Monday, 31 December 2012

L'Etape de la Defonce simulated race

After yesterday's run and a long winter walk today I was keen to get back on the turbo before I started drinking to celebrate the end of a good year. This year I entered some good races, including L'etape de la Defonce in South Wales. After the race I analysed my power output and made it into a work-out that I can do to replicate the first 68 minutes of the race.

I last tried this workout on 14 Dec but as I was suffering with a hangover I struggled with some of the intervals. Today, however, I was full of energy and I completed the whole session with bags of power to spare. My heart rate was a lot lower (162bpm compared to 172) and I was always ready for the next big effort; I even managed a 5 minute 330W interval at the end (peaking at 370W). I just goes to show what impact the 8 pint hangover had when I last tried this workout. As a result I will raise the power levels for future sessions to make sure I am completely exhausted at the end.

I'll analyse the differences between the workout and the race later (link to follow), but I am quite surprised how closely the workout and actual race match.

Oh, Happy New Year.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Easy running recovery day

My legs felt a little tired this morning so I decided to go out for an easy run in the light Yorkshire rain. My local loop is a flat 5.7 miles and quite a lot of the surrounding countryside was under water so it made the run quite interesting.

If I'm running at a normal pace I tend to average around 7:30/mile and if I'm trying hard I can get down to 7:00/mile, but I purposely took it easy today at 9:00/mile to make sure that I keep my legs fresh for a good turbo session tomorrow.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Sufferfest: The Hunted

After yesterday's shortish session I decided that Sufferfest's The Hunted would be interesting and challenging, but also achievable with my slightly tired legs from yesterday. I last did this on 20 Dec and struggled at the end of the 20 minute interval that makes up the middle of the work out. During that workout I just ran out of energy and I backed-off. I did exactly the same again today but ran out of energy slightly earlier today. Both times my Heart Rate was at 172 BPM (near my lactic threshold) and my legs were burning so, I don't know why, but this workout is a lot harder than it looks. As a result, it's something I'm determined to master.

After a decent warm-up the first interval was quite straightforward. The second (25-45 mins) went well until I struggled at around 42 mins and then the last interval (50-62 mins) was fine. I even had enough energy for an all-out blast after the last interval, but I wasn't able to sustain the 400W+ for long.

So, after 5 days off for Christmas I've managed to squeeze in 3 hours on the turbo into the last 3 days. The attrocious Yorkshire weather is starting to get me down and I don't even feel like going out on the MTB because it is just so wet everywhere.

30 minutes of fun

28 Dec. After a morning on the ski slopes of Xscape at Castleford, I didn't really feel up to doing much on the turbo but I guilted myself into it. By the time I finally got everything set up I was running a bit short of time so I planned a single 30 minute interval at 300W (roughly 95% FTP) while watching a repeat of the 4th Stage of the 2011 Tour De France. It's the one where Roy goes on a solo break and is slowly chased down (I won't ruin the end for you but it's a good stage).

I was doing well for the first 15 minutes, averaging a healthy 309W, but I though this would be difficult to maintain for the next 15 so I dropped it down to 300W. At 23 minutes I had a strange wobble where I felt like stopping, so I backed off for about a minute and then got back on the power and finished with an average of 304W (96% FTP) for the 30 minutes.
This is actully quite a good workout and the 23 minute wobble shows me that it is probably an area that I need to be working on and trying to extend my duration at higher power. So, more of this or 2x20 I think. It's just a shame they hurt so much!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Post Christmas Intervals

After 5 very enjoyable days of eating and drinking I needed to get back on the turbo today to start a prolonged period of training. I'm aiming for 3 weeks of 3 days on then a day off for recovery but still keeping at the same power zone 4-5 intervals I've been doing up to now. The last 2-3 weeks have been very disrupted by the usual effects of Christmas; lots of driving, beer and chocolate and too little turbo time.

Today was a repeat of the Shorter Harder intervals I last did on 19 December. Although I felt a bit weak on a couple of the 3-4 minute ones I never really felt like I wouldn't be able to complete the whole set so I need to bump up the intensity if I'm going to continue to get as much training benefit from it as I have been; I like to feel that I have only just been able to complete a workout.

Today's trace is very similar to the last time but with a little lower intensity on intervals 18 and 19 (HR = red and power = black):

Friday, 21 December 2012

The End of the World workout - Local Hero

Well, after hundreds of years of countdown I was getting ready for the Mayan prophecies to come true and for the World to end today. I thought that, if I was going to die, I may as well choose a hard workout to die to. Sufferfest's Local Hero seemed to fit the bill so I fired up the laptop, The Best of Thin Lizzie and set to work, expecting the World to end sometime during the 80 minute session. It didn't, so I had to complete the whole painful session.

During the second interval (around 25 minutes) I started to feel weak and I was starting to make excuses to give up, but I knuckled down knowing that this would be the last workout for 5 days so I really had to make it count. I didn't want to eat lots of mince pies over Christmas knowing I'd let myself down on a key workout. I did back off completely on the recovery intervals though to make sure I had enough in my legs for the work intervals and I really struggled to achieve the hardest part of the last 4 intervals; legs burning, sweat dripping, head drooping etc.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Hunted - partial

I like the Sufferfest videos, so when I was struggling for motivation today I thought I'd do the first two thirds of The Hunted as it manages to hide some hard work within an interesting profile. I'm planning a hard session tomorrow so I decided before the start that I wouldn't do it all.

Everything was going well until the very last interval (2.5 mins at 340W) when I got the quits and backed off. I immediately felt like I'd let myself down and kicked in again to complete the interval. If I wasn't saving something for tomorrow I think I would have been able to complete the whole work-out.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Back in the game!

I've been under the weather for the last 2 days, generally feeling listless but not actually ill, no cold-like symptoms despite being close to people with colds. I haven't had a proper cold for 2 years and I seem to get run down rather than properly ill. After my average performance 2 days ago and a night on the sofa yesterday I wasn't expecting much from tonight's turbo session. I planned a longer version of Shorter Harder where I add repeat intervals (in reverse) at the end of the main set. This would allow me to stop if I needed to. But, I didn't need to......

Heart rate (red) was under control throughout, power (black) was always what I needed to do or more and I got to the end of the 90 minute session feeling quite good. Stats: 90 mins (32 in Zone 4) and approx 1250 kCals.

So again I am a little confused how my performance seems to vary so much from day-to-day, but it probably helps to explain why my race results can also be very variable. It's only when you see variable performance in a controlled environment that you can start to work out just how much performance varies.

Monday, 17 December 2012

A bit of a nothing day

As my FTP has only recently increased to 314 and I have decided to use my old FTP as a basis for my workouts for another week or so.

I had planned to do a 2x20 min session at 307W, my FTP until yesterday. I didn't feel very good before the session and decided about 5 minutes into the first 20 with a rapidly rising HR that I decided to bin it and just do a 260W 50 minute session instead. I don't know why I didn't really get on with today but I'm not going to beat myself up over it. I have previously had bad days as well as good days so I'll just wait for the next good one to come along. Hopefully tomorrow.........

Anyway, in the absence of a decent graph, here's the squirrel that lives in my garden. He watches me when I'm on the turbo and I feel that he judges me. He wasn't very impressed with me today!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

December's 20 minute power test - weighed and measured!

After 4 weeks of turbo time it was eventually time to complete another 20 minute power test to see if I had made any improvement. I tried to control as many variables as possible; so I used the same bike and powertap on the same turbo, with the same pre-ride calibration and I even used the same kitchen.

Before I started I didn't feel very motivated but I know that it's pointless doing interval sessions to improve power unless I test myself regularly to see if they're actually working. If they aren't I need to know so that I can change my routine.

Anyway, the headline is that my 20 minute power is 331W today compared to 322W 4 weeks ago. This 9W equates to a rise of roughly 2.8% which is well above what I had expected. I was hoping for a 1% improvement per month which would get me to my 345W target by May 2013. This equates to a 14 sec improvement over a 10 mile TT.

Here's the plot from today's power test (Red = HR, Black = power):

After a decent warm-up including a 320W power test to make sure everything was OK, I had a poor start and went off too hard and had to wind myself back, but I was settled in after a minute or so. I noticed that I was continually nudging above my 325W target and after 10 minutes I had averaged 328W. The last 10 minutes were hard and sweaty with a couple of weak periods but not the big crash I had previously experienced around 17 minutes.

Below is a comparison of the 2 power tests showing December's test (Red line) compared to November's (Blue). The obvious differences are the stronger start and the improved performance towards the end when I didn't crash in the Dec version. Dec looks much more under control.

Comparing HR across the 2 sessions looks like this:

The difference between HRs at the start of the session is due to slightly different warm-ups and is maintained until around 12 minutes, but at the end the HR traces are almost identical. This is interesting because I use power to pace myself during 20 minute tests but my limit seems to be HR-related. Without a powermeter I'd certainly start too hard and achieve a lower average power over the 20 min test. Average cadence for the 2 sessions is very similar too at 84 rpm for Nov and 86 rpm for Dec.

So what have I learned?
  • At the moment I haven't learned anything. 2 data points are not conclusive but I did feel a lot better on today's test so I'm assuming that the power improvement is genuine; I just need more data to prove it. I have seen how my performance can vary from day to day so it may just be that I was weak on the last test and strong today but that I haven't made any actual improvement. Time will tell.
  • My work-outs over the last 4 weeks have targetted power Zones 4 and 5 so I would expect to see some improvement in a Zone 5 power test (which is what a 20 minute test is) and I have purposely avoided harder intervals. However, this doesn't mean that these were the best intervals; I may have showed a higher 20 minute power increase just riding for an hour at 90%FTP for 2 hours a day.
  • I will need to increase my work-outs to reflect the increased FTP and to continue to provide an impetus for my body to adapt to the increased stress. Again, this is the reason regular testing is essential.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Back in the saddle

After a frustrating 5 days off I was back in the saddle and on the turbo again this afternoon. I've been working away from home and remembered to take everything I needed to for some hard turbo sessions except my shoes. Last night I had 8 pints at the office Christmas party so I wasn't expecting to achieve much today and I was right.

I'm working on a work-out video that takes real race data from a race I have completed and trying to replicate the effort while watching the video. Here's a still from the video showing a figure relating to the required power output/intensity level:

For me, level 7 equates to 270W and each interval lasts 30 seconds, ranging from 3 (150W) to 10 (360W) according to what happened in the real race. I've used intensity rather than a specified power output so that other riders can use it, even those without a power meter. Below is the plot from today's session showing the short warm-up and then the intervals starting. The dark section is where I was unable to complete the intervals and had to back off and recover (I'm blaming the hangover) before I did some more and then the quits kicked in and I stopped (again, the hangover).

I need to do a bit of tweeking to the video to make it work well and I'm planning to upload it to YouTube once complete in case anybody else wants to use it.

Back on the turbo again tomorrow for a decent session and then a 20 minute power test next week. I'm glad I didn't do a test today, I had considered it on my way home but I now know I would have been very very ill had I tried to go all-out for 20 minutes.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Powermeter Virtual Racing

I have been thinking of ways to create a virtual racing group for riders with powermeters to be able to 'compete' on a level playing field. Full details of the set-up HERE.

If you're interested and don't have a Bike Radar account, drop me a line via this blog and I'll get you involved.

See you on the 'start line'

Recovery Day Musings

At the end of the third week I have achieved: Rides: 3 - all turbo sessions totalling 3 hrs 35 mins (last week 5 hrs 50 mins). This reduction is largely a result of having 3 days off at the start of the week due to other commitments.

Total Bikescore (TSS): 274 (last week 456)

kCals burned (incl warm-ups and cooldowns): 3277 (5391)

I didn't have a planned TSS for this week, but I woke up this morning feeling a little throaty so I feel I have achieved as much as I wanted to in the last 3 days. We have a 'house cold' which I'm trying to avoid so I don't want to overdo things and get ill. I have been looking at the various ways I can compare workouts since I started to lose confidence in TSS/Bikescore as a useful metric. Below is a graph comparing my work done (in kJ), Bikescore and TSS. As you can see, and as I would expect, they are all pretty much the same across the last 4 weeks.

This week's times in various Zones show how easy I've had it compared to my 'big week' last week.
Total time in Zone 3: 0:33:37 (last week 57:10)
Total time in Zone 4: 1:32:36 (last week 2:17:34)
Total time in Zone 5: 0:16:50 (last week 0:38:23)
Total time in Zone 6: 0:01:20 (last week 0:03:37)
Total time in Zone 7: 0 (last week 8 seconds)
The last 4 weeks' Zones 3-5 durations are shown in the table below:

On every measure I have had an easy week. I have had 2 hard workouts and an easier one but I've  compressed all my work into 3 days and I'm now feeling a bit lethargic as a result and I feel I need a recovery day. I'm due (and dreading) a 20 minute power test soon to see what benefit the preceeding 4 weeks of turbo work has given me. I'll probably aim to do this next weekend so I'm planning turbo sessions on Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri (probably with a hangover after the office Xmas party on Thurs evening) and then the test.

Looking back at the same period last year I was doing a lot more riding on the road and racing CX too so I was getting a lot more time on the bike than this year. This year the Yorkshire roads are terrible to the point of being dangerous, with massive puddles and potholes. It will be interesting to see whether the turbo work has been sufficient to maintain my 20 min power output without the longer road rides I usually do.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Sufferfest: Local Hero

When I last did Local Hero it was after a rest period and I thought it was relatively easy, so I was interested in repeating it following 2 days on the turbo to see if it was still achievable. I felt fine for the first 30 minutes or so and then I started to get the quits after 50 minutes and I was trying to convince myself that stopping at 60 minutes would be fine and that I had done all that I needed to. In my head I was doing worse than the last attempt and I was happily making excuses to stop and hating myself for making them.

I then took the rest of the session an interval at a time and each interval minute-by-minute until I got to the end at 80 minutes. But, I got to the end and that's what really matters. The 400W peaks in the last 4 intervals really started to hurt but were short enough to endure the lactic fire and hang on for the recovery.

The stats are very similar to the last attempt and any variation is probably down to the recovery intervals rather than the work intervals.

Friday, 7 December 2012


This is a description of the terms, abbreviations and concepts that I use in the blog. There are better guides on the internet, but this is how I understand them in the context of this blog.

FTP - functional threshold power. This is the maximum power I can output for a 60 minute period. As I have never done a 60 minute test I use a 20 minute maximal test and subtract 5% from the result. For example, I recently completed a 20 minute power test at 322W, so I can calculate an FTP at 322x0.95 = 307W. The highest 60 minute figure I have ever recorded is 291W but I still use the 307W figure for planning workouts.

Bikescore or Training Stress Score (TSS). This is a measurement used to estimate the training stress of a workout. If I did a 1 hour workout at FTP I would record a TSS of 100. 30 mins at FTP is 50, and so on. I don't like this figure very much as I find it very blunt and it hides a multitude of information. For example, a 60 minute FTP ride gets 100. A 3 hour ride at 175W gets 100. The 1 hour ride would kill me and the 3 hour ride would bore me.

Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR). The exercise intensity at which blood lactate starts to accumulate faster than it can be cleared. The highest average HR I have recorded in a race was 174BPM which is taken as my LTHR (based on training industry norms). Since I got a power meter I use HR less but I always have an eye on where my HR is compared to LTHR. In steady state I start to feel uncomfortable at around 162BPM and I'm hating life at 174BPM. My HR on a turbo is different to my HR on the road or racing so there is difficulty using a race LTHR as a real guide on the turbo. Also, as HR varies from day to day, LTHR is really only a guide.

Interval. Basically an interval is a period of exercise where power output is at a certain level. For example, I may do a pair of 20 minute intervals at FTP or 5x5minutes at 120% FTP. The theory is that doing hard work for short periods allows you to stress your body more effectively. I'm lazy and sometimes mix the term Session with Interval when I really mean Interval.

Traditionally these are written as the 'number of intervals' x 'duration of intervals (usually in minutes)', for example 2x20 or 3x15. There is, by definition, a rest interval (RI) between the work intervals but this is not usually stated.

KiloJoules (kJ). A measure of the work done during an interval, session, ride etc. The greater the number the more work has been completed. It is often used as a proxy for calories (kCals) burned during exercise as there is a conversion rate of roughly 1:1 between them.

Powerzones. There are 7 power zones based around a rider's FTP.

Zone 1 - Active Recovery - 0-55% FTP
Zone 2 - Endurance - 55-75% FTP
Zone 3 - Tempo - 75-90% FTP
Zone 4 - Threshold - 90-105% FTP
Zone 5 - VO2 Max - 105-120% FTP
Zone 6 - Anaerobic - 120-150% FTP
Zone 7 - Neuromuscular - 150% FTP+

Sweetspot. To confuse things, the sweetspot is further defined as 88-94% of FTP. This is generally considered to be the most efficient region to train in if you're looking to improve FTP.
The Quits. During hard workouts I often get a dose of the quits or the weakness. It's the point where I pathetically want to give up and do something else. Usually accompanied by whimpering.

The Hell of the North: revisited

I thought I'd revisit my The Hell of the North workout today but with a few minor tweeks to make it a bit more fun. Rather than 3 different intensities I did it with just 2. If Boonen was on screen I went for 307W (100% FTP) and if he wasn't I got a nice rest at 275W (90% FTP). This means there is less gear changing and a higher average power.

After a 10 minute warm-up I got started on the session. The first 30 minutes of the session was quite enjoyable but 30-40 minutes got a bit challenging (you can see the power output start to drop off in the graph above), so I had a 5 minute rest at 50% FTP before a 5 minute interval, then another 5 minute rest at 50% FTP and another 5 interval, then a 2 minute rest, then 2 minutes flat out coinciding with Boonen crossing the line. This was much better than the first attempt at the session and I felt quite happy that I had achieved a good workout at the end of it. Most importantly, there was a large pool of sweat under the bike so I must have been doing something right.

In 75 minutes I used 1140 kCals and achieved a Bikescore (TSS) of 97.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

I'm getting lazy

I've had 3 lazy days with absolutely NO exercise due to lots of travelling with work, 12 hour days, long cold nights and a cheap bar. I didn't really want to do anything today but I knew that I should, so I compromised with myself and planned a 2x20mins sweetspot session which then changed into a 1x45 at 93% FTP once I got going.

As workouts go, this was quite easy. I got bored after 35 minutes and started to vary my power output, a bit of out-of-the-saddle to get rid of some 'numbness' and then a final little push at the end. Not sure if the session did any good, but I needed a gentle reintroduction to the turbo before the next 3 days of planned turbo sessions.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Weekly Summary

At the end of the second week I have achieved: 

Rides: 5 - all turbo sessions totalling 5 hrs 50 mins.

Total Bikescore (TSS): 456 (last week 390)

I had planned a TSS of around 430 for the week so I was pleased to exceed this, but I have less and less confidence in TSS as a useful metric. Having reviewed some long road rides I realise that I can regularly achieve a TSS of 300 for an 85 miler and still be able to ride again the next day. This week's TSS 456 was very challenging and regularly left me unable to anything other that just sit on the bike and recover. I need to do some thinking about what TSS is trying to tell me and how I can make it useful.

Total time in Zone 3: 57:10 (last week 0:30:00)
Total time in Zone 4: 2:17:34 (1:54:00)
Total time in Zone 5: 0:38:23 (0:38:01)
Total time in Zone 6: 0:03:37 (0:03:34)
Total time in Zone 7: 8 seconds (12 seconds)

kCals burned (incl warm-ups and cooldowns); 5391 (4430)

So it seems I have done more this week but most of that was in Zones 3 and 4 rather than an even balance across all Zones. In the future I need to do more in Zone 5 and 6 if I am going to improve my 20 minute power.

My weight is down to around 74.8 so there's steady progress in that direction, but still a long way to go to get to the 72kg target.

I will be away from the turbo for the next 3 days so I'll take it as a useful recovery period and look to beast myself again on Thursday and Friday.

Sufferfest: Hell Hath No Fury

I had a recovery day yesterday because I went to bed on 30 Nov with a headache and I woke up yesterday with a bit of a sniffle; nothing too serious but my body wasn't happy. I can't get on the turbo for the next 3 days so I thought I'd beast myself with Sufferfest's Hell Hath No Fury. Looking at the profile on Golden Cheetah I thought it would be a challenge, but an achievable one.

The warm-up went well (small victory) and then the first 20 minute variable intensity interval got going; easy at first then ramping up. I was hanging in until about 13 mins but I was unable to complete the interval as planned so I dropped into 'recovery mode'. Rather than stopping I back off a little and try to let my body recover, slowly picking up power or maintaining power until the end of the interval. I think this is much better than stopping. Below is a plot of the first interval, Red = HR, Black = power and Blue = speed.

After a 5 minute rest I was ready for the second interval, but I'd backed the intensity off to 95% to give me a chance of completing it; or so I thought. Again, about 13 minutes I got a bad dose of 'the weakness' and I had to back off into recovery mode, getting my HR down and then slowly building my power until the end of the session. I was able to finsh with a flourish and beat the final power peak, but it was a hollow victory after all the recovering I'd done prior to it.
I didn't enjoy it and I don't think I'll be doing it again too soon. If I do it again I'll drop the intensity down to make sure I can get to the end. Considering I can achieve 2x20 at 307W, I'm slightly confused why I only achieved 1x299W then 1x290W on the 20 min intervals today. It is probably the peakiness of the intervals demonstrating the effect that variable pacing has on an interval.