Saturday, January 10, 2009

Some Thoughts on Training

I just finished reading Base Building for Cyclists by Thomas Chapple.  The book deals with exactly what it sounds like it deals with - base building for people who want to realize a challenging goal to do with what they can do on a bike.  Other goals are covered to some extent, but Chapple is mainly interested in road racers in this book.

The training system advanced in the book is based on periodization.  The idea behind periodization is that while training is necessary to stress the body and cause it to react in the desired way, it's actually when an athlete is resting that their fitness improves.  In the past, I've just gone riding a lot.  That was the extent of my training, and it worked.  Chapple even mentions that it works.  He believes that periodization works better.  I guess I don't have the experience to say one way or the other, but it seems that a lot of really fast guys have been using periodization to get faster.

I spent a big chunk of time last night sitting with Excel and a calendar template (which I had to modify - they put Sunday at the beginning of the week; since I sometimes race on Sundays it makes more sense for me to consider both weekend days the end of the week, and then I won't accidentally have races fall on the beginning of the wrong week.)  Due to some circumstances, I have thirty hours a week available to train, which is the most that most athletes can train productively.  I didn't really take the time to think about how much riding that is, though, before I started putting together the schedule.  And at first, it looked like just a little more riding every week than I'm used to.  But as it continued to develop, I realized I was going to be scheduling myself to ride more on some single days than I rode in my heaviest weeks last Fall, my heaviest-riding period since college.  Possibly heavier, since during the week in college I only rode to class.  That brought up questions like, "Do I even want to ride this much?" and "Will any of my rides be compatible with riding with my friends?"  Chapple is actually not very bullish on riding with friends because he thinks that people push themselves too hard and get competitive when they do that.  I guess he doesn't know my friends.

So now that I have that out of the way, it's time for me to consider how much I actually want to ride, and how much I think I can ride without hurting myself.  Also, how much I need to ride to complete races that will typically run from forty-five minutes to an hour and a half during the summer, and about thirty-five minutes when cyclocross season starts up again.  I also need to look at how serious I want to be.  There's a stereotype of joyless roadies going on endless training miles and never racing.  That begs questions like, "What are they training for?"  and, "Why are they doing this to themselves?"  While I think the stereotype is exactly that, it has a few points.  I want my training plan to be compatible with riding my mountain bike, riding bikes with friends, enjoying riding my road bike, and enjoying life in general.  I also want it not to hurt me, so while I think that I can withstand a higher training load than my heaviest loads last Fall, I think it's probably not by that much.  I took a whole spring and early summer to work up to where Fall's training loads were okay, so I think that that training load is a good starting point and I should only progress as far as I can get while following the 10%/week guideline that kept me healthy last summer.  The other thing to think about is that I think that the guys who beat me racing cyclocross did it by being able to push a bigger gear on their bikes.  They were faster because they were stronger, and if they had better aerobic capacity than I did, it wasn't necessarily by that much.  In fact, I tended to beat a lot of the guys I did beat by being capable of a few more efforts at the end of the race when they weren't.  If only I had split times for my laps...

Which brings me to my training goals for this season.  I need to be able to push a bigger gear.  For mountain bike racing, I need to be more skillful in how I ride my mountain bike.  The corollary to being able to push a bigger gear is that I need to be able to do it for a whole race, which is why I don't just do lunges or join a gym and do squats and leave the bike alone until race day.  If I'm stronger, as I understand it, my muscles will demand more oxygen and nutrients to work and keep working for a whole race.  Which is where time spent on the bike comes in.  But for me, it's not huge and I already get a lot of miles just commuting and running errands and such.

So how does that shake out for me?  Since, like everyone who gets a training book when already planning some races, I don't have the thirty weeks Chapple suggests for a proper training schedule.  Luckily, immediately after the part where he writes, "You really shouldn't abbreviate your plan."  He gets to, "But if you have to, here's how to do it."  It kind of reminds me of the part of the driver's manual that says, "You should never use chains on this car.  If you do use chains on this car, you should install them..."  I will actually never have thirty weeks available to train for racing.  The first one that I want to do is in April, and if I continue to race cyclocross, which I plan to, the last race I'll be doing is in November.  Taking December off training gives me three months a year to devote to training and not racing.  It's not quite as bad as it sounds, since "advanced training," which is part of the thirty weeks, includes racing if you want it to.  I suppose if I start getting really good at either mountain bike or cyclocross racing I'll have to give up one so that I can properly peak for the other, but given my goal in this whole thing, which is to ride bikes a lot, race because I like racing, and race better because I have more fun doing things well, and that I plan to also have a career and other things in my life, I don't expect that to become an issue anytime soon.

Since I didn't entirely quit riding bikes but I did stop training during December and the first part of this month, I get to skip two training phases.  I start in mid-base, which means riding fairly slowly but incorporating some hills and some more mileage, and I have time to do late-base, which is riding pretty hard, and one advanced cycle, meaning riding with an emphasis on the specifics of the races I'm looking at going to, before my first race.  So I may not build to as much mileage as if I devoted more time to having a pre-base and early base phase, and I don't get to cross-train as much, but since I'm a generally active person anyway and the races I'm looking at entering are relatively short, I think that I'll survive.

I suppose my final thoughts on this book are that while it's pretty prescriptive, since I read it and didn't just skip straight to the training schedules at the end, I'm finding a lot of information on how to plan for my needs and goals in my current situation.  Also, he uses too many acronyms.

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