Friday, July 10, 2015

Deconstructing the Bible

...The Cyclist's Training Bible that is. (After all, this is a cycling blog.)

Between my restart of cycling in 2008 and when I started preparing for a brevet in 2012, I did no formal training whatsoever. (See the bottom of the post for a definition of brevet, as well as other terms.) I rode where I could, when I could, trying to ride more miles at a faster pace than I had in the past, but that was it. I first started formal training in 2012 to prepare for my first 200 kilometer brevet. I based my training on "The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling." The training schedule therein called for one brisk day a week, but all they said about what brisk meant was "riding faster than your century speed" (the speed at which I would ride a 100 mile ride.) My brisk ride was to ride as fast as I could for an hour, which more or less meant a 17 mile ride. Over the three plus years between then and now, I have done a lot of reading about and experimenting with training. At the beginning of this process, I was skeptical about the value of brisk workouts; my impression was that what got me ready for my first brevet were the weekly long rides. More recently, I have come to appreciate the value of a brisk ride, especially during the brutal Houston summers when long rides are difficult to complete. However, that appreciation raises the question of what constitutes an effective brisk ride?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might be wondering what I mean by "effective" about now. Effective for what? For months, I have been complaining that I had lost my focus, that I didn't know what I was training for. Ignore all that for the purposes of this post. Although life events have made it unlikely that I will be riding a brevet any time soon, I have been structuring my training based on the assumption that some day I will once again be attempting long rides. So, the training referred to in this post is training for long (100+ mile) rides.

Even before I began formal training, I rode some brisk rides on the Rice Track. In retrospect, I think I was more trying to figure out something to do with that track than thinking about training, but in any case, I hit upon the plan of riding 10 iterations of 1 fast lap, with each fast lap separated by a slow lap. Nobody recommended this particular pattern of intervals to me, I just made it up as something to try. After my first brevet, when I was experimenting with training, I tried, as my brisk ride, riding for 30 minutes as fast as possible; a 30 minute time trial. Joe Friel, author of The Cyclist's Training Bible (hereafter, The Bible) was the inspiration for that. He argued that heart rate training should be conducted in reference to one's lactate threshold, and the heart rate corresponding to lactate threshold could easily and accurately be determined by measuring one's average heart rate for the last 20 minutes of a 30 minute time trial. Thus, a training ride and a test ride became one and the same. Last summer, I spent some time riding with a friend who had his own ideas about training, and we did workouts consisting of a somewhat random mix of 1 minute, 3 minute, and longer intervals. When my friend stopped riding, my obsessive tendencies took over, and I converted this to a "pyramid" consisting of 1, 2, 3, 2, and 1 lap intervals. I suspect the details of how a brisk ride is done do not matter all that much, and John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach say as much in their book Distance Cycling:
" way of doing intensity work isn't better than another as long as you ride hard, get your heart rate up, and have a little fun..."
I suspect it doesn't matter, but I have this nagging feeling that if there is one wrong way to do it, a way that never even occurred to John and Dan, I might find it. Besides, during Houston's long, hot summer, I am trying to use brisk rides to partially substitute for the long rides, and maybe in this context it does matter. So I turned to my most trusted training author's definitive book, The Bible. When I previously blogged about The Bible, I concluded that, because I was so far from its target audience, it did not have much to offer me, but promised that I would keep an open mind. I also admitted in that post that this book was so vast I did not feel like I had mastered it, and further study suggests I was right. My progress in that endeavor is the subject of this post.

The Bible is written for bicycle racers (which I am not). A number of different strengths and skills are needed to win a bicycle race. You have to have Endurance to make it to the end of the race. You have to have Strength to keep up on the hills and mount an effective sprint at the end. And of course you have to be Fast. Joe Friel claims that these strengths can be summed up by three basic abilities; Endurance, Force, and Speed Skills, and three advanced abilities; Muscular Endurance, Anaerobic Endurance, and Power. I have no interest in sprinting, but I have an intense interest in Endurance and I do need to make it up any hills along the way, which requires Muscular Endurance. I probably have no need to ride anaerobically at all, but I do find it fun to be able to do this at the Rice Track, so Anaerobic Endurance seemed like something I might enjoy working on. I went back and looked at Joe's training suggestions as to how to increase these factors. In my first reading of The Bible, I gave the appendices short shrift; the length of the book had exhausted me by the time I got to them. That was a big mistake; the heart of this book is Appendix C, Workout Menu, in which Joe lists the specific training rides to be used to work on the various abilities. So this time I went to Appendix C to look for rides to work on Endurance, Muscular Endurance, and Anaerobic Endurance. Sadly, Joe says the only way to work on Endurance is long rides, so no help there. However, earlier in the book, he does suggest how I might make best use of my summer months; by using them for Reverse Linear Periodization.

Joe is a big fan of periodization. Bicycle racing is all about speed, so the normal cycle of periodization is to first build endurance, and then as the race season approaches, build speed on top of that. In his section on Periodization Alternatives, however, he talks about Reverse Linear Periodization, a model that "works best for athletes training for long, steady events such as century or even double-century rides." That's me! In the reverse linear periodization model, one first builds speed and then later builds endurance. This seems to be exactly what I am looking for. During the hot, summer months, I can work on speed, and then when the vagaries of life allow me to pursue longer rides, build endurance with a few, well chosen long rides.

So, at long last, this brings me to the point of the post. What training rides does Joe recommend for building speed (Muscular Endurance and Anaerobic Endurance)? To build Anaerobic Endurance, Joe recommends a pyramid of intervals, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2, and 1 minute, a scaled-up version of my most common brisk ride. Given my dramatically lower capabilities compared to Joe's target audience, I feel like I am right on target for this one. For building Muscular Endurance, he recommends something equivalent to the 30 minute time trial , which I am already doing, but also something he calls Cruise Intervals; 3 to 5 repeats of 6 to 12 minute intervals ridden at the boundary between Zones 4 and 5, with 2 to 3 minutes in Zone 2 in between. Again, my athletic potential is way below Joe's target audience, I need to scale this back to something I might actually be able to do. Also, it is easier for me to keep track of the intervals if I convert "minutes" to "laps on the Rice Track". So, what I thought I might try is 3 intervals, with each interval being 6 laps long, with a two lap rest between each interval. Based on what I have come up with for doing my other brisk workouts, I would start with 15 minutes in Zone 2 to warm up, and when the intervals were done, continue riding in Zone 2 for a total ride time of 45 minutes. (This is in addition to another 20 minutes each way, ridden in Zone 1, to get to and from the Rice Track.) Will this be something I can manage? Will it help my speed and prepare me for long rides in the future? Stay tuned.

Brevet: a long distance challenge ride, part of the sport of randonneuring. These come in distances of 200, 300, 400, 600, 1000, and 1200 kilometers, though only the shorter rides are an option for me. (These distances correspond to about 125, 185, 250, 370 and 750 miles.)

: A ride 100 miles (or for a Metric Century, 100 kilometers) in length.

Intervals: A training routine where you alternate between short, fast rides and easy rides during which you rest up for the next interval.

Time Trial: a bike ride where the rider rides alone to either ride a fixed distance as quickly as possible or ride as many miles as possible within a fixed time period.

Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3, Zone 4, and Zone 5: Levels of effort. I use my heart rate monitor to help me determine which Zone I am in. Zone 1 is very easy, Zone 2 fairly easy, Zone 3 somewhat hard, Zone 4 very hard, and Zone 5 is an all out sprint.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Agony of an Indoor Trainer

My bike set up on the trainer so I can use the TV to try and fight trainer boredom. This did not work. Note that my trusty Surly is sporting fenders from the 1970s. Unlike the TV&Trainer, these work very well.

" have to consider the mental factor of riding indoors. Even the most mentally strong individuals, will eventually reach a breaking point when riding inside.O’Brien Forbes, Your Indoor Trainer: To Use but Not Abuse,

Almost a year ago, I purchased a bicycle trainer. I blogged at the time:
So what am I doing about [my lack of enthusiasm for cycling in the summer]? ... I just bought myself a cycle trainer: I figure it is one more way to ride, a way not affected by weather. I have heard that these make the Rice Bike Track seem interesting by comparison so it is not a panacea, but I am hoping that every little bit helps.

So how is the cycle trainer working out? It has turned out to be far from useless, but equally far from what I hoped it would be. Since purchasing it, I have used it six times, my wife has used it once or twice, and my son used it quite a bit during his recent visit. (I will only be blogging about my uses.) Here are the problems:
  1. It is unbelievably boring.
  2. It is incredibly hot.
I purchased this trainer in response to my lack of enthusiasm for long rides during the hot, Houston summer. I was eager to try it out, so a few weeks after it arrived, in mid-July, I cranked up my air conditioning as low as it would go, and started riding. It was unbearably hot - hotter than if I just did a ride outside. The reason for this is that a bicycle ridden outside generates its own breeze that makes the temperature feel much cooler than it is; 70 degrees (Fahrenheit), indoors, on a trainer, felt hotter than 90 degrees, outdoors, in a cycling-generated breeze. I considered setting up a fan to generate an artificial breeze, but in the end, it was November before I tried the trainer again, this time, in the garage, with the doors open. The reason to ride the trainer then was that it was raining. If overheating was an issue for that ride, I did not record it in my training log. I rode again in January when it was raining and 40 degrees. This rather low temperature (for Houston) gave me the opportunity to experiment with temperature control. When I started warming up, I was quite cold, needing to wear sweatpants and a fleece jacket. As I increased my speed, my body temperature increased dramatically and I removed clothes until I was riding in shorts and a short sleeve jersey. When I slowed down at the end of the workout, my temperature dropped, and I found myself putting on the sweatpants and fleece again. To combat boredom, I played Toby Keith, which helped but did not completely eliminate the boredom.

I rode once more in January, but then it was March before I rode again. This time, I tried riding in front of the TV to see if I could create a tedium free ride. I am a huge TV addict, so I had a dream of turning my addiction into a force for good. Unfortunately, it didn't work. Although I did a relatively easy workout, the workout required enough of my attention so as to spoil the TV experience. I guess I will just have to rely on Toby Keith for boredom control. Although this ride was indoors, I opened doors and windows and relied on natural weather to keep the temperature down. The room was at about 65 degrees, which was much too hot, even for this easy workout. Later that month, I did a ride outdoors where it was 60 degrees, and noted this was about as hot as it could be for a reasonably comfortable ride on the trainer. From all these experiences, I estimate that at a moderate exertion level, my trainer is about 20 degrees warmer than the same ride on the road.

Kinds of Workouts

I have tried a couple of different kinds of workouts on the trainer. Of the six rides, two were moderately easy rides, holding my heart rate at the top of Zone 2, and four were some kind of intervals. For those that are interested in this kind of thing, I recorded my highest heart rate ever while on the trainer; 187 beats per minute. This is mostly interesting as a demonstration of how far my heart rate deviates from the average for a person my age (161 beats per minute), and, by example, how much people differ one from another.

Joe Friel recommends trainers as a good way to work on cadence, to learn how to spin the pedals as quickly as possible. To accomplish that, one would rider the trainer using a low gear and focus on pedal speed. This is something I hope to try in the future. Back when I was a kid, in the 1960s, there were not a lot of trainers around. Rather, people trained indoors using rollers:

Courtesy Wikipedia.
There are two major differences between rollers and a trainer:
  1. A trainer supplies resistance to the rear wheel so that one can mimic the effort of a ride on the road and get a relatively normal workout. Rollers have very little resistance. They can be used to build rhythm and smoothness (and are good for warming up), but not for building strength.
  2. A trainer holds the bike firmly in place, the rider has to do very little to keep the bike upright. On rollers, one is actually balancing the bike, just like on the road. It is actually a bit more difficult to stay upright on rollers than it is on the road because you are always at risk of steering off the sides of the rollers.
If I were to take Joe Friel's advice and work on my cadence, I would prefer to do so using rollers rather than my trainer. I simply find rollers more fun and natural feeling. Rollers are much less expensive than a trainer, less than $100 compared to over $300, so my wife notwithstanding, purchasing a set of rollers would be only a modest indulgence.

Trainer Review

The trainer I purchased, a Kinetic by Kurt Road Machine Fluid Trainer, comes highly recommended. I have had no troubles with the device and would happily recommend it to anyone. I do not find that it closely mimics riding on the road, rather, that it is an artificial-feeling experience. Specifically, riding on a trainer captures none of the joy of a bike ride. I do not know if other trainers would be better in this regard, but my intuition tells me that they would not. I think the whole concept of an indoor trainer "is what it is" and that this one does it as well as any, better than most.


I am not sorry that I purchased my trainer, but so far, it has been a pretty expensive way to get in a bit more training. It has been an utter failure as a solution to the problem for which I purchased it, a way to continue training during Houston's long, hot summers; I do not expect to use it again until well into next fall. That said, I hope to use it to solve a different problem. Next winter, I plan to use it when it is too cold or too wet to ride; to allow me to maintain a more even training schedule than I have managed during previous winters. Stay tuned to find out how that works.