Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Progress Report: Braes Bayou East

I am addicted to the Rice Track for my daily rides. The Rice Track is located in the middle of the Rice Football Stadium parking lot which means that during football season, the track is frequently unavailable, the space being used for parking. Thus, one day last October I showed up at the track only to find that it was closed. In the past, I would have ridden through the Medical Center to Braes Bayou, and headed west on that bike path for an alternative to riding the track. However, as is shown in the picture above, that trail was closed, so I tried going east. I haven't been going east due to gaps in the trail requiring riding on some nasty dirt stretches, and furthermore, the last time I tried, the trail heading east was closed, but due to lack of other options, I had no choice but to try.

On the left, the dirt trail before it was paved. The picture fails to capture how steep and treacherous this trail was. On the right, the same section of trail after paving.

Turning east onto the Braes Bayou trail, I was delighted to find that not only was the trail open, but that all of the dirt stretches had been paved! Thus, I headed east, albeit with some apprehension; a flood several months earlier had washed out a bit of the trail near the end. I reached the washed out section to find it still in need of repair. I followed the official detour, which required some backtracking, in that I had ignored the upstream detour sign to check out the washed out section for myself. On my way back to the detour, a young woman on a bicycle passed me heading the other way. I briefly considered calling out to her, warning her of the detour, and then decided that discretion was the better part of valour. As I proceeded along the other side of the bayou, I kept watching for her to turn around. Instead, I saw her disappear and then reappear farther down the trail, past the washed out section. Clearly, there was another, shorter detour, and I resolved to find it. The next day, riding essentially the same route, I did. By riding a few blocks on the street, it is easy to bypass this missing bit of trail.

If you look carefully, you can see how flood-induced erosion caused this section of the trail to collapse. The sections of concrete are tilted and disconnected one from another, rendering this bit of trail truly unrideable.

Starting from home, the trail heading east is shorter than the trail heading west. In an effort to extend my ride, I continued past my normal turn around point and continued into McGregor Park. For the past few years, I had avoided this extension because the old paved trail had been torn up as part of park repairs, leaving only a gravel detour. However, in addition to wanting to add a few miles, I was curious about a trail that supposedly extended past the park, but which I had never been able to find, so on I went. Imagine my delight to find that the trail through the park had been upgraded to a new, wide, smooth concrete trail.

A section of the resurfaced trail on Braes Bayou east of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Up to the truck is the nice, new concrete trail which ends just past the truck. When completed, this will be a nice trail indeed. Unfortunately, this resurfacing closed down a lower quality but rideable trail, reducing cycling opportunities in the short run.

The east end of McGregor Park is defined by Martin Luther King Boulevard. A new branch of Houston's light rail system now runs down the center of that road, making it difficult to cross to the other side, which is where I hoped to find the trail extension. So, I turned right, moved to the left lane, did a U-turn at the first intersection, and headed back the way I came, a less than perfect solution. When I got to where I hoped to find a trail, I found it but also found that it was closed, that it was in the process of being rebuilt. The bad news, no trail extension, no more miles. The good news, the new trail will go under Martin Luther King Boulevard, obviating the difficult crossing, and promises to be as nice as the trail through McGregor Park. Also, there are indications from the City of Houston that this new trail may extend further down Braes Bayou, closing some gaps along the way. The dream is to have this trail extended all the way to the Ship Channel, which is the extension of Buffalo Bayou. Although there would be more gaps to fill, ultimately this could connect the Braes Bayou Trail with the Buffalo Bayou Trail and thus to the White Oak Bayou trail, creating over 40 miles of continuous trails along Houston's Bayous.

In the lower left corner can be seen a small bit of the new concrete trail through McGregor Park. Just above and to the right can be seen the start of a new trail that branches off and goes under Martin Luther King Boulevard. On the other side of the Bayou can be seen what looks to be a dirt path but in fact is the beginning of another new paved trail.

All of this new trail construction is exciting and wonderful, with the one reservation that it seems to frequently involve tearing up existing trails, trading current biking opportunities for future ones. Along those lines, the thing I saw on this ride that was most discouraging was a series of "Trail Closed" signs, not on the trail, but next to it, suggesting that closures of this, my trail of last resort, were imminent. In my next post, I will tell you how that played out, but, spoiler alert, my next post is about the west end of the Buffalo Bayou trail. Finally, two posts from now, I will discuss how Bike Houston, our bicycle advocacy group, is working with the City of Houston to better manage this conflict between present and future cycling infrastructure. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Bike Plan Pep Rally

I miss most of the social rides here in Houston because I am on a reverse schedule. Most rides are before or after work or on the weekend to accommodate working cyclists. As a retired cyclist with a working wife, I am free during the work day but spend other times with my wife and am not available for rides. Thus, I was very excited when the Bike Houston, the main cycling advocacy group here in Houston, was having a bike ride and rally during the working day when I could attend.

Headquarters of Bike Houston, start of the ride

Granted, this was not really a social ride. Rather, it was a political rally to encourage the Houston City Council to adopt the Houston Bike Plan, a "guide for the City of Houston to achieve the vision of making Houston a safer, more accessible gold-level bike-friendly city within 10 years." The City of Houston Planning & Development Department in coordination and cooperation with a number of other city departments, funding agencies, and cycling advocacy groups developed the plan, which now needs to be passed by the Houston City Council. Its passage is far from a sure thing; some members of the City Council feel that the development described in the plan is a waste of money and oppose it, thus this ride and rally.

Start of the ride. Note the dress and demographics. Tattoos are visible upon close examination. Photo taken by the Houston Press.

This event consisted of three parts. The first part was a symbolic ride beginning at the Bike Houston headquarters, picking up riders along the way representing different constituencies, and meeting up with additional advocates outside Houston City Hall. The second part then began, a rally on the plaza in front of Houston City Hall. Finally, some members of the group then went inside to participate in a public meeting of the Houston City Council to speak on behalf of and otherwise show support for the Bike Plan. I participated in the first two parts.

On the road. The woman on the right in the turquoise shirt is Mary Blitzer of Bike Houston who lead the ride. Photo taken by the Houston Press

The symbolic ride was just over 2 miles long, was ridden very slowly, and featured multiple stops in service to its symbolic mission, and barely qualified as a ride. However, I chose to ride from home to Bike Houston, and then from City Hall back home, giving me a 15 mile ride, nothing special but not a complete loss from a riding perspective. That said, I could have easily had a much better ride had I not chosen to participate, so why did I? Partly to support the Houston Bike Plan; the more people who were on the ride, the more people at the rally, the clearer a signal that is sent to City Hall. But the bigger motivating factor was curiosity; despite having been a Bike Houston member for two years, I had no idea who these folks were. I wanted to meet them and see what one of their rides looked like, even if it was an atypical ride.

To help show the range of riders who benefit from the plan, these riders are on B-Cycle bikes, the bike share program in the city of Houston. Photo taken by the Houston Press.

I was quite nervous leading up to the ride. In the first place, Bike Houston headquarters is located in a neighborhood named "Midtown" located just southwest of downtown Houston, a neighborhood which is a bit difficult to reach by bicycle because getting there requires riding on some busy streets. Even after extensive route planning, I remained nervous. In the second place, and I know how silly this sounds, I worried as to the proper attire for the event. Riding with the Houston Randonneurs or the Houston Bike Club, the traditional brightly colored lycra road cycling gear is in order, but for this political demonstration, would street clothes be expected? I ended up wearing cycling clothes, selecting a jersey from a charity ride and baggy shorts as something of a compromise. When I got to Bike Houston, I found that I was well outside both the dress code and demographics; the very young crowd favored baggy urban wear and visible tattoos. There were one or two other riders dressed more like I was, but we were the distinct minority. As best I could tell, though, nobody cared. About 30 of us left Bike Houston Central and headed off to City Hall. In the lead was an electric-assisted cargo bike ridden by Mary Blitzer, Manager of Community and Government Relations for Bike Houston, pulling a trailer-mounted "white" memorial bike to remind the City Council of the life and death stakes of the Bike Plan.

Proof I was actually there. On the left is John Long, Executive Director for BikeHouston and on the right is The Zombie himself. Two of the activities featured at the rally were to have riders fill out cards expressing their support for the plan, which I am holding, and to have their picture taken inside this frame. This picture was provided by Bike Houston. I can no longer find the site on which it was shared.

So how was it? What did I accomplish? It is too early to know, if we ever will, what was accomplished. As of this writing, almost a month after the ride and rally, the Houston City Council has still not adopted the bike plan, but who knows what that means? Do events like this have any impact? Honestly, I have no idea. As to how it was, I am very glad I participated. Firstly, had I not confronted my trepidation and just done it, I would have been disappointed with myself. Secondly, whether it ended up mattering or not, at least I did something to support cycling in Houston. Thirdly, I got to know the Bike Houston demographic; despite talking to virtually nobody, I feel like I made some friends, in a creepy stalker kind of way. If I ever encounter another opportunity to ride with this crew again, I'd jump at it. All in all, quite the success from my point of view.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Quantitating Intensity

My experience riding at different intensities. HR Zone (Heart rate zone) was related to BPM (Heart Rate in Beats Per Minute) as described in Joe Friel's "Cycling Training Bible." BPM and MPH (Speed in miles per hour) were measured using a Garmin Edge cycle computer and heart rate monitor. Power (in Watts) was estimated from speed using the website at Four intensity models were compared: RPE (Relative Perceived Exertion) was based on my subjective RPE estimated as described in Thomas Chapple's "Base Building for Cyclists". RNP (Relative Normalized Power) was calculated from my Power estimate as described in the text below. Similarly, calculation of HR (heart rate) is described in the text as well. The final column, labelled Gillen et al., used the heart rates for Moderate and Vigorous exercise as well as their relative intensities from the Mayo Clinic website and the relative intensities of Moderate vs. Intense exercise from the Gillen et al. paper. Based on the description of Intense exercise in that paper, I determined that it corresponds to HR Zone 5c. All intensity estimates in the final four columns were normalized to the intensity of a ride in HR Zone 2.


I have spent more time on this blog post than any other I have written, and thus it is discouraging that this is also the post about which I am most uncertain. Preparing this post took so much time because of the amount of reading and thinking it required. My uncertainty comes from the fact that I argue that the entire exercise community is wrong about how to measure intensity, and I have very little standing from which to make such an extravagant claim. So, after all that apologizing, what is intensity?

Bicycle rides can be characterized by volume (e.g. how many hours a ride lasts) and intensity (e.g. how fast the ride was, all things considered.) Together, these factors determine load1, how much the ride improves fitness and causes fatigue. These two things are not necessarily the same, so for the purposes of this post, I am going to consider only how intensity affects fitness.

Volume seems like it should be relatively simple to measure and understand, even quantitatively; it would seem logical that a two hour ride would have twice the volume of a one hour ride. However, it is not certain that the second hour of a ride provides the same fitness benefit as the first did2, perhaps it provides more benefit, perhaps less. However, most coaches assume that, for the purposes of measuring volume, the first and second hours are equivalent, and for the purposes of this post, so will I. If quantifying load is problematic, quantifying intensity is much more so. In the first place, there are many different things people measure to get at intensity; speed, power, and heart rate for example. In the second place, there are many different ways people calculate intensity from such measurements. It seems obvious that a 20 MPH bike ride is more than twice as hard as a 10 MPH bike ride, but how much harder?

Measuring Intensity

In addition to speed, power, and heart rate listed above, the volume of oxygen that is used per minute (VO2), the level of lactate in the blood, and relative perceived exertion have also been used as measures of intensity. Relative perceived exertion is the subjective measure of how tiring a ride feels and turns out to be a very useful measure despite its subjectivity. Speed is relatively easy to measure but is affected by hills, wind, type of bicycle, etc. Power is conceptually similar to speed except that it requires an expensive ($500 to $1,000) power meter to measure and is not affected by hills, wind, type of bicycle, etc., so is easier to interpret. In addition, it takes more than twice the power to go 20 mph than it does to go 10 mph, so power may come closer to reflecting intensity than does speed.

In contrast to speed and power which measure what is happening externally (to the bicycle) some of the other measures determine what it happening internally (to the cyclist). Heart rate is one such measure. Compared to power, heart rate can be measured inexpensively, $50 will purchase a perfectly adequate heart rate monitor. It is my impression that heart rate (beats per minute or bpm) is the most common way endurance athletes measure effort (with the possible exception of relative perceived exertion.) It is important to note that different measurements are, in fact, measuring different things. Heart rate, besides estimating load on the heart itself, seems to integrate a wide variety of bodily stressors, things such as heat, cold, fear, fatigue, etc. Blood lactate may be the best measure of fatigue of the leg muscles themselves, especially as they go anaerobic. VO2 measures the extent to which leg muscles are using their aerobic energy system.

How do the experts quantitate ride intensity? In "The Cyclist's Training Bible", Joe Friel suggests assigning a subjective "hardness" to each training ride, a number between 1 and 10, and to use that as a measure of intensity, a measure similar to Relative Perceived Exertion. As a (preferred) alternative, Friel recommends a software package, TrainingPeaks, which (among other things) estimates intensity. Based on what I read on the TrainingPeaks website, I believe the measure of intensity they use is Relative Normalized Power (RNP). The Power part of that is straightforward; it is what is measured by a power meter. The Relative is necessary because generation of 200 watts of power might represent much more intensity for me than it does for you. To make power relative, the power of a ride is expressed as the ratio of that power to Functional Threshold Power, the power used in a 30 minute time trial. Normalized means that the power is averaged over a training session. In "Base Building for Cyclists", Thomas Chapple recommends using Heart Rate Zone as a measure of intensity; a bike ride ridden in Heart Rate Zone 5 would have five times the intensity as one ridden in Heart Rate Zone 1.

To me, all of the measures of intensity discussed above seem arbitrary; there is no rationale given for why intensity should be proportional to subjective feel, heart rate, or power. When I researched the issue, I was unable to find any evidence in support of any of these. The only experimental data I have found that speaks to intensity measurement is Gillen et al. (which I have previously blogged about not once but twice) and Gillen et al. gives a very different estimate of intensity than do any of the expert-recommended measures. According to this paper, 1 minute of high intensity exercise (HR Zone 5c) provides the same benefit as 45 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (HR Zone 2.) As an intermediate point, the consensus of the medical community is that 1 minute of vigorous exercise - HR Zone 4 - is equivalent to 2 minutes of moderate exercise - HR Zone 2. All of this is summarized in the table at the top of this post. In contrast, the metrics suggested by Friel and Chapple suggest that high intensity intervals (HR Zone 5c) has 3 to 4 times the intensity as moderate exercise. Thus, Gillen et al. disagrees significantly from the consensus of the exercise community.

Is it reasonable to override the opinions of highly experienced and successful coaches like Friel and Chapple based on a single scientific publication? Normally, I would be reluctant to do so, but in this case I suspect that, if pressed, Friel and Chapple would not cling to their estimates, and thus I am inclined to go with Gillen et al. There are two reasons I think Friel and Chapple may not be wedded to their metrics. The first is that, in the context of their books, these metrics are mentioned only once and in a rather off-hand manner; they do not constitute a significant part of any training plans. The second is that if you look at the high intensity interval plans that Friel suggests (Chapple's book only covers base training and thus contains no high intensity intervals), the length and number of repeats of these intervals is more consistent with the higher estimate of their intensity provided by Gillen et al. than it is with Friel's own metric. I suspect that neither Friel nor Chapple use the intensity calculations from their books to design training schedules for their clients. Rather, I would suggest they draw upon their experience and introduce rides of different intensity when their experience tells them their clients are ready for them.

The Value of Intensity Quantitation

If experienced coaches like Friel and Chapple don't feel a need for an accurate measure of intensity, why should we? For the purposes of training (which is what Friel and Chapple care about) I suspect we don't. There are so many factors affecting training (e.g. illness, stress at work, person to person variation) that it would still be necessary to constantly adjust training plans even if there were an accurate measure of intensity. Is it possible that at the highest levels of the sport, the Tour de France or the olympics for example, an accurate metric for intensity would allow coaches to bring elite athletes to a slightly higher peak of performance? Perhaps, but I am not even certain of that. My interest is more in the science, the understanding of how exercise affects our bodies. In fact, the impetus for this post was a paper by Stöggl and Sperlich.

The Stöggl and Sperlich publication argues in favor of polarized training, a training plan that emphasizes training at either very high intensity or very low intensity and minimizes training at moderate intensity. To provide evidence for that generalization, they compared four training plans that varied in the percentage of time spent at different intensities, and found that the plan that was the most "polarized" was the best. I wondered if there could be explanations other than polarization as to why the "polarized" plan did the best. For example, it is broadly accepted that training plans can be too easy, too hard, or just right. Without knowing a great deal more than I do about the athletes participating in the study, it is impossible to know where in that spectrum any specific plan falls, but conceptually, it should be possible to see if the four plans are equally hard, or if some are harder than others. However, when I attempted to determine this back then, I found that I could not because I did not know how to compare intensities. Have I now gotten past that barrier? As noted at the top of this post, I am very uncertain of the metric for intensity I am proposing here, but that said, I will answer with a hearty "maybe." To answer this question, I first converted their LOW, LT and HIGH levels of exercise to HR zones3, translated the description of the different protocols in Stöggle and Sperlich into a list of how many minutes of exercise at each HR zone each protocol contained. Using intensities of 1 for Zone 2, 2 for Zone 4, and 45 for Zone 5c, I converted this to a total load for each protocol. These were then normalized such that the lowest intensity protocol had a score of 1. The result was that THR (lactate THReshold, exercise at time trial pace) had a relative load of 1, HVT (High Volume Training, long slow miles) had a relative load of 2, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training, all out sprinting) had a relative load of 3, and POL (POLarized training, a mix of all out sprinting and long slow miles) had a relative load of 5. Thus, the benefit of the different protocols was related to their intensity, the more intensity, the greater the benefit. Perhaps it is this higher intensity, rather than polarization, that made the POL plan the most beneficial.


I opened this post by apologizing for having the presumption to question the accumulated wisdom of the exercise community, given that I have very little standing from whence to do so. That said, I stand by my conclusions, at least in general. The reason I think the exercise community has gotten this wrong is that quantitative intensity is rarely used, and thus coaches and athletes don't notice how wrong current estimates are. Rather, workouts are designed based on experience and adjusted based on the subjective feelings of the athlete, both approaches which I agree are highly successful. The only time quantitative intensity matters is in a research study, where these two pillars of success are, by necessity, ignored. So, although an accurate estimate of intensity may not be necessary for day to day training, it may be necessary for research on training, and that research has a lot to offer the exercise community in the long run. Thus, I believe an effort to better quantitate intensity is warranted and that Gillen et al. is a good start towards that goal.

1) Actually, this is external load. Total load included both this external load as well as internal load that comes from non-training factors such as illness, stress, and lack of sleep as well as the leftover fatigue of training done during the prior days and weeks. In this post, I will only consider external load, and use the word load to refer to that.

2) Qualitatively, most training books will tell you that one-two hour ride provides different benefits than two-one hour rides, but beyond that qualitative assertion, I have yet to encounter a quantification of such a difference.

3) The levels of intensity in Stöggl and Sperlich were expressed as levels of lactate in the blood. I used the data contained in Belcher and Pemberton, International Journal of Exercise 5: 148-159, 2012, to convert lactate levels to heart rate zones.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Old La Honda Road

The ride my son and I did is highlighted in red. The route of the Tour Del Mar is highlighted in blue.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about the Tour Del Mar, a bike race I participated in 1966. Back then, bicycling of any kind was done by a very small number of people and cyclists felt like a persecuted minority. My, how times have changed! Cycling has become mainstream and the region around the Tour Del Mar route has become extremely popular with cyclists. Add in the fact that both my sons have moved to this area, and is was almost inevitable I would revisit the scene of my crime. In a recent post,  I mentioned how travel had disrupted my blogging. I was afraid it was going to do the same to my cycling, but not so. During my last trip to California, I managed rides on three of the six days I was there. Although none of these quite made it onto the Tour Del Mar route, two of them were just on the other side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The ride highlighted in red on the above map was the third and final ride, and the most difficult, culminating in a 4 mile climb up Old La Honda Road to its summit at 1,750 feet. It has been over a week since I completed this ride, and my legs still feel tired from the effort.

The first of the three rides was connected with the Modesto Roadmen Reunion that was the topic of my last post. The second, a ride with my older son, was a time constrained reconnoitering ride from his home in Redwood City to the start of Old La Honda Road. Because of the many steep hills along the way, that 15 mile ride left my legs extremely tired, even without the climb up Old La Honda. The very next day, we set out to ride up to the top of Old La Honda Road. Due to our scouting of the previous day, we were able to select a slightly less hilly approach than we had ridden the day before. Because of the tiredness in my legs, I took it easier. Fortunately, I felt better as the ride went on and was able to mount a credible, sustained effort up the main climb. By the time I got home, however, I was completely done in, I had nothing left to give. Houston has a lot to recommend it as a cycling city, but as a place to build one's climbing ability is clearly lacking.

This first picture is of my son within a few blocks of his home. Some intensive climbing brought us to a beautiful view over Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay.

This is my son and I in front of Robert's Market in Woodside, California, the crossroads of Silicon Valley cycling. Apparently all San Francisco peninsula cycling pass through here. A kind shopper took our picture.

This is it, the base of the climb. From Robert's Market, we took the well-named Mountain Home Road through beautiful forests and horse farms to Portola Road, then Portola Road to Old La Honda Road, the start of our challenge.

Four miles and 1170 feet later, here we are at the top of the climb. The average gradient is 8%, compared to the more famous (and longer) climb up Mount Diablo which is 6%. From here, we took Skyline Boulevard back to Highway 84 (and the locally famous Alice's Restaurant) and then 84 back to Woodside. This was definitely an epic ride for an old man like me. (It goes without saying that my son is a much stronger rider than I am, and rode beneath his potential to keep me company.)

The climbing challenge aside, this was one of the most beautiful bike rides of my life. The road threaded back and forth through canonical California scenery, at times passing through the classical brown grass, scrub oak, manzanita that characterizes much of California, and then just a turn later, heading into the cool and dark of a gorgeous California coastal Redwood forest. During the 45 minutes we were on Old La Honda road, we encountered only two cars! Honest, I counted.

I think I can safely say, without violating anyone's privacy, that there is an unbelievable amount going on at the Steffen residences, both in Texas and in California. Thus, what was amazing about these rides is not how long or how hard they were, but that they happened at all. My son and I very much hope to do some longer rides through this part of California during future visits. My son recently took a ride with some of his buddies from work that went from his home to the town of Pescadero and back, taking in much of the route of the Tour Del Mar. That ride was 61 miles long, had over 6600 feet of climbing, and took them over 5 hours to complete.  This would be a very tough ride for me, one that would take me much longer than their 5 hours to finish, but it is one that I think I could complete. Will we manage to actually ride it? Stay tuned and find out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Roadmen Reunion

All the former Modesto Roadmen who attended the 50th Reunion (plus one).
Back Row: Michael Haack*, Tom Woods, Roger Farschon, Stacy Dull, Paul Robinson.
Front Row: John Campopiano, Jeff Cowdrey, David Steffen, Eldon Rosenow.
* Michael Haack is not a former Modesto Roadmen, but former member of Mach Schnell, another club active in Modesto during the 1960's.

One of the recurring themes of this blog is the cycling I did back in the 1960s in Modesto, California, riding with a club called the Modesto Roadmen. I cannot remember when this club was founded, it could have been as early as 1963 or as late as 1965. I had my last contact with the Modesto Roadmen in 1969, at the Great Western Bicycle Rally. Last, that is, until I was telephoned by a fellow member, Paul Robinson, in 2008. It was Paul's telephone call that inspired me to restart cycling. (I believe it similarly inspired Paul.) Besides cycling, Paul's call also inspired me to reconnect with the former Modesto Roadmen. Over time, one by one, I managed to reconnect to nine or ten of them. As 2008 ground onwards towards 2016, a dream started to grow of having a 50th reunion. But if we don't know when the club was founded, how can there be a 50th reunion? Simple, by picking some Modesto Roadmen event that occurred in 1966 and build the reunion around that. There were two candidates, the first Mountain Loop, and the first running of the Tour de Graceada. The 50th anniversary of the first Mountain Loop came and went with no reunion, but not the 50th anniversary of the Tour de Graceada. The Tour de Graceada was the annual ABLA-sanctioned sponsored by the Modesto Roadmen. (ABLA is Amateur Bicycle League of America, predecessor to today's USA Cycling.) It was first held on September 11, 1966. So a plan was hatched. One of the former members, John Campopiano, lives a few blocks from the park around which the Tour de Graceada was held. He invited us all to meet at his house with our bikes, to take a symbolic lap or two around the park, and then hang out at his place for brunch and memories. And that is what we did, on September 11, 2016, 50 years to the day after the first running of the Tour de Graceada.

Some of us are married, some of us are not. At least one of us has a girlfriend. Yes, there were female members of the Modesto Roadmen (despite our sexist name), but sadly, we were unable to find any of them for the reunion. Of the four Significant Others attending, three are pictured below:

Left to right: Roger's wife, Jan; Tom's girlfriend, Joann; John's wife, Wendy. David's wife, Agi, is not pictured as she was the photographer. All photographs in this blog post were taken by her.

Once everyone had arrived, we all jumped on our bikes and rode the four blocks from John's house to Graceada Park, home of the Tour de Graceada. We really didn't have anything planned other than a symbolic lap or two around the park. We were on a wide range of bicycles and with wildly different levels of fitness. Right off the bat, Eldon and Mike took off at race pace. Some of us chased and others of us rode at a comfortable pace. How long would this go on? How would we decide? After four laps, people started pulling over at what had been the start/finish line and that was that. (Back when we were racing as juniors, we went around this 0.6 mile course 25 times.) I have assembled a collage of four pictures which captures all nine of of us:

All identifications refer to riders from left to right. In the upper left photo are Tom and Stacy. Tom was riding a magnificent Bianchi Team Issue from the 1960s that he borrowed from John. Stacy was riding his Peugot PX-10, converted from a racer to a commuter. In the upper right photo is David and Paul. David is riding his "California Bike", a 2009 Bianchi Volpe. Paul is riding a Trek identical to that used by Lance Armstrong to win the Tour de France. In the lower left photo are John, Roger, and Jeff. John is riding a Trek mountain bike so that Tom can ride his Bianchi. Roger is riding his truly magnificent custom touring bike that he bought back when he was still a Roadman. Jeff is riding a bike that I embarrassingly admit I did not pay that much attention to. I have to think it is not Jeff's bike, because these days, Jeff designs, builds, and rides recumbent bicycles. In the lower right photo are Mike and Eldon, each riding the high end road bikes that they are using in their very active cycling careers.

The Campopiano's put out a magnificent spread that kept all of us happily eating from 10:30 in the morning when we started arriving until at least 3 pm which is when I had to leave. Sadly, we did not think to photograph this largess, but you can get a peek in the following photo:

Wendy, our hostess, looks on as Tom fills his plate.

John had assembled a huge collection of Roadmen memorabilia, and I brought a few things of my own. I think the roadmen enjoyed this walk down memory lane, as seen below:

Left to right, Eldon, Paul, Jeff, Mike, John, David.

But probably the most fun of all was just the talking, memories of the Modesto Roadmen, what we had been up to for the past 50 years.

Left to right, John (in front), Paul (behind), Roger Stacy, David, Jeff.

Left to right, Mike and Roger.

An attendee I have yet to mention is Tom Duchscher. He was not a member of the Roadmen and was not invited to the reunion. However, he is an intense cycling enthusiast, a neighbor of John's, saw us riding around the park, and had just had his very high end road bike stolen and wanted to pass out his wanted posters so we could keep our eyes open for his bike. He entertained us all with an intensely detailed account of how, back in the 60s, he saved for years to purchase the Masi that one of his fellow cyclists recommended, found out there was a three year waiting list, purchased a Schwinn Paramount instead, thus launching a series of Paramount purchases in Modesto somehow enforcing a rule that no two could be the same color. But none of this is the most amazing thing he told us. Back in 2008, as I was trying to reconnect with former Roadmen, Paul told me that someone told him that Jeff was dead. We were all very sad, and I even wrote an eulogy for him on this blog (since deleted.) One of the first things that Duchscher announced when he walked in the door what that he was the source of that rumor! He had no recollection of where he heard it, so for now, the blame has to stop with him.

Left to right, Paul and Tom Duchscher

The final picture is chronologically out of order, but I felt belonged at the end. After the ride and before all the eating and talking described above, Paul had a wonderful idea. He suggested we take a moment to remember the people who had been critical to the success of the Modesto Roadmen, but who were no longer with us. These were adults (with one exception) who took time away from their lives to help the Modesto Roadmen purely out of the goodness of their hearts. I didn't take notes, so this list might not exactly match up with what we came up with then, but I guess that is OK. Henry Laws lived two houses down from me, took an interest in our club, and hooked us up with his connections to the City of Modesto power structure; without him, we never would have been able to put on the Tour de Graceada. He and his wife rode a Schwinn Twinn tandem bicycle. Bob Boranian owned Bob's Cyclery, the center of cycling in Modesto. He gave a number of us jobs working in his shop, drove us to events, and supported us in an uncountable number of other ways. (We are not 100% sure he has passed away, but even if not, he deserves the honor.) "The Coach", Mr. Van Holland, was a member of the Dutch underground during World War II and was a cycling enthusiast. One day, he saw us riding down the road and immediately started training us. Art Wilcox was the other member of the Mach Schnell bike club, besides Mike Haack. Sadly, Art died much before his time. Art and Mike, older than the Roadmen, got us started riding Mountain Loops and generally shared their cycling experience with us. When the Modesto Roadmen started racing, two members of the cycling establishment, Robert Tetzlaff and Walter Gimber, guided us through the process of becoming bicycle racers, once travelling from their homes in the bay area to Modesto to go on a ride with us to make sure we were doing it right. For these and all we have forgotten, thank you!

So that was it for the 50th anniversary of the Modesto Roadmen. See you all again in another 50 years.

The Modesto Roadmen have a website. There are lots of pictures and other information there that I have not put onto this blog. Once I put the reunion up there, there will be a lot more there that what is here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

War on Zombies: Their Finest Hour

After three posts in July, I thought I might be on a roll, but then there was August with no posts at all. And now it is mid-September and the drought only now comes to an end. One reason for my paucity of posts is that a post I started at the end of July turned out to be much harder to write than I expected and is still "in preparation". (That post is finally nearing completion and will be posted Real Soon Now.) Also, That Which Must Not Be Named continues to be an issue, and there were a couple of out-of-town trips that prevented me from posting as well. Finally, there is the War On Zombies: it is not over, as this post documents.

My fellow Zombie and I flew back into Houston on a Wednesday. On Thursday morning, I rode over to the Rice Track for my morning ride. No joy in Mudville, as illustrated by the photo at the top of the post: Rice track is closed. All hail the coming of football season1. So, I go for my backup ride. Riding through the Texas Medical Center, I hop onto the Braes Bayou Trail, head west on that trail, only to find that it has been closed as well:

The barrier closing the trail can be seen at the left side of the picture. The machinery responsible for that closure can be seen at the right.

They are building a parallel trail on the other side of the bayou and to join it to the existing trail, they have torn up a key piece in the middle of that existing trail, completely spoiling it as a place for me to ride. I have to confess at this point that I am being a bit disingenuous. I had driven by this construction a few days before, so it's closure was no surprise; I only rode out to this point on the trail to take the picture for this blog. I had actually had planned to ride east along the Bayou, rather than my usual west, but guess what? That direction is closed as well:

In the long run, this temporary closure is a huge win for Houston cyclists, me included. The reason for the detour is newly-poured concrete, creating a lovely new bit of trail where previously there had been a difficult and dangerous dirt stretch. Brays Bayou trail east from the Texas Medical Center to McGregor park is now complete (except for the stretch destroyed by flooding last spring that now needs to be repaired). Also, work is being done to extend that trail from McGregor Park all the way to the ship channel. When completed, this will be an exceptional venue for pedestrian and cyclist alike. This is what the new bit of trail looks like:

Finally, in an earlier post, I complained that an approximately 3 mile extension of the Braes Bayou trail along Keegan's Bayou, once opened, had been closed. The last time I rode out that way, the status of that extension was somewhat ambiguous, as can be seen in this photo:

The barrier has been moved to the side of the trail. Is it open? Is it closed? Given this ambiguous status, I decided to give myself the benefit of the doubt and ride it. As I neared the end of the extension, I encountered one barrier that seemed to resolve the ambiguity. Unlike all the other barriers, which had been pushed aside, this one still spanned the trail. Although unmarked going out, as I returned, I saw that the trail is indeed marked as closed:

Oh well, what has been done cannot be undone, and anyway, I learned something during my transgression. At the current end of the trail, there are clear signs of construction, promising to extend the trail past Highway 59, a current barrier to east-west cycling in Houston. Once completed, I think it will be possible to ride from the Braes Bayou path all the way to Terry Hershey and George Bush parks. This would require some street riding and only experience will show how rideable the available streets are. Up until now, I had wondered how this crossing would be effected, as it seemed that there was no place to put a trail. What seems to be happening is the construction of an engineering marvel, a hike and bike trail suspended off the side of the bayou:

This is all well and good for the future, but for the present, my two daily cycling routes, Rice Track and Braes Bayou are closed. What is a Zombie to do? Two routes I have used in the past are Terry Hershey-George Bush park and White Oak Bayou. Recent flooding has damaged the Terry Hershey-George Bush park trails, rendering them impassible:

From Facebook, posted by Randy LeBlanc to HTX Bike Social

In any case, the drive to Terry Hershey/George Bush park is too long for this to be a daily ride. The roads from White Oak Bayou to my house are too busy for me to ride during the week, but I figured I would give it a shot last weekend. And guess what happened? This:

The Hazard Street Bridge is under construction! Fortunately, this is not that big an issue, as the Hazard Street Bridge is one of six bridges crossing Highway 59. It is the one I prefer because it has the least traffic, but early on a Saturday morning, the next one down the line, The Woodhead Bridge, is tolerable. (In fact, Woodhead rather than Hazard is the designated bike route, though as I have posted before, I disagree with this assignment.) It has been awhile since I have been able to ride this trail on my own, so this was the first time I was able to explore a recent extension at the northern end of the trail. This new extension adds about 3 miles round trip to the ride. In addition, it (currently) terminates into another set of older trails that go along the backyards of neighborhood homes. These trails are extremely narrow and a bit in need of maintenance, but are more charming for that and add another 2 miles to the round trip. Here is a view, looking from the older trail back towards the new. This part of the older trail goes along the opposite side of the bayou, and connects to the new trail via a rather rickety-looking wooden pedestrian bridge:

I did not ride across the bridge (nor would I want to), it is not necessary to do so because the trails directly intersect farther along, but this bridge is nice to look at. Construction is also underway to extend the main trail both farther north and farther south along White Oak Bayou. In summary, the future looks rosy but the present looks bleak. At the moment, I have absolutely no idea where I can ride my bike tomorrow. Will the Zombie be returned to the cycling graveyard, or will he find a place to ride? Stay tuned.

The Title) As noted in the text, I have an earlier post entitled "War on Zombies." Rather than title this one "War on Zombies 2" or "Another War on Zombies", I chose the append the title of the second volume of Winston Churchill's six volume history of World War II. It happens to be rather appropriate.

1) The Rice Bicycle Track is located in the middle of the main parking lot for their football stadium. This space is not needed most of the time, making it a perfect site for a bike track, but during football season, they periodically take down the track to generate more parking. When they take it down and for how long is entirely unpredictable, so I cannot plan around these trackless days.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Base Building for Cyclists

How many training books does a person need, especially if that person is old, fat, and has no intention of racing? Allow an old man his hobbies, goldarn it, I like to read training books. And surprisingly, I seem to learn something new, something I can use, from each one I read. "Base Building for Cyclists" (hereafter Base Building) was recommended to me by someone named jbithaca who commented on one of my blog posts. Jbithaca worried that I was doing too many rides that were too fast, so recommended this book to me as an antidote. At the time, I skimmed it and then set it aside to read later. In my last post, I reviewed a study comparing different training strategies, and in the course of writing that post, began to reconsider the intensity of some of my rides. This finally inspired me to go back and read this book. Based on that reading, I have some ideas for future blog posts that I expect will use this book as a reference, so thought it made sense to describe this book before doing so.

So what is this book? Like most training books, it is written for bicycle racers, the same audience for whom "The Cyclist's Training Bible" (hereafter The Bible) is written. In fact, Thomas Chapple, the author of Base Building, is an associate of Joe Friel, author of The Bible, and Joe wrote the Foreword to Base Building. Friel explains the relationship between these two books as follows: "I tried to explain [base training] in The Cyclist's Training Bible but somehow many cyclists failed to learn the lesson. In Base Building for Cyclists, Thomas Chapple devotes an entire book to the concept I tried to explain in one chapter." The assumption both of these books make is that the reader has already decided to devote a significant part of their life to winning a few bicycle races each year. The reader is assumed to have a life outside of bicycle racing, but in the context of these books, winning races is the goal. Thus, when judging training plans, the plan that better promotes a long and healthy life (for example) gets no credit for that1, its virtue relative to other plans is judged only by the number of bicycle races won. A second assumption is that there is a bicycle racing season corresponding to the calendar year; that the races one wishes to win occur roughly at the same time each year, so that there in an annual cycle of preparing for the annual bicycle races, racing, and then recovering until the next year.

What is base training? For a bicycle racer who uses periodized training, the training season is commonly divided into four major phases; Base, Build, Peak, and Transition. Base is the longest of the four, lasting 8 to 32 weeks, or even longer. What is periodized training? It is an annual training plan where there are qualitative changes in the kind of training done over the course of an annual racing season.What is the rationale for periodized training? As best I understand, it is two-fold. The first rationale is that one can reach peaks of fitness that cannot be sustained. The goal of a periodized training plan is to reach such a peak at the time of a race one would most like to win. After that race, fitness will inevitably fall and will need to be rebuilt first by resting and then by a new cycle of periodized training before the next important race. The second rationale is that fitness is not a single thing, but a collection of traits; endurance, strength, and speed, for example. Some of these take a long time to develop, some can be developed more quickly. In general, endurance takes a long time to develop and speed can be developed quickly. Thus, to reach a peak of capabiity ("form") at the time of a bicycle race, one first develops endurance, and then quickly, before endurance fades, develops speed. Base training has many goals, but perhaps its primary purpose is to build endurance. To put this into context, the Build phase then builds speed, the Peak phase restores energy while maintaining endurance and speed, and the Transition phase is the recovery period after the race. Having given this description, if one looks at actual training plans like those presented in Base Building, one notes that they are more of a continuum than separate blocks of training. If one looks at them carefully, however, one notes that this continuum does in fact build from endurance to speed.

What does this book add to The Bible? At first glance, very little. You can and will develop essentially similar Base phase training plans using either book. (The advantage of The Bible is that you can then use the same book to develop plans for the remainder of the season.) I argue, however, that this is a naive conclusion. The best piece of advice my father gave me when I left for college was to always read multiple books on a subject, not just the textbook assigned for the course. Even though these books cover the same material, each has its own way of explaining it, and what I failed to understand from one I might learn from another. Such is the case with The Bible and Base Building; they are both teaching the same thing, but if you read both, you will end up with a better understanding. Besides, there are a few bits of information in Base Building not in The Bible, not so critical to its main mission, but of particular interest to me.

I am not a racer, does Base Building have any practical value for me? It does. My whole reason for reviewing Base Building is because I plan to use it as a reference for future posts. A quick list of some of these topics:

  • Signs and symptoms of overtraining or improper training.
  • How to juggle rides of different intensities in a training schedule.
  • Fat burning vs carb burning during exercise.
  • Weight training exercises that benefits cycling.
  • Cycling skills that improve cycling efficiency.

Why should we believe what Base Building says? That is a very good question, especially in the context of my recent posts which have been very critical of careful scientific comparisons of different kinds of training. There is no science in Base Building, no comparisons, experiments or clinical trials - or is there? There is no explicit science in Base Building, but I know that Joe Friel reads the scientific literature on training. I don't know if Thomas Chapple does, but even if he does not, he is part of the same community as Joe Friel, and the results of scientific research certainly infuse that community, and so books like Base Building represent, to some degree, a review of the scientific literature on training. In addition to that, Friel and Chapple speak from experience. Experience certainly does not replace scientific certainty, but scientific certainty is rare, and in its absence, experience allows us to move forward with our lives. Thus, I still wait scientific confirmation of much that I take away from Base Building, but will use what I learn from Base Building while I wait.

Why did jbithaca recommend Base Building to me? Only jbithaca knows, of course, but if I had to guess, it is because the single clearest message of this book is that it is a mistake to train too fast too early. It is pretty clear that jbithaca thought I was training too fast. Does Base Building support jbithaca's concern? It turns out that is not as simple a question as it might first appear, and as of the time of this writing, I have not yet formulated my opinion on the matter. I expect to be addressing this in future posts. Stay tuned.

1) I assume that Joe Friel, Thomas Chapple, and the serious bicycle racers who make up their readership all believe that bicycle racers are healthier than couch potatoes. Thus, everyone involved believes they are healthier as a result of their hobby. My point is that having adopted this hobby, they feel like the health issue is covered so that, when comparing training plans, enjoyment of the hobby, that is, winning bicycle races, is the thing. If my assumption is correct, I agree with them.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Polarized Training

Training programs tested in Stöggl and Sperlich: (A) high volume training (HVT), (B) threshold training (THR), (C) polarized training (POL), and (D) high intensity interval training (HIIT). LOW = low intensity workout; LT = medium-high intensity workout (near lactate threshold); FL = mixed intensity workout ("fartlek"); HIGH = high intensity workout; R = recovery day, no workout. The HVT, THR, and POL training blocks were repeated a total of three times. The HIIT training block was repeated twice, with one recovery week between the two blocks.

A few years ago, Joe Friel reviewed a scientific publication on his blog which purported to demonstrate the benefits of something called polarized training: "Polarized training has greater impact on key endurance variables than threshold, high intensity, or high volume training" by Thomas Stöggl and Billy Sperlich. (This publication is hereafter referred to as Stöggl and Sperlich). In today's post, I will review this publication, and in so doing, will attempt to avoid being the kind of "sadistic scientist who hurries to hunt down errors", but rather attempt to take a common sense approach to analyzing this study, to ascertain how much a reasonable person can take away from it about how best to train. Joe Friel thinks highly of this publication and I think highly of Joe Friel, and on that basis, I will make every effort to give this publication the benefit of the doubt.

Cognitive Bias

One of the most insidious sources of error in science is cognitive bias. Stephen J. Gould provides an excellent discussion of this trap in his book "The Mismeasure of Man" (which I highly recommend to scientists and non-scientists alike) but in short, as much as we scientists would like to pretend that we dispassionately consider each question with no preconception about what answer we get, very often, we have a preference for one answer over another. When that happens, it is well known that even when we are trying to be unbiased, we will be especially sensitive to any evidence that supports our preferred answer and relatively blind to evidence that contradicts it, and all of this is subconscious and thus very difficult to avoid. When I read the Joe Friel blog on this publication, I was frankly horrified; what it said about training went against everything I was doing. Thus, my preference is to find that the Stöggl and Sperlich publication is wrong. Consider this fair warning both to myself and my readers that this trap is set and waiting for me. I will proceed nonetheless, doing my best to give this publication fair consideration.

Science is hard. Exercise science is harder.

In my opinion, one of the most important sentences in Stöggl and Sperlich is the following:
"An experimental study is difficult to conduct in elite athletes because typically neither the athletes nor their coaches like to have the athletes’ training intensity, duration or frequency altered."
When considering the ideal experimental design we might like to have for a study such as this, fairness and common sense demand that we bear in mind the real world difficulties of carrying out such a study. Sometimes, we just have to be grateful for what we can get.

What Is Polarized Training?

At the most informal, intuitive level, there could be nothing simpler; polarized training means concentrating on very high intensity ("fast") and very low intensity ('slow") training, and avoiding everything in between. That said, turning this into a precise definition that can be used for hypothesis testing is not so easy. How fast is fast? How slow is slow? Is one to do no riding at speeds in between or just less than other training approaches? How much less?

Further complicating the issue are the different ways that intensity of effort ("fast" or "slow") are measured. Obviously, speed in miles per hour is not a useful measure of intensity; 25 miles per hour is an impossible speed for me but easy for a professional bicycle racer. Thus, other, more biological measures are used, such as heart rate, breathing volume, and the amount of lactic acid in the blood. Even for these, there can be person to person variability so that measurement is often expressed as the percentage of the highest value that person can achieve for that variable. Perhaps the most common way of measuring exercise intensity is heart rate. Heart rate intensity zones (typically, Zone 1 through Zone 5) are determined as a percentage of the maximum heart rate one can reach, or alternatively, of the heart rate at lactate threshold. Stöggl and Sperlich, on the other hand, use either the percentage of the maximum breathing volume (%VO2peak) or levels of blood lactate to define exercise intensity. This creates two problems for me. First, I lack the resources to measure my %VO2peak or my blood lactate. Second, there is not a direct correspondence between %VO2peak, blood lactate, and heart rate, nor is it clear which of the three is the better measure of effort. The thing I found most disturbing about Joe Friel's column is the assertion that LOW intensity rides should be ridden in Zone 1 rather than Zone 2. However, it is not at all clear to me when I read Stöggl and Sperlich that their LOW intensity exercise  corresponds to Zone 1 as Joe Friel says, or if it could correspond to Zone 2.

Overall Study Design

The participants were members of the Austrian national cross country ski, triathlon, running, or cycling teams. Training consisted of either running, cycling, or roller skiing. In the six months before the study, all participants had been engaged in an exercise program similar to HVT, consisting mostly of LOW (slow) workouts. However, their training also included up to two days of LT (medium fast) workouts a week, making it also similar to the THR training plan. The normal schedule for these participants was 5 days of training per week and they had been training for 8 to 20 years. In reviewing this study, the cautionary note that Joe Friel struck was that the relevance of this study to you depends very much on how similar you are to these participants. If, for example, you are a beginning athlete, you might do better using a different training plan than what scored best in this study.

The study started out with 48 participants, 12 assigned to each of the four training plans. Due to dropouts, the study finished (and reports the results from) 11 participants in the HVT plan, 8 participants in the THR plan, 12 participants in the POL plan, and 10 participants in the HIIT plan. The picture at the top of the post diagrams the four training programs compared in this study.

According to Stöggl and Sperlich, "Five key variables have been used as a benchmark to compare athletic performance in and between endurance athletes: (i) VO2peak (ii) velocity/power output at the lactate threshold (V/PLT) (iii) work economy (iv) peak running velocity or power output (V/Ppeak); and (v) time to exhaustion (TTE)." In some of my previous posts, I have discussed the problems that can occur if what you measure is not exactly the same as what you really want to know. These problems most definitely apply here, and I will discuss them in a general way at the end of this post, but for now, let's accept these measurements and see where that leads us.

What is the point?

The conclusion of Stöggl and Sperlich is that Polarized Training is better than High Volume Training, Lactate Threshold Training, or High Intensity Interval Training. Note that this is a much broader claim than the narrow conclusion that one of the specific training plans tested in this study is better than the other three. Rather, it says that when comparing any two training protocols, all things being equal, the polarized protocol will most likely be better. Does this study support that conclusion? I think not. I think this is a well designed and executed study, and that it convincingly supports the narrow conclusion but not the broad one. The protocol they designate at POL is almost certainly the best of the four tested, but it is not at all clear that it is best because it is polarized or that it is best for some other reason. Thus, it is not clear to me that polarized training is better in general.

What are other explanations for the results of Stöggl and Sperlich? The first two possibilities that jump to mind are:
  1. Training can be too hard, too easy, or just right. Unsurprisingly, the best results are obtained when training is just right. How hard a training protocol is, is determined by both the volume of riding (how many hours) and the intensity of riding (how fast.) Both the volume and the intensity of the four training programs differ one from another. It could be that the POL training program was "just right" whereas the others were "too hard" or "too easy."
  2. It is generally believed that there is value in varying one's training from time to time, that if one rides the same rides over and over, after a while, one will derive little benefit. The riders in this study had spent the previous six months doing some mix of the HVT and THR protocols. One or both of these protocols could have been "more of the same", and the benefit of the POL protocol may have been that it was something different. 

What's not the point?

These are points that Stöggl and Sperlich never claim to have demonstrated, but rather are the known and accepted limits of the study:
  1. This Study Does Not Apply to Everyone. We have already discussed that even if you believe this study is correct for its participants, it may not be correct for you. That said, besides being talented and experienced athletes, these athletes were at a particular point in their training cycle; they had just come off of 6 months of a program that was predominantly HVT but which also included some THR. Thus, I do not find it surprising that they got more fitness by switching from HVT rather than participating in more of the same. Similarly, even if we assume that POV is the best protocol at this point in their training cycle, would more POV be the best strategy after the 9 weeks of POV done in this study was completed, or would changing to something else be better?
  2. This Study Does Not Measure All Aspects of Fitness. Are all forms of fitness interchangeable? Alternatively, do the metrics used in this study cover all forms of fitness? I do not think the authors of this study would claim either of these statements to be true. Rather, they had to use some metric of fitness to compare their training protocols and selected a fairly broadly accepted and easy to measure set, hoping that they would be applicable to at least some sorts of real world fitness. Assume these metrics do a fairly good job of identifying a cyclist who will do well in a typical bicycle race. Does that mean that these same metrics would do as good a job identifying a sprinter, or a randonneur? I would not assume so.
  3. This Study Does Not Evaluate All Effort Levels. Context: There has been an early version of the polarized training idea kicking around the training community for some time in the form of the "Zone 3 Syndrome" (see for example this website.) The notion is that Heart Rate Zone 3 (halfway between easy and hard) is the "grey zone"; too fast to build endurance, too slow to build speed. As usual, the discussion is more complicated than that, but I think it gets the essence. When I read Joe Friel's post, my horror came from the notion that the "grey zone" had been expanded from "Zone 3" to "Zone 2 AND Zone 3 AND Zone 4"; only training in Zone 1 and Zone 5 is worth doing. I argued above that it is not clear that the LOW intensity training in Stöggl and Sperlich is Zone 1, but out of respect for Joe Friel, let's assume it is. Even if we make that assumption, I do not think Stöggl and Sperlich supports such an extreme conclusion. If we assume low intensity training corresponds to heart rate Zone 1, that THR training corresponds to the top of Zone 4, and HIGH training corresponds to Zone 5, then this study never looks at any training protocols that contained any significant effort in Zone 2, Zone 3, or in the bottom half of Zone 4, so cannot speak to the value of exercise at these levels.

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

I'm afraid that despite my best efforts, this post reads like the output of the sadistic scientist I was trying not to be. Can't I find something of value in this study? Yes I can. The "polarized" training program worked; it was not worthless or harmful. If you are a talented, fit cyclist who has been riding long, slow miles, a training protocol that replaces some of your long, slow rides with high intensity intervals will probably do you more good than continuing with just long, slow rides.

The second lesson I take away from this paper is probably not something the authors intended and is very specific to me; this paper has forced me to confront my cognitive bias and to reconsider the value of exercise in Zone 1 versus Zone 2. I had stuck in my head the notion that Zone 1 was just for warm up, cool down, and recovery rides. Looking back at my collection of training books, it is clear that Zone 1 (along with Zone 2) is also recommended for building endurance. Many of the comments I have received on this blog have been to the effect that I might be doing my endurance training at too high an intensity. In the past, I have resisted this suggestion, but this study has caused me to reconsider. I don't yet know what impact this will have on my training; stay tuned to find out.

Dream Study

I have spent a great deal of time thinking about how I would have done this study differently. In fact, I don't know if I could have made it much better. My objections to the study have much more to do with the difficulty of studying exercise than anything else. That said, let me toss out a few thoughts.

  1. I would have skipped the HIIT training plan, I think it is too extreme.
  2. I probably would have skipped the HVT training plan, not because I don't find it interesting, but rather that if I were limited to only four plans, HVT would not make the cut. Also, it is too similar to what the athletes were doing before the study, and thus may be doomed to fail.
  3. I would have modified the THR plan by replacing the two shorter LT rides with one HIGH ride and one long LOW ride. This would have made it into a more mixed plan, one that covered the range of exercise intensities and more directly challenged the theory of polarized training by asking if POL is better than THR because of the absence of Zones 2 through 4 from POL, or because of the absence of Zone 5 from THR.
  4. This leaves me with two more plans I can test. One of them would be just like the POL plan, but I would replace the two long LOW ride with rides in Zone 2 rather than in Zone 1. To make up for the extra load this would have put on the riders, I would reduce the length of the two shorter LOW rides. The purpose of this plan is to test the relative value of Zone 1 and Zone 2 rides.
  5. My fourth plan would be just like POL except that I would replace the two short LOW rides with R (recovery) days, days with no riding. This would reduce the load of this plan, a disadvantage, but I think that disadvantage would be justified to test whether short Zone 1 rides have very much value. I would want to ask this question because the medical community has suggested that, for the purposes of building health (rather than fitness), they do not.

I am not a coach, so these might be terrible ideas that no experienced coach would ever suggest, and I would listen carefully to any coach who told me as much. In fact, I would most interested to hear a coach comment on the logic behind the details of the protocols selected by Stöggl and Sperlich. Of course, Joe Friel, an exceptionally experienced coach, did blog about this study, but he did not comment on the specifics of the exercise plans. In the absence of such objections, however, these are the plans I came up with to answer the questions I have. What do you think?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

New Things Under the Sun

Please excuse the poor quality photo. The white patch in the tire with the black dot on the middle is a cut in the tread, the white being the tire casing and the black dot, the inner tube peeking through. Obviously, this is not a stable situation.

As I have previously posted, I believe there is value in periodically revisiting equipment reviews; it is often how a piece of equipment performs over time that determines its value. I have done this in the past for tires and my Garmin Edge 500 cycle computer and decided to do it again.

Garmin Edge 500

I have posted on this product several times since I first purchased it at the end of 2012, most recently in this post. My two major complaints about this product are that it occasionally loses data from a ride and that the strap for the heart rate monitor stops working after a few months. The data loss problem persists, it has gotten no better and no worse and I am living with it. This amounts to losing one ride every few months when I am riding about 5 days a week. Since the Garmin Edge 500 is no longer sold (the current model is the 520, two models newer) I am not sure this is still relevant, though I would be curious if newer models still have this problem. As to the strap problem, I have tried a variety of solutions. About two years ago, I tried replacing the "premium" heart rate monitor with the much cheaper "classic" monitor. The classic monitor is an integrated unit with the strap, you cannot replace just the strap, you have to replace the whole thing. On the other hand, the classic monitor costs about $25, whereas just the replacement strap for the premium monitor costs $35. (The premium monitor plus strap costs $60.) Appearances and advertising notwithstanding, the classic strap is every bit as comfortable as the premium strap. But the most important difference is longevity. The premium strap fails after about three months. After two years of use, the classic strap is still working. The classic strap has been discontinued by Garmin and I don't know what I will do if the one I have fails. Given the sad state of obsolescence that characterizes my Garmin, this will be the last time I review it.


In the six years I have had my Surly Crosscheck, I have tried seven different sets of tires. (I have not worn them all out, see below.) The tires I have used are as follows:

Ritchey SpeedMax Comp32Original tires. Knobby. Not fun to ride.
Specialized Armadillo28"Fine"
Grand Bois Extra Léger32Wonderful feel. Fast? Prone to flats.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus28Clunky and squirrelly. Hard to mount. No Flats!
Clement Strada LGG28Felt fast. Insecure when wet. Wore out quickly.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus32Rides fine, mounts fine, feels secure. No Flats?

My wife and I purchased matching Surly Crosschecks at the beginning of 2010 and they came with the Ritchey tires. I replaced mine almost immediately because I did not like the way they looked or the way they rode. My wife, who purchased her bike at the same time, wore hers out and then started using mine, until she switched to Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires to reduce the number of flats she was getting. I have no memory or record of what kind of tires the bike shop put on my bike except that they were skinnier than the Richies and had a slick (non-knobby) tread. They worked fine and I rode them for two years until they wore out. The shop then put on similar Specialized Armadillo tires, which again worked fine. For my second Brevet which I rode in May of 2013, I temporarily replaced the Specialized tires with the Grand Bois Extra Léger which randonneuring experts promised would be faster and more comfortable, especially in the somewhat fatter 32 mm width which I got. I have never been able to document that the Grand Bois ride faster than any other tire (and I have tested them fairly carefully under controlled conditions), but they sure feel better than anything else I have ever ridden. After the brevet, I put the Armadillos back on to "save" the Grand Bois for special occasions. When the Armadillos finally wore out, I replaced them with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires because I read somewhere they were "rugged", and worry free appealed to me. Because I wanted "skinny" tires, I bought them in the 28 mm width. They were very hard to mount and did not have a nice feel on the road; they felt both slow and insecure when cornering. Nonetheless, they virtually never got flats, so I learned to forgive their sins. I probably would still be riding these tires, but my wife got tired of getting flats, I wanted to try some different tires, so I put my old 28 mm Marathon Plus tires on her bike, and decided it was foolish to keep saving the Grand Bois tires, so put those on mine. My wife had come to love her 32 mm tires and was somewhat concerned about riding 28 mm tires so I promised her that if she liked them, I would get her new ones in a 32 mm width. Within the first month of having the Grand Bois tires on my bike, I got two flats. At the same time, Lovely Bicycle reviewed Clement Strada LGG tires which she promised had a nice ride and which were flat resistant, so I bought those to replace the flat-prone Grand Bois. At first, I liked these very much, but shortly after I put them on, was riding on wet roads and fell. For the next six months, I didn't fall again, but often felt like I was about to fall, a very unpleasant sensation. On the other hand, I did not get any flats. Then, almost miraculously, the Clements started feeling more secure, presumably because they had "worn in" a bit. However, at the same time, I started getting flats. Not all that many, maybe one every three months or so, but I did find it demoralizing. Soon, I noticed a cut in the back tire which rendered it unusable. So what to do? These tires had lasted about half as long as I was used to, and I didn't like either the crashes at the beginning of their life nor the flats at the end. On the other hand, they felt almost as nice to ride as the Grand Bois and at their worst, flatted less. Nonetheless, I decided that the morale benefits of no flats outweighed a nice ride (plus, I still have the Grand Bois any time I want to ride them) so went back to the tried and true Marathon Plus. I got this set in the 32 mm width with the idea that I might swap with my wife so she could have the wider tires she wanted, but for a variety of reasons put them on my bike first. They have only been on a few months, but I have the following preliminary observations: 1) No flats yet. 2) These mounted much easier than my first set. Is this luck of the draw, has Schwalbe improved their product, or does the width make a difference? I have no idea. 3) Visibly, their width is barely distinguishable from the 28 mm Marathon Plus's on my wife's bike. When she saw them, she lost all interest in swapping tires with me. 4) They seem to handle, well, "fine". Nothing special, but not bad. We'll see about the flats, stay tuned.

For reasons I am not at liberty to discuss, I don't know when (or even if) I will be able to ride another brevet. If I did, would I put the Grand Bois tires back on, or would I ride it with my Marathon Plus tires? I think I would go with Marathon Plus. Although I love the feel of the Grand Bois, I hate worrying about flats. Yes, yes, I have read all the articles saying that I should simply get fast at repairing flats, they are inevitable and no big deal. "You should be able to repair a flat in 10 minutes" say the experts. Well maybe. I have a great deal of experience repairing flats as it happens, and have no objection to doing so at home, but despite all that experience, I do not like doing it on the road. Part of the reason is that I believe it is important to do it right and find that hard to do sitting in the dirt by the side of the road without access to my bike stand. One common problem that occurs when fixing flats is that the object that caused the flat may remain in the tire, and no sooner does one hit the road than one has another flat - from the same object! To avoid that, I find I have to take my time inspecting the tire and to inspect it in very good light. So what does this old man fussiness cost me? Again, I have not been able to measure the speed improvement I get when riding Grand Bois tires compared to Marathon Plus, but based on my attempts to do so, I find it hard to believe that it amounts to more than 0.2 miles per hour. My last (and longest) brevet was 130 miles long. Over 130 miles, 0.2 miles per hour amounts to a 12 minute slower finish. If I have one flat, and if I managed to fix it in an unrealistic 10 minutes, then I have only saved 2 minutes on the ride. On the other hand, I would expect to average fewer than one flat per brevet, and there is the fun factor to consider, but still, all things considered, the Marathon Plus tires come out ahead for me.

Tour de Pink

Every year since 2011, my wife and I have ridden the Tour de Pink. It has become the centerpiece of our cycling life together. Thus, it was with great sadness that I read the email from the organizers saying that last year's 2015 Tour de Pink was the last there would ever be, there will never be another. It seems that the plethora of breast cancer charities had doomed this ride. I discovered this ride back before I retired, and every year since 2011 had tried to ride it with some of my old colleagues. For one reason or another, it never happened, and now it never will. In my old age, the list of things I will never do again is getting longer and longer. Add one more to that list.

The title of this post is a reference to the famous line from Ecclesiastes 1:9: "There is no new thing under the sun." It is just a different way to say "update", a word which I feel is both overused and off-putting.