On planning

I’ve been trying to figure out how to answer Bloglily’s question about planning for a while now, and I’m finding it difficult, largely because, with one exception, I plan in such a non-planned, unorganized way. I plan only when I need to and I usually make up a new system each time. I keep a calendar during the school year to keep track of meetings and appointments, but the truth is, I could probably do without it and not miss much because I tend to remember what it is I have to do and where I’m supposed to be. During the summer I have no calendar at all. These days I keep to-do lists on emails which I’m constantly writing to myself, but, again, I don’t really need them because I can always remember what they say.

I don’t plan for the sake of keeping my life organized — my life isn’t that complicated; rather, I plan in order to give myself the illusion of control. So when my life gets a bit busier, the to-do lists get longer and much more detailed, and I begin to take more pleasure in writing them up and erasing items off them. I start to add things to the list merely for the pleasure of crossing them off right away.

I also tend to record what it is I’ve done at least as much as I make plans about what it is I will do. This is another way to create the illusion of control and progress. I keep track of how many hours I’ve worked, how many papers I’ve graded, how many hours I’ve ridden my bike, how many words I’ve written, how many books I’ve read. But as I’m unplanned about my planning, all these records are spread out in various places and in various formats. I have journals where I recorded how many hours I worked on my dissertation, files with lists of books I’ve read, calendars with the number of hours I worked, and accounts on websites like Bikejournal where I’ve logged the number of miles I’ve ridden. The point isn’t to accumulate a mass of material about how I’ve spent my life; rather the point is the writing up of it all, the satisfaction of recording the day’s accomplishments.

Cycling is the one exception to this general haphazardness.  Here I take great pleasure in creating elaborate plans, beautifully detailed plans, marvelously logical and well-structured ones that, if I followed them, would certainly make me a much better cyclist. I use Joe Friel’s The Cyclist’s Training Bible to guide my race training, and Friel is a man who loves complexity and detail. His book walks you through an elaborate process to help you determine how to set yearly goals, how to determine your current fitness, and how to decide on the number of hours you should ride a year.

Once you have some basic information, he tells you to choose the most important races of the year and to focus your training on those. You should create a calendar (he gives you a template for one) that works backward from those target races to determine when you should start your training season. You divide that period, about six months long, into smaller sections of 3-4 weeks each. Each of these sections has its own training focus and each week within that section gets assigned a certain number of hours of training, based on the yearly hours you have chosen. You take that weekly number of hours and divide it among 5 or 6 days worth of workouts for that week according to a chart in his book; so, for example, if you are supposed to train 9 hours on a particular week, he tells you to ride 3 hours on one day, 2 hours on another, 1 1/2 on two different days, and 1 hour on the last day. You can choose to do these rides on whatever day makes sense, although it’s best to vary long rides with short ones.

But it’s more complicated than that! You’re supposed to do different types of workouts in different training periods, and a certain number of each type of workout each week. So, during the hypothetical week where you’re riding 9 hours, say during a week fairly late in the season when the workouts are more intense, you might need to ride two endurance rides where you ride at medium intensity, one force ride where you work on hills, one muscular endurance ride where you ride fairly fast for a long period of time, and one anaerobic endurance ride where you work on riding very fast for shorter periods of time. And how do you know how fast to ride? You find your lactic threshold heartrate (though testing) and look it up on a chart in the book that tells you your heartrate zones and which heartrates you should be aiming for on each ride.

There are different options for each of these types of workouts; for example, you might do a muscular endurance workout that requires you to ride in a particular heartrate zone for 50 minutes, or another that asks you to ride hard for six minutes and rest for two minutes and to repeat the sequence six times. Or you might do a force workout that asks you to ride hills of a particular steepness that take you, say, five minutes or longer to climb.

Now, I’m imagining that all this will thrill some of you and horrify others. For myself, I’m thrilled by it. I like the idea of following all the rules and doing the tests and setting up a riding schedule with all this great detail. The problem, though, as you can probably guess, is that following through on all this detail is impossible. Every year I have a training plan and each year I fail at it. Usually it’s a combination of weather and work that gives me trouble. What am I supposed to do if we have a week of snow? (Certainly not ride indoors on my trainer — that would drive me insane). What am I supposed to do if work keeps me indoors all day for four days in a row so I have no sunlight to get out and ride in? Or what happens if I get sick? Or burnt-out?

All these things have happened at one time or another. In response, I modify my plan and keep riding, making things up a little more as I go along instead of rigidly sticking to my plan. The thing is, making up a plan is a lot more fun than sticking to it, and so when real life keeps me from doing all the rides I’m supposed to, I don’t get upset; I just do my best to salvage things and keep going. It’s worked pretty well so far, I suppose.


Filed under Cycling, Life

4 responses to “On planning

  1. You sound immensely sane on the subject of planning, Dorothy, and beautifully organised. I couldn’t bear to follow that kind of intense and rigid training – I’d feel personally constrained by it (which would be ridiculous, but there it is). But you have it just right – an ideal that you aspire towards as closely as circumstances will allow. No wonder it works!


  2. I make lists too and include on them things I’ve already done so I can have the satisfaction of crossing them off!

    If I were ever going to train for bike races, I’d like the Friel plan too. Very healthy of you to not let being diverted from the plan ruin everything. I’ve know some people who spend time making detailed plans and after a week or two something happens and instead of picking up where they left off or revising the plan, they give up entirely. So the fact you can keep going is says a lot.


  3. Litlove — thank you! I have moments of feeling constrained by the training, actually, and so I try really hard not to feel guilty if I don’t follow it exactly …

    Stefanie — Friel himself talks a lot about the need to flexible, so I try to keep that in mind. I can be a perfectionist, but I try to fight that tendency!


  4. I love that flexible perfectionism! And the way you describe training with Friel’s book makes me wish that I was a serious cyclist. But I am not, so I will have to just pretend, through you.

    But you know what really, really captivates me? It’s all those records of accomplishments. I don’t do that, not in any sustained way — in fact, it’s never occurred to me before to keep track. It seems like an ideal way to demonstrate to yourself that, in fact, even though you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, you are — daily activity of any kind, even in small doses, will add up to something quite significant if you just keep at it: a dissertation written, a novel finished, a stack of papers graded. And that must be so comforting!


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