Feb 27, 2011

Snelling Road Race

The prefatory might get a bit long here, so if you just want to read about the race, scroll down to "Race Report."

I think if you crack open the dictionary and look up "morning person," my picture should be somewhere there. But even I don't particularly enjoy getting up at 3:30 a.m. for a race, especially knowing there is a chance it could be in the snow. Luckily, I forced myself asleep by 9:30 the night before, so getting up that early wasn't too painful. I was also delighted to see that the skies were more or less clear and it appeared that chances of snow fell by the wayside. I had the foresight to pack everything I needed the night before, so the only thing left to do in the morning was to get dressed and throw my bike on the rack. And so I was off.

I got to registration at about 6:45 and to my surprise, everything was set and ready to go - a very nice change from Pine Flat where registration opened half an hour later than scheduled. So I got my number and having plenty of time (which is exactly how I like it), I began setting up my trainer and my bike, secretly hoping that by the time I had to change it would slightly warm up from 31 degrees. My saddle was covered in frost from the drive to the race and it was definitely the coldest staging I had to do, even after racing cyclocross. 

I changed into my cold racing gear, which consisted of ski socks, two base layers (one sleeveless, one sleeved), arm warmers, leg warmers, neoprene booties with a toe warmer in between the shoe and the shoe cover and the regular bibs and jersey. Tip of the day: if you're going to be applying both embrocation and chamois cream, apply the chamois cream first! No, there was no disaster that brought me to my knees, as between the time I applied the embro and the time I applied the chamois cream, so much time passed that most of it was gone from my hands, but I did get a slight tingling sensation, and I imagine it could have been a lot worse. I guess I got off with a slight scare this time around. 

The DZ Nuts Medium Embrocation was just what the doctor ordered for that chilly morning, as my leg muscles were getting warmed up before I even got on the trainer. Another little trick taught to me by my teammates was to use M3 77 Spray Adhesive to attach my number to my jersey instead of pinning it. It save me a ton of time, and the number doesn't flap around. I'm sure some of you are scratching your head wondering doesn't this screw up your jersey? And I know at least one of you has had problems with it before (don't worry, your secret is safe with me). The first time I used it was last week, and I did end up getting a bit much glue on the number which then stuck to my jersey. However, that was easily removed with spray Goo Gone and a dab of a towel. Yesterday, however, I was flawless in execution and the number stuck, yet peeled off without issue or residue. 

Here's the technique: First, I carry a piece of cardboard around which is about twice the size of the number. I place the number of the cardboard face down and stick a couple pins in it to hold it in place. Second, from a distance of about 12 inches, I fan the number with spray adhesive just once and leave it to set for a couple of minutes. Third, unpin the number and apply to the correct side of the jersey (oh, and make sure it's not upside down - at each race I see at least one guy with an upside down number, and not always a Cat. 5 guy). Because under the official rules you're still supposed to have pins in the number, I suggest sticking a few in there just so you don't get DQed. Oh, and lastly, make sure to remove the number from the jersey as soon as the race is over. 

Alright, so enough of that. Let's get to the good stuff. 

Race Report

I made sure to stage near the front, as I intended to spend the majority of the race there because if the group was to split, I definitely wanted to be in the front end of the split. I also knew there were going to be a lot of twisty turns in this race and it's always better to be closer to the front - less of a slingshot effect and less people to crash in front of you. I was afraid this race might go the way of Cantua Creek with a mass roll around for 4 laps and a speedy fifth lap with chaotic finish. Luckily, I was wrong.

After the three mile promenade through the town of Snelling, we were off and the attacks came in immediately. There were a few teams there with good numbers in the field: Roaring Mouse, Webcor/AltoVelo, Tri Vello and Rio Strada. Roaring Mouse mainly hung out in the back, but the other three were responsible for a few digs early in the race. Terence drove the pace early, then I countered, then another guy came around and we were off to a pretty speedy start. 

After the initial few miles, the pace had settled down and I was able to figure out what the heck was going on in the peloton and who my competition would be. I raced against many of the guys in the past, so I knew what some could and couldn't do. Also, this being a relatively flat race, a lot of big (not fat) guys came out, the types who typically power through crits and maybe even on the track. And somehow, seeing all of that, a thought went through my mind, "I'd really like this race to have a nice mile-long hill." That thought was immediately followed by, "Who said that?!?" 

The first break attempt came early with two guys going off and a Webcor guy jumping on their tail. What happened next kind of surprised me - the other Webcor guys got to the front and picked up the pace. I don't know why they wanted to chase down their own guy, but they did. The break didn't last longer than a mile or so. All of this time, I'm at the front, either countering or pulling. As we approached the end of lap one, I knew this was not the idea strategy for this race for several reasons.

One, I don't have any teammates in the race and no one is really eager to share the workload at the front. Two, there are many strong guys in the field perfectly capable of countering attacks and as long as I stay in the first 15 to 20 at the front, I should be just fine. So for lap two, I settled in behind a wheel near the front of the race and watched things develop. All breaks that happened on that lap went pretty much the same way - a group would break away, the peloton would scratch their heads for a while, then someone decided they were going to bridge and the peloton would just jump on their tail and bring the break right back. There was no one to shut the field down as none of the teams had enough numbers in the race to do that.

Before the race, Terence and I briefly talked about a possibility of going into a break since we ride for different teams and perhaps the peloton would let us go. In the middle of lap three, right after the feed zone hill, Terence attacked. I was third wheel out and as he was about 200 meters away, I gunned it and went to bridge. I probably had to push about 500+ to catch him, but I also brought about five or six other guys with me, which was fine, provided that the second I bridged one of them would come around and continue to pull. But it took a little bit for us to get organized and Terence could only sustain his power output for so long, and I was pretty gassed from the bridge, so by the time we got settled into a rotation, we lost precious seconds. After a few rotations, we suffered the fate of all other breaks - we got caught.

That dig I put in to bridge to Terence and the work I did in the first lap, well, I was about to start paying for that. My left quad began having the sensation of "I'm about to cramp up." I knew I was well hydrated, I had taken electrolytes, I've been eating and drinking the whole way, so why I was cramping up was totally puzzling to me. At that point, I thought my race was done. I settled in about 30 back and made an effort to recover - as little pedaling as possible, stay out of the wind, eat and drink, and I did pound my leg a bit with my fist. Lather, rinse, repeat. 

Luckily, the penultimate lap was rather mellow, with a couple attacks, but no major surges. Even with onset of cramps I was able to stay with the lead pack. I also made sure to decrease the torque on my legs by increasing the cadence. All of this helped and by lap five I started to feel okay, at least enough to counter the attacks and stay in the lead group of 20 or so. 

I knew the last lap would be fast (in fact, it was the fastest) and perhaps a bit dangerous at the end if the entire group was there at the finish, which is why I was happy that the pace picked up and that I was able to hang on. The field became strung out with some people getting dropped. 

The final two miles of the race were on black tarmac which was extremely bumpy (probably from farm equipment). With one mile to go, I hit a bump, and wouldn't you know it - another Fizik Antares saddle was ready to go into the trash. I was lucky that I had less than a mile to go to the finish, because the immediate sag in the saddle was quite drastic. The black, bumpy tarmac ended at a hard right about 500 meters from the finish. As we made the turn, the speeds went way high, I ended up passing a few guys going into the finish, as people were getting spit out the back one by one. My efforts for the day would be rewarded with 19th place finish out of 63 starters. 

Summing up: A higher up finish would have been nice, but I'm not the type to dwell on what could have been. I'm still trying to figure out these flatter races where the group is more difficult to break up and no team has enough numbers to truly drive the pace - a work in progress, I guess. I probably should have positioned myself better coming into the final turn before the finish, that's for sure, but with my legs having just stopped cramping, I wasn't confident I could attack from that far back. I am happy that the lead pack could not drop me even with cramps and again, it looks like the fitness is coming along just fine. I'm also puzzled by the fact that out of the last three races, I got cramps in two of them - I NEVER get cramps. I'm not sure why that's happening, but hydration was definitely not an issue in this race. Any suggestions?

Feb 25, 2011

As the weather turns

As the weather turns

The last couple of weeks in San Francisco were like the typical winter in San Francisco – coldish and wet. I’m still grateful for the sunny January and part of February we got to enjoy and fully appreciate the dryness of last weekend’s racing. However, I have to admit that I’ve been hitting the refresh button on weather.com more often than usual, always hoping that the forecast will take a turn for the better.

On Tuesday, prospects for tomorrow’s race were pretty grim – very cold and very wet. On Wednesday, I seriously considered pulling the plug on the race and emailing the promoters before the 5p.m. cutoff to transfer my registration to one of their upcoming races. But then, all the twitter comments started to flow my way and the bottom line in all of them, or rather the bottom line I drew from them was to HTFU. So I decided that I’m going to commit to racing at Snelling and do it in whatever weather may come – I’m still debating how smart that was, but then again, I’ve always considered myself a little more crazy than smart, and I’m plenty smart.

Throughout all of this, in the back of my mind were last week’s weather developments, where chances of rain on Saturday went down from 70 to 20 percent and my race was completely dry. And wouldn’t you know it, it looks like the same thing will hold true this week. However, that all depends on which weather reporting service you choose to believe.

One thing I learned living out here in California is that either meteorologists’ job here is much harder due to the Oceanic currents or something, or they really suck at their job. Back in Chicago, when you saw a 7-day forecast, 9 times out of 10 it was pretty damn accurate. Here, you can’t trust the forecast two days out – unless it’s summer and sunny pretty much every day (well, foggy, then sunny).

Another interesting wrinkle is that different weather services will report different forecasts. Like right now for example. My favorite, weather.com, shows 20 percent chance of rain and partially cloudy for tomorrow (you see why it’s my favorite, right?), while accuweather.com and wunderground.com are showing 50 percent chance of precipitation and possible snow showers. That’s quite a discrepancy. I would normally link to these sites with the relevant forecast, but it will probably change and be irrelevant by the time most of you click on them.

I don’t know what the weather will be like tomorrow morning, and it seems like I’m not alone. One thing is for sure, I’m bringing everything for every occasion, as my goal tomorrow (other than racing well, of course) is to be just a little less miserable out there than everyone else. I figure that little extra edge of being able to keep a smile on my face will help. I also heard somewhere that smiling takes less muscles than frowning, so it’s also about conserving energy.

Good luck to everyone racing Snelling tomorrow, let’s hope it won’t be an ice rink. 

Feb 23, 2011

Golden Cheetah quick start guide

So you have a power meter and you've been riding for a while and uploading your rides to something or other, but you don't really know what any of that means. Well, hopefully this will be of some use to you. First I must get a few details out of the way. None of what I'm about to write was invented by me. I'm merely providing you with the information that I have researched, read and digested. For sake of academic honesty, I will say that most of the things in this blog post have their origins in Training and Racing With a Power Meter, a book I urge you to buy and read cover to cover. 

The first thing that perplexed me when I started riding with my Powertap was what to do with all the data. As I previously posted, TrainingPeaks doesn't offer a Mac version and costs some money, and Golden Cheetah works with just about anything and is absolutely free. The downside of Golden Cheetah is that it doesn't really come with any sort of instructions or explanations of what everything means. This is a gap I'm hoping to fill with this post. There are a few things, however, that this blog won't cover: I'm not going to talk in any great detail about the actual process of uploading rides or playing with settings in Golden Cheetah, you can get all of that from their wiki page. I'm also not going to get into stress balance, short term stress and long term stress, as those concepts deserve a nice long blog post of their own and that will come at some point once I feel I have a firm grasp on the subject myself. In Golden Cheetah this relates to Daniels, Skiba, TRIPM and BikeScore metrics under the Metrics tab. 

Once you've connected your device and downloaded the file to Golden Cheetah, the first tab shows you your ride summary. If you did one continuous ride, it will show you that you've done only 1 interval and will show you several intervals within that interval, for example, distance, avg. cadence, 5 sec max, etc. If you did intervals and somehow split those up on your bike computer, you will get that data for each of the intervals. You can actually choose which totals will be displayed in the summary from the settings menu. From the picture below, you can see the ones I have chosen.

Now, look at the Mertics column above, the first item is xPower. This is what TrainingPeaks refers to as normalized power (NP). If you look at my average power in the Intervals section, you will see it says 169, but my xPower is 221. The latter is the true representation of my effort, while the former is an average of the power outputs at every second of the ride. So, for example, if I were to ride a stationary bike hooked up to a power meter, so that I could produce more even power (without wind, road unevenness, traffic distractions, etc.), and average 221 watts, my xPower would probably be very close to the same number.

If you went out for a ride and did a bunch of intervals, you may want to take a look at them in ride plot mode. You can zoom in and out by clicking on the little arrows next to the "Grid" check mark at the bottom and really get a close up look at each of your intervals. Below is my last hill repeats workout.

Above, you can see my intervals with rest periods in between. I've removed all the smoothing so you can see the power changes at each second of the interval. This is helpful when you are looking at the data close up, but when you want to look at the ride as a whole, you might want to smooth the numbers to get a trend line. You can do this by adjusting the number at the bottom (it currently says 1). The higher the number, the greater the number of seconds over which the data is averaged. Looking at your power intervals in this way can help you determine whether you went too hard in the beginning and faded, or whether you build up in the interval, or if you kept it steady. If you look at my first interval (segment 2), you can see that I started conservatively and gradually increased power as the interval ended. You can also see that I stopped pedaling first and pushed the lap button on my Garmin second, as the power line drops drastically at the end of the interval. I recommend you look at all of your intervals this way and see exactly what happened with your effort within the interval.

Now let's move on to one of the most important things that Golden Cheetah can show you - your critical power plot. This not only shows you your best ever 5 seconds, or your best ever 10 minutes, but you can see your best ever 1 minute 42-second time, or your best 23-minute time. All of these critical power values can help determine what kind of rider you are.

Your power levels are divided into 7 zones: neuromuscular, anaerobic, VO2Max, threshold, tempo, endurance and active recovery. Each is a percentage of your best one hour. Chances are that you've never gone all out with your power meter for one hour because it's hard to do outdoors uninterrupted and very, very boring. The dotted line in the above graph is a critical power curve predicting what your critical power would be for certain times based on the real data represented by the red line (the black line is the ride actually highlighted on the left side of the screen which is not pictured as it is irrelevant here). I will say that the CP curve is not always acurate and it's best to go with your actual values, but if you really have no clue, it will be useful. For example, the CP curve says that my best one hour is 280 watts, but I know that it's actually about 300, so that's the value based upon which I set all of my zones. You can do this in Golden Cheetah by selecting "Preferences" and adjusting your CP value. The power zones will be automatically calculated for you.

After you've been riding for a while and you've accumulated enough data to have some very good best times, or you simply complete a CP test, testing your best efforts at all the critical times, you can refer to the chart below to determine what your strengths are. So let's take my values from the above critical power curve and see what they mean when  plugged into the chart below. My best 5-second time is 1240 watts, which divided by my body mass of 75kg = 16.5, which is at Cat. 3 level. My 1 minute time is 541 watts, which equals to about 7.2, barely reaching into the Cat. 4 category. Interestingly, when we look at my 5-minute time, it's 371 watts or 4.95, which again puts me at the higher end of the Cat. 3 ranking. FT is the equivalent of the 20-minute time and for me equals 297 watts, or 3.92, again in the Cat. 3 category. So how can you use this. 

Each of the times below are representative of different power zones and depending on where you land on your best effort in each, you may have a better idea of what areas you need to train and where your weakness is. Personally, I'm still a bit perplexed at my 1-minute time. It could be that it's low because all of my 60-second efforts come second after my 30-second efforts, or maybe I've always been just a touch too fatigued to give it my true best, or perhaps that's the area that requires the most training, but as I accumulate more and more rides and data-points, I think that will sort itself out.

  Allen & Coggan Race Category Table

5 s
1 min
5 min
5 s
1 min 5 min

7.60 6.40 19.42 9.29 6.61 5.69

7.50 6.31 19.20 9.20 6.52 5.61

11.27 7.39 6.22 18.99 9.11 6.42 5.53
 World Class
11.16 7.29 6.13 18.77 9.02 6.33 5.44
 (e.g., international pro)
11.04 7.19 6.04 18.56 8.93 6.24 5.36
10.93 7.08 5.96 18.34 8.84 6.15 5.28
10.81 6.98 5.87 18.13 8.75 6.05 5.20
10.70 6.88 5.78 17.91 8.66 5.96 5.12
10.58 6.77 5.69 17.70 8.56 5.87 5.03
10.47 6.67 5.60 17.48 8.47 5.78 4.95
 (e.g., domestic pro)
10.35 6.57 5.51 17.26 8.38 5.68 4.87
10.24 6.46 5.42 17.05 8.29 5.59 4.79
10.12 6.36 5.33 16.83 8.20 5.50 4.70

10.01 6.26 5.24 16.62 8.11 5.41 4.62
9.89 6.15 5.15 16.40 8.02 5.31 4.54
9.78 6.05 5.07 16.19 7.93 5.22 4.46
 (e.g., Cat. 1)
9.66 5.95 4.98 15.97 7.84 5.13 4.38

9.55 5.84 4.89 15.76 7.75 5.04 4.29
9.43 5.74 4.80 15.54 7.66 4.94 4.21
9.32 5.64 4.71 15.32 7.57 4.85 4.13
9.20 5.53 4.62 15.11 7.48 4.76 4.05
Very Good
9.09 5.43 4.53 14.89 7.39 4.67 3.97
 (e.g., Cat. 2)
8.97 5.33 4.44 14.68 7.30 4.57 3.88
8.86 5.22 4.35 14.46 7.21 4.48 3.80

8.74 5.12 4.27 14.25 7.11 4.39 3.72
8.63 5.01 4.18 14.03 7.02 4.30 3.64
8.51 4.91 4.09 13.82 6.93 4.20 3.55
8.40 4.81 4.00 13.60 6.84 4.11 3.47
(e.g., Cat. 3)
8.28 4.70 3.91 13.39 6.75 4.02 3.39
8.17 4.60 3.82 13.17 6.66 3.93 3.31
8.05 4.50 3.73 12.95 6.57 3.83 3.23
4.39 3.64 12.74 6.48 3.74 3.14

4.29 3.55 12.52 6.39 3.65 3.06
4.19 3.47 12.31 6.30 3.56 2.98
4.08 3.38 12.09 6.21 3.46 2.90
 (e.g., Cat. 4)
3.98 3.29 11.88 6.12 3.37 2.82
3.88 3.20 11.66 6.03 3.28 2.73

3.77 3.11 11.45 5.94 3.19 2.65
3.67 3.02 11.23 5.85 3.09 2.57
3.57 2.93 11.01 5.76 3.00 2.49
3.46 2.84 10.80 5.66 2.91 2.40
(e.g., Cat. 5) 
3.36 2.75 10.58 5.57 2.82 2.32
3.26 2.66 10.37 5.48 2.72 2.24

3.15 2.58 10.15 5.39 2.63 2.16
3.05 2.49 9.94 5.30 2.54 2.08
2.95 2.40 9.72 5.21 2.45 1.99
2.84 2.31 9.51 5.12 2.35 1.91
(e.g., non-racer)
2.74 2.22 9.29 5.03 2.26 1.83

2.64 2.13 9.07 4.94 2.17 1.75
2.53 2.04 8.86 4.85 2.07 1.67
2.43 1.95 8.64 4.76 1.98 1.58
2.33 1.86 8.43 4.67 1.89 1.50

Now it's time to get really analytical. Golden Cheetah displays a lot of data in histogram form: power, cadence, heart rate and speed. Power and cadence are the most important. The histograms will show you exactly how much time you're spending in each power zone or at each cadence speed. You can also adjust the units by sliding the "bin width" arrow for smoothing or for a more detailed look.

Time (%) vs. Cadence
Looking at the histograms above, you can see how much time I spent in each zone during the ride. As you can also see, the 0 column is very tall in both graphs - this is a good thing. This means that I didn't pedal or produce power during about 18 percent of the ride. This may have been due to descending, or due to drafting, or simply coasting. If you analyze your race data, you should have about 15 percent inactive time, which would represent that you are properly conserving energy during the race and are able to recover and have energy for the hard efforts. I will stress that looking at these histograms in a vacuum is not very useful. Consider how the ride went and then look at the charts. Look at a ride where you felt you performed poorly and then look at another where you thought you did well. Is there a difference? What is it? What can you take away from that data? Did you spend too much time in a certain power zone and burned too many matches, or was your cadence too fast/slow? All of those can be answered with histograms and you subjective assessment of your ride.

The next graph (PF/PV) will help you determine exactly what kind of biker you are. Are you more of a masher, or a spinner. As you can see from the graph below (or you will see once I explain what it means), I'm more of a masher as I produce my highest power during the slower pedaling velocity. That's exactly what the graph is supposed to show. The graph is divided into four quadrants and represents four zones: I - high power, high velocity; II - high power, low velocity; III - low power, low velocity; IV - low power, high velocity. If you look at my chart below, you can see that when I produce high power outputs, the highest concentration of points is in the second quadrant. On the other hand, when I'm turning a lower gear, I tend to prefer a higher cadence, which makes sense - we tend to spin faster when we are pushing a lower gear.

Now, as above, in a vacuum, this data doesn't offer much, but combined with qualitative data, it may provide some helpful insight. How did you feel during the training ride, or a race? How were your intervals? Were you trying to work on your pedal stroke? Think about those things as you look at your PF/PV quadrant analysis chart and see if you want to make some changes in your pedal stroke. Next time you do a stage race with a power meter, compare your crit PF/PV plot with your TT plot. I bet there will be quite a difference between the two.

Now it's time to talk about fatigue resistance. The numbers chart above should have helped you get a better perspective of what your numbers mean on a grand scale, but what do they mean in relation to each other. What good is it to have  1240 watt 5 second sprint if it only takes you 50 yards and the sprint in a crit starts from 400 yards out? How does your power drop relative to time. 

The above graph plots my best times over the last several weeks. I can also set the graph to display the values by days in the drop down menu, but that gets a bit too squiggly, especially for this purpose. You are not looking at the values themselves necessarily, but rather at the distance between the lines. Where the lines are close together, the fatigue resistance is either average or above average. However, where the lines are further apart, chances are that the fatigue resistance is below average. Now, it's important not to get discouraged after learning that your "power numbers" are below average because that's really not what this graph is telling you. How above or below average your numbers are is determined by your critical power graph and the chart above, this simply tracks the changes in those numbers as time progresses. So let's take a look at the graph above. You can see that for the most part, my 10-second, 15-second, 20-second and 30-second times are very close together. This means that there isn't a lot of power being dropped as I go from 10 to 20 to 30 seconds. On the other hand, you can see that the drop from the 1-second peak to my 5-second time is greater, and so is the drop from my 30-second time to my minute time. Of course, there is a much larger time gap going from 30 seconds to one minute than from 20 seconds to 10 seconds, so it only makes sense that the gap between the lines is larger.

Now looking at my aerobic numbers. We can disregard the last set of points, as it seems that I just had one hard 10-minute effort and went easy the rest of the way, which is actually how I remember the last ride. Looking at the remaining data points, you can see that there is relatively little drop going from 20 minutes to 30 minutes, and the gap widens as we get to 60 minutes, or go back up to 10 minutes. This is really not a very good representative sample of my best data because I never really tested myself at my best 30 minutes of my best 20 minutes, so the below are probably not all out efforts, but just power outputs as they happen, which is why the week of February 9 had a higher 30-minute number than the 20-minute number in the three preceding weeks. However, this gives you an idea of how your data will be presented and what it will mean. So if we pretend this is a good sample of data, we can say that my power drops off drastically going from 10 to 20 minutes and drops off very little from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. To verify this, we go back up to my critical power curve and note the angle of the slope as we move between the times. A steeper slope indicates lower fatigue resistance - just note the drastic change in slope at 7 seconds. 

Once you figure out where you are dropping the most power, you can train those times with specific intervals to improve your fatigue resistance at those points. There are many other graphs and metrics you can choose, but most of them (not including the ones about stress) are self explanatory, like amount of time in each power or heart rate zone, or elevation gain, or distance. They don't really require any interpretation.

I realize that this is a lot of information, and there is a good chance I confused a lot of you, or maybe I only confused some of you and dumbed it down way too much. I don't know. However, if there is anything you'd like me to expand upon, or clarify, or amend, or supplement, please comment and I'll do my best to get that done.