Thursday, 31 January 2013

Back to proper training

After a great week away I was keen to get back on the turbo and back to proper training. I've managed 2 sessions so far this week. The first was on Monday morning when I did the short version of Shorter Harder.

It all seemed to go very well except my HR was way higher than I would have expected, peaking at 179bpm but I never really felt that bad. Normally 179 would be me on the limit, but I just plugged on and never really felt like I was over-doing it. Just goes to show how much HR can vary from day-to-day for the same effort.

I then had 2 days of driving around the country, eating more crappy food and sleeping in uncomfortable beds and I arrived home too late last night to do a turbo session. These are the 'wasted days' when I should be doing something but the time and then the motivation just drains away and then the day has gone.

Left work a little early so I could get a good session in tonight and I completed the longer version of Shorter Harder (the last workout I did before I got ill earlier this month). I was interested to see if my HR would be as high as it was on Monday, and it wasn't. It was much more normal, peaking at 174, which is a good.

I added 10W to 4 of the intervals and then went for a 500W surge at the end of the last one and felt quite good throughout so I don't think I've lost much, if any, fitness over the last 3 weeks of very little turbo training. I just probably haven't made any gains. Or maybe 2 weeks off and a week of skiing has actually done me some good. Time will tell.

About 20 minutes after the workout I spent a couple of minutes crouched down sorting out some clothes packing and then stood up a bit too quickly, had a dizzy spell, banged my head on a door frame and then thought I was going to pass out. After a couple of minutes sitting down I felt fine again. I'm putting it down to the crouching rather than the workout.

So that's my winter holiday and winter illness out of the way and I can get back to some proper training again and start to focus on getting ready for racing. This will do me the world of good and get rid of the frustration I get when I can't train.


I've been away from proper training for a while now, mainly due to a niggly cold and then a great week's skiing in the 3 Valleys. It's nice to get away and do something different every once in a while and I was surprised how much stronger and fitter I felt than when I last went skiing 5 years ago.

For 6 days I hit the slopes for the first lift of the day and skied all day until the last lift of the day with maybe 20 minutes off for a quick lunch. A couple of mornings my legs felt a little tired, but nothing like the muscular pain I used to get. Because I felt so strong and the snow was so good I spent a lot of time off-piste giving my legs a good workout, effectively doing a lot of squats, so I'll claim that as a 'high altitude strength week'!

Unfortunately I went into 'eat anything in sight' mode; a consequence of a catered chalet and long days skiing, so I'm now struggling to stay off the chocolate and get beck to a healthy diet. Really struggling.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


After quite a gentle session yesterday to see if I'd be able to do proper intervals, I got the answer this morning. NO!

Back to a blocked nose and I can feel that my chest is somewhat tighter than expected. I'm going on holiday at the end of the week so I really don't want to drag myself back down into illness so I guess I need another couple of days off to fully recover.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Post-cold leg spinner

After 6 days of feeling too ill to train I was looking forward to getting back on the turbo tonight to give my legs a spin to make sure I'm over the cold and ready to train again. I am usually lucky with colds and don't normally suffer for more than a couple of days, so I was a bit concerned when I had to have a day off work because I didn't feel well enough to go in.

Today's session went quite well. Basically I just pedalled at a comfortable working level while I monitored my heart rate, keeping it below 165. As the 45 minutes passed I seemed to get stronger with power genty rising from around 250W to 290W and HR rising to 165. So, providing I feel OK tomorrow I'll be back into the groove with some intervals again.

It's a real shame to have lost a week of training, but as I'm not trying to peak for a specific race I suppose it doesn't really matter. After all, most other riders are just doing longer versions of what I did today as they build up their winter base fitness. Ah, the traditions of cycling!

While I was ill I ate everything and anything I saw. Loads of chocolate, carbs, fruit, cake. You name it, I shoved it in my gob. So I'm also back on my New Year healthy eating plan and trying to cut out the carbs and cheese and increase the protein.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Mike's Guide to Turbo Training

The aim of this post is to provide guidance on the use of Turbo Trainers for those that haven’t used them before or have recently started. It’s based on my personal experience; other views are available and might be more sensible.

warning: if you're really fat, pregnant, stupid, diabetic or have a history of heart attacks, please consult a medical expert before attempting anything written below or it may kill you.
In fact, just close the browser now and walk away, these are not the tips you're looking for.

The Real Basics

A turbo Trainer allows you to use your bike to exercise by producing a resistance to counter your pedalling force. There are many types of resistance units (wind, gel, magnetic, nuclear fission) and a huge range of prices, so I won’t discuss which is the best as there are lots of reviews on the internet. But remember that a turbo is for life, not just for the first 3 weeks of a new year so think about getting a good one. There are lots of good quality second hand ones being sold by people who didn’t follow the kind of golden advice below and have given up on their dreams, so the classifieds may be a good place to get a lightly worn uber-trainer for little money.

What you’ll need. Other than the bare minimum of a bike and a turbo, there are various additions you may wish to consider to make your turbo session more enjoyable, or less horrible, depending on how you feel about turbo training. Some of these are physical things, some are mental things…

Physical things you need

The right environment. You will sweat on a turbo so make sure you have an area where you can work without worrying about sweating on your new carpet. Your bike will probably shed a small amount of chain oil too and can be quite noticeable on a cream Wilton. It’s good to have a surface nearby to put your‘ gubbins’ on so you don’t have to dismount. Kitchens, garages or even outside are good places to do a workout. Your mum’s living room is a bad place. Plan for success.

A drink. Particularly for longer sessions, you’ll be glad you prepared a cool refreshing drink to sip between the intervals. The most obvious side-effect of a good turbo session is the pool of sweat under the bike when you finish so staying hydrated is very important.

A towel. I like to have a towel draped across my handlebars to remove the sweat from my face. While it’s a great feeling to know you’re working hard enough to leak like a sieve, it’s also very nice to not have the rivulets of salty sweat running into your eyes. Riders who want to look more‘continental’ may consider a headband as well.

Entertainment/distraction. 60 minutes on the turbo sounds great when you’re sitting surfing the internet buying the thing. Once you’re through the first few sessions you’ll very quickly start to tire of the whirring noise, and the sweating, and the burning in your thighs. I use a complicated series of distraction techniques to make my turbo time less horrible including loud dance music and YouTube clips of the Tour De France or the European Spring Classics. If you’re using a laptop it’s best to use a mouse rather than a touchpad (due to the sweat) and have everything ready to go before you start. The entertainment should not distract you from your planned session (more on that in a bit), but it should enhance the experience. You will not be able to read a book or magazine on the turbo. If you can read on the turbo, you’re doing it wrong.

A big fan. I’m not talking about getting your loved-one to cheer you on, I’m talking about a remote controlled 30+ inch industrial fan to blow refreshing cooling air over you to reduce the sweatiness and keep your temperature under control. I’m too tight to spend money on a fan, but lots of people swear by them. I tend to open as many windows as possible to make sure there is some airflow across my sweaty back.

Loved-ones. If you’re turboing correctly you won’t want to spend your precious time discussing ‘trivia’ with somebody. Explain to likely distractors that you need some ‘turbo time’ and would prefer to not be disturbed. While your husband/wife/girlfriend etc is being considerate by trying to tell you about what that bitch Julie said to her at work or wanting to discuss what you want for dinner, you’re unlikely to be able or willing to properly engage in the discussion while you’re turning yourself inside-out on the fifth interval of a set of six. You’re likely to swear at him/her. If you find you are regularly disturbed during your turbo time you could return the favour and ruin something they enjoy.

Clingfilm. As a cheapskate I use clingfilm on my bars to stop them getting sweat-soaked and smelling bad for the rest of the year. If you turbo with a bike computer it’s also nice to stop the sweat dripping off your nose and into the delicate electronics of your so-called waterproof electronic device. Clingfilm works on touch-screens and laptop keyboards too.

Minimal clothing. On the turbo I wear shoes, socks, a heart rate monitor and tiny shorts. With a headband I look like a 1970’s German fitness instructor, so I save that for special days. It’s nice to have a t-shirt to hand for the warm-up and cool-down, but I wouldn’t plan to be wearing it when you’re putting down the power.

Shoes. Cycling shoes are best for transferring your power through the pedals as their solid soles will stop your foot flexing which may become uncomfortable after a while. Clipless pedals or toe clips allow you to use more of the pedal stroke to transfer power. Flat pedals will do if you don’t have anything better. Oh yeah, and your shoes will get sweaty and may start to smell.

A method of recording your efforts. Whether it’s an expensive powermeter or a cheap cycle computer, being able to record your efforts and improvements is essential. If you feel like you’re getting fitter it’s great to have evidence to back it up. If you’re not improving, it’s time to change your workouts so that you do improve.
Mental things you need

A target. Setting targets will allow you to have a proper plan and give you the determination to complete it. Want to lose weight? Want to win races? Want to get away from ‘The Antique’s Roadshow’? Whatever, have a target and record your progress towards it and make sure your targets are specific, realistic and achievable. At 45 you’re not going to shed 40 kilos and win the British Road Race Champs next year, so don’t demoralise yourself by thinking you can then realising you can’t. A good example of a target is something like: By 1 June I will be able to ride for 60 minutes on the turbo at an average speed of 18 mph. This allows you to progress towards the target and monitor your progress. A bad example of a target is something like: I want to get fitter. After 2 days you’ll have achieved your target.

A session plan. This is probably the most important aspect of turboing. Without a plan you’re just mucking about and turning food and drink into sweat and noise. With a plan you’re turning your dreams into reality (providing you have a decent plan). The internet is full of great workouts and some rubbish ones too, so be careful who you listen to. Trainer Road (nothing to do with me) is getting increasingly popular as a source of training plans and individual workouts. I haven’t used it, but a lot of people think it’s great for motivation and there are several threads about it on the internet. Having a public record of what you’re doing is a good way to improve your determination to complete your plan.
A power test (optional). To properly determine your ideal workout load you should complete a power test to see what you're capable of. This is the pinnacle of suffering and any woman who says childbirth is painful hasn't completed a 20 minute power test. Basically, once you have warmed up you go as hard as you can for 20 minutes and then use the result as a guide for how hard you should be working for different workouts. If you average Xmph for 20 mins, you'd take 95% of this speed to give you an estimate of what you could achieve for 60 minutes (effectively your FTP), and scale workouts based on this figure. There are other ways of testing yourself and, using speed rather than power, there are lots of issues regarding repeatability, but if these are controlled you have a pretty effective cheap system. Add Trainer Road for a more expensive system, add a power meter for a really expensive system.

Determination. Once you have your plan you need to have the determination to complete it. However, just getting the turbo out and attaching the bike to it is usually the hardest part of any workout; that takes real determination. You know the feeling: your favourite soap is just about to start, you’ve had a very hard day at work sitting down in front of the computer, you deserve some ‘down time’, right? Wrong. You need some determination to get up, get nearly naked with a roll of clingfilm and give that turbo a seeing to. Think of it like this, your body is full of the physical energy as well as the mental ‘innergy’you need to turn your potential into success. Is that cheesy enough for you?

Bail-out plan. There will be times when you can't complete your chosen workout either because you're feeling weak or you've planned to do something beyond your capability. This is not a problem and everybody has bad days. Rather than just stopping and sulking, it's a good idea to have a bail-out plan so that you still get a decent session out of your time. For example, if I'm struggling I may decide to back my power off to a certain level until I recover, or let my HR come down to a certain level. Don't give up, give less, but make sure you give something.

Recovery. This is the period when your body turns your effort into fitness. If you plan to do 7 days of hard workouts a week you’ll end up doing 7 days of mediocre workouts and you’ll stop getting fitter. Bradley Wiggins has recovery days. You need recovery days. Some days you won’t be able to train due to other commitments; maybe you’re going to court or you’re confessing your sins on the Oprah show. If so, plan these days as recovery days and train around them.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Have I overdone it?

I went to bed last night feeling a bit 'throaty' and woke up feeling slightly worse. I'm fairly sure that this has something to do with the high training load of the last week or so, so I decided to have a look at the stats to see if I could gain any insight. After all, this experiment is a lot more useful if I can use it to determine what my training limit is (if there is one) so I can avoid it in the future.

Above is a selection from my Golden Cheetah Performance Manager chart. The red bars show individual training events, the higher the bar the greater the Bikescore (a nominal value based on average power and duration for each event). The blue line shows short term stress (the average of the last 7 days Bikescores), the green line shows long term stress (the last 6 weeks average Bkescore) and the black line shown Training Stress Balance (reflecting the balance of short term stress (fatigue) and long term stress (fitness)). Basically, the higher the black line the better your form (fitness-fatigue).

I have highlighted the 2 areas where my Training Stress Balance is at its lowest (and coinciding with a rise in training load). The first period relates to an October training camp, and the second covers the last 2 weeks. The October camp had fewer longer rides. At the end of the October camp I felt tired but well, whereas today I feel run down. So it may be that TSB is a poor indicator of overtraining, or that there were differences between the 2 periods that aren't obvious.

Maybe there's something else going on and I've just had a body shock from having to go to work. Maybe I've picked up a bug at work and it's nothing to do with the training. Hopefully I'll be back to normal again soon and back on the turbo.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Shorter Harder

Returning to work was a huge shock this morning, especially the getting up at 6am bit of it. The sitting at work bit was rubbish too.

Couldn't decide whether to do a workout or have a rest, but in the end I realised that I really should do one while I've got the chance because I don't know when work/home life may stop me. The longer version of Shorter Harder seemed to fit the bill, but the longer version with 5 extra intervals.

In the end I quite enjoyed it, with the 2011 Amstell Gold race on YouTube in the background the time seemed to go very quickly and by the end I'd almost forgotten about the sweaty pool on the floor and my 'gentleman's numbness'. After the last interval I ruined my cooldown by getting excited by the Amstell race finish and letting my power creep up and up.

It wasn't long ago that I found this workout difficult and now I can quite easily complete it even on the third day of a set. Despite the obvious fact that I need to increase the difficulty of my workouts, I just can't seem to get round to doing it. Maybe next time.....

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Weekly Summary

I've had the luxury of a week off work to allow me to focus on getting some good training in and hopefully make some more progress towards my targets. I've even had the the opportunity to get out on the roads and do some normal cycling rather than the relative monotony of the turbo.

This week has been my biggest since the start of the experiment:

Time riding: 8 hrs 44 mins
Work done: 7700 kJ
Bikescore: 650

This is most obvious in the graph below showing time in power zones 3, 4 and 5. I've done more in each of these zones than in any previous week and at the end of it I still feel keen and strong; much better than I expected to. It will be interesting to see how going back to work will impact on my turbo workload.

I've also managed to reduce my weight to around 74.8 kgs (based on 3 days' measurements) so cutting alcohol and reducing chocolate seems to be doing some good. With the race season about 2 months away I'm not really that bothered about my weight yet, but I'd like to be a kilo lighter next month.

An easyish 50 minutes

I felt a little sore after yesterday's ride and run so I chose a simpler and easier workout today. I took ages to decide whether to do something easy or nothing at all, and in the end I went for the easy option because I knew I would hate myself if I did nothing.

After a warm up it was 4x10 at 272W, 288W, 272W then 288W with a short rest interval between them.

With an average power of 270W (86% FTP) it was a nice Zone 3-4 workout, but nothing too challenging and it was never going to hurt. I watched Stage 5 of the 2011 TdF as inspiration, the last 2 km of the race is just brilliant.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Road Hill Repeats

I woke up to a surprisingly mild Yorkshire day so I thought I'd make the most of it and get to a local hill for some intervals. I live about 8 miles from the lovely village of Crayke, which sits above the surrounding flat countryside like a beacon of pain. So my plan was to take a steady ride to the foot of Crayke mountain,completing smashing a Strava segment on the way there, and then do 6x5 minute hill repeats with a target power output of 330W (about 105% FTP), with roughly 4-5 minutes of downhill recovery between. I don't normally do this kind of specific training on the road, preferring to cover a variety of terrain over distance rather than turbo-style intervals.

The ride out went well and I felt good about smashing my previous time on the Strava segment by 36 seconds, getting it down from 6:10 to 5:36 and taking a King of the Mountain in the process. It also served as a good warm-up interval averaging 360W (115% FTP). It felt really good to be out on the bike and getting all the benefit of air-cooling and not having to suffer a stream of sweat dripping off my nose.

After a brief recovery I was into the 6 Crayke intervals. Below is a close-up of the 6th Crayke interval (the grey background shows altitude, red=HR, black = power, green=cadence and blue=current FTP).The altitude profile starts off quite undulating for the first mile or so, gently climbing 100 feet in the first mile and then ramping up another 150 feet in the last half mile. So, it's not exactly steep, but sticking in the big ring at the front means I have to get out of the saddle for the end of each interval. At the end, HR is in the low 170s which, for me, means I'm working quite hard.

The whole ride looks like this (without cadence and altitude)

The 6 Crayke intervals were: 5:21 at 337W, 5:19 at 350W, 5:14 at 341W, 5:11 at 333W, 5:14 at 342W and 5:15 at 344W. So there's not a lot of correlation between average power and time, which I'll have to look into.

On the way home after the intervals I thought I'd throw in another 330W interval on the flat, but 30 seconds in I thought again and backed-off until I got home. The Crakye intervals had done their job and my legs were quite tired which probably shows the limited road mileage I have done over the last couple of months. It's all very good having good 5-8 minute power, but not if you can't finish the 2 hour race!

Looking at the power profile for the ride it's very obvious that there is a big difference between road and turbo sessions. Rather than specific peaks for targeted zones, there's a flatter look and even some Zone 7 in there too. I find it hard to get quality Z6 and Z7 time on the turbo because I'm always seated.

After the ride I went out for a very gentle 5.7 mile run.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Recovery Day -

After a busy period I'm having a day off to let my body improve through recovery. However, I'm not enjoying it. I've been feeling frustrated and grumpy all day; full of energy and not able to do anything about it.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Sufferfest: Local Hero

I really enjoy Local Hero. For me it has the right balance of achievable and challenging and it just keeps taking and taking until you're empty. The last 3 hard days combined with a poor night's sleep meant I was expecting it to be quite hard today and I wasn't sure if I could complete it.

Red = HR, black = power.

After a longish warm-up to clear the last 3 days I quickly settled into the first proper interval at around 30 minutes which felt very comfortable with a nicely settled HR. On the third interval I realised that I was sweating more than usual (although it was quite warm) and my HR was quite high and approaching my Lactic Threshold Heart Rate (purple line), which was annoying as it was about 10 bpm above my normal HR for this workout.

After the third big interval the shorter intervals kicked-in, and on each and every one I was suffering and determined that it would be my last; I'd think about finishing it and having a shower and a bun. But during each recovery interval I had second thoughts, I'd think I was doing OK again and get ready for the next interval. The workout was just hard enough that I hated each interval from about a minute in, but it never beat me so that I couldn't finish an interval or felt that I had to stop. I wanted to, but I didn't have to.

As a result I stayed on the turbo until the end but I was unable to complete the hardest part of the last 4 intervals which required 380W+ but I didn't have enough in my legs to get that power while seated. On the road this would be quite easy by standing, but seated it was beyond me.

In the last 4 days I have done just under 5 hours of workouts and I am feeling the effects of it now. I have tired legs and a slight niggle in my right knee so I am going to have a proper rest day tomorrow.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Hell of the North - as a recovery ride

I felt quite 'lactic' after yesterday's effort so I needed an active recovery day. After lunch I got ready to do a toned-down version of the Hell of the North workout that I love so much. I did the last 50 minutes using 300W (96% FTP) when Boonen was on screen and 260W (83%) when he wasn't.

power = black and HR = red.

After a 10 minute warm up I got into the 50 minute interval and felt very comfortable throughout. In fact, about 35 mins into it I realised I was ramping up my power above my target 300W and not letting it get down to my 260W recovery either. Once I'd flushed yesterday's tiredness from my legs I just felt stronger than I thought I would. In fact, my average power for the first 40 minutes (288W) was the same as the last time I did this workout (289W) but back then I was unable to continue and had to have a rest. Today I was just fresher and with a much lower HR.

Looking back at the period around 6-7 Dec I think I was either slightly ill or run down. I had several workouts where I seemed to lack power despite several periods of rest. I didn't have any obvious symptoms, just a general lethargy. Maybe having 2 weeks off work over Xmas is helping. Maybe I should go Pro!!! Maybe at 42 I'm past Pro.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

60 minutes of New Year's Day hurt


Today was a beautiful Yorkshire day with clear skies and a cheeky breeze; far too nice to be stuck in on the turbo. I was lucky enough to get the use of a local airfield to do some riding away from the roads with massive puddles hiding massive potholes so I decided to do a single 60 minute effort to see how close to my predicted FTP I could get. My predicted FTP is currently 314W based on my most recent 20 minute test but I knew that I was unlikely to achieve this theoretical figure due to the differences between a controlled turbo session and a road session with wind, gradient etc and wrapped up in warm winter clothing.

I started off well enough averaging 314W for the first 20 minutes, and maintaining it out to 30 minutes and then dropping slightly to 312W at the 40 minute mark. By this time I was hurting and regretting the bottle of wine I had last night and the workout I did yesterday afternoon. In the last 20 minutes I really suffered and was able to manage only 300W; every time I dug deep I was unable to maintain it for more than 30 secs or so. My 60 minute average power was 308W which is approximately 98% of my theoretical FTP. Interestingly, throughout the session my HR was a lot lower than I had expected, reaching a maximum of 168bpm and averaging only 160bpm. I would have expected it to be around 176 and 165 respectively.

Here's the plot of the ride, black = power, red = HR and blue = my theoretical 314W FTP

So, as I expected I was unable to match my theoretical FTP but I got very close. Looking at the data afterwards I realised that there was a lot of variation in my pedal force/cadence plot and it was nowhere near the tightly bunched grouping I'd strive for on a turbo session; but that's the difference of riding in real-world conditions.

This is also obvious in the power curve for the ride. Again, I'd prefer a peakier curve.

So overall I was very pleased with the ride and I was glad that I never gave in to a strong urge to quite after 33 minutes. It's my first 60 minute all-out effort and at the end of it I was having to stand to get decent power into the pedals and I had nothing left. Importantly, it has allowed me to validate my theoretical FTP of 314W. Had I been better rested and been better motivated (for example, being chased by a bear) I think I could achieve 314W for an hour.

At 308W using guideline figures for drag I would have achieved a 25 mile TT speed of 41.78kph (25.96mph) which is 57m 46s (assuming I could still put out 308W in a fully aero position on a fully aero bike).

Stats for the ride:

Relative Intensity - 1.002
Bikescore - 100
Ave cadence - 80rpm
Work done - 1110kJ (~1100 kCals burned)