Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Sprinting for the Endurance Cyclist

[When I moved to California, I changed my promised posting schedule from once a week to once a month. It has only been a week since my last post, why the change? First, I had accumulated a number of posts and worried that some of them would get stale if I only posted once a month. Second, this and the previous post are sort of Part A and Part B of the same post so that separating them by a month might be too long. This is a very temporary change; I anticipate mostly sticking to a once a month schedule going forward.]

As much as I love reading books about training, there is one thing about them that I find frustrating; finding the information for which I am looking always seems to require jumping around in the book, extracting bits of information from here and there, and sometimes, even going outside the book to find missing bits of information critical to actually figuring out what it is that the author would have me do. Maybe it's just me. I am a very fast reader, and part of the reason for that is that I tend to skim. Maybe if I could just slow down and read carefully I would not have this problem. Sadly, I am who I am and so reconstruction of what I read seems to be a fact of life for me. That being the case, blogging really helps me, it forces me to work through the books I read and the questions I have and to organize them in logical ways, so at the end of writing a blog post, I understand the topic much better than I can by just reading. That was what happened when I wrote my recent post on "Deconstructing the 100K". Although I had read "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach ("Hughes & Kehlenbach") more than once, it was only when I wrote that post that I finally figured out what they wanted me to do during their "brisk" rides. In the end, everything I needed to know what somewhere in that book, but while I was in the middle of figuring it out, I noted their reference to an electronic article by John Hughes ("Hughes") on the topic, and I purchased it in the hopes of gaining clarity. This article, shown at the top of this post, is published on the "Road Bike Rider" website, and although I did not end up needing Hughes to decode Hughes & Kehlenbach, comparing the two proved interesting.

But why am I even doing this? As I mentioned back in that 100K post, one of the experienced cyclists who commented on my blog advised me to "Throw all that training literature away..." The problem is, this is just one commenter of several; if I consider all the comments I have gotten over the years, they advise to do pretty much everything: ride faster, ride slower, ride more, ride less, read no books, read more books, etc., etc., so at the end of the day I end up where I started, I have to decide for myself. But after all this time, have I not figured this out? Did I not just present a training plan in my 100K post? Yes, I did, but.....
  • I'm still not sure. What if I am riding too fast? What if I am riding too slow? How would I know?
  • I am chronically frustrated that I am so slow, and that I never seem to get much faster. Maybe if I did the right brisk rides, I could get faster?
  • Anyway, I read the Hughes article so I might as well review it. One reason I purchased it was that it was "newly revised for 2016". Have the latest findings changed everything? Does it tell me the same thing as Hughes & Kehlenbach or is it yet another divergent opinion?
One difference between Hughes compared to Hughes & Kehlenbach is that the training zone heart rates have been revised down, so the recommended riding intensities are lower. In my 100K post, I argued that because my "GoTo" ride had so many hills, it forced me into all the different intensities (heart rate zones) as I needed. The change in zones shifted that calculation:

Different Intensities in my GoTo Ride. Because the hills in which I ride, every ride I do is at a mixture of intensities (levels of difficulty.) To determine how much of each intensity I was riding, I wore a heart rate monitor on a GoTo ride. Shown are the minutes of the 110 minute ride spent in the different heart rate zones. (Heart rate zones are a measure of intensity.) The color code is the standard one used throughout this blog; Green is an Easy Intensity. Yellow is my Long Ride Intensity, the intensity I plan for the event I for which I am training. Blue is Pace Intensity, a bit harder than what I plan for my event. Red is my Hard/Fast/Hilly Intensity. The two columns are calculated using the two different sets of heart rate zones given in Hughes & Kehlenbach and in Hughes.
Compared to Hughes and Kehlenbach, Hughes makes my GoTo ride seem more like a Pace ride and less like an Endurance ride. If I take this seriously, this would suggest that I might want to include more rides on the flat parts of The Peninsula in my schedule, which happens to be something I want to do anyway. But that would reduce the amount of "hard" (red) riding I am doing, do I need to compensate for that? As I will discuss below, perhaps not.

Both Hughes and Hughes & Kehlenbach recommend the same three less-than-hard rides; Active Recovery (Zone 1), Endurance (Zone 2), and Tempo (Zone 3). Where Hughes and Hughes & Kehlenbach differ is that Hughes considers five kinds of hard rides whereas Hughes & Kehlenbach consider only one. The five kinds of hard rides in Hughes, in order of increasing intensity, are Sweet Spot (border of Zones 3 and 4), Sub-threshold (Zone 4), Super-Threshold (Zone 5a*), VO2max (Zone 5b*), and Sprints (Zone 5c*). The single hard ride Hughes & Kehlenbach recommends corresponds to the Sub-Threshold (Zone 4) ride of Hughes.

Another difference between Hughes and Hughes & Kehlenbach is that Hughes makes different recommendations for three different kinds of riders, Health and Fitness Riders, Club and Endurance Riders, and Performance Riders. I fall into the first group, or perhaps the second group on a good day, but never in the third group. Hughes & Kehlenbach consider only one kind of rider, one corresponding to the Club and Endurance Rider of Hughes.

For the Health and Fitness rider, Hughes recommends the following: "In addition to active recovery, endurance and tempo rides, you will benefit from sprints and VO2 max intervals; however, if you don’t want to do either of these—don’t!" For the Club and Endurance rider, Hughes says "In addition to active recovery, endurance and tempo rides you will also benefit from sprints, VO2 max intervals and sweet spot training; however, if you don’t want to push yourself that hard I won’t fault you." So the good news is that, according to Hughes, whatever hard riding I do, even if that is none, will be enough.

So are we done at long last? Not quite. Hughes lists nine benefits that come from including at least some hard rides in your schedule. I won't list all nine, but I want to mention one: Better Performance. At the beginning of this post, I mentioned how I am disappointed with my speed and how I would love to find some way to increase it. If my enthusiasm and level of fatigue would allow it, might introducing some specifically hard/fast/brisk rides into my schedule be beneficial? Interestingly, the hard ride recommended by Hughes & Kehlenbach was at the low end of hard, in Zone 4, whereas the two rides Hughes recommends for the Health and Fitness cyclist are at the high end; Sprint (Zone 5c) and VO2max (5b). These last two are not intensities I reach during my GoTo ride, and thus rides at these intensities might add something I would not otherwise get. (For the Club and Endurance rider, Hughes suggests one more hard ride, the "Sweet Spot" ride, at the very low end of hard, at the border between Zones 3 and 4, an intensity that I reach often in my GoTo ride.) But is this madness? Am I about to complicate the beautifully simple schedule I developed for riding a 100K per month? I actually don't think so. I have recently been enjoying riding my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima around the neighborhood. (Because it has sew-up tires which are hard to change on the road, I have been keeping these rides close to home so I could walk home in the case of a flat.) One of the reasons I like riding this classic bike is because it feels fast. Although traffic is a consideration everywhere on The Peninsula, there are some stretches of this neighborhood ride a few blocks long where there is less traffic overall and virtually no cross traffic, so these might be places I could enjoy the speed of this beautiful bike and practice sprinting. If I do this, will it improve my speed? Stay tuned to find out.

* I have substituted Joe Friel's Zone numbering system (5a, 5b, 5c) for that of Hughes (5, 6, and 7) because Freil's system is the one I have previously used on this blog.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Deconstructing 100K per month

"STOP training. Stop worrying about all the numbers. Throw all that training literature away -- it isn't written for someone 60+ years old with a fairly high resting pulse (60+), anyway. Instead, start riding and enjoying the rides for the sake of the rides."

This comment, from one of my blog posts long ago and far away, is one I think about often. Although I really appreciate the sentiment (and I appreciate that the author took the trouble to post a comment even more), each of the many times I have rethought this comment, I end up telling myself the same thing: "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that." (My name is David so when I talk to myself, I ..., oh, never mind.) Cycling inevitably involves choices, and depending on what choices I make, has consequences. How often do I ride? (A different commenter on that same post chided me for riding two days in a row.) How fast do I ride? (...and chided me for riding too fast.) For how many miles? If I am interested in a group ride, which rides are too long or too hilly and which are just right? All of that said, over the past five years, I have moved some distance in the direction this commenter suggested. Although I own a dozen books on bicycle training, these days, I only look at one, "Distance Cycling" by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach, the cover of which is at the top of this post. My Garmin stopped working about a year ago, so I no longer track my heart rate during a ride. But I still have choices to make, and this post is about how I am thinking about these choices at this point in my life. In particular, I am going to put this into the context of my recent goal of riding one metric century (100 kilometers or just over 60 miles) a month. This is a big step backwards from five years ago, when my goal was to complete rides twice that long with the hope of working up to even longer rides. What happened? In short, I found a 200K brevet (a bike ride of 200 kilometers or just over 120 miles) much harder than I expected, such that it seemed (and still seems) unlikely I could complete one of these a month, a prerequisite for the longer rides of which I had dreamed. My move to California pushed this dream even farther out of reach. In Texas, the 200K brevets I could ride were relatively flat. In California, they are quite hilly and therefore substantially more difficult. In short, the dream is over, 100K it is.

One more factor I need to mention is that my motives for riding are mixed. Besides "enjoying the rides for the sake of the rides", I must keep riding for my health, mental and physical, whether I enjoy it or not. And therein lies a conflict. Most of the training literature assumes you are starting at a point where you cannot complete your goal ride, and that you will work up to that goal, with no plan for sustaining that level of fitness. In particular, the exercise community builds their recommendations around the concept of a "season". At the end of one season, one quits cycling and then starts the next with a series of activities that start from no cycling and work their way back up to peak fitness. On the other hand, the medical community wants to me exercise 300 minutes a week, every week of my life. One exception to the seasonal approach of the exercise community comes from the randonneuring community in the form of the R12 award given to a randonneur who rides a 200K or longer brevet every month of the year and Hughes and Kehlenbach offer a year around, steady state training plan for earning that award. In this post, I will discuss my thoughts for adapting that plan to my goal of riding a metric century a month while meeting my medically prescribed exercise requirements. I will develop this adaptation in stages.

Original Plan: 200K/month

This is a training plan for maintaining the fitness required to ride a 124 mile bike ride (200K brevet) once a month from Hughes and Kehlenbach. This plan repeats every four weeks. Immediately after having completed a 124 mile/200K/600 minute ride, you ride the easy schedule of Week 1 to recover. You then ride the harder schedules of Weeks 2 and 3 to prepare of another 200K ride in Week 4. That 200K ride is an essential part of the training schedule, if you did not ride it every month, you would have to add some longer rides to make up for it. Of course, 200K group rides do not happen exactly every 4 weeks, so Week 3 can be deleted or duplicated within reason when brevets are more or less than four weeks apart. 

For this schedule, rides shown in green are ridden slowly, those in yellow at the speed planned for the 200K (medium), those in blue are a bit faster than the 200K (medium-fast), and  those in red are fast rides. The numbers are the length of the rides in minutes. The 600 minute ride in Week 4 is the 200K ride that is the goal for the month. The estimated time of 600 minutes comes from what Hughes and Kellenbach advise should be your time before considering advancing to a 300K ride. (For comparison, the fastest I have ever ridden a 200K is 660 minutes.)

For medical reasons, I should ride 300 or more minutes a week. The TOTAL column on the far right gives the sum of minutes ridden per month. In all except the recovery week, the 300 minutes prescribed by my doctor is reached or exceeded, and the average is well over that. However, I already know I cannot maintain a schedule of a 200K ride a month, the best I have managed is a 200K per year, which is why I am now proposing of riding half that, a 100K/month.

Scaled Down Plan: 100K/month

This is identical to the previous schedule, except that I have divided all the times by two. The problem with this schedule is that, if I were to follow it, I would get less than the medically optimum amount of exercise. Only in Week 4 do I meet my goal and the average is just over 240 minutes a week, well below my goal.

Also, the rides I can actually do on the hilly San Francisco Bay Peninsula prevent me from dividing my rides into the very discrete effort levels indicated by the above color codes. What I need to do is to substitute the rides I can actually do, each of which contains a mix of efforts, by making sure that my rides give me at least same total minutes of each effort as the above schedule.

The next schedule is designed to address these issues.

Personalized Plan: 100K/month

In this schedule, I have increased the length of some of the rides so that I now get closer to my medically prescribed 300 minutes a week.  Given that the hills where I ride mean that every ride is, by necessity, a mixture of efforts, what do the color codes in this latest plan mean? Very loosely, they are meant to convey the same things as in the previous plans; the yellow ride is my weekly long ride, which, because it is in the hills, includes a mix of efforts, but in general, is a ride on which I try to moderate my speed. Because the blue ride is shorter, I try to ride it a bit faster. The green rides are rides around my neighborhood which I try to make as easy as possible, but given that I live on a hill, even those are a bit of a mix.

What happened to the fast (red) rides? Because I live in the hills, my medium-fast (blue) and long (yellow) rides are quite strenuous going up the hills and not at all strenuous going down, so rather than a 110 minute ride being 110 minutes of medium effort, it is 14 minutes of easy effort (green), 75 minutes of medium effort (yellow), 17 minutes of medium-fast effort (blue), and 4 minutes of an effort similar in difficulty to the fast rides (red)*. Because all the rides contain some high effort hill climbing, the benefits of the red rides are provided as an unavoidable part of the other rides.

On the surface, this would appear not to add up; the previous schedule had 40-45 minutes of fast (red) rides in Weeks 2 and 3, compared to only 4 minutes of high intensity riding in a 110 minute ride. What equalizes these efforts is a few things. In the first place, the 45 minutes given for the red rides are not that many minutes of hard effort, but include warm up, cool down, and recovery between hard efforts. Thus, a 45 minute fast (red) ride actually contains only of 15 minutes of fast riding. Second, it is not just the 110 minute ride that contains some hard hills, to a greater or lesser extent, all of my rides do. I don't have the same quantitation for all the rides as I do for my 110 minute ride, but a reasonable estimate is that Week 1 of the above schedule contains 8 minutes of high intensity riding, and Weeks 2 and 3 contain 12 minutes each. Finally, note that Week 1 of the previous schedule had no red rides, so summed over the month, the previous schedule contained 30 minutes of hard (fast) riding, whereas this schedule added up to 32 minutes of hard (hilly) riding, effectively the same.

A few caveats with the above calculation are 1) The numbers are close, so if I start substituting flatter long rides for hilly ones, I may come up short on hard/fast/hilly/intense minutes. (Since most of the 100K rides I am considering are hilly, doing so would probably be a mistake anyway.) 2) It is not completely clear that riding hard up hills produces exactly the same kind of fitness as getting my heart up to the same rate by riding fast. 3) This assumes that there is "hard" and "not hard" riding. In fact, many training manuals (though not Hughes and Kehlenbach) suggest riding at different intensities to gain different kinds of fitness. This is probably getting too far into the weeds for an old, casual cyclist like me, so I will not develop scenarios around each of these, but simply note that they are in the back of my mind and might cause me to do some more traditional, fast riding on occasion. Finally, and even at the risk of getting into the weeds, I plan to revisit the question of riding at different intensities one last time in an upcoming post.

How about minutes of easy (green), medium (yellow), and medium-fast (blue) riding? The previous schedule contained 165 minutes of medium-fast riding, 630 minutes of medium riding, and 150 minutes of easy riding. This current schedule contains 170 minutes of medium-fast riding, 750 minutes of medium riding, and 380 minutes of easy riding. This certainly seems at least as good.

How does my doctor feel about all this? The medical community groups exercise levels into light, moderate, and vigorous and gives me no credit for light exercise, suggests that I should participate in 300 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 150 minutes a week of vigorous exercise, or any combination of the two. The problem is in equating my exercise levels to the three medical categories. After a lot of soul searching and poring over the various ways the medical community describes light, moderate, and vigorous exercise, I have come to the conclusion that the best thing for me to do is to describe all my rides as moderate exercise, thus the number of minutes in the TOTAL column represents the number of minutes of moderate exercise I get to report to my doctor. Even in Week 1, my recovery week, I come very close to the optimum 300 minutes of exercise, and significantly exceed that in all other weeks with an average of over 350 minutes a week. I think my doctor would be happy if I could maintain this schedule.

Despite how complicated it was to get here, this personalized schedule is designed to be simplicity itself to ride. The 30 minute easy (green) rides are just rides around my neighborhood. The 110 minute medium (blue) ride is just the "go-to" ride I ride all the time, and the longer (yellow) rides are just simple extensions to that ride. If I start to get bored, significant changes to this schedule should still leave me well prepared for a metric century, so long as I maintain the total number of minutes of riding, don't skip the long ride each week, and do roughly the same amount of riding in the hills. Finally, what happens when life intervenes such that I fail to maintain this schedule, or even stop riding altogether for a period? The consensus of the training literature suggests I should slowly work up to a long ride of between 200 and 225 minutes a week or two before the metric century, after which I could return to this maintenance schedule. The consensus of the endurance cycling (randonneuring) community would suggest that 150 minutes might be enough to prepare for a 100K, and thus once I had worked my way back to this maintenance schedule, I would be good to go. I rode the Art of Survival 8 weeks after having been completely off the bike for 10 weeks due to illness, and followed a schedule much like that recommended by the training literature, working up to a long ride of 230 minutes two weeks before the ride, and that seemed to work well. I was in something of the reverse situation for the Golden Hills metric century, being a bit overtrained seven weeks before, and in that case, rode only one long ride in preparation, 190 minutes, and that, too worked. What is the lesson from these different experiences? I think it is that, unlike a 200K ride, A 100K ride is much closer to what I can comfortably ride day in and day out, so preparing for one is a tweak to my schedule rather than a major effort that requires intense focus and a precise training plan to complete. 

Even though it is relatively easy to prepare for, the benefits of a monthly 100K should not be minimized. A 100K ride is not easy for me but rather is a welcome stretch. Thankfully, there are lots of fun group 100K rides offered in my area, providing an opportunity for making my medically-prescribed riding more entertaining. In short, 100K per month represents a worthwhile upgrade to my riding schedule. Now all that remains is to muster the organization and enthusiasm needed to sign up for metric centuries on a regular basis. Wish me luck!

* I don't normally use a heart rate monitor on my California rides, but one time I did. These levels of effort were determined from that ride.