Wednesday 14 January 2015

Data....who doesn't love data

So, its been a while but I'm in the final throws of chest infection from hell.  I've never had a cough that a) lasted so long or b) buggered me up as much as this one has, but for the first time last night I didn't go to sleep under the heady haze of Night Nurse and this morning I haven't coughed up that much of my lungs.  Having read a number of horror stories on the web about people training with said infection and it turning into something much nastier I've laid off doing any riding at all.  Frankly even if I'd wanted to I'm not sure I could have, its been that bad.  Thats right, I nearly died.  

Anyway, I'm 'working from home' today so my lunchtime was spent performing an 8 minute test on TrainerRoad.  First upset was, its not 8 minutes long.  Its an hour.  Second of all, the bit where you have to try really hard is 8 minutes but you have to do it twice.  So its sixteen minutes.  Either way, regardless of how you slice it, its not 8 minutes.  Minor details aside, the deal is that you warm up with a few short intervals thrown in to get you ready/seeing in black and white, followed by two eight minute sessions where you bury yourself to find out various things like FTP, lactate threshold and stuff.

Now, about 6 years ago I went and had some lab tests done where they prick your ear while you ride at various HR levels and from this they can determine your lactate threshold - the point at which your muscles produce a spike in lactic acid.  From this you can then work out your zones to train in.  With this online tool, you basically ride on your turbo trainer putting out specific (calculated) power and it measures your heart rate and so on.  I was sceptical.  I paid about £200 previously for this test so I'm not sure a web tool using cadence and heart rate would give me anywhere near accurate figures.  Of course, it doesn't really matter if they're accurate or not so long as they're consistent.  But being a data geek I wanted to know anyway and dug out said tests from 6 years ago.  What do you know, these are about 10% down on what my last test was, which keeping in mind I'm older and much slower sounds about right.  I was impressed.  Even more so when I compared the power figures for my old zones (measured using a proper power meter) and they're about 5% down this time.  Impressive.  

I can't afford a power meter at the moment, at least not the one I want.  I've looked at Stages but they seem super flakey, I've had a Powertap that broke A LOT and SRM's are still crazy money.  So TrainerRoad seems to be a pretty good option.  They also have multiple plans that are free to follow (unlike TrainingPeaks which is a fortune) and the interface is really easy to use when your eyes are stinging from sweat and you're not sure if you're about to puke or pass out.  Or both.  Oh, and you get cool graphs like the one below - sweet...

So the question is, for an event like TCR why train on power?  It makes a lot of sense for something like an MTB race or criterium where you're putting out a measured effort over a short space of time but for riding long hours day after day why would you need to use something like the above when surely the best approach is just to ride?

Well, for two reasons really.  One, I have to work.  Because I have to work, I only have a given amount of time in the (weekday) evenings to train.  Because its dark and wet and icy at this time of year, commuting home for two hours only to then head back out is a fairly miserable prospect.  So I sit on the turbo.  Yes, I could sit on the turbo just pedalling away, but having the above helps me to focus on specific workouts that are targeted at a specific goal.  With all the best will in the world, when you're out on your bike you don't put out constant power due to terrain, weather, junctions, traffic lights and so on (unless you live in Denmark obviously).  

Additionally, if I know from consistent testing what HR and power I can maintain for long periods of time, if I can measure these during the race then I know I'm not pushing too hard, or not hard enough.  Steve Abrahams, the chap currently trying to ride more than 80,000 miles in a year is riding on heart rate.  If it works for him, hopefully it'll work for me.

Its different strokes for different folks of course-  I don't doubt that the majority of the racers in the TCR just ride off feel and experience, knowing what they're capable of.  I don't have that, and I find comfort in numbers (do one Freud!) so for me, this seems to be the way to go.  

For the next few months, my training will revolve around doing three sessions on the turbo during the evenings, then two long rides on the weekend.  The way the plans work, the rides in the week get longer and the aim of this being to eventually be able to commute to and from work for an entire week.  I want to achieve this by late March, but I'll go over 'milestones' more in another post.  Either way this gets me finally on the bike and training - there's a lot to be said for just feeling like I've done something.

Anyway, I'm off to stretch if my legs will carry me down the stairs.  16 minutes and I'm toast....dear God...

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