Saturday, December 2, 2017

California Update

(See the bottom of the post for definitions of some terms used herein.)

FIGURE 1: My cycling over the last 7 weeks. The number under each day is the minutes of riding I did that day. A blue background means it was ridden at a moderate speed. A green background means it was ridden at an easy speed. A red background means it was a fast or hard ride. Ignore the yellow shading under min/wk, it is not relevant to this post.

Last post, I enumerated two goals for my future cycling, and since that post, I have added a third. Here are my current cycling goals:
  1. Maintain my physical and mental health.
  2. Get in shape for the Eroica California next spring.
  3. Decide if I can reach a fitness level sufficient to complete a 100K populaire or a 200K brevet through the hills of California.
When I wrote my last post, I had just completed my first week of cycling in California (the week of 10/9/2017 in the figure at the top of this post). During this first week, I established a "go-to" ride and although I have continued to explore alternative routes now and then, this go-to ride has been the backbone of my training. In order to accomplish my first goal, I was shooting for 300 minutes of cycling a week, perhaps increasing that to 400 minutes to correct for the unevenness of my effort over that ride. For the next five weeks, rode 3 to 4 days per week, doing a pretty good job of meeting my "corrected" goal of 400 minutes of cycling a week, so Goal 1 Accomplished!

Starting the week of 11/13/2017, my son started joining me for most of my rides, and coincidentally, that was my sixth week of riding. I had read somewhere and have confirmed for myself that to maximize improvement one should change one's exercise plan every six weeks or so. With that in mind, week seven my son and I decided to kick it up a notch and revisit Old La Honda Road, a four mile long hill with an average grade of 8%. When my son and I rode Old La Honda a year ago, I wrote "By the time I got home [from riding Old La Honda Road] I was completely done in, I had nothing left to give." This year was no different, the Old La Honda climb is at the limit of my ability. 

So far, I have done nothing specific to accomplish goal 2, to get ready for the Eroica California, but I think that is appropriate. What I need to be doing right now towards meeting goal 2 is build a base of fitness on which I can later prepare specifically for that ride, probably starting in February. Has my last seven weeks of cycling been doing that? I felt like it had, but I wanted a sanity check so went back to a book that I have previously discussed on this blog, "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach. I picked this book because unlike many of the books I have read that seem to be targeted at young racers, this book seemed to be targeted at someone like me, someone who loves to ride and enjoys the occasional challenge but who has no competitive ambitions and wants to keep things simple and fun. Chapter 3 of that book outlines an easy to understand 8 week base training program consisting of a mix of aerobic, resistance, and flexibility training. This is where I should have started 7 weeks ago. Shame on me, I only did the aerobic part, and too much of that. To tell the truth, however, I am not too worried. I believe that the aerobic part is the most important. I keep hoping to introduce resistance and flexibility training into my routine, but best is the enemy of good and while maintaining that hope, I congratulate myself for avoiding the worst training plan of all, doing nothing. Between now and February, I think I should continue to build a base of aerobic endurance, and after that, if during February and March I continue training and ride my antique Bianchi Specialissima up and down the local hills every now and then, I will be as prepared as I can be for Eroica California 2018; so Goal 2 is On Track.

FIGURE 2: My Weights. Although I have not been doing the weight training that both the medical and training communities recommend, I did bring my weights with me from Texas, and they stare at me every time I go out to the garage. Hopefully, I will actually use them some day. As for flexibility training, my younger son's girlfriend has become obsessed with getting me to join their Sunday yoga class. As I told her, we shall see.

Just because I am continuing base training does not mean that my training shouldn't change. Every base training plan I have seen features progression over the base period, increasing volume and the slow introduction of some rides of higher intensity, and that is what I plan to do during the next 6 weeks. I do confess, however, that although I definitely kicked things up a notch for week 7, there was no plan involved, my riding was ad hoc, being driven mostly by my son's love of Old La Honda Road. I spent the following weekend thinking about what I really should be doing in in my second block of training. To that end,  I looked back at my old posts on training. When I did so, I was reminded that they were largely directed towards randonneuring, towards preparing for a 200K brevet. That caused me to wax nostalgic and add a third goal to the two I had enunciated in my last post, to decide if I can return to randonneuring. To that end, I looked for 200K brevets (120 mile rides) and randonneuring clubs in my area of which there are plenty. However, based on my past experience, I think there is a real possibility that a 200K brevet is beyond me, so looked at 100K populaires (60 mile rides) as well. Besides my past difficulties preparing for 200K brevets, there is also the issue of hills. The 200K brevets I did back in Texas were fairly flat. The 200K brevets I found in California typically include between 5,000 and 9,000 feet of climbing over their 120 miles, and the easiest 100K populaires included 4,000 feet of climbing. By way of comparison, the Old La Honda ride, which is 20 miles long and which leaves me exhausted, includes just over 2,000 feet of climbing. Clearly, there is a large fitness gap between where I am now and where I would have to be to participate in a California brevet or even a populaire.

Final point; I am so happy to be riding with my son! If at the end of everything, my fitness sucked and I was unable to participate in Eroica California but had a good time with him, I would count it as a huge success.

Putting this all together, what should I my second block of training look like? One day a week, I plan to ride up Old La Honda Road with my son. My reasons are two-fold. First, my son loves this ride (as do I) and I love riding with my son. Second, what I hope will happen is that with repetition, I will get better at it, preparing me for the hills that are a fact of life in California.  Do any of my training books suggest that is a good plan? To help answer the question, I diagrammed various training plans given in "Distance Cycling" and compared them to what I propose to do.

FIGURE 3: Training Plans. "Base", "Century Prep", and "Century/Month" are training plans from "Distance Cycling".  I exercised some creative license, especially for the "Base" plan where I converted all aerobic cross training ("Racquetball", "Basketball") into cycling minutes.  All of these plans also include resistance and flexibility exercises which I have yet to integrate into my training. "My Plan" is a slightly abstracted version of what I was riding at the end of my first 6 weeks (Block 1) and what I hope to do during my second 6 weeks (Block 2). Rides in blue are "pace" rides, ridden at a moderate speed that I can comfortably maintain for hours but that are fast enough to leave me tired by the end. Rides in red are "intense" rides where I ride as fast as I can for part of the ride. (Traditionally, this is accomplished with intervals. I accomplish this by climbing hills.) Rides in green are "recovery" rides where I keep the speed very slow to insure I do not tire my body, but just stretch out my muscles to facilitate the recovery process.

None of the training plans in "Distance Cycling" include anything like a 4 mile, 8% grade training ride, certainly not during base training. (That is pretty much true for any base training plans in any book I have ever read.) That said, "Distance Cycling" is very non-prescriptive, suggesting general concepts rather than detailed protocols, so I feel empowered to be creative. Also, my goals are different than the goals of any of the training plans in "Distance Cycling", so I think I need to create my own plan to match my goals. Looking at the "Distance Cycling" training plans above, they include four kinds of rides; recovery rides, pace rides, long rides, and intense rides. Intense rides are usually intervals, but Old La Honda is certainly intense, so I am going to count it as such. Even though this is a bit unconventional, I think if I am careful and listen to my body, I will be fine. Besides, if I can't get comfortable going up Old La Honda, then I have answered the question posed in my Goal 3, there would be no California randonneuring for me. Finally, I am hoping that all this climbing will build the leg strength I will need to complete Eroica California with the pathetic "low" gear on my Bianchi Specialissima.

Old La Honda is one ride, how would it fit into a training schedule and what should the rest of the schedule look like? I propose to make my second 6 weeks an evolution from my successful first 6 weeks. By the end of my first 6 weeks, I was riding my go-to ride four times a week. During my second 6 weeks, I propose to make the following changes:
  1. Replace one of those go-to rides with the intense ride up Old La Honda Road.
  2. Drop one of the go-to rides.
  3. Add two short, easy recovery rides.
Interestingly, this involves a decrease in the amount of riding I will be doing (measured as minutes per week.) However, intense rides "count" more than pace rides (and recovery rides count less) so if I apply reasonable corrections for that (1 minute of an intense ride = 2 minutes of a pace ride, 2 minutes of a recovery ride = 1 minute of a pace ride), the "corrected" minutes per week works out to 490, a reasonable increase.

As a sanity check, I compared my proposed schedule with training plans from "Distance Cycling". When I do that, here is what I notice:
  1. I jumped into riding much faster than "Distance Cycling" recommends; at the end of the 8 week base building period, "Distance Cycling" would have me riding 330 minutes a week. At the end of my first 6 week block, I was riding 440 minutes a week. Oh well, that is water under the bridge, and seems to have turned out fine, though I will stay alert for signs of overtraining.
  2. My second 6 week block looks much more reasonable compared to either the plan to prepare for a century ride or the maintenance plan to ride a century each month. This reassures me that the stress my second 6 weeks will put on my body is reasonable. That said, we are all different, I am an old man, so again, I will stay alert for signs of overtraining.
  3. There is less day to day and week to week variation in my first 6 weeks and even in my second 6 weeks than either of the century plans. When I think about what I am trying to accomplish, this makes sense to me. What I am trying to do is, in intent, more like a base training program than a specific program to prepare for century rides. Base programs have less variation (though, as I have noted, they do involve some progression.) As I listen to my body, I will be listening for a training schedule that is sustainable over the long haul and, to me, that means less variation.
  4. One important way that my plan lacks variation is that it lacks recovery weeks. Both of the century training plans have recovery weeks every three to four weeks. Part of what I am planning around is the inevitable "accidental" weeks off. For example, I have a lot of family travel scheduled in December and so will have some "recovery weeks" I cannot avoid. But again, I will stay alert for signs of overtraining, and take recovery weeks as needed.
Being the person I am, I cannot help but think ahead, sometimes too far ahead. What will I do starting in February to prepare for Eroica California? If I get comfortable going up Old La Honda Road, then what? When, if ever, should I start working on making my rides longer? If things go well, what are the next steps to try to prepare for a brevet? I am trying to ignore such questions for now, to enjoy cycling during my second six weeks as much as I did for my first, and to take it as it goes. Stay tuned to find out what I do.


A bike ride which is 100 miles long.
A training technique used to build speed consisting of interleaving brief stretches of riding very fast with stretches of riding slow to recover. An example would be sprinting for 1 minute, riding slow for 1 minute, repeated 10 times.
A traditional kind of cycling, dating back to the 1890s, which consists of groups of riders who ride together but do not compete against each other. Rather, each rider challenges themself to complete long rides.
Long bike rides, varying between 200K (124 miles) and 1200K (744 miles), which make up the sport of randonneuring. Randonneurs earn awards for completing brevets or groups of brevets.
In addition to completing challenges, randonneurs sometimes do easier rides to get in shape for future challenges, to have fun, or to introduce new riders to the sport. These shorter rides, varying in length between 100K (62 miles) and just under 200K (up to 100 miles or so) are called Populaires. There are no awards associated with populaires.