Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports
Joe Friel is a name that every serious endurance athlete should be familiar with. His training principles set out in his many popular books are well known and practiced by amateur and competitive cyclists, triathletes and endurance athletes in general. An apt description for him would be the “coach’s coach.” He’s one of the good guys.. who loves his acronyms.
I have just finished reading his seminal book The Cyclist’s Training Bible (TCTB) which is probably the single most thorough condensation of all things Friel.
As well as his training books, Friel (now 70) is also very active blogger, and frequently posts racing and training articles on his blog. In fact, his blog forms the basis for nearly all his books, as he will blog about ideas and training themes that form in his head first, and then eventually collate them together into a book.
Despite it’s title, The Cyclist’s Training Bible lays forth principles that can be taken and applied to just about any sport – and I feel it’s especially useful and applicable for outdoor speed skating where elements of muscular power, acceleration etc and the pack nature of the sport make it very similar to road cycling in many ways. The book is not aimed at total beginners, but those who have already been training for a couple of years and want to take the step up to the next level.
The book’s strength is its attention to detail on Periodisation, ie the organisation of work over time, teaching you how to break down a season into smaller phases, and how to work in cycles at macro, meso & micro level. Friel breaks down a full season and identifies the following distinct phases:
He teaches you the purpose of each phase, how they all work together, and how to weave them together in a typical “real world” season of training and racing.
Duration & Intensity of workouts also come into focus, and Friel has very wise advice on these topics. Strength work is emphasized. Friel encourages the athlete to think of their long term development, and what to focus your energies on depending on how many years you have been training and your level of experience & development.
We are introduced to some of the systems and common parlance that is used in the Friel/cycling world to quantify the training effect:
We are also introduced to the Friel model of building and tracking training & racing: Training Stress, Acute Training Load, Chronic Training Load, and Form as a function of Acute load & Chronic Load. Get ready for acronym overdose…
Putting it as simply as possible: every workout carries a level of stress determined by the intensity and length of the workout, and this is dubbed the Training Stress Score (TSS). When you work out there are two effect: first, you get tired, and then secondly you recover and gain adaptation thus improve fitness. Friel defines “Fitness” very well as “an adaptation to the workload”. Tiredness is a acute effect quickly felt (you’re knackered after a hard workout), while the Fitness adaptation is a more chronic effect that only comes about after several days of recovery. Therefore, the Acute Training Load (ATL) is effectively the short term moving average of the most recent few workouts which quantifies your fatigue, while the Chronic Training Load (CTL) is the longer term cumulative moving average which quantifies your underlying fitness.
It is possible – normal, in fact, when you are training hard – to be improving fitness, but also carrying high levels of fatigue. When we RACE we want to minimize fatigue (ATL) while losing as little underlying fitness (CTL) as possible. The difference between ATL and CTL represent our ability to race well according to our fitness, and is what we commonly called “Form” (or Training Stress Balance, TSB) – it improves when the acute load is allowed to drop ie, we rest/taper ahead of an important race.
The art of accumulating fitness while controlling fatigue is at the heart of Friel’s methodology. It makes for a wonderful graph. Oops. I meant Performance Management Chart (PMC)…
“So the PMC won’t let me be,
Or let me be me, so let me see..
Hum dei dei la la Hum dei dei la la la la la”
Ahem. Sorry about that. Anyway, back on topic…
This fitness model forms the basis of the whole Training Peaks (TP) system, and has infiltrated itself into many training devices from Garmin/Polar etc. Having tried TP, I personally find it far too fiddly and have to say that it’s not for me at all. I prefer to keep my own training logs in spreadsheets and devise my own system of quantification.
Also, as an student of Austrian economics, I don’t necessarily believe that it is always smart and wise to try to quantify everything in a cardinal way… for example, how do you quantify “happiness?” You can’t say that that a person who rates a 2 on a scale of 1-10 is “twice” as happy as a person who rates a 4. Likewise, an athlete’s CTL score of 500 doesn’t mean much to anyone else, and doesn’t mean that they are more fit or less fit or will race faster or slower than another athlete with a CTL of, say 400. These numbers cannot be used a basis for comparison between different athletes except to show the work they are putting in.
So I do have my reservations about the “everything is chartable” nature of this system, although I agree the principles are good, and the message is that you need to build fitness slowly and control fatigue.
Friel categorizes workouts into.. well, let’s just say a LOT of difference categories. Aerobic, Muscular Endurance, Recovery, Tempo, Weight training (strength, power), Breakthrough (BT) sessions, Time Trials, Anaerobic, Long Sprints, Technique, Hills… there is a hell of lot of jargon in there to get to grips with, and lots of conceptual diagrams of fitness and physiology to marvel at. Is “Long Sprint” an oxymoron? I dunno, you tell me.
One of the themes of the book is to identify your own personal limiters as a cyclist/athlete. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and depending on the specifics of the race, one of your weaknesses will become your ultimate limiter on that day. Friel strongly encourages you to do the opposite of what most casual athletes do – to work hard on your weaknesses rather than on your strengths.
I love this sort of stuff – it gets into the philosophy of training, and developing the mindset of a successful athlete. This is ultimately how to improve and come close to reaching your potential.
Friel has been ahead of the curve on all of these topics – he’s advocated the Paleo diet for a long time, since at least the mid-90s, although at the time that TCTB was written (1996) he’s still a bit too happy to give high-sugar/grains the green light under in-race fuel and recovery for my liking to be a true “live low, race medium” approach to sugar intake.
Likewise, as with all good coaches, he stresses the importance of rest and recovery to reap the benefits of training. However, he doesn’t write too much about these important topics, because as he says “it’s primarily a book about how to train, not how to eat/rest/etc”.
Overall, TCTB is one of the very few books that I would recommend as a one-stop guide to learning about how to train and becoming an effective coach for yourself. The timeless principles are well laid out and explained for the athlete who is serious about improvement.
It will help you think about your training in a systematic way, rather than haphazardly where sometimes your own enthusiasm and best intentions will sabotage your best efforts.