The handicap race hurt locker – WKO5 file analysis using dFRC

Handicap road racing is fast and furious by definition. Plus, it’s a heap of fun, if not a tiny bit painful. I find there is less pressure with handicap racing, as you are not really in control of the outcome. It is in the hands of the handicapper, so to speak; and the intent is that you work cooperatively with the group you are assigned. Usually, a group needs to work well together in order to try and stay away from chasing group/s. And if you are in a chasing group you also need to work hard. Ideally, rolling turns should start straight away, with all members of the bunch contributing. Of course, as riders we know this is not always our experience! A handicap race is constantly evolving as groups form and re-form. Therefore, the file analysis of these rides is always fascinating, at least to this data geek!

This past weekend, the largest handicap road race in Queensland took place in reasonable conditions. We are grateful to be able to race at the moment. For this race, I was able to compare seven training files from various athletes I coach. The file analyses closely match up with the athletes’ subjective comments about their race experience.  I’ve included one chart from each athlete, plus some summary data.

The particular chart I have chosen to use is an extract from the deep analysis tool that partners Training Peaks, WKO5.  This chart is called “dynamic Functional Reserve Capacity” or as abbreviated, dFRC. Essentially, it is a modelled measure of an athlete’s anaerobic battery.  In basic terms, it measures the capacity above your threshold and below your maximum power available. An athlete’s anaerobic battery is rechargeable and as you may have worked out from the name, it is dynamic – that is, it drains and can be replenished over the course of a race or training session.

On the chart, the dFRC is represented by a purple line and power (Y Axis) is yellow. In each chart, you can see the anaerobic battery draining and restoring across the ride as the athlete moves above and below their threshold. However, it is the pattern of the sustained hits that ultimately determines how the rider will perform in this handicap race. Consider a ‘hit’, one of the precious matches we have to burn. A strong “hit” is represented by a sharp dip in the dFRC purple line as shown below. As athletes we only have so many to work with. Use too many of them too soon and you may be in for a solo ride.

Whilst I have chosen to show you a power based chart, I should point out that for many athletes in handicap racing the ‘limiter’ can be heart rate. You tend to see very high heart rates because of the nature of the rolling turns. The lag in heart rate means it stays elevated for extended periods of time, and for some riders, the whole race.

Let’s look at these seven athlete files, I’ve added some annotations to the visual and some summary data below them. Remember, all seven athletes were in the same handicap race. The handicapper did a good job, as they all finished pretty much within five minutes of each other. To give some context, it was a 70km road race on mostly flat terrain (only 300m of elevation for the 70km).  A small bunch of scratch riders got up for the win. Average speed for the winning scratch riders was 51.5km/hr and a new course record.

Rider 1

  • This athlete took some big hits early on in the first 15 minutes
  • Never really got back below threshold for any extended period of time
  • Constantly taking hits after this, and was dropped with about 15km to go. Limped home.
  • Normalized power for this was rider was exactly at their FTP. That is an Intensity Factor of 1.0 for 105 minutes. On paper, should not be possible. But there you go.
  • Best ever average power for 90 minutes. Highest ever average heart rate for 90 minutes
  • 3.6 W/kg for the race (the highest for the 7 athletes in this blog), but finished mid field

Rider 2

  • Nice warm up from this rider with a couple of decent activations
  • Relatively conservative first 30 minutes. Athlete was able to stay with the group without having to dig too deep
  • Hills on the first lap didn’t really burn a match
  • Second half of the race in large group. Continuous small hits but nothing too big
  • Had capacity at the end to empty it in the sprint
  • Second highest all-time 90 minute heart rate
  • Intensity Factor was 0.91 on 2.8W/kg.

Rider 3

  • This rider had the most conservative race, apart from the ‘prime’ chasing at the end of lap 1
  • Safely tucked away in their bunch until the first hill with barely a match burned
  • At the end of the first lap the rider went for bragging rights to be first across the line at halfway
  • Then followed a nice period of recovery, before being absorbed by a larger group
  • Rider chose not to join in with faster groups going past and rolled home
  • Highest all-time 90 minute heart rate
  • Intensity Factor was 0.89 on 2.9 W/kg

Rider 4

  • This rider was in a strong group. Worked solidly in the group for the first 30 minutes taking rolling turns, but it was not enough to put the rider in trouble
  • Small hits over the hills, but again not ‘matches’ that would have an effect
  • Follows a long period in a very large group of 50 with heaps of time for the anaerobic battery to replenish
  • Absolutely emptied the tank on the final sprint
  • Highest ever 90 minute heart rate. 3rd highest all-time 90 minute power.
  • Intensity Factor was 0.94 on 3.3W/kg

Rider 5

  • This rider took some reasonable hits early on, but was able to sit in and recover
  • Burnt a couple of matches on the hills on the first lap staying with their group
  • Solid period in with a faster group with constant little hits eventually breaking the elastic band
  • Small solo period before jumping on the back of a faster group to finish
  • Intensity Factor was 0.89 on 2.7W/kg.
  • Probably the most measured ride, cleverly working within capacity.

Rider 6

  • For this rider I feel the matches burnt early were the issue. I’ve circled these really big hits for the first 15 minutes.
  • After this the rider sat in behind the group in order to get their heart rate back under control. Sensible decision.
  • A few smaller hits as faster groups come through and groups reform
  • Rider was in the wrong position on an acceleration and the group was split
  • Still something left in the tank to give the sprint at the end a kick
  • Intensity Factor was 0.90 on 2.8W/kg.

Rider 7

  • This rider was in a strong group. A few early turns but the first 30 minutes were relatively comfortable
  • Even the hills were absorbed pretty well with plenty left in the tank
  • Long period of recovery in a large bunch of around 50 riders
  • Check the burst required when the Scratch group came through and this rider tried to jump on
  • Able to kick at the end for the final hill and sprint home
  • Highest ever 90 minute heart rate, second highest ever 90 minute power
  • Intensity Factor was 0.97 on 3.4W/kg.

Summary

dFRC is one of the charts I use the most in WKO5. The model of the so called ‘anaerobic battery’ is not perfect. However once you have a well populated power curve for your athlete it is a very useful chart to refer to. I think it’s a really interesting way to see how the same handicap race can play out differently for athletes based on the group they are in and how they approach the race.

The other interesting thing to note is how important pure power (absolute watts) is rather than relative power (W/kg) in a flat handicap race such as this. The smaller, lighter athletes were working much harder in relative terms to try and stay with their groups. But just like in flat time trialling, absolute power sometimes wins out.

I should also point out that dFRC can be used to measure the intensity of interval sessions for athletes, and to give them feedback about how the session was performed and whether they had any more to give. This is especially valuable if you are comparing the same session from week to week and you are looking for improvements (I’ll cover this in another blog post).

With thanks to the athletes who have given permission for their data to be used. Photo credits – Lifecycle Cycling Club.

 

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File Analysis – 5 Riders, Individual Time Trial State Championships

This past weekend the state time trial championships were held in Queensland. I thought it would be interesting to look at 5 rider files from the event, compare them, plus talk a little about the training the athletes did in preparation for the event.

Firstly, some context is needed with regard to the event and training. The state championships were the 3rd race in a series of time trials over 3 weeks. That is, a race a week for 3 weeks. Therefore the week between races on both occasions was all about recovery, turnaround, and a short preparation in order to race again. All 3 races were around the same distance, 20km. Race 1 and 2 were modestly lumpy, with around 100m of elevation in the 20km. Race 3 was considerably ‘lumpier’ with 150m of elevation.  

Here is the profile:

What sort of training did the riders do leading into the race?

I’m summarising here, as the riders were not on exactly the same program. Predominantly they came into the pre-preparation phase off an FTP boosting training block which looked something like this. One session of long intervals (something like 2 x 20), one session of maximal aerobic intervals (5 x 4 minutes), one long endurance ride on the weekend with plenty of hills; plus the balance of rides as shown. In total, around 12 hours or 700 TSS of training.

What did the week between time trials looks like?

A week is quite a quick turnaround. This was even shorter between race 1 and 2; as race 2 was on the Saturday. Here’s what a week looked like. A session of solid FTP intervals, and then some sharpening up with shorter harder efforts. You’ll note the day off is not the day before, rather it is 2 days before. I favour this approach with most riders and I find the day before it works better to ride, including some activations.

I should point out that 4 of the 5 athletes trained specifically for this ITT series. Their preparation was individualised and the ITT specificity in training commenced back in June. The FTP that they were training to was specific to their TT bike. This bit is important. It is one thing to be able to produce power, it is another thing entirely to be able to do this in the TT position and be aerodynamic. There may be a trade off in this. That is, a particular position may be more aerodynamic, but if you are unable to produce the same power in this position you might be better off changing to a less aero position on the bike. All 4 of the TT specific athletes moved their FTP on the TT bike higher across the training block leading into the series. That is, their TT FTP was below their roadie FTP to start with. At the end of the training block it was much closer to, and in some cases better than their FTP on their road bike.

I don’t want to digress off into that area, as that’s for another blog. I did want to make the point though, that there was one rider who did the race who did not specifically prepare for it. And that was me. I did the race because it was here on the Sunshine coast and I was going to be there anyway to support the athletes I coach. I did not do one specific TT session of FTP intervals. I do not recommend this training approach. Be prepared to hurt a lot, because it did. I think my face in this picture shows what I was anticipating.

What are some of the interesting numbers for the 5 athletes?

TIME: Time taken to complete the race: range was roughly 30-35 minutes

RESULTS: by category – 3 first places, one third, and one tenth

FTPs going into the race: range was 3.4 to 4.2 W/kg

Intensity Factor (where 1.0 is equivalent to the race being done at FTP): these were 1.0, 1.02, 1.03 and 1.05. The only rider who was not able to do the event at the equivalent of FTP or above was, no surprises here – ME. I was 0.95. This is because my FTP was set to my road bike not my time trial bike. I have never been able to generate as much power on my TT bike as I can on my roadie. I did not do a FTP test on my TT bike to set it either. The other 4 riders did, and then their training was set to this. Hence they were able to produce the numbers. Specificity counts for a lot. Here’s my power profile. You can see just how variable it was, which leads me to my next point.

Because it was a lumpy course one of the interesting things to look at is the Variability Index (VI), or the difference between raw power and normalised power. This is effectively a way of looking at how hard the riders punched up the hills, and how well they rode the downhill sections. A lower VI would indicate that the rider had a smoother intensity across the ups and downs. The picture below shows you a comparison between two riders, one with lower variability at the top. Interesting how different it can look, yes? This is where the coach needs to sit down with the athlete and look at this information, in combination with what is going on with heart rate, in order to give feedback. Every athlete’s physiology is different. Some athletes might be able to buffer those big power spikes well above FTP, others may not. There is no one formula.

Which metric best predicted performance?

Firstly a qualifier – this is only a sample of 5 so it’s on the low side to do any meaningful statistics on. But I can tell you that the best predictor of performance was W/kg. It accounted for 61% of the variance in performance. So that means there is 39% there that is accounted for by other things. No doubt aerodynamics is one of these.

W/kg was a better predictor of performance than actual power. I suspect this was the case because it was a lumpy course. If it were a flat course I would expect that absolute power would be a better predictor.

But here is one of the interesting things. Even though W/kg was the best predictor, a rider with a power output of 3.7W/kg was faster on the course by around 30 seconds than a rider with a power output of 3.9 W/kg. The comparable absolute power numbers were 251W compared to 191W. That is, Athlete A at 251W for the race (3.7W/kg) was 32 seconds faster than Athlete B at 191W (3.9W/kg). So on a lumpy course such as this it comes down to the interplay of a number of factors – absolute power, W/kg and aerodynamics. In fact all TTs will pretty much come down to this, it’s just interesting to look at how it played out in this event.

And could someone please tell this rider to get a bike fit/work on core/both of the above, in order to flatten that back a bit!

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File Analysis – the unstructured weekend bunchie

A chat with an athlete this morning prompted me to write this blog. The athlete has just done his first week of training with Spin Doctor Coaching. So we sat down to ‘de-brief’ (over coffee of course) and go through some key things moving forward. I should point out that this athlete brought almost 10 years of data with him, so I had a heap of fun going through it all last week. I know sometimes riders think I am anal about data. And I am to a point. But there is a very good reason for this. One of the best predictors of what you are able to do in the future is what you have been capable of doing in the past. So if you have a nice clean data set it is so valuable moving forward.

In any case, I digress. We were talking about the structured workout. You know the one; you export it to your head unit so you can follow the prompts and get the intervals completed just as the coach programmed them. There is a place for structured workouts in most training programs. But it is important not to be glued to your head unit all the time. That’s no fun. Twice a week, perhaps three times a week if you have an indoor session is about the maximum I recommend. I said to the athlete that the rest of the time you can achieve your training goals with unstructured training rides, if you choose (or your coach programs) the right ones. Here’s an example of a structured workout. I won’t analyse it, that’s for another post. It’s quite a tough VO2 Max session though.

Which brings me to this blog post – the unstructured weekend bunch ride. Over the past few months it has not been possible to ride in bunches, hence many of my athletes have received a more structured ‘kitchen sink’ type ride in their programs. This was typically a solo ride of about 3 hours duration with a variety of efforts in it. These efforts were different intensities and a variety of lengths with the goal being to get a nice balanced workout across the power and heart rate zones. They look like this.

Now that restrictions around training in bunches have been partially lifted it is possible for us to be back training in small groups. So it comes to pass that a small group of us planned a training ride this past weekend. Living on the Sunshine Coast of course it involved some hills, as we have so many options to choose from. I didn’t tell the other riders that I had mapped the intended route in Strava and knew that it was about 120km with around 1500m of elevation.

Here is the file analysis of one of the riders. It is NOT the rider I was chatting to this morning. This male rider is in his early 50s and has been with Spin Doctor Coaching for about 8 weeks, though he has been riding for many years. He is being coached by a coach I am mentoring, and I am overseeing the overall program. His goal is in his words ‘just to get better’. There are no race goals, and at the moment no events such as Fondos et al. The rider’s FTP before the ride was 282W or 3.1 W/kg. Some of the other riders in the bunch have FTPs over 4W/kg, so this rider was going to be working hard. You can see there are a number of breaks across the ride as the bunch re-grouped for riders.

I’ve cleaned up this file to make it less cluttered. Pink is power, red is heart rate and grey is the elevation profile. You can see the rider’s power meter died about an hour before the end of the ride (when we may or may not have stopped at a bakehouse). What’s of note here? Well this is a very solid ride. An Intensity Factor of 0.91 across more than 4 hours of riding is very high. The rider dug deep, many times. The overall Training Stress Score of 294 is also very high. One of the benchmarks I use to monitor how a rider is going is what I call ‘the 300 TSS ride’. Do these for a few weeks in a row and your fitness IS going to improve. It’s important to qualify here though that you need to pay attention to the training load the athlete is coming in on before programming something like this.

The rider achieved all time power bests for both 10 minutes and 20 minutes. These are marked in the trace below. Clearly his recorded FTP coming into this was an under-estimate. This is something we were aware of, despite having done a FTP test. Another reason why sometimes the best form of testing is training (or racing). Especially if you choose to train with riders better than yourself.

What is equally interesting about this ride is the zone profile. Time in Zone is a crucial thing we look at as coaches. Here is the basic zone profile from TrainingPeaks.

The athlete spent significant periods of time in traditional zones 4, 5 and 6. In other words, he did truckloads of work at a high intensity. He did this without having to follow a structured session. He chose to join a group that included some strong riders, on a hilly course, and he dug in and tried to get maximum benefit from the session. Goal achieved. Kudos to him.

Here is the ride description I use for this type of ride. I call it a ‘Bunchie with Bite’. It’s worthwhile including these in your program if you are looking to build load and/or achieve breakthroughs.

The bunch ride is by definition a bit of lottery. Sometimes you can’t quite predict what is going to happen, so it’s always good to keep an open mind when joining a bunch. There will be sections in this ride where you are comfortably sitting in Z2, and other times you will be punching up short hills at maximum effort to react to the movement of the group. Overall for this ride aim for a total of about 4 hours in the saddle. The length of the ride is not relevant, as the elevation profile will determine this. A good target is 100m of elevation for every 10 km of riding. So if this ride is 100km for you, then aim for 1000m of climbing. This profile will give a nice balance of time across the zones. It should end up being a solid tempo ride, that is, the intensity overall should come in somewhere in Z3 (75-85%).

Note I said in the ride description that overall this ride should come in around a tempo level intensity, which is 0.75 to 0.85. This rider has come in well above this at 0.91. This is a slight over-estimate given the final one hour of riding is missing power data. This final hour was pretty flat, though the pace was on a bit courtesy of a couple of strong workhorses. You can see from the rider’s heart rate in this section that he was still working hard. Recovery is key following a ride like this. The next day the rider spun his legs out with 2 hours at low intensity, then had the following day off completely.

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Case study – is 4W/kg cycling’s equivalent of the sub 3 hour marathon?

I’ll fast forward to the answer and say, yes I think it’s in the same ballpark. I need to give credit for the title of this blog to a cycling friend who reminded me this week of what a famous runner once said. My friend posted a picture of himself from a long time ago finishing a marathon in 2 hours 59 minutes and some short change. He said that at the time he trained really hard to achieve this as Robert de Castella once said that the sub 3 hour marathon was the difference between a runner and a jogger. So it is that many club level cyclists have the goal of being able to achieve a functional threshold power (FTP) of 4W/kg.

Granted 4W/kg is never going to make you a pro. But nor is a sub 3 hour marathon. As we know, that’s nearly an hour (or one third) more than what it takes to be world class. And so is 4W/kg if you consider that 6W/kg on the major climbs of grand tours is about the benchmark for being in the first half of the field. However, 4W/kg is still better than most club level cyclists, and is literally lapping everyone on the couch. So it’s a great goal to target. And it is the goal that the rider in this case study wanted to achieve. The plot below is from WKO5. It is plotting the rider’s power duration curve against the WKO5 athlete database, indicating 4.3W/kg for 20 minutes is considered very good.

This is a case study that I am really happy to be able to share as the rider completely deserves the improvement in his FTP. It is also a good example of how a patient, consistent approach to training works. You don’t have to do a huge volume of training to get improvement in performance. You need to do an appropriate amount of your training at the appropriate intensity. And that is what this athlete did.

Background information

The athlete approached me in August of last year with a view to coaching. Said goal was to get his FTP to 4W/kg. To get a baseline we did a FTP test which was 348W on a body weight of 93kg (he is a big unit). This is 3.74W/kg. On first glance this does not look like a huge improvement is required. It’s in the vicinity of 7-8%. However you have to consider this in the context of the training background. If the rider had come to you with no or limited training background then an improvement of less than 10% is achievable quite quickly. But when the rider comes to you with a solid training background then the goal, by definition, is going to be more challenging to achieve. This athlete was riding an average of around 10 hours/week. It was largely unstructured training, but there was a reasonable amount of high intensity work in the mix courtesy of some ‘testosterone driven’ group rides.

The athlete went away for an extended family holiday for almost 2 months. During this time he did no training at all. He left for the holiday with a Chronic Training Load (CTL) of 69 and returned with a CTL of 17! Argh, we had some work to do. Here is the Performance Management Chart (PMC) from TrainingPeaks showing what we did. I’ll go into each block in a little more detail.

The good thing when faced with a scenario like this (losing so much training load) is that because the athlete had a reasonable training background he should bounce back quite well. Because, in general you de-train less and re-train faster when you have a solid endurance training background.

October 2019 – athlete returned from overseas ready to re-commence training. First thing to do was re-test FTP to ensure training zones and targets were set appropriately. Re-test FTP was ugly, no other words for it. Here it is. I’ve highlighted the 20 minutes of the test. Also of note, you can see the cardiac drift. That is, the drift upwards in heart rate across the test that is not matched by an increase in power. This is normal for a FTP test. We would expect to see this on a max effort. My reason for showing this is you can also see the maximum heart rate I have marked at 180. The athlete was trying. No question of that. This is where heart rate is very useful for examining intent and effort. This high heart rate is also typical of athletes returning from a training break. It becomes the limiter, rather than power being the limiter. Also of note, the athlete volunteered after the test that he still had a bit of man flu lurking about. And before you say anything, yes if I had known that I would not have programmed the test. Summary: The FTP had dropped to 296W which is 3.16W/kg.

November 2019

Athlete recommenced with an endurance training block. We need to get some solid endurance kilometres in the bank without too much intensity. Over this time the main thing I was monitoring was what his heart rate was doing relative to power. I wanted to see him improve his efficiency. That is; the power would come at a lower heart rate cost. This is a metric that you can monitor through TrainingPeaks. However you also need to look at the pattern of the response. It is not just about the numbers. I was looking for how responsive the heart rate was. When you are relatively unfit heart rate tends to stay elevated for longer after small rises in terrain. As an athlete gets fitter I’m looking for a ‘springiness’ in their heart rate such that it drops back down quickly with rises and falls in terrain. During November we re-tested FTP on the same road segment and it had improved to 326W. This was 3.48W/kg, better but still not back up to his pre-holiday FTP.

December 2019

Continued with the endurance block but introduced some strength endurance work. This was predominantly in the form of seated climbing repeats. These are one of my favourite sessions for developing muscular endurance. Here is an example of what one of these sessions looks like. Pink is power and red is heart rate.

In mid-December we re-tested FTP again on the same segment and it was 350W. The rider had lost a little weight and was down to 91kg. This placed the FTP at 3.84W/kg. So we were back to where he was, or a little higher than pre-holiday. It took 8 weeks to do this. However straight after this the rider again came down with a viral illness. You can see the decrease in training load in the PMC. It is important to note that this pattern of viral illnesses was unlikely related to overall training load as this was not excessive. The goal event for the rider was the hilly Buderim 9 (75km and 1700m). He sensibly ended up not doing the event. Any sort of viral illness and high intensity training should not be included in the same sentence.

January and February 2020

We re-group after the illness and have a discussion about the way forward. For some time I had been thinking to myself that the rider’s physiology was more akin to a time triallist. He has a huge engine and I was seeing this more. Also, a larger body mass is less of an issue in time trialling, as absolute power on the flat is more important. Sure, watts/kilogram are still important; but flat time trial courses are more forgiving with regard to this. Put it this way: 300 watts on the flat from a 90kg rider (3.3W/kg) will likely beat 280 watts from an 80kg rider (3.5W/kg). We talked about this and decided to keep the goal of the 4W/kg, but with a view to developing the rider as a time triallist. The next 4 week training block we did was therefore a FTP block. This included sessions such as 2 x 20 minute and 4 x 15 minute at FTP. Here is what one looked like:

At the beginning of March we re-tested FTP again. The rider cranked out 360W. A personal best. On top of this the rider had made some changes to his eating habits and lost some weight. At 89kg this placed his FTP at exactly 4W/kg. Utopia. Goal achieved. Well maybe not utopia, that’s hyperbole. But it was pretty jolly close. Now I know you might look at that and say it is only 12W (3%) better than his pre-holiday FTP test. But, and here is the big but, he had lost weight. So to be able to increase power on a lower body weight, his actual improvement was 8%. Here is the test.

March 2020

Following the FTP block it was always my intention that the athlete would move into a VO2 max block. The rationale behind this: think of your fitness as having a ceiling (FTP) and a roof (VO2 max). We had worked on improving the ceiling to a point where returns were going to decline. We needed to raise the roof. And the way to do this was through a solid VO2 max block. This was 3 sessions a week of dedicated work. This is where I really need to give credit to the athlete. It is not easy to do this type of work. It takes a lot of discipline. They were hard sessions. I tweaked them each week based on what I was seeing in WKO5 (optimised intervals and dynamic functional reserve capacity). The athlete was completely compliant and took the challenge on board. Here’s a sample session. This is 8 x 3 minutes at 105-115% of FTP. I’ve included the laps down the bottom so you can see the actual intensity the rider achieved (1.04 to 1.09, i.e. 104-109%). I asked the rider to read this blog before I published it, and he said I should mention #8 below and the fact he miscounted and ‘died on the last one’.

April 2020

After the 4 week VO2 max block it is time to re-rest FTP. Rider achieved a PB of 368W (best before was 360W). But he had dropped a little more weight, placing his FTP now at 4.2 W/kg. Look at the maximum heart rate – 178bpm. It is less than the maximum heart rate he had on the first test he did back from the extended holiday. Summary – there is still a little more improvement there. And for what it’s worth, there is a huge difference between the 3.7W/kg he started at and the 4.2W/kg he has achieved.

Summary

This turned out to be a much longer blog than I anticipated. But it has been well worthwhile as I think it gives you the full picture of what it takes to get improvement in performance. This rider went through some challenging periods with illness. But as soon as we could get him riding consistently, with a solid foundation then we started to get results. I know I harp on about consistency, but it really is the key. If you are consistent you will improve. If you are consistent and train appropriately, you will improve even more.

What is more impressive is that this athlete has done this in the absence of any racing goals. Yes, we had racing goals later in the season for an individual time trial series. But we didn’t know any of the details of the series as they were so far in advance. Together we set a goal that was independent of races and specific to the athlete. That’s a pretty powerful message for the current COVID times we are living in. Your goals do not have to be race based, they can be performance based. With a structured and consistent training program, focus and discipline; this athlete has achieved his goal. And from where I sit as a coach and scientist, it was an absolute treat to work with him.

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Strengthies – what are they and how should you do them?

You may have heard the term ‘strengthies’ used to describe a type of bike training session. Strengthies (or strength endurance) can mean different things to different coaches and riders. But typically it is referring to a session that includes intervals that are done at a lower than normal cadence. Often these intervals are done uphill as it is easier to get the overload you are chasing uphill when compared to the flat. They can be programmed on the flat as well, but it’s harder to produce the power necessary.

Why do we program them?

Coaches and sport scientists schedule these sessions when they are trying to focus on peripheral adaptation. This means they are stimulating overload in the muscles as opposed to the cardiovascular system. The way to do this is to decrease cadence so the load is taken off the rider centrally, and distributed to the legs. At a general level, we could say we are seeking a metabolic adaptation in the muscles rather than a cardiovascular adaption centrally. Of course it is not as black and white as that, but overall it’s a reasonable way of describing it.

I’ll cover off the cadence to use, and when to use strength endurance sessions in the annual training program later on in this blog. For now let’s look at a recent session to illustrate strengthies in action.

This data is mine, from a session I did this morning. I’m 8 weeks out from Grafton to Inverell (G2I) and very conscious of the amount of climbing I need to do in this training block. G2I has an 18km steady climb on a 5% gradient. There are no climbs similar to this on the Sunshine Coast. So my workaround today was to do three climbs up to Montville which is 6km at around 5%.

 

First thing you may notice is I was compliant with my own programmed session and ‘got a green’ in TrainingPeaks. Yay me. You can also see I wasn’t completely compliant by looking at the blue background of the workout build. The pink overlay of my power doesn’t match the timing exactly. That’s because I descended like a granny as the roads were greasy from the overnight rain and the descent is a bit sketchy. That’s my story and I am sticking to it! Jokes aside, as an athlete, it’s important not to get too hung up in this kind of detail. The main thing is to look at the overall intent of the session. Was it met? In this case, it looks like it was, but let us take a closer look at the data. Here is the data for the 3 climbs using the ‘laps’ function in TrainingPeaks (make friends with the lap button, it is super helpful. You can also add laps later on when analysing the file if you forget to do it at the time).

I’ve marked the most relevant metrics with the red arrow – Intensity Factor (IF), average heart rate and cadence. The IF is a measure of the power used relative to your FTP. An IF of 1.0 means you rode the interval/section exactly at your FTP. These climbs were 21-22 minutes and I had programmed a target for myself of 1.0. This is quite attainable. You can see I rode them at 0.94, 0.95 and 0.93. I get marks for consistency, but they are not quite at the desired intensity. I describe this as ‘tapping at the bottom of the window instead of climbing through it’. But it’s not too bad, and certainly the power is well and truly in Z4. In my defence, I did these climbs to feel as I can’t see my Garmin fields properly without prescription glasses on. But I think that riding ‘to feel’ is sometimes useful.

Now let’s have a look at cadence. I did all three climbs in the big chain ring (BCR) – for me that’s a 52, and the predominant gearing was the 25. It’s the first time I have tried this and you can see that the cadence came in pretty low at 66, 62 and 62. I could feel a little cross chaining sometimes, but I tried to work my way through it as I really wanted to see if I could do this climb 3 times on the BCR.

What effect did that have on my heart rate? The average heart rate across the climbs was 158, 158 and 160. This is only meaningful if you know what my threshold and max heart rate are. My threshold is in the low 170s and my max is in the high 180s. So climbing in the 158-160 range for me is Z3 tempo. In other words, very controlled. Very very controlled, in fact. Perhaps a little too controlled. I had more to play with heart rate wise and could have pushed it a little more to get the power closer to FTP.

What does the zone distribution look like when we compare power and heart rate? The intent of this session was 60 minutes at threshold power or thereabouts. If done correctly what we should see is 60 minutes in power Z4, but far less time than that in heart rate Z4. Here’s the distribution:

 

TrainingPeaks is nice and helpful, and if you hover over these bars while analysing a file it will tell you the amount of time in zone. To summarise: Heart rate was only 17 minutes in Z4 or above and power was 51 minutes in Z4 or above. 

So these ‘strengthies’ were pretty well executed. If I was giving feedback to an athlete I’d  say:

  • Nice controlled session, very consistent
  • Power was good but next time try and stretch it a little higher
  • Up your cadence slightly to the high 60s. This will likely increase your heart rate, but the power will be a bit higher too.
  • Today I’m giving you 8/10 (that’s a joke, I don’t really do that).

So, what cadence should you use?

Well this is an interesting question. Back when I first started cycling ‘old school’ coaches would program super low cadence workouts, sometimes in the 40s and 50s. Many riders reported knee aggravation from doing these sessions so they went out of favour. Plus research demonstrated you could get similar responses from a much more palatable cadence in the 60s or 70s. I typically like to program mine around the 70 mark, but this varies between riders. All riders have a sweet spot cadence they like to ride at up hills. This is the cadence that gives them the best power whilst protecting their heart rate at the same time. If you are doing reps you should experiment with it to determine what works for you.

When should you do Strength Endurance work?

I generally program strengthies after the base preparation and before the event specific preparation. I favour doing them in a block (sometimes called block periodisation). This could last 4 weeks and might be something like 8 weeks out from the event (so week 8 through to week 4 pre-event). I wouldn’t program them in the last 4 weeks as I am chasing more specificity at this point in time, plus low cadence work can lead to more leg fatigue and DOMS in some athletes. I also use them if an athlete is struggling doing their threshold work with controlling their heart rate. That is, heart rate is the limiter rather than power. A few sessions of strengthies can help get this balance back for the athlete.

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File analysis – a tale of two halves for the Coach

Today’s post is a file analysis that I didn’t need to get permission to share, because it is mine. I did a PB this morning for a popular climb we have here on the Sunshine Coast – Monty. It is a 6km climb at a lovely consistent 5% gradient that sweeps its way up into the hinterland town of Montville.

Strava tells me I have done this full climb more than 30 times since I moved to the Sunshine Coast last year. That is not including the number of times I have done sections of it as repetitions, because it is such a nice way to do intervals. We call these Montervals. So, in summary, I know the hill well. I often use it as a FTP test for myself and the athletes I coach, because the 6km length provides for about 20 minutes of work which is just about the right amount.

I did the ride with a pretty strong group of cyclists. It’s about 25km to get to the base of the climb, but they cruise out there, so it provides for a good warm-up. Last week I used the climb as a FTP test so I was happy to lead the group up there for the bulk of the distance (around 5kms of the 6kms). This week I decided that I was going to try and ‘take a wheel’ for as long as I could, to see how much difference that would make in terms of the elapsed time.

I’ve provided a graph of the ride in the picture. I have zoomed in on just the climb and have shown the lead into it and the end of it so you can see what happens to the metrics (19 minutes in total). Red is heart rate, pink is power, yellow is cadence and green is speed.

 

At the start of the climb I jumped on the wheel of two of the male riders as one was pacing the other up. A third male rider joined the group and then I sat on his wheel. There is a power surge at the start of the climb as the gradient is a bit steeper, plus this is where the group sorts itself out in terms of positioning. Then you can see the power settle into a nice rhythm. That is, until I popped. It’s pretty obvious where the elastic band popped, but just in case you can’t see the break point, I’ve marked it with the red arrow. At the time my feeling was that the lead guys accelerated a little bit (rather than me slowing down) and they confirmed this with me at coffee later. You can see I upped the power to try and stay with them, but that didn’t last long. At this point my heart rate was 173 which is about my threshold. So that really should not have been the issue. I just did not have the power to go with them. You can see from this point on that I drop my cadence and consequently my power drops. Remember, torque is what you apply to the pedals, but power is combination of force and rotational speed (i.e. – cadence).

I dug in for the second half without a wheel to follow, so the last 3km was done honestly. My heart rate continued to rise across this time, maxing out at 180bpm at the top. On a maximal climb, if you are really going for it, you expect to see cardiac drift. In other words – heart rate rises without a commensurate increase in power. It is an indicator that the athlete has made an honest effort, and depending on the amount of drift, could be close to maximal.  Now clearly this is not something you want to see a lot of in a race, but for training and testing purposes it’s a sure sign of a good effort. My cardiac drift for the 19 minutes of the climb was 15%. I like it to be about 5-10%, so mine did not show good pacing. But that was no doubt due to the fact that I was trying to hang on to that darn wheel in front of me.

Let’s have a look at the summary data comparing the section of the climb before I popped with the section after I popped. The elastic band snapped just before half way, so it is 7 minutes versus 11 minutes.  I’m just going to use raw power, as the difference between raw and normalized for the total climb was not large (217w v 223w).

 

Average

power

Average

HR

Cadence
First 7 239 168 74
Last 11 209 176 71

Now that’s a tale of two halves isn’t it? Interestingly, the peak 10 minute power at the beginning of the climb was higher than I did at the National championships in October on the first climb where I was trying to stay with the riders in the younger age category than me in order to set up my race (Masters 4 and 5 ride together at Nationals in the women).

Despite the decrement in the second half, the 20 minute power was my 3rd best ever in training or racing (AC – After Children, plus I never had a power meter BC). The two times I have beaten this were both on a hill with a much steeper gradient than this, and when I was 3kg heavier than I am now. So whilst the absolute power number was higher in the past, the power to weight ratio comparison is favourable now – 4.3w/kg compared to 4.1w/kg for the 20 minutes.

So, what are the take homes from this?

  • Firstly, I was riding for a time today trying to beat my best time up. So my strategy was ‘grab a wheel and try and hang on’.
  • I didn’t manage that, but the strategy allowed me to set the segment up well, and I wasn’t so burnt that I couldn’t do a reasonable second half to finish with.
  • The pacing was therefore uneven, not what you would want if you were doing a FTP test.
  • Consider what would happen if this was a race, and I needed to keep going after the climb to stay with a group. That presents an entirely different scenario. One very big match struck.
  • If I wanted to improve on this time, I’d need to do some specific training to work on that back end.
  • But then I would be training for a Strava segment, instead of to my goals (and weaknesses). Perhaps it would be worth a bit in terms of bragging rights, but I would always encourage you to focus on the bigger picture.
  • Take the opportunities to do PBs up iconic climbs when they present, but don’t let these short term smiles distract you from your longer term goals.
  • Oh, and I was 25 seconds faster than last week. Using the Strava segment compare functionality I can see that all of this was (not surprisingly) gained in the first half.

Happy riding

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What happens when you guinea pig yourself and race an 80km ITT on cooked legs

As a coach I love ‘guinea pigging’ myself. If I want to know what a session feels like for an athlete, then I often go out and do it myself. It’s one thing to know what the prescribed rest:recovery ratios are in the scientific literature. But it’s another thing entirely to go and do the session yourself to remind you what it will feel like.

So it comes to be that I guinea pigged myself again this weekend gone. Not in a training session, but in a race. I’d been asked some time ago to fill in for a friend and do the bike leg in a team for the Hervey Bay 100 triathlon (affectionately known as the Hundy). I hadn’t raced in this event before, and I thought it would be fun. What’s not to love about an 80km ITT after all?

My racing season on the road is over, so it’s back into base miles for me. This means nice long Saturday rides with lots of elevation. I wasn’t really keen to give up this Saturday ride in order to have fresh legs for the Hundy. So I decided to do my long and hilly Saturday ride as normal, and race the Hundy on cooked legs. I wanted to know how much (if any) difference this would make. The answer is, quite a bit indeed.

To the background – here is the Saturday ride. It was done in a smallish group of 8 pretty solid riders. There was no mucking around, just head down and get to work. The ride also included what many regard as the hardest climb on the Sunny Coast – the Obi range. A nasty climb of just on 3kms with some sections close to 30% gradient. It’s part of the course for Velothon Sunshine Coast, and has reduced many riders to walking.

Summary stats

  • Distance: 141km
  • Elevation: 2035m
  • Average Speed: 30.1
  • Normalized power: 148W (on a FTP of 200)
  • TSS – 351. This is the key metric. I regard any ride with a TSS of higher than 300 as being significant training load. It’s kind of my bench mark for trying to achieve breakthroughs in riders. A ride of this magnitude will increase your chronic training load markedly. In this case mine went from 108 to 114 in one ride.

Suffice to say my legs were cooked after. It was a fabulous fun ride with great mates though, so was well worth it!

I drove the 200km to Hervey Bay on Saturday afternoon to meet up with my team mates who I didn’t know. Both of them are legends of surf ironman, Hayley Bateup and Britt Murray (nee Collie). That made me feel a certain amount of pressure to ride well and not let them down. So I was mighty relieved to find them at their campsite drinking wine, eating cheese and laughing their heads off. Phew, pressure off. But heck there is a white line so you are always going to race aren’t you?

Sunday race morning – for those interested and who use Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and the app to monitor their training and recovery. I measure my HRV as soon as my alarm goes off. And you got it; based on my Saturday ride the recommendation from the HRV4 training app was to keep intensity low as I was not fully recovered. This was going to be interesting.

Britt was doing the swim and told me she was ‘not very fit’. But if there is one thing I know about swimmers, it is that even when they are not fit they still swim well. So I was not surprised when she got out of the swim in first place for the female teams and 4th place in teams overall. No pressure.

Headed out onto the bike course, which was 4 laps of 20km, very fast and flat. There was only a tiny little kicker climb, giving a total elevation on course of around 250 metres for the 80km.

Now here’s the bit I actually was interested in and why I wrote this blog. The athletes I work with all know that I coach on the interplay between cadence, power and heart rate. All are extremely important metrics. I know some might say that once you have a power meter you don’t need to look at heart rate. But that is absolutely untrue. The best value from a power meter comes with looking at what your heart rate does at different powers and on different cadence. It’s the interplay between central (cardiovascular) load and peripheral (metabolic or muscular load).

Typically when you ride at a lower cadence you can generate more power and your heart rate will be lower. But this can come at a price. For triathletes it can mean that their legs are over-loaded before the run. Some triathlon coaches work only on low cadences and teach their athletes how to adapt their position on the bike to save their legs for the run. At certain times of the training cycle I absolutely agree with this approach. But at other times of the training cycle (i.e. – base training) I disagree with this approach as higher cadence workouts produce cardiovascular adaptations that cannot be gained through any other form of training. But I digress, and that’s another blog.

Based on my knowledge of my own physiology, my plan was to ride at a cadence of about 80. In terms of power, the normal recommendation I make for a half ironman triathlete is somewhere between 80 and 85% of FTP. But that is knowing that the athlete needs to get off and run. I don’t need to do that as I am only doing the bike leg, so theoretically I should be able to hold more than this; closer to 90% of FTP.  This placed my target power at 162 to 171 watts at an average cadence of 80. Now those of you that are observant will say, hang on Deb, if your FTP is 200 then your target power at 90% should be 180W. Correct. But I do my FTP tests on a 3% gradient, and I know I can’t hold the same power on the flat, hence the lower target figure.

So what happened? As soon as I started riding my legs were talking to me. And not in a nice way. I thought to myself, give them a chance to warm up and they might shut up. They didn’t. I simply could not ride at a cadence of 80. I could feel this and intuitively upped my cadence to protect my legs. But of course this meant that I could not generate the power that I wanted. My average power stubbornly sat in the low 150s. This is pretty much Z3 tempo riding for me, but it was all I could muster. Here is the power zone profile, and it’s absolutely not what a coach would want to see for an ITT or a triathlete on a flat bike course.

But now here is the interesting thing, and the point I most want to make on this. Normally when you ride a higher cadence your heart rate increases to reflect this. Mine didn’t. It also sat stubbornly in Z3 for almost the entire race. I could not get it to even approach moving into threshold territory. It was only toward the end of the race, with a bit of cardiac drift that it moved into Z4. This suppression of the heart rate response is very typical of athletes in a heavy training block, or following a tough session. It’s the reason why you still need to consider what your heart rate is doing once you have a power meter.

In my head I kept saying to myself, just keep your rhythm and you’ll be OK. And I was, albeit at a lower power than I wanted. The average speed in the end was OK, at a smidge over 35kph. But I averaged more than 37kph last year in a team half ironman ride, and I am fitter now than I was then.  My guesstimate is that on fresh legs I should have been around 38kph average for this course.

The summary stats in the end – average power 156, average cadence was 89, average heart rate 156 (threshold is low 170s).

What are the take home messages from this:

  • My feeling is that the limiting factor were my legs (peripheral) and the metrics support this. However, there was also a central suppression in heart rate indicating that I had not recovered from the week’s training, full stop.
  • In stage races, road riders have to back up day after day with hilly climbing stages. I felt like I could have done a hilly road ride. But the metronomic nature of a fast and flat time trial course was physiologically very different. In triathlons and time trials on flat courses you need to get into a rhythm and pound out the watts. Every time I tried to increase power through lowering cadence my legs would start to cramp through the adductors. So it was a case of the specific requirements of the event not being able to be met.
  • Generally speaking, it would take 48 hours for your legs to recover from a 300+ TSS ride.
  • Overall, I don’t see a role for training like this other than for psychological reasons (i.e. – it’s fun to be in a team). You need to go into the race knowing that you have not backed off for it, and will perform accordingly (or not perform so to speak).

Fortunately I was carried by a great swimmer and a great runner in Hayley Bateup who cranked out a run time of 84 minutes. We took out the win in women’s teams and were 8th overall from 75 teams. If you haven’t done the Hundy I highly recommend it. It’s a real ‘old school’ triathlon, untouched by the commercialism we see in so many events now. Heck, I’m old school, I loved it. Thanks to my team mates for a great weekend.

 

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By the numbers – what a rookie NRS rider produced to be competitive at the Women’s Tour de Tweed Stage 2

The Tour de Tweed: round 2 of the 2019 National Road Series (NRS) served up a bit of everything. Two lumpy road stages, an Individual Time Trial (ITT), followed by a technical crit. By Australian standards a large peloton of 70 riders took on the event, as it combined the NRS riders with the Queensland Road Team Series riders. What did it take for a rookie rider to be competitive in the Stage 2 road race? All data used with permission of the rider with thanks. Plus, insights from me in the first person because I was in the race as well.

Stage 2 – a road race of 74km with around 800m of climbing. Here’s the summary data with the visual showing just elevation (grey), heart rate (red) and power (pink).

What do we see from the ride analysis? A neutral start followed by a short pause in proceedings as the commissaires realised they had started us a bit early. Straight up you see the first climb of the day which was neutral until about half way up, and then on like donkey kong. Riders who knew the course were aware that the position on the descent following this climb was vital. I’d briefed our riders to be ready for this to ensure they were in good position at the top of the first hill. Keep in mind that this is all within 5km of the start, so very early. The climb for this rider was 4 minutes 15 at an average power of 284W (4.7W/kg). But, it was really only the second half of the climb that was under race conditions. For this 2 minutes the rider averaged 341W or 5.7W/kg.

Now to that descent I mentioned. The rider found herself out of position on the descent and was passed by a number of other riders as she struggled to maintain her place. This was simply inexperience on her part. At the bottom of the descent she found herself off the main bunch and forced to chase back on. I knew she wasn’t there as I spoke with our other team rider who had made the main bunch about what we should do. I decided to give her a few minutes to try and ride back on as the bunch had sat up a bit. And ride back on she did, but what did it take? It took her 3 minutes and 45 seconds to ride back on at an average power of 333W. This period included her highest 2 minute power for the entire ride at 348W or 5.8W/kg. And it was all done on flat terrain. I’ve marked it below.

As she caught back up to us on the bunch she said to me, in a master understatement – ‘clearly I need to work on my descending’. But how tough was she to chase back on? You only have so many matches to burn in a race like this, and that was one or two definitely used.

You can see after this the peloton played nice for a while with the average speed in the 30s. Then around the 15km mark the speed increases approaching the first intermediate sprint and heading into the first QOM. Here the rider produced her peak 5 minute power for the day at 312W (5.2W/kg). Solid, but quite a bit below the effort used on the first ‘semi-neutral’ hill and chase.

Following the QOM descent was the infamous gravel section of 1.2km which brought a number of riders to grief. I’ve zoomed into this section for detail. The rider is working hard downhill to try and chase back on to the main bunch again. Then we hit the gravel and the rider got caught up in a fall, whilst not falling herself. But again this left her behind the main group and forced a long section of chasing. I can verify this first hand as I was hanging on as best I could here, knowing that we needed to try and get back in contact. This period of chasing was around 7 minutes at a normalized power of 280W or 4.7W/kg. Very solid indeed, and another match or two burned.

This brought us back to start/finish line again (it was a 2 lap course) and we hit the first climb again, this time from the base. Average power for the climb of just over 4 minutes was 286W. So slightly higher than on lap 1, but remember that the first half of the climb on lap 1 was neutral.  Onto the descent that was challenging for our rider first time round. Without riders around her she was able to descend a little quicker than on lap 1 and got herself back onto the main bunch sooner with less effort. It helped that the peloton really switched it off here. And I mean really – for about a kilometre they were doing 25kph. But trust me; some of us were very grateful for this reprieve. Following this the speed winds up again heading into the intermediate sprint on Lap 2.

Sprint over and it was time to ready ourselves for the final QOM. Comparing this to lap 1 looking at Strava, our rider averaged 275W (293W on lap 1) and was around 53 seconds slower. She was with the main bunch though and most of the rider’s times reflected the fact that at this stage there were some cooked legs in the peloton.

Into the flat section ahead of the gravel and there was some chasing going on again, another 6 minutes at well above FTP. We knew from lap 1 that the gravel section was going to be crucial. Lose the pack here and it was going to be very hard to get back on. The words ‘fearless’ were spoken between us. I can’t speak for the other rider, but I know the risk:benefit analysis was going on in my head. I’m 54 years old and I know my body does not heal as well as it once did!

As it turns out there was another fall just in front of us on this section and the peloton got really strung out. Our rider was ahead of me in ‘no man’s land’ whilst I managed to join in with several riders off the main bunch to work together to lose as little time as possible.

Our rider came in just on 2 minutes behind the main bunch, the final 13 minutes done at an intensity equivalent to her FTP. Quite a remarkable amount of hurting considering the number of hits she had taken already in the race. So all in all a fabulous introduction to NRS riding for our rider. All the physiology is there, her improvement from this point onwards will come primarily from experience and race craft. She is definitely one to watch!

Summary statistics:

  • Distance: 73.8km
  • Duration: 2 hours 14
  • Speed: 33.1 kph
  • Elevation: 820m
  • Average Power: 201W (3.35W/kg)
  • Normalized Power: 243W (4.05W/kg)
  • 2 minute peak: 348W (5.8W/kg)
  • 5 minute peak: 307W (5.1W/kg)
  • TSS: 197
  • Intensity Factor: 0.94
  • Variability Index: 1.21
  • Pw:Hr (cardiovascular drift or decoupling): 5.6%. With an average temperature of 17 degrees this drift is likely to be effort related, rather than environmental.
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The TrainingPeaks Performance Management Chart (PMC)

The performance management chart (PMC) in TrainingPeaks is a valuable tool you should look at regularly. It gives you a nice visual representation of your training, along with some key metrics. Here I’ve provided some analysis of the PMC of a triathlete over the past 12 months (with permission). To explain the lines and dots:

* the blue line is Chronic Training Load (CTL) – pretty self explanatory, a longer term measure of your training stress
* the pink line is Acute Training Load (ATL) – a short term indicator of training load
* the orange line is Training Stress Balance (TSB) or ‘Form’. It is an indicator of your readiness to race. You will notice that when ATL is high that your form is low. Makes sense – when you are in a big training block your legs would not look forward to racing.
* the red dots are the individual Training Stress Scores (TSS) of each day. All those red dots on the bottom of the graph indicate that the athlete did not train that day.

So to the interpretation:

* you’ll see I’ve put some red arrows to indicate the event the athlete was peaking for. 70.3 Worlds in South Africa last year, then 2 more 70.3 events in November and February
* this was followed by a trail running event in May known as the UTA. Now this athlete will be quick to tell you I don’t like this event at all. The physiological demands are not really compatible with half ironman racing, so I tolerate participation in this event, but do not endorse it!
* You can see a really high TSS red dot for the day for each of these 4 events. Not surprising.
* These TSS scores were 438, 375, 430 and a stupid high 536 for UTA. For what it’s worth, any day with a TSS higher than 300 is considered very high.
* After each of these events you can see a lovely drop in CTL as the athlete had at least a week of self selected light training

At the end of the graph you can see the current build through to the World 70.3 championships which are in Nice in September.
* you can see the athlete’s CTL is hovering around the 100 mark at the moment, which is the highest it has ever been
* I’ve marked the build with a red line, the athlete’s starting CTL was about 70
* I’ve also marked a week of block periodisation, where the athete came and trained with me on the Sunshine Coast for 5 days for a hill boot camp
* Over the 5 days the athlete’s CTL went from 81 to 98. This is well above what we would normally program (5-8 increase in CTL in a week). But heck, it was a boot camp and the athlete was there to work hard. Plus TrainingPeaks ‘rewards’ power based workouts that have lots of elevation with higher TSS scores than you can typically get on the flats.

And right at the end of the graph you can see the reason why I did this post. A breakthrough! The athlete does a hill session of repeats and records their highest ever 10 minute power on one of the reps. We often see these breakthroughs occur around 2 weeks after the block periodisation cycle. And this athlete provides a textbook perfect example of this.

Now the goal is to manage the training load of this athlete through the next 5 weeks to the Nice Worlds. Periodisation and peaking is kind of a little bit like channelling Goldilocks – training must be not too heavy, not too light, but just right.

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Grafton to Inverell – the build and the race file power analysis

As a sport scientist and coach I think the best way to demonstrate to athletes the value of a power meter is to use my own data and present the analysis of it. So here it is. It assumes a working knowledge of power and TrainingPeaks. This is not a quick read, so grab a coffee and give yourself a few minutes to digest it.

The Build

In terms of the build, let’s take it that I made the decision to race G2I at the beginning of the year and used my time at the Tour Down Under to launch my training. I went into TDU with a Chronic Training Load (CTL) of 91. Anyone that has ever been to TDU knows that you ride a lot that week. I did more than 700km and 8000m of elevation so at the end of the week my CTL was 110. Now clearly a ramp rate of 19 is well above what we normally recommend (5-8) in a week, but heck it’s TDU. My Training Stress Score (TSS) for the week was 1414; with one ride (the challenge event where you get to ride a stage of the tour) with a TSS over 300. This is relevant, as I consider 300 TSS to be the benchmark TSS I was chasing for the really long rides I wanted to do for G2I.

Returning from TDU I had a 16 week build leading into G2I. It looks like this on my performance management chart (PMC) for the past 12 months:

 

Background to the CTL

You can see the build through to the major goal of 2018 which was Masters Nationals in October. Then you can see the reduction in CTL after states as I went back into base training phase. I’ve marked the huge spike in CTL at TDU which launched the build to G2I. Key points:

  • The starting CTL of 110 was an all-time historical high for me. By amateur cycling standards this is a very high starting CTL building to an event. It suggests I could have likely done the G2I back in January. I may not have enjoyed it much, but it was doable.
  • The starting CTL of 110 was higher than the previous year’s peak of 105 leading into my major goal.
  • This creates a challenge, where do you go from here? I was already in completely new territory, but I knew I had not trained properly for an event that was likely going to take me close to 8 hours to complete.
  • I also knew that I needed to be doing 6-8 rides in that 300 TSS range. An endurance ride with moderate elevation (1000 metres over 100km) will typically give you a TSS in the range of 50-60 per hour. This meant I needed to be doing rides that lasted 6 hours and possibly more.
  • Such rides create a logistical challenge for me. I simply can’t do them as my sons have weekend sport commitments. So I made the best of the situation. This meant that I would typically leave an hour earlier than my bunchie, I would continue to ride while my riding mates had their caffeine hit mid ride, and I would add whatever hills I could on at the end.

  • In the first 6 weeks my weekly TSS ranged between 618 and 1036. My CTL went from 110 to 118. The long ride TSS scores were 220, 281, 266, 212, 191 and 301.
  • I only hit my magical benchmark of TSS 300 for a ride once. Plus that’s a pretty modest ramp rate change of 8 across the 6 weeks. I missed very few sessions. But you can see there is not really a ‘build’ as such; because I started the program with a very high CTL. So quite a different approach compared to an athlete who may have come in from a low base.

  • The next 6 weeks I raced a fair bit. I ‘trained through’ for nearly all these races, but you do take it a little easier the day before. Hence there was virtually no further change in my CTL. It went from 114 to 116. Weekly TSS ranged from 629 to 924. My long ride TSS scores actually dropped off a bit and were 220, 185, 276, 276, 200, 231 and 250.
  • A typical week included 2 hill sessions each with around 1000m elevation in total. We don’t have any hills on the Sunny Coast longer than 6km. So one session would be done on this hill, and the other session was hill reps around the 6-8 minute mark. There would also be two bunch rides of around 60km. One of these was with the local A graders so for me was pretty intense. The long ride was normally on Saturday, up to 6 hours and 1500m elevation. On Sunday I would do another long ride of 3-4 hours, often with a crit in the middle of it.

  • The final 2 weeks were where things went a bit pear shaped. I decided to race Anzac Day crits and the State crit champs. These were three days apart and meant I backed off my Saturday ride which was between them quite a bit (TSS – 160). Of course the physiology required to race crits is very different to that required for G2I. That’s OK, crits are good fun and I wanted to do them. It probably wasn’t the best preparation, but it was a lot of fun.
  • I figured I still had one more weekend left before G2I. I like a reasonable amount of load in my legs going into a major event, so I had planned one final big ride. But I got the lurgy. Just a cold, but I missed a day’s training (which is unusual for me), and then had several days of just turning the legs over. So my last long ride went out the door. And that messed with my head. It meant I hadn’t done a really long ride for 2 weeks. I figured when I chose to race the crits I’d get away with missing one long ride, but I wasn’t anticipating getting sick and missing two. So it be; nothing you can do about it.
  • You can see on the PMC below the drop in CTL in that 2 weeks going from 119 to 109 the day before the race.
  • So I went into the race with exactly the same CTL as when I started the training after TDU. Have a look at the PMC for the 16 weeks below.

 

  • Across the 16 weeks it was pretty much about maintenance, not build. I would have liked to have been able to do those really long weekend rides so that there was actually a build across 3-4 weeks, followed by a recovery week; with this 4-5 week cycle then being repeated twice. This would have left 2 weeks transition leading into the race.
  • The result of this is I went into the race really quite anxious that I had not done enough work in that 180km plus range, but there was nothing I could do about it. I also thought I was a bit underdone, and that I had really peaked too early, about 6 weeks out, and then just tried to hang on to it.
  • To summarise the 16 weeks: average distance per week was 399km, average number of hours per week was 14.6 and average elevation per week was 4119m.

 

The Race

First up here are the summary stats for the ride and then I’ll go through the ride analysis. My heart rate monitor was signalling incorrectly for the first 40 minutes. So the HR data I report excludes this time. My weight is 49kg and my FTP going into the race was 200W or 4.08w/kg for FTP calculated across 60 minutes.

  • Distance: 228km

  • Elevation: 3509m

  • Time: 8 hours 16

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.76

  • Average power: 118W

  • Normalized power: 152W

  • Variability Index: 1.29

The race started with a neutral 5km as we left Grafton. We then commenced 65km of rolling hills which would take us to the bottom of the main climb at Gibraltar range. This was the section that I underestimated a bit. There was 965m of climbing in this section of the ride, with virtually no flat sections. So whilst the pace was reasonably conservative, it was necessary to constantly dig in to stay with the bunch on the climbs. The 70km took 2 hours 15 with an IF of 0.79. The VI was 1.42 which indicates how ‘up and down’ the intensity was. The first QOM was at the 25km mark (Cattle Creek) and was 2km at 6%.  This produced my highest 1 minute and 5 minute power for the ride at 233W with an IF of 1.16 or 4.7w/kg.

The main climb at Gibraltar starts at the 70km mark. The climb is 17km at 5.4%. As you read above, I had to change my plan for this section of the ride and was not able to ride it at the intensity I wanted to. I was with the first bunch at the base of the climb, but chose to back off and ride it at my own pace. It felt like I was riding it ‘tempo’, though as the stats indicate it was quite a bit more intense than it felt like. I did the climb in the high 50 minutes, but the stats below are for the 60 minutes as that is nice and neat:

  • Average power: 180W
  • Normalized power: 184W
  • IF: 0.92
  • VI: 1.02
  • Cadence: 67
  • Average HR: 173
  • Pw:HR: 7.04%

So what does this mean? I rode the climb at 92% of my FTP (3.75w/kg), which is not tempo. If you like zones then it puts me at the bottom end of threshold. But if you consider that your FTP for an hour is just that, an hour; then 92% of this is pretty high. I’d burnt a match quite a few times in that first 70km so climbing for the hour at FTP was not realistic. The VI at 1.02 reflects very smooth riding; that 2% variation is simply due to the subtle changes in gradient across the climb. You can see there is 7% cardiac drift (or decoupling as some call it) across the climb. This is pretty normal for a climb of this length though, and does not represent a conditioning issue. Here is the visual representation of the data for the climb:

At the top of climb I was in ‘no man’s land’ between bunches, so I sat up and waited for the next small group to come through, which was not long. At this stage the cold cross-head winds had kicked in so it was pretty hard work. We tried to get the rolling turns to work but we had some passengers so it only worked well for small periods of time. There were also a couple of ‘race stops’ that the guys called and we had no choice but to go along with this and soft pedal a lot until the group reformed. So the stats from the 90km mark until the second feed station at 160km:

  • Average power: 113W
  • Normalized power: 135W
  • IF: 0.68
  • VI: 1.19
  • Average HR: 146

You can see from this just how conservatively I rode this section of the ride. I didn’t really have an alternative as it was too windy to go out on my own. But I look at this data and I am kind of a bit surprised and a tad annoyed with myself that I got myself into this situation.

The final section of the analysis is from the second feed station at 160km to the finish at 228km. As I indicated in my race report above I came good at about the 185km mark and felt the best I had for the last 40km of the race.

  • Average power: 102W
  • Normalized power: 142W
  • IF: 0.71
  • VI: 1.39
  • Average HR: 134

There is a pretty big net downhill for this section of the ride (almost 500m), hence the low average heart rate, but high VI. There was a sprint for the finish so highest power for 30 seconds was recorded at the finish at 348W or 7.1 w/kg. No-one wants to have to sprint at the end of 228km but it has to be done and produces a pretty good pain face photo!

Summary

I feel the key points with my ride are around the intensity I did the main climb at, and whether that afforded me a degree of protection for the rest of the race courtesy of the bunch I ended up with. I think it did and I reckon the numbers support this. I did not have any nutrition issues at all. This might have been completely different if my intensity had been higher in that middle section of the race. There is also some consideration around the intensity of the climb relative to FTP. Some Strava stalking on my part indicates that others have done this typically between 90 and 95% of FTP. So your capacity to ride the climb at a higher intensity of your FTP, and not have this effect you later in the race was a key issue. Looking at others I can also see they have worked much harder than me in that section of the ride from 90-160km.

The other point of note is that my feeling going into the race that I was underdone in that 180km plus training range did not eventuate. This final 40km of the ride was when I felt the strongest. However, again, this may have not been the case if I had ridden the middle section at higher intensity.

I guess there is really only one way to find out, and that’s to come back and do the race again! I hope you’ve enjoyed the analysis and shoot me through any questions you have.

 

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