I have hit the big time. I have been sent a book to review. By a publisher. For free.
(For now, let’s ignore the fact that I contacted said publisher myself, fragrantly exploiting the Sportive Cyclist readership, in order to procure this freebie.)
The book in question is ‘Fast After 50: How To Race Strong For The Rest Of Your Life’ by friend-of-this-blog Joe Friel*.
(*Joe Friel does not know he is a friend of this blog).
If I had to pick one book subject and title that would fit well with a large proportion of the Sportive Cyclist readership, it would be this one.
Spoiler Alert: It’s good. You should buy it.
Who Is Joe Friel?
* Mont frantically scans press release stapled into the front cover of the book *
(I jest. I know who he is…)
Joe Friel is an athlete and coach of nearing 40 year’s experience. He is the author of the ‘____ Bible’ series of books.
I also own the Triathlete’s Training Bible. The less said about that*, perhaps, the better.
(* ‘that’ = my former triathlon aspirations…)
I’m a big fan of Joe Friel (even before his publisher sent me a book…). His books have helped me to understand how to create a training programme, and how training works to build fitness (rather than blindly following a pre-defined plan).
Who Is Fast After 50 For?
There are certain clues in the title.
The book sets out to help endurance athletes above ‘a certain age’ train effectively, improve their sporting performance and thus reverse some of the natural effects of ageing.
It is not a cycling-specific book. The book deals with the aspects of fitness common to all the endurance sports, and training strategies that are effective across all of these sports. That said, the two-wheeled sport of Kings (Of The Mountain) is frequently referred to (along with running and swimming).
Despite not being a cycling training book per se, it is easy to see (and implement) how the principles translate into effective training on the bike.
The basis for the book is that the only ‘information’ available to the elder statesmen (and women) of the peloton (pack / shoal / ‘group of Nordic skiers’) is the lightweight pap that pads out newspaper websites.
General knowledge on what happens to athletes beyond the age of 50 is weak. There is a lack of specific information for veteran athletes* that are serious about their sport.
(*I’ve said it before – yes, YOU ARE AN ATHLETE).
Friel has set out to synthesise the scientific studies that have been done in this field, and combine them with his own experiences coaching athletes of all ages and training himself into his 70s.
The result is an overview of what elements of training are important for maintaining (and building) fitness after 50, and then a detailed approach for implementing them within your schedule and lifestyle.
Three Ways To Build Fitness Over 50
This book does not contain a magic formula that will send you soaring towards peak performance.
Scratch that, I suppose it does contain a formula. But it’s one of those pesky non-magic, involves-effort-to-implement sort of formulae.
(And tip #3 will blow your mind.)
Based on the sports science that leads to improved fitness for any age athlete, Friel explores in detail the changes required to formulate a training approach that is effective for 50+ers.
The ‘secret’ (if there is one) is not to fall into the trap of ‘long, slow distance’ training sessions. Instead, the veteran athlete needs to focus on intensity in a very deliberate way, and then recovery.
Intensity + Recovery = Success
Friel does not shy away from recommending high intensity sessions, done correctly, for fear that you’ll have a Connery.
High intensity training sessions are vital for any athlete, including seniors, to build fitness and to reduce weight (read: fat) gain.
The key is knowing how and when to perform such sessions, and how to schedule sufficient rest and recovery time into your programme. Fast After 50 deals clearly with this area, sticking to the underlying principles rather than disappearing into the weeds with an extended list of session types.
In fact, since the book is aimed at all types of endurance athlete, it is refreshingly free of clutter when it comes to training session types.
The Triumphal Training Trinity
Friel talks about essentially four types of training session (five if you include recovery), targeting the three key aspects of endurance fitness:
- increasing your aerobic capacity (what you can do at ‘balls out effort’*)
- pushing up your anaerobic threshold (being able to do more hard work before all your matches get burnt)
- targeting your aerobic threshold (being able to go quicker at an ‘all day in the saddle’ effort)
- strength work
(*Not a Friel term.)
Each session type is a ‘dose’ of training stress. Timed correctly, with the right conditions in between (recovery, sleep, nutrition), the sequence of training doses leads to improved fitness.
Quality Rest + Quality Diet = Quality Performance
The final two chapters deal with the two key factors, outside of the training session, that build fitness and improve performance:
- rest and recovery (aka ‘when the magic happens’)
- body fat (and its reduction).
Both are areas where younger athletes can cut corners without overly impacting performance. Older athletes do not enjoy this luxury (I’m sad to say).
Recovering well maximises the beneficial impact of each training dose and reduces the risk of picking up an illness or injury. Injury and illness take longer to recover from as a 50+. Ipso facto, QEII: Expend as much brainpower on your recovery strategy as you do on your training schedule (and maybe more).
We’re used to people banging on about the importance of sleep for recovery. When someone (let’s call him Joe Friel) explains what hormonal processes occur during sleep time (the release of testosterone and oestrogen) and what these processes do (they repair muscles and bones), we should probably take the ‘sleep more, better’ advice more seriously.
Nutrition is important both for recovery and for fighting increases in body fat. Studies suggest that older athletes need more protein in their diet, in order to rebuild those muscles used in training.
Fast After 50 (rightly) does not suggest a ‘one size fits all’ approach to diet.
Instead, Friel provides a range of advice, and questions to ask yourself, to help make dietary changes that may improve performance. Armed with this, you’re well placed to find out what works for you, and what doesn’t.
A Serious Book For Serious Athletes?
Like many of Friel’s books, Fast After 50 is written ostensibly for the ‘serious athlete’. There are many references to the reader being a lifelong trainer.
A casual flick-through might lead you to conclude that, as someone that isn’t interested in racing bikes and hasn’t been training for the past 30 years, this book is not for you.
You’d be wrong. There is plenty here applicable to the sportive cyclist or someone that has recently returned to cycling after a long lay off (measured in decades…).
Just because you’re a ‘talented amateur’, with limited time to train, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take your training seriously (if you want, you don’t have to…).
An Alternative To The Cyclist’s Training Bible?
As I’ve been reading Fast After 50 I’ve been trying to work out how it plays if you haven’t read one of Friel’s ‘Training Bible’ books (which is difficult, given that I have).
All of the books from the Friel stable share a common philosophy, built on the principles of training periodisation (amongst other things). This philosophy is evident within the themes of Fast After 50, and the recommended training approaches, but certainly without the (huge) detail found within the ‘Bibles’.
I think Friel has been successful in writing a book that works both as a companion to, say, The Cyclists Training Bible (for those that really want to get into the detail and create a structured, season-long training schedule) and as a standalone training guide.
I am sure that by following the principles within Fast After 50, working through a series of progressively more challenging training cycles, allowing for recovery, focusing on nutrition and sleep, you would build fitness rapidly, without having to consult the ‘Bible’.
In fact, if you’re someone that doesn’t want to be overwhelmed with information, that’s exactly what I’d recommend.
I am not ‘after 50’. Neither am I fast.
But that didn’t stop me enjoying the book, nor learning from it.
A lot of the principles apply across the age spectrum – it’s just that some them come into sharper focus as you move into the senior ranks. As I write, aged nearly 36, it feels as if I can apply some of the teachings now, in anticipation of the changes that might impact my body in the future*.
(* Some of them are probably already impacting…)
It’s a written well book. Despite the wealth of (sports) scientific evidence, it is not a dry textbook-y tome. All the sources are referenced and footnoted, should you need them, but Joe’s writing tone is personal and engaging. The advice feels applicable and implementable. Which is, when it comes down to it, what you want from a book like this.