Thursday, May 22, 2014

Training 2014, Block 2

Start of the Lindsay Bike Race, Junior Division, 1967. The Zombie is at the far right of the first row, wearing number 77, on his Peugeot PX10.

I recently reviewed the first block of training I did in 2014. That training block was designed in reaction to my despair at realizing my previous goals as a randonneur were out of reach, probably forever. It was a placeholder, the main goals of which were to meet the healthy adult exercise goals of the American College of Sports Medicine and to keep me cycling. It consisted of 6 rides per week, each about 90 minutes long, each at moderate intensity. Previous to that block, I took a month off where I did very little cycling. I continued with that block for about 14 weeks and when I looked at my performance over this time, I realized that any identifiable improvement in fitness occurred during the first 6 of those weeks. My fitness was at a plateau for the final 8 weeks. I haven't completely thought through all the implications of this plateau, but it seemed to me that it might be informative to change things up and see if I could move to a higher level of fitness. Also, despite my discouragement, I have not given up on randonneuring entirely and have my eye on a 200K brevet in October. My first training block would not prepare me for that. Besides, I was getting bored.

One thing I enjoyed about my first training block was that it had a built-in a measure of improvement. This measure, which was built-in by virtue of being one of my training rides, is called a MAF test. A MAF test measures how fast I can ride for 45 minutes1 while maintaining my heart rate within heart rate zone 2. This test is reputed to be a measure of aerobic cycling fitness, the kind of fitness used during a brevet. (That said, this test does not measure endurance, another requirement for brevet riding.) So, as I considered rides for my second block of training, a consideration was rides that included measures of improvement.

Both the recommendations of pretty much everyone as well as my personal experience indicates that to become fit for long rides means training on long rides, so a weekly long ride was one addition I wanted to make in block 2. One could imagine a variety of ways of measuring progress on this long ride, but I chose one recommended by Joe Friel, a decrease in a phenomenon called "decoupling". If I ride a long ride at a more or less constant speed, at some point my heart rate will increase even though I am riding at a constant effort; heart rate has become decoupled from effort. As I repeat that long ride and become more fit, decoupling should occur later in the ride and become less pronounced. Thus, for my long ride, the measure of progress is at what point in the ride my heart rate starts to increase and how much it increases by the end of the ride. Importantly, this should be a measure of endurance, an important kind of fitness for brevet riding. I chose a long ride of 50 miles as a distance I believed would be quite do-able while still being a bit of a challenge. I find that, on this 50 mile ride, decoupling begins at about 30 miles and results in an increase of about two zones (from lower zone 2 to lower zone 4) in heart rate.

The second ride I added in block 2 was a fast ride. My experience leaves me a bit skeptical about the benefit to me of fast rides, but given how frequently it is recommended, I figured I would give a version of this another try. However, rather than riding intervals, I am doing a 30 minute ride as fast as I can go and the associated metric is, as one might expect, my average speed over those 30 minutes. Interestingly, this is my least favorite ride. To help keep boredom at bay, I do this ride on my Bianchi Specialissima, as opposed to all my other rides which I do on my Surly Crosscheck.

In summary, block 2 of my 2014 training consists of one MAF test, one 50 mile ride at a comfortable speed, and one 30 minute time trial. Including the two slower rides of 20 to 30 miles with my wife on the weekend, this adds up to 5 days of riding a week, leaving 2 rest days, one more than in block 1.

An alternative I seriously considered to the structured training programs I have been pursuing, one recommended and used by a lot of randonneurs, it to just do long rides. Unfortunately, the variety available for rides starting from my home near the heart of urban Houston is limited. I can drive out to the country for more ride possibilities, but to do that too often is expensive, un-ecological, and time consuming. Thus, my structured training is a way to stay fit within the constraints of where I live.

The good news is there is a lot of time between now and the October brevet for which I am preparing. Even if this training regimen doesn't do the job, there is time to try something else. Stay tuned.

1) This ends up as a 90 minute ride when I include warm up and cool down.

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