Archives for posts with tag: Training

Winter has arrived in South Eastern Australia with a vengeance. A wild storm has descended from Queensland into New South Wales and brought with it a lot of wind and rain. This pretty much swamps me out from any riding this weekend with the forecast not looking to clear until Tuesday. To say I was disappointed is an understatement, as I was looking to stretch out the legs on the new speed steed. Some other cyclists would say, “Stop being a fair weather cyclist!” or quote Rule #5 or #9, but the reality was that it flooded in my local area and I had no intent of carrying a kayak on my back.

All that was left was to put the bike on the trainer and spin. Yes the torture machine was to be put to use, but I had been itching to try something different out than spin while watching reruns of “How I met your Mother”. I had read quite a few reviews about the social cycling app Zwift. I grabbed an ANT+ dongle and hooked up my laptop to my TV. With the S3 rigged up to the trainer and the app downloaded I was ready to roll.

Zwift_1002

This is a far better way to roll on the torture machine compared to anything else other than watching European pro-cycling races while pedalling in the middle of the night. The whole set up of seeing other riders in real-time virtually in front of you or coming up behind you is quite fun. The sprint segments and mountain climbs with their leaderboards are novel, with a hint of Strava in the mix. The one thing that was not so good was that with a “dumb” trainer (I have an Elite Crono Fluid Gel from 5 years ago) the sensation of drafting, or the variable resistance of climbing or descending along the circuit, was not available. This did detract from the experience, but not so much that I wanted to hop out of the saddle. Still, I reckon it would be even more fun with a Wahoo Kickr on the rear skewer. There was also the strange sensation that I felt when approaching a bend or corner – I found myself looking to the apex of the curve and preparing to lean in with my shoulder.

The screen layout presents plenty of information to you while pedalling. At first it was a bit overwhelming, but after a couple of minutes (or was it a couple of virtual kilometers) it became quite easy to read. I had my Garmin on to give me my indoor speed and cadence, but after a while I only looked down at the trip computer every so often. The table on the right of the screen with the time gaps to the riders in front and behind was a real motivator to pedal harder, to catch the next rider. It surprised me how quickly I fell into the same mindset that I have when I am on it and doing laps at Centennial Park.

Will it ever replace riding out on the road? No way. Was it fun? Yeah, in a Playstation meets riding sort of way. Will I have a go again on the virtual circuits of Zwift? Most definitely! Indoor training this winter is about to get a bit more interesting and competitive.

Last weekend’s big ride really cooked me. I mean really cooked! My quads haven’t felt that sore in a long time. I know the reasons why; not enough tempo rides (slower 60-80km spins), dehydration, and wearing cold weather gear on what turned out to be a warm day. Oh, and some pretty steep inclines too.

So when I rocked up to Wednesday morning’s training session it was no surprise that I hit the wall. What I meant to write was “blow up”. I hadn’t recovered properly before trying to knock out a sprint interval session. The blow up was… humbling (or was that humiliating?). As a result, my head was not in the right place. Throw into the mix my baby girl thinking that she lives in the Fijian or Tahitian time zone rather than on Australian Eastern Standard Time – I must be missing a few REM cycles too.

So that left me with a choice for this morning’s training session.

Show up or pike out?

I was trying hard to build my excuse list, heaven knows I had reasons. When the alarm clock went off at 5am, the question that entered my head was, “why are you doing this to yourself?” It is the same question that pops up when I hit struggle street on a tough ride. It is a question from the wrong space in my head. The negative space. [side note – cravings for dark chocolate cookies, Carribean rum and Coke (multiple), and two quarter pounders live in this space too]. So what is the answer to that question? I have a prepared response for this challenge which is another question, “When I am old and frail, do I want to look back on all the opportunities that I missed to live to the fullest?” That second question was formed when I was 20 years younger, lying on a hospital bed recovering from a knee reconstruction. That whole experience was a collection of harsh lessons, with one hard reality – to not take for granted my mobility and feel blessed that I have it, while I have it.

I made my choice. I showed up. It was a struggle, but I showed up. I set my power targets at 80% to what I normally train at, but I showed up. And as I warmed up my lithium batteries kicked in. I was still tired but I managed to churn through the session and in the end I spun at over 90% of my normal power targets. After the training session I suited up and arrived at work chuffed. I have won this morning, maybe not the Tour de France or the World Championships, but I won.

In the end there is no excuse or choice, it is show up – even if it hurts.

At least that is what the American cycling legend Greg Lemond said. I have spent most of the Winter power training on a Wattbike at Velofix in Rozelle. It has been… systematic torture. But in 3 1/2 months, I have noticed a massive jump in strength and power. Funnily enough, I have not lost any weight. But I have shifted my body around a bit. My quads have bulked up, my waist is smaller, I don’t feel like I am carrying as much fat – but I haven’t lost weight.

But the test of your mettle is always the dreaded power test.

Dreaded, because the 3 minute aerobic power test is probably the worst 3 minutes that I have ever spent on a saddle turning over pedals. It is 3 minutes, flat out, holding on right until the end.

This morning was only the second time I had done it, and it was no better than the first time. To be honest, it sucked! My heart rate went through the roof, my legs were burning, my inner voice was saying “WTF – give up!”. To top all of that off, I had been pushing away a bug that my wife and two kids had as did four of my colleagues in the office – waking up every day this week so far has been draining. The power test sucked!

But you don’t get stronger or faster by watching reruns of Jens Voigt breaking the hour record in a velodrome (though that was what was on the TVs in the gym the morning after he did break the record, while we were crunching out our intervals). So with this morning’s effort, the desired result was achieved. My 100% power rating jumped 17W this morning, and since I started it has gone up 89W (or 32% – I will let you guys do the math to work out what I am pushing). This last weekend just gone, I rode 75 clicks on the road with my riding buddy, and fellow Wattbike torture victim, AC. We rode strong. The following day, I backed it up with a 45 click ride, and while I felt sore I rode strong.

Another riding buddy JB asked me a very valid question, “What are you working towards?” I had asked and answered that question to myself a couple of months ago. I am now in my fourth decade, and I want to see how hard I can go before the inevitable decline. When I am much older, I want to be able to say to myself and my kids, “I could push it like that, and this is what I have been able to achieve. No regrets.”

I think that there are a few more power tests to come, they will still suck.

Velofix_Wattbikes

Among cyclists, there is a commonly known and feared character who is not our friend. He is the “Man with the Hammer” [N.B. He has to be a man because no woman would be so unkind ;-)]. He is a real bugger! He is omnipresent on every road, route, and trail. And pretty much when you are at your limit – BAM! – he comes out to hit you with that damn hammer.

His name is not Thor (God of Thunder – that guy is a Norwegian pro-cyclist, not a comic book hero).

Thor Hushovd

[SIDENOTE – notice how bad@ss Thor Hushovd looks riding in the snow, respect]

He is probably a bit more like Lord Voldemort (I know, no reference to Harry Potter should be in a cycling themed post), a name that should not be repeated. And this is his propaganda poster, cue link to Stalinist Communism.

Man_with_Hammer

He visited me on my 90km ride a few weeks back, and properly whacked me. I was smashed at the 60km mark, completely bonked (forgot to eat – SLAMMED with the hammer). The ride was fun, but I definitely marked it as a visit by this fiendish of cycling villains.

My winter training has brought about an important discovery…

I Now Know where The Man with the Hammer Lives

Since early this year my riding buddy AC started training at a specialist cycling gym at the Velofix bike store in Rozelle, Sydney. I have watched him steadily improve and leave me in his wake. His response to me has been every time, “You have got to get to Velofix!”. Velofix have a pretty good reputation in the local area of being a bicycle repair store with a solid reputation for good service, and they sell both Specialized steeds and their own brand of Titanium custom steeds by the marquee of ‘Rivet’ [SIDENOTE: many of the gym goers, including myself, routinely lust over the Rivets]. With all of that they have invested in 20 Wattbikes, and set up a specialist cycling gym – and it is definitely not a spin class.

Wattbike_Pro

The Wattbikes, as the name suggest are stationary indoor trainers which measure your power output while you ride. They are heavy, solid beasts, that were developed in conjunction with the British Cycling team. Apparently they can take up to 2000W of power output, and Sir Chris Hoy has come close to pumping that. They replicate the geometry of a road bike perfectly, though I am not keen on the forearm pads on the cross bar (personal preference). And you can clip in as well. The best thing about the trainers is that they measure your stroke efficiency through a live updated “polar view” of your pedal stroke, highlighting your dead spots. One of the things I am beginning to understand is that only 50% of the power in the stroke comes from your quads, with your hammies and glutes are the missing piece to the puzzle – i.e. you never stop applying the power.

So for the last two months I have been winter training with AC at Velofix. It has been a very humbling experience. Each session is an interval session (not spin) measured at my power rating. Everybody trains to their own power rating. At first I started out at 275W – 100%, very humbling when you listen to what the pros churn out (cue The Panzerwagen – Tony Martin sitting at 450-500W for the last hour of a 5 hour stage in the Tour de France). My stroke was incredibly inefficient, where the “polar view” basically said that I was mashing with my quads. After six weeks into it my power rating was revised to 347W. I was well chuffed with the jump for about half a day, when I realised that the interval training was going to get a whole lot tougher. I am now struggling to get my body around a session at these numbers. My stroke is only now reasonably inefficient. I am getting stronger, and when I make the next jump in power it will hurt again.

Position_to_get_Hammered

Here is the catch, it is guaranteed that at EVERY session the Man with the Hammer comes out and smacks me.

It then dawned on me, “He must live at Velofix!” Or any other place where a Wattbikes live.

On a daily basis, like lambs to the slaughter, us Wattbike interval trainers make it easy for him to come out and smack us. We go to him, and he doesn’t have to leave the creature comforts of his house to have a swing.

And I am addicted to it!

I have been feeling the Winter a lot this year, and with picking up a couple of bugs I have not been keen to ride in the cool air. Instead I have replaced mid-week training sessions with a hammering 2-3 times a week. And I have noticed that I am building a very solid power base. Most semi-serious cyclists have now got their heads around the fact the interval training works, but interval training with power is a real revelation for me. Interval training with stroke efficiency was almost unheard of for amateurs not too long ago. I hope is that when Spring and Summer kick in, all the hard work will pay off and maybe keep the Hammer Man at bay.

But of course, as the great Greg LeMond once said “It doesn’t get any easier, you just go faster.”

With less than 2 weeks to go before my 250km Around the Bay ride down in Victoria, Australia, the training kilometers have been racking up. Saturday was an 80km ride with my mate JB (and his new Cannondale Super Six and his first road bike) where we rode from Sydney to Parramatta in Sydney’s West and back. I decided to back it up with another training ride on Sunday, but ratchet it up a few notches – 160km along the M7 Motorway cycle path. The challenge – do the M7 loop twice. JB was in, and this would end up being his longest ride.

Preparing for a 250km ride is tough from a time commitment point of view. Trying to balance the hours needed in the saddle and living a normal family / work life is the challenge. I would love to be able to afford the time that the pros have to train for their passion, but alas my path is different. So I have had to swap long flatter kms with shorter steeper ones. This isn’t too difficult to do in Sydney as you can ask any of the cyclists who ride around in the city. But I still needed to get a long stint in on the saddle.

We hit the M7 at just before 6am, which was really 5am as we have just gone to daylight savings time. JB took off as if he stole the bike, and I caught up with him to remind him that the next 6 hours of riding or so would not be a speed test. It would be all about pace, pace, pace. But that didn’t stop us from having a crack on the fun bits at over 60kph. When we got to the quarter mark, we were feeling good and the sun was just about rising. We headed back into a headwind on the return leg of the first lap, which knocked 2kph off our average speed. Still we were setting a good time.

Back at the cars, my preparation the night before was paying off. I had two ice cold bidons and some food for my second breakfast. We ripped off the bottom layers as the temperature which started at 10 deg celcius had already climbed to 20 and was still rising.

The temperature was to prove the killer on the second lap.

My Garmin measured 35 degrees celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit on the other scale) for extended periods on the second lap. We ended up going through twice the amount of fluid the second time round. This lap it was all about hydration, hydration, hydration. Our pace had dropped off again, and the conversation with that too. We were just focused on knocking the ride on the head. The last 20km was not fun, but having that stretch of the route burnt into my head it was just a matter of counting down the kms. JB asked me with 3km to go “how far we do we have left?” to which I responded “half the distance from your place to mine.” Exhausted satisfaction was what greeted us back at the car (and a swooping magpie too).

Double M7

In two days I had knocked down 240km and about 2,500m of climbing. Those vertical metres are double what I will have to do down in Melbourne. I backed it up on the public holiday Monday with one of my other riding buddies AC. A short 40km to Maroubra Beach and La Perouse into stupidly strong headwinds. The kms are in my legs now, and I will be easing it off now until the big ride in two weekends time. Should be a good ride, hopefully with some funny stories to tell.

A couple of my fellow bloggers have got me revved up to get some kilometers in mid-week. The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a struggle as I have thrown myself into a new job and quite frankly I have been exhausted. But that all just sounds like excuses! So I took the road steed out for a spin tonight. I was prepared for the ride, with a new night light (a NiteRider Lumina 650 which is a little beast of engineering), bidons full, and three layers of clothing – I was raring to go. The only hitch was the bout of man-flu I had been carrying since the weekend, but this was not going to stop me. When I stepped out into the night I was greeted with a bout of cold winter air. In Sydney it never gets as cold as in North America or Europe, but it was quite fresh. It was not until I got back and loaded my ride up to Garmin Connect and Strava did I pick up how cold it was – an average temperature of 9 degrees Celsius (or 48 degrees Fahrenheit for my fellow US riders). Fresh!

The Joy of Riding at Night

There are quite a few advantages of riding at night, particularly in Sydney. For starters the traffic is at its lowest, and in Sydney this is a real problem for cyclists because for whatever motorists are quite aggressive towards two wheeled road users (though this is improving). On routes where you mix with pedestrians, like some of the bike / walking tracks on my local runs, there are fewer of these people too. In the Winter months, there are even fewer pedestrians about. At night, you are seen better because you are lit up like a Christmas Tree – albeit one that is travelling at times up to 50km/hr. And you don’t have the sun beaming down on you, further burdening your attempts to get ahead of the dehydration curve. Finally, the best advantage is that you get a pretty good night’s sleep after a good workout in the saddle. On the other hand there are a few disadvantages; it gets cold, your visibility of the road surface at night is much poorer, and sometimes you have to avoid the odd pedestrian who has enjoyed an evening fueled with alcoholic beverages instead of electrolyte fluid. At night and in the cold you have to maintain your hydration discipline as well, just because it is not hot does not mean you aren’t sweating and losing valuable minerals.

Getting Stronger – Strava is not so Evil After All

Even though I haven’t got that many big rides in over the last few weeks, I still feel myself getting stronger on the pedals. My post ride ritual now is hydrate, carb up, and upload my ride. I religiously upload my rides now, and ensure that on every ride I have my heart rate monitor on too. When I first started blogging I posed the question Is Strava Evil? I now don’t think it is, because it is critical in telling me how I perform on my regular rides. If I am feeling on it like I did tonight, I push it and go for broke on a segment that I know about. Tonight I had 6 segment PRs, and that is giving me incentive to go harder next time. A couple of the PRs were on a few of the torture pinches that I throw into my shorter rides. Two of these pinches are back to back over a 1km stretch with the first peaking at 17% grade and the second at 16%. These pinches are my measure of form, and getting ready for the big rides in September and October will see plenty of climbing up these. Tonight’s ride was short, 23km, but I got in just under 400m of climbing and another hour in the saddle. Big riding this weekend when I pay my brother in Melbourne a visit and go for a spin with his riding crew – maybe even a century ride for giggles.

Can’t wait for the weekend.

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