One year on: St. Ives CC Open 10 mile TT

This was the race that I’ve been looking forward to all winter.  The anniversary of my first proper Time Trial.  Last year I came 10th, in a time of 23:39.  I was very chuffed with that, I had no idea what I was doing and turned up – having trained hard – with no idea what to expect.  A year later, I’ve learned a bit (and spent more than a bit!) and so it would be good to use last year’s race as the yardstick to measure what progress has been made.

When I saw the start sheet, I was pessimistic about improving on that 10th place.  There was a very good entry for this year’s race – 72 riders.  Nearly double the number from last year.  I could see 5 or 6 names that I knew I could not beat if they were on form, and quite a few others who I have never beaten, or only beaten once.  This didn’t bother me too much – the beauty of Time Trialling at my level is that there’s loads of faster riders, and my finishing position in a race is simply a function of how many of them turn up.

That said, I have been looking at this date from a long way out, planning my training and racing to try and peak for it.  I tapered this last week for the first time.  I don’t know how to do this really, I just did my usual type of sessions, but foreshortened them to lower the volume a little.  Unfortunately at the back end of the week I started to develop a problem with my right ear (I suffer from ear infections quite regularly, sometimes they blow up, sometimes they fix themselves) and so I’ve been on paracetamol for the past couple of days.  I woke this morning still with a sore ear, but there’s no point dwelling on it, I was fit to race and the ear hopefully wouldn’t bother me too much.

I turned up ridiculously early, 2 and a half hours before my start time, and I was the first rider to arrive by about half an hour!  I will claim that small victory, there ain’t going to be any others.  Since it’s my club’s event, I thought I’d show up and help put the tables and chairs out.  So I had ages to potter around.  I like this, I don’t like to be rushed.  Things go wrong when I am rushed.

I was number 33, with a start time of 14:33.  I was changed and warming up on my turbo next to the car in plenty of time.  The warmup felt hard, though, I was struggling a bit with the harder parts of it.  This didn’t bode well for a good performance.  I put the turbo away and cycled the 5 minutes to the start line.  Not ideal conditions, today.  Cold and quite windy, although mostly a sidewind, with a slight component of headwind on the way out.  I tend to think the course is faster if you have a slight tailwind to counter the uphill first half.  But it is what it is.  I was in good time, I was there about 3 minutes before my start time.  Not hanging around too long.  I was in a bit of a daze for some reason and before I tuned in properly I got the 10 second warning.  Wakey wakey, we’re off.

The course isn’t my favourite, if I’m being honest.  It’s quite up-and-down for a TT course, not the hilliest, but not flat at all.  And large parts of the surface aren’t the best.  There’s not too much broken tarmac, but most of it is quite coarse and abrasive, not smooth and tightly packed.  I reckon smooth tarmac is faster.  There are 3 roundabouts to negotiate in the first mile, which I got through without any trouble, and then a long drag.  I detest this drag!  I was going ok, though, average power was over 300w, but not by much.  Compare this to last time out, where I was up over 310w at a similar stage.  I knew straightaway that this wouldn’t be my best performance in terms of power.  I was having to work too hard to keep above 300w.  So I tried to stop worrying about power output and instead paid more attention to average speed.  The best speed I have done on this course – 26.5mph for 22:35 – is etched into my brain.  I’d have to go faster than that to get a course PB.  Because of the standing start, and the 3 roundabouts at the beginning, it’s a little while before you can gain much info from the speed you’re riding.  In past events, if there isn’t a significant head/tail wind, there’s been less than 1 mph difference between my ‘out’ speed and my ‘back’ speed.  So if I could get to the turn at around 26mph, I’d have a chance of breaking my own personal best time.  You might think I’d be better off concentrating on pedalling, rather than worrying about this or that number, and you may be right.  But I seem to do better if I have something to chase.

I was up over 26mph as I got to the bottom of the ramp up to the turn.  This ramp is not much of a hill at all, it just feels like a mountain when I’m racing.  Speed just drops off a cliff and I feel as though I’m hardly moving.  I got to the top having averaged 25.8mph.  Game on.  Quick check of average power.  302w I think.  Meh.  300w is my nemesis.  I will probably beat it, just about.

I don’t recall much about the bulk of the return leg.  I remember watching the speed climb towards 26.5mph as I hung on towards the top of the dreaded drag (which would now be downhill) at Conington water tower.  Somehow, today it seemed to be uphill in both directions.  I don’t know how that happened, but I was struggling pretty badly.  Into the last quarter of the distance and I was not relishing it at all.  Average speed was now resolutely stationary at 26.5mph.  Not fast enough.  I would need a fast last mile to claim my best time for the course.  This was my baseline expectation.  Pretty silly really, given that conditions can have quite a big effect on your time.  But, I would view a time outside my course PB as a failure.

The last mile – and technical roundabout section – begins with a ramp upwards.  There’s nothing you can do to avoid losing a bit of speed here.  Once at the top you go through 2 roundabouts in quick succession and hope for no traffic.  Slightly unlucky today, I was baulked a little by a car at the second and had to coast and go around, but very little time lost.  Then it’s just dig in and wind it up for the run to the line, straight-lining the final roundabout – if traffic permits – and trying to get every last ounce of energy through the pedals.

All over!  Time not too bad, Garmin said 22:20 so I’d probably get an official time of about 22:25 or so.  Pretty sure it would be inside my previous best of 22:35.  The disappointment of the reduced power quickly took over, I thought the time would be nowhere versus others.  Very doubtful it would be good enough for the top 10, given the strength of the field.  Cycled back to the car and put everything away.  Normally I am very keen to get into the HQ to see how I have done versus others, but I was in no rush today.  I sat in the boot of my car chatting to the mother of one of the other riders.  One of the riders I knew should beat me.  His mother told me he’s 20.  I felt better.

After ambling over to the HQ and getting my free cup of coffee and a 50p hot cross bun (thanks, ladies) I went over to look at the elephant in the room, the times of the riders projected onto the wall.  Checked my time, 22:26.  PB by 9 seconds for the course.  Then I started to scan through the other times.  About two thirds of the times were recorded by now, with the later riders still out on the course.  I looked first at the fives and zeroes (the riders whose numbers end in 0 or 5 have the fastest historical times, generally) and not many of them have beaten me, and one of them, Simon Norman, who won the event I raced in two weeks ago, did not start (DNS in TT parlance).  In fact, at that point only one rider had recorded a time faster than mine.

Naturally you start to look at the riders still to finish.  I could see two who would beat me for sure, and one or two others who might.  But as the final results were entered, only three riders from the field had gone faster.  I was 4th.  The race was won by Brett Harwood with 21:16, followed by David McGaw with 21:22 and then last year’s winner Adam Gascoigne with 21:25.  These three were all over a minute faster than me.  That’s a yawning gap that will never be closed!  But, I’d managed to record a faster time than everyone else, including some riders I hadn’t beaten before.

So, while I’m not delighted by the performance, it is my best result so far.  And even if I’d recorded a power best, it would have moved me just a few seconds closer to the 3 riders at the head of the field.  By my reckoning I probably need to find 45-50 watts to bridge that gap, which would require an entirely different body – the one I inhabit will never be able to do that.  I’m satisfied with being fastest of the rest today!

Here’s the race data from Strava, if (like me) there is something wrong with you, have a look! :)

Team Sales Engine 10 mile TT, 6th place in 21:13

Here’s a link to today’s data on Strava.

Today was my second race of the season.  If you read the post I wrote about the first race of 2014, you might remember that I had a good result, but a poor performance.  Sometime after the race I noticed that my saddle had slipped down, and I wondered if the low power figure was in some way related to that.  Since that race I have trained quite well and hoped that I’d be able to push the pedals hard enough to satisfy myself that the winter has not been wasted!  I wasn’t targeting this race specifically, the first race I am looking at is later in April, so the early races like this one are handy training.  But of course I always want to do as well as I can.

Photo by Davey Jones

Photo by Davey Jones

The race today was on the F2A/10 course, which is on the A428 just west of Cambridge.  It’s a dual carriageway course, but oddly not hugely fast, historically.  I rode over it last weekend and it seemed a good course to me.  Nice surface in the main.  A little exposed, but I was looking forward to tackling it with a number pinned on.

Saturday morning I take my Son, William, to football.  So afternoon racing generally has to fit around that.  His match today kicked off late and so I was short on time.  I don’t like this – I like to be early and in plenty of time.  But I arrived about 60 mins before my start time, with time to do everything I needed to do before the race.  I signed on, got changed and did most of the “Team Sky Warmup” on my turbo near the car. I try and do this warmup whenever I can use my turbo before a race.  I haven’t spent years perfecting my own procedure, so why wouldn’t you copy those boys?!  They’re not doing too badly with it.

I was in plenty of time getting to the start line, I had about 5 minutes to wait, but that’s ok.  I needed a wee of course, but too late for that.  At 1425 I was set off onto the course.  I was determined not to start too hard this time.  It’s all too easy to do this – the pace you can sustain for the race feels very, very easy at the beginning, and you’re naturally excited and wanting to go fast, but if you overcook it in the first part of the race, it can ruin you for the rest.  The biggest uphill section on the course is just after the start, so that’s not ideal from this point of view, because your power rockets as soon as you start to go uphill, and also generally you should push harder uphill, but I seem to have kept it under control, from looking at the data post-event.

Having said that, after about a mile, I noticed that I’d averaged about 310w, which was about 30w more than I was thinking I’d make.  But I felt quite good so I thought I’d try and stick at that level for as long as I was able.  I passed number 24 quite quickly and was going along quite nicely, power even went up to 313w.  I thought ‘uh-oh’ and was waiting for the inevitable loss of breathing control that would signal a necessary reset of expectations.

The course runs east-west and there was a pretty brutal sidewind coming from the south-south-west.  It was gusting occasionally and I got knocked sideways a couple of times.  Luckily traffic was quite light!  Maybe the rear disc wasn’t such a great choice today, but once you’ve started, of course you’re stuck with it.

Sure enough I had to back off as the turn approached, but even so I was pretty pleased with the first half and hoped to be able to match it on the return.  I’d averaged a reasonably good speed on the out leg (26.6mph) and as soon as I started to head back east I got a slight benefit from the crosswind, which was now helping to push me along a little bit.  On a couple of the downhill parts I was struggling to keep the power up because the wind was helping to such a degree that I was pedalling as fast as possible to keep some resistance on.  In fact, one mile from the end on a downhill section, cadence went up to 106rpm, but power down to 190w as my speed went up to 38mph.

The course ends with an uphill drag of about 3/4 of a mile.  I seem to have had enough left in the tank because I pushed 356w for this part and averaged 31.5mph for the last section (cheers, tailwind).  I managed to get everything I had out and passed the timekeeper just as the Garmin bleeped to end the 10 mile lap.  I squinted through the tears and snot to see the time, somewhere around 21:15.  That’s a lot faster than I hoped to go, and I thought it should be reasonably competitive.  Best of all, I knew I’d produced the best-ever power – I didn’t know at the time but the average was 311w for the race, and I’d done a slight negative split (more power on the return leg) which is something that I think is good to do, because it means you didn’t over- or under-cook the first half too much.

The results were being projected onto a white screen at the HQ.  My official time was 21:13, which is outside my PB by 7 seconds.  But the course I did my PB on (E2/10) is very fast.  And today’s time was only 2 seconds slower than I recorded on V718 in Hull last season (V718 is generally accepted to be the fastest course in the country).  There were 90 riders in this race, and I’d gone off 25th, so I had quite a while to wait to see how I’d done relative to everyone else.  It was shaping up quite well, I was in 4th place after the first half of the riders had finished.  Might I make the top 10?  The rest of the results were displayed in small batches, and I finished in 6th place.  The race was won by Simon Norman, some 62 seconds ahead of me.  That’s a long, long way.  I wasn’t too far off 3rd place though, only 7 seconds, and I missed out on a small cash prize by 4 seconds to 5th place.  But no matter, it was far and away my best result and performance.  I finished ahead of a few riders that I’ve never beaten before.  Hopefully I haven’t peaked and can improve a little more in the next little while, as the main events of my season approach.

As Chris Boardman might say: Satisfactory :)

Thanks for reading :)

Technology – Wahoo RFLKT+

Wahoo RFLKT+

Shortly after I started TTing, I thought to myself wouldn’t it be good to have metrics from my cycling computer spoken into my ear during races?  I had a think about how it might be done and what would be necessary:

  • Bluetooth earpiece
  • Some app running on a smartphone
  • A way of getting ANT+ signals (power, speed, cadence, HR) to the phone

Most of these seemed to be in place, at least for Android (There are/were Sony handsets that have a built-in ANT+ receiver chip).  I develop software in Java for a living, so I thought maybe I could develop an Android app.  But I had and still have an iPhone, it seemed a little too hard to risk time and money on a project like that when I’d be better off training instead. So it went to the back of my mind.

Moving forward to the past couple of weeks, I read a review of the Wahoo RFLKT+ (pronounced ‘reflect plus’) on the quite fabulous DC Rainmaker site.  I was aware of the original RFLKT (minus the plus) as a head unit to use with fitness apps on the iPhone, via Bluetooth LE.  I already have a Garmin Edge 500, so I never followed up on the RFLKT.  But the RFLT+ has a key feature: it bridges ANT+ signals to Bluetooth so they can be processed on an iPhone.  Now all we need is a suitable app that will speak this stuff soothingly into my shell-like.  Turns out that there’s already a couple – Wahoo’s own Fitness app, and Abvio Cyclemeter.  Both of which I already owned.

I took a quick look at the functionality of each and decided that the Wahoo app was superior, mostly because it is so configurable.  You can setup a number of ‘announcements’ via separate triggers, either every X seconds/minutes/km etc.  That was enough for me to cough up the £110 for the RFLKT+.  Wahoo stuff really is excellent and their customer service I’ve found very responsive in the past.

The RFLKT+ came within a couple of days of ordering and I set about seeing if I could integrate all this stuff together.  I have the ANT+ devices, the RFLKT+, the iPhone (5S) and a couple of apps to test it with.

It was straightforward to connect it to the Wahoo Fitness app on my iPhone and I mounted the RFLKT+ on my TT bike on the turbo to see how it worked.  The answer at the moment I’m afraid, is not very well :(

Wahoo Fitness RLFKT+ Connectivity

I should say first that the version of the app I am running has been updated in the past 24 hours.  I now have 4.0, which I presume is a major release.  I didn’t ever get to test it with the previous version though, so I don’t know if the flaws have been present for a while, or if they are new at version 4.0.  I will say that IF the app worked as I think is intended, it would fulfil my needs and more.  I can imagine using it for all my training, since it seems to support lots of different bike profiles, each of which you can setup custom display screens for.  It’s incredibly well thought-out.  But whilst the app is hugely configurable, there are a number of bugs or missing features that will at worst prevent me from using it, and at best annoy me a little.  In order of importance to me, these are:

  1. Several obvious metrics seem to be missing from the app altogether.  There is no average lap power, or average power over various durations (e.g. 3 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds etc.)  These are the metrics that I find most useful – indeed the whole purpose of this experiment is to get average lap power and 3 second power (5 second would suffice too) into my ear to help me with pacing.  I think this must be an oversight in v4.0 of the app – there are plenty of power metrics, including some quite obscure ones, but the most obvious and useful statistics (to me, at least) are missing.
  2. The Wahoo Fitness app will not read cadence from my power meter.  I have a speed/cadence sensor, but I don’t connect the cadence magnet because I have to position the sensor out of reach of the cranks on my TT bike.  Abvio Cyclemeter does read cadence from the Power2Max via the RFLKT+, so it must be an issue with the Wahoo Fitness app itself.
  3. On the turbo, the auto-pause feature does not kick in until the back wheel has been still for about 15 seconds.  I haven’t tested this outdoors yet, but since it uses the wheel speed sensor rather than GPS, it should behave the same.   This feature is critical for races, because I need the computer to auto-start when I start the race – I can’t be pressing buttons as I’m being held up at the start line.
  4. I need to be able to export data from the app so I can import it into Golden Cheetah running on my mac.  The app supports Dropbox export which is absolutely ideal, except it doesn’t work.  It won’t let me login to Dropbox via the phone, giving the error message ‘Only a limited number of users can get access while this app is in development mode”.  This sounds like it will be an easy fix for Wahoo.
  5. The app frequently crashes when you’re in the configuration pages for external devices (like the power meter).  This isn’t a huge deal, since you don’t need to configure those things very often.  But it is a worry.  If I’m going to use this technology in races, I need to be very confident that it is going to behave.
  6. Sometimes it has taken upto 2 minutes to find my devices.  It sits there spinning searching for them and then after a variable amount of time, it finds them all within a few seconds. Again that can be filed under ‘annoying’, since I am used to having to wait for the Garmin to find a GPS signal before riding.

Most of these seem like solvable problems.  I understand the difficulties in getting all this stuff working properly and talking together.  It’s disappointing that it didn’t work out of the box, but I’m pretty sure that Wahoo will solve the problems and I will update this post as and when progress is made.  I’m quite excited that I seem to be in touching distance of getting this working, and without really lifting a finger myself!

Thanks for reading :)

Wisbech Wheelers 10 – First outing of 2014

Over two months since the last time I  updated the blog.  Sorry about that.  Time flies when you’re spending endless hours on the turbo/Watt Bike.  Er, well no it doesn’t, actually.

In the intervening time I’ve been flogging myself in various ways, trying to get to the elusive 300 watts for 20 minutes.  Since my previous post on 11th January I’ve seen it once, 10 days ago, but that was on a Watt Bike with a dodgy computer.  Given today’s performance, I think we can probably forget about that being a genuine reading.

Just to recap the past few months.  I had a very enjoyable morning at the Drag2Zero wind tunnel in November.  The outcome was that the very aggressive position at the front of the bike was softened considerably, by raising it 5cm.  The idea being that this would open things up to enable me to claw back the 15w of power that I’d lost by going so low in the first place.  Well, so far that hasn’t happened at all.  Judging by today, I have reclaimed the grand total of zero watts!  The reasons for that could be legion, but the most obvious one is that it is the low saddle height that affected power, not the low front.  That doesn’t mean I should raise the saddle back up, because the low saddle position is demonstrably faster for me, even at the reduced power.  It just means I have to work harder to get back the watts, if indeed I even can.

Anyhow, this is just the backdrop to today’s race.  Despite not performing in training, maybe it’d come flooding back as soon as I pinned on a number?

I turned up very early, I was waiting for the organiser to open up the HQ at 0730, even though my start time was not until 0925.  I like to be early.  I hate being rushed, things tend to go wrong when I am rushed (e.g. the Peterborough 10 last May, where I emptied a tube of superglue onto my hand)

It was cold this morning, but bright.  The temperature was forecast to rise to about 8 degrees by the time I was due to be off, but it was still 2 degrees at 0845 and then it started to rain.  This was not good news for me, I don’t like the cold.  I don’t go out normally when it’s cold or wet, never mind both.  I wasn’t relishing the idea of half an hour in just a skinsuit and not much else.

I did a warmup of sorts and arrived at the start with 2 mins to spare.  Normally I like to turn up about 10 mins early, but wanted to keep moving today.  So I barely had time to think before I was being held up to clip in and then counted down.  And off I went.  At least the rain had stopped.

The Wisbech course is completely flat except for 3 places, where you’re either on sliproads on/off a dual carriageway, or else going over a bridge over the same DC.  On the flip side, it’s a windy place.  I got going quite well in the first section with a tailwind, but I could see almost straight away that I would not be able to maintain 300w.  I was below it within a mile and half.  I could also see that my HR was very low.  Perceived effort was where it needed to be (i.e. “oh my, it’s going to be like this for another 15 mins at least?!”) but the other responses seemed to be below par.

I seemed to be doing ok though in terms of speed.  I don’t tend to look at speed while I am racing, because it invites mental calculations that I really shouldn’t be doing when trying to race at ten tenths.  But I was going ok relative to the riders immediately in front.  I passed my minute man quite quickly, then went past the two minute man about halfway, then the three minute man with about 1.5 miles remaining.  I felt as though I was travelling quickly, and it so it puzzled me why the numbers on the computer didn’t reflect that.  Towards the end of the race I caught sight of HR a few times and it was nowhere, not even up to what I consider to be threshold.  I was gasping though over the last mile, I didn’t seem to have it in me for much of a final push, and the checkerboard came up really quick.  It was over.  The computer said 23:01, which I thought would be reasonably competitive given previous results on the course.  But my main feeling was bemusement as to what had occurred in terms of power and HR.  I do see HR suppressed in the cold, but post race analysis shows that HR was the lowest it has ever been for a 10, and lower on average than the one 25 mile race I did in June last year.  Fatigue?  Maybe, I had done some training on 4 consecutive days previous.  But I felt great going into the race, not fatigued at all.

Back to the HQ to wait for the results.  Your position in a race depends as much on who else turns up as your own performance.  I had no time goal for this race as I have never raced on this course before.  But I have ridden it, in 25 minutes and change last weekend.  I hoped that all my aero gear plus some extra adrenaline-fuelled power might be enough to get me two minutes.  And it had (minus the power).  There were 3 guys in the race that I didn’t think I could beat, together with  a number of unknowns.  So my main outcome goal was top 5.  And Top 10 would be satisfactory.  Anything else, disaster.

My time was going up on the board as I walked into the HQ:  23:04.  I knew reasonably quickly that I wouldn’t make the top 5 – as the results came in, some guys I don’t know had beaten me – quite narrowly – but it was obvious that I’d be pushed out of the top 5.  And so it was, when all the scores were in, I was 7th.  The race was won by Jon Surtees of Team Swift, in 22:01.  Last year’s winner, Daniel Bloy of Team Velovelocity was second with 22:11.  A new team-mate of mine at St Ives CC, Jason Kierman was 3rd with 22:43.  So I was 21 seconds off the podium.  300w would probably have seen me into 3rd place, but if you ain’t got it, you ain’t got it.  Coulda, shoulda, etc.

Relative to other rides, it was a good result for me.  It’s the closest I’ve been to the winner in an open TT.  And in terms of riders I have raced against before, probably the most regular opponent is Chris Rimes, who finished 5th with 22:53, some 11 seconds ahead of me.  That’s the closest I have ever been to him, and he has won 3 races (that I know of) already this season.  Of course I have no idea how his race went, I can only see the time.

So maybe it’s just ring-rustiness, I need to get some races and more speed work under my belt to find the best performances?  I do seem to have a decent set-up aerodynamically, since I was quite competitive with low power.  So that’s the main plus!  I seem to have improved – relative to the field – but one race isn’t enough to prove that.  Only two weeks until the next race – lets hope it’s a bit warmer and I can get the old ticker beating a bit faster, and the old legs spinning harder!  I will be racing every week or two until the end of May, so there’ll probably be plenty of updates in the next little while.

Thanks for reading :)

Link to my race performance on Strava

Winter training update

Not too much to report, been training away.  Power has been rising steadily, which is just what the doctor ordered.  I’m currently working off 275w FTP.

Last time I wrote, I was concentrating on sweet-spot sessions, at around 90% of FTP, and trying to up the ante by 1w per ride.  I did this for 3 weeks continuously.  I managed to up the power, but perceived effort and HR rose at a similar rate, so the sweet-spot sessions quickly became threshold sessions.  Rather than slavishly sticking to that plan, I decided to tweak it quite a bit.

My training at the moment is based around 4 key sessions:

  • 2x20min at 100% of FTP
  • 1x60min at 90% of FTP
  • 3x10min at 106% of FTP
  • 8-10x3min at 120% of FTP

The 2x20min at FTP is forming the bedrock of my current work.  I don’t mind it.  It’s hard enough to make me think it’s doing me good, but not too hard that I hate it.  All these sessions are being done either on my turbo or on the Wattbike at work.  I find that the hardest part of training indoors is the heat.  The longer the effort, the hotter I get and the more HR goes up.  Perception of effort doesn’t necessarily go up, but feeling of unpleasantness does.  So the 20 minute interval is not a bad compromise of power output vs heat management.

Because of heat, I am really not enjoying the 1x60min sweet-spot efforts, at 90% of FTP.  On the Wattbike I really struggle, because there is no fan in the gym.  It’s air conditioned but I can’t control my body temperature well enough.  Also, the WB saddle doesn’t suit me at all in TT position, so I can’t get comfortable and stay there for 60 mins without spending sometime riding in a more upright position.

The 3x10min intervals I have been doing for a while.  I got a bit disheartened with them, because I’d set off trying to hit a certain power level, then fail and get off the bike altogether.  I have changed this now so that I do the first two at 106% of FTP, which is manageable but hard, then I try and do the highest power I can for the last one.  That way I hopefully finish strongly, with a feeling of success.

The 8-10x3min set I have only done once so far.  It’s going to become an important session for me, I think.  There’s something about it that makes me think it will help me produce higher power over longer durations.

Today my mentor, Ben of Kinetic Velo came round to supervise me doing a 20 min power test, to see what sort of power I could produce right now in a 10 mile race.  Ben’s completely different to me.  I’d approach a 20 minute test by deciding what power I was hoping to achieve, then hit it and try to hold it.  If I was able to maintain it, getting into the last few minutes I’d try to raise it.  If I failed to even hold the power, I’d hope to complete, but more often than not I just get off in disgust.

Ben’s approach was to have me start around 270-280w and then slowly build to over 300w so that I’d reached an average of 290w at 10 mins.  Then up it again to around 310w, raise it further at 15 minutes if possible, then really nail the last two minutes.  I was hoping for 300w, but managed to push 303w average for the 20 minutes.  Result!  Having thought about it, I think this approach to doing it is very good.  The first 10 minutes was not too bad, the last 10 minutes was very hard and the last 5 minutes extremely hard.  The last 2 minutes was off the scale.  In addition to hopefully hitting the average you want, this approach also takes you into territory you would not ordinarily visit – high power when you’ve already been working hard for a period of time.

For example, in this case I pushed an average of 313w for the last 10 minutes.  That kind of effort will hopefully count for something when I’m trying to push 313w for the first 10 minutes!  I flirted with defeat in the last 5 mins, averaging 305w for the 15-18 min spell.  But I had a good last two minutes at an average of 341w.  It seems to me that pushing that kind of weight when the body is already screaming ‘no’ is probably better for development than sitting at the overall average of 303w for 20 minutes.  For the same reason that doing short intervals at well over race power is beneficial.  Any thoughts on that?

I wouldn’t race like that.  Generally speaking, constant speed is the best way of pacing a flat time trial.  Of course no time trial is absolutely flat, so you have to adjust power to suit the terrain, within limits.  But for training, I think it’s a great way of approaching it.

In summary, all is well at the moment, I’m where I want to be power-wise, but lots still to do before the season starts, which for me will probably be the end of March.  If I can make good gains between now and then, I have a reasonable chance of being a bit better than I was last year.

Winter training plan

Since the end of September I have been training quite well, I felt I’d recovered most of the early-season fitness that I’d lost during the summer through lack of consistent effort.  As I have documented, I spent a lot of time fiddling with position (some of which was very fruitful in terms of race times), but nowhere near enough time training.  This resulted in my worst performance of the season in my last race.  It was a great opportunity to post a good PB to end the season, but I didn’t have the legs for it.

The recent session I had with Drag2Zero has brought my training regime into sharper focus.  In particular Simon’s comments that I have a very good aerodynamic position, but only ‘average’ (read sh*te) power output.  I have set myself some pretty ‘stretch’ goals for next year (which will remain private!).  Knowing what I know about my aerodynamics, if I am able to hold the tunnel position in races, I pretty much know the ballpark wattage I need to hit in order to by able to achieve my goals.  This is liberating, but daunting, because there needs to be a big increase.

I trained best in the early part of last season.  I didn’t have a plan as such, but I was doing similar sessions and so was able to track progress, which I found motivating.  Because of this I decided to make a plan for the winter.  I don’t have many hours per week that I can train, so I need to make the most of the time I do have.  At the same time, I am new to this and still learning about what works for me, so all of this is experimental.  If it works, great, if it doesn’t, I’ll have learned something.

In time trialling, what seems to be very important is FTP (functional threshold power, the power you can hold for 25 miles or about an hour).  There are no breaks, or sprints in time trialling (well, you do sprint at the end, but there’s no point training that sprint).  You need to be able to hold high power for the duration of the race.  So from what I have read, and the conclusions I have drawn from my experience so far, the steady state power that a rider can hold is crucial to their performance.  There are a number of ways of training to improve FTP.  Two of the most common are interval training, where you train for short, repeated durations at very high intensity, and sub-threshold/threshold sessions where you train at or slightly below FTP.  Earlier in the year I did a lot of both types.  As the year has progressed,  I’ve been doing mostly intervals.  They have worked to a good extent, because I’m a lot fitter than I was when I started.  But the biggest gains I made were earlier in the year.  Probably because I was starting at a lower base, but even so, it seems silly not to try something similar.

According to the literature, one of the most effective ways of improving FTP is by training in the ‘sweet spot’.  This is an area around 90% of FTP, or 95% of threshold HR.  The idea being that training just sub-threshold really boosts your FTP, but because it is below threshold, you can do a lot of it.  I know from my training earlier in the year that a tough interval session would require 48-72 hours rest before I could train again, and a threshold session would require at least 48 hours.  Training in the sweet spot, in theory, can be undertaken on successive days.  This is quite appealing because I can spare an hour or so to train most days.  So after reading around I devised a session where I do two blocks of 20 mins at 90% of FTP, with 5 mins in between.  With some warmup and cooldown time, that will take an hour.  If I can do 4-5 of these sessions per week without getting bored (that might be tough) then because the session is the same I will be able to accurately track progress.  Within a few weeks I should be able to tell if it is being effective or not.

So what’s the plan?  I need to increase my power level, so it’s no good just sticking to the same level throughout the winter.  I thought, why not try and increase the power by 1w per session?  It’s a tiny increase each time, but if I was able to sustain it, would produce good results over time.  The biggest risk is that the session feels harder and harder as the weeks go by.  If that is the case, then FTP will not be rising at the same rate, and presumably I will become fatigued and not be able to complete so many sessions.  So as well as monitoring power, I need to be able to monitor ‘effort’.  I am not very good at understanding my perceived effort level to a granular level, so I decided to see if I can use heart rate.  I find on indoor training bikes such as my turbo, or the wattbikes as work, that HR creeps up through a session even if power is constant (I think this is due to increased body temperature and/or dehydration).  But it creeps up in a fairly predictable way.  Also, HR changes quite a bit from day to day, so I can’t compare adjacent sessions and glean much of any use.  Instead I am hoping that by using HR and power I can spot any trends over several weeks.

To do this I will monitor watts per heart rate (w/bpm).  So if I am able to push 300w (I can’t, by the way) at 150 bpm that would be 2.0 w/bpm.  If this ratio rises, that is good news, because it means I am producing more power per heart beat.  If it is flat it is pretty bad news, because it means that HR is increasing at the same rate as power.  My threshold HR is not going to increase that much, so quite quickly these sub-threshold sessions will move up to threshold and beyond, and I will soon fail.  If the threshold goes down it is very bad news!  An upward trend in w/bpm is required to get fitter.

I have a couple of pictures!  The first is a chart of projected wattage increases.  The red line shows what would happen if I was able to increase by 5w per week.  Cloud cuckoo land!  I’d be able to trot round to a PB if so!  The blue line is more realistic, but still optimistic, showing the increases at 3w per week.  The green line shows my actual performances so far, in the 10 or so days I have been doing the sessions.  I have not been disciplined so far in trying to increase by exactly 1w per session, but I must try and do that.

Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 15.00.49

The second chart shows w/bpm for all the sessions I have completed so far.  As you can see, it’s pretty inconsistent.  The current trend line is upwards, but I think anytime you start to apply some rigour to a process, if there is room for improvement then you will see it pretty much immediately.  This trend line will be far more pertinent in January.

w/bpm as at 14th Dec

 

I am going to persist with this experiment for a few weeks at least.  If it is obviously not working when we get into the new year, I will abandon it and try something else.  I want to start updating the blog more often.  I don’t really have much of interest to say, but at least I can report progress.  Anything that gives me a little more motivation is good.  Thanks for reading :)

Wind Tunnel session with Drag2Zero

This is gonna be a bit dry if you’re not interested in bicycle aerodynamics…

Today I paid a visit to the Mercedes F1 wind tunnel in Brackley, Northants, for a session with Drag2Zero.  Paid being the operative word, as it ain’t cheap! :D

The specific information given to customers in the tunnel is confidential, so I won’t be going into detail as to exactly what changes were made.  But I know a few people who read the blog are interested to hear about this jaunt, so I will explain my experience as much as I can.

I arrived nice and early for the scheduled two hour session.  The staff were very friendly and welcoming, and after a coffee and a quick glance through Rouleur magazine, I was introduced to the main man, Simon Smart.  As someone with a keen interest (but no technical nous) in bicycle aerodynamics, to me Simon is a figure who demands proper respect, as not only is he the chap who tells you how to go faster on your own bike, he’s also the designer of the Giant Trinity Advanced and Scott Plasma TT bikes, among other products.  Here’s a short video featuring Simon from the BBC website

We had a quick chat about my (limited) experience and Simon explained the protocol of the testing we would do.  Without going into too much detail we’d carry out a number of runs in the tunnel, each of approximately 5 minutes.  During each run, Simon would be measuring the amount of drag I caused in real time and the results would feed into the changes we made for the next run.  I got changed into my gimp suit and by the time I was ready my bike was mounted on their equipment in the tunnel.  

The testing rig sits in the wind tunnel on the ‘drag scales’ (my invented phrase), which as far as I can tell is a large horizontal pad that can measure the amount of drag that an object (i.e. me and my bike) suffers when sat on the pad in the wind flow.  It connects to the bike via a set of rollers on the front and rear wheels, and the bike is supported by elongated skewers through both wheel centres.  It’s like a cross between rollers and a turbo trainer.  My gears, and the resistance of the rollers, were set so I could spin the wheels at approximately 30mph with effort, but well below race pace (since I would be sat on the rig for 2 hours, although not pedalling all that time).  Simon explained that the wind would be set to 30mph and we would test at one yaw angle, which he said is the average yaw that a rider experiences at that speed.  Effectively this means that the rig is rotated by a number of degrees from the centreline of the wind flow.

I knew that to establish a baseline, the first run would need to be done in the position in which I have been racing.  So I was careful to ensure that I had adjusted the bike to exactly that position.  Obviously I was hoping that the position would prove so poor that the sound of the wind would be drowned out by the laughter of the technicians.  Any first time visitor to the tunnel surely wants to be told “your position is terrible, here have a couple of mph for free”.  Sadly that wasn’t the case.  Simon’s view on my position was that the CdA was about as low as I could expect to achieve, given my size.  I don’t yet know the absolute figure, because post-processing is required to remove the drag effect of the rig hardware, but Simon told me the figure was less than 0.2 (meaningless to most of you, I know).  I think his words were “It’s not quite exceptional, but it’s very good”.  Very good really means very bad.  It means big improvements in aerodynamics would not be found.  Somehow, quite by chance, I had found an aerodynamic position.  Damn.  This means I am not going to be a world beater.  If you need to, please take a moment to recover from the shock of that revelation ;)

If you’ve read my past postings on position, you might recall that in mid July I had lowered my saddle to the lowest position I could (reasonably) comfortably pedal in, and lowered the bars as far as they would go.  This was my amateur attempt at improving my aerodynamics.  The position was definitely faster (I PB’d by 30 seconds in my first 10 mile race after the change), but it cost me 10-15 watts of power (due probably to the very closed hip angle between thigh and torso).  Simon advised that if the drag effect of this position could not be improved within the scope of the session, we would focus on trying to find a position that would allow me to produce more power, with little or no extra drag cost.

In the main set of runs we tried various positions to see the effect on drag.  As Simon had predicted, we didn’t find one that significantly reduced drag.  We did however, manage to find a far less extreme position that was slightly better on drag.  It is to be hoped that this position releases a reasonable amount of power.  If so, that will be the material gain from the session.  It’s about power vs CdA after all.  Most folk would hope to improve CdA without harming power.  In my case, prior to the test, CdA happened to be very good, but in order to achieve that CdA, power output had degraded.  I am hopeful that my power output can be restored to what it was before I lowered the position so much in July.  I won’t know this until I can conduct a test, which may be a week or so, as the bike needs to be re-cabled in it’s new configuration.

We also tried some different things with the parts of the body that are not fixed to the contact points of the bike.  There’s two specific things that I have been trying to do this year to reduce frontal area (and hopefully drag).  We found that one of these things reduced drag, and the other one (which I find physically and mentally difficult to do) actually increased drag.  So I’m pleased to be able to stop trying to do that thing!  I am being cagey here due to confidentiality, but also these things are so specific to the individual that someone else might find the polar opposite if tested.

As for the whole experience, I had a really cool day.  The full force of the F1 wind tunnel technology and the technical know-how of Drag2Zero is brought to bear, for two hours, to try and make you faster.  It really does feel like you are the centre of their universe for those 120 minutes.  I felt as though they treated me as they would treat Tony Martin.  It’s expensive, and for me there was no silver bullet aerodynamically, but I hope and expect it to bear real fruit, and it was a very memorable experience.  I am due to receive a full technical report of the session (CD by post I think), most of which I won’t be able to share, but I will probably follow up with a post of my absolute CdA numbers from the best and initial positions.  A number of photos were taken during the session.  I’m not sure yet if I can post any of them, but if I can, I will.