Book Review: FASTER by Michael Hutchinson

Faster. We all secretly want it, some less secretly than others. But what separates the fast from the not-so-fast? Why are some riders so much faster than me? And what separates them from the seemingly superhuman few who possess that little bit extra? Michael Hutchinson's latest literary offering looks to answer these questions by examining the man, the machine and everything in between.

Michael Hutchinson is a professional cyclist with over 50 National Time Trial Titles to his name at every distance from 10 miles to 100 miles. You could say he knows a thing or two about speed and the lengths some people will go to achieve it.

Those familiar with Hutch's tongue-in-cheek column in Cycling Weekly will instantly recognise his witty yet sarcastically enlightening style as he treats us to an insight into the extraordinary and often obsessive world of the professional 

In his quest for speed, Hutch delves deep into the science behind the athlete. Every aspect of the elite cyclist is dissected; starting with basic physiology (blood, oxygen and muscle), before covering nutrition, sports psychology, training and technology. Lastly he looks at genetics; the uncontrollable part of the equation and the one which set Hutch up to be a gifted time triallist before even touching a bike (his natural lung capacity, VO2 max and blood volume were all well into “off the chart” territory).

It sounds like a lot to digest (although in reality it’s only skimming the surface). I wont deny there is a lot of science in this book, I’m glad I paid attention in biology lectures. To counter this, Hutch intertwines the theory with his own and other riders’ experiences in a way which brings out the genuine passion and sacrifice that is the sport of cycling.

Even though it can get quite scientific at times, Faster is a book that is easy to dip in and out of. He quenches an insatiable thirst for “that edge” by dismantling every piece of the go-faster puzzle before rearranging it to relate to the everyday rider. You can tell that it’s been written by a man who has spent his entire cycling career in the pursuit of answers to the speed equation, obsessing over what separated him from the exclusive world of the truly elite cyclist.

In relation to my own pursuit of speed, reading this book has given me plenty to think about, yet it left me with answers I guess I already knew – that becoming a fast bike rider is partly genetic and partly hard work. For an endurance athlete it’s all about your ability to move oxygen and your capacity to improve on that ability. Once you have that baseline it’s all down to training and good old fashioned hard work.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Faster and at times had trouble putting it down! But then again I am a science and numbers geek at heart. My only criticism is that for some, the theory will be a little overwhelming. For anyone with a keen interest in time trialling or an obsession with speed this book is a must-read.

Faster. You know you want to!
 


Middle Ringer is an obsessive cyclist who is still too young to be a MAMIL, but way too old to mix it with the young guns. He has illusions of speed above his ability and can often be found gasping for breath, pedalling neat little circles around the Royal County of Berkshire.

https://twitter.com/MiddleRinger

 

Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World's Fastest Cyclists by Michael Hutchinson is published by  Bloomsbury Publishing and is available as paperback or eBook.

http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/faster-9781408843741/

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Comment by Terry Hayward on April 5, 2014 at 20:51

'At the beginning, always think of the end' - it's top advice not just for going faster but in everything we do.  I have heard Ben Hunt-Davis (former olympic rower) many times and it is one of his most important bits of advice.  If you ever need a motivational speaker I recommend him, even though to my knowledge he's not a cyclist (http://www.hunt-davis.co.uk/sporting-career/).

Comment by Middle Ringer on April 1, 2014 at 21:16

In regards to achieving a particular speed-related target, one of the biggest points I took away from the book was to work backwards from your goal. There’s no use training if you don’t know what you’re specifically training for – the more specific the goal the more specific the training can be.

It’s a concept that’s been honed by British Cycling. In 2008 Team GB track cycling coach Dan Hunt had a whiteboard with “3:49.999” written on it. It was the time he believed was required to win gold in the Team Pursuit at the 2012 London Olympics. That was the starting point from which everything his cyclists did over the next four years was tailored to achieve. For the athlete with a serious goal, it all starts from the end point.

Comment by Andy Dawson on April 1, 2014 at 10:12

Great write-up. I'd be interested to know what one piece of advice or info you got from this book you think will be the most helpful in your personal quest for speed. I suspect that genetically I'm a bit stuffed (at least one instance where I can unequivocally blame my parents) but Hutchinson may have some words of hope for me!

I too like the science and stats behind the ride - some would say too much at the expense of actually riding - so "Faster" has gone onto my book list. 

Comment by Dave Nash on March 31, 2014 at 21:22

Great review Middle Ringer and gives a very succinct overview of what the book is all about. . Hutchinson's column in Cycling Weekly is consistently brilliant - very funny but underpinned by his insightful take on all aspects of cycling. I don't time trial, but I can appreciate from talking to those who do that it is an obsessive discipline and your review of Faster makes me want to find out a little more about it  and I guess that if there is anyone I would chose to enlighten me, it would have to be Michael Hutchinson! 

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