Training Update

As I have been discussing on and off since last October, I have found myself physically unable to participate in randonneuring to the extent I had hoped when I started a couple of years ago. I had hoped to ride a brevet a month, the super brevet series of 200, 300, 400, and 600 kilometer brevets, and a 1200 kilometer brevet. In fact, I find I can only ride a single 200 kilometer brevet a year. In previous posts, I have listed some possible explanations:

1) I give up too easily.
2) I have an illness.
3) I am training incorrectly.
4) More than one 200K brevet a year is simply beyond my capabilities.

Related questions I have been exploring include:

5) Can I use my resting heart rate as an indicator of fatigue to guide my training?
6) By monitoring my training results, can I define a better training strategy and/or better define my capabilities?
7) Given my limitations, what fun rides (brevet or otherwise) should I attempt?

Today's post is an update on these issues.

To put this discussion into context, I have not given up on randonneuring. I have renewed my memberships in RUSA (the national randonneuring organization) and Houston Randonneurs (my local randonneuring club) for 2014. On the other hand, I do not plan to maintain my tradition of a May 200K brevet, in part because Houston Randonneurs is not offering one in 2014. Here is their schedule:

The spring 200K brevet is in April this year. That combined with the fact that my training schedule is delayed relative to last year and my desire to try a training schedule that is more sustainable and less exhausting have caused me to decide to wait until the fall to attempt my next 200K. In fact, I still consider myself in recovery mode from the 2013 season so I feel like this delay is a good thing.

The first question, do I give up too easily, is almost completely subjective. Considering it subjectively, I am convinced this is not the problem. The problem I am confronting is not that I fail to attempt or complete a brevet, but that when I do complete one, it leaves me so exhausted I cannot ride another for several months.

The second question, if I have an illness, I proposed to address during my annual physical examination, and that I have done. In every way that is relevant to cycling, I am in perfect health. I directly addressed my randonneuring concerns to my doctor and the results were rather comical. "You are complaining to me that you find it hard to ride 130 miles on your bicycle?" he said incredulously. "That is not a health issue. Not being able to walk up a flight of stairs is a health issue. My advice to you is, if you find it difficult to ride 130 miles, ride 65 miles." Humor aside, my clean bill of health eliminates illness as the explanation for my randonneuring limitations.

The remainder of my questions and thus the remainder of this post has to do with my training and my intrinsic limitations. It is my understanding that proper training results from riding up to the limit of one's fatigue but not beyond. To that end, it would be extremely valuable to have a clear and simple measure of fatigue. One that is often proposed is resting heart rate, and thus my question number five, can I use my resting heart rate as a measure of my fatigue? I have been attempting to do this since the end of last August, and as of today, I am sad to say I believe I cannot. Traditionally, fatigue is signaled by an increase in resting heart rate, and I quickly convinced myself that this does not happen with me. However, I thought I saw hints that the reverse was true, that for me, fatigue might be signaled by a decrease in resting heart rate. This seemed plausible given Joe Friel's assertion that such a reversal is common in older cyclists, but I now think what I saw was a statistical coincidence. Comparing six months of resting heart rate measurements with the intensity and volume of my cycling and with my subjective impressions of fatigue show no correlation whatsoever. I will continue to record my resting heart rate in case a pattern develops in the future, but at present, I find nothing in this measurement I can use.

This leaves me with four related questions; what are my limits, how should I train, what data can I collect that will help me plan more effective training, and what data can I collect that will help me define my limits? The one result that seems to have consistently tracked with my ability to ride a brevet are the results of my Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) tests. A MAF test is both a training ride and a measurement of fitness. The test itself consists of riding for 45 minutes on the bicycle track at Rice University, keeping my heart rate between 130 and 140 beats per minute (BPM), a heart rate range which for me corresponds to Zone 2 (of 5) as defined by Joe Friel. This also corresponds to moderate exercise (as opposed to light exercise or vigorous exercise) as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine. Thus, from a training perspective, this is an easy ride. In addition to the 45 minutes of the test, I also spend 20 to 25 minutes each warming up for the test and cooling down from it, for a total riding time of about 1½ hours. The result from this test is my average speed during the 45 minute ride which has varied between 12 and 17 miles per hour (MPH.) Some of this variation is due to wind or other random factors, but on average, my speed in a MAF test corresponds to my level of fitness. I first began these tests in December of 2012, after my failed attempt at a second 200K brevet in 2012 and in preparation for a successful 200K brevet in 2013. I now have over a year of data covering my successful preparation for the May 2013 brevet, my unsuccessful attempt at a November 2013 brevet, a rest period after that attempt, and a resumption of training. I will now go through that data, drawing what conclusions I can.

Period 1: Successful Preparation for a 200K Brevet

MAF test results, December 2012 through May 2013. The blue dots connected by thick blue lines are the actual results. The thin grey line is a best fit straight line showing that, despite the ups and downs, on average, the results are increasing. The red arrows mark transitions in my training regimen. From left to right, the first arrow marks when I went from riding only MAF tests to when I added one 30 to 40 mile long ride each week. The second arrow marks when I began a 10% a week ramp up of mileage of the weekly long ride from 40 miles to 90 miles. The third arrow marks when I rode my 200K brevet.

Prior to the time shown on the graph above, in October of 2012 I realized I would not be able to ride a 200K brevet in November, so I spent the month of November resting, averaging only 2 rides and 40 miles a week, with one period of almost two weeks with no rides. In December, when the chart begins, I began riding MAF tests, averaging about four MAF tests a week. In addition, I rode an average of one social ride a week for an average of 80 miles per week. In mid-January, indicated on the graph by the first red arrow, I began substituting one longer ride (30 to 40 miles) for a MAF test each week which along with continuing the remaining MAF tests and social rides averaged about 130 miles per week. Starting in March (the second red arrow) I started increasing the length of the long ride at 10% a week, from 40 miles to 90 miles, with my longest weekly total being 180 miles. Looking at the data, one might argue that results didn't start improving until I added the weekly long ride, but overall, it seemed like the scores increased over this training interval which successfully lead to my completing a brevet.

Period 2: Unsuccessful Preparation for a Second 200K Brevet in 2013

MAF test results, May 2013 through December of 2013. The blue dots connected by thick blue lines are the actual results. The thin grey lines are drawn by hand; they are my "eyeball" estimate of the "trend" of the MAF test results. The red arrows mark transitions in my training regimen. From left to right, the first arrow marks the end of my rest period after my May 2013 brevet. The second arrow marks when I made a change in training plans. The third arrow marks when I abandoned my attempt to complete a second brevet and began a two month long rest period.

After my May brevet, I took a five week break. In retrospect, that "break" was unfortunately vigorous, perhaps contributing to the failure of subsequent training. I averaged 3 to 4 rides a week and averaged 75 miles per week (both almost twice that of the previous rest period.) Also, I was ill during part of this period; in my opinion, the period of that illness should not count as rest. Finally, for personal reasons, I participated in one rather hard ride during that "rest", 50 miles at high speed. The end of that "rest" period is marked by the first arrow on the graph. Whether my reduction in MAF test scores is due to reduction in training, illness, or fatigue I won't even guess. My training between the first and second arrows was similar to that between the first and second arrows on the previous graph; three to four MAF tests a week, one long ride of about 35 miles a week, and one to two social rides a week. Between the times indicated by the second and third arrows, I both experimented with a change in training and began a 10% per week increase the mileage of my long ride, ending when I was able to complete an 80 mile long ride but not a 90 mile long ride. What I noted at the time and still find provocative is that, unlike on the previous graph, there was no increase in my MAF test scores during this time. My suspicion is that this reflects chronic fatigue remaining from the training for and riding of the previous 200K brevet. The rest phase at the end of this graph, the start of which is marked by the third arrow, was much more of a rest than the one at the beginning, averaging 2.2 rides and 42 miles per week and including a 19 day period with no bicycling whatsoever. I am assuming that the rapid drop in MAF test scores during this period reflect the reduction in training perhaps aggravated by persistent fatigue.

Period 3: Resumption of Base Training

MAF test results, January 2014 through February 2014. The blue dots connected by thick blue lines are the actual results. The thin grey line is a best fit straight line showing that, despite the ups and downs, overall, the results are increasing. The red line with arrowheads marks a six day period of no cycling due to family travel.

My inability to ride a second 200K brevet in November of 2013 left me extremely discouraged, and when my MAF test results plummeted thereafter, that only added to the discouragement. Honestly, I was tempted to hang up the bike and forget the whole thing. One thing that kept me from doing that was that I knew that I needed to keep exercising to maintain my health, and that cycling was by far my favorite form of exercise. Thus, to cope with my despair, I put my head down and started a mindless routine of joining my wife in her bicycle ride to work, turning off at Rice University, riding a MAF test, and then riding home. By getting my ride out of the way first thing, by coupling it with time with my wife, and by engaging in an activity with a metric to measure my improvement, I developed enough enthusiasm to keep going. Some days when the weather makes an early morning ride less than delightful, I wait until it is warmer or the rain has let up and do a 20 mile ride along Braes Bayou not wearing a heart rate monitor. For these rides, I try to ride fairly fast, faster than a MAF test. I have no particular reason for riding at higher speed except that I find it enjoyable, but in retrospect I do feel it has helped my fitness. Depending on the weather, other plans, how much riding I have been able to do in the past, what riding I expect to be able to do in the future, and how I am feeling, I decide on a Bayou ride, a MAF test, or a rest day. Over the period of this graph I have averaged 5 rides and 84 miles per week. Despite its randomness and roots in despair, this schedule seems to be working rather well, at least as judged by MAF test results. My rate of improvement is much faster than it was a year ago, suggesting that I am getting better as a cyclist over the long run, a delightful surprise.

One last observation: when I realized that I would be missing six consecutive days of cycling due to a family trip, I became concerned about losing fitness. I tried to minimizing that by riding as hard as I could just before the trip and resuming training as soon as possible afterwards. I don't know how important these adjustments in my training were, but for whatever reason, I seem to have lost no discernible fitness from this pause in training, a result I find encouraging to say the least.

Conclusions and Future Plans

I now believe that my inability to ride more than one 200 kilometer brevet a year is some combination of my personal limitations (due in part to my age) and some training errors, obvious in hindsight, that caused me to become too fatigued and prevented me from recovering from that fatigue. Assessing my fatigue at various points during my training turns out to be essential. Unfortunately, my resting heart rate is not useful for that so far as I can tell. I have found only two tools, both subjective, for assessing my fatigue and I think I need them both. The first and obvious one is listening to my body. The second, critical one is past experience. The problem I have with brevets is not so much being able to ride them, but the state I am in afterwards. Listening to my body does not help in this case and that's where past experience becomes important.

Should I or should I not ride more 200 kilometer brevets in the future? Should I or should I not try some longer brevets? These remain questions for the future. The absence of longer rides from my current training schedule makes it inadequate preparation for 60 and 70 mile rides, much less a 200 kilometer (124 mile) brevet, and so as the weather improves and my fatigue continues to wane I will be adding a weekly long ride. What I will not do is what I did in 2012 and 2013, engage in a weekly 10% increase in the length of that ride. My experience tells me that leaves me exhausted. Rather, I will try for a sustainable long distance ride. An experiment I will try to that end, based on an idea from Joe Friel's Training Bible, is to wear a heart rate monitor for these rides. What I expect to happen is that when I first start these rides, I will observe decoupling; either my heart rate will go up or my speed will go down towards the end of the ride. I will continue riding the same distance until decoupling disappears before increasing the distance. Will decoupling in fact disappear? How long can I make this ride before that stops happening and I have to reduce the distance back to where there is no decoupling? I believe I may be able to use these facts to develop a better, more sustainable training regimen and to better determine which brevets (if any) I should attempt.