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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Grafton to Inverell Race Report

The Grafton to Inverell has a long history steeped in tradition and is regarded by many as one of Australia’s toughest bike races. At 228km with 3500 metres of climbing it is not unique in terms of cycling events. There are a number of other cycle events in Australia with similar stats. Peaks Challenge (235km and 4000m), Alpine Classic (200 and 3600, plus longer challenges) and Fitz’s challenge (255 and 5000) are all long days in the saddle. The difference with Grafton to Inverell is that it is a ‘race’ not a ‘challenge’. And that’s not to diminish the accomplishment of those who have completed one of the challenge rides; it’s just to point out that Grafton is a bit different. The nutrition considerations associated with ‘racing’ are different to those when ‘completing’.

Of course I had heard and read about the race before. I’d never really considered doing it though, mostly because there had never been a category for women until 3 years ago. That bit is really hard to comprehend. Australia’s toughest one day classic did not have a women’s category until 2017. There were 16 female starters in 2017 and 12 finished. In 2018 there were 18 starters and 14 finishers.  

Every year when I am planning out the year ahead I think about what my cycling goals will be. I try and choose different events, ones I haven’t done before, because it’s nice to experience different places. This year I figured G2I would be the first half goal for the year. I’ve outlined my preparation and build in the more detailed race report in a separate blog post if you want to take a look at the stats.

This year 21 women entered the Des Femmes category which is raced alongside the men’s C grade. So going into it you at least know there will be a bunch of male riders around you at the start. But I am not going to lie to you and tell you I was not intimidated by this race, I was. Seriously intimidated. So much so, that in the 2 days before the race I had to self-impose a social media blackout of sorts. It seemed like every second post I was reading or seeing was about the race, which was just making me more nervous. So all those lovely people that messaged me ahead of the race that I didn’t respond to, please accept my apologies. It was good in a way that I had a near 5 hour drive to get there the day before. I couldn’t get on social media, and I got to listen to a couple of really good sport science podcasts that I’d had in the podcast queue for a while.

I am ever so grateful that through the support of Regional Australia Bank I was in a team. Not that the G2I for women was going to be raced along team lines. It was more about building the profile of the Des Femmes category and providing us the opportunity to race in a supported environment. We were staying together in the same accommodation so the night before was about preparing food/musettes and talking through the race with our experienced handlers. All the talk before the race was about the winds at the top of the range and the temperature. So your thoughts are around what to wear. I had brought all my layers and settled on thermal vest, jersey, gilet, arm warmers, bluff on my head under the helmet, and knee warmers. And I’ll tell you now that I was absolutely not overdressed. I was on the edge of being too cold for most of the day. The only concession to this clothing I made was to pull my arm warmers down for the main climb of 17km (and to pull them straight up again as soon as I reached the top).

So what was the race plan? Well this is really dictated at the beginning by the C grade men. I knew it was 70km to the base of the main climb – the Gibraltar range. So my thoughts were to sit in as much as possible and arrive at the bottom of the climb in good shape to give it a smack. I was hoping to be in a decent bunch at the top of the climb and knew that was important. What I failed to appreciate was just how many hits you needed to take in that first 70km to stay with the bunch. There is almost 1000 metres of climbing in the 70km. There is no way you can really sit in and preserve yourself, as there is no flat riding; it is all either up or down rollers. In fact my highest 5 minute power for the whole race was in the first QOM which was at the 25km mark. Pretty sure I was not the only one for whom this would be the case.

To be honest I felt really unsettled right from the start. I was incredibly nervous and anxious (even though I have been doing this a long time). I was concerned that I had not been able to do any rides longer than 6 hours in training. I’d also missed my last two long rides – one because I chose to go and race state crits and the following week with a lurgy; and that was playing on my mind. I thought I was a bit underdone actually (more on that in the build and stats blog).

At the base of the climb I arrived with the main bunch in reasonable shape. As soon as we started climbing though, I realised I was getting a migraine. Now anyone that knows me will tell you that I refuse to make excuses. I’m confident I got the migraine from being anxious, and I know the pattern of a migraine. I get an aura in one eye for the first 20 minutes or so. Then I get the headache that follows. My plan pre-race to really hit the climb hard goes out the window – mostly because I can’t see properly! So I reassess and tempo up the 17km climb (5.3%) instead. I’m riding next to one of my Sunny Coast team mates and he asks how I am going. I tell him what’s happening, as I know he’s a doctor. His response is to ask me if I am sure I am not having a stroke. Thanks Seb. Half way up the climb predictably the aura goes and is replaced by a thumping headache. There’s not really anything I can do about it but keep drinking and eating and hope it buzzes off quick smart. It didn’t.

At the top of the climb I started to hear some noise that sounded like helicopters taking off. I was thinking, gee they’ve got great race coverage. It wasn’t helicopters. It was the famed wind that swirls around the trees and greets you with a smack at the top of the range. There were broken branches on the road everywhere from this point onwards. And that wind was arctic cold and straight on our noses. We were 90km into the race with 140km to go and a freezing cold block head-wind.

To top it off, I was in the position no rider ever wants to be: ‘no man’s land’. I could see the group in front of me on the climb, but didn’t feel well enough to bridge across to them. And I was ahead of the main gruppetto. So I did what any other cyclist would have done; I sat up and waited for them. In fact I did more than that. I stopped, and zipped up my gilet. It had blown open at the top of the climb and my hands were so cold I could not get it done back up. Plus I didn’t trust myself riding no-hands in those conditions.

Sure enough the gruppetto came by after not very long actually and I jumped on for the ride. I guess we had about 15 in the group at this stage. We were getting blown around badly. Some of the riders were trying to get the group working on rolling turns. We’d get it going for a while, until some huge wind gust would come through and the passengers on the back wouldn’t come through for their turn. It was frustrating and there was a fair bit of swearing going on. Most commonly ‘it’s not that effin difficult boys’.

The first feed station was at the 119km mark. I had a fabulous handler who knew exactly what he was doing. He had told me the first section of the feed zone would be chaos and that he would be at the very end of the feed zone out of the way. And that’s exactly where he was. I grabbed my musette smoothly and effortlessly and slung it over my helmet (had to say that, simply because I actually managed to not fall off). I rummaged through it looking for the vegemite sandwich I was craving, grabbed that and some fruit cake, a bidon of Infinit; and then threw the bag back in the dump zone. I was in the first couple of riders now but there was no point going anywhere hard. The wind was crazy and even though I knew I was one of the strongest riders in the group it was pointless going out on my own. So when the bunch called race breaks to pee, we just had to go along with it. They called 3 of these in fact, and the group respected this and reformed each time down the road. We also continuously picked up solo riders who had been dropped from the bunch ahead.

Talking to other riders, this 40km section between the two feed zones (second at 160km) was a key period for many. For me it wasn’t that bad. I was stuffing my face and rolling through for my turn. In fact a lot of the time when you were not on the front you were adjusting food around. Cold hands and wearing a gilet meant it was not that easy to access food. So I was constantly reaching back and grabbing something when I could and shoving it down the front of my top for easy access when I needed it. I was covered in snot (heck it was cold and you know what happens to your nose), sweat, gel residue, food crumbs but really couldn’t have given a rat’s you know what. It was all about survival at that stage.

Approaching the second feed zone at Glenn Innes I knew I didn’t need to take on more food as I had enough. I just asked my handler for a bidon and left the bag with him. He later told me his first thoughts were ‘score!’ as he knew there was chocolate in there, it was freezing and he deserved it. I soft pedalled for at least the next 5km waiting for the bunch to re-form, oh and they took another ride break. I have to be honest and say it was frustrating knowing that I should have been in the group ahead of this one. But there was nothing I could do about it, and I wonder if in a way it worked to my favour. Because you see, at around the 185km mark my headache finally went, and I felt the strongest I had for the whole race. Yep, the last 40km was when I felt the best I had the whole race. I know quite a few riders were suffering at this time, and it might just be that I wasn’t because I had been forced to ride within myself.

There was a nasty little climb of just over 1km at 5% with 15km to go. A little dig up this and the group was whittled down to about 15, with 3 girls still there. All 3 girls were strong though, never missed a turn the whole ride. In my head my secret goal (once I knew there were 21 women entered) was to finish in the top 10. I knew in this group we were about 8th, 9th and 10th or thereabouts. So I wasn’t about to let the group go.

At this stage the ride has taken a left off the highway and you come into Inverell on a back street. The road closure has finished though, so cars have access to the road; and yes we had a couple. The heart rate spiked a bit when this happened as we were so used to having the whole road to work with and now it was gone. The boys in the bunch started to fox a bit with about 6 km to go. One of the girls piped up with ‘FFS guys, the race is over, let’s just get home’. Kudos to her.

The final climb with about 5km to go is just, well, nasty. It feels like it goes on forever, when really Gibsons Hill is just 1.4km at 5%. I was glad to see the back of it though, and a speedy downhill run to the finish line. I wasn’t taking any chances leading into the finish with the placings; I knew I had to sprint. I had a great line on the right hand side, and came over in the first couple and 8th place female overall (and yes it was my peak 30 second power for the whole race).

How to describe the finish? Relieved I think was the overwhelming emotion. And then a wonder about what could have been. What would have happened if I’d ridden the climb harder and been in a different bunch? Would I have blown up like others? I guess the only way to know is to come back next year and find out.

With thanks to Regional Australia bank, my team-mates and our handlers. Congrats to my team-mates who all finished the race. Madeleine Lambooy in only her second road race finishing in a superb 4th place. Pia Smith who improved her time by more than an hour from last year to finish in 7th place. Cathy Reardon who waited more than 30 years to be able to do this race after a stellar career representing Australia as a road cyclist. Amanda Kyneur and Jena Slavin who had made a pact before the race that they would ride together; and they honoured this. It was 8 hours of racing, but truly a lifetime of memories created.

 

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Spin Doctor Coaching – Weekend Wrap-Up April 13-14 2019

Tour de Brisbane

The inaugural Tour de Brisbane cycling race was a cracker of a course over 110km and 1400m of elevation including an early climb up the legendary Mt Coot-tha. I highly recommend this event for anyone thinking about Gran Fondo racing. A unique opportunity to race on a scenic Brisbane course on fully closed roads! It had a bit of everything – climbing, rolling hills, sweet descents, and super-fast sections on hot mix on the motorway. And tunnels – who knew that the temperature would change so much underground? It was like riding in a very warm windy vortex.

We had three riders start – all in the same category of Masters Women’s 5 (50-54) – Mandy Doolan, Maree Binder and myself. Mandy did the ride not last minute, but not far off it. She was in Brisbane visiting family and thought she would give it a crack. Amazing ride from her to finish 4th in the category and qualify for the World Championships in the process. Maree did the ride to experience road racing and as part of her build to Cairns 70.3. Unfortunately the climb was too early in the race for her to form a reasonable group to ride with. She ended up doing a lot of the race solo, but in the process produced personal best power numbers over all distances – fabulous training for Cairns.

 

 

Challenge Melbourne

This is a half Ironman event on a fast course (by all reports). Donna Dowling lined up for only her second outing over this distance, the last one being back in 2016. After a frosty swim DD followed her race plan on the bike well to set herself up for a great run. And this is where she really stuck it to her coach (i.e. – me). The pre-race discussions around pacing were ambitious, but Donna clearly knew what she was capable of and nailed the run. Pretty much evenly split and as fast as Donna has even run a half, let alone off the bike. And of course this resulted in a super time improvement overall with a 5.45 and 11th in category.

Brad Dowling and Joann Lukins raced together in a team with Brad doing the bike and Joann doing the run. It was a great opportunity for Brad to test the work he had been doing on the bike on a fast and flat course where he could ride to a power target. We did a lot of work in the month before in training playing around with power and cadence to work out his strategy for racing/pacing (that will be a separate blog post). We talked the day before and settled on an average power range. Brad came in bang on target, whipping out a super-fast 2.25 bike split, paced almost to perfection. Jo revelled in the cool conditions to run a half marathon PB of 1.44.

Julia Creek Dirt and Dust Triathlon

This event lived up to its name with Annika Frossling representing us in amongst the mud, flies, wind and heat. In her words – ‘some ask me why I come out here to race. Swim in a muddy creek, ride 23k in crazy headwind, run in the middle of the day in the hot sun and having flies crawling all over your face. I do it because I love to push myself to the limits, racing with likewise athletes, the atmosphere, the horse races, bull riding and much more.
The swim was great. It was actually plenty of water in the creek. The ride did not start really well as my shoes were so full of mud so I could not clip in to my pedals. I stopped and tried to get it out but I gave up. Over 25k headwinds and a slight uphill gave my quads a really good workout. The slowest ride I ever done but it was the same for all of us. The run was good. Very hot but plenty of cold water along the road. Happy with my race. Ended up with a win again’.

Mount Mee Trail Run

Carmel Linning is training for her main goal of the year, the UTA50 trail run in Katoomba. She ventured south for the weekend to take in a race that is part of the Glasshouse trail run series – Mount Mee. The half marathon course provided plenty of elevation (1560m) and some amazing pictures. A strong run from Carmel that was fabulous training in the scheme of her overall goal.

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Why you should train with a power meter

The title of this post is a clear giveaway regarding my position on power meters for cycling and triathlon. If I was ambivalent about it I would have called the post ‘Should you train with a power meter?’ There are plenty of investments you can make in order to improve your cycling; but none will give you a better return on investment than a power meter (assuming you know how to use it and/or work with a coach who does).

I’m often ask how coaching for triathlon and cycling has changed over the past 25 years. The truth is, the foundation principles we work off have not changed that much. What have changed, are the tools available to monitor training and performance. My first exposure to power meters was in the 1990s when I was working at the AIS. Back then cyclists didn’t have power meters on their bikes. We had one power meter in the lab which many still consider the gold standard; the SRM training system.

The cyclists used to come in for periodic testing when they were in Canberra for training camps. We couldn’t monitor performance in training or competition, just the laboratory. You never really knew what you were going to get when the athletes turned up. I remember being in the lab one day in the late 1990s when a great rider by the name of Cadel Evans came in for testing. He had been away on a heavy training block for a few months, and it was at the time when he was in the transition from being a mountain biker to a road cyclist. He had been doing both for a number of years. I can remember our lead cycling physiologist telling me he was excited to be doing the testing as he knew Cadel had lost a lot of weight on the training camp and he was looking forward to ‘seeing the numbers’.

Well, didn’t we see some numbers! I still have a picture in my head of the physiologists jumping up and down in the lab with excitement. It was my first exposure to the value of power meters and remains with me. He kept saying ‘his absolute power is the same, but his power to weight is through the roof’. And it is still the same today – this metric is a key predictor of success in cycling.

The difference today is that we have access to this technology at an affordable price. This means we can monitor performance and training load in both training and competition on an ongoing basis. As coaches, our ability to adjust training load to ensure we get maximal gains in performance from the time available to train has become much better.

This of course does not diminish the importance of sticking to training fundamentals. There are two I harp on about all the time – consistency and specificity. If you are consistent and specific then you will improve. A power meter gives you the opportunity to leverage this better. You need the right amount of training for adaptation, PLUS the right amount of recovery. This requires us being able to quantify training load. The bottom line is a necessity for some measure of the overall training load, because you need to ensure the ‘stimulation’ is not too much or too little. Power meters allow us a far more accurate way of doing this when compared to other metrics such as heart rate.

Heart rate is affected by many factors – hydration/nutrition, the environment (temperature), illness, fatigue, sleep, and /or stages of the training cycle. When I am looking at a TrainingPeaks file for an athlete who does not have a power meter I am not really sure what I am looking at. Are they tired, was there a headwind, is this dehydration I am seeing at the end of the ride? Heart rate will fluctuate with all these factors. But power is power. The number you see is what the athlete is actually doing.

Of course you have to know what you are doing with the metrics that a power meter gives you. Understanding your threshold (FTP), how training zones work (remember these are continuous and should be descriptive, not prescriptive) and periodisation are all key factors. What power can tell you when used in combination with heart rate and cadence is also invaluable.

Oh, and a quick reminder that it is not all about the numbers. The metrics are aids to us as athletes and coaches, and help us train in a smarter fashion. But listening to your body, training on ‘feel’ and communicating with your coach are all also part of the equation that leads to performance improvement.

I’ll cover off these areas in future blog posts. But if I have done enough to convince you now to invest in a power meter then the next question you may ask is ‘which one should I get?’. I’m going to handball this one over. I’m no expert in which power meter you should buy as there are a number of factors to consider. Head on over and read this post from DC Rainmaker, he’s the guru in this area.

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Pinning a number on at the local club crit

Club crit at our course on the Northside this week, near Noosa. Track is Girraween, and has a lovely pinchy hill in it. My kind of track. Legs were well done from yesterday’s 130km and 1500m; but this is when you dig deep and racing on tired legs can bring breakthroughs. So I decided it was going to be a training day again, as it is a 40km ride each way to the track. In my head as I was riding out there I decided that I wanted to be really aggressive today. I didn’t care where I came, I was just going to attack the race as much as I could. I wanted to try and be a part of the race instead of a passenger. I know I can’t leave it to the sprint, I have to try and kill legs before that

We were 30mins+2 laps. I just went for it from the start. Every time I went up that hill I tried to be the first up it and then see if anyone would come with me to get away. Time and again I got shut down on the descent by the group; but I kept trying. Eventually two got off the front and I was just behind them. I tried to bridge but I couldn’t and no-one would help me. One of them died after a couple of laps away, but I just couldn’t get the other one. One of the guys I ride with bridged across to me to give me a little breather. With 2 laps to go it pissed down and my mate told me to go for it and he would roll back and control the bunch. I nearly overcooked the descent on the penultimate lap in the wet and just avoided the grass. Held it together and could actually cruise across the line.

Much fun and goal achieved. Used it as a workout and saw some nice HR numbers. Power was never going to be impressive given the up/down nature of the course.

I can’t understand the mentality of doing no work and trying to win a club race. It means nothing in the scheme of things. It’s different if a championship event, totally get that. But there you go; that’s me. PS – I do a good pain face

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