Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review! The Obree Way

An interesting look into the mind of a champion

It's certainly no secret to those who know me that I have long been a fan of Graeme Obree. Even moreso than Boardman I feel I have always identified with "the flying scotsman." (Not the absolute worst movie I've ever watched either for what that's worth.) So when I came across this book I was quick to shell out my cash and give it a read. Granted, the book has been out for three years, so I'm late to the party, but fortunately books don't expire. (and neither do reviews...I hope)

I wasn't quite sure what I expected to find inside the book, and I suppose I was not disappointed, as I'm still not quite sure what it was. A training manual is what is advertised, and I suppose in the abstract that is as good of a description as any, although I'm not sure that if you saw it as only that you would find it a very helpful one. The parts that were most interesting (to me) were his thoughts on preparation and the outlook at the training or race ahead.

The "Egg" position that set some seriously blazing fast records.

The Good
In the chapters that spoke about the mindset, both the race mentality and ruthlessness (his words) of it, and in training and what is required to exceed the normal limitations and limiters that we place upon ourselves (he goes so far as to say that only after we accept that this effort "may" result in our death that we can push past those limits) I found the value in this book. During these times you get a true look into the mind of a man who was truly "all in" on what he desired. The chapter on obtaining sponsorships was also very interesting, and while he was speaking on a considerably grander scale than most people who read the book will be looking for, it is nonetheless a chapter that some lessons can be taken from. I enjoyed some of the chapters on technique and equipment selection, however neither are what I would consider absolute truths.

The Bad
Unfortunately these brilliant sparks in the book are mired down by the actual "training manual" which makes up the majority of the book. It's billed exactly as that (A training manual for cyclists) so it may seem strange to call that out as the bad part of the book... but it simply lacks any of the flair that made the chapters about the mental stand out. It almost that it is too "safe" and cookie cutter to be worth the price of admission. Basically every chapter dedicated to training/nutrition/etc is the same thing you can learn in a 15 minute google search on cyclist training. Most of this seemed to be written for the true neophyte... of which I'm sure there are some who picked up this book. However I suspect most people who sought this book out specifically already know that eating tons of salt and sugar or processed foods isn't the best way to fuel or that specific training for the even you are preparing for is good. The one caveat to the above is his emphasis on recovery. It seems that Obree wrecked himself on his hard rides, trying to squeak the very minimum of improvement compared to his last ride, and then gave his body as much time as it needed to recover from the effort before trying again. For me specifically I was interested in his thoughts on this and it was a shame it wasn't expanded a little more.

The Ugly
There were a few parts that despite my fanboyism had even me shaking my head and mouthing "wow..." I am a bit confused at his seeming hatred for technology. He goes to some very extreme lengths in the book to describe how to set a magnetic trainer up so that it will measure very minute changes in fitness accurately... but I could not come up with a good reason why an accurately calibrated power meter was not just demonstrably better. I understand that wasn't an option (or at least not a cheap one) in the late 80's and 90's, but seeing as this book was published in the 2010's... it seems that time has moved on.

Likewise, the part on a focused breathing pattern just doesn't line up with how the human body actually work, and specifically what is our physical limiter. I'm a good sport though, so I did give it a fair college try. What I can say is that I do "feel" like I'm getting more air, mainly because I'm focused on it I'm sure. It is something I doubt I could ever practice enough to make a subconscious effort, and perhaps that is the "secret" of it. Not that you are getting more oxygen, but that you are having to direct your attention away from the pain so that you don't screw up your next breath.  I will say a perceived benefit is often just as useful as a real benefit. My power numbers nor my HR seemed effected in any noticeable way when using this technique as opposed to my normal breathing, but I did get through some sets a little easier (again, where my focus was drawn to) so perhaps it has some benefit much in the way many people do hard math in their head to draw their attention away from pain.

It was an entertaining read. It's short (I read it in a day) and for the most part gets to the point he is trying to make pretty quickly (something I should probably take lessons in) but the book does not have many secrets to share with experienced cyclists. There are certainly a few hidden gems and the occasional "deep" insights scattered in the book were very enjoyable (for me at least) but it seemed too much of the book was written so it could be marketed to the masses and too little on the uniqueness of the writer himself. I had really expected a little insight into things like his unique position and equipment choices in his career, but there were none to be found, which was very disappointing for me.  Worth a read if you are a fan of Mr. Obree, but as a training manual there are far superior options available.

Thanks for checking out the blog this week, I really appreciate it! Until next week

- Christopher Morelock

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