Sunday, October 26, 2008

Week of October 20

Not much riding this week. I had a trip to Japan for work which really dug into my training time. I flew out on Sunday, had some excellent food, gained a pound or two, and came back ready to roll. Arrived back in Houston Friday morning, stopped off for a burrito, went home and had a 90 minute nap, and then hit the road. Friday was just a 65 minute ride on the PCs with a couple of 6-7 minute intervals at threshold to wake the body up. Perceived effort was high which was not surprising given the 5 days with no exercise.

Saturday – Did the group ride on regular cranks and felt both good and bad. The good was that my threshold power really seemed alive. The bad was that I was lacking my VO2 range. My pulls weren’t as numerous or intense this Saturday. The overall power numbers, however, were still pretty good. Not as good as last Saturday’s effort, but decent nonetheless.

Sunday – The legs were are a little sore from washing 3 cars Saturday. They got even more sore about an hour into a 2:30 long ride on the PCs. The stress from Saturday combined with a longer PC effort left my limbs tired. Today’s ride was mostly endurance but with about an hour of L3 and above in there. Looking forward to a hard week of riding ahead to get the TSS back up there.

PC time this week – 3 hours 35 minutes
PC time to date – 78 hours 35 minutes

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Powercranks Status – The First 11 Weeks

As I sit here in Japan for work, giving my body a short respite from training, I have time to reflect on my use of Powercranks. I’ve got 75 hours of riding on them now since the Texas State TTs in early August. While I haven’t been using them exclusively, I have been using them as my primary crank. I’m a firm believer in the Coggan quote – “Testing is training, training is testing.” In that context, I want to get out on the race bike with regular cranks for each Saturday blitzfest to put myself in a situation where I have to push to the maximum. I want to see if the PC training is paying off. Those Saturday rides provide both the training and testing stimuli needed to verify the role of PCs in my daily training. Likewise, midweek workouts provide additional test points.

First, let’s look at the facts of my situation prior to starting with Powercranks. The figure below shows my max normalized power (10 minutes is actually average power) for a variety of time durations. The data covers late 2003 up until August 4 of this year, the Monday after a successful weekend at the State TT champs (first in M35-39 individual and first in Cat 3 team).

What is evident from the graph is that 2006 appears to be my best year considering efforts of 70 minutes and under. 2007 looks to be my best for longer durations. However, while the curves above look like they are distant from one another, it’s important to read the magnitude of the y-axis. For a given time, the powers from year-to-year are all within 10-20 watts of each other. One note about 2006 is that the big hump around 60 minutes was set in December of that year. I had just gotten off a HUGE block of training load. I was riding 18 or so hours per week for a few weeks and appeared to benefit from that training load. Further, December is a cool month in Houston, so my power is naturally better and you can’t discount thermal issues with the Powertap. Unfortunately it was a one-off performance. I haven’t been able to match that performance since. Indeed, if you look at my other best performances, the 287 W performance sticks out like a sore thumb. The rest are all 275 W and below. For the 275 W number to be real, I want it to be repeatable. Given that comment, I would say that the thick green line, which represents the 2007 training year (October 2006 to October 2007) envelopes my more realistic best yearly performances.

Let’s examine my best normalized powers in the months leading up to the State TT and in early August and a month beyond. Heat load during the summer was a serious concern, and it shows up in my data.

Date20 min30 min60 min
3/17 to 4/13280275257
4/14 to 5/11270267263
5/12 to 6/8267261250
6/9 to 7/6270267255
7/7 to 8/3285273258
8/4 to 8/31266257248

What we see is some pathetic 60 minute numbers. Going into my “A” event I wasn’t putting out much power, despite hours and hours of threshold training. Nonetheless, the power numbers were fairly consistent. What is also seen is that after the TT, my power took a small dip, owing to the fact I was riding for fun as well as starting up the PC riding in full swing.

Starting from August 4, let’s look at how my training volume has been divided. I’ve charted time in each zone, regardless of whether it was on PCs or regular cranks. Further, I was really struggling the first weeks with stamina on the PCs. Nonetheless, the times in zone are based on an estimated 275 W threshold (perhaps a little high even with regular cranks). When on the PCs in those early weeks, endurance felt like tempo, and tempo felt like threshold. The things hurt. My training volume over the last 11 weeks has averaged just under 10 hours per week.

In the 11 week period, the plot represents 6577 minutes of training, with 98 minutes of L6, 230 minutes of L5, 736 minutes lf L4, 1579 minutes of L3, and the rest L1/L2. Compare this with the 11 weeks leading up to the State TT, which saw 124 minutes of L6, 278 minutes in L5, 826 minutes in L4, 1171 minutes of L3, and a total volume of 6946 minutes. What isn’t accounted for in this time period, however, is time spent racing and training on the TT bike without a powermeter. Nonetheless, there wasn’t a significant increase in training load nor in composition. The compositions of these two periods are shown below. The main difference between the two 11 week blocks is that the pre-PC time was 100% on regular cranks, whereas the post-PC time was 66% on Powercranks.

So, now that we know the training load’s pre- and post-Powercranks are similar in both composition and total volume, have there been any benefits to riding with PCs? Yes and no. As mentioned, the first few weeks were rough. It took time for the hip flexors to be accustomed to longer rides. With time I was able to ride them for several hours on end, and now a two hour ride on the PCs is just like a two hour ride on regular cranks. In time, I’ve been able to maintain the same power for a given duration on the PCs as I have on regular cranks. One thing I have noticed, however, is a perceived benefit for durations lasting longer than an hour. My hour power hasn’t budged much, but the longer efforts have improved. Whether this is due solely to PCs versus cooler temperatures is debatable. Nonetheless, something is causing my long term power to increase. If we now roll in my normalized powers in the 11 weeks of using PCs and compare against my 2008 training year before PCs, my all-time bests, and last year (2007 training year), we have the plot below.

I’ve hit my best 60 minute power of the year since using PCs, but honestly the difference between what was and what is now my best is only a few watts. If I had seen 290 W rather than 270 W, there’d be reason for rejoicing. But for now, all I can say is that my threshold is in line with my seasonal variations and within the expected range. However, I have been hitting yearly best numbers for the 120 minute and beyond range. Indeed, since riding PCs I’ve hit some all-time bests in the 150 minute and beyond range. We are talking a few watts, so again, it’s not a significant change.

At this point, if I look at PCs objectively with my Ph.D. glasses on (my doctorate is in mechanical engineering, and I have some background in testing and the influence of test variables on outcome), I would conclude that given similar training stimuli (the composition and duration of my training), training with Powercranks offers no benefit compared to regular cranks for durations lasting under 90 minutes. Seasonal variations in temperature and humidity appear to be the more logical reason for a slight uptick in power for 90 minutes and under. I do however, feel that Powercranks may have a minor benefit for durations lasting longer than 2 hours. There may be some benefit in reducing overall muscle fatigue for longer durations.

Since I’m only 3-4 months into this year long study, I won’t come to solid conclusions yet. I still have plenty of training ahead of me. November will be spent primarily on threshold training, and December will introduce even greater volumes of VO2 work. The work will be performed on PCs with continued Saturday testing on regular cranks.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Week of October 13

Monday – no riding

Tuesday – Tempo day with the PCs. I hoped to do an hour and 45 minutes in L3, but I was still having some hip pain. I erred on the side of caution, though I still managed just over 90 minutes of L3 and lower L4 riding. A respectable 235+ W or normalized power for the duration and 225 W for the entire 2:07 ride.

Wednesday – Debated whether to even go out or not, but I did. Caught up with a pal on his fixed gear. I gave him pulls into the wind to give him relief with the fixie, and he took the tailwind sections. Even though it was a casual 69 minutes on the Powercranks, I still put in some L3/L4 time in the wind.

Thursday – I decided to do a “surge tempo” workout, which I credit with giving great race day fitness. Typically I do this workout in the big subdivision I live in. There are stretches of road anywhere from a few hundred meters to a mile. I ride in my upper tempo range, and each time I encounter a significant turn that I have to slow for or a stop sign, I ride in L6 for 20-30 seconds and recover in L3. After awhile this workout really starts to hurt. The prolonged time in L3 combined with the anaerobic efforts puts your body to the limit, but the payoff is enhanced race fitness. The different today, however, would be the Powercranks. I still haven’t mustered up the courage to sprint on the things, so all my L6 efforts would be in the seated position. I also haven’t done this kind of workout in awhile, so I didn’t know what to expect. I was hoping for 90 minutes in my zones. Didn’t quite get there. My legs started to fatigue and I could only manage 51 minutes of this workout. I rode in the country, so I timed my surges to be on the 3 minute mark for 20 seconds, so 20 seconds in L6, 160 seconds in L3, and repeat. For those 51 minutes I did hit 249 W normalized, so not all was bad. Plus the entire ride was 222 W normalized for 1:58. More TSS.

Friday – no riding

Saturday – Group ride, so back to regular cranks. I didn’t feel all that great, but sometimes perception is simply wrong. I was physically hitting on all cylinders. Because we’ve been going pretty quick lately, we bumped up the distance 11 miles. The extra mileage allowed me to set some all-time numbers for the longer times, and I also set some yearly bests for shorter times. All in all a fantastic ride. Too bad I always perform better this time of year when there are no races, but this form usually carries over to the late winter/early spring races before the weather warms up.

First the overall stats for the ride – 67 miles, 3:11, and 244 W normalized. That was a 250 TSS ride. I was totally beat by the end, and riding at nearly an IF of 0.90 for 3+ hours is good reason. Digging a little deeper, the portion of the ride where we really hit it (i.e., after warmup and before cooldown), 57.5 miles, 2:34, and 255 W normalized. Even had 230 W average. I spent 14+ minutes in L6, 27+ minutes in L5, 38 minutes in L4, and 21 minutes in L3. I tried to keep my pulls on the front half of the ride all above 320 W and 3+ minutes in duration. I set yearly best normalized powers in the 35 to 73 minute range as well as 2:12 to 3:06 (hours and minutes!). It’s created a nice little bump in my normalized power plot shown below.

Needless to say, I was worthless the rest of the day. My legs were like jelly.

Sunday – no riding as I flew to Japan for a few days. The time off will hopefully recuperate the hip. Slept like a baby on the plane.

PC time this week – 5 hours, 14 minutes
PC time to date – 75 hours

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Week of October 6

What a breakout week training wise, particularly with the Powercranks. After nearly 60 hours of use I finally feel fully acclimated to the blasted things. I can readily hop on the PC equipped bike and ride almost like my road bike except for very high end efforts such as sprinting.

Monday – Since today was a recovery day, I decided to get out the fixie. I rode the track bike around the neighborhood for about 40 minutes, just taking it easy.

Tuesday – A fantastic tempo workout. 90+ minutes of tempo riding on the PCs with an average power of 232 watts and normalized of 239 watts. I must admit that I did have a short 4-5 minute break after an hour. I was alternating my time between the road bars and the clip on aerobars. On the way back home I was getting a nasty left side hip cramp. I never cramp, so this felt really odd. I can only think that it was due to using the PCs under load in a relatively aggressive position (i.e., the aerobars). Nonetheless, I recovered enough to make the final 25+ minutes at 241 watts normalized. Altogether the 2 hour ride netted a normalized power of 230 watts and intensity factor of 0.84. A real solid ride.

Wednesday – I put some road bars and a front brake on the track bike and decided to take it out for a spin again for an hour. I just wanted to stay off the PCs to make sure I was getting good recovery before the Thursday workout. I was still getting some hip pain.

Thursday – I could feel the hip hurting off and on while at work. I was really unsure if I’d be able to ride, and if so, at what intensity. I was feeling guilty, so I felt I had to get out and try something. I decided to switch my training plan and shorten the workout with some threshold work. I figured a few short intervals would be a good substitute for the planned 1:45 of L3 riding. I’m glad I switched. I totally blitzed the threshold workout. Previously on Powercranks I have managed about 7 minutes of continuous threshold riding. Since I feel I’m adapted now, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the outcome of today’s workout. After the warmup, I cranked out my first 20 minute interval at 278 watts. After a 5 minute rest I started on the second and backed it up with a 275 watt effort. I even uncorked another 267 effort for 11 minutes on the way home. Over 50 minutes of L4 work with the PCs. And this wasn’t lower end L4 riding but right at IF=1.0. A great 80 minute PC workout. The 20 minute intervals were on par with my good performances this year with regular cranks.

Friday – no riding

Saturday – Group ride today, so back to the regular crank race bike. I got out before the ride for about 10 miles of solo riding at an endurance pace. Once I hooked up with the gang, we rode steady but hard. I made an effort to be in L5 on my pulls and make them at least 3 minutes in duration. I was feeling strong, and I averaged 220 watts and 248 watts normalized for 50+ miles over 2:13. We had a nice average speed as well – nearly 23 mph including warmup and cooldown at the halfway break point. Not bad for a very small group (around 8 guys).

Sunday – Back to the PCs on a “casual” Sunday group ride. 2:10 of riding with a normalized power of 194 watts. A little harder than I wanted since I’d like to go long Monday (Columbus day, no work).

PC time this week – 5 hours 30 minutes
PC time to date – 69 hours 46 minutes

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Week of September 29

Monday – no riding

Tuesday – Smack bam boom. Let the 2009 training year commence. I figure most of October will be spent doing loads of L3 work. I hopped on the PCs and set out for a 1 hour, 55 minute ride with about 60 minutes in my level 3 zone. What was really different about this ride was my position. I threw on some clip-on aerobars. I’ll been having trouble riding in the drops with the PCs, so the aerobars are meant to be a smooth transition between an upright and more compact position. I wasn’t feeling the absolute best due to the new position, and my power numbers showed it – around 220 W normalized for the hour of tempo. I could not spend the entire time in the aerobars.

Wednesday – A quick 71 minute ride where I just rode briskly. That meant some more tempo in there. I was feeling OK, but the nice thing is it really feels like I’m getting fully acclimated to the Powercranks.

Thursday – The past 2 days have given me a little residual fatigue. I was hoping to get in 75 minutes of tempo riding but just didn’t have the juice to push hard. I did manage a total of 60 or so minutes of L3 riding over 2 hours, but I certainly didn’t meet my goal for the ride.

Friday – no riding, thank goodness

Saturday – Saturday was a group ride day, so I took out the race bike with regular cranks. I felt STRONG. Everytime I was on the front I tried to take pulls at least 3 minutes long and also in my VO2 range. I never felt I was getting fatigued, and one of the guys said he felt I could have pulled everyone around for the whole 55 mile route at a high effort (I probably could have today!). During the 2 hours where we were really pushing, I had a normalized power of 245 W, which is very good for this time of year. Altogether I was out there for 72 miles over 3 and a half hours with a normalized power of 221 watts. Booyah! Equally positive was the 20 minutes in L5 and 10 minutes in L6.

Sunday – Back on the Powercranks today. Was with the group, which is usually casual on Sundays. I just couldn’t get a rhythm going unless I was on the front, and I felt guilty about being selfish with my pulls. When I’d get in the paceline I just couldn’t soft pedal effectively. Stop, go, stop, go. So I drifted off the back and went on a different loop. Coming back I saw one of my teammates cross my upcoming path. When I got on that road I noticed I was now halfway between him and the 80-100 second gap he had on the others. It took 8 minutes and 3 miles, but I closed the 40 second gap on my teammate while riding the PCs. My best effort yet on those things – 8 minutes at 273 W, and in the aerobars.

PC time this week – 7 hours 11 minutes
PC time to date – 64 hours 16 minutes

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Week of September 22

Wow, what a good week. Riding with Powercranks gets old after awhile. I think it’s the inability to stand up, sprint, and give the butt a rest. It’s just mash, mash, mash. Ad infinitum. So this week I mixed things up – a lot. Monday I just sat on my butt all day. Actually I did some painting in the house (room renovation). The fun started Tuesday. I was all rested up, so I went out for a longer L3 effort on the Powercranks. The rest was rewarded handsomely. Tuesday’s 1:45 long ride was great. 75 minutes of tempo effort. Normalized power for the whole 1:45 was 215 W, which points to a normalized and average power of 230 W/218 W for the tempo portion. Those represent my best numbers yet on the PCs for that duration. I rewarded myself with another rest day on Wednesday, though I did go out for a 5+ mile run.

Thursday I had hopes of extending my tempo riding another 15 minutes. Unfortunately my body didn’t want to. 2 hours of riding total, but I just didn’t have the gas to ride significant amounts of tempo. I did manage 75 minutes at 217 W normalized and 205 W average. Down from Tuesday, but given the running the day before and warmer temperatures, not wholly unexpected. Friday I had no desire to ride.

Saturday most of the gang was out, so there were only 4 of us to really go hard. This was both good and bad. The bad was the group was smaller so it was less of a race simulation. The good was that the group was smaller, so the conditions were ideal for some testing. I rode the Specialized with the regular cranks and we hit a 4.5 loop with a nice overpass. In the flats, we were getting 2 “hills” per lap. After the second pass of the overpass, one of the guys was off the back. I dropped back to pull him back to the other 2. Didn’t work. We held pace with me on the front 100% of the time, but just couldn’t make a dent in the gap. Nonetheless, if gave me 30+ minutes of threshold riding. The numbers I saw were great. My 15-30 minute normalized power was flatlined at 268-269 W. Given I haven’t spent any dedicated time in L4 (and not much L3 either) since early August, this was fairly good news. Looking back at my historical power for Septembers from 2004 to present, my bests have been 275, 290, 283, and 254 W (Sept 2005 was spent in Japan so there’s no data). The average of those is 275 W. But we need to dig deeper. Typically I carry threshold fitness into late August. In 2008, my August 20 minute best was only 266 W. That’s the lowest since the 2004 season when I started tracking power. So while the numbers are positive, I still haven’t seen any eye-popping improvements because of training with PCs.

Sunday was another small group, and usually we take it easy. I also usually ride the PCs. Not today. We hit it hard again and I was on the race bike. When on the front I pushed into my VO2 zone. That resulted in a peak 20 minute normalized power of 266 W, confirmation of Saturday’s data.

PC time this week – 3 hours 45 minutes
PC time to date – 57 hours 5 minutes