Burning Matches …

Training is of benefit because of the response it engenders. Exercise at a greater intensity than the body is used to (overload) will produce some minor muscular mayhem that will be followed by repair and restoration (adaptation) leading to a greater capacity for future exercise (increased fitness).

There is considerable science to support all this for which we are indebted to an unbelievably large number of athletes who are prepared to exercise to exhaustion while breathing through masks and surrendering muscle biopsies at intervals.

Not everyone responds to the same extent or in the same way to training and there are way too many variables to formulate a precise prescription for the best of all training plans. The gap between Sports Science and Sports Coaching is the realm of Art.

I think it’s a very reasonable assumption that more is better, until more is too much. You’ll know where the boundary is after you cross it.

Endurance events are completed (by and large) at a rate at which oxygen supply keeps pace with fuel consumption except perhaps for the last hundred meters or so. In order to improve that pace it has been the practice of many athletes to train at the very boundary of aerobic/anaerobic metabolism. A growing body of coaches believe that this is too high a risk for the rewards it brings. The same risks are there for the enthusiast but the rewards don’t include gold medals.

The currently fashionable answer is polarised training. It’s a combination of a lot of Long Slow Distance with a little very high intensity mixed in. The middle intensity around the lactate threshold is avoided.

The suggested mix is 80% LSD and 20% high intensity. The true believer measures this out with a stopwatch and a power meter. The less obsessed can simply burn a match on a hill or two or try for a personal best on the next Strava segment on their morning ride.

Volume vs Intensity …

Cycling does you good. Does more cycling do you even more good?

Given my advanced age the effect of cycling on all cause mortality is of urgent concern. Research on older folk getting off the couch and onto their bikes is scant. The obvious advantage of such studies would be the relatively short time the researchers would need to wait for the endpoints. In the absence of old folk as guinea pigsĀ  we can look to wise coaches for opinion or extrapolate from studies that draw their participants from a wider spectrum.

Joe Friel is wise and famous and a prolific author. In Fast After Fifty he tells us that long slow distance will set you apart from the guy next door. It will also set you apart from the guys on the podium. In other words he damns it with faint praise. His prescription is to go for the intensity.

This is borne out by findings from the Copenhagen City Heart Study (Schnohr et al)

Relative intensity and duration of cycling were recorded in 5106 apparently healthy men and women aged 21-90 years drawn from the general population of Copenhagen, and followed for an average of 18 years. Total number of deaths during follow-up was 1172, of these 146 were coronary heart disease deaths. For both sexes we found a significant inverse association between cycling intensity and risk of all-cause and coronary heart disease death, but only a weak association with cycling duration.

If you want to live longer ride faster not further. QED.

Charity rides are a fun way to spice up your riding program. They’re better than races because they are races really but a large proportion of the riders don’t realise it and are therefore easier to beat. These events have succumbed to the Corona virus for the moment but they will return one day. The one I’m looking forward to is Maryborough’s R3R. I did the short course last time. Next time my goal is the full 109 km.

Can I prepare for 109 km by doing interval sprints? Well not on their own. Volume is vital, the effort though must be at a certain intensity. The “fat burn” zone doesn’t cut it. Joe again …

Very low heart rate training is often referred to as the “fat-burning” zone. This is another case of a myth that refuses to go away. Low intensity, slow exercise does not burn more calories or more fat than does high-intensity, fast paced exercise.

In fact high intensity exercise will have a greater impact on body fat than low intensity junk miles even if the calories consumed during the exercise is less because of the impact on metabolic rate during the rest of the day.

Which leads us to the real point. Volume is a fairly meaningless metric. What matters is effort versus recovery, training versus over-training.

Fartlek …

lek (v.)

of certain animals, “to engage in courtship displays,” 1871, probably from Swedish leka “to play,” cognate of English dialectal verb lake (see lark (n.2)). Related: Lekking.

In some birds such as grouse, birds of paradise and the Ruff the males congregate in some hallowed spot and put on a display. Females visit and make their choice. The most beautiful or vigorous or otherwise appealing males get the vast majority of the copulations, most males miss out. Larks incidentally lark about in individual displays, strictly speaking they are not lekking species.

Fartlek shares some of the etymology and I hope that by introducing the topic this way I have caused a momentary image of male athletes gathered together farting loudly in order to entice female athletes to have sex with them. But no, fart is the Swedish for speed. Fartlek is speed play. It’s a form of training that introduces bursts of high intensity exercise into long slow distance sessions, an informal means of pushing the heart rate up without the regimentation of interval training.

My training objectives are to increase endurance and increase my average pace. It means that there has to be sessions when I take a bit more out of myself than is comfortable so the plan is

  • One long ride a week
  • One interval session
  • One or two rest days
  • Three or four other rides.

Riding on my own I tend to go into a meditative state and set my pace by perceived effort. I hammer away at a pace just short of my lactate threshold. a habit formed in the remote past. When riding with others the convoy moves at the speed of the slowest ship (or breaks up). Someone is getting less of a workout than they would really like. If that’s me I like to inject the occasional burst of speed, get the heart into at least the cardio zone and then slow down to let my training partner catch up. Fartlek.

Not every ride has to be flat out, indeed going too hard too often will lead to a lethargy that leaves you too tired to undertake the next planned ride or declining performance. Fartlek is a good way to break up the other rides into small periods of effort and longer periods of recovery. It provides an opportunity to take in the scenery and keep the activity fresh.

Set aside the fart for the moment lekking is fascinating behaviour and the most fascinating of all is the Ruff Calidris ( formerly Philomachus) pugnax. Lekking males develop a neck collar whilst the Reeves, the females even have a different name, remain their usual plain selves.

The video shows the boys showing off and occasionally fighting …

… but most fascinating of all are the game players, the satellite males. The females gather to watch the spectacle and among them are some males that do not don their finery and join the competition. They simply take advantage of the odd excited female. Whilst the hottest Ruffs get to father the most offspring the sneaky copulaters also get to pass on their genes sufficiently often to account for a percentage of satellite males in the subsequent generation.