Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A spider's web

A quick post today. Work is busy, the boss is on leave and we had a major technical outage yesterday across the globe (a nasty viral attack) and I needed the trouble like a hole in the head.

I was due to race last Saturday night at the Goulburn Track Power open. Wouldn't you know it - Goulburn hasn't seen rain in five years, is in the grip of the worst drought on record but on Saturday night, right after warm up and just when the first race was lining up on the fence, it absolutely started to rain cats and dogs!! Track meet was cancelled.

I feel sorry for the organisers as the country town carnivals are good community events with lots of people working hard to give the rest of us a chance to race. Still, if you asked me which race I'd cancel due to weather - I'd have picked Goulburn since they need the rain so badly. So dinner at the Paragon Cafe and the drive back to Sydney. Never mind.

This coming weekend is round #1 of my season target events - the State Masters Track Championships. My races are on Saturday (points) and Sunday (individual pursuit). My taper doesn't start until before the Nationals which are at the end of March, so essentially I am training right through this event.

Still, I am feeling pretty good and will give it my best shot. The points race has a 20 rider field, so I will need my wits abouts me. I am going to set a PB pursuit pacing target and see how I go.

Just to show I'm honest, here are this afternoon's (Coggan) Level 5 Aerobic Power Intervals:

Normally I try to do them at my local track on the pursuit bike but the weather was not looking good so I decided to get on the road bike and head to the park to do them. It was a good decision as the weather did close in and the track would have definitely been closed. Unfortunately, the dark and wet conditions at the end of my set meant I could not safely complete my workout with some 30sec L6 efforts. Still, it was better than another wash out!!

Oh, yeah, the spider's web...

The other morning I got up early for my endurance ride, got on the bike, fired up the headlight, check the PT was reset and behaving, clipped into the pedals and pushed off with a few firm turns of the cranks on the way up the slight incline of my street. Looking up I was surprised to see I was heading right for a HUGE spider's web!! (and said spider too). I couldn't believe it - it was in the middle of the street with at least a 15 metre span between objects either side upon which to hang a web. Amazing creatures.

No time to stop - I rode right through it and the spider was now crawling over web tangled all through my bars, lights, cables etc. He (she?) decided they liked to get close to the HID headlamp, which was good as I could see where it was in the darkness. Trying to remove it with some persuasive blowing techniques, I couldn't quite huff 'n' puff hard enough to quite get it away to the ground, each time quickly returning to the headlamp. After a few minutes, I managed to persuade the spider my bike wasn't the best place to hang out and continued my ride, covered in web!

I'm hoping it's a sign of good luck!

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Tough Love

Aaahhhh, aahhhh, Andre……. is the song going round in my head every time I look at my training programme and see more L7* work in the schedule.

OK, it's been a few weeks since I last posted – so what's been going down?
Well I'm deep into race preparation period, that's what! Races are coming up soon – early-March for State Masters Track Championships and end-March for the Nationals in Melbourne.

So how does it look from a Performance Manager viewpoint?
Well here's an updated Performance Manager chart (PMC). Click/right click to see a larger version:

Last time I posted my PMC was on December 7, 2006. At that time I had completed my early season build phase and had then eased back a little and enjoyed some good form at race carnivals. Good results at the Gosford Track open, the Brindabella crit and the Pudding Race, including some personal best power outputs were some highlights. Of course this was a chance for my body to regroup after a 3.5 month build phase and to enable a transition to the next phase of training, in which the intensity would start to step up a notch.

A solid block of training over the Christmas / New Year time period followed, providing a final build of CTL which reached a maximum of 98 TSS/day on 7 January. The focus during this period was on solid chunks of work in and around the "Sweet Spot" (i.e. lots of time from the lower end of L3 (tempo) through to higher end L4 (Funtional Threshold Power) work - the link takes you to an article by Frank Overton on the concept).

Sweet spot training is pretty useful as it enables maximum gains in your Chronic Training Load (CTL), perhaps the best "CTL bang for buck" in terms of the intensity/duration mix and is a great way to boost your Functional Threshold Power to boot.

After that phase, training stepped up a notch in
terms of intensity but this has a trade off in terms of overall volume. Accordingly, you will see that CTL has pretty well been bouncing around in the 90's over the last month.

This is where the importance of the composition of the training load needs to be highlighted as much as the overall training load itself.

Lifting CTL is fine but it only gives you an understanding of the bigger picture. Unless training is composed of the right elements to elicit the physiological adaptations required for your target event(s), then relying solely on lifting CTL may result in sub-optimal performance. As training moves towards higher intensities (L5+), it may be unrealistic to expect CTL to continue to rise, particularly when you are time limited. It can be done but it is a very tough ask and likely requires an athlete to develop the capacity to cope with such a load. Good recovery is vital.

Keep in mind that I had never trained for any duration prior to this season with a CTL > 90 TSS/day.

In this final race preparation phase, we are emphasising the need to develop the higher end of the engine and hence incorporate plenty of L5, L6 and L7 efforts, either through structured intervals or via track racing.

Examples include: thumping it over shorter hills during tempo rides, structured L5 intervals such as 5-7 x 4 minutes L5 efforts on the pursuit bike, several sets of 4 x 30 second L6/7 efforts and track racing. The mix of all these varies through this phase.

So that's where I'm at. I have another few weeks of the hard stuff before tapering prior to the Nationals – I won't have much of a let up before the States.

Aaahhhh, aahhhh, Andre !!

* For those wondering, L7 is an American (?) hard rock band which had a bit of a hit here in Oz with their song "Andre" – made it onto JJJ's Hottest 100 album in 1994 or 95 I think.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Power Crash!

Last Saturday night I raced the 25th Clarence Street Cyclery Cup track carnival at Dunc Gray Velodrome.

It was a pretty good night of racing, with a crowd looking for some entertainment and a better than expected number of events (six) to race. Actually, I ended up with seven race starts.

Here's why....

My fourth race of the night was a points race...

Here I am at the back of the attack with one lap to go to the first sprint. A nice sit, ready to smoke 'em without burning up much juice (note club mate leading out).
125 metres later at 58km/h.....

I'm actually in the above photo somewhere under the guy somersaulting. As he cleared over the top, I emerge....
The cause of the crash was the guy with the green sleeves from the top photo, who had overlapped the wheel in front and looked behind him - not a good combo - and well, the inevitable happened. I had nowhere to go but over the top and use all my cat like skills to land softly. The hands went up once on the deck as I was looking back down the straight and could see more riders heading right for me!
You can see the Powertap CPU had dislodged - I found it on the Apron after I got up. Not a scratch!

There was plenty more carnage to follow....
So the race was stopped with and the cleanup began. That got the crowd talking!
I got up, seemed OK, checked the bike, strapped back in to the pedals and waited for the restart. Here I am taking out sprint #2, after a 4 lap solo break.

Along with those points, I scored minor points in sprints #1 and #3 (only three sprints - it was a short points race) which gave me second place overall, missing out by one point.

I picked up a couple of other prize money envelopes on the night, including from the Div2/3 miss'n'out race.
Gotta love track racing!!

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Second Coming (back)

Back in November, I wrote about using the Performance Manager to aid the planning and management of the comeback to cycling for my friend Tanya, who had started riding again following her surgery to remove a sizeable bowel cancer (see post here).

At the time, we set our sights on getting Tanya into sufficiently good shape to ride the Alpine Classic Audax event on 27 January 2007.

Well the Alpine has come and gone, so I thought I'd write an update on how things have been going. The day after I wrote the last item, Tanya of course comes out and wins her local crit! Maybe I should have held on for another day.

Just to recap:
4 Jul 06 - Surgery to remove bowel cancer
28 Aug 06 - First ride on bike following surgery
28 Oct 06 - 1st bike race since starting back
25 Nov 06 - Wins local club race!

Tanya's Performance Manager Chart(click/right click to see larger version)

Since the last update, we kept up the endurance focus and began introducing Tempo (Coggan L3 / Stern Z3) level riding. As her training progressed the focus began to shift towards bumping up Tanya's Functional Threshold Power (FTP) with some specific interval style workouts riding at an intensity near her FTP.

Some additional testing including simulated time trials and Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP) test demonstrated Tanya's MAP and FTP had improved and her training levels were re-set accordingly.

During this period of training, Tanya had her good days and not so good days. There were a couple of training interruptions, one requiring a hospital visit and others a check with the Doctor. Fortunately, no major issues but they are unpleasant experiences when one still has cancer surgery fresh in the mind. So we had to continue being careful to ensure the progressive load was not overly stressful but sufficient to ensure she would attain the desired physiological adaptations.

Tanya was also busy running her cycle coaching courses, so her training schedule needed to take into account her on-bike work time. At times the day to day workload would be a little inconsistent but by and large, we can see a steady ramp up of Tanya's Chronic Training Load (CTL) the blue line. The Performance Manager was a perfect aid in this respect as it enabled the scheduled training to be adjusted with the ebb and flow of interruptions and work commitments.

Since Tanya was progressing so well, before heading off to Mt Beauty her thoughts began to shift beyond the Alpine, indicating a desire to return to track racing. Indeed her talk included riding the State Masters Track Championships in March and she had already booked her place to go to Melbourne a few weeks after that for the National Masters Track Championships. So we began to incorporate regular track sessions into her programme. She was ready for it. Indeed Tanya was champing at the bit to get back on the track!

I really knew Tanya was going well when she kept "pestering" me about whether she should ride the Individual Pursuit at the States Champs!

The Final Countdown
A few weeks out from the Alpine we gave Tanya a couple of workouts involving longer climbs to help her adapt to the demands she would face at the Alpine and to help her practice pacing her efforts (not to mention the FTP benefit). These were invaluable, as she now knew what to expect on the long climbs.

Tanya's CTL hit a max of 80 TSS/day one week out from the Alpine, enabling us to a back off the training in that last week, raising her Training Stress Balance (TSB) into positive territory and seeing Tanya hit the target event with good fitness and freshness.

Since we had Tanya commencing at a CTL of zero on 28 August, that was an overall CTL ramp rate of 4.8 per week.


So how did she do? Well here are her own words:

" "Free to Ride" was painted on the hill and as I climbed I felt incredibly grateful that I could be out there in the scenic alpine region of North East Victoria with 1,980 others climbing up mountains. A trackie riding up mountains!?

My husband loves this event so I have tagged along since 2000 and have chosen the shorter rides to do. This time because of my surgery, it seemed appropriate to make it my fitness goal so I started the ride feeling good about my training leading up to it and for a trackie, I would survive the mountains OK and have fun on the descents! That's exactly what happened.

I had a few comments thrown at me like "You descend like a brick" to when I was being passed on the hill: "What happened to you, you were leading the bunch?" to when I did a 5km turn for all these strong guys who were just sucking wheels: "What a great turn of speed coming into Bright".

I sat on my threshold power up the long hills and did a power PB for a 3-hour ride.

So that is the aerobic stuff out of the way. Onto the track!"

How about the numbers?

Shown below is a picture of Tanya's WKO file for the day (click/right click to see a larger version). Two climbs of 42 minutes and 45 minutes respectively, both ridden at FTP (indicated by the horizontal dashed yellow line).

Overall Tanya's ride scored 258
TSS and was ridden at an Intensity Factor of 0.89, so that's pretty good going for a 3:17 long effort!

After the Alpine, Tanya remained in country Victoria on holiday, riding bikes and returns this week, where training focus will now firmly be with the track in mind. Tanya's favourite events are the 500 metre Time Trial and the sprint derby (she is a multiple State & National Masters Track Champion).

Despite all the aerobic focus up to now, I have a funny feeling she'll do OK.....

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Darth Vader Rides the Teams Pursuit

MAODMaximal Accumulated Oxygen Deficit is the theme of today’s chat.

This is something I first learned about via The Book (Training and Racing with a Power Meter) and also in subsequent analysis of power meter data kindly undertaken for me by Dr Andy Coggan last year. It’s pretty funky stuff, so hang on for the ride if you can.
Original Wattage list reference here and the Excel file used to generate such analysis is here.
For those interested in delving further, Andy has also prepared a Powerpoint presentation on the topic of the demands and preparation for individual pursuiting which is available for download at the Fixed Gear Fever download page. It's worth a look.
First, let me go back a step or two…

Technique plays a big part in Team Pursuiting
As some would know by now, I’m targeting two predominantly aerobic events, which have an anaerobic twist – the individual pursuit and points racing. Along the way, I get the chance to ride in one of my favourite events, the Teams Pursuit. A description of all these events can be found here. A quick glance at my recent posts and you’ll see that my team had success this past weekend, winning the NSW State Master’s Championship.
Two members of the team (Phil & myself) used power meters during the qualifying and final rides. We also both have power meter data from previous individual pursuit efforts. So, what can we learn from such data, in particular what can it reveal that may assist us?
As is already explained in a discussion about the Individual Pursuit in the book (pp 189-192), the performance of a rider in an Individual Pursuit is primarily determined by the combination of their aerobic and anaerobic work capacities. The discourse demonstrates that power meter data from an individual pursuit can be used to estimate the proportion of a rider’s power that is being generated from each of their aerobic and their anaerobic energy systems.
In particular, it is possible to use this data to estimate a rider’s Maximal Accumulated Oxygen Deficit (MAOD) – the best measure of a rider’s anaerobic capacity.
Based on this information, conclusions can be drawn about a rider’s individual capacities and it can help decide the type of training specific to that individual which is most likely to optimise performance (i.e. what specific training leading into the event will make me go the fastest I can go?).
Of course, in an individual pursuit, a rider typically accelerates up to speed and then settles into a quasi-steady state power output, typically at a level equivalent to their power at VO2 Max. See example here. The time taken to reach that VO2 Max power level does vary by rider and is proportionally longer for athletes with higher anaerobic work capacities.
In a Team Pursuit however, the demands are subtly different. While the overall aerobic and anaerobic demands are similar to an individual pursuit, the Team Pursuit also requires a greater degree of technical skill (for riding at 55+kph in an aero pursuit position just inches from the wheel in front, riding a good line in the bends and to effect smooth change overs of the lead rider).
It also places a greater emphasis on neuromuscular power (as the power demands are significantly variable compared to an individual pursuit – e.g. going from following a wheel to being on the front without changing pace demands a significant & rapid change in power).
So in a sense, not all aerobic monsters will necessarily make good team pursuiters. Riders like Brad McGee, Stuart O’Grady and Graeme Brown however all possess sensational aerobic engines and have the skill and top end power required for success in such an event.
Meanwhile, back in the Death Star....
So can we apply the MAOD analysis to Team Pursuit power meter data given that you never reach a quasi-steady state in such an event? Well originally I didn’t think it would be valid but as is his way, Dr Coggan showed it was possible (there are a couple of caveats which I won’t go into here) and he came up with some pretty interesting results.
Let’s start with Phil’s data. Rather than rewrite what Andy has already written, let me simply quote him here:
“In a laboratory setting, the gold standard for measuring anaerobic capacity is maximal accumulated O2 deficit (MAOD), i.e., the summed difference between the energy you produce aerobically and the overall energy demand. While we obviously don't know Phil's VO2 during his efforts, his VO2 kinetics, his VO2max, or his efficiency, it is possible to make some reasonable estimates and thus to estimate MAOD, as I did for Phil last year.
Evolution of O2 Deficit
(click/right click on chart to see an enlarged version)

As you can see in the graph titled "evolution of O2 deficit", during the individual pursuit his O2 deficit (the dark blue line) increased progressively for the first ~2 min of the event, after which it apparently became strictly "pay as you go", i.e., all of the power was apparently being generated aerobically.

This is exactly what you expect and what you typically find, with the only real difference between individuals of differing ability being the absolute values and the time point at which all of anaerobic capacity is expended (e.g., for me, it only takes ~1.5 min, whereas for my wife it takes 2.5 - 3 min).

So, what happens when you extend the same logic to analyze the team pursuits? Interesting stuff, that's what! :-)

Specifically, during the qualifier Phil's O2 deficit (the purple line) grew rapidly during the first 40 seconds, then held steady while he was on the wheels, then grew again when he took a pull, recovered a bit, and so on. Notably, however, at no point did it achieve the same value as during his individual pursuit last year. Assuming that he's in roughly the same shape now, this implies that he was never completely at his absolute limit, and thus was able to call upon his anaerobic reserves when he had to elevate his power above his aerobic maximum while taking his turn at the front and then getting back on again.

In contrast, during the final the power requirement was significantly higher from 40 seconds on, such that his cumulative O2 deficit (the yellow line), while flucuating a bit due to being in a paceline, essentially followed the same time course of that seen during the individual pursuit. IOW, in this case he *did* appear to be at or near his absolute limit throughout almost the entire race, so he simply couldn't recover after taking that final pull."
~ Andy Coggan
Now I should add that the final was ridden at a pace ½ second per lap faster than the qualifier and that Phil played the role of lead rider (I knew Phil had the experience to pace the start to schedule). In the final after his third pull, Phil had reached his limit and withdrew from the pace line, leaving the three remaining riders to complete the final three laps (in team pursuits, it is the elapsed time of the third rider across the line that determines the result – assuming you don’t catch the other team).
½ second quicker per lap may not sound like much but as you can see from the chart, it can quickly take someone from being “comfortable” to being right on or over a their limit.

Use the Force, Luke
OK, Andy has shown us something pretty funky with Phil’s data, so what did mine look like? Click/right click on pic to see an enlarged version:
Well at first glance it looks similar to Phil’s chart, however there are some significant differences:
- My cumulative O2 deficit in an individual pursuit (the dark blue line) is of a lower overall magnitude than Phil’s
- In the Team Pursuit qualifier (the purple line), it is apparent that I never fully depleted my anaerobic reserves, whereas Phil did slightly during the initial laps (Phil was the lead rider, so that is not unexpected). Indeed looking at the O2 deficit line, it is apparent that I was recovering quite rapidly when back in the pace line.
- In the Final (the yellow line), once again I did not exceed my anaerobic capacity until it was time to do a pull on the front. But note my recovery when back in the paceline compared to Phil’s. While Phil’s cumulative O2 deficit effectively kept climbing (indicating a depltion of anaerobic reserves), I was recovering sufficiently to enable another two strong pulls on the front, especially the final effort on the last lap and a bit (which took us from behind to in front of the other team).
- So it appears that I too am in at least as good a shape as last year but one should never discount the positive impact that motivation has on one’s ability to find a little more from somewhere within. I have always been a highly motivated rider in a group scenario.
In summary, once again this demonstrates the value of power meter data. Would have I done anything differently armed with such information? Perhaps. With data from all riders I may have decided on a different rider order. Certainly we rode as hard as we could but could have we used our resources more effectively and achieved an even faster time? Next year I expect all squad members will have power meters and perhaps I’ll be able to back up my intuitive assessment with a more objective look at the data.

One thing is for sure, be careful when you ask a sprinter to provide sideline-pacing instructions to a team pursuit squad!
Photo courtesy of Action Snaps photography

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