Saturday, August 25, 2007

Review: Cyclist's Training Bible

Over and over again, this is the book that's mentioned most often by serious looking cyclists. You know the type. The ones who weigh what they eat, shave grams off their bikes, and shave their legs. My heroes all this time though has been folks like Eric House: who's never owned a heart rate monitor. They'd never ride with a power meter, and think of riding daily as "training."

Nevertheless, I wanted to see what the hype was about, and so bought a copy of this book. The thesis of this book is that you must make every ride count, and train with a purpose. At long last I understood where the phrase "junk miles" comes from. It comes from this book. (My bike club refers to "junk miles" as flat riding, but this book refers to "junk miles" as miles that don't add to your fitness)

To this purpose, the cyclist must have a plan to improve their fitness. This means dividing the year up into macro cycles, and treating each week as a micro cycle, with each day of the week working on a different part of the cyclist's weaknesses. What's fascinating to me is the concept of the "build" cycle, where you ramp up the intensity and effort and then drop it way back so recovery can happen.

Another interesting thing here is the emphasis on rest. Apparently, the kind of people Coach Friel trains are so driven that the hard part is to get them to back off so their bodies will recover. (Definitely not a problem for lazy old me!) So rest is built into the schedule so that the ultra-driven types know when to back off.

There are special chapters on women's needs, on nutrition, strength and weight training, as well as stage races. The emphasis on discipline and plan just comes through the book. No wonder racer-types speak of this book reverently. Anyone who can do everything the book says has either quit his job to become a professional racer, or is superhuman (or, as lately been fashionable in professional cycling, on drugs!).

In any case, everything is described in a crystal clear fashion, including the algorithm for designing an annual plan. What's also fascinating are the heuristics that he provides for determining whether you should work out on a particular day. Again, the theme here is that if there's any doubt, you should back off.

As far as whether the book achieves Coach Friel's goals, I think it does an admirable job. It's clear, consistent, and as disciplined as its author seems to be. But it all leaves me with one thought: where is the enjoyment? Where is the part where you ride up a mountain with friends, looking forward to another beautiful day? Where is the place where you hang out with your friends at dinner, reminiscing with your companions? The book has no place for them. You are encouraged to ride alone as much as possible, lest your competitive instincts take over and you work too hard. Or perhaps your companionable instincts take over and you work too little. No wonder the serious cyclists I meet never ask if I want to go for a ride!

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book for the view it gave me into the serious racing cyclist and their approaches to the sport. Again, and again, however, I am reminded of what a friend of mine once said to me: "The problem with you, Piaw, is that you want to enjoy the ride. Don't you realize that unless you're throwing up at the end of the ride, you didn't go hard enough?" Perhaps someone needs to write a version of this book for the touring cyclist who wants to enjoy the ride.
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