Review: The Obree Way – A Training Manual for Cyclists by Graeme Obree

 

 

The Obree Way

a Training Manual for cyclists

by Graeme Obree.

 

Edited & Produced by: Maximise Marketing & Event Ltd & obree.com

£30 for A4 hardback
£4.64 for Amazon Kindle Edition (at time of writing)

“Training is bad for you! Training followed by rest and proper nutrition is good for you and will make you better prepared for the event you are training for.” Graeme Obree

This manual sees the legendary Graeme Obree taking his own unique, and forgive the hyperbole, scientifically holistic, approach to the concept of training, performance and the science within – in all its forms. It is full of deep insights and ideas, the sort you that make sense as soon as you read them. If anyone has the passion, intelligence and focus to both follow this path and to achieve their goals it is Graeme. After all, as the great Robert Millar states ‘he’s got the t-shirt’. Rugby great, John Beattie, sums it up best in his forward when he says, ‘this training manual is different. It makes the complex simple and is for social cyclist as much as the elite. As you read it you hear a great mind at work, thinking the issues through. Issues easily applied to sports other than cycling.’

‘The knowledge here is extraordinary.’ John Beattie, British & Irish Lions.

This is a practical guide for cyclists new and experienced and is well served by thoughtful use of illustrations (by Elliot McIntosh, a student at Dundee University), photographs and quotes. Obree describes the book as his personal modus operandi. As much an attempt to add clarity to the often contradictory advice flooding the sport as an objective manual for the aspiring champion. Obree does offer many opinions, often based purely on his own experiences (sample size of one), but to his credit he states clearly when this is the case and usually offers a deeper insight into the formation of such statements. If only more health & fitness writers took this approach then the seemingly daily bombardment of the anecdotal would be replaced by the evidence based, and we would all be a little clearer in our approach to smoother and faster riding.

‘I hope the advice I’d of use and can make a difference to readers in some small way.’ Graeme Obree.

The books consists of thirteen chapters, fifteen if you count the conclusion and photo gallery and starts with the often overlooked question ‘what is training?‘ Obree focuses on specificity to outcome but with greater thought and flexibility than is usual, with specific focus on recovery recognition – an area I for one have often made big mistakes in! He covers, often with uncomfortable truths thrown in, group rides, solo rides, indoor, outdoor, and what a cyclist needs to think about, recognise in themselves, and to do, in order to adapt and to improve physiologically. The psychological is strongly implied and is a recurring theme throughout – assess your strengths and weaknesses, constantly.

‘… I am, dispensing with commercial sponsorship (not for the first time) and by bringing you the truth as I have analysed it and used to have the success I have had in my career.’ Graeme Obree

The essence of Obree’s message is that training is an activity that once completed, including recovery, makes you better at the activity than before you underwent ‘training’. The rest of the book sets out to help you achieve this lofty goal.

First steps, chapter two, is where Obree describes his fascination with the measurable variables of training alongside the feel of both body and mind. It explains, following a positivist scientific methodology, the need to know your bike/turbo set up and to measure and monitor your performance. Dotted throughout this and all chapters are many little gems of knowledge. The puncture prevention tips are ones I wish I hadn’t had to learn the hard – and costly – way while pulling out thorns on the road from Wigan to Ecclestone!

Chapter three focuses on bike set up; very useful geometry and equipment choices are laid out in terms of your realistic aspirations as a cyclist – reliability and cost… Ok, aerodynamics too!

Light, strong, cheap. Choose any two!’ Graeme Obree

Chapter four, The Turbo Session, is Obree’s homage to the equipment, the systematic, the psychological (again) and the preparation needed to perform better than you have before. As ever, there is an almost obsessive focus on on the details of performance setting, analysis and evaluation, but all presented like an affable coffee stop chat, and much better they are for this style too. Dare I say that ‘marginal gains’ may summarise the thinking here? Suddenly the thought of an hour or two on the turbo has new meaning. It has certainly helped me.

Chapter five, Training, is where I clearly felt the gulf between weekend warrior and serious, or elite, rider manifest itself. This is a chapter that is a must read if you want to improve and it certainly ticked a lot of the “I should be doing that” boxes that I have often found floating to the forefront of my thoughts while pootling about the Rhein-Sieg and Eifel (not forgetting the lanes of Essex and Wigan) but, usually, failed to implement with any consistency. I found the his critique of the seven-day training cycle very useful and have, well will (as soon as the snow melts), follow his advice as closely as I can.

“Fundamentally other riders want to talk to you on a two hour ride but the truth is if you can  chat then you are wasting you time and [the] opportunity to improve.” Graeme Obree

Obree covers nutrition and hydration: pre, during and post ride, training frequency, intensity and recovery. There is a thought provoking focus on ‘real’ food as opposed to supplementation and training specificity.

Chapter six is is where Obree focus on the ubiquitous psychology of preparation. He emphasises the power of positive thinking and realistic, yet ambitious, goal setting. It is interesting to read about how Obree prepared himself mentally before some of his biggest races. However most of the psychology coved is in full agreement with current performance paradigms, think Dr. Steve Peters and his chimp paradox, but if it helps you then it is a chapter well read. One aspect Obree adds here is routine in thought processes. It’s what worked for him.

Chapter seven, the psychology of racing. As you are now aware the mind is a major player in Obree’s world. No Corinthian he. Prime motives are what are needed and it is the mind that separates the winners from the rest. A chapter for the elite racer lurking inside us all. However, much truth is written here that could benefit each and every reader, rider and racer. Visualisation played a key role in Obree’s own preparations and his rationale is explained in detail. More food for thought.

“A thought is like a thing. Everything you have and do began with a thought.” Graeme Obree

Breathing, chapter eight, is fascinating and presents a novel, at least to me, method of inhalation and exhalation when riding. Obree can be heard explaining this on Resonance FM’s Bike Show podcast from January 31, 2012. (Available via iTunes) I must admit to having had little success here – perhaps I’m always too out of breath to give it an honest go. Here’s the cycle, to give you taster, deep breath now…

– Full breath out (the most important part), Full breath in.

– half breath out, mostly breath back in.

– quarter breath out, breath back in a little.

I rarely get past the second step. Perhaps my nostril and tongue technique – also explained in the chapter – is lacking in finesse. I showed this chapter to a couple of yoga expert friends and both seemed rather impressed by the thinking, process and description. Practice makes prefect I guess… Back to the mat for me!

Chapter nine cover the act, possibly art, of pedalling. A fine chapter – it includes lots of physics so I would say that! The mystery of crank length is covered and then the best techniques to use to turn them, both in and out of the saddle are presented. The aim? To look a classy rider, oh and to improve performance.

Chapter ten is where I really feel somewhat the hypocrite through my own staggering lack of application: Stretching. All is explained from the perspective of specificity and four very useful – even I can, almost, do them – stretches are presented cover all all the major muscles used in cycling. Full colour photographs of Graeme in full stretch accompany the text.

The time trial, the race of truth, is covered, as you would expect, in minute detail in chapter eleven. Who better to learn from? The essence seems to be position, information gathering, set up, equipment selection, and rhythm. Perhaps I’ll try one, one day? They don’t hurt too much do they?

Chapter twelve sees a return to nutrition and diet. It contains a lot of good, solid sense and takes a traditional, real food approach. Obree seems to be no fan of the supplement – as his famous jam sandwich and mouthful marzipan tip will make clear. Cooking your own food from basic, healthy, ingredients is the theme, even down to the baking of your own low-sodium bread. Timing of refuelling is treated with care. Indeed, Obree treats nutrition planning as obsessively as he does training and bike set up. His success lends weight to his argument. You are what you eat.

Illness and other matters conclude the main chapters and includes minimising the chances of illness, when and when not to with and after illness, drinking and eating on the bike safely, hygiene – body and kit (several acquaintances of the road could well do with reading the kit bit!) The message is consistent with all other chapters – learn to listen, feel and respect what your body is telling you. No one would argue with its primary health care message.

The conclusion is best left to Graeme himself. His words neatly summarise the purpose of this novel, useful and, yes, fascinating, book

“Please trust me that this body of honest work is given in the best spirit, I have been the guinea-pig in e quest to refine my training on every level and I can commend it really does work. Knowledge and understanding is a constant quest. This book is not definitive and keeping an open mind on new findings and developments is not only a good thing but essential if you are serious in your search for new and better ways to improve your cycling and athletic performance.

Information is the golden thread throughout this book.

The more information you compile in relation to your preparation for any chosen event then the better prepared for your task you can become and this can make the difference between being a club rider and a world champion. My quest as an athlete was always to go into minute detail in the areas I could influence to affect the outcome to my advantage in terms of my performance. Trust me, if you take care in all aspects of your preparation and performance you will become an improved cyclist and perform better in your chosen discipline, if that is your goal.” Graeme Obree.

I’d give The Obree Way 99% for content, honesty and the fact it’s self-published!


Reviewed by: Nichiless ‘Nicky’ Dey.

Neunkirchen-Seelscheid, Germany

 

Book Review: In search of Robert Millar by Richard Moore

 

In search of Robert Millar

Unravelling the Mystery Surrounding Britain’s Most Successful Tour de France Cyclist
by Richard Moore

What a book! Thought provoking or what?! To date this must be the most enjoyable book about a past cyclist that I have ever had the privilege to read. It was such a great relief to read In search of Robert Millar after having to plough my way through Sex, Lies and Handlebar tape (the story of Jacque Anquetil) which had taken the thick end of two weeks to read, where as In search of Robert Millar was devoured in a matter of days!

To put my desire to read this book into perspective I must stress that Robert was in a key group of Tour de France riders whom I viewed as my sporting heroes in the 1980’s and as a young rider I looked up to, not so much as people whom I wanted to emulate but rather riders with a wide range of skill sets I wanted to learn from. The list included Paul Sherwin, Sean Kelly, Martin Early, Robert Millar, Greg Lemond, Sean Yates and Malcolm Elliot. As a young rider and even now I would certainly never have been able to place myself in this group and most certainly never in the same build as Robert. If he was a thoroughbred race horse I was the working shire-horse! But what stood out to me was his ability to suffer and suffer again knowing that those he was racing against where suffering even more then him. His ability to change speed up hill and put his opponents into major difficulty was legendary no it was the stuff that young boys dreams are made of.

I guess like many I had heard the rumours that Robert was now Roberto Millar and had dropped off the radar, occasionally passing comment on various bike forums, but I never wanted to believe what I had heard without proof. In essence this is what drew me to read In search of Robert Millar, would I be disappointed?

The quick answer to this question is a resounding NO. Far from being disappointed it was great, through the eyes of Richard Moore, to get a sneak insight into the life and times of one very special rider.

Richard’s book really does give the reader good understanding of what drives Robert and the things that make him tick. So many people interviewed for the book highlight that Robert was a very special, talented rider, with a good insight into the development of a race and wining strategy. Richard also shows how far ahead of his time Robert was with training methods and nutrition. Information Robert read was applied and tested in the real world of racing, things that did not work for him were then discarded. Robert was very focused on what worked and refused to pay lip service or waste any time on fads or pointless lab research that would not be applicable to his world.

The most telling tale of lab work verse real life was Robert’s first contact with a young Sports Science researcher called Peter Keen (later Performance Director for British Cycling). At a cycling conference Peter was pushing the use of Maxim as a major enhancement to performance for riders (hmm cross reference my review of Nuun and the recent BBC documentary). Robert needless to say dismissed the lab research as the product had never been tested in the field and just like Graeme Obree his opinion is that water works best.

Robert’s and Peter’s paths crossed again later in the book when Robert had been employed by the British Cycling to aid the development of the Road Racing squad. Needless to say as Peter appears to be a numbers man and Robert appears to be an experience man with no formal qualifications in sports science, surprise surprise Peter chose to not renew Roberts contract. I shall refrain from expressing my opinion about this but really encourage you to read the book and make up your own mind about the benefits of a sports science degree or the knowledge and understanding gained from the University of Real Life.

For me the most exciting part of the book must be the Epilogue, where Richard shares his e-mail communications with Robert Millar about the writing of the book. What a fascinating exchange.

Robert Millar for my money a cycling legend with so much that we can learn from. I can not recommend highly enough that you sit down and get hold of a copy of In search of Robert Millar I am sure you will not be disappointed.


Title:
In search of Robert Millar  

Author: Richard Moore    

Published by HarperSport (HarperCollins)

Available in Paperback, iBook & Kindle

Price:
RRP £8.99 (Paperback), RRP £8.99 (eBook), RRP £18.99 (Hardback)

 
 

 
 
Previous reads include:

Sex Lies and Handlebar Tape Jacques Anquetil (reviewed August 2012)
In Pursuit of Glory Bradley Wiggins
Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree
Rough Ride Paul Kimmage
Riding through the Darkness David Millar
We were young and carefree Laurent Fignon
Boy Racer Mark Cavendish (read Darren’s review here)

 
 

Book Review: Stephen Roche “Born to Ride”

Have you ever dreamt about sitting down with a relaxing glass of wine and spending an evening just chatting cycling with a former World Champion?  What if you could spend time with a Triple Crown winner?  Well, that’s how reading the new book by Stephen Roche ‘Born to Ride’ felt to me.  It gave me the distinct impression that I was having an intimate conversation with one of the all-time greats in the world of cycling.

 

The stories and the thoughts behind the action in the book are fascinating.  Stephen’s personal views of the nature and culture of cycling in the 1980s–the teams, the Directors Sportif, the teammates and the rivals are the needed details.  They fill in gaps in the urban legends and the well-documented stories that have become the lore of cycling.  To be allowed into the depths of that world, just a bit, is a compelling read and well worth the price of admission.

 

Setting the stage with the details and drama of the World Championships of 1987, Stephen Roche narrates the tale of that fateful day, bone-numbingly wet, riding the circuit course at Villach, Austria.  “During these early laps I am just staying in the wheels, sheltering from the wind behind other riders, freewheeling almost.  That’s obviously an exaggeration, but that’s how easy I want it to feel, so that I can save everything I can for the end.”  The winning strategy, the gear choices, the details of the day are the simple things, like putting on three rain jackets layered upon each other, that make for a build up that seems so very personal and intriguing. It also makes a fascinating read for fans of cycling and of sports psychology.

 

Mixed in with the racing are touching details of Stephen’s early days trying to gather up money to make the trip over to race in France as an amateur, as well as, engaging stories of the many people who helped make it possible. Stephen openly lets us in to his personal life in a genuine and straight forward manner.  It is this glimpse into the triumphs and failures of the man that make you feel closer, that make you want to read more.  It also makes you realize that a Triple Crown in cycling doesn’t insulate you from being human, from being a parent, or the devastation of having a child who develops leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant.  Within these pages are the joys of winning and the sorrows of life.

 

One of the most intriguing takes I have from the book ‘Born to Ride’ is the strong undercurrent of confidence that comes through when Stephen Roche talks about being on the bike.  He didn’t just think he could win, he knew the race was his to win, and he belonged on the top step of the podium.  Interestingly, he is quite honest about the price he paid for it, within his own team and with others, cyclists and fans, who thought his tactics were not “pure” team spirit.

 

For me, these insights into the mindset of a champion come through between lines, chocked full of the images of iconic cyclists who are brought to life through Stephen’s reminiscences.  The legends of cycling from Miguel Indurain, Laurent Fignon, Roberto Visentini, Sean Kelly to Robert Millar play prominently throughout Stephen’s career.  The book runs the gamut from glimpses of the boy, who collected clippings of Sean Kelly and was told at school he “wasn’t likely to get anywhere”, to the triumphant 1987 World Champion and winner of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.

 

Like most conversations, which zig and zag and take you to unexpected, but not unwelcome places, Stephen also addresses the climate of doping in cycling that existed at the time, his opinions of the present-day UCI and its concerns about “cheating” and improving the image of the sport, and his role in each.  It left me ever more hopeful for the future of cycling, that there is still a sense of direction for the sport which comes from people like Stephen Roche who have been there and lived it.

 

As I came to the end, finally putting the book down, there was a sense of joy and a sense of loss.  The interlude with the past, like a fine wine or a lovely evening, was over all too soon, but I was left with a profound sense of place and a newfound appreciation for the real challenges and sacrifices it takes to be a cyclist.  Overall, ‘Born to Ride’ is an absorbing and interesting new book, Stephen Roche’s first full autobiography, and I highly recommend spending a few enjoyable evenings savoring the conversation.

 

 
 

Title:  Born To Ride  

Author: Stephen Roche    

Published by Yellow Jersey Press, The Random House Group

Available from 7th June 2012 in Hardback & eBook

Price: £12.99
 
 

 

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