Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Question: Does a long tour make you a stronger rider?

This morning I only had about an hour and a quarter to ride, so I decided to do one of my regular shorter training rides, a ride I have done many, many times over the years. It is a 20 mile, out and back with some little hills that amount to around 800 feet of climbing. I didn't really start out with the idea of testing myself, but I felt pretty good on the hill right out of my driveway, so after a little while I figured I'd see how fast I could do the route.

I didn't go all out, but I was pushing pretty hard and ended up finishing with an average speed of 18.1. I looked back through my log, which is pretty complete back to 2002, and the next best pace I could find was 17.7 for that route, back in 2002. So here I am six years older, picking up the pace by 4/10ths of an MPH! The only explanation is improved fitness as a result of the tour. The result is pretty surprising when you consider that most of the riding on the tour was at a pretty easy pace, and there was hardly any climbing, other than an occasional bridge, during the last week or ten days. Average heart rate averages were usually around 120. Normally I would consider anything that low to be a "recovery" ride -- certainly not a ride with any meaningful training potential. My reading on the subject would suggest that this kind of riding will make you better at low speed, long distance riding, but that's about it. The normally accepted rule is that you have to do speed work (intervals and time trials) to get faster.

So how do you explain my increased speed today? Could it be that all those hours on that heavy bike improved my general cardiovascular and/or respiratory fitness, even when riding at WAY below lactic acid threshold? I mean, there were periods (like the pumpkin man day, and the early headwind day) when I was riding hard for extended periods, but there were many more days where I was doing an easy pace from beginning to end.

I wish I had complete heart rate records for the entire tour, but I was able to save the complete data on only a few days. I had hopes of being able to dump every ride to my Palm PDA, but the software was very unreliable. Some days I was able to transfer from the Polar wrist unit to the Palm and other days, nothing I did would make the transfer work. When I get a chance I'll bring it up with the software publisher (VidaOne - My Sport Training), but that won't bring back all the data I have lost. [Oct 19 addendum: The problem turned out to be with my Palm T3. Since upgrading to a Palm T/X, I have had no problem at all uploading workouts from the Polar to the Palm.]

On a related topic, today I received a foldable bluetooth keyboard that I bought on eBay. These ThinkOutside keyboards work with Palm and Windows PDA's, as well as many smart phones. It would have been GREAT to have had this thing with me on the tour! You have no idea how much time and effort went into some of those posts, entering them using Palm's Graffiti symbols. Anyway, these keyboards originally retailed for some ridiculous amount, like $150. Now that they are discontinued products, they are available for $30 - $50. I had meant to buy it before I left but I got distracted and never got around to it. Here's a CNet link that shows the keyboard, which is available on Amazon, but if you should want one, be sure to check eBay:

Monday, June 16, 2008


Here it is, five days after we finished the Tour de Fred, and I am finally beginning to feel normal again. Today is the first day that I have not had to fight to stay awake during the day. I didn't ride on Thursday or Friday, but on Saturday I went for a moderately hilly 50 mile ride (Up & Down Lake County) with my bud Steve Katzman at a pretty brisk pace. He later commented that I was climbing better than before the tour, but maybe I was pushing harder. It is pretty difficult to partial out all the variables. The ride was no cakewalk, that's for sure. Saturday afternoon I actually took a nap -- an extremely rare event for me. On Sunday Kathy and I did our usual 35 miler on the South Lake/West Orange Trail to Winter Garden and back. This time the pace was relaxed, but I still dozed a bit in the afternoon, which I believe indicated that I was still recovering from the tour.

Saturday I rode my Colnago, which had been pretty much ignored since February when I started training in earnest. Initially I found it nearly impossible to control! After so many hours on the longer, heavier, and more stable Surley LHT, the road bike felt a bit cramped and positively twitchy. It responds instantly to any input, so I had to work harder to keep the bike upright and going the right direction, especially when standing. I was used to it again by the end of the ride, but the difference is HUGE! The tandem is somewhere in the middle, but closer to the touring bike in handling.

Pushing on the hills on Saturday left my lower back aching. Now that I don't have to put in so many hours training, I plan to work on strengthening my core. I'm going to try to return to stretching and doing some exercises before bed in the evening. Contrary to the commonly held belief, exercising before bed tends to help me fall asleep. We'll see.

* * * * *

Steve left a comment to one of the tour posts to the effect that I am always the last one to be ready to ride when we do our regular group rides. I was completely unaware that this was the case, but Kathy confirmed it, so it must be true. I also have a reputation for fiddling with one thing or another on the bike when we stop, which might contribute to the problem. Anyway, I will make a deliberate effort to turn that crown over to someone else. (On our Saturday ride I left my helmet and gloves on, and I was the one to say, "Ready?")