Summer Update

Haven’t posted in a while, so here’s a concise update on this season.

  • Early April: Oxonian Hilly 36 TT, which comprised of two 18 mile laps of a hilly circuit near Charlbury. Very fun event and was beaten by TT legend Glenn Longland (first person to break 300 miles in a 12 hour), who is still fast at the age of 60.
  • April/May: My knees did not enjoy the hilly time trials of April; I developed vastus medialis tendonitis and was completed off the bike for 4 weeks. Had two physio sessions in Oxford with sped up recovery. The tendonitis really put a dent into the season.
  • Late May: Lots of tempo and tweeking of my position on the road bike.
  • June: Newbury RC 25 on H25/1, in a time of 1:01:30 (skinsuit, clip-on TT bars and TT helmet). Oxonian 25 on H25/17, in a time of 1:00:37  which was only 4 sec away from a PB (skinsuit, clip-on TT bars and TT helmet).
  • July: Oxonian 10 on H10/17R, in a time of 23:22, exactly equalled my PB! (skinsuit, clip-on TT bars and TT helmet). For the rest of July I start doing more hills to get the legs ready for hill climb intervals.
  • August: No more clip-on TT bars and set the bike up ready for hill climbs. Put the seat 1-2cm lower which instantly cured some saddle sore issues which I originally thought were related to my new ISM Adamo seat. Quads feel not as overused now as well.
  • Late August: Lots and lots of hills. Training mainly composed of seated hill reps and a few 6×1 min all-out sessions. Getting a new chainrings, chain and casette fitted in time for the first hill climb of the year. Joined the Cowley Road Condors and am looking forward to competing in the pink and black!

 

 

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Aero Testing: Attempt 2

At the start of the year I carried out some DIY aero testing using the Chung method. I found that the most slippery position on my road bike (with no aero bars) was the drops. I thought that if I trained enough in that position – with elbows as close to a right angle as possible – then I would get used to it. I was trying to mimic the old school position that you see people like Beryl Burton holding. It worked for them so why wouldn’t it work for me?

Two months of sweet spot training later, I had improved my FTP by ~9w, but I never got used to the position. It never felt natural and my arms were always extending during intervals in order to produce a greater hip angle. In hindsight, the older style frames of the 1980’s weren’t as low at the front end compared to modern bikes. This means that back in the day you could ride in the drops while maintaining a decent hip angle. Looking at pictures of me racing my Enigma, I’m already pretty low when on the hoods so going down to the drops was simply too low for my hip flexors to take.

I decided to give up on the Merckx position and bought some clip on aerobars. I was reluctant at first as I think it ruins the look of the bike and it’s extra weight for hilly TTs. I figured though the aero gains would be worth it. I went for some Deda Blast aerobars which weighed only 200g. I did an effort on the local 10 course and went 40s faster than in a race two weeks before. The only problem is that they are so short, that a lot of your weight is being supported by your wrist which places a strain on your arms and shoulders. I could only hold the position for 5min at a time… Not ideal for longer TTs. They’re only 140mm long to make them legal for triathlons or something like that.

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Deda Metal Blast Aerobars

I gave up on the tiny aerobars and bought some Deda Parabolicas – so much better. The position feels very comfortable and I’m able to put the power down with a larger hip angle. With these new extensions, I wanted to test whether having them flat or angled up (praying mantis style) would be faster. Some people had reported huge gains from pointing their aerobars upwards – especially if you’re not too broad shouldered.

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Deda Parabolica Aerobars

I tested them completely horizontal and at a really aggressive upwards angle of roughly 30 degrees. I thought that making such a significant change to my front end would make a large difference to my CdA. In the end, having the aerobars angled upwards reduced my CdA by ~0.007 (that’s about 5w at 40km/h). I’m skeptical of this result though as it was pretty gusty and the Chung analysis didn’t seem very convincing. There’s also the problem that the larger the angle of the aerobars, the more strain you’re putting on your arms and shoulders to support your weight. I settled for an inbetween angle to try and balance comfort and aeroness – there’s no point having the most aero position if you can’t hold it. I’ve got a TT tomorrow so that will be a good test of whether I can hold the position and put the power down.

Position: Aero vs. Power

In my previous post, I was trying to find the most aero position for my road bike; I tested the drops, the hoods with elbows at 90 degrees and a TT-style tuck on the tops. It turned out the drops were by far the most aero.

Since then, I’ve been doing all my intervals in the drops to get my body used to the position. I knew there would be a drop in power while acclimatizing, so I pushed on in the hope that it would eventually feel ‘natural’ to go full-gas in this lower position.

I also switched from 44cm to 38cm bars and purchased an on-sale Bell Star Pro helmet for some more aero gains.

With regards to riding on the drops, there were a few issues with comfort. Firstly, the was a lot more stress put on my triceps, and after long sweet-spot intervals I could really feel them aching. This thankfully calmed down though after a couple of weeks. Secondly, moving to the drops rotated my pelvis such that there was significantly more pressure on the crown jewels – not nice at all! This caused massive issues with numbess and saddle sores. After weeks of pain I forked out for a proper saddle – an ISM Adamo PN1.1.

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Adamo PN1.1 Saddle – a bit odd looking but it’s a great piece of kit.

The idea of ISM saddles is that their shape eliminates the nose of the saddle, so your weight is supported by your sit bones and not your soft tissues. You sit on the front two sticky-out prongs, which allows you to rotate your pelvis forward into more aggressive positions without putting pressure on your more sensitive areas. This means you have to have the saddle 5-8cm further back compared to a ‘normal’ saddle. You don’t actually use the rear part of the saddle – it’s just there to make it UCI compliant.

The very first ride with the Adamo was strange. The pressure from having all your weight supported by your sit bones can be a bit intense to begin with, but the sheer relief of not having your junk squashed is fantastic. A couple of days later with some adjustments made, I can see why ISM saddles have an almost cult following. There’s a stereotype that these saddles are only for time trialists or triathletes in aggressive positions, but even sat upright it is so much comfier. If you’re spending quite a few hours a week on the bike, then I would definitely recommend ISM.

Back to the issue of riding in the drops. I had started doing more intense TT intervals at threshold and although sweet-spot riding was OK, I was struggling to put out the power in these harder efforts. It never really felt natural but I thought I just needed more time to adjust. I had the first TT of the year yesterday – a simply out-and-back 10 mile TT in Newbury. This was a good test of how things were going. On the day I was feeling relatively fresh and warmed up, but during the actual race, I never felt like I was giving 100%.

This of course could have been psychological but it felt like I was never really on top of the gear. For comparison, the TT I did on Boxing Day (which is the pic at the top of this blog) I felt like I was really putting the hammer down and getting the most out of my body. This was backed up by a relatively good power over the 25min effort. Every 20min power test I have done since then in the drops has never felt as good as that TT on Boxing day. I think the narrower hip angle of the drops position is simply too small and screws up my power output and efficiency.

I’ve come to the rough conclusion that although riding in the drops is more aero, I just can’t seem to put the power down in the same way – even after a couple of months of intervals in the position. I’m going to abandon the drops for now, and play around with efforts in a TT-style-tuck or on the hoods. I also generally enjoy riding in these positions more! I don’t think they will be slower either if I’m putting out more power. We will have to wait and see though. I’ve got another 10 next Saturday so that will be a good test.

 

 

Aero Testing: First Attempt

I’ve been wanting to do some DIY aero testing for a while now and since I will have to give the Powertap back to my Dad soon, today was the day. I’m starting a big block of sweet spot training soon and I wanted to do all the intervals in the position I will be racing in, so I wanted to see which position on my road bike was fastest. I also wanted to get to grips with the procedure for when I do more intricate aero testing in the future.

The method I used was the Chung method; I won’t go into huge detail here but this page gives a good explanation. It essentially involves finding a dip or “halfpipe” road that you can ride up and down in (with minimal traffic). You then input the data into Golden Cheetah (a program for analysing ride data which can be downloaded for free here) in which the aerolab section will produce a virtual elevation graph, based on your power, speed, rolling resistance and estimated CdA. Changing the value of CdA will rotate the virtual elevation graph. Once you have rotated the virtual elevation graph such that all the troughs are aligned and flat, you now have the correct CdA (to within some error). It’s hard to explain but when you start doing it yourself it becomes a lot more intuitive.

A huge advantage of this method – compared to simply riding on a flat road at constant power or speed – is that it is significantly more sensitive to changes in CdA if carried out correctly. Minimal effects such as lowering your TT bars by 20mm can be assessed using the Chung method.

The positions I tested are as follows:

  1. Completely sat up, with hands on the hoods and arms straight (as a control)
  2. Hands on the hoods but with elbows at 90 degrees
  3. Hands on the drops with elbows at roughly 90 degrees
  4. A “TT-style” tuck, with hands on the tops
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The Aerolab analysis for the first position in Golden Cheetah (the blue line is virtual elevation calculated by the software, the green line is recorded altitude by the garmin)

I struggled to find a road that had a large enough dip in, was wide enough to turn around on without using the brakes and had minimal traffic. I found something in the end but was worried it might give me crap data. Nevertheless I went through with it and the data is summarised below:

  1. Sat up: CdA ~ 0.476
  2. Hands on hoods: CdA ~ 0.408
  3. Hands on drops: CdA ~ 0.377
  4. TT tuck: CdA ~ 0.395

Before doing this, I thought that a TT tuck would be superior and even used that position in a recent Boxing Day TT. I was surprised when the drops position turned out to be significantly more slippery – the difference in CdA from TT tuck to drops could save 10-15 watts at 40km/h! This could be due to my back being a lot flatter when in the drops compared to the TT tuck. It should be noted that I carried out the test in full winter gear and mudguards which explains the relatively large CdA values (for comparison, Boardman’s superman position had an estimated CdA of 0.1838).

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My TT tuck position at a recent race; not as aero as I thought…

I’m hopefully going to get a new aero helmet soon so I’ll have to repeat the tests once that’s arrived. As you can see, my current Catlike Whisper helmet has loads of vents so hopefully that will be an easy way to acquire some “free” speed.

Overall, the testing was pretty successful and I can now go into the next block of training knowing the best position to train in (for now).

DIY Training Camp

I’ve always wanted to fly off to some exotic sounding country in the winter to do a training camp. However, I’m saving up for a TT bike so any spare money I have is going towards a new Planet X Stealth (or a 2nd bike if a deal pops up). Therefore I’m attempting my own mini training camp here in the UK.

By training camp, I simply mean a big week of miles and  some people like to call it an overload week. The idea is that you dramatically increase your workload for a short period of time (4-10 days), followed by an easy week; this should hopefully give you a nice boost in fitness.

I’m aiming to do roughly 350 miles or 20-25 hours, most of it in Z2. I’m currently 3 days into it with 161 miles in the bag so far. Today I had some company in the form of a storm called Frank – not ideal… I’m starting to think wizzing off to Spain could be worth the money. To keep morale up, I have treated myself to many coffee stops (and a cheeky fry-up), though heading back into the rain is a bit grim. I guess this is what you get for a ‘free’ training camp in the UK.

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Nom nom nom: Fry-up and coffee for £6.50 at Cafe Roubaix

One part I have enjoyed is exploring new roads. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of riding the same loop day in, day out. It’s surprising how much of a difference going down a new road can make.

Tomorrow the winds are supposed to ease up and some sunshine is even forecast in the morning. Hopefully I can get 4 hours in the bag and then take it easy new years day. I’m already starting to feel the fatigue.

Newbury RC Boxing Day 10

Newbury RC holds an informal 10 mile TT on boxing day every year and as I was staying in the area this Christmas, I thought I would give it a go. Aero gear such as pointy helmets and TT bikes are actively discouraged, meaning it has more of an ‘old school’ feel to it. I also needed to do an FTP test (my last one was in August), so this was a nice way to do it.

Being in the middle of winter and a particularly windy day, I didn’t expect much in terms of speed, which was a refreshing change. When I cycled out to the HQ there were loads of people in fancy dress; I’ve never seen a mountain bike tandem covered in fairy lights before. During the race, I passed another tandem bike but with a single person sitting on the rear seat, stretching to reach the handlebars forming an peculiar superman position.

As it was Christmas, I didn’t dig as deep as I normally do but I managed to just nip under 25 minutes which I was pleased with. Especially considering the weather, winter tyres and no skinsuit. I also managed to hold a TT-style tuck the whole race which is promising for when I start doing longer races next year.

In terms of power, my estimated FTP was roughly 275w (@ 68kg). When I tested in August – when I was training heavily for hill climbs – my FTP was 292w (@ 66kg), so bit of a drop but that’s expected for this time of the year. Lots of cake, curry and beer is not the best nutritional  strategy… As I start doing more sweet spot work and threshold work, hopefully I can bring it back up again.

I’m planning a big week of miles before I begin more intervals so that should help with shedding some Christmas weight.

The One-Year-Time-Trial

One of the most brutal physical and mental challenges I have ever heard of is the Highest Annual Mileage Record (HAMR). Not only the most grueling within cycling, but I believe deserves a place among the toughest in human history. It is exactly what it says on the tin: the most miles cycled in a year (defined as a 365 day period). Some people have called it “The One-Year-Time-Trial”.

I have been fascinated – and simultaneously terrified – of this challenge since I read about the current record set by Tommy Godwin in 1939. He rode 75,065 miles; incredible. This corresponds to averaging over 200 miles, everyday, for an entire year.

It’s hard to comprehend such numbers from simply reading them. I think back to my longest ride of 125 miles and how exhausted I was at the end. Having to do an extra 75 miles and then repeating again and again appears to be almost an impossibility.

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Tommy Godwin: Hard as nails

Not only that, but Tommy’s record was set in 1939; no fancy aero TT bikes; no thermal clothing for the winter; no energy gels or recovery shakes. He was also a vegetarian, which couldn’t have been easy. One of my favourite facts is that in the month of July, he completed no less than 14 triple centuries. That’s right, for nearly half the days of July he rode over 300 miles per day.

And what did he do when he reached the end of the year and broke the record? Carried on riding 200 miles per day to obtain the record for most miles in 500 days: 100,000 miles…

There has been a surge in interest in this challenge this year due to multiple people attempting to surpass Tommy’s record. The main contenders are as follows:

  • Steve Abraham (UK): Steve started his attempt on January 1st of this year. He was going well until he was hit by a moped which broke his leg. After some time off he restarted his attempt in the summer but recent issues with his diet have caused mileage to be a bit below where it needs to be. Steve is what you would call ‘old school’, having a long history in Audax and his strategy has to spend 15 hours per day plodding along at 15-16mph. He also rode Paris-Brest-Paris this year as part of his attempt. Hopefully things will improve for Steve and next summer he’ll be close to the record.
  • Kurt Searvogel (US): Also known as ‘Tarzan’, Kurt could not be more different from Steve. The huge guy rides a slick TT bike averaging 18-20mph so that he spends only(!) 12 hours on the bike per day. It should be said that his wife follows him around in a camper van and drives him around chasing tailwinds and providing mechanical support. Kurt’s attempt started on January 10th and due to riding extremely consistently, he looks likely to add on another 1000 miles to Tommy’s mark and only has 18 days left to go.
  • Miles Smith (AU): The appropriately named Miles also attempted the record this year and was smashing out 400km a day for a while. However, do to difficulties he had to stop.

There is one more person involved with the record who has not started yet. His name is Bruce Berkeley but he’s probably known more widely as his strava username Cycle_Dr1. He is known for topping the monthly mileage leader boards and currently holds the world record for most miles cycled in a month. Bruce starts on January 1st 2016 and his challenge sounds well planned and with a lot of support (including Canyon I believe). He’s going for a strategy inbetween Steve’s and Kurt’s by riding at a moderate pace on a lovely Canyon Aeroroad. He plans to spend the first three months in Austrailia to avoid the British Winter and then return to London for the rest of the challenge.

All the aforementioned guys are on strava and it’s great keeping up with their adventures. Due to the rules of the record set by Ultra Cycling, the riders have to have a GPS tracker on them whenever they are riding for validation. This means you can track where any of them are, at anytime on this website.

I’ll probably post an update on this after Kurt finishes in January and once Bruce has started.