a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

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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