Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Goals Galore

OK, my first season back on the bike is over. I'm having a shortish break of a week or so.

So how did I go? I think pretty well all things considered.

After learning to walk again, I attempted to pedal for the first time in mid-June 2008. By mid-May 2009 I had won 2 Gold medals at the Oceania para-cycling road championships in both the time trial and road race as well as Silver medals in the same two events at the Nationals a couple of weeks earlier. Along the way I had attained an FTP of ~ 270 watts and a MAP of 385 watts. I reached CTL of ~ 70 TSS/day.

Some things, which seem minor to many, were not trivial to do. Things like getting a bike leg attachment sorted out, having short cranks made so I could pedal with a knee that wouldn't flex very well. Progressing to longer cranks. Being able to ride out of the saddle. Riding outdoors again. Riding on the roads again. Racing for the first time again. Riding on the track. Racing on the track. So much has been a rediscovery of bike riding. In a way that's part of what has kept me going, re-learning stuff that I had taken for granted before.

So all up a very promising start for my first (nearly) year back on the bike.

But what's next?

Well I've decided on a few longer-term and medium-term goals.

Longer Term Goal (as at May 2009):
To be re-evaluated after Feb 2010 track nationals.
Kilometre time trial to be priority, ultimately aiming to be top 3 of all para categories by 2011/12.
This pushes for 2012 Paralympic selection in the team sprint.

Medium Term Goals (as at May 2009):

1. Attain podium standard performance level at Track Nationals, Feb 2010 (whether that results in podium depends on competitor numbers at that standard).
- Stretch goal to be Silver medal standard by Feb 2010
- Specific events are Kilo TT and 4km Pursuit.
Event standards (Gold / Silver / Bronze):
Kilometre TT: 1:16.631 / 1:18.091 / 1:20.280
4km Pursuit: 5:03.404 / 5:09.075 / 5:17.582

2. Continue all round development as a rider
- ability to ride competitively with prosthetic
- Lift mean maximal power/mass ratio across key durations (FTP / MAP / 1-min and sprint)

3. Further prosthetic development
- new cycling specific leg in use by Aug/Sep 2009

4. Refinement of riding position with new prosthetic / work on better aerodynamics
- seek 5% reduction in pursuit CdA (currently ~ 0.26m^2)

So there you have it.

Now all I got to do is buckets of hard work.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Crocs, toads & mozzies...

OK, my first "season" is done. I finished it off with a trip to Darwin, in Australia's Top End, to compete in the Oceania Para-cycling road championships.

I finished that event with Gold medals in both the Time Trial and the Road Race for the LC2 category.

I also picked up a few dozen mozzie bites for my trouble, which have been persistent little buggers, itching for quite some time since getting home.

A few things about Darwin have changed in the 15 years since I lived there in the mid-1990s (but not all that much really - certainly not as much as locals would have you believe).

Firstly, you now see dead cane toads on the road. Next thing is part of the reason why you see dead cane toads on the road is because everyone is busy looking at the personalised numbers plates which seem to be on every other car, and clearly aren't seeing the toads they are running over.

Other than that, yeah there's a few more buildings, especially around the port area, more new apartments everywhere, some new hotels and some more shops here and there (like at Nightcliff).

Some things however, never change. The drivers pretty much exhibiting the same sloth like reflexes at traffic lights for instance. They'll run every red light under the tropical sun but take forever to start when the lights go green.

Then there's the NT News, the local paper. It is unique in Australia and the front page headline was typically a story about an animal (often crocodiles), alchohol and or sex. Extra points for combining all three.

Well here's the front page the first morning I was there:

Which was followed up a couple of days later with this little gem:

The fact that this latter one appeared the morning after the Commonwealth Government handed down probably the most talked about public budget in decades which appeared on every front page in the country, except the NT News. Well, that's if you ignore the "budget" reference to the photo of the python squeezing the life out of a possum!

Anyway, for the record, some power stats and comments from my racing over the last couple of weeks:

National Paracycling TT Championships (LC2):
Hilly course
Duration: 0:38:57
Average Power: 264 watts
Normalised Power: 276 watts
Place: 2nd (~2.5 minutes)

National Paracycling Road Race Championships (LC2):
Very hilly course.
Duration: 2:10:17
Average Power: 225 watts
Normalised Power: 271 watts
60-min mean max NP: 286 watts
30-min mean max NP: 308 watts
Place: 2nd (38 seconds down)

Oceania Paracycling TT Championships (LC2):
Duration: 0:52:27
Average Power: 264 watts
Normalised Power: 269 watts
Place: 1st

Oceania Paracycling Road Race Championships (LC2):
Duration: 1:52:34
Average Power: 216 watts
Normalised Power: 262 watts
Place: 1st

1st 46-min riding with Michael Gallagher (LC1 - categories were combined) before he finally cracked me:
Average Power: 225 watts
Normalised Power: 288 watts

Note: Michael also rode the open elite TT the next day. He won that.

Of all those rides I am most pleased with the National road race. That was a very tough course and I put out personal best power, and very nearly stole a march over my far younger and lighter competitor.

So, 11 months after I first tried to pedal again, and just over two years since my accident and 23 months since my amputation, that's not a bad start for my first season.

Planning for the season ahead has already started. I'm having a couple of easy weeks first though.

Thanks to Ron Bonham for the photos

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Another Hour of Power

48.317 km.

That’s how far Jayson Austin was calculated to have ridden on his second and successful attempt to set a new world record for Masters Men (35-39) distance ridden in one hour. It added a huge 2.676km (5.8%) to the previous record set in 2007 by Jason Sprouse of the USA.

Jayson on his way to a new World Record

It is also the second furthest ridden by an Australian, with Brad McGee holding the honour of the furthest distance (not sure exactly how far but it is something over 50km).

It’s also about the same length as this post, so be warned!

I wrote about Jayson’s previous unsuccessful attempt in this post: An Hour of Power, which has been one of the more popular reads on this blog.

So what went right this time? How did Jayson add a whopping 3.649km (8.2%) to his previous attempt where he managed to ride 44.668km?

More excellent photos on the ride taken by Trevor Mullins can be found here:

As I have mentioned before, there are three things that primarily contribute to a fast time trial (or in the case of the hour record, to maximise distance ridden):
  • Power to the pedals
  • Piercing the wind (plus fast tyres)
  • Pacing the course
I’ve previously explained these Three Ps in this post: Old Skool.

OK, well let’s consider his first attempt at the record last year.

Power - Feb 2008
Average Power: 241 watts (4.0 W/kg)
Normalised Power: 259 watts (NP:AP = 1.07)

Jayson took quite ill in the weeks leading up to the event and he was clearly not in the form he would have normally expected come race day. In hindsight he probably should have postponed. However that is a difficult choice as the logistics to organise the event make that tricky. In addition, on the day the timing system failed and Jayson had to abandon the attempt after 5-minutes and do a restart. That certainly did not help his cause at all. Jayson also chose to use a gear far too large for his form on the day.

Average Power for his first attempt was 241 watts. Normalised Power was 259 watts, giving a ratio of NP to AP of 1.07. For an hour record attempt, that is a very high ratio and one would expect a very well paced effort on a velodrome would see that ratio being very close to 1.00.

Piercing the wind - Feb 2008
Using the data available from the SRM power meter on Jayson’s bike, I concluded his CdA (a measure of how slippery you are through the air) was in the vicinity of 0.190m^2. That is very slippery for a bike rider by any standard. So Jayson had a pretty slick set up and position. Riding 44.7km with an average power of only 241 watts certainly indicates he was piercing the wind just fine.

Combined with his power, the ratio that most determines the speed a time trial rider will travel at is their sustainable power to aerodynamic drag - FTP : CdA - ratio.

In Feb 2007 that ratio was 241 / 0.190 = 1268 W/m^2

Pacing - Feb 2008
In essence, in the context of his sub-standard form come race day, Jayson simply paced poorly, making the classic mistake of going out too hard and fading. Badly. Ignoring the pacing signals from his coach, this was well and truly demonstrated by the charts in the first linked post, showing how much he faded through the course of the attempt, finally hitting a brick wall at around the 45-min mark.

Breaking his average power down into 15-min sections shows the dramatic fade in power:
00-15 min: 302 watts
15-30 min: 272 watts
30-45 min: 242 watts
45-60 min: 151 watts

I suspect what Jayson did was to ride at a level he felt he would be able sustain but that turned out not to be the case. C'est la vie.

Using my pacing analysis models (something I haven’t written about in any detail here), I have rated Jayson’s pacing with a Pacing Score of 0.960, which is, in fact, the lower anchor point on my relative pacing performance charts (i.e. indicating very poor pacing). A best in class Pacing Score is 0.995 (with 1.000 being theoretically perfect pacing).

To put that into context, if Jayson had ridden with best in class pacing, even with the reduced power at his disposal on that day, he could have added another 1.5-1.6km to his ride distance. He missed the record that day by 974 metres.

These are tough mistakes to make and hard lessons learned. But we often learn more from having the courage to make mistakes. Certainly both Jayson and his coach would have felt a little burned by the attempt (what some may not know is that Jayson had, in training, already beaten the record, just not officially sanctioned with UCI supervision, electronic timing, doping control etc etc that is required for an official record to be set).

In the months following, Jayson’s riding, form and morale slipped somewhat and his coach (a friend of mine), who was moving onto other projects, suggested Jayson speak with me about taking him on and getting him back on track. So Jayson and I discussed where he was at and set ourselves the objective of having another crack at the hour (as well as other racing objectives along the way).

For me, what was going to be important was that Jayson demonstrated a willingness to learn from the mistakes made (both from the ride specifically but also in general). You can be sure that these lessons were not lost on coach, and I consider them to be a substantial contributor to Jayson’s excellent performance the other week.

The biggest failure this time round would not have been missing the record, but in repeating the same mistakes.

OK, so how did the successful ride compare?

Power - Apr 2009
Average Power: 302 watts (5.0 W/kg).
Normalised Power: 303 watts (NP:AP = 1.00)

That’s 61 watts (+25%) more than his previous attempt. Now that’s gotta help. How did he manage it?

This time round Jayson did not get ill before the event. Nevertheless he is still relatively prone to illness, niggles and for some reason, a little accident prone as well (he even had a crash a few weeks before the attempt which did disrupt preparations a little). Jayson also works a full time job, with a lot of manual labour required (he works in the commercial flooring industry). So the ramp up of his training loads were pretty carefully managed to avoid increased susceptibility to illness and at times recognise that his work was sometimes tough on his body and training needed to be cut back. Even so, there were times when Jayson would do more than coach liked, and guess what? – the niggles would appear soon afterwards and training would be compromised.

Over time Jayson really started to appreciate the sense behind carefully managing the training loads. It enabled consistency of training and from that follows a steady and sustainable improvement in form. Jayson told me his form “sort of snuck up on me”.

Of course I did not confine Jayson to just training. Racing was a reasonably regular part of the diet. Every rider needs that little extra motivation at times, and pinning a number on your back is an excellent way to do this. As well, in the final weeks before the attempt, we minimised his exposure to Sydney’s busy roads, with a majority of rides being either with me, a trusted mate, at Centennial Park, on the velodrome or on my purpose built ergobike, Thunderbird 7.

Clearly Jayson has an engine and can really dig out some excellent power at times. What he lacked when we began working together, some 40 weeks before his hour ride, was depth of fitness. Despite very low training loads, he is way too capable of putting the hurt on and suffering the consequences. For those that understand the numbers, his chronic training load (CTL) at the time we started was ~38 TSS/day.

At the time of his hour ride:
CTL: 86 TSS/day
TSB: +10 TSS/day (training stress balance)
CTL/ATL Time Constants: 42/7 days

I did not have Jayson doing huge volumes. What I did do was ensure Jayson was doing quality work. Good solid endurance. Plenty of sweet spot / tempo work. Threshold tolerance work. And during the specific race preparation period, high end aerobic power work and specific threshold work on the track bike and in aero position at the track. The limited taper involved cutting back volume while using short but relatively intense intervals at the higher end of his aerobic power level abilities.

Here is a comparison of his power last time and this time:

Piercing the wind - Apr 2009
OK, so I have already established that Jayson was pretty darn slick through the air. But was any further improvement possible? Well yes as a matter of fact. Some positional changes, a different set of aero bars (based on a British Cycling design) and use of double disk wheels resulted in Jayson’s CdA lowering to around 0.185m^2. That’s a 2.6% improvement. It doesn’t sound a lot but that is worth approximately another 420 metres to his ride.

The bike exactly as ridden.
Thoroughly checked to ensure full compliance with all UCI regulations.
Note placement of the SRM PCV under the saddle.
Of note was that on this attempt, Jayson rode with a standard "under ball of foot" cleat position. In Feb 2008, Jayson used a mid-foot/arch cleat position. The fact that improved aerodynamics was achieveable despite the higher saddle position required of the regular cleat position would not be lost on some astute readers. Jayson also received a lot of support from fit guru Steve Hogg, mainly addressing many of the regular niggles, minor adjustments, use of various stem options, different saddles etc.

During training at the track, where possible, changes in position or equipment were compared to assess the differences. An alternative aero helmet was tried for instance and found to be substantially less aerodynamic than the Uvex that Jayson used. This is one of the direct and practical benefits of using power meters. It removes much of the guess work and objective decisions can be made based on the data.

So now Jason's FTP:CdA ratio is 302 / 0.185 = 1632 W/m^2

Even so, I would say that further improvement with his aerodynamics is still possible. There are still several minor details which, with enough solo track time, I would like to have tried and tested but they will just have to wait for another day.

Pacing - Apr 2009
Well I’m glad to report that Jayson now has the unique honour of topping the pacing league table, with a Pacing Score of 0.998, the best score I have ever recorded, as well as being the low anchor point (0.960).

Let’s just say that of the things that were drummed into Jayson’s head, pacing was what I was most concerned with. I knew he had the power. I knew he was slick. But would he be able to execute?

To ensure that happened, we did a lot of work in the weeks leading up to the attempt focussed on pacing. I developed a means to clearly communicate pacing information to him and Jayson began to develop an excellent “feel” for how to augment his effort ever so slightly each lap to maintain a sustainable pacing level. His choice of gearing was part of that strategy.
One thing went against the “conventional wisdom” – Jayson’s average cadence was 112 rpm. Conventional wisdom says Hour Records are all but set with a cadence of ~100rpm give or take 1 or 2 rpm. Bollocks to conventional wisdom I say.

Pacing information, lap times etc were conveyed on a regular basis

We also knew that different environmental conditions would impact on the sustainable pace on the day and we trained on different days with subtly different conditions. On the day of the attempt I checked both the air temperature and air pressure and that would tell me what pacing would likely be sustainable (and what wouldn’t). Dunc Gray Velodrome is not climate controlled and the temperature can and does vary quite a lot.

For example, a 5C drop in temperature would reduce the distance ridden by ~ 280 metres and an increase in air pressure of 20hPa would mean another 315 metres lost. Fortunately it was not a cold (21C) nor a high pressure (1004hPa) day although it had been warmer in training. Also, we requested that all windows and louvres be closed so as to minimise any potential wind disrutption and to retain as much heat inside as possible (April is Autumn in Sydney).

Of course the athlete is the one that must make a call on how hard to go but I had developed a very good understanding of his body language and could tell when it was too hard. Jayson was never going to go too easy, that’s for sure. My main concern was keeping a lid on it in the opening minutes. Jayson was made well aware of the lap times and how that played out relative to the existing record. The pacing mistakes were made in training, and ironed out in training.

On race day, nerves and adrenaline took a hold (I expected it, heck coach was nervous too!) and Jayson’s pacing was a little up and down in the opening minutes. However he made rapid adjustments knowing full well what over cooking it would do. It took quite a while but once he settled into a rhythm, his pacing was metronomic. Average lap times around the 250 metre track were 18.59 seconds (not counting the opening lap).

We had planned for a couple of “rest” breaks, where he could sit up, stretch, relieve any pressure points for a lap or so but as it turns out he didn’t need that and remained firmly in position for the entire hour. At times he varied his pace a little, and sometimes pushed himself back in the saddle, which was quite deliberate and helped him to stay comfortable and keep his concentration going.

Here is a comparison of his speed last time and this time:

That's more like it!

Thank you to:
Apart from Jays actually having the gumption to have another crack and delivering, there were many others involved in helping him get there and all should rightly share the success, including his former coach (hi Peter) who introduced him to training with power in the first place and showed what was possible, sponsors, the officials who helped coordinate the venue/UCI/ASADA etc, our club chief Mike, Jayson's family/support crew, Steve Hogg who was very accommodating with equipment and constant positional adjustments, training and racing buddies who kindly lent special gear (wheels, bars) for the attempt and rode/raced with Jays during the build up. And then all those that showed up to cheer him on!

Just six days after his record breaking ride, Jayson was knocked from his bike by a car while on a ride by a “hit and run” driver. Knocked unconscious and very, very nearly run over by another oncoming car, who’s driver managed to stop with the bumper bar over Jayson’s head, he is lucky to be alive. Jayson was admitted to Manly hospital and fortunately suffered no broken bones. However he did suffer from a sizeable haematoma and severe swelling of the thigh which required emergency surgery to open the leg (a fasciotomy) so that excess fluids could be drained and the swelling would not prevent blood flow. That was successful but now he has a large open wound which will take some weeks to heal.

He has since been discharged and it will be at least eight weeks before he can work or ride. As you can imagine Jayson is pretty pissed off about the incident but otherwise is in good spirits.

So now it will be onto the next challenge, getting an injured soul back to good form. That's something I have some experience with.

Well done Jayson! A super ride.

Photos: David Lane, Action Snaps:

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Brutal but good

Just back from a brutal road race - the National Paracycling championships being held in Murwillumbah - over same course as used for the Junior U19 men and women earlier in the day.

I am now officially tired and sore. 2nd again (4th overall in combined category race). Hard to combat those skinny kids! But I was close. They got away on the biggest climb on 1st lap of 4 (with 4 climbs each lap the last one is ~1.5km at 7-10%). Knowing there wasn't much point burying myself just to get dropped by them again, I sat up and waited for the leading tandem pair in the blind category who were only 50 m behind me and they towed me round the next three laps. It was hard enough hanging onto the tandem!

We were making ground and on the last lap (in the rain) and had them in sight, and on the penultimate climb, I said "thanks" and decided to make my move. I got to within 30m of them at the base of the final climb but couldn't quite bridge and had to watch them ride away bit by bit, so I probably finished maybe a minute down. Shame, I reckon I'd have done them in the sprint. This is same guy who won the TT by over 2.5 min, so I had a good ride but I sure needed that tandem!

Still, I was giving away 20 years and 20kg on these guys, so all up I'm pretty pleased with that effort.

2 x Silver medals at Nationals is good going less with than a year back on the bike. :D

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Silver Bullet

Well, not exactly bullet like!

Para-cycling road nationals on at the moment. TT was yesterday and road race tomorrow.

TT was good, I came second in my category (LC2) which given the hilly course I was pretty pleased with. About 2-min down on winner though, so some time to make up.

Other news of course was Jayson Austin's record breaking hour ride on the weekend, setting a new mark of 48.317km. I'll have more to write up on that in coming week(s).

That's all for now folks!


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