Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A golden nugget from years ago

There's been a length debate over at about Powercranks and their effectiveness. What else is new, right? One of the big marketing claims of PCs is that you'll gain a couple of mph in speed which represents "up to 40%" increase in power. The debate has always been how much is merely training effect versus something PCs may actually do. That is, do PCs, as claimed, increase efficiency and then power? Or do they just provide the motivation to train harder and you'd get to the same place with regular cranks? Having used them, I fall into the camp that they don't work magic. If you've peaked on regular cranks, you've peaked. PCs can certainly help you hit your limit just like regular cranks, but they won't push beyond that.

So what did I find in the archives? An old threshold effort from my first month of training with power and in the first 8 months of my bike riding. A little background first:

  • I started riding around September 2001
  • I crashed in mid Feb 2002 and suffered a broken hip
  • Within 3 weeks of the crash I was on an recumbent exercise bike getting my flexibility and moderate strength back
  • Within 5-6 weeks of the crash I bought a Computrainer so that I could get back on my real bike and regain full fitness
  • Within 4-6 weeks of the crash I bought Joe Friel's cycling book and learned the basic principles of proper training methods
In late April 2002 I did a "40k time trial" on the Computrainer. Looking at the data, I went pretty hard. My heart rate during the effort averaged 157 bpm. That's in the range of my typical HR for an hour effort (155-165 depending on fatigue and/or heat); I've got a slow beating heart. My HR also got up to that level within 2 minutes. These days, after 8+ years of cycling it can take a good 8-10 minutes to reach a steady value. My HR also drops like a rock - 60-80 beats in a minute once the workload is removed.

Now my Computrainer has always read a bit low. The 40k effort was 174 W average on the Computrainer for 77 minutes and 176 W for the first 60 minutes. I have calibrated my Computrainer against a Powertap and the "correct" value for 60 minutes would be 188 W. Fast forward 8 years and my hour power is in the 275-285 W range. So my hour power has increased some 50% through training effect alone. If those Powercranks worked the way they were advertised, I should get another 40% gain for a whopping grand total of 110%!!!!!

Can someone say snake oil?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stages of friction

There's some renewed talked on the slowtwitch forums about chain lubes and a claim that no lube is just as good as lube. I thought it would be good to provide a brief explanation of friction and wear. Perhaps the easiest way is to show what's going on with the qualitative picture below which is for repeated motion in a single wear track:

When you have fresh surfaces, either with or without lube, stage I exists. Even bare metal-on-metal contact exhibits relatively low friction early on. The duration of stage I is a function of many things, such as the materials, surface coatings, temperature, pressure, atmospheric conditions (air, pure nitrogen, argon, vacuum, etc), and liquid/solid lubricants. As wear particles develop, you enter into stage II. Stage III is a continuation of the wear particle buildup. Eventually, the number of wear particles leaving the wear track is balanced by the particles being generated and you reach a steady-state (stage IV).

The time is takes to go from stage I to stage IV is a function of many things, just like the duration of stage I. It may be anywhere from a single lap to many laps depending on the contact stress, materials, etc.

Some materials may exhibit a decrease in wear as signified by stages V and VI, though without active removal of wear particles, stage IV becomes the dominant player. From my previous entry you can see that for a sample metal-on-metal contact, stage I was short lived and stage II/III was also a short event. The metal pairing reached a steady state level quickly. It should be noted that had I taken a simple brush and wiped the surfaces down to remove the majority of the wear particles, the friction would have temporarily dropped down to stage I levels. Thus, active cleaning is a great way to keep friction low for bare metal-on-metal sliding contact.

In general, liquid lubes will keep the friction down to stage I levels. The lube acts as a transport agent for wear particles. It should be noted that you can still have wear of the materials, and indeed I have tested some VERY expensive grease (as in a few thousand dollars per pound) which continued to wear the surfaces significantly yet kept friction nice and low. However, any lubricant will have a finite life. Starvation occurs eventually and friction jumps up to metal-on-metal steady state levels as shown in Figure 4 of the link above (the June entry).

What does this mean for chains? When you hear that chain squeaking you can be pretty sure you are in stage IV and it's time to clean and relube. The surfaces are lube starved. Can you get a chain to have low friction without lube? Sure. But the chain has to be designed properly. That may mean proper material pairings, an active cleaning process (e.g., a debris wiper), or proper surface treatments (however, you could argue that something like gold plating is actually a form of lubrication).

So remember, it's not about the initial friction but how long the initial friction lasts. If it lasts a short time, then the question becomes how good is the life of my lube if one is used.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

PowerCranks – The Final Verdict

My year with PowerCranks (PCs) has come and gone. I received them back in July 2008 and immediately installed them and took them for a spin. Instantly I knew these were something different as I was working muscles not previously stressed in the past despite the tens of thousands of cycling miles on my legs. But would that new pain I was experiencing with these new mechanisms translate into more power on the bike or merely a device for torture?

To answer that question I embarked on a disciplined training regimen of significant riding on the PCs. While I had initially agreed to ride the cranks exclusively, I quickly realized that I wanted to get on the regular cranks at least once a week. This was for several reasons: 1) I could not ride my usual Saturday hard group ride with them and keep up (in other words, those rides would quickly turn to solo endurance rides rather than provide a training stimulus for my VO2 and anaerobic zones), 2) I could not safely ride my group ride with the PCs due to the way they affect both bike handling and remounting (as someone focused on safety this was a big issue for me), and 3) I needed a little variety during the week. So while I did not use them as expected, I feel as though I've been able to assess the cranks and their potential to help riders.

First the facts: I felt I had stagnated in terms of the power I am able to produce. I've got power data going back to before 2003, and over the years that data suggests that I'm topped out in terms of performance. As a time trialist and road racer, my interest lies in aerobic power. As PCs are targeted towards triathletes which are clearly aerobic engines, I thought using them could provide just the right kind of training shakeup to perhaps give me 5 percent or more boost in performance. My workouts were geared towards enhancing aerobic power – a steady mix of tempo, threshold, and VO2 riding.

My best performances of the year were actually in the fall of 2008, within the first few months of using PCs. The graph below shows my normalized power for my time with PCs (red line) and compares against a few key time periods. The green line represents the season prior to using PCs. Do to travel and illness, I just couldn't get very good power down. The black line is an envelope of my all-time best numbers prior to using PCs. A few things to note about this chart: 1) even with a subpar year (the green line) prior to PCs, my power was only 10-15 W lower in the 30-60 minute range, about 4%, 2) my time with PCs shows only a couple of instances where I achieved higher power, and those differences were in the single watt range (i.e., 1-5 W differences), and 3) this graph represents absolute best performances (i.e., cherry picking) rather than repeatable power. This last fact is important. A one-off performance could be due to things like instrumentation error, a new chain, or a newly cleaned chain. More important to me is repeatable power. Nonetheless, the data is what the data is, and while I did set some personal records during my time with PCs, they were not significant in the slightest (1-2% at most). All plotted is my average power. That graph tells much the same story as normalized power.

Looking at a broader set of data, the graphs below show my full set of data for 2003 to present. You may notice that 2003 and 2004 were clearly the low points in my cycling. Those were the initial years of my serious cycling and I would expect those points to be the low hanging fruit. If you neglect those first 2 years you can see how tightly bundled all these data are.

But like I said, I care more about repeatable power rather than one-off performances. I want to know what I can expect to bring come race day. In that vain, I took all my daily power data and found the best performances. I averaged these top performances to come up with power numbers I could bank on. The plot below takes the average of my top 20 performances for times from 10 minutes to 60 minutes. What we see is the 2008 was clearly an aberration. It sticks out as being a below par year, yet even 2008 was not that bad. Power at any duration was no worse than 7-8 W. In other words, even though it was lousy in terms of absolute power, my repeatable power was actually quite good.

Of course, the careful reader may wonder about taking 20 rides and averaging them. That's a legitimate concern, and to mitigate that concern somewhat, we can compare 20 rides to 10 rides and also the peak values. The plot below for 2009 shows only a 1-2 W difference between 10 and 20 rides, and only a 5-10 W difference between absolute peak and a 10 ride average. The same can be seen for the 2007 data.

So if I look at all this data objectively, I would conclude that for me, PowerCranks did not positively affect my long-term power (that being 20 minutes or longer). The data collected indicates that my power numbers were within the norms of prior years, and any perceived increase in power was within the stated error of the measurement device itself (a Saris Powertap).

Now the manufacturer of PCs will counter that an inability to show an increase could be due to a few things: 1) I did not ride the PCs exclusively or 2) my stroke was already good and PCs would not be able to help further.

The first point is factually accurate. As already mentioned I did not use the PCs exclusively. However, PC use did account for over 50% of my training time over the last year (which in total was nearly 500 hours). I would have used them more but I experienced some injuries associated with the comination of the PCs and the Time ATAC pedals. I was getting tendonitis-like pain in my left ankle only when using PCs. I stopped using them for several weeks to heal. Upon returning to them, the ankle pain came back, though my hip flexors were ready for long rides with the PCs. Subjectively, I felt I was adapted to them within 2 months of use. I got to the point were I could ride for 3-4 hours with no pain and while sustaining my overall power. Since the manufacturer of PCs can not provide an objective way to determine adaptation, all we are left with is subjective reporting, and my subjective interpretation is that I was indeed adapted.

Regarding the second point, that is something we may never know. However, I do feel my stroke is pretty good. I live in the Houston, Texas area, which is pancake flat. My specific area has long, uninterrupted flat roads with a coastal breeze in the warmer months and consistent cold north wind in the winter. The terrain does not allow for much variable power. You just sit on the bike and grind away. I've got well over 70,000 miles of this riding in my legs.

So perhaps I'm just the exception and a genetic freak who has a perfect spin already. Or perhaps too much is made of unweighting on the upstroke. To this end, I sought out some actually pedal force data. Unfortunately there isn't very much pedal force data out there, but the exception is the work of Kautz, et. al. In “The Pedaling Technique of Elite Endurance Cyclists: Changes with Increasing Workload at Constant Cadence” Kautz and his colleagues measured pedal force data of category 1 and 2 riders. The study was performed many year before things like PCs, Rotorcranks, or elliptical chainrings hit their stride, and on a positive note the raw data is available on the internet. An example of some of this data is shown below, which is for the rider with the “worst” pedal stroke. The blue line shows the force tangential to the crank. You can see that after the rider passes the 6 o'clock position his stroke becomes “inefficient” as negative torque is applied, as indicated by the greenish line.

We can examine the normalized pedal force for all subjects in the plot below. In this graph, tangential pedal forces for each rider are divided by the peak tangential force for the rider. The dashed red lines indicate the absolute min and max values. Error bars in blue somewhat mask the average for the entire data set, but it can be seen that the overall average of the many subjects is positive through the entire stroke. In other words, riders tend to naturally generate a good stroke.

But what if the rider with the “lousy” stroke used PCs to get rid of that negative torque. The manufacturer has made claims on the internet that PCs force the rider to “unweight and nothing more”. So if we analytically remove negative torque from the riders we get an estimate of the potential increase in power due to that “perfect” pedal stroke. The results are rather surprising. The objective raw data would indicate the following improvements: 8.08%, 4.28%, 4.13%, 4%, 3.64%, 2.61%, 2.15%, 2%, 1.84%, 1.29%, 1.07%, 0.99%, 0.47%, 0.32%, 0.17%, 0.07%, 0.01%, and 4 riders at 0%. The average improvement for this set of riders is a whopping 1.77%. To put this in perspective, that's about 5 W on a 300 W threshold.

So clearly there's the potential (albeit not much based on the Kautz data) for improved pedal technique, but can PCs actually deliver that improvement? The figure below is from the manufacturer and shows a single user on PCs and regular cranks. The user switches between the cranks and force data is recorded. What we see is the PC data shows no negative pedal forces (as it shouldn't), yet this PC rider produces negative force when using regular cranks. I contend that if this PC rider trains from birth to death with PCs, he will likely never generate a force distribution on regular cranks that mimics PCs. Why? One can never develop perfectly coordinate pedal motion. Because fixed cranks are, well, fixed, all the pistons would have to be firing EXACTLY 180 degrees out of phase. I feel I'm pretty coordinated, yet even I know I can't get 180 degrees exactly. The slight phase shift means at some point my downward moving leg will be assisting my upward moving leg. This assistance will always cause the force distribution to deviate away from the PC force distribution. That's simple mechanics.

So is it all bad news for PCs? Are they nothing but a bunch of hogwash? Well, in my opinion yes and no. They are not some sort of magic bullet which allows you to take something from nothing. If you are at your physiological limit on regular cranks PCs, in my opinion, will not improve your power further.

But there's the rub – how to do you know when you are at your physiological limit? Unless you have many years of power data it's hard to know. After using PCs, I do feel they can aid a rider in developing their power. For riders that are still improving, PCs provide additional difficulty that could help them raise their pain thresholds and improve their power. Thus, I see them as more a mental tool rather than a physical one. Do I think you can get the same improvements without them? You bet. But for those riders that need a little nudging, they make work.

And so ends the PC experiment. My n=1 experience tells me they are as effective as a placebo solution at raising my power. They did nothing for my power. The interesting thing will be this fall when I get back in the full swing of more intense training. Due to a late May crash, my summer season was a washout, and I've had difficulty getting my power back in the oppressive heat (worst summer in decades). So the question will be can I return to the same form using regular cranks that I had last fall on PowerCranks? My bet is yes...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Post-crash 1 month

Between crash recovery and the heat, my power is still way down. I finally took the time to see just how pathetic things have been of late. Below is a plot of normalized power. Across the board I'm down about 20% compared to the best values over the last 10 months. I'm also down 10-20% compared to the month before the crash. My month prior is showing a little dip in power, perhaps due to the onset of the summer time heat.

The good news is I'm back to doing threshold work and I'm just about pain free. The bad news is I've got a long way to go before my power is back where it should be. I'm thinking I'll be able to make some good gains this week and pop that bottom curve up quite a bit. We shall see...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Back in the saddle again...

Slowly getting back into riding after 2+ weeks off the bike due to my crash. Fitness has gone to pot and it's gotten a LOT hotter since the crash. A double whammy. Trying to come back in 100+ degree heat is not easy. Per my plan, I came back on regular cranks. I had a major groin injury where sometimes it would hurt to simply apply significant pressure on the pedals. By riding regular cranks I could help the weak leg around if need be.

That said, today (25 June) was my first ride on PCs in nearly a month. 2 1/2 weeks down, a week and a half of regular cranks, and now the Powercranks. So common wisdom would tell you I'd be detrained, right? I mean 2.5 weeks of zero exercise and 4 weeks total of no PC riding. Nope. Legs were perfectly coordinated and absolutely no fatigue in a 90 minute ride this afternoon. Fortunately storms pushed through to drop the temps down to a manageable level or else I wouldn't have lasted 90 minutes. Not for lack of PC fitness but heat related fatigue. I'll say that 90 minutes with no issues is proof positive of PC adaptation, but I know there are some out there who won't have any of it.

Not riding PCs for the last week+ was the right move, and at the same time I confirmed that I was again reminded how PC riding is not the same thing as one-legged drills on fixed cranks. On the way home as I rolled up to my house I was doing some single leg spinning with the PCs. Instantly when I started on the injured leg (about 95% recovered thankfully) I got instant pain. I'd just ridden 90 minutes pain free and the first stroke one-legged sent me cringing. It just goes to show that completely different motions are involved when pedaling with one leg versus pedaling with two legs, even when the cranks are decoupled.

But physics aside, it's coming to the end of the PC use. According to my records, next week will have been one year since I received them in the mail. The data I've collected has shown some things, and it will be compiled and put into one last PC report for the world to see.

Stay tuned

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Crash Recovery

It's been a rough week. The crash I had last Saturday did a lot more damage than I expected. Sunday I just hung out at home, barely able to move at times. Sleeping was a pain. Monday and Tuesday I stayed home from work for fear of moving around too much. Tuesday afternoon I "manned up" and went out for a ride. What a mistake that was. I was barely able to get my leg over the top tube before the ride. The ride itself was incredibly painful. I'd get a pain on the inside of my thigh that would shoot down to the outside of my knee, almost like my sciatic nerve was getting twinged. I could manage only 30 minutes of riding at a whopping 90 W. And that was pushing it! I guess I have to reset my functional threshold down a good 50-60%...

Wednesday was the first day to go back to work, which I did on crutches. I could not walk more than a hundred yards or so before the pain really set in. Plus it saved me from having to look like an animal when I walked. My wife was affectionately calling me "Cornelius" as I walked with an ape-like gait. Thanks.

Thursday was another day at home, too sore from moving around too much Wednesday. By Friday I was starting to feel better, though I still walked like an inhabitant of Planet of the Apes, but of the same kind as Charlton Heston or Mark Wahlberg...

Was forbidden from riding over the weekend, but by Sunday night I'm thinking I may try to sneak in a ride early this week. I still can't walk perfectly, and if I lay on my side I can not perform a side leg lift of my left leg. It's going to take some time to recover from this crash.

On the plus side, I made a freaking good chocolate sorbetto. Whenever I'm in Turin I go to Grom Gelateria (best gelato in the world IMO). The have a ciocolato extra noir sorbetto that knocks your socks off. I pretty much recreated it Sunday. The stuff is deadly.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More lube data (actually part 1...)

I recently completed a set of tests to see if there was a difference in lubricants. The lubricants tested included lubricants directly marketed to the cycling market (e.g., Pedros or Pro Link) as well as general household products (WD-40, 3-in-1). A leap of faith is taken in terms of this testing in that it is assumed that the materials sliding against each other don’t matter to the degree as the lubricant. A 440C ball was slid against an Inconel sample on a pin-on-disk tribometer. Dry sliding tests were performed to establish a baseline (dry friction above 0.60). A wear track was developed, and this wear track was used for all tests rather than starting a new track. This was done to keep the effect of roughness in the testing. After a lubricated test, the Inconel sample was cleaned and stripped of the lubricant. A dry run-in test was performed to verify the cleaned sample was free of lubricant and that the dry sliding friction was at least the initial dry value (i.e., over 0.60). Contact force was set at 5 N. Tests were run wet, immediately after application of the lubricant.

The results, quite frankly, surprised me. One of the products was a wax lube. I certainly expected it to degrade quickly, and my expectations were certainly met. But there were a few other surprises as seen in the graph.

A few results stand out. Quite obvious is the increase in friction with KryTech Wax. But surprising is the poor performance of Pedros lube. It performs on level with the wax, and this is a rather popular lube. Obviously not a good one for chains. Another surprise was that as the test went on, Purple Extreme, my current lube of choice, degraded as well. Yet 3 lubes performed very well, either continuing to decrease with time or holding steady. Pro-Link, another popular chain lube, performed best of the bicycle oriented lubes. However, the biggest shock is the performance of household products. 3-in-1 Oil, a household oil, performed well, but not well enough to a product known more as a solvent than a lubricant. That’s right, good old WD-40 performed the best of all. I was completely shocked by this result. Prior to breakdown of the lubricants, some friction values can be predicted, shown in the Table below.

The table confirms what the plot shows; WD-40 and 3-in-1 are the leaders in low friction as well as consistency (as indicated by the low standard deviation). The expected range in the table represents 3-sigma values. Admittedly the low values, particularly for Pedros and Purple Extreme, are suspect. In reality you likely would not achieve friction that low.

So what oil is the best for performance? Well, that depends. Practical experience with WD-40 is that it tends to wear off quickly, but this may be more a function of the aerosol product rather than using the same formula in liquid bottle form. Pro-Link performed well overall, but the cost compared to the household products may not be justified. Nonetheless, just looking at the raw data, you could certainly say the order of preference for lube would be WD-40, 3-in-1, Pro-Link, Purple Extreme, Pedros, and KryTech Wax.

One shortcoming of the test was running the tests in the wet state. In the future I plan to apply the lubricant, leave it for a time, wipe off excess lube, and then perform the test. This is more directly applicable to the typical application for cycling.

Characterization of various liquid lubricants in sliding conditions

  • Test conditions – 5 N mass, 8 cm/sec slide rate for short-term tests, 10 cm/sec slide rate for long-term tests
  • Ball specimen – 6mm 440C
  • Disk specimen – Inconel
  • Lubricants – WD-40, 3-in-1 household oil, Pro Link chain lubricant, Purple Extreme chain lubricant, Pedros Extra Dry All-Purpose Lube

Tribological testing was performed of various commercial lubricants to determine their effectiveness at lowering sliding friction in a standard pin-on-disk test machine. Testing consisted of first characterizing the dry sliding friction between 440C and Inconel, which is shown in Figure 1. Wear quickly develops and sliding friction converges to a value of approximately 0.8. After testing, a wear track was evident in the test specimen.

Figure 1. Sample friction time history of 440C on Inconel with no lubrication.

The wear track developed in the dry sliding test was used for each short-term wet test. Prior to applying a lubricant, a short test was performed to verify friction was on the order of 0.7 to 0.8. Then, a liberal amount of lubricant was added to the Inconel surface in the wear track. The specimen was cleaned, using methyl ethyl ketone and isopropyl alcohol, between tests. Figure 2 shows the performance of various lubricants.

Averages and deviations for the data shown in Figure 2 were computed for the various lubricants. “Best performance” ranges were used. For example, for Purple Extreme, data prior to a decrease in performance was used. Thus, the values represent the most ideal friction coefficients.

  • Pedros – s=0.1381, m=0.0163
  • Purple Extreme – s =0.1119, m =0.0140
  • 3-in-1 – s =0.1028, m =0.0017
  • WD-40 – s =0.0961, m =0.0007
  • Pro-Link – s =0.1106, m =0.0015

Figure 2. Short term testing of various lubes.

Since the above tests were performed with fairly liberal applications of lubricant, selected lubricants were retested with longer term testing and an application that would be typical of bicycle chain maintenance procedures (applying lubricant, allowing time to “seep in” and lightly wiping surface with shop rag). New wear surfaces were used for each test. The specimen was cleaned prior to the next lubricant test. Figures 3 and 4 show the performance of the lubricants tested (Figure 4 magnifies the initial stages). It can be seen from these figures that WD-40 and Purple Extreme quickly broke down and high sliding friction ensued. Figure 5 shows the performance of 3-in-1 oil, which suffered to breakdown and provided a consistent low sliding friction coefficient. It should be noted that in the 3-in-1 test, the slider slid over 9 km relative to the specimen in the same wear track (r=12.18 mm).

Figure 3. Long-term testing of some lubricants.

Figure 4. Enhanced view of long-term test.

Figure 5. Performance of 3-in-1 oil.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hitting the deck :(

Week started off well. My new approach of "flying blind" when using the PCs has been great. Not being focused on time and power has made riding the PCs fun again. What hasn't been fun, however, is the air quality. Summer hasn't officially started yet, but the Houston air quality is in the crapper. There were multiple ozone warnings last week, and I was certainly feeling the effects of ozone on a couple of workouts. I had to limit my intensity and volume because of it - better to sacrifice some workout time rather than damage a lung. Unfortunately I live south of Houston, and the ozone here always seems to be the highest in the area. There was no coastal breeze to speak of, so the bad air just sat over the area. My throat was hurting and I just couldn't breathe like I wanted.

I did set up the PC bike with clip-on aerobars, and I quickly got adapted to them. I was spinning away with zero difficulty when down on the bars. I'd get off the bars because of discomfort in my forearms (not the best quality clip-ons/elbow pads) rather than any leg issues. Plan was to ride like this for a week and then transition the PCs to my spare TT bike.

But things all changed Saturday. On the group ride we had a few "b-teamers". I have no problem with slower riders as long as they don't cause trouble. On the second half of the ride, my pals were going for a sprint zone. I decided to take the throttle off and just relax a few minutes before we hit a "cobbled" section of 3 miles (I love to drill it there). There were 5 of us in a moderate 24 mph paceline, with me 5th wheel. Wheel #3 swerves (he said #1 and #2 swerved for no reason and he had to swerve to avoid hitting #2) and wheel #4 touches wheel. Wheel #4 goes down and I've got a bike on the ground to the left and front of me and a ride on the ground to the front and right of me. With nowhere to go I t-bone the rider at crash. The good news is that even though I landed hard on my left hip, which I broke in 2002, there was no subsequent fracture. The bad news is I'm REALLY sore several days after the wreck. I had to use crutches Saturday afternoon, but by Sunday I was able to walk on my own. I think I've got a bruised/fractured rib, but the rest is all just minor road rash and a lot of sore/strained muscles. Because of the road rash on my left elbow and forearm, there's no way I'll be using aerobars until the scabs go away.

It's my first crash in a few years, and crashes suck. They suck even more when you're an innocent victim. Lesson learned - don't let those with less fitness get in front of you. These guys were probably tired (we drilled it the first half) and had half their wits about them. I'll just make sure to drop them early next time and not be Mr. Nice Guy.

I'm hoping to get a light spin Monday evening or Tuesday at the latest. The wife isn't too pleased with the crash. I got the third degree when I got home Saturday...

PC time this week - 4 hours 10 minutes
PC time to date - 213 hours 45 minutes

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Upping the PC time

After I got back from Italy it's been a whirlwind of activity to get back in shape. I've spent increased time on the PCs to make up for lost biking. I've also changed the way I'm scheduling my workouts. Due to the higher temperatures and humidty this time of year I'm taking it "easy" 4 days a week (Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri) and riding with PCs on those days. I actually don't know how hard I'm riding on those days as I decided to strip the PC equipped bike of all instrumentation. Staring at the powermeter while PCing away just makes me hate the bike (or rather, a PC equipped bike). I've turned to a heart rate monitor for PC rides, and even then I don't know how hard I'm going as the watch is tucked under my shorts near my knee (thanks to a broken band). So now I ride for enjoyment with the PCs and see how long I've ridden and my average heart rate for the ride once I get home. It really has made it more enjoyable.

PC time the last few weeks - 9 hours 15 minutes
PC time to date - 209 hours 35 minutes

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The last few weeks - Italy, rest, back in the saddle, and PC related injuries?

The last few weeks have been consumed with work issues. I had to travel to Turin, Italy to help out with a modal test of some new hardware. I was looking forward to the trip to also get some good riding in before or after work. Unfortunately Lufthansa got in the way. I've flown my bike to Europe a few times now, and it has always been free. This time, however, Lufthansa wanted to hit me with a $500 roundtrip fee. Guess where the bike was? So I loaded up my luggage with pedals, shoes, helmet, etc with the hopes of a friend coming through with a rental bike. Ricardo called all over Turin to no avail, but when all hope looked lost, he found a wonderful couple. Federica and Francesco of Cuore da Sportivo (Via Domodossola 22 C/D in Turin) have a quaint shop that caters to cyclists, runners, skiers, and mountain climbers/trekkers. They offered to rent a bike to me which wasn't even built. Francesco built up the bike (an Italian brand called "Bike Tool") with a mix of 105, Ultegra, and third-party parts, and I picked it up early on a Saturday morning. A weekend of cycling awaited me, and I spent that entire weekend riding to and in the Alps. That weekend I rode many of the same roads from Tuesday's Stage 10 of the Giro. Saturday was a roundtrip from Turin to past Susa, and Sunday was Turin and about halfway between Pinerolo and Sestriere.

What made the riding more interesting was that I took the same shoes and pedals that I've been using on the Powercrank equipped bike. You may recall that I've had some ankle/foot issues with the PC equipped bike, and it seems to be related to the PCs and/or pedals. In Italy, I was on the bike for 4.5 hours the first day and 5.5 hours the second day and am happy to report that I experienced ZERO pain with the rental bike and Time ATAC pedals and shoes. 10 hours of riding and no pain. I had 5 days of no riding prior to the weekend in the saddle. Hmmm.

I got back late last week and did a quick hour on the PCs after another 4 days of no riding. Wouldn't you know it - after the hour I felt some tenderness in my ankle/foot in the usual spot. Then yesterday I did a 2:15 ride on the PCs and was feeling that pain again. I'll continue with the PCs in an attempt to put many more hours on them prior to July, and it will be interesting to see if the pain persists. Looking back at my experience in Italy and the pain I get with PCs, I can't help but think that the root cause must be the q-factor of the cranks.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Overly anal data digestion, part deux

With plenty of downtime ahead of me due to a work trip to Italy, I figured it was a good time to digest some data and look for trends in my performance. I’ve been using Powercranks since July 2008 with the heaviest use from August to February. In February and March I took a rest from them due to some nagging injuries. Now, at the beginning of May I have crossed the 200 hour mark with PCs – a significant amount of time with them which should generate some changes.

Since August of last year I’ve had some good max power values in several time durations. A few of those have been repeatable while others have been one-off performances. One-offs are great for bragging rights, but I’d rather have repeatable performances to draw on for race day. With that in mind, I’ve digested my power data going back to the 2003 season and looked at it from a max enveloping perspective as well as basing my data on my top 10 or 20 performances of the year (i.e., average my top 10 or top 20 powers for various durations). The latter is a measure of my repeatability.

The plots below (for normalized and average) show that the first two years of training with power were by far my worst. I was still within the first years of training in general so the data for 2003 and 2004 are certainly expected. The key thing is that the data from 2005 to 2009 is clustered together.

Because 2003 and 2004 are outliers in the sense that I was still training to get to my peak performance, I will ignore those years from the rest of this analysis. I’m not ignoring the data from the past, but placing importance on the more immediate past (the last 5 years).

Going back to 2003 I’ve got 1120 days of power data stored. That’s 1120 data points from which to extract power data for 5 minutes, 20 minutes, 60 minutes, or whatever duration I want. Most of the data is for years 2004 to 2009, so each year has nearly 200 data points and a good sample size from which to draw conclusions.

If I envelope my top 20 performances in a year I get the data below for normalized and average powers from 3 to 180 minutes. The solid red line represents the current season since starting with Powercranks, and the dashed red line is an average of the 2004-2009 data with error bands (one deviation plus/minus). Within a given year, the deviations are on the order of 3-6 W, indicating high repeatability in my performances. For the cumulative period of 2005-2009, the deviation is on the order of 2-4 W, within the tolerance of the Powertap itself.
Notice how tightly clustered all the data is until you get beyond the 120 minute range. For durations of 2 hours and more, I simply didn’t ride hard for that long in the past. As training evolved and my race team grew, the training rides got longer and harder. The higher power experienced in 2009 for more than 2 hours is primarily due to my weekly training ride being longer.

Since I’m primarily a time trialist, what interests me more is my power for an hour or less. Zooming in on the data above for the 10-60 minute durations we have the plots below. Here 2008 sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s clearly my worst year in the last five years, but even then it’s only off by a mere 5 watts from the average and about 7-8 watts from this year and 2007. Further, 2009 looks to be a carbon copy of 2007.

If I were to instead consider the top 10 performances of the year instead of the top 20, we would expect the curves to rise a bit. And they do. The next 3 plots are for years 2007 to 2009, and I’ve plotted my yearly best along with curves representing my top 10 and top 20 values. There is a difference between selecting the top 10 or 20 values, but honestly the difference is quite small. Indeed, the major difference is between these curves and the max curve. Ideally I’d want to have all three of these lines merge. What the curves do tell me, however, is to be careful with so-called “personal bests” which could be nothing more than aberrations. Was I feeling great that day? Was it from a fresh chain or newly cleaned and lubed chain? Temperature issues with the Powertap?

Another way to look at the data is by date. The plots below are my 20 and 60 minute normalized powers for the last several years. The plot is of all dates, but only rides in the specified wattage range can be seen (in other words, rides with lower normalized power are off the graph). The 2007 training year has better consistency in the 290 W range for 20 minute power, whereas 2009 shows more consistency in the 280-290 W range. 2008 just looks like a lousy year. For 60 minute power, 2009 shows two rides over 280 W for an hour, but 2007 appears more consistent, albeit by a only few watts. Which would a rider rather have? Those two peaks that are 5-7 W higher than the cluster in 2007, or that cluster of consistency?

Finally, what if I were to take my top 10 performances of the year for various durations, average them, and using the critical power model determine my “top 10 based critical power”? I did just that, looking at data at 3, 5, 8, 10, and 15 minutes in duration. Doing this since 2003 I get a performance increase after the first 2 years and then things all blend together. My expected hour power would be 262 W for 2003, 260 W for 2004, 271 W for 2005 and 2006, 274 W for 2007, 272 W for 2008, and 273 W for 2009. When I look at the data, 2007 sticks out the most; I had my highest anaerobic work capacity contribution in that year (though honestly it’s still pretty weak). In that year I spent several weeks doing heavy VO2 work. I had access to the roads west of Paris with several shorter climbs, including one that was ideally suited for 5 minute efforts. I also utilized track racing extensively in preparation for the state time trial championships. Looking back, it appears this VO2 work was the recipe for success. Fast forward to 2009 and I’ve been doing quite a bit of VO2 work, though my 3-5 minute power is 5-10% lower than 2007.

Looking at the data, there’s several things which could be stated:

1) One-off performances are great, but unless you can back them up they are useless if done out-of-competition.
2) Consistency is more important, and by looking at the top 10 to 20 workout and race performances you get a better measure of where your fitness currently sits.
3) I’ve been remarkably consistent the last 5 years. I busted my butt in the fall with Powercranks (tempo, threshold, and VO2 workouts with them) but still I seem to be right smack dab in my physiological limits. My workouts, as measured by TSS, are up about 10% over past years with zero gain. In other words, lots of extra work for nothing (or at most one or two more watts).
4) 2008 was my worst year in the recent past, but even as bad as it was, it really wasn’t that bad, just a few percent lower than past years.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Week of April 20

Coming into the week I've been carrying a lot of load in an effort to continue to drive up the chronic training load. I just hit 100 yesterday after a low of 78 just 5 weeks ago. A nice, steady ramp rate to get back to form. But with the increased load comes some residual fatigue...

Monday - I was simply tired. No motivation to ride and I fell asleep on the couch after work. Body was telling me something...

Tuesday - Still carrying some negative TSB but I think the main point was carryover fatigue from a hard weekend. Intended to do some VO2 work but the legs weren't there.

Wednesday - An hour and 45 minutes of PC riding at a nice endurance/low tempo pace. I have to admit that by the end my hip flexors were barking at me. Still, no problems spinning out for nearly 2 hours.

Thursday - A long tempo ride of 2.5 hours including a stretch of 1:45 at about 260 W. I was dead at the end. The negative aspect of bumping up your threshold.

Friday - No riding due to a ton of rain in the area.

Saturday - Good hard group ride.

Sunday - Ditto Saturday's effort but an extra 2 hours on my own to increase load.

A good week ending up with my CTL at just under 103. The ramp rate is decreasing a bit due to the threshold number getting reset. No personal bests but the form is back to the levels I was hitting over the winter.

PC time this week - 1 hour 45 minutes
PC time to date - 200 hours 20 minutes

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Week of April 13

Some new personal bests this week! Yippeee!!!

Monday - 30 minutes of light indoor riding on the PCs

Tuesday - I wanted to do some quality VO2 work on the race bike, but I came into the workout with a highly negative TSB and my legs just weren't there. So instead I carried a mix of levels and rode for 47 miles just to keep the CTL increasing. I had some decent midrange, but the upper end was just flat.

Wednesday - Outdoor ride with the Powercranks just doing some endurance pace work for 75 minutes. Could have gone longer, but the winds were demotivating.

Thursday - Workout of the year. I was debating what kind of workout to do. Should it be 1) threshold, 2) a hybrid VO2 workout that sees some good training benefits, or 3) what I'm calling "300+" where I ride at 300+ W for as long as I can, take a short rest, and hit it again? I decided to go with door #3. I was expecting to have to throttle down after 10-15 minutes, but my legs kept rolling. It wasn't until minute 36 that I needed a break. Unfortunately after that I was a bit toasted, but I set some new personal bests for average power in the 15-30 minute range and normalized power bests in the 20-40 minute range. Mind you I beat my all-time bests by anywhere from 1-7 W, but those bets came a few years ago. After this portion of the workout I wasn't done. I decided to fill in some time with "surge tempo" where I ride at tempo and throw in some half-hearted out-of-the-saddle sprints out of every turn. The workout is shown in the graph below. The horizontal line is 300 W, and my current threshold is ~275 W. All indicators are saying I need to bump that up to 285-290 W (not just this data, but other ride data as well). The dips in the first part of the ride are due to corners on a local 6+ mile loop.

Friday - no riding due to some significant rain in the area. In fact, the rain was so bad that it forced the cancellation of the first day of the MS150 ride from Houston to Austin, the first time that has ever happened.

Saturday - The same weather system from Friday was still in the area Saturday. Pal Alex and I found an open window of no rain early in the morning for some riding. Just rode it hard to get some training load in. It was, however, a rain (lightening actually) shortened 1:45 ride.

Sunday - 4 hour 15 minute endurance ride on the race bike. With the training load I accumulated on the ride, I'm now up to a CTL of 100 and feeling strong again. Good thing as there are some races coming up soon.

I'm extremely happy about the new PBs. The question is why did I set those? I see 4 possibilities (or a combination of these):

1) PCs - nearly 200 hours of use in the last 9 months, using them more and more again after some injury issues in Feb/Mar. PC use has certainly declined compared to the first 6 months but I notice my pedaling style has more variety. I can pull up (hammies and hip flexors?) from 6 to 12 o'clock for significant periods at threshold to give the quads a rest.
2) increased training load and the fitness that comes with that - I'm slowly building my CTL back up over 100. I am running a negative TSB right now, but the higher CTL allows you do dig a little deeper.
3) caffeine - had some of my homemade candy bar of dark chocolate (85% cocoa) and whole coffee beans before the ride - probably about 100-200 mg of caffeine in a little piece. Not so sure about caffeine being the real factor as I've have indicators of improvement for a few weeks now.
4) the type of training I've been doing lately - very long VO2 intervals (sorry, only me and my team know the protocol)

Below you'll see my latest power-duration charts. The red line is the line corresponding to the time since starting with PCs. In both charts (average and normalized powers) note the bump ups in the 15-40 minutes ranges.

Clearly I'm well ahead of last year but still haven't significantly increased my all-time power numbers. I just need to hold the form through the summer so I can have a much better 40k this year than last. It would be nice to hit a low 56 minute 40k or dip into the 55s.

PC time this week - 1 hour 45 minutes
PC time to date - 198 hours 35 minutes

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Riding the Hooker

What??? Riding the Hooker? Has this blog been hijacked by some not so pure thoughts? Nope. After a few years in hiding, my Hooker has made her way back out of the shadows and whipped into action. Before Cervelo, before Trek TTX, before Specialized Transition, and all the other fancy dancy TT bikes on today’s market, a very special bike designed by Gary Hooker of Hooker Headers (for cars) fame was the be all and end all of aerodynamic setups. There’s a great story on the history of Hookers at Slowtwitch -

My Hooker differs from the one highlighted at Slowtwitch. Mine is a 700c version. I was fortunate enough to but it secondhand (or maybe third- or fourth-hand?), though it didn’t come with the entire assortment of Hooker goodies, such as the aerobars of death, the Hooker brakes, and the one-sided Hooker fork. Before I could make the thing race legal I had to find a rear brake (hidden behind the BB shell). I found some Dura Ace AX brakes on ebay and I was set. The rules say you have to have a fixed gear and a brake or two brakes. The rules say nothing about those brakes being functional, and AX brakes really suck in terms of brake power.

I haven’t ridden my Hooker in over 3 seasons, giving it up because while fast as hell, I just couldn’t put the power down. It was no problem averaging over 25 mph on just 250 watts. The problem was I couldn’t take advantage of the ~10% more power I was generating on the road bike. But I need something new. The Ford GT is out, the Dodge Charger is available again, so why can’t I go retro? When I last rode my Hooker, I lived in a different house (so the photo below will likely not pass muster with the Slowtwitch d├ęcor nazis). I didn’t even have a proper TT helmet as the Garneau Prologue was the only “aero” helmet legal in the States.

Today the bike looks the same. Same lousy red fork. Do you know how hard it is to find a threaded 1 inch aero fork? I’ve made the decision to remake this bitch, and a new set of aerobars is on the way – threadless version of a similar set of VisionTechs (great bars IMO). Now I just need a 1 inch threadless fork and new headset and my drag should drop even more. The last 2 years I rode a budget Leader TT/Tri frame with aero fork and integrated Oval Concepts A700 bars. Great, cheap, setup that had me go 56:50 in sea-level conditions in a 40k. But I need something different this year.

Last week I did a head-to-head competition between the Hooker and Leader. After a 70 mile ride on the road bike I loaded up the 2 TT frames in the car and headed to a local park with a 1.45 mile loop completely exposed to wind. Winds were 10-15 mph that day but still not bad enough for some testing. Same wheels were used for the tests – 32 aero busting spokes with lousy tires and tubes. Not a go fast setup.

Below is a plot of speed and power (divided by 5) over the course of 6 laps for each setup. I targeted 3 power levels (2 laps at each power level) for each bike. Note the repeatability in power application and also the peaks and valleys of speed due to the wind. But more importantly look at how the Hooker tests faster, even with that lousy red fork which is as aero as a pig. CdA estimates show the Hooker to be 0.015 to 0.020 m^2 more aero than the Leader. The addition of an aero fork should improve that even more. Expected time savings over 40k is on the order of 90 seconds. Free speed if I can keep the power up to the levels I had on the Leader. Should be a fun year.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Week of April 6

Monday - A new way of making life miserable - setting up the Computrainer indoors with my PC equipped bike and doing some indoor riding. The PCs aren't the problem; the problem lies with the pain of getting up out of the saddle with the PCs while modulating the Computrainer power in erg mode. Needless to say, my 40 minutes of PC riding on the trainer wasn't enjoyable. My rear was none too pleased with the lack of off the saddle rest time.

Tuesday - On the race bike for an intense workout, one that simply can not be done effectively with PCs. It's the kind of workout that is getting me in shape again quickly, and I set several yearly best average powers in the 6-10 minute range.

Wednesday - Wife's 40th birthday, so I stayed home, took her to brunch, museum, movie, nursery, and dinner. No riding. Have to have your priorities straight.

Thursday - Wanted to do another race style workout on the race bike but just didn't have the legs. Still got in about an hour of tempo to bump up the CTL.

Friday - Decided to take Good Friday off from work and rode with a pal. Loads of tempo to keep the CTL growing. Later in the day I headed off to the park for an hour of testing on my TT bikes. It's a new year, and I'm trying to decide which bike to use. I haven't ridden my old Hooker in a few years for fit issues, but it felt great. Have some decisions to make... More on this in another post.

Saturday - Group ride with plenty of spunk despite 4 hours in the saddle on Friday.

Sunday - Felt good once more.

Unfortunately only 40 minutes of PC time. I intended much more but I'm having to fit too many workouts of various types in. One thing I noticed on some of the rides, however, was pulling back and up on my regular cranks more than in the past.

PC time this week - 40 minutes
PC time to date - 196 hours 50 minutes

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Week of March 23 and March 30

Monday the 23rd - 70 minutes of PC riding at an easy pace. I was blitzed from the weekend.

Tuesday - off

Wednesday - still tired from the weekend

Thursday - A quick hour of riding through the 'hood on the race bike

Friday - 50 minutes of PC riding at an easy pace.

Saturday - Group ride with the race bike.

Sunday - Relaxing endurance ride enjoying the weather.

PC time this week - 2 hours 0 minutes
PC time to date - 195 hours 0 minutes

Monday the 30th - nada

Tuesday - Some of my "race winning intervals" (similar, but not exactly like those described in "Training and Racing with a Power Meter") on the road bike. Left me dead tired after the workout.

Wednesday - 90 minutes of solid surge tempo work on the regular cranks

Thursday - day off

Friday - 70 minutes of Powercranks

Saturday - group ride where I hit it hard

Sunday - another hard group ride

PC time this week - 1 hour 10 minutes
PC time to date - 196 hours 10 minutes

Only 70 minutes of PCs this week but an interesting conversation with one of my pals. One of the top Texas racers asked him if I was the guy on his team riding PCs. This top racer was stating that he felt PCs helped him and that I was using them too much. Hmm. On the one hand you have a top racer claiming too much use is a bad thing; on the other hand I'm violating the spirit of Frank's Slowtwitch study and also not improving by not using them exclusively. What to think... I do know I've used them for some 60% of my training volume over the last 9 months and it would have been more except for those injury issues over the last 2 months.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Week of March 16

It’s been a poor couple of weeks. After getting back from Italy it has been one thing after another. I was essentially sidelined for much of March due to weather and planning a large charity ride. With the charity ride out of the way and the weather cooperating, this week was spent trying to regain some of my lost form. I had the most volume of any week in awhile, and hopefully I’ll get a bump from that in the coming weeks or at least rebuild my foundation. My CTL has fallen from 107 in January to 78 last Sunday. Thus, my form is in the tank, PC riding or not.

Monday – I took the day off from work to put a long 3+ hour ride in on the regular cranks. Just a warm-up ride trying to get my sea legs back.

Tuesday – Easy ride on regular cranks.

Wednesday – A fun ride, which meant a mix of tempo up to anaerobic. Still no PC riding – this ride was intended to rebuild race fitness by simulating out of the saddle surges and such.

Thursday – Today was a PC ride. 2 hours of PC riding and the PC layoff caused some fatigue for sure. The first 90 minutes was a snap, but then the hip flexors were a little tired. The good news is there was no ankle pain, so I plan to add some more PC time during my training weeks.

Friday – No riding due to travel to Austin. I brought the race bike with the regular cranks as the goal was to attack the hills hard with plenty of out of the saddle efforts. I would have been racing at Fayetteville this weekend but my race fitness is so bad right now it would have been an embarrassment.

Saturday – Felt great (relatively compared to previous weeks). I didn’t set any average power or normalized power records or year bests, but I was within a few percent of those values. The 3+ hour ride hurt like heck.

Sunday – My legs were beat from Saturday so the way out I took it easy. I had a nice tailwind and I let it push me along. The first 90 minutes I only averaged a bit over 160 watts while averaging over 20 mph with some nice hills in there. Coming back I was hitting the full force of those 15-20 mph headwinds with higher gusts. The return trip was 30+ minutes slower but with powers 30 percent plus higher. Got some good tempo time in there and burned some fat off. Goal met for the day.

A good TSS building week. I accumulated 910 points for the week and pushed my CTL up 8 points. I need a few more of these weeks and I’ll be back to my previous form I expect. While only being on the PCs for 2 hours, it was a pain free 2 hours (except for the hip flexors). I hope to log more time on them this week, particularly on my endurance rides.

It has been awhile since I’ve reported my power data. The curves below clearly show how lousy my March has been. January and February were both great months, but March has been at least 5-10% below in performance for average power. My normalized powers have only exceeded August and September, when I was mostly riding PCs and had some lousy fitness.

PC time this week - 2 hours, 0 minutes
PC time to date - 193 hours, 0 minutes

Monday, March 16, 2009

The last 2 weeks

Talk about inconsistent. Things just haven't worked out for me the last 2 weeks. I was responsible for organizing a charity ride for a local cycling club which grabbed a lot of my time. I'm amazed at how little riding I've done in the last 2 weeks. Volume was about half what I usually do, and my fitness has dropped as a result. Not good going into the busiest part of the Texas racing season.

Over the last 2 weeks I actually got back on the PCs. Here's some recent history:

March 2 - a good tempo ride with regular cranks doing some race type efforts such as out-of-the-saddle sprints and such.

March 3 - 65 minutes at endurance pace on the PCs with no pain! Yippee!

March 4 - VO2 workout on the race bike with regular cranks. Was only going to do 3 minute intervals but felt good enough to extend them to 5 minutes.

March 5 - no riding in anticipation of a race Saturday

March 6 - opener workout on the race bike

March 7 - Raced the 3/4 race at Tunis-Roubaix. Race is 4 laps of 13 miles with 5-6 miles of that on gravel. It was a war of attrition and I survived. The majority of the field went out with multiple flats but I prevailed for a 3rd place finish. The funny thing is I've never felt worse in a race. It was my absolute worst power day in a race. 189 W average and 211 W normalized for the race. I had zero energy, and that may have been dehydration as this was the first relatively warm cycling day. Usually for the duration I'm a good 20% higher in power.

March 8 - 1:40 on the PCs and Saturday's sluggishness followed me the whole day. I felt just as bad today as I did the day before. Again, no pain using the PCs, but just no legs. I'm in a real funk.

Monday - On the TT rig for the first time this year in anticipation of the Fayetteville (Texas) Stage Race. Felt good enough to pop out a 8+ minute threshold effort.

Tuesday - race paced tempo ride on the race bike

Wednesday - Didn't have much time so I hightailed it to a local park with a 1.4 mile loop for a combined workout and aero test day. Got some good data on the TT bike but didn't have a whole lot of energy.

Thursday to Sunday - no riding due to final preparations for the charity ride, bad weather (freaking cold and rainy), and company from Japan. Sucks not getting a ride in.

So the good news is I got some more PC riding in and without pain. The bad news is my fitness is in the tank due to a lack of riding. I'm hoping to regain my fitness in short order to tackle the races coming up.

PC time this week - 1 hour, 45 minutes
PC time to date - 191 hours, 0 minutes

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sunday evening update - first PC ride in 2+ weeks

I "braved the cold" (ooh, 60 degrees) and did indeed get out on the PCs for the first time in 2+ weeks. Figured I'd just do an hour at endurace pace as I'm shifting my hard workout up a day to Monday.

The good news - riding the PCs was a snap. It was like I never stopped using them for 2+ weeks. No hip flexor fatigue whatsoever.

The bad news - my left ankle/foot pain flared up about 30 minutes into the ride. I cut the ride short at 45 minutes to avoid the pain.

A bit discouraging. I haven't had ANY pain with my race bike setup of Look pedals/cleats (which just can't be used with these PCs without significantly affecting q-factor) and regular cranks. The PC folks have suggested spacers, but I refuse to do this as it may open myself up to even more injuries. The late Sheldon Brown has an excellent discussion of q-factor and the need to keep it narrow - The hip joint is optimized for walking, and in normal walking the footsteps are pretty much in line, with little or no "tread."

PC time this week - 45 minutes
PC time to date - 189 hours, 15 minutes

The Last Two Weeks

It's been 2 weeks since I checked in. Reason is two-fold. The first is that I was in Turin, Italy for work. It's always great heading to Italy and filling up on the best pizza, pasta, espresso, and gelato the world has to offer. I made sure to get my work done but also to enjoy life. My wife came along, and it was her first time to Italy. She loves Japan and bugs me about my next trip there (she's been 7 times, you'd think she'd tire of it but she loves it that much). Italy just made her list now as well.

Anyway, I got back Friday Feb 20 late in the day. Because of that nagging ankle/foot pain I was having, I decided to wait on getting back to PCs. Saturday most of my team was racing in the Austin area. Since I had come off a trans-Atlantic flight not 16 hours earlier, I skipped the weekend of racing. Instead I went long on the race bike and found I was a lot fresher than expected. Throughout the week I focused on just gaining some race fitness back. My upper end and snap have declined due to the extensive PC use so I did plenty of simulated race pace riding - accelerating hard out of the saddle coming out of turns, sprinting, etc. Things that just can't be done well with PCs. The Saturday ride had a slightly reduced crowd due to a couple of folks being out. But for myself the ride was great. Lots of attacking and hard pulling. I feel I'm getting in solid race shape. Most of all I had a lot of fun in training this week. It wasn't a chore. Hopefully next weekend I'll be racing Tunis-Roubaix and making a difference in the race.

I also hope to get back on the PCs this week. I may still get out today for a short hour on them, but the weather is cool and windy (well, not that cool at 59 F). I'm getting REALLY tired of these 20-25 mph winds the last few months. I'm ready for the usual 10-15 mph breezes.

I've spent well over half a year with PCs. I received some slack from the PC folks about "hanging up" the PCs while I get over my injury, claiming I was giving them up. Nothing is farther from the truth as I hope to bring them back in the fold this week. I truly need to be sure to not prolong an injury. Further, I was catching heat for not using them "exclusively" meaning every waking hour on the bike. As mentioned in my last entry, an additional reason for tabling PC use for a short time was lack of motivation. What could is a "training tool" if they kill your motivation to train?

That said, it's interesting to see how my power has progressed since August, when I really started heavy into PCs (I was using them off and on in July). The graphs below show my monthly best average and normalized powers for various durations since August, when I started heavy use of PCs. Note that August and September had some low power numbers. This is due to 2 things - getting used to PCs and also not focusing on serious training. Once late October rolled around I was full into tempo and threshold work. The training season was in full swing. At that time my powers were improving across the board. In other words, you could say my power improvements were due to a change in training load. Of course, you could also say the 2 months of PC use caused the increases. Either way, I haven't busted my historical best power numbers (except for the longer 2+ hour durations). What is of particular interest to me is that with the exception of the month of January (came off a lot of volume on the bike and was running my highest TSS) and August/September, everything is clumped together. I've got my own opinions on this and how PCs, regular cranks, and training fit into it, but I'll keep those to myself for now and let others mull it over.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Week of February 9

Just a quick update - have to catch a plane in a few hours and then I'll be in communications blackout for a week.

Monday - an easy 32 minutes on the PCs

Tuesday - freaking rain so I wasn't able to get out

Wednesday - Wanted to do some threshold on the PCs but I was getting ankle pain again. As the ride went on I was feeling some hip pain as well, which was something new. The 1:50 long ride was miserable. Power was down, the ankle and hip hurt, and things overall just sucked. I've come to the conclusion to shelve the PCs for a short time. I've given them my all, and coming to this decision was not made lightly, but the reasons are:
  1. I don't experience any ankle/foot pain when on my race bike with regular cranks. What's the point of using a training device if the device and/or pedals cause injury? The new hip pain really caused me concern.
  2. My power has been stagnant, so I need to shake things up a bit.
  3. I'm in the race season and my upper end snap (what little I've had) is down significantly. In order to train properly for races, I need to incorporate some other training.
  4. Motivation - because of the lack of being able to get up and sprint properly out of turns and such, my lack of motivation on the PCs is killing me. I need to bring some fun back into training.
I'll ride regular cranks the rest of this week. Next week I'm out of the country and won't be riding at all (except perhaps an exercise bike). Hopefully the time away from PCs gives my body time to heal.

Thursday - pretty much the same ride as Wednesay but with regular cranks. Power was much better and I had fun for the first time on a solo ride in awhile. It was refreshing.

Friday - Just a quick hour on the regular cranks.

Saturday - Decent group ride. Did a lot of pulling and accrued well over 90 minutes of L3 and above in the 3 hours of riding. My upper end snap wasn't there (see #3 in the list above) which will be a killer if it's not there for mass start racing. When I get back it will take a few weeks to regain that.

PC time this week - 2 hours 20 minutes
PC time to date - 188 hours 30 minutes

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Week of February 2

What can I say? Another boring week. Work got in the way a few days this week which prevented me from doing too much volume.

Monday - rest day

Tuesday - I was having a bit of a mechanical issue with the PC equipped bike so I had to jump switch to the race bike if I was going to get a workout in before sunset. Hopped on for a quick tempo workout. Afterwards at home I fixed up the PC bike to be ready for Wednesday.

Wednesday - 85 minutes on the PCs doing a hybrid VO2/threshold workout. I logged 45+ minutes of time in L4/L5 before calling it a day. NP during that time was 274 W. Still haven't sniffed close to the 282 W effort of a few weeks ago.

Thursday - A quick 65 minutes of tempo work on PCs with tired legs. I wanted to do threshold but my legs protested. On top of that my ankle was in real pain. I'm not sure if it's the PCs or the Time ATAC pedals (or a combination of the two), but my left ankle/foot has been having a pain similar to tendonitis on the top inside of the foot. It starts to get debilitating and limits my power output.

Friday - rest day

Saturday - Group ride day on the race bike with a ton of time spent in L3 and L4. It was windy as heck and I was on the front a ton.

Sunday - Back to the PC today. Despite being tired from yesterday I manged to ride plenty of L3 and L4 time over the 2:35 ride. It was just a consistent effort. Before the ride I flipped my ATAC cleats around after reading how the float could be reduced by putting the left cleat on the right shoe and vice versa. It really helped. Hopefully the amount of pain I've been experiencing will be reduced in the coming weeks.

PC time this week - 5 hours 5 minutes
PC time to date - 186 hours 10 minutes

A little update on the amount of work I've been doing. I continue to be well ahead of pace compared to the last 2 years in terms of TSS points. To date with the PCs I'm at 16842 points. For the 2 previous years I've been at 15373 and 15411 for the same time period. So on average I'm about 50 TSS points higher per week since using PCs compared to the last 2 years. In addition, I've been spending a lot more time in the higher zones compared to the same time period as last year:

Zone 1 (recovery) - 91 hours 15 minutes last year, 69 hours 21 minutes this year
Zone 2 (endurance) - 60:41 versus 77:19
Zone 3 (tempo) - 53:11 versus 60:39
Zone 4 (threshold) - 35:03 versus 39:29
Zone 5 (VO2) - 12:48 versus 16:00
Zone 6 (anaerobic) - 6:33 versus 7:36

The total time last year was 259:31 compared to 270:24 this year. The percentage of time spent in zones 3-6 are pretty similar between the two years, suggesting equivalent training structure, though in reality I have been spending more overall time in levels 5 and 6 this year in an effort to drive up my power. Despite this, however, still no huge jumps in power are evident. Actually the last 3 weeks have seen a slight decline in overall power.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Week of January 26

Not much to write about this week. A pretty boring week overall. Nonetheless,

Monday - 70 minutes of PCing where the intent was to do some intensity work but I just wasn't feeling it.

Tuesday - 1:50 of PC riding with a 2x20 block in there. Recall my great hour effort a few weeks ago and how I said I need to be consistent to truly be sure I was improving. Today was proof positive of that thought. I completed the 20 minute intervals with no problem, but they were both around 272 watts average. Given the 282 W performance for an hour, I would have expected these intervals to be 15-20 W higher.

Wednesday - an hour of PC riding on the Computrainer. At the end I did some isolated leg drills to see if PC riding affected my leg strength. I reported my results on Slowtwitch (see I would have figured that if the PC claims were correct, PC riding should have improved any imbalances. To date they haven't.

Thursday - rest day

Friday - 50 minutes of PC riding including a 10 minute TT effort at 293 watts. That's a fair amount below my best since starting PCs (301 W) and a good deal below my all-time best (309 W).

Saturday - Did the group ride with the PCs this week. I was doing well for the first 2:15 with a normalized power of 245 W. But then my legs wanted to stop. The first couple of hours I was having to work harder than usual. The bike with the PCs is a heavy beast (around 25 lbs with the PCs) with lousy, slow tires and 32 spoke wheels. When you add in my more upright position (harder to ride in the drops with the PCs) I turn into an aerodynamic pig. I can easily put out the same watts in the draft as the lead rider in clear air. Nonetheless, the 3:05 ride gave me plenty of tempo and threshold and even a decent amount of VO2 work. Unfortunately it didn't give me the L6 stimulus I need. Do I see riding the PC equipped bike in group rides necessary for training? Not particularly. For mass start racing I need to train my L6 system as well, particularly very high end out of the saddle sprints. I just can't simulate that on PCs like I can with regular cranks.

Sunday - 2:45 of PC riding, mostly endurance and tempo. Not much of note.

PC time this week - 10 hours 40 minutes
PC time to date - 181 hours 5 minutes