a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Pedalling underwater on Route One

This week I did a bit of off road riding on the gravel bike and enjoyed a day out that I have been wanting to have for a couple of years now, I will explain the reason for the delay a little later. I am pretty lucky where I live in that our house is only a few a few hundred metres from a really good cycle path. What I hadn't realised until I started planning my day out was that our local cycle path forms part of the SUSTRANS  National Cycle Network and the section of cycle path closest to me is actually part of Sustrans Route 1 a cycle route that stretches all the way up the east coast from Dover right up to the Shetland Isles, an incredible 1,695 miles.

The recently re-opened and beautifully restored 900 metre long Tyne Cycle Tunnel. It looks like it's a dead end in this picture but it's left at the end for the stairs or right for the lift.

The ride that I had planned wasn't quite so epic, just a one day excursion up to the Quayside at Newcastle, the reason for the delay in doing this ride was that I have been waiting for the re-opening of the Tyne Pedestrian and Cycle Tunnel  (Tunnel Hub) The tunnels, one for pedestrians and one for cyclists have been closed for six years for refurbishment a project which was delayed numerous times and went hugely over budget in part due to the discovery of significant amounts of asbestos but also due to issues with various contractors. There have been a few promised opening dates which have passed for various reasons but the tunnels finally re-opened on August 6th.

The pedestrian and cycle tunnels first opened in 1951 to provide access to the north side of the Tyne for the large numbers of people who worked at the shipyards, lead and chemical works that lined the banks of the river at that time. At peak usage up 20,000 people used the tunnels daily to get to work until local industries particularly ship building began to steadily decline from the late sixties. 

The tunnel entrances - Jarrow on the south side and Heddon on the north.

Originally my plan was to ride from home up Route One through the tunnel and along the north side of the Tyne to the Cycle Hub on the Newcastle Quayside and then return the same way. After considering it in a bit more detail I realised that the distance was going to be around a hundred miles which at my gravel bike riding pace was going to be a very long day out. So I came up with plan B, let the train take the strain or a bit of it anyway. Travelling by train with a bike was also something new to me and I wasn't sure if it was going to be a bit of a hassle, it wasn't at all, in fact it was really easy. I rode to Thornaby station about 20 minutes on the cycle path, bought a ticket to Sunderland and the fifty minute journey knocked twenty eight miles of my cycling distance, I even had a seat.

I quite enjoyed my little train trip and I am definitely going to do it again, either a one way ride and a train home or the other way round. From Sunderland station I was only few minutes pedal away from the Wearmouth bridge across the Wear and back on Route One heading for the coast and ready for a coffee.

First stop was at Fausto Coffee a great cycling themed cafe at Roker, super location with good food and right on the beach, definitely worth popping in if you are in the area. From Fausto its cycle paths all the way up to South Shields, a really nice ride with loads to see on route and plenty of places to take a break ... or a picture.

         Gravel bike and the Souter Lighthouse at the Whitburn Coastal Park ... plus a dog.

                                          I had forgotten how nice the beach at South Shields is.

When the tunnels opened in 1951 the access was provided by two escalators and a lift at either end. At the time they were installed the escalators were the longest single span vertical rise wooden escalators in the world. Access to the tunnels now is intended to be only by the lifts as presumably the cost of restoring or replacing the nearly 70 year old escalators was too high but one of the escalators has been left at each end to be used as a stairway in an emergency.

Good plan so far, but unfortunately when I arrived at the Jarrow entrance there was something of a hold up because the lift on the south side wasn't working. As I waited at the top to descend there was a group of cyclists trying to come up and it was obviously a massive struggle for them. The six cyclists (3 male and 3 female) all looked to be in their seventies and were carrying/dragging their far from lightweight bikes up the 140 steps. Such was the effort required they were having to stop every few steps to recover. Eventually after about twenty minutes four of the group had made it up but one of the ladies was still only half way being assisted by a friend and the two ladies were lifting her bike up one step at time with a long queue of people behind. The elderly gents in the party were in no condition to help so at this point, feeling a bit sorry for them and also to speed things up bit, I did my good deed for the day and went down and carried the heavy hybrid bike up, for her for which she was extremely grateful. There is probably a case for closing the tunnel if either of the lifts is out of order as climbing up with a bike is really quite challenging for anyone - might be worth checking if you are planning ride up there.

                             Pedal pushing and coffee drinking on Tyneside with VelojunkieCC

On the north side of the river it's a very easy pedal of about four miles to the Cycle Hub This section of the ride is along Hadrians Cycle Route a 170 mile trail that goes all the way across the country from South Shields to Ravenglass in Cumbria. 

The Cycle Hub is a really well used facility with a great cafe, a workshop and hire bikes available and only a few minutes ride from Newcastle quayside and the city centre. With almost a 50 miles home I didn't stay too long before re-tracing my route back to the tunnel on the way passing the Segedunum Roman Fort at Wallsend, somewhere that looks worth a visit next time.

After my cafe stop I knew I had the challenge of the dreaded escalator to look forward to, although it turned out not to be as tough for me as it was for the poor I guy I was chatting to at the bottom. He was about to go up for the fourth time carrying his own hefty looking MTB after already carrying up his wife's bike and both his kids bikes, nice chap, if I had got there a little earlier I could have helped ... or maybe not.  

After a few road miles through South Shields and across the river Wear to Sunderland the last 35 miles were all off road mostly on gravel trails along the route of disused railway tracks. Final distance for the day was 72 miles with 6 hours of pedalling, you can check out the route here on my STRAVA 

I took a a bit of a diversion as I passed through the port of Seaham on the way home to take the final picture of the day of the Tommy World War One Soldier sculpture - absolutely beautiful.


Sunday, 16 June 2019

Racing with power: But is the beard costing me watts ?

At this point in June I am half way through my race season and I have had a mid-season break. To summarise how the racing has gone so far, just OK. I have really enjoyed it, managed a couple of decent rides but without getting any results, so it's definitely a case of could do better.

The beard is in the wind ! Picture courtesy of  Larry Hickmott of the VeloUK website

I have been using a Precision power meter supplied to me by for training and racing and it has worked flawlessly since I got it in November. The the only attention it's required has been two new batteries. The little CR2032 battery is dead easy to change and lasts about three months which isn't bad when you consider that I ride almost everyday.

 You can read about my initial experiences with the 4iiii power meter HERE Training with power #1 and Training with power #2

I have learned a lot from using the power meter and one of the most important things that has been confirmed to me is that racing is way harder than training. I know that's stating the flaming obvious ! but it's true, and from using the power meter for the first time I now know how much harder. This startling revelation has serious implications as to how I will be approaching my races for the rest of the season. Let me explain.

                                                                                                 Racing is hard ... FACT

Normalised power (NP) is used to quantify the physiological cost of a ride or race. When there is a lot of variation in efforts (as in a road race) the NP value is much higher than for example an even paced endurance ride. During a hard winter of training (MyStrava) and bearing in mind I almost exclusively train with much younger and much fitter riders, the highest NP I recorded for a tough structured two hour training ride was 186 watts and the average NP for my hardest two hour training rides over the winter was 175 watts.

When I have compared this to my NP for races of around two hours, which most LVRC/TLI events are the highest NP I have done this year was 236 watts and the average NP has been 228 watts, in other words my two hour races have been 30% harder than my hardest two hour training rides.

   November test effort
         Best training effort
        Best race effort
     1 minute
           370 watts
                362 watts
              416 watts
     5 minute
           235 watts
                251 watts
              272 watts
     20 minute
           212 watts
                230 watts
              237 watts

A comparison of my best testing, training and racing efforts: have I got fitter ? or do I just need to be in a race to get the best out of myself ? (remember social facilitation ?) I think the answer is probably yes to both questions.

In my first post on training with power (Training with power #1) I came to the conclusion that I needed to improve my 5 minute effort as I felt that it was when this sort of effort was required towards the end of races that I would sometimes start to struggle. I now believe that these difficult race moments were not due to the nature of the effort, the terrain or my lack of power, but more likely due to the fact that I have simply been running out of gas towards the end of a race, partly due to being under-fuelled at the start and in part due to not conserving my energy during the race. The serious mistake that I have been making has been to assume that because I can get through a hard two hour training ride without eating much, that I can do the same in very hard a two hour race, preceded by a high intensity warm up - BIG MISTAKE ! I now know thanks to the power meter that in a race I am working 30% harder and as a result I am getting through my available energy and 'emptying the tank' much more quickly.

Trying to stay near the front at the TLI National Circuit Championships at Oulton Park. I felt strong all race and definitely didn't run out of energy, mind you it was only an hour ! I am in good company in this picture with multiple national champion Alan Forrester on the front in green, to my left in white current national champion Steve Wilkinson and E category (60-65) winner on the day and on my wheel in blue Andy Donaldson winner of the F category (65-70). 

Under fuelling 

One of the drawbacks of doing a full season of age group racing for me is that most of the racing is in the north west and living in the north east means that I often have to drive two hours on the morning of a race. After having a basic breakfast I normally eat nothing in the car on the way there and then just eat a banana or an energy bar after doing my 30 - 40  minute warm up. I may have a gel or a handful of Jelly Babies during the race or I may not. I now realise that I have been seriously under fuelling for the demands of race days and that I have most likely just been running out of energy when it really matters ... in the last 15 - 20 minutes of the race !

So I will be making three significant changes in the second half of my season:

1. A radically different approach to race day nutrition, with a detailed plan of what I will be eating for breakfast, on the way to races and before and after. 

2. Making sure that I consume calories every 20 minutes during races.

3. A much more measured approach to the way I use my energy during races, paying much more attention to conserving it where possible.

The Beard question

So now on to the serious issue of this weeks blog and time to address the obvious question that has been raised several times already this season: Is the beard costing me watts ? lets look at the evidence.

Pretty sure my Ribble Aero 883 race whip isn't costing me watts but what about the hairy face ?
I haven't been able to track down any academic studies on the topic but there have been a couple of what you might call 'experiments'. In 2014 bike manufacturers Specialized carried out some wind tunnel testing led by the companies aerodynamicist's Chris Yu and Mark Cote to try and establish what happens to a riders drag coefficient with a full beard and after shaving the beard off, Youtube video here - Beard no Beard

According to Yu there was a detectable difference between the before and after shaving results, but it was very marginal, with the beard was one second slower over 40 km, which I can live with. 

A slightly less serious experiment was done by the guys over at GCN Aerobeard again using a wind tunnel, these tests were done with or without what they described as a 'luscious' beard. The only problem with this test was they used a clean shaven subject who then put on a false beard for the second test, not very scientific, presumably because they didn't have a volunteer with a beard ... who was prepared to sacrifice it for the sake of their video !

GCN also concluded that the difference was marginal and was also position dependant, but when riding on the hoods a luscious (false) beard was faster. An encouraging outcome for me because if you check the racing pics on today's blog I am on the hoods in all of them. Bit of an issue with the term 'luscious' though as I think that mine has gone a bit beyond the luscious stage to be honest, not so much a neatly trimmed goatee but more a full on Gandalf !

So Specialized say slower but GCN say quicker who do I believe ? For the final word who else would I consult other than my friend and Ribble Pro Cycling team mate 'Mr Aero' himself Dan Bigham who I have featured previously on the blog On getting aero and Interview with Dan  

Dan's verdict: 
'It's a well established fact that a substantial beard costs between 7-10 watts but the morale benefits may significantly outweigh this' 

So there we have it, as mine definitely qualifies as substantial it looks like the beard is costing me watts, but nevertheless it's staying ! and I will happily take the significant morale benefit in to the second half of my season.

I am going to try and keep it out of the wind though ... obviously !


Sunday, 12 May 2019

TdY: Teesside team, Teesside artist, Teesside icon.

Last week I was at stage one of the Tour de Yorkshire and what a grand day out it was, and the day gave me an obvious topic for a blog post. I didn't want to just write a race report with pictures though, other people, such as my friend Larry Hickmott over at Velo UK can do that stuff way better than I can. So as there are several local and family links with the the race I have used my usual approach of starting with some decent pics but then taking it in a slightly different direction. 
Regular readers will know of my association with Teesside based Ribble Pro Cycling as I have previously posted on how the team began here Evolution of a team. My son Jack established the team back in 2012 and it has grown year on year since then culminating in making the step up to UCI level this year and participation in the TdY.

The Team Ribble Endurance SL race bikes with their stunning 'glitter' paint job attracted a lot of attention at the Doncaster start, and also really stood out during the TV coverage in what were often wet and dark conditions. The rider's spare bikes, the Ribble Aero 883s can be seen behind on the brand new team cars which also looked really impressive in the race convoy.

The Hyundi team cars and a VW Transporter van were provided by Intak self drive and were custom wrapped and had their roof racks fitted only a few days before the tour. The team are also fortunate to have this mini hybrid from Cooper Mini Durham. With six riders, nine helpers and four vehicles the four day race was a complicated logistical challenge and a huge amount of work was done prior to the race. Credit must go to Tom Timothy Team Principle at Ribble Pro Cycling who produced an extremely detailed plan of the four days that worked perfectly.

The riders before the start of stage one and a final briefing from Team Manager Matt Cronshaw (centre) and L-R riders Zeb Kyffin, John Archibald, Jacob Tipper, Scott Auld, Alex Luhrs and Dan Bigham. Instructions from Matt and the team's objective for the stage and the following days was pretty simple - get riders in the break.

                                                              Matt overseeing the final warm up

            Yours truly with a big Team Ribble personality, our man from the valleys Gruff Lewis.

          The posters for this years Tour de Yorkshire produced by the artist Mackenzie Thorpe.

This year the TdY appointed Mackenzie Thorpe as the official artist for the race which delighted my wife Sue who is an avid collector of Mackenzie's work. Teesside born and bred Mackenzie Thorpe is an enthusiastic ambassador for our region and he recently donated an artwork called 'Waiting For Me Dad' as a gift to his home town of Middlesbrough which is now located in its permanent position at the world famous Tees Transporter Bridge in the town.

The 'Waiting for Me Dad' sculpture at the iconic Tees Transporter Bridge, nicely colour co-ordinated with my Ribble Aero 883 Custom race bike.

Part of Sue's collection of Mackenzie's work featuring the 'Transporter' is this limited edition print, also called 'Waiting For Me Dad'. No need to worry about the risks I took when producing the content for this post, Sue was out when this picture was taken ... obviously.

Not only do we have art in this week's blog but poetry too as the Transporter Bridge is featured by north east poet Ian Horn in his poem Ironopolis, the nickname given to the industrial Middlesbrough of a bygone age.

                                                                           Ironopolis - The Town That Built The World

      Where alchemists were born.
Below Cleveland's hills
a giant blue dragonfly
across the Tees
reminds us every night
We built the world.
Every Metropolis
came from Ironopolis.

'The Fastest' by Mackenzie Thorpe part of the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire collection captured in this picture at Mackenzies's gallery in Richmond, appropriately for the purposes of today's blog with a Mackenzie sculpture of the Transporter in the background.

Remember that old saying 'Chicks dig scars' ?

Local connections continue with Sue at the TdY depart alongside one of Ribble Pro Cycling's Teesside riders and someone I have known since he was a junior, Scott Auld. New to the team this season and although only twenty two Scott brings considerable experience to the squad having spent the last few seasons racing in Italy, France and Belgium. Given the significant responsibility of Road Captain for the TdY Scott went on to have a great tour, made a big contribution and finished only a few minutes down on the winner. A brilliant performance but all the more remarkable as only thirteen weeks ago he was involved in a very serious accident while training in Spain in which he suffered multiple lacerations, a broken arm and serious facial injuries which required plastic surgery - tough as they come this lad.

Sharing a joke and a pre-race bag of chips with with long serving team member DS John Reeve  

This post wouldn't be complete without pictures of these two heroes, Dan Bigham and John Archibald who did Ribble Pro Cycling proud by taking to the podium on stage one and stage three, having won the Dimension Data Most Combative Rider Awards. Dan who has featured previously on the blog here On Getting Aero and here Interview with Dan was the dominant rider in the break on the first day, in a move that was only swallowed up by the peloton metres from the line. John was equally aggressive on stage three making huge efforts to be in the break which eventually succeeded in escaping after numerous attempts. Objective achieved and exceeded fellas - congratulations.

Thanks for sticking with me to the end of this weeks rambling account, next time on the blog: 'Racing with Power'. 
Now that my race season is well under way this will be the final post in a series of three focusing on my now eight months experience of using a power meter, you can read the first two here #Power1 and here #Power2  - am I now producing a lot more watts, and hitting huge numbers ? maybe ... or maybe not.


Sunday, 17 March 2019

Racing in Leeds and recovering in Lanza

Happy to get my 2019 race season underway last month in Leeds at  the Bodington cycle circuit which is part of the excellent Brownlee Centre. The complex was created by a partnership of British Triathlon, British Cycling, Sport England, UK Sport and Leeds University and the facility is named after the well know Brownlee brothers, two of the UKs leading triathletes who both attended Leeds University.

It was my first time racing at the Brownlee and although I had heard good reports about it I wasn't really sure what to expect. Turns out the Bodington is a great circuit and I really enjoyed myself. From the pictures and a video that I had seen it looked like the circuit might be a bit dull with two parallel straights only a few metres apart but its actually great fun to race on. From the start it drags up for a couple of hundred metres before swinging left around a small loop, you then descend down to a similar sized left hand loop at the bottom of the circuit, it's quite long, its quite fast and after a few times up the drag its quite tough.

Leeds was my first chance to try some of the kit I am using this year, in the picture above my custom Team Ribble Limar Airmaster helmet which is excellent. I am wearing Giro shoes again but this  pair have been custom painted for me with the blog name and the logo of my favourite cafe The Mockingbird Deli (seemed appropriate) by my friend Charlotte Jarpz, (@jarpz_  on Instagram) If you have an idea for a custom design get in touch with Charlotte HERE - she can literally paint anything !  

On the start line ready to kick of my 2019 campaign, I had decided to do this race just to see how my fitness was as it sounded like a fairly low key affair. My race season 'proper' doesn't start until April but it's good get a race in as the first one of the year is always a bit of an unknown and usually a bit of a shock to the system. The race was a League of Veteran Cyclists (LVRC) event promoted by Ilkley Cycling Club and faultlessly organised by Ged Millward and was appropriately named ' The see how fit you are circuit race''

Photographic proof from my mate @darrenmoody of me doing a turn !

 The race was run as handicap with three groups starting separately Cs and Ds (50-60 year old's) first followed by As and Bs (40 to 50 year old's) with the Es and Fs (my group) of the oldest 60 + riders starting last but as the leaders on the circuit, a good formula which resulted in a cracking race. Turns out my legs were decent on the day and I was even tempted to put my beard in the wind once or twice, some of us old codgers did most of the race with a group of very strong C and D riders which made it a pretty hard workout. I was happy to get my first race of 2019 done and to be competitive in the old boys group, a promising start to the season after a difficult few weeks.

Next stop Lanzarote and after three fifteen hour training weeks with a fair bit more intensity than I would normally do my plan was for a recovery week of about nine hours over six days. I had a hire bike booked from the Free-Motion bike centre in Puerto del Carmen, definitely not the cheapest hire option in the resort but I have used them before the bikes are spot on and their customer service is excellent.

First ride from the hire shop was a gentle pedal along the cycle path between Puerto del Carmen and the Lanzarote capital Arecife. The path runs alongside the airport runway and I was lucky as I passed that I was in the right place at the right time for a good Instagram picture.

I usually hire a fairly basic BH bike when in Lanza but when I went to pick it up it was fitted with FSA cranks so my Shimano crank arm with my power meter fitted wasn't compatible. Upgrade it was then to a disc brake equipped Pinarello Prince with Ultegra mechanical groupset and Mavic wheels and I have to say it was it was absolutely terrific. I have never been  a particular fan of Italian race bikes but this was a fabulous ride although I know that purists will disapprove that it was Shimano equipped rather than Campagnolo - didn't bother me at all as it was set up perfectly. 

One of my usual rides when I am in Lanzarote is the climb up to the Timanfaya volcano through the lava fields, then back down towards the small town of Tiaz (above in the distance) This is a fast descent and I picked up a lot of speed on the Pinarello and despite a fairly strong and gusty crosswind the Prince was super stable and gave even a fairly cautious descender like me a lot of confidence, see my post on a previous visit to Lanzarote here Lanza bicycle practice.

Its 10.30 AM in Lanza and I promise that's a diet coke - not a pint of Guinness.

Even though I was on a rest week surprisingly I only did one 'cafe' ride while I was in Lanza which is a record for me and is what happens when you take your power meter on holiday. I did some race specific efforts on three of the days and in the process picked up a few Strava PRs on segments that I have ridden fifteen or more times (My Strava) I either go quite well on San Miguel and sangria or the Pinarello made a difference, might be a bit of both. My 2019 Team Ribble kit from Le Col (above) arrived just in time for Lanzarote and very nice it is too ... and everything fits perfectly - result !

Last image from Lanzarote and its Mrs R and I all ready for the Arecife Carnival, a fantastic day out if you ever get a chance to go (fancy dress optional)  Hopefully from the above pic its pretty obvious who I went as ? but if your not sure here's a clue 'I just felt like running'

 Back home now for a few more weeks of training as my next race isn't until 21st April. Following a spell of illness in January which set me back a bit (see my post here Training with Power #2) I decided to start my season a little bit later this year. I have a full campaign of thirty races planned and the late start makes sense because the TLI and LVRC road race championships are in late August and early September. I am racing on my Ribble Aero 883 again but with a wheel upgrade, I've only done a few rides on these Zipp 404's and apart from looking great I can already tell they are fast. Thanks for reading, enjoy your riding this summer and good luck if your racing in 2019.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Training with power #2 with a peek at Training Peaks

I have been using the 4iiii power meter now since the beginning of November so with three months worth of data and a bit of training with power experience now is probably a good time time for a bit of a review of how it has gone and what I have learned. When I say three months training with the power meter it's actually a bit less as I was forced to take an unplanned break at the beginning of January due to illness, but returning to fitness afterwards turned in to a learning experience in itself, so there is always positive - more on that later.
Probably the biggest benefit for me so far is that having the power meter has provided me with access to accurate, detailed and reliable training data that has not been available to me in the past. I have been using the 4iiii power meter paired with a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt head unit which is synced to upload automatically to Training Peaks TP and the information that this combination has given me access to has been a bit of a revelation to be honest. 

So what has changed ? Well perhaps surprisingly I haven't really become obsessed with the watts that I am producing at any given time, or with my training zones, although I do have them taped to my stem (above) as I'm afraid my memories not what it was ... er where was I ? - oh yes I remember, what has become a key focus is my TSS (Training Stress Score) this is a really useful metric that makes planning and reviewing training much more precise and less a matter of guess work. I now know exactly how much training stress a particular effort, training session or ride induces and as a result I can make sure that my big training weeks are in fact big in terms of TSS but conversely and of equal importance that my recovery days or recovery weeks are what I think they are with the TSS quantified to ensure that I am getting the intended benefit.

NOTE: Training Stress Score is a composite number calculated by taking in to account the duration and intensity of the training undertaken and is an estimate of of the overall training load and subsequent physiological stress created. To quantify that, one hour at functional threshold power (FTP) which is 95% of your best power output for 20 minutes is equal to 100 TSS points.

One of the things I like most about the Elemnt Bolt is that it is really easy to use, in part because it's set it up using a smart phone app so there is no scrolling up and down endlessly with the little buttons on the side as with some other computers, not mentioning any particular brand ... Garmin. As with a lot a of devices these days you don't receive an instruction manual with the Wahoo but with this bit of kit even I didn't need a manual, which is a first. The app enables you to customise the pages just as you want them and enter your training zones etc, very very easily.
As I mentioned at the top of this post I picked up a virus in January which completely knocked me out and resulted in me not touching the bike for fourteen days (another first) and even when I started riding again it was a further 10 days before I was training 'properly'. This was less than ideal in terms of preparation for the new season but I had trained really well in the final three months of 2018 so I felt as if I was probably slightly ahead of where I needed to be. That said taking a fortnight off the bike at anytime results in a significant drop in fitness and just how much difference it makes can be seen on the chart below.

The is my Performance Management Chart on Training Peaks  one of the features that I pay a lot of attention to especially in this post illness period. This chart shows my training from the beginning of November to today.

The first significant thing to notice is the series of red dots at the bottom of the chart right of centre, these are the fourteen consecutive days off the bike I was forced to take at the beginning of January. What is also pretty obvious is the sharp drop in the PINK line which represents my Acute Training Load (ATL) or simply put my level of FATIGUE. The BLUE line which also declines fairly rapidly is Chronic Training Load (CTL) essentially this is my FITNESS. The final and rapidly rising ORANGE line is Training Stress Balance (TSB) or my FORM which is best thought of as my race readiness and is calculated by subtracting yesterdays fatigue from yesterdays fitness.

If TSB is a negative number the bigger it is the more fatigue I have so as the TSB line rises sharply I shed all of the fatigue (because I am not training) but unfortunately any form I had goes with it. On the graph my TSB goes to +54 which is a big number and this is not good, to put that figure in perspective when I had good form just before Christmas my TSB was in the range -5 to +5. Take home message from the chart for me is that having being unable to ride for two weeks it will take me five to six weeks of structured training to get back to where I was before my illness, further confirmation, if any were needed that consistency is key ! I have found that in the last few weeks monitoring a rising TSS line has been a really good motivator to get out and train properly and not just mince about riding to the cafe. Having race specific structured efforts to do during a ride has a big impact on TSS and on fitness ... not too surprisingly.

Two other metrics that Training Peaks provides that I have found myself looking at after almost every ride are my normalised power (NP) and the intensity factor (IF) for the ride. NP is calculated using a fairly complex algorithm but in essence it accounts for the variation in effort for a particular ride. If a ride contains a lot of climbing or high intensity efforts the NP will be higher than on a more evenly paced ride when the normalised power will be fairly close to the average power, NP is then another way of quantifying training stress. Related to NP is the intensity factor (IF) of the ride which is used to calculate TSS and is the ratio between NP and FTP and provides a number which represents a relative intensity based on my threshold power. There ... simple ? if at this point if you are suffering from abbreviation overload, my apologies, pause, take a deep breath and try to read those three paragraphs again.

A great feature that is available by combining 4iiii with Wahoo and Training Peaks is the Work Out Builder. It's not too often that I have to train alone, I am pretty lucky in that I have good people to train with who are usually doing structured sessions with specific efforts tailored towards road races and crits. This gives me the luxury of not having to think too much about what to do on any given day I just turn up at the allotted time and do whatever they are doing, or at least a version of it. On the odd occasion when I know I will be training solo Jack (son/coach) who has access to my Training Peaks adds a session which I can download to my Wahoo (above) and I can follow the specifics of the session on the head unit display ... whatever will they think of next ?

In over three months of hard winter riding up to now my 4iiii power meter has proved to be completely reliable. I fitted a new battery last week but that was after 136 hours of use, a lot better than the 100 hours 4iiii predict. The power meter has to be calibrated before every ride which is  quick and dead simple. Just switch the head unit on and allow it to power up, turn the cranks backwards a couple of revolutions and leave them at 90 deg, press calibrate, wait a few seconds and you get a calibration complete message on the head unit. I could almost write a whole blog post on the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt because it really is good and the best bike computer I have ever used. To be clear at this point and for the sake of transparency I didn't get it for free I and I also pay for my Training Peaks subscripton although as I mentioned in my previous post on this topic my power meter was provided gratis by the nice folks over at 4iiiiUK

                                                                                            Testing HARD - Training HARDER

If you read my first post on Training with Power you might just remember that I did a series of tests over three consecutive days of 1 minute, 5 minutes and 20 minutes to establish my functional threshold power (FTP) and to set my power training zones. I did these tests at the beginning of November when I was feeling good and I was happy with how the testing went, my 5 min power came out at 235 watts which I felt was about right.

I took the picture below on 25th November, just over three weeks after my initial testing. This was a training ride with some of the boys from Team Ribble who were planning a hilly four hours over the North Yorkshire Moors. Although I was going quite well at the time it was not really a ride for me so my plan was to stick with them for as long as I could, hoping to hang on at the back until the top of the first significant climb Clay Bank.

We are heading for the hills and looking at the rain clouds in the distance I was quite relieved that I didn't have four hours to do like the boys. Pictured on the right having just put his rain jacket on Ben Hetherington full time rider with Memil Pro Cycling who I featured on the blog in December BenH in front of Ben is Richard Jones (Team Ribble) another good friend who also happens to be the man behind the innovative Tyrekey, on his left Joe Wilson a super strong Team Ribble junior and on Joe's left Jack, Team Ribble founder. I have previously posted on Jack's approach to training HERE How Elites Train and HERE Polarised Training. Also present and at the front of the group but not visible in this pic Scott Auld a talented local rider who I have known for years who joins the team this year having spent the last few seasons racing in Europe.

Yep the chain was tight going up Clay Bank for sure.

As we hit the bottom of the climb the pace started to pick up as one of the nice young men at the front (knob head) decided that a little bit of half wheeling was in order. The speed went up rapidly but not as rapidly as my heart rate, I wasn't really paying much attention to my watts as I was too focused on the fact that well before the halfway point I was on 98% of my max HR. The inevitable happened soon after, I popped and watched the boys ride away in to the distance, at least it meant I could stop at the car park at the top to recover and take a picture for Instagram - silver lining.

Can't remember what happened to my bottle ? maybe I threw it a someone ?

So what's this little tale leading to ? well on the climb up Clay Bank trying desperately to hold on to the group I actually produced 251 watts for five minutes which is 16 watts more than I did when I tested three weeks earlier a 7% improvement in my power output in just three weeks, absolutely brilliant ! and without really changing my training - result !  ... or was it ? well unfortunately, probably not. I already had those extra watts I just hadn't managed to access them when I did my testing. A more likely explanation for my improved five minute performance that day was a due to something called social facilitation.

It was way back in 1898 that an American  psychologist at the University of Indiana called Norman Triplett noticed that cyclists who achieved the fastest times (according to the world records of the day) did so when they were in the company of others and the slowest times were achieved by those riding alone, against the clock. Triplett went on to conduct a series of experiments to define the effects of what is now called social facilitation. Further research since Triplett's early discovery has established that its not just the presence of others that is important for social facilitation to occur but the apprehension about being evaluated by them, it basically means that when you are racing against someone else or in front of an audience you are able to tap in to energy that would otherwise not be available.

This is useful and it partly explains why I can generally do reasonably OK in road races but why I have always been absolutely rubbish at time trials, obviously the fact that there is nowhere to hide in a TT might be a factor too ? That said any race in which I can't get my hairy face out of the wind and have 'sit in' is in my humble opinion an ill conceived format ... just saying. In all seriousness though, this is a really valuable bit of knowledge that I wouldn't have had without training with the power meter. It means that this season when a really hard five minute effort is required at a crucial moment in a race and I am on the limit I will be using my Clay Bank watts as a guide and not the watts that I did in my initial test, that is of course unless I test higher before the race season starts !

Thanks for reading and please pop back as I have some good stuff coming up in the next few weeks, including a post on my first experience of the cycling phenomenon that is Zwift ... admit it, you know you want to try it too !

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