Tuesday, December 3, 2013


It has been over two weeks since my last post, and for that I apologize. It is probably no coincidence that it has also been over two weeks since I have sat on a bike. A while back I blogged that, since my previous cycling goals had proven to be unobtainable, I was by necessity suspending training until I had a new cycling goals towards which to direct my training. I hadn't planned no riding, but between weather and home projects, that's what happened. By this morning, I was itching to ride, and realized that my subconscious had come up with a new cycling goal, a short-term goal to be sure, but a goal nonetheless. My current cycling goal is to learn through a series of experiments how my body responds to training.

Up until now, I had been setting my cycling goals based on what I wanted to do, more or less assuming that I would be able to devise a training regimen to allow me to reach those goals. I no longer believe that, so I have stood the paradigm on its head; I will determine what is possible, and then use that as a filter to select feasible aspirations.

The model I have developed based on my reading of the training literature is that there are a series of processes required to recover from the fatigue resulting from training, and that these different processes take very different amounts of time. Some recovery is completed in minutes, some in days, and some takes weeks or longer.  Consider, for example, interval training. The time between intervals (minutes) allows me to recover for the next interval, but there are only so many intervals I can do in a day before I need some days for recovery, and if I train too hard week after week, my performance starts to decrease rather than improve, indicating a need for rest over weeks or months. My goal is to determine how much training I can tolerate and how much rest I need. In this discussion, I use the words form, fitness, and fatigue in the same way Joe Friel uses them.

I've read that two important factors in reaching a goal are:

  1. Making the goal specific.
  2. Having metrics for progress towards the goal.

In terms of making the goal specific, I plan to begin by measuring the impact of the training rides I do to improve my distance cycling on residual tiredness. I will begin with one of my standard rides known as the MAF test: 15 minutes warm up in heart rate Zone 1, 45 minutes in heart rate Zone 2, and 15 minute cool down such that I am at the low end of Zone 1 by the end. In terms of metrics, I will use resting heart rate and subjective feelings as my metric for fatigue. Although the primary goal of this experiment will be to measure fatigue, I will also record my speed during the 45 minutes in Zone 2 as a metric for increased fitness due to the training effect of the previous rides.

These particular experiments come from two observations I made just before taking my two week sabbatical:

  1. I found that, when done carefully, my resting heart rate measured in bed before getting up in the morning appears to be fairly reproducible. It is between 62 and 64 beats per minute (bpm) when I am well rested and have abstained from alcohol. When I am tired, my resting heart rate decreases. A heart rate of 60 bpm is a good indicator that I am not fully recovered from the riding of the day before, and anything below that is a strong indicator of significant fatigue.
  2. Two weeks ago, I did MAF tests on Monday and Tuesday. Monday morning before the first ride, my heart rate was 63 bpm. Tuesday morning after the first but before the second ride it was 60 bpm. Wednesday morning after two rides in two days it was 57 bpm. This suggests that it takes me more than 24 hours to recover from the fatigue generated by a MAF test.
The initial questions I will be asking are:
  1. Is my preliminary result from two weeks ago reproducible?
  2. How long does it take for my resting heart rate to return to normal? If I skip a day between MAF tests, is that sufficient?
  3. As an alternative to skipping rides on the days between MAF tests, I will test the effect of doing an active recovery ride, a 30 minute ride in Zone 1, on my rest day. How does my recovery after an active recovery ride compare to that after a rest day?
  4. What happens as I continue this routine? As I increase fitness, do I need less rest after a MAF test, or does tiredness accumulate so that I need more rest?
  5. If I find I need less rest after a MAF test as time progresses and my fitness increases, I will increase the length of one of my weekly Zone 2 rides at a rate of 10% a week. How will this affect my rate of recovery from fatigue (and increased fitness as measured in a MAF test?)
  6. I assume I cannot increase the length of my training rides indefinitely without experiencing fatigue that won't go away. One approach recommended to manage that is to not monotonically increase the length of the ride, but rather to increase for two or three weeks followed by a rest week. I will test this schedule as well.
I expect a lot of unexpected results from these experiments and as a result, I expect this plan to evolve. What will remain constant is the goal, to determine the effect of training on the body I have today. Stay tuned.


  1. Why are you doing MAF rides two days in a row? As a note: 10% increase in normal baseline resting rate means that you should go easy that day and/or cut back in both volume and intensity. 10 beats increase means you should totally rest for a few days.

    I think you may have your training zones set higher than they should be so every Zone 2 segment is really a Zone 3 or higher so you are in a constant state of fatigue.

    With athletes that I used to coach, I used the following morning warning signs:

    Morning pulse: elevated 10% above normal +1
    Morning pulse: 10 beats above normal +2
    Nighttime thirst -waking up several times during night with extremely dry mouth +1
    Loss of sleep: 5% or more loss of sleep is significant +1
    Time to bed: 1/2 later than normal +1
    Sleep quality: waking during night without getting back to sleep quickly +1
    Morning weight: 2% more or less is significant, dehydration and other factors +1
    Personal signs/mood: grumpy, cold sores, inability to concentrate, muscle soreness, poor coordination +1
    Urine color: deep yellow or golden says body not recovered from previous training, dehydration +1

    Score yourself:

    +1 -workout as normal
    +2 -reduce intensity and/or duration
    +3 in one day or +4 in two consecutive days. Take a day or more off

    1. Thanks for your comment! In response to your very generous advice, I wanted to respond to some of your questions:
      1) The very short answer to your question of "Why two MAF tests in a row?" is "As an experiment." The goals of the experiment is to determine how I can reliably measure fatigue, what rides cause fatigue lasting more than 24 hours, and how long it takes to recover from such rides. 2) There are many things of which I am not sure, but one question I have answered to my satisfaction is that MAF tests as I ride them are ridden in Zone 2, not in Zone 3.
      Thanks again.

    2. Are you basing your zones directly from the last 20 minutes of your test or are you basing your threshold from a number that is about 5% less? According to Friel and my own training and being a runner/cyclist for quite a number of years it is best to take 3-5% off the 20 minute average. For a 30 minute time trial, I can hold a much higher rate. For example if my avg. HR is 160 and I base my zones of 100% of that, that is 160 bpm, if I use 97%, the top of the zone is 5 beats less. I recommend always using the lower number. I suggest 95% of the 20 minute avg. and readjust all the zones from there. HR is influenced by so many different variables (stress, temperature, hydration, amount of sleep, etc, humidity).

      I think if you adjust the numbers down, you will see better results. Many are in a constant state of fatigue and do not get the results they want because they are training too hard on easy level 1 and level 2 (endurance rides) and are not able to train hard enough when doing Levels 4 and 5.

  2. "In terms of making the goal specific, I plan to begin by measuring the impact of the training rides ..."

    That pretty much sums it up. Your goal has never seemed to be "do some rando rides," but instead has seemed to be "do training things and worry and blog about the training numbers."

    It seems you are getting all your "pleasure" out of the training tests. To do rando rides, you need to get the "pleasure" out of the actual RIDING and to heck with the numbers.

    If you do several long (200+k) rides, you may find that some of your faster elapsed times come when you're slow on the bike but don't fritter time away at controls / stops. Learn to get on the bike and pedal for 40 or 50 miles without stopping. Learn to think in 40-mile chunks -- it is easier to ride three 40-mile sections than to ride TWELVE 10-mile sections.

    If you DNF, so what! -- as long as you learn something, it will not have been a "failure." Two of the most useful educational rando rides I did when I took up randonneuring were DNF's on 200+ km Permanents.

    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. And if you end up only doing 40-milers, or 20-milers, because that is what you can do repeatedly and enjoy the ride, that will be a success!

  3. Wow, three comments on one blog post, I think that is a new record for me :-). I am tickled pink. Not having a lot of experience as a blogger, I am struggling a bit with the etiquette of comments. Because I have thought a lot and have strong opinions about what I post, because I worry that I don't always express myself clearly in my posts, and because I spent my career in an argumentative profession (research science), I have a natural inclination to turn a comment into a dialogue. On the other hand, I don't want to seem like an ingrate by arguing with good advice given generously. "On the gripping hand", I don't want commenters to feel like I am ignoring them. Thus, let me just say that I very much appreciate your comments, I will be thinking about them for a long time and will definitely consider them carefully as I plan my cycling going forward, but unless someone asks me a direct question, I will bite my tongue (fingers.) THANKS!!

  4. I agree with Skiffrun. Throw the HR monitor in the drawer. Ride to ride, not as a science experiment of one. There is a saying, "Paralysis by Analysis". Embrace the riding and don't worry about the numbers. Try riding at conversational pace and increasing the time/rather than distance each week for 2-3 weeks then take a week where you cut total time especially of the longest timed ride by 25-30%. Your body doesn't measure miles, it measures time exercising. Do this for 8-12 weeks with one day a week of harder riding where you do hills or a faster pace. Levels 3-4.

  5. Well, I don't see anything wrong with a bit of analysis if it's something the person enjoys. Of course anything can be overdone, even "riding for the sake of the rides". I get a little bored if I do only that.

    I found your blog through the Iron Rider blog. I think we're about the same age. Last year I overtrained and didn't allow myself to recover, and I actually got slower and gained weight in spite of the extra miles. This year I'm all about recovery.

    I think (as others have commented) that you're over-training. I've had good luck this year with 2-4 days between intense rides, filling in with other activities like yoga, weight training, or slow easy rides... although I have trouble going easy enough if I believe my heart-rate monitor. I'm having a hard time believing you can do any kind of bike ride in Zone 1. Your zone limits must be set pretty high.

    You said, "When I am tired, my resting heart rate decreases." Really? The opposite of my experience. When I am well rested my RHR is at its minimum. I think jbithaca was saying the same thing.

    1. Thanks for the support on the analysis, Bryan, it is very much what I enjoy. Despite the comments to this post, I am very confident that I have my heart rate zones set correctly. For both Zone 1 and Zone 2, I find I am "holding back", my natural inclination is to ride faster. As you note, it is real work to go slow enough to stay in Zone 1. The two circumstances when I do it are cooling down after a training ride, and I accomplish that by diligently keeping my speed below 10 miles per hour, and riding with my wife, who is a slower rider than I am.

  6. Resting HR should decrease when well rested. After days of sustained hard training or being fatigued in general will not allow one to raise their HR as much, thus even if you are in your perceived zone 2, it is really probably a zone 3/4 effort. This is the weakness of using just HR based training. When using HR as well as a power measuring device (SRM, Powertap, lab ergometer) which measures watts, it was found often that athletes can hit the same wattage numbers a few days in a row, but could not raise their HR as much as when well rested. You need to use HR and perceived exertion along with the warning signs that I wrote about earlier to determine the best training stresses for you as an individual.

    I have really tried the last few years to really go easy on rest days, sometimes painfully slow, so that when I go hard, I can go really hard. A really useful book you might want to look at is, Base Building for Cyclists.


    For brevets, I don't think you need to do very much training above level 4. I would emphasize strength training on the bike through big gear riding and riding hills. My biggest gains have come from doing 10-20 minute blocks of training at 70-75 rpms, working up to 4 blocks during a long training ride with 5-10 minutes easy spinning at 90+ in the small chain ring between efforts. I would start with 2-10 minute blocks.

    For brevets minimize off bike time and as Skiffrun says think in 40 mile chunks. I chunk my rides down as the distances between controles and trying to limit myself to 5-10 minutes at each controle with a longer stop depending upon the course of 20-30 minutes to eat something more substantial. It was kind of drilled into me by a few fellow randonneurs "Pedal the bike, pedal the bike" and keep stops short.

    1. I purchased the book you recommended and look forward to reading it.

      I cannot afford a power meter (being a retired guy on a fixed income) but had hoped that I could garner some of the same information by the speed that I ride a MAF test given that it is ridden on a completely flat bike track, 1/3 mile in length, closed to traffic. Of course, this won't work so well on a windy day, but I felt like my speed on a day without wind should be proportional to power.

      Day to day, my speed in a MAF test is quite constant, as is relative perceived effort (cannot sing but can easily talk in complete sentences.) It is all this information put together that makes me feel that my MAF tests are reproducibly being ridden in Zone 2. Whether I should be riding in Zone 2 day after day, even if for only 45 minutes, is a completely separate question, of course, and is the one I am trying to answer.

      Two final comments:
      1) I do not feel tired after riding a MAF test.
      2) During the test, the primary effect my heart rate monitor has on me is to restrain my speed, I frequently note that my heart rate is too high and slow down and very rarely note that my heart rate is too low and speed up.

      Subjectively, a MAF test feels like a very easy ride.

  7. The reference for my statement that, in older athletes, overtraining can cause a DECREASE in resting heart rate is as follows:
    "Total Heart Rate Training" by Joe Friel (ISBN978-1-56975-562-4) pp 93-94.

    All of my heart rate zones are confirmed by reference to perceived exertion.

  8. It's me again,

    I've read your post a few times to make sure I understand your position and it is a very interesting take on training, i.e. using your training to set goals instead of vice versa. I will be interested in following your experiment of one.

    That being said, I also notice that you have already provided evidence for what was an initial question I posed to you: are the MAF tests being done too frequently and/or at too high of an effort.

    In the post above you write:

    " I did MAF tests on Monday and Tuesday. [the resting heart rate results] suggests that it takes me more than 24 hours to recover from the fatigue generated by a MAF test."

    When I joined this topic in the summer, you were doing 4-5 MAF tests a week plus longer rides

    It appears that your current data supports the conclusion that your Summer schedule of 4-5 MAF tests a week was not giving you enough recovery time. Which is what I had suspected.

    If you agree with that conclusion, then reducing the number of tests would make sense. My guess is that you will find that 2 -3 days between MAF tests or longer rides will lead to increased fitness and adequate recovery. The rest can be done at a very easy pace, at least until you really adapt and get fitter.

    As for Randonneuring, it's not just about fitness. It's really more about pacing, energy management (food/water) and the mental aspect of completing the ride. If completing a brevet is the goal, then work on those factors as much, if not more than the training.

    One more thing, I agree with JBIthica that strength training provides a huge return for a relatively small time investment. Just my humble opinion.

    Good luck with the training and even more so the riding.

    1. Great to see you again, Iron Rider! I really appreciate your reading of and commenting on my blog. It was because of you and other commenters that I revisited the MAF tests. I plan to post an update in a month or two when I have more data, but already I am concerned that the initial observation on resting heart rate and fatigue is not holding up. Probably I should not muddy the waters any further until I have enough data to be believable, but given that I had shared the preliminary result that I had, I felt that I owed you a clarification.