a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

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 !


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