Sunday, December 31, 2006

Making a Point

Happy New Year everyone!

My goals this coming year are primarily focussed on performances in pursuit and points racing. So I thought I'd post a picture of the file from my last State Masters Points race to remind me of what I am trying to better (no pic of Nats - I crashed unfortunately).

All things going well, I won't miss the podium on a count back like I did in this race. But even if that doesn't happen*, at least with the power meter I'll have a pretty fair idea if I've improved or not.

For me this is a 20km event with a sprint every 2.5 km (8 sprints). In this case no break was successful, and the file shows that with the surges on points laps occuring at regular intervals.

Training is going well, coach has me thumping out some solid stuff right now - I know today I'm feeling the training fatigue a little. Rest day tomorrow.

* Apart from my own form, to some extent it does depend on who shows up on the day as I have several world class competitors in my State/category so if they all present on the line, then it will take some cunning riding to beat them. I can be pretty cunning though....

Thursday, December 28, 2006

TSS vs. kJ

Recently I've noticed a few discussions in the on-line forums about using the CPU read-out on power meters showing work performed (usually expressed as kilojoules) as a proxy for cumulative TSS. Many have noticed a roughly linear relationship appears to exist between the two measures.

This comes from a desire by some to know their cumulative TSS while riding.

But is the kJ read-out a valid proxy for TSS?

For those that use the newer ergomo power meter, they already have this feature built into their CPUs, so they have no need for using kJ as a proxy for TSS. However, for the rest of us, unless you do the same type of ride every time you head out the door or get on the trainer, it is unlikely that this linear relationship will hold true.

The Practical Example

While the mathematics shows this relationship to be a spurious one, there's nothing like real data to emphasise a point.

The above chart is a plot of kJ vs. TSS for 161 rides so far this season.

While the relationship is roughly linear, there are major differences in work performed for rides of a similar TSS, even rides with TSS around 100-130, the energy spread is greater than 1,000kJ or up to three times the difference for the same TSS!

So I won't be using the kJ display on my power meter as a proxy for TSS.

Besides, I'm better at estimating what TSS to expect per hour for certain types of rides. While you can do this by estimating the Intensity Factor (IF) of a given ride (or sections of ride), I simply know from experience what to expect since I have probably already done similar rides as a part of my regular training and racing.

The Maths

Here's a quote from Andy Coggan on the matter to explain the maths:

"The relationship between TSS and total work not only varies with the individual, but also with the nature of the workout. That is evident by looking at the respective formulae:

Total work = duration x average power

TSS = duration x (normalized power/functional threshold power)^2

Thus, during long workouts the ratio of TSS to total work will tend to be lower, since normalized power and average power will tend to be closer together. Conversely, during shorter, higher intensity workouts (especially, e.g., with trackie style "go hard, puke, go home" level 6 intervals) the ratio of TSS to total work will tend to be higher, since normalized power will be much higher than average power. Of course, if practically all of your workouts are "middle of the road", then these differences won't be apparent and you may find a fairly high correlation between total work and TSS. As should be evident from the formulae given above, however, the two are not equivalent, i.e., such a correlation is simply spurious."

So until TSS, IF etc are incorporated into the CPUs of more brands of power meter, I guess most of us will just need to get to know our own data better....

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Pudding (Racing vs Training)

Last Race of the Year and another result!

Yesterday was the Bike Bug 500 - another handicap criterium at Sydney's Heffron Park circuit. With \$500 for 1st place, there was a pretty good turn up with all the usual suspects. This one was a little different to the others I've ridden in that it was an open A, B, C grade group handicap run over 15 laps (30.6km) - but in the reverse direction. Now I've raced at this circuit for a decade but never the other way round! It was a pretty interesting experience. I don't plan on riding the velodrome the other way round though!

We were lucky as a big thunderstorm blew through not long before the start dumping a lot of water on the circuit but a wet track and a few puddles wasn't going to stop the race going ahead.

Priorities

This wasn't an important race for me, just a bit of fun and a good workout. Since I had done 30 minutes of time trial effort at 99% of FTP the day before and earlier in the week some heavy tempo work, I wasn't expecting the freshest legs on the planet. Certainly the routine on day before a race is typically not TT efforts!

That's because I am now in race prep stage for March and race results now are inconsequential and subordinate to training. Coach is helping me to avoid the mistakes I made last season, where I was constantly staying fresh for racing and intense efforts and that left me with little in the tank by the time the Championships rolled around. Don't get me wrong, I had a great season but there sure was room for improvement. The Performance Manager Charts really made that stick out for me. Here's what I mean (click/right click to see larger image):

Last Season's PMC
Basically I ended up never really having a proper CTL build phase to start with. There was a short one around this time last year but I tried to ramp up too quickly and got sick. After that, regular racing and a change of focus to efforts of increasing intensity meant CTL was flatlining or heading south.

Back to the Bug

OK, so how did the race go? Well I got onto the podium, so that's not bad! Here's the WKO annotated to show the various phases of the race. I applied 30 second rolling averages to smooth out the data as the power line was highly variable - the smoothing makes the phases of race a little easier to pick out. Again click/right click to see a larger, clearer image.

The Bike Bug 500 "Pudding Race"

The chart pretty much tells the story. I started with the B-grade bunch and they really weren't going fast enough to hold out a determined A-grade. And as usual only 6-8 guys were doing the work while the other 20 or so would sit on. Not the way to win a handicap but I expect no less from these guys.

So about 6 laps in I was sick of just hanging around and decided to see how my legs really were and put in an attack. That lasted a couple of laps but at least it got B-grade to pick up the pace a bit and made A-grade work a bit longer before the catch. Seeing that effort was futile, I went back to hide in the bunch for a while and recover in time for the A-grade train, making sure I had good position when it came steaming through. Shortly after we picked up and passed the C-grade bunch.

Scratch the Handicap
Then it was a matter of managing position and marking the attacks which were inevitable as the race was now reverting to a scratch format given all bunches had been caught. The pace was certainly higher now and I had to dig in a little here and there but I was sufficiently in control to maintain it with the leading riders.

As it turns out I was the last remaining B-grader in the lead group and that earned me a place on the podium, a large Christmas Pudding, a bottle of wine, 2 Veloflex Black tyres (one of my favourite road race tyres) and \$50. So an early Chrissy present! Always good to get the new club kit up there for the photos (which I don't have yet BTW).

These coming weeks I have some
really solid training in front of me.
Coach reckons I'm a chance of abusing him at some stage for what he's dishing out but I got through week 1 of this phase with only minor expletives emerging as I struggled towards the end of my sets.

All's looking good for 2007!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Short & Sweet

Carnival Time

First up - Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

I've just started a three week break from work and boy do I need it. I was getting a bit tired in the brain department, so a few weeks of riding, relaxing, watching some cricket and doing a few things for myself will be just fab! Just need to try not to completely stuff myself stupid on Christmas Day.
OK - it's 2 weeks since I wrote anything for the blog, so here's a couple of entries coming up. I was hoping to have a few more photos to attach but they're a bit thin on the ground.
Last weekend I raced on Saturday night at the Bankstown Track Open at Dunc Gray Velodrome, a national category 1 track carnival, meaning all the big hitters would be out to play and guys like me in the lower grades become "stocking stuffers" giving some time for the main riders to recover between efforts. World class riders like Ryan Bayley, Anna & Kerrie Meares for example. It was also combined with a number of NSW State Championships and the Keirin in particular was hotly contested.

Perkins, Leonard & Bayley lining up for the Keirin.
Ryan Bayley basically took the front position in the heats and semi finals, making sure he got through to the final. Perhaps the efforts of those long sprints on the front told in the end as he was unable to take it all the way for he win in the final. Here's the final finishing places.

Not a bad field for your local State Championships! Look out for that Danny Ellis, he's coming up real fast.

One rider making his come back following back surgery is Commonwealth Games Kilo Champion Ben Kersten. Benny saved himself for the track carnival and ended up doing what he seems so good at, winning the wheelrace final in emphatic style. A few of my regular racing buddies took the minor placings but Benny was pretty awesome.

I had a so-so carnival but got something out of it in the last race of the night where I just missed winning the final motorpace race. Here's the wko for the motorpace race (click/right click the pic to see a bigger image):

Motorpace race WKO

The first thing to notice is the gradual rise in speed as the race is controlled by the motor pacer riding the derny
(motor bike). No-one is allowed to pass the derny until it withdraws from the track, usually with about 625 metres to go. Then the pace dropped a little as the front rider slowed it down a bit, which saw one rider attack immediately, using the banking to good effect. Being the bunny left near the front with 2 laps to go, I just pinned the ears back and set off after them - see the rapid lift in power and resulting acceleration. It was then just a matter of whether I would overhaul them as no-one was coming round me. I got their hip in the final turn but couldn't quite finish it off - only a wheel rim in it but that's track racing. Nevermind - a few bucks for 2nd place is always welcome.

Ride safe!

Photos courtesy of David Lane at Action Snaps

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Give the Dog a Bone

That's the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it!

OK - so I had a win! Always good to get a win under your belt and this time it was at the Brindabella Challenge Criterium, held on a hot, windy and exceptionally dry Canberra day.

The Brindabella Challenge is relatively new phenomenon, combining events across all cycling disciplines in the nation's capital city over a 10-day period. With backing from the local government and tourism body, it brings many cyclists into town for the great riding on offer. It also happens to be where my Mum lives, so all up it makes for a good weekend away - I get to visit my Mum and my brother's family (my nephew was also celebrating his 21st birthday so we had a dinner out), eat Mum's cooking and am able to train, relax and have a race too. Multiple birds struck down with one stone, how good is that?

Racing was at the brand spanking new Stromolo “Forest” crit circuit known as
“The Bone”.
See the picture above of the 1.25km circuit layout and you'll see why it's called “The Bone”. It is also dry as a bone (”drizabone” in Aussie slang) ever since the horrendous firestorms fanned by high winds hit the nation’s capital on Saturday 18 January 2003. The fires swept through Canberra's suburbs causing massive destruction. Large scale evacuations took place and a massive relief effort was put in place.

Four lives were lost in this catastrophic inferno and more than 500 homes were destroyed. My Mum lives nearby and fortunately her home was spared although many in the surrounding streets were not. Thousands of hectares of forest and park lands were also burnt out (including the Pinus Radiata forest that once covered Mt Stromolo) as well as destroying the famous optical telescope observatories on top on the hill. There is a memorial to those that died just a few hundred metres from the new race track.

So, back to the racing! It was pretty hot, at least 36+C (97+F) and quite probably more down on the tarmac. A strong westerly was blowing the dust amongst the riders. The track is really nice to ride on being lovely smooth new hotmix - mmmmmm - nice. Not all that technical though - I usually prefer technical. We rode in an anti-clockwise direction.

I didn't really know what to expect from the Open B grade bunch - the boys rolled gently off the line, no-one attacking from the gun, so after the first few corners I was on the front, put a bit of pressure on and got a small gap. No-one on my tail, so I got cranking and got away. A young bloke rode across to me and he lasted a lap before dropping back. The gap to the bunch was getting bigger so I kept driving. The bunch obviously thought I was mad and would never last in the conditions.

At about 12-13 min in I was starting to feel it a bit and noticed one other guy got away from the bunch and seemed to be making ground - he eventually got to me, which was great as then we worked together all the way to the finish, eventually putting about 40-50 seconds into the main field. It was sooo hot and the wind was wicked, which, while it meant hard work for us in front, it also meant the bunch were marking each other and not focussed on working together to close the gap. Happens so often.

Race organisers, sensibly, provided helpers to hand out extra bidons for the riders, which I gladly took advantage of, drinking some but also "doing a Floyd" and pouring it over my head/neck to aid cooling. It really works!
Since the two of us had some time up our sleeve, we could ease back a little on the last lap or so. I led up the rise into the final bend (at the top of "the bone") and rode it like a track sprint - hugging the best line and forcing my opponent to start the sprint wide, from behind and on the windiest side. He finally jumped, got in front by length of bike but I gradually wound him back and got my wheel in front with 10-15m to go.

Here's a shot of my race power file. I put in horizontal lines marking the average speed and power for reference.

My race power file.

So a nice win! I also set new peak, 5 & 10 second power PBs in the sprint - gotta be happy with that!.
Motivation is a wonderful thing in bike racing
(not to mention PB fitness levels & TSB at +12).

Scored some prize money, the 2006 Brindabella Challenge winner's jersey as well as some bonus bucks for being the 1st placed 40+ year old in an open field.

Race day stats:
CTL: 88
TSB: +12

Brindabella Crit:
Duration: _____39:33
TSS: __________66.4 (intensity factor 1.005)
Norm Power: ___306
VI: ____________1.06
Distance: ______25.691 km
___________Min____Max____Avg
Power: ______0___1583_____289 watts
Speed: ______0____55.8_____39.0 kph

Monday, December 11, 2006

MAP Testing - where failure is a success...

So, am I getting better coach?

Well coach knows the answer already but how do you really tell? Well with a power meter, it isn't difficult to work out. Aside from actual race performances, the best guides are performance tests. These come in various shapes and sizes and generally follow a consistent protocol so that results can be compared over time. I have already described one such test I've done a number of times - the 16km (10 mile) Time Trial, which gives a really good marker of changes in aerobic fitness. See post here for an example.
Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP) is another such performance marker and can be determined with consistency through performing an incremental test to exhaustion. There are a number of protocols for these tests but they all have a common theme, i.e. you ride in such a manner where resistance (power) is continually increased until you can no longer continue. It's a bit brutal (and should only be attempted by healthy subjects) but all up it's pretty quick (less than 15 minutes).

The MAP testing protocol we use at RST is the same as used by British Cycling - and involves riding on a stationary ergometer or indoor trainer, beginning with a resistance at the lower end of endurance training levels and then increasing the resistance by 15, 20 or 25 watts per minute until you can no longer continue to sustain the power.

Different categories of athletes should use a different starting power and different incremental rate of increase in power. Where possible, the rate should be gradual, rather than in large steps of 20 or 25W/min.

Elite athletes (e.g. Cat 1 to Professional level) should use 20W/min
Non-elite men use 25W/min, and
Women use 15W/min.

The outcome we are looking for is the mean maximal power output for 1 minute, which (assuming the resistance is continually increasing) should be the average power for the final minute of the test prior to failure.
How do you do a MAP Test?

Firstly it is very important that you are healthy and reasonably fit to perform such a test. These are maximal efforts and so you should always consult your physician/doctor if in any doubt about your suitability for such testing, and most definitely if you haven't exercised for over two years, are or have been a smoker, are significantly overweight and/or are over 35 years old. Never perform a MAP test if you are ill or have been ill in recent weeks.

It helps to have an ergo trainer and a powermeter. At worst a flat road ending with a hill climb can also mimic the circumstances needed.

I perform tests by fitting the bike to a Computrainer. This is ideal as the Computrainer allows for programmable resistance increments, so it takes care of the increase in resistance for you and all you need do is focus on pedaling. But an indoor trainer where you control your own power output by watching the power meter display is certainly good enough.

It might also help to have a buddy to help keep you on track, call out the next power level and to encourage you when it gets hard. And of course, make sure you are recording the test with your power meter.

The test is relentless and you go until failure (i.e. no longer able to increase the power). You really need to try as hard as you possibly can. There ain't much more to it.
I then use the data recorded by the power meter and Cycling Peaks' WKO+ software to analyse the results.

So what does a test result look like?

Well here's a picture of the result of a MAP test I've done (click on pic to see a bigger version):

Alex's MAP Test
There are five lines on the chart. The two horizontal dashed lines show:
- Average Cadence for the test (green dashes) and
- My Functional Threshold Power (yellow dashes).
These are simply there to provide a visual reference point for the real test data.

The three jagged lines are:
- Power (yellow)
- Heart Rate (red)

So we can see the power gradually increasing until failure. Note the mean maximal 1-minute power of 399 Watts. Darn. I was hoping I'd crack 400 this time. Never mind, there is still room for improvement there.
Heart rate is also shown for reference. A couple of spikes in the line which are likely just erroneous data. I don't use heart rate much as a guide but you should expect to see HR approaching maximum during or just after ending a test like this.

So what does it all mean?

Firstly, using this protocol, we are able to set and adjust training levels from recovery right through to anaerobic capacity efforts.

The training levels are as follows:
These can be used to help guide training efforts.

Secondly, we can measure whether training is actually improving performance.

My Map Results over last few months

Shown above are the results of my MAP tests over a period of a few months. As we can see, a 38 Watt improvement in my MAP - a little over 10% increase (and a 13% increase in terms of power to weight ratio).

So if you have a power meter and a trainer (especially one with a programmable resistance) then you have the perfect set up to test your own progress.

So what are you waiting for?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Testing 1, 2, 3...

About four weeks ago I wrote about one of the performance tests coach has me down for every so often - a 16 km (10 mile) time trial (or near enough to 16km). In my case I use the local training circuit - Sydney's Centennial Park and do a 4-lap TT. Well I just did another one of these on Tueday this week.

Ease Up!
In the lead up over last few weeks, my training was eased back a little, partly to give my body a chance to catch up with the CTL I had accumulated and in response to a few early signs of fatigue (like being unable to complete a set interval) but also a chance to have a race or two with a little freshness. Now I was by no means overtrained, not even close, and race power outputs have certainly been healthy enough. It also represents a segue into the next phase of training, where intensity of workouts really starts to pick up for the build towards the track championships next March.

So what's the Performance Manager telling us? Well this is an extension to the chart I last posted here on 23 October.

My lastest PMC

So since last time, we see CTL continue to build through to mid-November, reaching a peak of 98 TSS/day on 12 Nov (which is an all time peak CTL for me - last season my CTL peaked at 81 TSS/day). After that you can see the impact of my training easing back, with CTL dropping, going TSB positive and enjoying some good form at the track carnival up at Gosford.

And the test TT? Well here's the chart of the ride. Stats are shown on the left, with wattages by lap also indicated.

16km TT test

Pacing TTs well is a challenge for me. Let's face it - I don't do lots of TTs so my pacing is a less than fine tuned skill but I'm sure I'll get better with more practice. I'm a track/crit rider, used to the dynamics of that environment.

Last time I tested (1 Nov) I talked about how I picked it up a little mid-way, then paid the price in the final lap. Well this time I started slightly more conservatively (~5W less) than last time but found that the last lap and a half I was able to crank it up considerably. So in the end I averaged only 1 Watt higher than last test.

While it's not much of a PB (it's still a PB!), I am pretty happy with that as I had all the "mental sensations" of actually losing some aerobic fitness this last couple of weeks, so personally I wouldn't have been surprised to have struggled more than I did.
I suspect coach knows more than I do though....
Soft c**ks
Last weekend I was supposed to have a race but I turned up and found they'd decided to cancel since all these softies in Sydney go underground at the slightest hint of wet weather. So bugger it, I got on my bike and did some hard laps anyway. After eight circuits at Heffron I got a bit bored, eashed back for a short time then two other guys came through doing turns so I jumped in with them and we cranked it up for a few more good laps. So a neat little 50 minute effort. Then the rain came.

My MAP test is tomorrow and this weekend I race the Brindabella Challenge crit. Will report in next week.