Monday, May 31, 2010

17km run

GPSies - Bourg to Viclaire

Sunday 30th May 2010

Found enough motivation today to go out in the rain for a 17km trail run from Bourg towards St Foy alongside the Isère (324m climbing). It’s the first run this year over the 10km distance and the first run off-road. It’s also the first run in the rain and the first following a very hard long distance cycle on the previous day. Despite tired legs there was still enough juice to accelerate on the steep climbs – but the legs were very tired by the end. That’s quite normal when increasing distance beyond previous training.

At one point, when climbing a shallow gradient off-road I was overtaken by a young, skinny and tanned guy who was going so fast that it seemed surreal. Afterwards it seemed to have been like a cartoon character that shot passed me – the speed was unbelievable. I know that I was going quite slowly but this guy made me feel like I was standing still. That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me when running those trails.

Body weight is starting to come under control at last, perhaps I’m burning a higher proportion of fat as fitness is improving. That’s what the theory predicts anyway. It could also be just the simple fact of burning over 5000calories on sport alone in the past two days…

Challenge du Dauphiné?

GPSies - Vercors

Saturday 29th may 2010

Decided late in the day to enter this big race. Drove at night the 158km to Autrans in the Vercors mountains just west of Grenoble. It took about 15 minutes to locate the centre where registration was to be in the morning and there was no sign of a race. This has happened before so it didn’t seem too odd – everyone turns up in the morning.
06:30 in the morning and absolutely no one there. Drove around a bit and could see no sign whatsoever of a race organisation. The race was publicised in a magazine guide and the details were also copied off the internet. Called a few telephone numbers but no answer – so I gave up. Drove to Villard de Lans which is a small ski resort and a very nice little town. Bought breakfast around 07:45 and made a decision. The weather was good and so I might as well explore the area on my own on the bike – especially considering that I had a copy of the course itinerary and it looked interesting with several mountain passes. A major part of the attraction of this sport is discovering new places.
The Vercors is a very beautiful mountain range rising up abruptly right beside Grenoble. On the other side of this range you find Valence. You can also drive around to Valence on the flat by circumventing the mountain range – which is the normal route. The mountains are a small self-contained range with spectacular vertical cliffs practically all around. The area is very popular for Nordic skiing in the winter and for trekking in the summer.
I bought a map, studied it for a while and then drove to Villard de Saint Julien to start off. Altogether the ride covered 80kms and around 1500m vertical in a leisurely 3h20’. It was very enjoyable and a good workout, but I was still disappointed. On returning to St Juilen another cyclist stopped right next to where I was parked to use a bench to sit down and eat his sandwich. I went over and asked him if he knew what was happening with the “Challenge du Dauphiné” race. He didn’t know but telephoned his brother in law who did know. The race had taken place a week ago (when I was in the Ardeche) and its name had changed to “Challenge du Vercors”. The idiots didn’t even think of mentioning this on their website. This is how things seem to work in France – they still rely on carrier pigeon to get the word out. It seems to work for the French though because they seem to tune into the madness and understand what is going on. It always worries me here in France though because organisation is either accompanied with a mountain of bureaucracy or a total lack of logic.
Although I missed out on racing I thought I’d post here another superb photo from the Giro D’Italia in its penultimate stage…

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bourg to Cormet de Roselend 1391m Climb

GPSies - Bourg St Maurice - Cormet de Roselend

Bourg to Cormet de Roselend 1391m Climb

First high altitude (2000m altitude) hill climb of the year. The Cormet de Roselend is the only high mountain pass open so far due to the large quantities of snow still around. Didn’t expect the body to have recovered enough to be able to climb well, but was surprised as I was able to complete a full high intensity workout and felt good. This is the first time I’ve had good sensations since starting to recover fitness in mid March. Until this point it has been just a slog. There was no discomfort from the previous day’s run either. The legs felt tired prior to the workout and at the start, but they were fine once warmed up. Energy levels were good.

The road was practically empty and it was mild enough to cycle to the top without a jacket. The roads here are much better than in the Ardeche area where the last two races have been. There is no gravel and the surfaces are generally smooth – which makes for more enjoyable and safer cycling.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Heart Rate Zones

Went for a 10k run, but the legs were still tired from Saturday’s cycling. Ended up doing a slow 1h00’28” but probably still ran too fast as instead of staying in an “active recovery” training zone I was 50% in Basic Endurance and 30 % in Tempo Training zones.

I’ve noticed that there is a lot of confusion regarding “maximum heart rate” for working out what appropriate training levels should be. Apparently you are born with a fixed max heart rate – but sedentary living may reduce it over time. The many formulas available to calculate it show that there is no real consensus on the issue. Currently I see my own heart occasionally pushed up to 183 bpm. When I did the CTS Field Test I could only manage 173 bpm and subsequently when working on PIs (power Intervals) only 174 bpm. What I’ve realised is that Carmichael is right is the sense that it’s not an absolute max heart rate that you need it’s what you can practically and regularly achieve in training – in other words – what you get from his field test. For this reason I’m now sticking to 173 as a practical max heart rate.

When using SportTracks software I’ve set 173 as max heart rate for all the training because it has a strong effect on the algorithms for computing fitness and fatigue levels. This is a rolling calculation so I went back though all the previous entries and set 173 as the reference so as to ensure the best computations and predictions from the software.

CTS only gives heart ranges for specific training interval exercises – not a set of general heart rate training zones. For that I used the CTS HR Max (173) then I used a table from “The Triathlete’s Guide to Run Training” by Ken Mierke to get general heart rate zones for both my GPS HRM unit and SportTracks software.

Zone 1 – Active recovery 103 - 132
Zone 2 – Basic Endurance 133 - 142
Zone 3 – Tempo Training 143 - 149
Zone 4 – Lactic Threshold 150 - 155
Zone 5a – Super Threshold 156 - 159
Zone 5b – Anaerobic Threshold 160 - 165
Zone 5c – Anaerobic Capacity 166 - 173

The above charst shows the heart rate training zones - which are programmed into the GPS/HRM unit for use in real-time.

Interestingly the "Tempo" intensity is totally different between this system and the CTS (earlier in this blog) but the Latic Threshold levels are very close and that is the important area.

Below, the blue signifies fitness level and the heavy red line fatigue - they re calculated using sophisticated algorithms,but the choice of max hear rate has a strong influence on the chart.

It's interesting to see on the fitness chart that the big intense workouts raise fitness dramatically - but also fatigue. The fatigue levels recover quite rapidly though and shorter training sessions following the big ones prevents the fitness level decaying which fatigue slowly recovers.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

La Beaume – Drobie 135km

GPSies - La Beaume Drobie

I did NOT want to do this race. 135km and 2620m climbing meant at best survival and at worst disaster. I could have opted for the much more manageable 90km version, but didn’t. This was neither a sensible nor a logical choice, but certainly an interesting one.

The Beaume and Drobie are two rivers situated in the Ardeche region of France. They are not just rivers they are deep gorges in steep mountainous terrain. Despite the low altitude the mountains are every bit as rugged and wild as the Alps - but with a much drier and warmer climate. The Beaume gorge in particular is absolutely spectacular – a favourite for river watersports and with stunning, steep terraced slopes cultivated with olive, cherry and pear trees, vines and amazing architecture.

High intensity training for both cycling and running during the week had left me with tired and sore legs – and little hope of full recovery before this race. Those races always start fast, so there is no way that you can just pace yourself to last the distance – you just go as fast as you can fighting to stay with and help groups on the way and hoping that your legs last out.
Christiane decided to come along this time and so we arrived at Valgorge beside the Drobie river at about 1am. The place was dead and we found a quiet, empty parking spot right beside the local tourist office with a drinking fountain and public toilet – perfect for a relaxing night’s sleep. The race wasn’t due to start until 10am so there was no rush in the morning – except we weren’t sure where exactly to go and the information on the internet was minimal to say the least. It looked like no one would be there in the morning. The weather had finally changed from our extended winter to the first clear skies of springtime. Settling in to sleep I saw an extremely bright meteor through the dark tinted glass of the van. It just made me think of how fragile our little planet is and how glad I am that most meteors are really small.

Up at 7:30am I cooked and ate the porridge straight away to avoid it sitting in my belly at the start line as happened in the previous race. Around 8am Chris Harrop passed by on the road and spotted the van. He was here with his family staying in an auberge (Hostel) from where they were all going to canoe down the gorge during the following two days. Chris offered to locate the inscription point and race start then report back on the return to his auberge. His report was that there was practically no-one there and all those pre-inscribed were racing club members. In addition most had entered for the short course. This meant that the long course was going to be brutal and with the great risk of being dumped early on by everyone. When I went to register about 45 minutes later there were so many people arriving that I had to run to avoid being stuck in a queue. The good weather seemed to have brought everyone out of the woodwork after all and there was no shortage of entrants. There were about 140 in the long course and about 250 in the small one. This is still a very small focussed competition in comparison with some where they are forced to limit the numbers at 7,000. I enrolled in the 135km race despite thinking that I would not be able to finish it. I was really worried that my legs might just seize up as sometimes happens in training – when it is still easy to get home. There is a “sweeper up” vehicle, but I didn’t want to end up in that either – I’d rather have an accident and get a fast ride in an ambulance! (which almost happened).

Blue skies and sunshine reminded me to put on sunscreen and carry only an absolute minimum of gear consisting of one spare inner tube, two plastic tyre levers and some glucose tablets (Isostar) to put in any water refills. The bike had two full water bottles with sports drinks. No wind or rain jacket was needed and it was great to leave money and the mobile phone behind. It’s amazing how good it is to feel free of those things even if only for about 5 to 6 hours. It’s also a bit worrying because if you do get lost you really are on your own. The course however was perfectly well marked out and manned at important junctions with refreshment stands at the top of each of the three big climbs.
The 135km race started off 10 minutes before the 90km race. And I forgot to start the GPS and heart rate monitor unit on my bike – remembering only about 10km further on. The start was downhill and surprisingly the peloton stayed at a reasonable speed – that is NOT too fast. Perhaps it was because there was a security motorbike in front. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the first climb and it was steep. Chris had been behind me until this point and as he caught up and overtook me on the climb he asked how I was doing. I relpied “OK, except I’m going backwards now”. The first 20 minutes of the climb were the worst until the initial leg pain wore off then I got warmed up and into a slightly faster rhythm and found my place in the pack. The first climb was the steepest of the day and that probably damaged the morale of quite a few people. At least at this point there were still some people behind me so I felt reassured. My legs were not fresh and carrying about 20lb excess body weight there was no way I could climb fast – despite having a much lighter bike than last year. Combined body and bike weight is currently higher than at any time last year. Once the first climb was over there was a steep narrow descent. This is when it became apparent that it was going to be really dangerous because there was a lot of loose gravel around and the turns were sharp and steep. Sure enough after only a few bends there was a body and bike on the ground and someone waiting for an ambulance. I decided on the spot to take it really easy descending – no heroics and no mad push to catch a bunch ahead or anything like that. Safety is much more important. If Lance Armstrong could end up in hospital due to others falling in front on him on gravel only a few days earlier then no one had any immunity to that fate. The course was set out as three loops all intersecting at the original start point. The first and second loops seemed to blur together. I ended up in a pack of about 6 and we worked hard together slipstreaming. At first I was being left behind a bit on the climbs and the pack split up and reformed several times. Later on I seemed to be the strongest in the pack and unintentionally dropped the group a few times when climbing – so waited for them so as not to waste energy against the wind on the flats alone. This process continued throughout the second loop and it was good to have a pack to share the work with as it was a long grind and we made good speed. It is very motivating to work in a team and you do get a good recharge to your batteries while slipstreaming. With 6 or 7 riders together your proportion of the real work is relatively small and you travel fast.

The start of the third loop was at the bottom of an 1100m 17km climb – with absolutely no respite. About 6km up this climb I suddenly started to slow down and there was nothing could change that. The breakdown process was relatively gradual, beginning with some of the pack I’d been with just steadily dropping me. Around the 12km mark there was another noticeable pace reduction when I noticed that my heart rate had dropped to 142, whereas it had been between 155 and 173 up until then – a completely unsustainable level of course with 173 being my current practical heart rate training maximum. Basically I had “bonked”. There was no way of generating enough effort now to keep the heart rate up. The problem was not that the climb had still 5km left – it was that the course still had 60km left. Already there had been many riders returning from the climb in the opposite direction having abandoned – so I was not the only one in trouble. The base of the climb was the actual overall start/finish point so it was very tempting to bail out – in fact it’s almost like it had been set up deliberately to lure people in their greatest moment of weakness and vulnerability. I made up my mind that I’d prefer the sweeper up van than that option – giving up is not an option. The top of the climb had a refreshment post so for the first time ever in a race I stopped and got off the bike. Without speaking to anyone I drank a full litre of sugary orange juice and stuffed my face with dried fruit and crisps, then washed that down with more orange juice and replace the liquids in my water bottles. The stop only took a few minutes and I managed to jump on the bike and catch another guy who had stopped for refreshments. After a very small descent the climb perversely recommenced and continued again for ages. I was unceremoniously dumped again. Fortunately the guy ahead was very cautious descending so I caught up again, but despite covering a significant distance together he wasn’t a good work partner. After sitting on my tail through all the descents and all the flats he finally dumped me again as soon as the climbing recommenced. We were now in the Beaume valley and I had resigned to being effectively out of the race, but decided to at least then try to enjoy it. The worst part about bonking is that your head goes really foggy and you can’t think straight, basically due to low blood sugar. You just want to stop. The refreshments must have helped because my head cleared, but the legs were not interested. I started making a point of observing the scenery and was stunned by the natural beauty and grandeur of that valley and promised myself to bring Christiane to see it. When she did see it later she was amazed and said that she never imagined there was such scenery or landscape in France – even though she has spent her entire life here and is a mountain guide. Eventually there was a steward at the roadside waving a flag and pointing up towards a steep narrow road off to the side. This was the start of the climb up the last mountain pass – 6km of climbing and some of the steepest of the day. I was well and truly on my own now and was just glad to feel assured that I wasn’t actually lost. The legs had not grown any worse which was a great surprise. I’d managed to sustain about 25km/hr on the flats even in this state and now on the hills I was still climbing steep sections at about 12km/hr – dropping to 9km/hr on the very steep sections of the single track road. The “compact” gearing was great and it always allowed a good cadence and reasonable workload even with bonked out legs on a steep climb. Strangely, it actually felt like the legs were recovering a bit, but the heart still couldn’t rise above 146 bpm .

Near the top of this climb I caught a glimpse of my unwilling partner from an hour before and also noticed someone not that far behind me – so this spurred me on a bit and the legs felt better. Over the top and not long into the descent I caught up with the guy in front and ended up leading him down through the most treacherous descent of the day – made even harder by being so tired by now after over 5 hours of racing. I just tried to stay alive and get to the bottom of this descent. Earlier in the day, on the second loop, I had touched my front brake slightly during a turn to the right during a descent – both front and back brakes were being feathered to contain the speed – and suddenly the front wheel went completely from under me. I was going down for sure and at quite a high speed. The wheel must have skidded violently about a foot to the left then suddenly the tyre caught again and whipped me back upright. Wow, that was close! Almost an ambulance trip after all. About 200 yards further on another competitor was standing at the side of the road waiting for the ambulance and a little bit further on there was another. I had been lucky then and didn’t want that luck to run out at the end of the day. At the bottom the climb the guy was still with me and I knew he would probably dump me again. At that point I believed there was still 13km to go and then saw a sign saying 3km to go to the finish! I’d forgotten about the problem with the GPS at the start of the race and didn’t realise that the end was so close. Another two riders came into view not far ahead so I decided to go for it and accelerated. The legs came back to life and the heart rate went back up for the first time in ages. 3km uphill is still quite a long way and when the kilometres are marked at the side of the road they seem interminably far apart. To my total surprise I was able to keep up this new effort all the way to the end and left all three of them far behind. It was amazing to finish strongly like this after such a struggle earlier on. Totally unexpected! The two other riders that I overtook at the end turned out to be on the short 90km course! Chris happened to be there as I arrived, having finished a long time ahead. His race hadn’t been plain sailing either. It seems that he had made a push for it too on that last 3km climb and suddenly both sets of thigh muscles went into intense cramp. He ended up lying on the ground rolling around and screaming in agony. Other riders were stopping and asking if he needed an ambulance. It took him ages - about half an hour - to get back on the bike just to cover the last 3km. My own outcome was much as expected though it didn’t end in tears. The legs came good in the end and I’ll certainly be much less apprehensive about tackling a big course like this in future. Strangely, the second half of the course, once the head cleared, was actually more enjoyable as I could more or less sit at my own pace – with still no danger of being caught by the sweeper up van. The oddest thing I saw during the day was a fat, one foot long lime green lizard ripping up the road in front of me – and I wasn’t hallucinating!

The red is the plunging heart rate and the brown is the altitude. Click image to read better.

I finished 114th in 05h43'51 out of 125 who completed the race and Chris was 74th in 05h08'42. Next time we should both do better. The winner managed an impressive 04h00'56 and the last two crawled in at just under 7 hours.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Short Hill Climb

Aime to Granier 580m Vertical 36’ 33”

GPSies - Aime Granier

Should have been resting the legs today but the weather was good so I had to get out. Last September I could do this climb in 35’09” but my weight was at 67kg. Today my weight was at 74kg
Will need to calculate a power to weight ratio later and see what difference weight actually makes to climbing speed – I’m sure it’s significant. Quite pleased with this time as it is 30 seconds better than last month without any weight change - plus the legs are not fresh.

Standard 10k run

Standard 10k run yesterday evening. Legs felt fine and managed a few sprint intervals for the first time this year. Have to be careful now not to do too much prior to Saturday’s race.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Awesome workout today!

Watching the Tour of California live on the internet – really great coverage…

Special Slalom (Vineyard)

Used the CTS (Carmichael Training System) and found it to work a treat. Decided to go for the full PI (Power Interval) workout and wow was it hard! The idea was to do two sets of 3 repetitions of 3 minutes at 100% max heart rate – with 3 minutes recovery between each repetition. Between sets there was an eight minute break. That makes 6 reps total (18 mins at max heart rate)
Used my local hill climbing terrain for the workout because it is right at the doorstep and has very little traffic – despite the fact that doing a really intense workout would probably seem even harder on a hill.
After a good 20 minute warm up I went straight into it. The first 3 minute PI saw me reach max heart rate after about 90 seconds and then stay quite close to that for the next 90 seconds. Wow! Very hard! It’s not that you want to vomit that’s so bad it’s that you can’t. It is REALLY hard. The worst part is that after the first repetition is done you know there are another five still to come and it just doesn’t seem possible. Anyway, I got through all six reps and actually felt great at the end – much better than after the normal constant pace hard slog hill climb. What a strange sensation sprinting uphill. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on a bike in my life and I can see why this brings about improvements in overall performance.
What impressed me the most is how precisely the CTS system works. The CTS test I did a few days ago gave me the parameters to work with and I was a bit sceptical. Today – working to the absolute maximum – my max heart rate was within 1 beat of the figure measured during the test. I started a bit too fast on the first few reps because the idea was to build up power for 35 seconds, rather than go absolute maximum from the very start – it’s called an SEPI (Steady Effort Power Interval). When you start really fast it is called a PFPI (Peak and Fade Power Interval) which is probably harder – but you can’t sustain the peak that happens at the start. I got it about right and did seem to peak in the last minute for most of the reps.
I understand now why my legs were so tired after Monday’s (La Plagne (1400)) high intensity (35 mins above lactic threshold) workout – and why I couldn’t run properly the next day! Here is a “recovery table” from the CTS system: (Gives time for full recovery after workout)

Technical Information...

0-6 hours endurance intensity – 8 hrs
30-60 mins Tempo intensity -8-10 hrs
75-120 mins tempo intensity 24-36 hrs
15-45 mins at lactic threshold 24 hrs
60-90 mins at lactic threshold 24-36 hrs
10-30 mins above lactic threshold 24-36 hrs
45 mins or more above lactic threshold 36-48 hrs.

EM (Endurance Miles) 50% to 91% of ave CTS test Heart Rate (allowing terrain to dictate variation of effort)
T (Tempo) 88% to 90% of ave CTS HR.
SS (Steady State) 92% to 94% of ave CTS HR
CR (Climbing repeats) 95% to 97% of ave CTS HR
PI (Power Intervals) 100% Max Heart Rate

PI has two versions - SEPI, Steady Effort PI and PFPI, Peak and Fade PI - explained in blog text.

OU (Over, Under) is when an interval fluctuates between CR and SS for a few minutes.

My ave from the CTS test is 163 and max is 173.

This computes as follows for the workouts:
EM 82 to 148 bpm
T 114 to 122 bpm
SS 150 to 153 bpm
CR 155 to 158 bpm
PI 173

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tired Legs Run

GPSies - Aime

10k run today, but legs were tired from the high intensity bike climb yesterday – so there was no way to pick up any speed – slow 56’16”. Look forward to when a “slow” run is still well under 50 minutes. Still felt enjoyable though. Had to wear winter clothing layers because it has returned to almost winter temperatures – which means a lot of layers to wash afterwards.

Worked on reaching behind with the stride – lengthening the stride behind instead of reaching ahead. Noticed that this really stretches the upper quads near the pelvis and is a good antidote for the bent over leg contractions in cycling (where I had a few mild cramps yesterday). The changes in running style more towards the “pose” technique really make this difference in muscle use clear.

It’s obvious however on a day like this that a high intensity workout on the bike – well into lactic threshold territory – makes tired legs in general so they are not great for running. Still, I expect that cross training in this way is still allowing muscle repair, recovery and development more specific to cycling. I must get a faster run in sometime this week though.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

La Plagne (1400)

GPSies - Aime, La Plagne - Short

Short 700m climb, working on power at Lactic Threshold.

Our valley has not seen the sun for weeks now and each day has seen more rain or snow at higher altitudes. The place is beginning to resemble the west coast of Scotland – except there are no midges here thank goodness. Decided to use the bad weather to carry out short high intensity workouts on the bike because long trips are just not too appealing at the moment. On this workout, due to going up to 1400m and temperatures dropping below 5°C I wore my neoprene shirt as a “vapour barrier”. Well, I now know for sure that neoprene is not waterproof – the sweat came straight through to my insulation layers and I felt a bit chilled on the descent. The idea of a vapour barrier is to prevent moisture from accumulating in the insulation layers – but I will need to find something else – neoprene works a bit but not well enough. There is fresh snow all around the top of the valley. The cold started in November last year and it is still cold in mid May now – so much for global warming!

The CTS (Carmichael Training System) program that I’ve been studying bases itself on high intensity short duration interval training. CR (Climbing Repeats) are the second highest intensity intervals and should only be maintained for a few minutes – for me that means a heart rate of 155 to 158 bpm. The idea is to train the body to produce and then re-cycle lactic acid and to become efficient at doing so. Well so much for the plan! On this session I sustained an average heart rate of 155+ for 35 minutes and much of this was above 160. Now I know why I feel tired after workouts like this! I also know now that I’m not going to stick to the CTS program because I can already cope with considerably harder training than it advocates.

There are two useful things I’ve learned from studying the CTS approach. One is the idea of RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion). RPE is a subjective rating of effort levels based on a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being no effort and 10 being maximum. Lactic Threshold work as around the 7 to 8 level. I’d rate the climbing yesterday at 8 to 9 (Very Hard) getting close to 9 but not quite. The other thing I have learned is that PI (Power Intervals), requiring an RPE of 10, are something that I’ve been missing in my training. For a PI my heart rate need to be 163bpm or above (max 183) It makes a lot of sense to me to do PI’s as intervals because there is no way you can sustain an RPE of 10 for very long – it’s like a full on sprint. I can see how working on this should bring performance benefits - so I’ll have to figure out the best way to incorporate them into my training. I know that with training however I can sustain a heart rate of 167 – effort of between 9 and 10 – for an hour. What’s new for me though is pushing the body at full on 10 for intervals.

The time taken to complete the climb was only one minute slower than at my peak last August – yet I weigh 7kg more just now and my fitness level is only starting to improve – so things are looking good for this time of year. Just need to find a way to stop overeating now.

Conditions at Aime just now...

Cracking photo of Cadel Evans winning yesterday's stage in the Giro d'Italia - they are having some pretty bad weather too! - link to more great photos of that epic Giro stage.

Friday, May 14, 2010

CTS Test (Carmichael training Systems)

Carried out my first CTS test for cycling this evening. It was very tough!

The test is to establish training zones for heart rate. It should also be for power metering, but as such equipment is ridiculously expensive I plan to just make do with heart rate monitoring. The test requires a warm up then a Power Interval , “PI”, at maximum power output for 8 minutes, followed by a cool down and then a repeat PI for another 8 minutes. Going as hard as possible for 8 minutes is very difficult, and the last minute of each PI has to be pushed really as hard as possible. Carmichael points out that “you can do anything for 1 minute” and he is right about that. You think you are already at your maximum and somehow you ramp it up for another level as if your brain enters into a contract with you, accepting that it is for just one minute.

The key figure to extract from the test is the average heart rate for whichever interval gives the highest reading. In this case it was 163 bpm. From this figure I can now calculate 5 different training zones to use for specific training exercises tailored towards specific goals.

The two peaks in the data are the PIs and the enlarged image (click on image) shows the slpit time markers for the start and end of each PI. The Garmin Forerunner 305 is an excellent tool for this sort of measurement and the SportTracks free software is perfect for extracting the precise data. (The graph here is a print out from SportTracks.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Running Legs Returning.

GPSies - Aime (Standard 10k run - not on flat, 330ft vertical)

10k run – almost 9 minutes faster than the previous effort at 50’05”. Intended to run yesterday but got caught up in travelling and entertaining guests. Suspect that it worked out well having two days of full recovery from the bike race – my legs felt it more on the second day off. Unusually I even felt a slight amount of DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) which usually doesn’t happen in even very hard cycling.

This is the first time since returning to running recently that I actually felt like I was running. Still another 8 or 9 minutes to drop to return to my previous best form – but I don’t see that happening unless I lose a similar number of kilos of fat. No doubt that such a dramatic increase of pace will give me another significant DOMS tomorrow. Tried to run with mostly mid-foot landing and working on all the positive aspects of mechanics – allowing the leg to stretch a little behind, lifting the heel high, ankle loose, pulling knee forwards with foot directly behind, dropping the foot down vertically to land/strike, keeping the center of mass slightly forwards (falling), tensing lower abdomen (protecting back), avoiding over-reaching with the stride even on the descents – compensating by increasing cadence. Used standard trail running shoes with cushioning. Didn’t run at all with forefoot strike this time – although it feels good when I do it over short distances , I have to make that change a very long term goal.

Feel s like the bike race really helped to blow away some cobwebs. I found myself wanting to accelerate and push hard when running – just like in competition on the bike. It’s easy to see how you just get stale training on your own. Competition seems to activate some sort of unconscious drive and leave it switched on for a while.

Monday, May 10, 2010

La Route Des Helviens

La Route Des Helviens

Barjac, 30490

GPSies - Barjac

No way I could miss this opportunity for my first competition of the year. The theme of the route is based on an old celtic supply route surrounded by Roman forts built by Antonine. I grew up in Scotland right next to the famous Antonine’s wall, dividing Scotland in two, and it was my favourite play site as a kid. Definitely the sort of inspiration that would get me started early for the season.
I set of rather late on Saturday night for the 333km drive, but fortunately the roads were empty and the GPS worked perfectly – so I was in Barjac by 1:30am Sunday morning and five minutes later found the car park next to the race organisation. Rapidly settling in to sleep in the van I was disturbed by large drops of water falling off the trees above the van. It was raining and the weather was pretty bad, but the drops that fall off the trees are much bigger so they hit the metal of the van with a bang. I decided that it was such a regular rhythm that I’d soon become oblivious to it – which I did. It was still difficult to sleep after driving so hard but that paled into insignificance when at 4am some moron pulled into the car park with a mobile discotech in his car and parked right alongside me. I sincerely hope he permanently damaged his ears so that they match his retarded brain in level of dysfunction. The car park was full of camper vans with people sleeping so there was no excuse in such a quiet out-of-the-way town. Fortunately his display of Saturday night drunken stupidity didn’t last too long, so I slept. At 7:20am I was already awake, but with a headache and dodgy stomach. Public toilets next to the car park confirmed my worst fears – perhaps it was a reaction to carbohydrate loading the day before. I suspect that I have an intolerance for wheat in large quantities and I had stuffed myself with pasta the day before. It could also be a lingering virus that has bugged me since February – still giving a bit of a sore throat. However I didn’t feel good at all and as it was already raining again and with dark clouds on the horizon it was tempting to just bail out there and then. Regardless of all this, I felt caught up in the event and put all the negative stuff out of my head. It was to be a late start at 9:45am so there was plenty of time to register for the race, attach the numbers to bike and shirt, decide what clothing to wear and make last minute adjustments to the bike, and of course have breakfast. I cooked some porridge to warm myself up and obtained a coffee nearby – supplied by the course organisers.
The weather forecast was simply bad, so I put on a thermal tee shirt underneath my cycling shirt and then added a thin wind and waterproof jacket – transparent so that my shirt number could be seen. The rest was normal, shorts and thin shoes but no waterproof protection. At the race start I was surprised to see that I was the only one starting with a jacket on – yet the clouds were ominously black and it was already spitting rain. I had done a brief warm up, but was more concerned about conserving energy than warming up so I only spent ten minutes at this. The problem is that if you can’t keep up with the peloton at the start then you are going to lose a lot more energy riding on you own against the wind later on – so you do need to be warmed up as they always go like the clappers at the start. Not only was I the only one wearing a jacket but I was the only one visible who didn’t have shaved legs! This was a very serious bunch of competitors and I just had to laugh to myself at the situation – what was I doing here? The race was going to be 119 kilometers with some steep 12%+ climbing and in training my legs were consistently giving up at around 80km – even when taking it easy in the mountains. I was definitely relying on the relative rest taken in the week precedent and the carbo loading efforts, plus the competitive rush that takes over in such situations. I could feel the adrenalin already in the line up at the start. The date was 8th may and my only objective for the day was to survive. Limited training so early on in the season made even this objective seem out of reach. It’s one thing slowly notching up the miles on a day touring, but when racing hard your legs have a tendency to rebel and stop working when they’ve had enough and I knew that my legs were tired and not really recovered enough from training for a race.
At the start I was immediately confronted with uncooperative legs, a stomach still full of porridge and a desire to conserve energy so as to try to go the full distance. Within minutes, despite all of this my heart rate was close to max at 174bpm (last year I thought this was over my max – which I now know to be 183). Within 10 minutes the group had split in two and predictably I was at the back of the second group. The start was a long climb so it wasn’t surprising that this was happening. Now it was time for the rain. Not normal rain – a torrential curtain of rain. Suddenly I discovered why pros don’t wear eye protection in bad weather – you can’t see a damned thing through them. I definitely got it right with the jacket! After about 20 minutes there was quite a gap between the groups, but we came to the end of the climb and so the gap started to go down a bit and it looked almost like we could catch up again. About 30 minutes into the race my legs started to feel a little better and so I moved to the front of the group and decided to use my leg strength to close that gap. When I accelerated it worked because the group stuck to me. Half way there someone else shouted to me to ease off the pace so he went in front and finished the job. Great – we were back - unfortunately, just in time for the next climb – so we were all left behind again. Following this climb I found myself on my own for a good long stretch. I was convinced that I was last and felt slightly discouraged at the thought of battling the rest of the way on my own against torrential rain and high winds in steep hilly countryside that I didn’t know. I had no map, money or telephone so the course organisers had better do a good job. Out of the blue (grey) a group of eight riders came from behind me and I gratefully joined forces with them. Impossible to see any of the Ardeche courtryside with its stunning vineyards, rocks and Roman remains. All that was visible was a wall of rain, cloud and spray from the wheels of others. When you slipstream behind someone in the wet you get a shower straight in the face from the back tyre – and there is nothing you can do about it. I concentrated on slipstreaming, saving energy, pedalling less and keeping my cadence down when possible. We came around one turn where I noticed two giant wind turbines in the trees and mist – totally stationary – in fact they were the only things stationary in the storm. That seemed bizarrely ironic to me – perhaps they don’t work in the rain. In fact I seldom see those things turn anywhere. Somebody must just collect government subsidies, tax incentives and kickbacks then just leave the stupid things standing idle. We had passed 60km in under 2 hours so the pace was quite good considering the conditions. Descents were extremely hazardous, partly because the water forms a layer on the wheel rims and quite often the brakes seem to fail almost completely. I chose not to take any risks and kept my speed right down on the descents. I only saw one wreck at the side of the road with a couple of riders being attended to. At around 65km we were caught by a stronger rider who had recovered from an earlier puncture – then predictably he moved ahead and caused a split in our group. Three of us were slightly taken by surprise and left behind. I couldn’t react because the split happened on a long gradual climb and just at that moment I took cramp in the upper quads of both legs. I was worried that my legs were packing up for the day. I had read about how cramps mostly hit muscles that serve two joints – one at each end – which in this case would be the knee and the hip. With this in mind I stood up on the pedals to lengthen the quads and it worked – the cramp went. In fact I only felt it again slightly and briefly about an hour later. Within no time the split was 200 meters and growing. We were on the flat again so I decided to take a risk with my legs having just cramped and to use my power to close that gap. I went for it and only one other came with me, a blond haired guy, and when we got to the other group he thanked me for it. Our group had been the last to start that morning. There were 4 separate starts. There were two distances, 119km and 160km and two age groups under 50 and over 50. Each of the four categories started separately with about equal numbers and I was in the last – Over 119km for over 50s. There was one great advantage of this situation – it was the “tortoise and hare” effect. Slowly but surely my group started to pass all sorts of individuals – about every 5km from the start there had been a tyre puncture. I tried to look at the tyre each time we passed one and nearly all seemed to be French Michelin Pro 3 Race tyres. My tyres are German Continental GP4000S and use nanotechnology – better grip in the wet, better longevity (7x) and puncture resistance and less rolling resistance. More and more we were picking off “tail end Charlies” who had burned out by now – having probably started off too hard. This was precisely what I had been worried about happening to myself – but so far so good, the legs were holding up. In fact after about an hour the legs started to feel relatively good so I did a few stints to pulling at the front, which of course I soon regretted. You do feel like a bit of a leech sitting at the back all the time though, so if you feel good you have to go to the front, even for a short while, it makes a difference even if only to your sense of self-respect.
Around about 3 hours into the race we reached the steep climb de Mont Bouquet. Our constantly evolving and reforming group of between 6 to 8 was about to disintegrate for good. I found myself on my own, having left the blond haired guy behind who had been with me nearly all the way so far. The climb didn’t seem all that hard but at around the 80km mark the legs get tired. It seemed to get steeper near the top and it became a bit of a grind, with lashing rain and now riding directly in the clouds themselves. I tried to go down a gear only to find myself already in bottom gear – which in my setup is LOW – 34 front, 28 rear. Perhaps the hill was steeper than it looked. Right at the top of the climb I heard a voice and alongside me was the blond guy – he had managed to hang on all the way up – about 7km. This was good news because there was no one else visible behind and it meant that we could work together for the remaining 40km. There were two other riders just visible ahead but we just didn’t have the energy to chase them. The blond was a very good descender even in the wet, but told me he was taking it easy because last year he broke his collar bone and a few other bits in a very serious fall. He remarked that neither of us had much in the legs for the climb and that we had been together since the start – he told me his age – 63! (His race number was 50). He started cycling at age 23 and living in Lyon he can cycle all year round. Telling him that I’m 51 had the strange effect of making me feel embarrassingly young.
Having company on the 40km return stretch certainly made it seem much shorter. He was fast on the descents and I did some pulling from the front on the hills, but overall he was stronger. I began to believe that I’d get to the finish today without any major defiance of the legs. 119km is the longest distance I’ve ever raced so far and my fitness level is not that great after a winter of relative “aerobic” inactivity and avid Tartiflette eating. In fact my biggest problem on the hills is the 7kg of weight I put on over winter. Weight really counts in climbing. 6km from the end were suddenly surprised buy a fast moving train of 8 riders who came up fast behind us, so we both accelerated and got in the slipstream. There was no way to let the opportunity slip, but the idea of an easy ride to the finish was over – now it was a race again. Our speed went up to about 35km again and my overall heart rate climbed back up to levels that it had not managed for the whole last hour, but to my surprise the end was right in front of us before I realised. I didn’t race the others over the line – I was just glad to get there. When I got off the bike I could still walk, the legs didn’t feel too bad compared to other races and I can only put that down to the carbo loading. During the 4hrs 15mins of the race I drank only one and a half bottles of sports drink – I just cannot consume while working hard. It was even an effort to make myself drink that much.
After the race I stripped off all the sodding clothing in the van. The heavy rain had continued for 4 hours and only the last 15 minutes were relatively dry. I was surprised that I enjoyed riding in such conditions – the rain didn’t bother me. I wasn’t cold despite the air temperature being about 13°C. The feet got a bit cold but not too bad. It seems that working so hard compensates for the cold. Talking to an experienced competitor later he told me that He’d never raced in such conditions in his life – I wasn’t surprised. It was definitely an experience. The bike was great and the narrow SLR XP Italia seat did not hurt at all – I didn’t even think about it once – and there was no back pain or discomfort. I put all of that down to good bike fitting and geometry. The after-race meal was exceptional, very good quality and (except the desert) all organic produce; Normally the food at such events is inedible but here it was great. I was very tired, hungry and irritable by the time I sat down to eat. My head felt “thick” and slightly headachy which I put down to low blood sugar. It took about 5 hours before that passed completely. All in all, a very satisfying experience and good training for the next race. There is no way you can train like this outside of competition. Competition itself is the best training. Last year my first race was in August so to start on May 8th is new territory – and to have completed it successfully is a real confidence boost. I’d have been happy just finishing but my placing was 121st overall out of 147 and 33rd in my age group - a result I'm more than happy with considering all the circumstances.

The steadily declining heart rate on the graph shows that I was working beyond a sustainable aerobic level throughout. When running I normally see a "drift" in the other direction, with the heart rate slowly climbing during the session - this being normal "drift". In the bike race it is so important to be able to stay with a group that you have to be prepared to risk working at levels that are perhaps not sustainable - to gain what advantages you can get in time from slipstreaming withing the group. Groups go much faster. You don't really get this effect in running as air resistance is not such a concern.

GPSies - Barjac (link to GPS recorded route and profile. If you have Google earth istalled then from here you can simply download the Googel earth file and automatically have it display on your computer. On the left hand panel under "places" open up the Barjac folder and click on the bottom icon - this will then give you a control bar (at the bottom of this window) and you get to do a 3D ariel fly-through of the course)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking today for the first time this year.

Picked a bad day though. The temperature was about 17°C when I started at around 4:30 pm at 700m altitude . The climb was a local one of 600m and giving that temperature drops by 6.5°C per 1000m that means a 4°C drop in temperature by the top of the climb. During the hour I took to climb there was also unknown to me at the time a 4°C drop in temperature at the bottom – due to a rapid change in weather. So when the rain started at the top – as it did – it was only about +9°C and I was in shorts and thin cycling top with fingerless gloves – not ideal. The rain caused me to bail out of the off-road descent that I’d been looking forward to – it would have been too slippy and dangerous.

(The video clip is just the on road descent through the villages - nothing exciting but shows what the scenery is like a bit.)
Took it easy as I was trying to conserve energy for a possible race on Sunday which has a lot of climbing – thus didn’t want to tire the legs too much. The mountain bike feels incredibly heavy since getting used to the 6.7kg Canyon racer. It’s at least three times that weight, but it’s still fun to climb with and brilliantly stable on the descent. Just replaced the back tyre with a 2.3in tubeless freeride tyre. I have a 2.5 heavy duty downhill tyre on the front but the frame on the back won’t take such a big tyre. The extra weight of the downhill tyre makes it fantastic on the rough and steep descents and the big knobbles on the surface of the back tyre make it great for off-road climbing where traction in the shale and grit are more important issues than weight. The mountain bike has the UK set up of back brake on the left and front brake on the right – opposite from the racing bike – it’s easy to get confused! Was disappointed at having to descend on the road to get out of the cold and wet, but was glad to have contact with the old mountain bike again.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Recovery Week

Recovery week this week. Body was getting tired with the new general level of training. Notably a gland in my throat was swollen, legs were tired and right foot (plantar fascia) felt a bit too tender. All those signs together send out the message “Time to rest and recover!” – which is where of course the real benefit of training is gained. Add to all of this constant waves of bad weather sweeping in from the Atlantic – with the greatest snow precipitation at altitude for the entire season (still open at Tignes – but miserable) plus time needed to clean up my VW Transporter after a tough winter – then training has taken a back seat for a spell.

Still getting signs of virus (throat) which all started mid February. I guess that’s the nature of flu – it can linger in your system for a long time. I had a very bad attack of flu several years ago and it completely wiped me out physically for 6 months. I appeared to overcome the trouble by forcing myself to exercise in spite of the deep feeling of fatigue. That incident taught me not to abandon training in the face of viral attacks – but to keep some training going. From what I read it’s also important not to over do it with a virus as that can lead to permanent damage. It seems that very little is really known about such things.

Monday, May 3, 2010

No Pain Day

No pain in the legs today - they feel quite good. The calves held up to the 1.4km of forefoot striking and there is no sign of DOMS anywhere. Can feel the plantar fascia (big tendon under the foot attaching at the heel) of the right foot, but it is not really a pain - just a bit sensitive - so I need to take care that the heel striking doesn't cause it to degenerate again. I think that 10k runs in soft shoes should be ok - especially if I can gradually increase the proportion of forefoot striking.

The weather has improved today - seems that the rain came down just to wash out our day around lake Geneva.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Back to Heel Strike

Sunday May 2nd

Had planned for a 180km bicycle ride around Lake Leman (Geneva) but the weather turned bad so it was cancelled.

The calve muscles felt good so I decided to go for a 10km run in the light rain. Temperature had dropped from 25 to 30°C during the week to around 10°C so warmer protective clothing was called for.

Started out OK as it is a descent from the flat down to the river Isère, but as I attacked the gentle upward gradient of the path along the Isère this pace reduced to a completely unenthusiastic slow jog. I used normal Adidas Goretex trail running shoes with good heel cushioning, because I intended to use a heel strike so as to spare the calve muscles this time. Shortly before reaching the 5km turnaround point I started feeling better and picked up the pace a little. It felt slightly odd going back to using a heel strike and I had to remain attentive for any signs of plantar fasciitis returning. I did notice slight stress on the inside of the left knee – which I don’t feel when using a forefoot strike – this is the knee I tore apart in a twisting skiing accident many years ago – it never had surgery ( at least for that particular injury). After the 5km point I picked up the pace even more – it seemed like the muscles had warmed up and the running became much more enjoyable. The usual feelings of mental alertness, positive attitude, slight euphoria etc were all there. I thought up at least one new invention – something that happens every time I go for a run!

The final 1.4km I went back to the forefoot strike. It felt incredible to change technique so much in the middle of a run – a whole different set of muscles and coordination kicked in straight away. I can’t say which is best – just different. The idea is to see if this amount of forefoot striking will give the calves a better chance to adapt. If this is still too much I’ll reduce it next time. It felt OK when running, but I’ll see if the calves have the DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) in the morning. Will do exercises for the calves (eccentric dips) on days when I’m not running. Interestingly the muscle differences I feel when changing the foot strike are mostly in the feet, ankles and the shins (anterior tibialis) and not in the calves. It might be the calves that wear out fast but the other muscles attract your attention more. It’s a nice feeling to have those muscles (all in the “front” of the foot and lower leg) active – they feel like stabilisers or more reflexive which might explain why they don’t wear out like the calves do.

This is another advantage of cross training – bad weather options. Today would not have been nice on a bike but it was very nice for running.