Friday, October 29, 2010

Power to Weight Ratios

During yesterday's workout I was suffering from a bit of a sore back - which is definitely linked to pulling up on the pedals. Injuries in any sport usually happen when you are learning and you get a movement slightly wrong.

Usually, when changing technique, the sign that something is "right" is that it makes the job easier. I noticed when climbing that by keeping the upper body slightly more horizontal and allowing it to rotate gently, there was a sudden ease of movement, increase of pace and reduction of back pain. Normally on the bike I'd have my pelvis very static, but here there is about the same amount of motion as there would be when running. This appears to ease the strain on the psoas muscles and the spine while freeing up the body to make a much more fluid and powerful movement engaging muscles right up through the trunk. I also noticed that failure to rotate the pelvis like this actually seems to act as a blocking action which slows you down - so you lose power fighting against yourself. This slightly "rotary" movement is very similar to the rotary sensation of the body when swimming front crawl - when the hips have to rotate in the water. It also feels like trying to pull your leg out of a bog - whilst simultaneously trying to force the other leg in as far as possible. It's not easy to find this action all the time - it's slightly elusive - but it's very clear when you get it.

There is a striking similarity to skiing here. In skiing it is common wisdom that the upper body should remain still. This is a major error. There is an optical illusion of the body remaining still during short turns - but the best skier is extremely active with the upper body. Not only that but the pushing forward of a ski causes the hip to move backwards - so the "pull up" on a pedal is exactly the same movement as as short turn when absorbing a mogul (bump) on a ski, or "retracting" at the end of a slalom turn.

Here is a clear summary of power to weight ratios...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Autumn Blue Skies

Thursday 28th October 2010

Back out on the road bike today for the first time since the 10th. The surrounding mountains are white with snow, but the lack of wind, clear blue skies and sunshine meant that conditions were prefect for getting the road bike out.

Long windproof leggings, windproof shoe covers, thicker socks and a windproof polar jacket were essential to make the ride enjoyable. The weather was so nice though that the jacket went around my waist for climbing and only a cycling tee shirt was needed. The sun was low in the sky giving rich Autumn light. This light and the lack of wind in the late afternoon/evenings is what makes Autumn my favourite time of year - but until now it seemed that we had jumped straight into winter instead. The only downside with the low sun is that car drivers climbing the mountain behind you might not see you as they have the sun straight in their face.

My legs were a bit tired due to having done indoors workouts on both Monday and Tuesday. On Monday I did a really hard workout - with an intense and enjoyable (if virtual) climb. Then on Tuesday raced against this recorded time! Wow that was hard, but it did push me to work harder and to get a higher power output. Currently I'm sustaining a power output of 252 watts on the 30 minute climb - but that's with an average heart rate of around 148bpm - well short of my 160 anaerobic threshold. With a current weight of 69kg this gives a power output of 3.65 Watts/kg. To win a Tour de France You are looking at 6.8 Watts/kg at anaerobic threshold - sustainable for 30 minutes (at A.T.). Well that's why those guys are fast - they are almost twice as powerful as me. Apparently they are more likely to be around 4 or 5 during the Tour because of fatigue.

Only a few corners, in the shade throughout the day, remained wet - but on one of those I encountered a herd of cattle - as you often do in this part of the world. The cattle were perfect citizens and left a space for me to pass on one side of the road. It was a bit worrying though because they all had horns and could easily have lunged at a passing cyclist. The real danger however is not there - it is in the inevitable and unavoidable trail of cow poo spread all over the already wet road. That's not really a direct hazard, but it is like acid glue and very tough to get off the bike afterwards. Left too long it will eat into the paint or metal - so cleaning is obligatory.

Interestingly I noticed that the Virtual Reality trainer actually makes you work harder than real life - because there is always a competitor and there is no distracting scenery to enjoy - just a towel on the floor below you collecting a river of sweat.

Monday, October 25, 2010

First Snow

First snow has already arrived in Bourg St Maurice at 800m altitude even though it is only October 25th. A couple of years ago I was cycling in the evening in a tee shirt on November 20th. I think that we have to draw the conclusion that global warming is really making a big impact here and that unless we remove those electricity cables we will heat ourselves up straight into another ice age. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

First Tacx Indoor Workout

Saturday 23rd October 2010

On July 27th I bought a top of the range Tacx indoor training system. This system includes a motorised resistence and is computer controlled, permitting you to use personal pre-recorded GPS courses (those done in the summer for example) and to watch the progress on Google Earth! You can race against previous times or even against others over the internet.

Why has it taken three months to manage my first workout with this system? Well, when the box arrived from this box was in a bad state. One tubular metal insert for the steering frame and been clearly dragged along the ground for a long distance and about a centimeter of metal had been ground down. That wasn't a real problem but what was a real problem was the noise when I tried to use the system. Simulation of hill climbing made the motor groan so loudly that even the neighbours would be disturbed - it was unusable. The situation was not improved by the wooden nature of the old house we live in and the closeness of the trainer to the walls - it is in a corner of the room. After trying many things to reduce the noise I posted  a video on YouTube so that the Tacx people could listen to the noise and consulted the Tacx support forum. The unanimous decision was to return the unit for inspection and possible replacement. EvansCycles arranged the collection and transport back to the UK and the return to Fishers - the distributor for Tacx in the UK.

Week went past and eventually Fishers announced that they had lost the system. Worse still they had no new ones in stock. Meantime EvansCycles did have others in stock but kept that to themselves. Of course, without the system having been tested there was no confirmation regarding the noise problem. Fishers clarified that new stock would be in on the 29th September and that it would be sent out straight away. This simply never happened.

When my frustration started to be expressed in communications to EvansCycles they decided to send me another one from their stock. Amazingly this one also arrived in a badly beaten up box (not the UPS transporter box but the one inside that:

To my horror, when this system was set up it was every bit as noisy as the first one. I did at this point have serious regrets about buying this system and not demanding a refund when it went wrong. It's really clear that Tacx have hidden the noise problem of their motor driven systems from potential buyers.

From the beginning though it was my intention to make this work out - so I set about figuring out how to reduce the sound. First of all, to reduce the vibrations and low pitch sound I bought a couple of concrete slabs. This is the classic way of reducing sound passing through the floor with floor speakers in a Hi Fi - the concrete absorbing the vibrational energy. The slabs were placed on a rubber training mat. Next I searched in building supply stores for sound insulation. Only one product was dedicated to sound reduction so I bought a roll of it and then grabbed some thick cardboard boxes from the rubbish outside the store. first of all I cut the cardboard to construct a box covering the motor area from the floor up, but leaving enough room inside to pack it with the sound insulation and still have some air circulation. When this was completed it was relatively small so I packed another layer of insulation around the outside and then fabricated another box to completely contain it. The smaller box passed underneath the motor and so the double insulation layer was also between the motor and the floor. The only air gap left was to insert the bicycle wheel. When the wheel turns the spokes actually push quite a lot of air so this turns out to act like a fan creating a current of air into and out of the box -which helps to keep the motor cool.

The noise reduction is very significant and finally there was a usable system that would not disturb anyone and would not give me a headache. In fact I'd be able to listen to music without having to crank the volume all the way up.

Prior to getting started training though there were a couple of other problems. The USB cable to the computer was too short so I had to buy a longer one. The GPS data I'd recorded on my bike had slightly erratic altitude data - which when being use with the Tacx Training software was impractical. Other software was needed to first of all smooth out the altitude. Incredible that Tacx don't include that facility in their software considering that it actually does have GPS editing. Fortunately I found a free version of a program "3D Route Builder" that does the job well. It doesn't help that this entire area is missing from the online Taxc Trainer software manual. There is nothing written about using your own GPS data - even though it is a major feature. Tacx have just issued the next version of the software and do not even give an upgrade - it costs 100 euros and that's it. I'll give that a miss I think - they have more than enough of my money.

When eventually I did get started training the first half an hour was spent crashing the software due to my erratic and largely unguided console button pushing efforts. I'd resurrected an old analogue Polar heart rate monitor chest strap because the Tacx doesn't work with the new digital ones - so the heart rate data was all over the place for the first 20 minutes. Using that HRM technology feels like going back to the stone age now!

At last - a workout!

After three months of messing around a workout was finally underway. I'd picked a 30km route around the local valley that I usually cover in around 1hr 15'.  For viewing progress I had a screen showing my position on Google Earth from a view point about 200m above and behind - like a helicopter view. I could have selected to race against my original time - with the "competitor " showing on the screen but I didn't select it correctly this time. No matter, the motivation was still the same as cycling around the real route and I was impressed by that. The motor drive/brake is quite clever really because it controls your "momentum" if you stop pedalling - so you feel like you are rolling on a real bike. You actually get propelled downhill. One hour into the course my legs felt just like they do when climbing real mountains - the sensations were exactly the same. Perhaps the only unrealistic aspect is that you don't have to slow for cornering - but you can do that voluntarily if you want to - and I did - to preserve the simulation as best as possible. On some parts the GPS smoothing put in a few climbs or descents where I knew they didn't exist in real life - but this was not an excessive problem. In the end the workout went well and I didn't get bored. Motivation is the real issue here and the system works. The data from the workout can be exported in a form that is used by SportTracks so I can maintain the database that I've been using for two years now. Tacx has there own analysis software but it only displays for an individual workout as far as I can see. The results of any race can be used for racing against in future workouts

Bosses du 13 diploma

Beautiful diploma here given out for the "Bosses du 13"  (Winner was in 03hrs 42'43")

First Autumn Run

Sunday 18th October 2010

First Autumn Run
Go out for the first run in several months. Despite the run only being 7.7km and slow, it gave me serious DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) lasting almost the whole following week. It wasn't until the following Saturday that my legs and body would feel good again.

Running does feel good. There is more time to enjoy nature when running than when cycling. Today was the first time I'd run beside the river Isère since Spring and it's now Autumn. You feel the river when you run beside it because it chills and freshens the air in the tree covered valley floor, especially after recent rainfall in the mountains when the flow is rapid and turbulent. Sometimes the river is powerful and impressive and infuses you with those same feelings - adding to the motivation to run well. In cycling there is a constant focus on riding the bike and although you are aware of the fresh air, weather and scenery - it's not so intimate. It's hard to draw inspiration from nature when you are focused on staying 20cm behind someone's wheel in front at 45km/hr.

Monday 18th October 2010

Waterfall Mountain Bike

Used "proper" mountian biking shorts today - with a padded inner and a loose outer layer. Normally the padding isn't felt in cycling shorts due to it hugging the body closely. The mountain biking shorts have a loose inner layer and so the padding feels a bit like wearing a big baby's nappy - and after some sweating it's like a big wet nappy - not very nice. Next day I went to Chambery to look for better equipment! None of the specialist cycling shops had any sensible clothes - they only had "downhill" protection shorts. Surprisingly, Decathlon was the only place to have proper mountain biking shorts and quite a large selection. Lessons have clearly been learned because all of the shorts now have a Lycra inner layer with padding - most of them detachable. The inner itself is just like a pair of road cycling shorts. People had started to rip out the inners of the old shorts and wear road cycling shorts beneath instead - so this issue has obviously been addressed. With the Lycra holding the padding next to the skin you don't feel the wetness from sweating and there is no rubbing. As luck would have it there has been no opportunity to try out the new shorts because the snow came right down to 500m altitude - staying on the ground at 1000m and the temperatures have been too low for riding. This weather is very unusual for mid October - in previous years I've been able to enjoy tee shirt cycling weather until late November at this altitude.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mid Season Blues

Sunday 10th October 2010 (10/10/10 - and my birthday!)

Despite yesterday's earth shattering installment of "The battle for Granier Hill", today was not to be a rest day. For only the second time this year Chris and I had opted to ride with the Bourg St Maurice club. Only a few of the members even know me as I'm definitely not a regular - but they are always welcoming. Perhaps I just find them welcoming because I can keep up the pace. Most of my life I'd have been petrified to join a cycling club due to the fear of being left behind and lost. Basically I'd waited until I was relatively confident of my capacity prior to ever riding with them. Now, after a full season of racing I was certain that there was nothing to worry about - plus I had enough confidence and knowledge of the geography and distances that I'd happily cope on my own anyway.

The timing of the ride was excellent - starting at 10:30am in a car park in Moutiers - giving me plenty of time to watch the Japanese Grand Prix earlier in the morning. Great start to my birthday! There were 8 or 9 of us at the start and Chris started off a bit hard causing a few gaps and creating a few moans in the peloton. I think that Chris was venting his frustration at falling behind in Granier time trials. Chris is not used to having his friends go faster than him! My legs were a bit tired from the previous day's extreme efforts, but somehow they still felt good enough.

The ride covered 107km and about 600m of climbing - so it was mostly on relative flats. We covered quite a lot of  ground just rotating in a slipstream at between 40 and 45kph. Chris and I both used short steeper hills as a form of interval training - especially on the return trip which is generally a faux plat - gently climbing all the time.

A few hours after the workout I felt very tired - it had been quite a hard one - each person working at his own level by choosing how long to stay in front and pull on each rotation - and whether or not to attack on the hills.  Could only get my heart rate up to 176 max today - despite maximal effort to remain with Chris on the climbs. Must be residual tiredness from yesterday causing that.

Wednesday 13th October 2010

Last week appears to have been a high point. This week has been one of compulsive overeating and lack of sleep. Perhaps I'm panicking at notching up another year. Weight bounced from 67.5kg to 71.6kg during this week!!!! (by 16th it's back down to 68.1kg and apparently under control again - phew!)

Yesterday my VW van started losing water very rapidly - after years of losing it very slowly. It appears that the water pump packed up - which is not surprising after 1/3 million kilometers. Having to deal with this prevented me from getting out on the bike though.  

Colder weather is now causing me to use the mountain bike more. Today I climbed up to the waterfall above Vilette - which is where I get great off-road descent. The climb was appalling - at least 5 minutes slower than last week. Not only have I put on a ridiculous amount of weight this week but I can't climb now! Couldn't get my heart rate up at all - there must be something wrong somewhere.

Tried to film the descent with my GpoPro camera mounted on the handlebars. It's pretty useless! No matter how much the knobs are tightened the camera rattles loose. Never yet managed to get a good recording mountainbiking with this device.

Thursday 14th October 2010

Have an uncontrollable appetite and feel like s***. Still, went out on the mountain bike again to the same place and the climbing was still useless. Definitely not feeling right. It'll pass. Tried filming again. The camera stayed almost in place but because it was getting a little bit late it couldn't deal with the exposure metering correctly. In the trees the image would go totally black. Even my mobile phone camera can do better than that! Pretty shameful from the GoPro HD headcam! I definitely cannot recommend this to friends.

The descent was much better though. Confidence is coming back and I can attack the hairpin bends much better. Off-road descending takes a bit of practice.

The new pedal and shoe combination is working very well. The PowerPlay pedals are great - the SPD being very easy to clip in and out of and holding perfectly for pulling up when climbing and the flat (non SPD) side of the pedal working well for descending. Sometimes when descending I use the wrong side of the pedal and find myself clipped in unexpectedly - but it seems really easy to get out of the clips. I've both Time and SpeedPlay pedals on my racing bikes but can't get in or out anything like so easily.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Apache Attack Bourg St Maurice

Had to post this - the photo was take an Bourg St Maurice a few days ago. It's an Apache attack helicopter with guns on full display on military ops - one of the most effective high tech fighting machines on the planet today  - ironically being attacked itself by a couple of local hawks...

It turns out that this isn't an Apache it's a Tiger helicopter - the European equivalent of the American Apache - but it looks every bit as awesome with the eye controlled machine gun sticking out the front. I think that the British modified Rolls Royce Apaches are probably the ultimate though...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Battle for Granier Hill

Saturday 9th October 2010

The Battle for Granier Hill - objective SUB 30'

With the racing season over we have to focus on something else - so the first thing that attracted out attention was our hill climb up to Granier. Prior to the last race both Chris and I had separately clocked exactly 31'44"mins. My fastest time up there had been 30'51 on the 7th September and last week Chris notched up a 30'21 which had the consequences of sparking of various levels of controversy. My immediate retort was that it should be possible to do it 27 minutes to which Chris retorted in French that I was effectively a "gas bag" or basically full of bull****.

To set the bar I invited superstar rider John Thomas to have a go but he is currently on holiday from cycling back in the UK and putting on weight at the moment. I'm still sure that he will return and do it in under 27 mins though. Meanwhile my attempt earlier in the week almost blew up my lungs and I was brutally stopped by gale force winds - which just made Chris laugh because he wasn't having any of it.

Today - despite really not wanting to push myself so hard - I went up the hill again. It really is hard mentally to push yourself that hard for half an hour. Well, apart from receiving a telephone call from Andrew Tetlow when passing though a small village (embarrassing because people think I'm talking to myself as the microphone is inside my shirt) there were no untoward disturbances on this attempt. There was a moderate wind that was strong enough to slow me down a bit - but not a complete show stopper like the previous time. When riding into the wind I'd crouch down a bit and drop a gear so as not to waste energy fighting the wind - saving the energy for when I'd make a turn and the wind would be behind instead. This time the wind was heading up the valley which is a bit better as there is slightly more exposed road heading up the valley than down the valley - the previous time the gale was blowing straight down the valley. I started at the bottom by sprinting to get both speed up and heart rate up high as soon as possible. Within a minute my heart was at max 173 bpm and I managed to keep it above 165 bpm the whole way and hovering around 173 for all of the second half. Four hundred meters from the finish it flattens out a bit and it became clear to me that I was close to making it. The clock looked like it was on 29 minutes and about to turn over to 30 when I realised that it was on 28 and just went to 29. It was still possible to get under 30 - but I'd have to sprint the rest of the way to have any chance and there is a steep climb at the finish. I did sprint and came very close to throwing up even before getting to the end. Arriving at the top I pressed the lap button but didn't switch the timer off - so when the GPS went onto auto-pause after stopping I thought that the time on the stopped clock was my climb time and was disappointed to see that it was over 30 at 30'11". Later, after downloading the data at home I realised the mistake and the split time recorded for the climb was really 29'56" - breaking the 30' barrier on the 2nd attempt and another 55" improvement on my PB.

Objective achieved 29' 56"

The data from the climb has however turned out to be very educational. I'm supposedly at my max heart rate of 173 bpm for half of the climb. This rate is established following the advice of coach Chris Charmichael to the letter. Charmichael is the coach to Lance Armstrong. When I go into the final sprint my heart rate goes up to 183, smoothly and stays there until the sprint is over. This shows very convincingly to me that Charmichael field test does not work and that I have been training with wrong heart rate training zones all summer - or something else is completely wrong with the systems proposed for training using heart rate.

The highest spike I saw all summer in my heart rate was 185 bpm but I'd believed that it was some sort of anomaly. It clearly wasn't - that is my real max heart rate and everything will need to be adjusted for the future - even if the training zones don't make sense after those adjustments. I can see why those who can afford it use power meters for training nowadays and not heart rate.

Next objective SUB 29'

Beaufort and Mountainbiking

Wed 6th, Thu 7th, October 2010

GPSies - AIme, Moutiers, Albertville, Beaufort, Cormet de Roselend, Bourg, Macot, Aime

Wednesday, woke up to sunshine and warmth - we have been due this for a while. Too good a day to spend indoors. Set off for 115km circuit from Aime through Moutiers and Albertivllle and from there at 265m altitude climbing  up through Beaufort to 2000m altitude at the top of the Cormet de Roselend and then plunging down to Bourg St Maurice and returning home via Macot.

The gradual descent to Albertville was slowed down by a headwind. This headwind was ideal because it meant that the wind would be blowing UP towards Beaufort and would help on the climb.  I started at midday because all summer there has been a tendency for the sun to disappear late afternoon and the steep climb through the Beaufort valley is shaded by trees and steep valley walls causing it to remain permanently chilly. The descent from the Cormet de Roselend into Bourg is also shaded and can get very cold if left too late. As it was the timing was perfect and there was no need for any protective clothing.

The only incident was a traffic build up in Beaufort village and when the woman driver in front of me suddenly braked at a sleeping policeman instead of driving over it - I went straight into the back of her being unable to stop due to the shoes being attached to the pedals. Fortunately I managed to miss her bumper and only used my hand on her car. Technically I was in the wrong, but her dead stop braking was completely irrational and unexpected. No harm done. I overtook her while she sat stationary in the middle of the road waiting to be crowned the crappiest driver of the century.

The climb up from Albertville is a killer and the previous time I'd attempted it my legs were in deep pain by the time I'd reached Beaufort. This time however the legs were fine - despite the hard work against the wind earlier. Overall the trip was more than half an hour faster than the previous time so it showed good progress.


Strangely, this circuit really leaves the legs tired and although there was no deep pain on the climb this time there was still more pain than even when racing. That's something I don't understand. The level of effort was much lower than that achieved when racing - much less time spent in the lactic acid producing zones - but the leg pain was greater.

From a training perspective the good news is that I'm managing to maintain a constant level despite the lack of motivation now that the racing season is over.

Thrusday. Mountianbiking

On Thursday Chris received his new Drift HD170 headcam and so turned up at my door to borrow an SD memory card. This rapidly evolved into a mountainbike trip. It was the first time the mountainbike had been used since the Spring - but it was great to get it out again. Unfortunately my recently ordered SPD dual (flat on one side) pedals had not yet arrived so I had to climb without cleats. The workout was a bit hard to get into with the legs still being tired from the previous day - but it still felt better than expected. The descent was a bit awkward to start with but improved as I got used to committing to the hairpin turns and relaxing on the rough ground. The Drift camera worked well and I'd recommend it for practical purposes over my GoPro HD camera - it is lighter, has a wrist wireless control is discrete when mounted on a helmet and the quality is excellent.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Recovery Training

28th, 29th September
1st, 4th October

The first training session after two days after the Dromoise race demonstrated to me the meaning of "recovery" workout. You are supposed to keep a relatively low heart rate - Basic Endurance or Tempo zone. The reality is that if your body really needs to recover then you don't actually have a choice - you will find yourself exclusively in those zones as the following chart shows...

The next day another training ride certainly feels better but once again nothing above Tempo Zone - the spikes near the start are the heart rate monitor playing up.

After a couple of days rest the next workout shows a proper recovery with anaerobic climbing back again. Once again the spikes are a malfunction of the equipment.

On Monday 4th of October I try a time trial up to Granier due to feeling well rested and strong. This means attacking with full power from the start. I had no trouble staying in Maximum Anaerobic zone and reaching max heart rate right at the start - (10 minute warm up first) - but had to bail out at the half way stage due to extremely high wind stopping me in my tracks. Disappointing. The big dips in heart rate are also due to equipment malfunction. Changed the battery recently!

Had to attack the time trial with mouth breathing and found that at the top my lungs were in pain and I was coughing shortly afterwards. It felt the same as when exercising when very unfit. It's clear that I haven't done enough of this real maxing out type of workout this summer - real power intervals. Kept an eye on my heart rate (though the monitor wasn't working too well) and it never went over the 173 max so I wasn't worried. I'm associating 185 with a "hyperventilation" max which is probably not safe. As long as I see 173 or below then I'm happy. I suspect that 173 is a max that happens as long as there is no real hyperventilation. Although I breathed through the mouth I was never gasping. I think that higher fitness level confers benefits similar to direct "reduced" breathing techniques.