Sunday, 5 July 2020

Sport Performance Managenent

Looking ahead, doing a bit of "blue sky" thinking I think there are three different but complementary things that will shape the future for cycling and indeed all sports.

One important rider: I am going to frequently refer to "sport" rather than cycling because I believe the impact will be on many disciplines. However the impact will be much bigger on those disciplines involving a single athlete compared to team sports. That is not to say that team sports will be unaffected, just that the contribution of the basic physiological component that is the scope of this article is less. So "sport" actually means "the contribution of the physiological aspect to the overall" or something like that.

The first two of these changes are simply require taking existing best practice from another area and applying it to cycling. In both cases IT will be one of, but not the only, enabler.

The last is looking at the areas not covered by the first two and asking how they too can be included.

Here is an overview of the first of thes areas. The next two will follow very shortly.

This overview will consist of a summary of key points then a longer, delve into more detail.

Change 1. "Training" > "Sport Performance Management"

Key Points

Corporate businesses were and still are being transformed by "Enterprise Management" systems from the 1980s onward.

These systems are a paradigm shift, from lots of slos working independent of each other to a unified whole with a "brain". This brain has a total perspective of all the areas of interest within a business and is capable of organising them so that they work in harmony to accomplish the corporation's aims.

Sports currently is still at the silo stage, lots of apps and data but disparate, not talking to each other.

This will change to one single "Sport Performance Management" model which will do for athletes and coaches what Enterprise Management systems did for business. It will provided a unified picture for athletes and coaches allowing them to largely ignore the detail and focus on the bigger picture.

In a nutshell they will change from being one man bands to conductors of an orchestra.

While the potential for such a model is large the likelihood of it happening soon is low. To an extent this is because it requires aspects of the next stage but it is even more dependent on the talent of an individual or company to put in place the integrated systems needed for it to happen.

However this is not, in practice, a big deal. For the present the main purpose of Sport Peformance Management is to provide clarity as a destination so that new developments from now on are built with it in mind from the outset, not as dead end silos.


I spent 30 years working in IT in one of the world's leading and most forward thinking companies. The early years of that time were simply spent on automation, bluntly getting computers to do the jobs of people because they were more reliable and cheaper. (In passing one reason my company was and still is so successful is that the most enthusiastic supporters of these projects where the people whose jobs were affected. They knew their future was secure, they would just be getting higher skilled, better paid and more interesting jobs as a result)

However the majority of my stint was spent on a far more exciting project, one that transformed all business from the 80s onward. It is still in train and has led to the most dramatic acceleration in the health and well being of humankind in our history, albeit as an unintended consquence. (For the evidence of this see Hans Rosling, Factfullness book).

The project had a number of titles but very broadly it could be classed as "Enterprise Management".

The concept is basic. Instead of seeing a business as a whole set of silos each doing their own thing you see it as a single integrated entity. Most importantly you give it a brain, one that is aware of everything that is of importance and is capable of coordinating its many facets so that they work in harmony to achieve whatever goals are appropriate to the organisation concerned.

The "Global Integrated Supply Chain" is well known manifestation of this project but there are many more. The world, at the corporate level, is totally different today from that I joined back in 1980.

The symbol of this change, beloved of many Powerpoints, was the layered pyramid. The number of layers and their titles differed but the emphasis and direction of travel was always the same, away from the silos in the bottom layer and up to the summit at the top.

This summit is the "brain", the holistic view that allows the vision sketched above.

Most sports are still in silos. In cycling we have "training","racing","nutrition","aerodynamics" , "strength","adaption"(my preferred term for "recovery") for starters plus many more. And each of these silos is composed of yet more silos.

Right now the "brain" is the coach if an athlete can afford one. But even the coach cannot have the 24/7 real time view that a fully implemented enterprise management system affords.

My belief is that cycling should, and eventually will, move towards its own equivalent of "enterprise management".

The working title for this is "Sports Performance Management". While jargon this encapsulates the important features of this move.
  • Sport: Because it encompasses pretty much every sport that involves the generation and expenditure of energy by a human
  • Performance: Because it is about everything, an integrated whole that contributes to the overall success however that is defined. The key thing is that everything is in scope and everything must be maximised to maximise performance.
  • Management: The coach will not be redundant! But they will be working at an entirely different level, rarely if ever viewing indidual workouts but rather reviewing trends at a high level to check that their athlete is on track to maximise their performance to a schedule and having full access to the variables that may affect this progress so they can correct it if necessary.
It is no coincidence that "Performance Management" is also the first two letter or PMC, perhaps the defining image of the power bible "Training and Racing with a Power Meter."

The difference is one of scope. The PMC is just a static chart deals just with power data. Sport Performance Management is a dynamic process that encompasses everything. For this reason, though it would save time, I will never reduce Sport Performance Management to a meaningless TLA since I think that process is in any case used far too much, robs ideas of their meaning and dumbs down what should be intelligent conversation to a meaningless stream of capital letters.

The key difference from now is that the coach (or athlete themselves) needs to be a one man band, capable of performing on many instruments to play a tune. In future they will the conductor of an orchestra. Not only will that allow them to become experts but the result will sound much better too.

Will It Happen?

I sketched this first because it is a vision and I believe it is important to have this in mind before moving onto the next topic, which I believe will actually happen much sooner.

Though I am sure this vision will happen eventually my confidence that it will happen soon is low, at least in endurance sports.

I am sorry but I have to be blunt about the reason for my low confidence. It is lack of talent, not in athletes or coaches but those who create the toolsets that they use.

This is in no way a criticism of any individuals, some of whom have made great contributions. But they are experts and visions require a different mindset to accomplish.

And these minds are rare and, will end up in the most challenging and lucrative environments. So business snaps them up first. For sports the behemoths, like football or the NFL will do similar. Moreover in team sport at least these minds are usually focused on excellence not for all but just their team. Bill Belichick is one example today. Cyling, like all endurance sport is way down on the pecking list when it comes to getting people like him involved.

I was actually lucky enough to meet with and briefly work with one such mind,

co-founder of SAP which was the company that led the enterprise management revolution and whose products I spent many happy with developing and supporting, Hr Dr Plattner was probably the brightest individual I have ever met or am likely to meet in my life. (In passing the Dr is important. One reason for Germany's success is that the value their engineers as much if not more than any other profession. Wikipedia says his net worth is over $10billion.  Any country where an engineer can earn $10billion is a country worth living in (and not just for the beer!))

I have two specific pieces of evidence for this view.

The first is a personal experience. I am a psychologist by training and believe that mindset is a critical contributor towards overall performance. Several years ago I pointed out on what was, at that time, a forum used be many if not most of the training software app developers that I could not record anything about my feelings in their products. 

Such as how fatigued I felt beforehand, how hard I found the workout, how I felt after. This to me was just basic obvious information that I needed to see in, for example, alongside CTL, ATL and TSB. I expected everyone to say, "ofc sorry to miss that, it will be in the next patch" but noone seemed interested. A few have since added the information but the same is true of lots of other variables,e.g. My Leomo data.

The second supporting fact is the rise of Team Sky to hegemony in just a few years. They were able to do this simply by combining the basic methodology and metrics of "Training and Racing with a Power Meter" with the principles of manufacturing used by Henry Ford to make Model Ts. Cycling needs more Dave Brailsfords but ones focused on developing something for all rather than just one team.

Luckily the absence of tools to implement the Sport Performance Management vision is not a big issue. It's main purpose, for the moment, is just to be a vision, a final destination to keep in focus the many things that are far more likely to be happening soon and ensure that they are not, from the outset, seen as silos but as parts of a greater whole.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Workouts - Stack em High

"Warm up for a solid hour at Endurance pace. Hammer eight all out intervals recovering for one minute between intervals.Cruise for 15 minutes or so and then begin four 10 minute intervals at Threshold increasing your cadence by 5rpm. Rest for 10 minutes between intervals. Finish by riding 45 minutes in Sweetspot riding just below threshold."

The above is a sample workout picked at random from the latest edition of "Training and Racing with Power" There is absolutely nothing wrong with the workout, indeed to the contrary it is an excellent example of a one that is challenging, fun to do and very likely to help build fitness.

All in all it will take about 4 hours or so to complete, so quite a while. But what I am about to suggest applies equally to workouts of this length, of even more or much less time.

The suggestion is a simple one. Use every workout as an opportunity to squeeze in as many things as possible.

That is think of all the many things that you would ideally like to practice and stack every workout with as much of these as possible.

There are three major benefits to this approach
  • Every workout becomes a lot more productive. Instead of just improving your fitness you can be improving your fitness and much else beyond.
  • It helps time pass. The more things your mind is working on the quicker time will fly by. This isn't necessarily a good thing but it usually is as it means you are having fun and enjoying yourself. But think of the counter case. When time really drags its usually because you are bored. Or when working out it can be when you are feeling exhausted and the end seems a long way away.
  • It recreates reality. Workouts are the ideal way to prepare for real life conditions, such as the need to eat and drink or deal with unexpected situations. It is much better to practice, say, getting your food out of your back pocket while wearing a rain jacket than doing it for the first time in a race.

The approach towards stacking can be methodical. Creating a list of every possible thing you may want to practice then ensuring these are all ticked off at some point.

Or you can just do whatever you fancy. Set a number, say 4 and aim to do incorporate that many additional things.

It really doesn't matter, just doing one extra thing is already a start.

So purely off the cuff here are some suggestions for the workout above.
  • During the hour at Endurance pace ramp cadence up and down between say 60 and 100rpm. Really focus on a smooth steady pedal stroke.
  • Set an alarm on your Garmin at 20 minutes when you will plan to eat 20g of carbs and drink 1/3 of a bottle of water.
  • During the Endurance hour spend a steady 20 minutes in the drops trying to be as aerodynamic as you can possibly be without affecting the smoothness of your pedal stroke.
  • For the eight one minute intervals imagine it is you and a team mate trying to work together to get to the finish before the pack. Visualise yourself in a race winnning move or try to imagine you are a pro in the Tour de France in that situation.
  • During the recovery after try putting on and taking off a gilet while still riding, If this is too difficult just practice riding no hands for short intervals.
  • During the recovery, when it is safe, practice bunny hopping at speed. This may seem like a dangerous maneuver but it is an essential skill.  
  • During the Threshold efforts focus on breathing, Really feel yourself using your diaphragm and synchonise your breathing with your pedal stroke. Also focus on your weaker leg. Make it work harder than your stronger leg. 
  • For the Sweetspot imagine it is a long steady mountain climb, every now and then stand up and stretch, again imagining you are doing this up a climb. Break the time down into chunks and just focus on nailing each chunk not thinking about the full 45 minute duration.
That's enough I think to provide the idea. Stack em high...

Monday, 29 June 2020

Training - Going Nowhere?

I started cycling seriously in my mid 40s, to lose weight, improve my health and in anticipation of my forthcoming retirement. I was working at the time for one of the worlds best run companies whose century and more of unending growth and success was built on a constant desire, shared by all who worked for it, for continuous improvement in every facet of its business.

I expected, almost by definition, to find the same ethos in my chosen sport. After all what is sport if not the pursuit of excellence and how is that possible without innovation? And at first I was not disappointed. I purchased my first power meter in 2007 as it was clearly obvious that it provided a step change the quality of information available to me as a rider and that this would provide the basis both to understand my performance and improve it.

However looking back now I feel that I was lucky. I entered the sport at exactly the right time, at a point when it was undergoing a seismic change in many ways, not just the ability to measure things that really mattered.

It is perhaps totemic that my first significant cycling exploit was to ride the route of the 2006 Tour de France, starting in Strasbourg and eventually, after 5 and a bit weeks and well over 3000 miles later returning there. To see Floyd Landis start his own journey. One that would end in ignominy for him but in hope for the future for the sport as his chagrin eventually led the excision of the cancer that had been eating at its heart for decades, reaching the point of being close to terminal.

So my early years were one of continued discovery and constant improvement. But as time wore on I waited for the next step forward.

And I am still waiting.

From the point of view of improving the cyclist, as opposed to their equipment or their training environment, I am not aware of one single major advance that could even be mentioned in the same breath as the introduction of power based training.

There has been no shortage of hype and consequent alphabet soup of new TLAs to try to comprehend. But in terms of something that has changed the sport, to the extent merely that it is fairly universally agreed to be an improvement? Nothing that I am aware of.

I did think, and still do for that matter, that there was a glimmer of hope when Wattbike and the Garmin Vector provided new insights, into the skill of pedaling. Using this information has, I believe, made me a better cyclist. But mainstream opinion seems still, despite the best efforts of enthusiastic souls like Hunter Allen and, more recently, Adam Hansen, to be that this is just useless information.

It has taken the vast majority of the sport, including at the highest professional level, near 15 years simply to catch up with where I was as a novice. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than Team Sky's hegemony based on nothing more than applying the basic principles outlined in "Training and Racing with A Power Meter". The approach they used towards detailed stage planning for Chris Froomes famous 2018 Giro stage 19 win is the same as the one I used 10 years earlier when planning to ride my first Marmotte.

I think things are about to change. In a big way, one that I am not sure that even I will fully enjoy. But change they will.

And the change will not just be to cycling. It will be to all sports where the expenditure of energy be it measured in seconds or hours is a major determinant.

But before looking to what the future may bring I'll return to the past.

I accept my view my be wrong and I have overlooked something. I hope so as it will help me get better.

So a challenge.

If you feel that I have missed something significant in, lets say the last 10 years, let me know what it is.

Let me be clear I set the bar high. I do not want to hear about FRC or MPA or XYZ or any other measure that can only be obtained via the black box of an app used by a minority of, albeit committed, adherents.

It must be something similar to power based training. Something so clear and obvious that 95% of cyclists believe it has the potential to make them better cyclists and that everybody except the diehard 5% will be training that way in 5-10 years time.

And it has to be about the cyclist. Not their bike, or clothing or VR trainer. Them, the human.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Tour de France? I Could Have Been A Contender (Or Not) - What A VO2max Does And Does Not Tell Me About Aging

Last week I did my first set of VO2max testing in a while, 7 years to be precise.

The results and the comparison with my last test were great news, not just for me but for all those like me that do not believe that getting older means getting slower or weaker.

Before diving into the data a quick refresher about why VO2max is so important and what it represents.

In a nutshell VO2max is most important number that represents an endurance athletes capability.

That is because it is the result of two factors:
  • How much oxygen they can use when going all out doing "aerobic" work (measured in litres (i.e. Volume) per minute– this is important because oxygen is needed to create the energy that moves our bike. The more oxygen the more energy and the more energy the more speed. This rule is true for all events that last minutes or hours rather than seconds. All athletes already are aware of this since the harder they try the more they need to breathe. At some point you can breathe no harder and this is your "max" VO2 (volume of oxygen)
  • Their weight (in kg)- this is important because while bigger muscles produce more energy they also mean a bigger body. This is a factor in endurance sports, which basically involve moving the body so the heavier it is the more energy is needed. So what you gain on the swings of having big muscles you lose on the roundabout of having to cart a bigger body around. Cycling is in fact a slight exception to this. The rule does apply to climbing but less so for riding on the flat especially on a time trial bike. (in the latter case it is not the weight of the body that matters but its size and aerodynamic properties. Technology has played a bit part in reducing the effect of these so the best time triallists can concentrate more on increasing their power rather than decreasing their weight.)

Divide volume of oxygen by weight and you end up with "VO2max". The rule for this is straightforward, the bigger the better. For top pro cyclists it will be in the 80s, the highest numbers ever recorded have been in the 90s. For untrained adults it will most likely be somewhere in the 30s.

With that in mind here are my numbers, now and back in 2013

Maximum Oxygen
2013 4.21 L/Minute
2020 4.54 L/Minute (+8%)

2013 67.1 kg
2020 68,0 kg

2013 62.7
2020 66.7 (+6%)

A very positive picture. My maximum oxygen has gone up so even though I weighed a little more at the time of the test so has my VO2max.,

And not a surprise if I am honest. I don't need a VO2max test to tell me I am fitter and faster, my Garmin does that already. But still it is rewarding and I'm proud of what I have managed.

Great for me. But also great for all those who do not subscribe to the view that getting older means you have to get slower.

I'll try to explain why.

Because VO2max is so important in sport there have been a lot of studies into it. Obviously these generate a lot of data but the overall conclusion is usually expressed as follows

"In the general population, VO2max tends to decline by about 10% per decade after the age of 30. Athletes who continue to compete and train hard can reduce the drop by about half, to 5% per decade after the age of 30."

This is pretty depressing. After 30 that's it, downhill all the way. Even training hard won't stop the rot, it just means getting worse a bit less quickly.

Actually for me it's not all bad news. I can do a bit of reverse calculation.

I am 3 decades older than 30. So by the above, taking the athlete view, my VO2max at 30 should have been 66.7 + 5% + 5% + 5%.

So for bragging rights I could claim my VO2max at 30 would have been 77.2 not bad for a man and up with the highest levels for women.

But it gets better. I'm 1.7m tall, which makes my BMI 23.5, nicely in the healthy range. But the healthy range is quite a big one and I'm on the higher end. Say I was 30 and really focused on cycling, what would be a reasonable weight for me? Easy enough, Simon Yates is a couple of cm taller and he weighs 59kg (so his BMI is 19.9 still in the healthy range but towards the lower end)

So if I weighed 59kg today my VO2max would be 76.9, near elite level.

And my VO2max at 30 would have been 76.9 +5% +5% +5%.

Which is 89. Compared to Chris Froome's of 88.

So, I could have won the Tour de France if I had been riding at 30 as opposed to have just ridden the route at 47.

Ah dream on, what would I have said on the Champs Elysses???

Nothing actually, it is just a dream for a few reasons.

Firstly the 1989 tour was the greatest ever finish and there is no way I could hurt myself like either Greg Lemonde or Laurant Fignon. And Greg Lemonde had an even higher real VO2max than my dream, up at 92.

Secondly as I mentioned above and as the 1989 race so excitingly showed power trumps VO2max when it comes to time trials and time trials decide most Grand Tours.

So no yellow jersey for me. But, maybe, to quote Marlon Brando "I could have been a contender..???

Sadly I couldn't. Because lastly and far more importantly

The science about the decline of VO2max is not wrong but is widely misquoted and misunderstood.

I explained this in considerable detail in my other recent post so will not go this all over again.

In a nutshell.
  • The science about VO2max deals with what is easy to measure but not what is important. Its conclusions are valid in terms of absolute peaks, assuming you have the luxury of training dedicating 100% of your resources towards getting better and are extremely lucky to boot. This does not apply to most people. That is why the average actual VO2max is closer to 40 than 80. Athletes don't have to care about what their peak VO2max might be until they have spent many years training full time. 
  • It is summarised as an average. An average is meaningless in terms of telling us anything useful about any individual. That is a basic fact of statistics but one that is frequently misunderstood. If the average person lives to be 70 you cannot use this information to know if you will live to be 100. If the average person earns 25,000 you cannot know if the shabbily dressed person sitting next to you on the bus is a pauper or an eccentric billionaire.
  • It is extrememly difficult to attribute something as complex as VO2max to one specific cause like aging. It is next to impossible to conduct a study that lasts long enough with enough participants while controlling for all the other reasons VO2max will change like: diet, motivation, lifestyle, family stess, training, resources etc etc.
The very studies that produced the statistics I quoted about VO2max "decline" actually acknowledge this. This was pointed out in this article from which I have taken two quotes

In 1987, a year after Dill’s death, Dr Michael Pollock and co-investigators at the Mt Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, reported an astonishing finding which lent further credence to the idea that very strenuous exercise was a VO2max preserver: well-trained, competitive endurance athletes with an average initial age of 52 were able to totally maintain VO2max values over a 10-year period

At the fairly inactive end of Rogers’ athletic group, the losses in VO2max were greater. Two athletes who cut training volume by 30% or more experienced VO2max losses of about 1% per year. By contrast, a 55-year-old, national-class athlete, who completely maintained the quantity and quality of his training, preserved all of his VO2max – and actually improved his competitive performances – over the entire study period!

So, sadly, my extrapolations back in time are fallacious because the 5% decline is wrong when applied to me as an individual.

I cannot add all the 5%s. There is a question of whether I can add anything at all. The answer to that will, in the absence of someone inventing a time machine, never be known.

I will just have to content myself with improving.

And that is the single most important message of my story. The statistics about VO2max do not lie but they do mislead.

There is every reason why a person of any age who trains purposefully with motivation should be able to maintain or even improve their VO2max.

And just about any other physical and mental capability as well, be it strength, mobility or just being able to complete the daily crossword puzzle.

The only exceptions to this are
  • life long athletes (and even some of them come close as the best 60 and 70 year old ex pros on Zwift demonstrate)
  • those unlucky enough to suffer injury or illness. On which subject, while any training program has to take potential health risk into account there is overwhelming evidence, far far more reliable than that on VO2max "decline", that staying fit is one of if not the single best way to stay healthy with a sense of well being for your full natural life.
So do not let the pessimistic message that you so often hear about aging get you down.

You do not have to train hard all your life it's a choice. 

But don't let that choice be swayed by the view that things can only get worse. Be optimistic, keep motivated and if you enjoy your training it will more than likely pay off, now and in the many years to come.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Rise From Decline - VO2max And Aging Explained

If you are over a certain age, even as young as say 40, and you consult the runes about your future then it looks like a grim tale of inexorable decline.

You are past your peak. Everything desirable, strength, fitness, looks is on a downward trend. The only aspects that will increase are the things are the unwanted, fat, waistline and wrinkles.

This is deemed a universal truth for lots of things but the one I will focus on for the remainder of this article is VO2Max, the endurance athlete's holy grail. This has the virtue of being easy to measure, extremely important (to a cyclist at least) and with lots of available data.

The evidence for our inevitable decline seems overwhelming
  • There's the science. The most frequently seen statistic about how VO2max changes with age is that "In the general population, VO2max tends to decline by about 10% per decade after the age of 30. Athletes who continue to compete and train hard can reduce the drop by about half, to 5% per decade after the age of 30." So even after 30 it's bad news. All athetes can do is hope to stem the tide.
  • There's the decline of heroes. Sports stars are young and getting younger, even the greatest have to call it a day after once they have put their two score years behind them.
  • There's the advice in training articles, magazines and from some coaches that you need to rest more and cannot handle as much volume and/or intensity.
  • There's the testimony of old cyclists. They will almost always tell you how much fitter and faster they were when they were younger, if only you had seen them then.
  • There's common sense. It's just obvious that a 25 year old will be fitter and have a much higher VO2max than someone 50 years older.

Whilst seemingly convincing all the above is in fact misleading. It is not just misleading but actually harmful, since it risks creating a self fulfilling prophecy that will make people, give up training, train easier or just not train at all because they think it is pointless. And taking these courses of inaction will risks damage to both long term health and well being.

That is not of course to say that everyone has to train like an Olympic hopeful. They don't, that is their choice. But this choice should not be predjudiced by misunderstood opinion masquarading as scientific fact.

The critical point that needs to be taken into account is to differentiate peak potential VO2max from real actual living, breathing VO2max.

These two values can be, indeed almost always are, very very different.

Most of the received wisdom above deals very much with the former "Peak VO2max". Whilst we as real people care about the latter "Actual VO2max".

To illustrate the difference imagine two identical twins. They rolled double six when they were born and have the genetic potential to have a "Peak VO2max" of 100.

But they were separated at birth. One, let's call them "Max" was adopted by a family of cyclists. The other, let's call them "Min", went to another family, who loved them very much but had never been attracted by the prospect of exercise.

"Max's" parents saw their potential from an early stage. As soon as possible they were cycling. They started winning almost immediately and while in their teens did tests which showed their potential to their national cycling talent team. They were fast tracked onto a development program targeting the next Olympics but one, The next 8 years were spent dedicated to cyling and they had every resource that money could buy to assist them. It all worked wonders. They struck Olympic gold.

What was Max's VO2max at their peak? It would be incredibly high. But not 100. Maybe if Max could be cloned enough lessons could be learned to hit 100% of potential. But even that is unlikely. It would take many attempts and a fair degree of luck for that to happen.

But still Max's VO2max would be extremely high. And for Max, it would almost certainly be as high as it would ever be. Maybe they could sustain it at that level for another Olympic cycle, maybe even a third or more. But at some point it would, as the warnings above gloomily predict go down, year on year, decade on decade, no matter hard Max trained.

We will leave Max there except for one final thought. How may they react, when their Olympic career is over and there are no more gold medals to chase. They may continue to train with the same intensity and dedication. But they may not. If the latter what value would there be in measuring their VO2max? All it would tell us is the oldest training adage of all "use it or lose it".

Now let's look at Min. They never exercised much as a child, teenager or young adult. They found a good job but it required a long commute every day and lot's of overseas travel. The upside was that the expense account was very generous so they could eat and drink as they liked. We cannot know Min's VO2max at this stage but we can say it was very unlikely to be close to 100 at the time Max was winning the first of many Olympic golds despite them being identical in age.

In their mid 40s Min had a fitness checkup and was told they were way overweight and needed to do something about it. So they got a bike and started commuting via train instead of car and so spent an hour a day exercising. The weight started to come down and Min started enjoying the bike portion of the commute for its own sake. So they got a "real" bike and joined a local club. At first they were dropped on every hill but each time by a bit less. Then Min started to keep up, then started to lead. Min enjoyed riding but never had the time to take it seriously until retirement. Then Min took up training with every bit of enthusiasm and focus as their twin had several decades earlier.

What is likely to be Min's VO2max after several years of hard work?

It will be less than 100 and less than Max's peak.

But it will be more compared to what it was at 40. Very likely much more

Will it go up or down from this point?

It's impossible to say with certainty. However given it took Max many years to reach peak and it stayed at that point for many years more it is hard to see why Min should not find the same, albeit later and albeit not reaching the same absolute values.

So revisiting the evidence for inevitable decline cited earlier.
  • Science – may be right for Max but not for Min. That is because life is complicated and isolating one variable, aging, and assessing its impact on another, VO2max is extremely difficult to do. It is only possible by making assumptions and the key one here is that the rate of decline, or any decline at all rather than increase, depends on individuals not changing their way of life.
  • The decline of sporting heroes – heroes may be role models but the are, by definition, not the same as the rest of us. You can only infer anything from them if you actually happen to be lucky enough to actually live like them. Most of us do not have the luxery of spending unlimited time and resources pursuing the sport that we love while at our natural peak. That does not mean that we cannot reach our own, slightly lower, peaks much later on in life.
  • Rest more train less. Just wrong. This ignores the cardinal rule of coaching which is to understand and adapt a training plan to the individual not the other way round. Yes Min could probably not follow, at 50, the most extreme training blocks that Max did at 25 But Min would be able to train much harder and require less recovery than someone half their age but at the other end of the luck scale when being given the gift of raw talent.
  • Old cyclists tales: Best taken with a pinch of salt. But press them and you may find that, strangely, once they started losing more than winning they did less training as they stopped seeing the point and that it is this change in motivation rather than any physical reason that is the key factor in the rate of their decline in fitness.
  • Common sense. Illustrates the difference between something being true and something being useful. If you live in the UK and get told in April that it will be hotter in July that is almost certainly true. But it is useless information if you want to know what to wear tomorrow. For fitness planning, indeed almost any planning, the only important timescales are what happens over the next months and, unless you are an Olympic hopeful, year, two at the most. Over this timescale, if you are more line Min than Max (as are the vast majority) what happens to your fitness depends most of all on what you do, not how many seconds tick by on the clock while you are doing it.

What can be said in summary?
  • Most abilities are a combination of potential and what is actually achieved.
  • It is rare that any ability is mastered to the full extent of its potential. Doing so requires a lot of time, motivation, resources and luck.
  • It is true that for most abilties our potential varies over the course of a lifetime, building towards maturity, reaching a peak which will then plateau for a number of years and then slowly fade.
  • However this in no way implies that our actual ability must match and track this curve. The only time this may be expected to happen is for lifelong professionals or others who have the time and resources to dedicate themselves to their craft.
  • For those other than professionals there is likely to be a gap between potential (even when reduced by the passage of time) and actual ability.
  • If it exists this gap can be closed, regardless of age, through focused, purposeful training.
  • If the gap is sufficiently large closing this gap may take many years so improvements can be expected in actual ability throughout this time.
  • Bad luck, injury and illness may, of course, interfere with closing this gap or even make it bigger. However taking actions that improve abilities rather than allowing them to decline will reduce the chance of these occurring.

In a nutshell.

While potential is certainly affected by the chance of genetics and the passage of time it is rare that anybody apart from the very gifted and lucky few actually improve themselves to the limit of what is possible to achieve.

For the rest, the vast majority, there is every reason to be optimistic and not assume that getting older inevitably means getting worse. To the contrary, even taking into account a theoretical reduction in maximum potential there is every reason why a well motivated individual can increase their actual abilities for many decades.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Reinventing The Wheel

I first came into the organised side of cycling relatively late, in my mid 40s.

By then I had spent a quarter of a century working for one the best run companies on the planet, a cocoon in which pretty much everyone was dedicated to the pursuit of excellence.

So I had a bit of a culture shock when I encountered cycle culture. What I found was extremely conservative bordering on moribund. The past was worshiped and any change had, by definition, to be avoided.

I am exaggerating of course. There were individuals who tried, successfully on some occasions to break the mold (including three of my heroes, Obree, Boardman and Keen). B

 But my general point is valid and I offer as item #1 in evidence>> the bike wheel.

In just a few years has become fundamentally different in that it now has

  • Much wider fatter tyres
  • Disc brakes

This change is arguably the most important since the derailleur since it means the "road" bike can now become a "pretty much go anywhere" bike if you so wish. It's also become a "faster yet safer" bike in the process.

Bike pundits are salivating about these changes as are manufacteurrs since they will make a fortune since the new wheels are totally useless unless you buy a new bike.

It's at this point I have to say "I told you so". Not recently but over a decade ago when I first made serious use of a bike.

Wider Fatter Tyres

When I did my 2006 tour two things were blinding obvious to me.
  • If I was going to ride 5000km over roads which I thought would be as crap as the UK I wanted to do so in some comfort.
  • Comfort means speed. Basic physics means that if your bike is transmitting every nuance of the road surface to your hands it is wasting energy that should be used moving you forward.

So I splashed out and got the widest most comfortable tyres that would fit my frame, some Specialized Roubaix that cost a bomb but had a huge thread count and weird sizing that meant while they could fit the narrow wheel rims of the time they had a much bigger volume of air.

The roads turned out to be much better as it happens but the speed and smoothness of my riding was not something I wanted to give up.

So ever since I have always preferred wider bigger tyres. While I was Tting I did experiment with narrow once which mindless people had tested in the lab to "prove" they reduced rolling resistance. What we know now of course is that the test was meaningless, only valid if you happen to be lucky enough to only ride on mirrors. But it only took one 12 hour time trial on the A30 for me to realise my mistake. My whole body was smashed to pieces by the vibrations and I was lucky to finish with a full set of teeth. Oh and I was slower than with my preferred 25s.

Disc Brakes

Every thing about my tour was great except descending in the wet. All my extra weight meant that braking was extremely hit and miss and I was lucky to get away without doing anything more serious in the hitting line.

So when I got my second bike to ride fast on I went to Banjo and asked if they could convert the front fork of my Roubaix (which would now be only used for touring) to take discs. I was the only person to have ever asked for this, but they found a way by substituting a set of forks from a mountain bike. It wasn't perfect, no drops ofc but then they are not really needed on a touring bike. But it was a lot safer in the rain and much more fun to go downhill fast.

So I can say with absolute assurance that I was years ahead of the cycling establishment and it's head in the sand approach towards progress.

This has given me continued confidence to challenge accepted practice if I think its a pile of poo and based on nothing more than blind ignorance.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Raiding again

With our usual holiday plans put in chaos by covid I've booked myself on a trip at the beginning of August to give my mojo a bit of a boost.

The "Raid Alpine" going from Geneva to Nice

It actually works out rather well. I'm traveling with Stuart Hall who behaved really well during the early lockdown so I'm pleased I can put some business their way.

The route is some unfinished business. Ages ago I did the other half, from Geneva to Trieste so this completes the route.

It involves some familiar territory but also some new. The final destination is one of the few parts of France that I have never visited so that's something to look forward to.

Unfortunately the logistics of it all mean that Mrs M cannot join me (and ofc double ditto for the nippers)  but will remain at home looking after the ladies (Alfie can look after himself....) 

So something nice, going to Nice.  

And here's hoping normal service will be resumed at some point so that we can all meet up again sometime soon.

PS Received a slightly worrying email from Stuart Hall to say don't pay just yet as not 100% that the event will happen. Too late, I'd already seen the invoice. So fingers crossed that my faith will be this space