Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The training pays off ... and back in training ...

As some of you know, I completed this years BHF London to Brighton ride last Sunday.
As usual, I was riding Mermaid, my all-purpose commuting, shopping, and "exploring" bike.

The "big" payoff from the training was that I got up Ditchling Beacon without stopping, although several times I didn't think I was going to make it. The "Beacon" has a few short, flatter, sections, and I always just about reach one of those as I was about to stop, so I was able to keep going.

Just how steep is the "Beacon".
Apparently, the book "100 great hill climbs" lists it as a 9% average gradient, peaking at 16%, and being a bit less than a mile long, climbing 143m in the process. So a nice easy Category 4 hill, I hear you say ...
BUT, there is a lesser rise all the way up from the village of Ditchling, and taken together they are a Category 3 climb.

So how does this relate to the training?
Well, there is a Strava segment for the "Beacon".
I am notoriously poor at climbing - 50 years old, heavy bike (as in about 20kg!), too fat (as in, at best, on the border between "normal weight" and "overweight", and at worst closse to the border for clinically obese ...)
So how do I stack up on the Strava segment, given that I had already ridden about 75km to even get to the "Beacon"? - remembering that some "Strava segment snipers" will actually drive to a segment and just do that segment "fresh" ....
Well, I was at the lighter end of my weight range for my attempt (about 90kg/ 200lbs), but I still have that 20kg bike (yep, that is 20kg, 44 lbs, not 20lbs!), and I even had my tools and food with me, so the bike and kit weighed in at about 26kg at the bottom of the hill ...

And I came almost half-way up the field ....


When one remembers that a lot of folks stop at the "rest stop at the bottom of the hill so that they can rest before attempting the "Beacon", the fact that I did it (and the whole 87km course!) without "rest" stops etc. etc. makes it all the more remarkable.

But then again, I did pass quite a lot of "walkers" on the hill, pushing their lightweight bikes ...
The only rational explanation as to why a slightly fat middle-aged man can get a heavy bike up the "Beacon" while younger folks with bikes that weighed no more than half as much as mine is simply that I must have trained a lot more and a lot more effectively than they did ...
There really is no substitute for proper training ...

Of course, it wasn't all just me.
Thanks to my "support" team that helped me with my recent London to Brighton ride.
First, there is Anna, my long suffering wife.
Then there is Tim Jones, for his invaluable advice on food, training, and endurance events. Tim is one of my co-workers, and can still run a 3:00 marathon, even though he is in his mid-fifties.
Also thanks to Ian Ferguson, for training tips and advice - Ian is another of my co-workers and is a former cyclist and marathon runner, who has completed 9 marathons, but not as fast as Tim Jones! Ian is in his late 50's and, as well as his sporting achievments, he worked in the sports and leisure industry for many years before he joined our current employer.
Then last but not least, Richard Grace, another co-worker for helping me with my work a few times after I came to work on the morning after a long training ride more dead than alive!
Thanks, one and all!
I was the man pushing the pedals, but without you all it wouldn't have worked out so well!

Right, enough of the self-congratulation.
Time to get a bit of training in.

Let's start with an assessment of my strengths and weaknesses.
Strengths first, because it easier to write what I feel I am good at.

  1. On January 1st I weighed in at 96.6 kg, which equates to a BMI of 27.3 (I am about 6' 2" or 6' 3" tall). On the morning of the London to Brighton event, I weighed in at 89.7 kg, having been in the range of 89.1kg  to 91.6 kg for the preceding month (so, very importantly, the figure of 89.7 kg is not just a "dehydration" weight!). 89.7 kg equates to a BMI of 25.3. Hills are easier to climb for a lighter rider, as long as muscle is not being lost. well, starting at a BMI of 27.3, and having lost the weight primarily through exercise rather than diet, that BMI drop of 2 points makes me a more effective cyclist! But, as I am still only just down to the borderline between "overweight" and "normal weight", I know I should also list this as a "Weakness", as a further weight loss is likely to improve my performance further.
  2. I climbed Ditchling Beacon. So my "climbing" abilities must be progessing! But also see "Weaknesses" below.
  3. I maintained an average Heart Rate (HR) of 141 bpm for the entire London to Brighton event, even including the 10km (6 mile) cycle to the start line, and the slow warm-down I did afterwards. I maintained an average HR of 147 for the event itself, and I maintained an average HR of 149 bpm for the section from the edge of London (no more traffic lights every mile or two!) to the edge of Brighton (every traffic light in the town seemed to want to stop me!). I hit a new "Maximum HR" of 180bpm while climbing Ditchling Beacon, and I managed the whole Ditchling (village) to the top of the beacon to the top of the village in 18 minutes with an AVERAGE HR of 162 bpm., while on the "Beacon" itself, I managed a HR of 173 bpm for the 12 1/2 minutes the climb took me. To summarise, if I, as a 50-year-old, can maintain an average HR of 173 bpm, peaking at 180 bpm, for 12 1/2 minutes, then my cardio-resopiratory (heart and lungs!) system is not the biggest thing that is limiting me!
  4. I can ride events of up to 100km length "non-stop". I did this both for the 100km Tour de Vale and the 87km London to Brighton Ride. I have clearly developed some level of endurance for my cardio-respiratory system (heart and lungs), energy system (food, hydration, glycogen, interleukin-6) and muscle system (my legs "last" the distance).
  5. I can pace myslef so I can "last" the distance for an event (see also number 4 above).
  1. As mentioned above, my BMI is still only down to the "border" between "overweight" and "normal weight". This limits my "power-to-weight ratio", which is a key factor in climbing ability.
  2. After 4 to 5 hours in the saddle, I get a sore back. This limits my ability to ride much beyond this time span, and impairs my other Summer goal of achieving a qualifying "Audax" ride of 200km, in about 14 hours.
  3. I can climb Ditchling Beacon as part of a longer ride, but only just, and I can climb the local route up Aston Hill, including via the harder Green Park route, but, again, only just. I need to be able to climb these hills more competently, then I can move on to hills like Whiteleaf hill (nr. Princes Risborough). All these hills feature in events I am likely to wish to complete in the future.
  1. More weight loss, as long as it does not sacrifice muscle. This will particularly help my climbing, by addressing the "weight" side of the "power-to-weight" equation.
  2. More muscle development in my "climbing" muscles in my legs, This is the other side of the "power-to-weight" equation. Although my legs are developing visible signs of "cycling muscles", I am long way short in this respect compared to the many "club riders" I see out training on a Sunday morning.
  3. More off-the-bike exercises are needed help my back strength
  4. Although further improvements are likely to be achieved in my cardio-respiratory system, my main focus should be on maintaining what I have already achieved in this area, while spending more time on other areas.
  5. My endurance is adequate for 100km lengths, but may need further work for longer distances 
Update 26th June 2015:
New challenges await, and so does a variation on my training methods to date.

In 2014, my training was mostly "bicycle-optimised".
Yes, I still walked about 6.5km (c. 4 miles) a day, five days a week, for a job.
But the rest of the training was informal and on a bike.

I rode some hills, beacuse there were some near me.
I sprinted some Strava segments because it seemed like fun to do.
But my training was unstructured.

We all know, informally, that some things make us better.
Practicing something you are not so good at tends to make you better at it.

There is a Category 3 hill near us, and the first time I cycled up it, I had to stop 5 times to get my breath back. But later in the year, I got up it without stopping (but only just!).

So what had changed?
The hill was still the same hill.
The bike was the same bike.
So, it was me that has changed.
I didn't just go up that hill stopping 5 times, then the next time not stopping.
There were lots of in-between "failures", where I stopped 3 time, then two, then quite a number of times when I stopped once. Then the success.
My weight dropped from about 97 kg at the start of the year to about 94.5 kg by the Summer  -I bet that helped a bit, too.
And I even did my longest ride to date - a rather slow "touring-style" 160km ride, that took about 13 hours, including stops (!)
But I did it, so clearly my "informal" "unstructured" training still had quite a significant effect.

2015 came around, and I was thinking about how fit I was as a teenager (I am 50 now!), and I remembered I used to do running and cycling, not just cycling.
I also noticed in 2014 that I was running out of breath on the big hills, and that was limiting my ability on hills much more than my legs were - I had the "legs", but not the "lungs"!
A bit of running will sort that out, I thought.
I went into 2015 not much lighter than I went into 2014 - I guess I ate a lot on the Autumn! Anyway, I started 2015 at 96.6kg.
So I ran.

Then I got a book on cycle training out of the local public library, and it introduced me to the methodology of "heart rate" training. Of course, back in the early '80's when I was running about 50km a week, I'd never even heard of folks with portable heart rate monitor. Maybe the "pros" might have had them on treadmills (where they don't need to be portable!), but normal folks certainly didn't!
Luckily for me, there was a section in the book about how to estimate your exertion using the effect that it has on speech.
So I tried it out, and ran a "paced" number of runs, having never used any sort of pacing before (I just used to run what felt "right" - a bit slower for longer distances, as quick as I can for 100m sprints!)
So what do you think happened?
Using "exertion" pacing improved my times ...
Just using the methodology of "if you can talk properly you are going to slow, and if you can't say more than two words without taking a breath" improved my times at ALL distances I was measuring,
(1/2 mile, 1km, 1 mile, 2 mile, 5km and 10km).
The effects are stark!
So I carried on, slowly improving my times bit by bit, and I already knew that regular running speeds you up bit by bit.

Then a bit later in 2015, I got a cheap "bluetooth" heart monitor that would work with my wife's smartphone, so I started using that to record my heart rate, rather than using the "exertion" model.
My previous "exertion" model seemed to equate to about the band of 130 bpm to 140 bpm, and I seemed to have a maximum heart rate of about 175 bpm.
All good.
So I did a bit of research on the internet, and found the very popular 220-age formula, as well as some other formulas that offer differing numbers. As I am 50, the heart rate figure I had recorded of 175bpm seemed a bit high for the 220-age formula (which gives only 170). I did some more measuring and reading and running, and the highest heart rate I measured on a run went up to 181 bpm.

Anyway, I trained away, slowly building up my distances - 50 km then 60, then 70, etc, while still keeping at the running.
And my weight came down.
Then I "took the plunge" and bought a Garmin tri-athlete's watch (the 310XT model).
I got the watch, rather than something like an Edge 500 cycle computer, because I had decided that I intended to keep both cycling AND running, and a "tri-athlete's" watch seemed like the best option.
I had an "event" coming up a month later, so I did a "test" ride of the course (100km), and by the end, my knees were burning from all the hills.
So I trained some more hills.
The 100km (the Tour de Vale) event went fine., but part of that was because I could set an "alarm" on the watch when my heart rate went a bit too high. I "paced" myself at 135 bpm, except on the hills, when I found I had to go "flat-out" to even get up them!
But two weeks later, I had another event, a hilly 86km ride (the London to Brighton).
I did an extra "hills" training session on the weekend between the two events.
And the second event went better than I had expected, and although I set a heart rate target of about 140 bpm, I found that the "excitement" of the event meant I was often doing a bit more than that.
I did "rest" a little on some of the easier section before the larger hills, though.

And my weight?
Well that was about 90kg for both of my 2015 "events".
I'm sure that extra 4.5 kg I lost in 2015 compared to 2014 made a difference too.
But, as I said much earlier, above, I still struggle on hills.

So what is my "new" training technique going to be?
Well, my local public library had a copy of one of Joe Friel's books, so I'm going to be giving his "Lactate Threshold Heart Rate" method a go.

Earlier today I did a run in the manner Mr Friel prescribes on his blog, and this is the result I got:

A "field test" Lactate Threshold Heart Rate, carried out in the manner prescribed by Joe Friel
I did a nice warm-up, then a 30-minute run. I set up a "private" segment to separate the last 20 minutes of the run out, and as you can see, I got an average Heart Rate while running of 166 bpm.
Joe Friel says that is a decent approximation of my "true" rate if I went for a hospital test, so that is good enough for me.
Joe Friel also writes in the Q&A version of his book that the average heart rate from a test such as the one I did should yield a result 15-18 bpm below Maximum Heart Rate.
Well, the highest heart rate I have measured so far while running was on a VERY tough "interval" training run I did while on holiday on the Isle of Wight, and that came out at 184 bpm, so today's figure IS clearly within that range of 15-18 bpm below Maximum Heart Rate.

the next thing to do is to work out my various "training zones" using Mr Friel's 7 zone training method (he splits the zone that most systems use for xone 5 into 5a, 5b, and 5c!)

Using the information on Joe Friel's blog:
"Step 2. Establish your training zones. Use the following guide to establish each zone by sport.

Run Zones
Zone 1 Less than 85% of LTHR
Zone 2 85% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 94% of LTHR
Zone 4 95% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

Bike Zones
Zone 1 Less than 81% of LTHR
Zone 2 81% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 93% of LTHR
Zone 4 94% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

So, since we have established my LTHR for running as 166 bpm,
Zone 1 = up to 140 bpm
Zone 2 = 140 to 148 bpm

Zone 3 = 149 to 156 bpm
Zone 4 = 157 to 165 bpm
Zone 5a = 166 to 170 bpm
Zone 5b = 171 to 176 bpm
Zone 5c = over 176 bpm

One thing is obvious - Joe Friel's "Lactate Threshold" method uses a lot of narrow "zones", clustered around the "Lactate Threshold"!

Update 5th July 2015:
Just did another "Lactate Threshold" run.
This time it was the CP60 test - run for an hour.
As the Lactate Threshold itself IS the rate that one can sustain for one hour, then the CP60 test provides a "sense" check for the figure I got above.
The only reason not to use a CP60 test in the first place is that a runner is unlikely to "train" at the pace that he will race at - adrenalin and other runners tend to make one go a touch faster. So a "solo" training run is likely to produce a slightly low number for the Lactate Threshold Heart Rate. So says Joe Friel, anyway!

Another "field" lactate threshold test - this time a CP60
So I got 161bpm this time, against 166 bpm, last time. 
But look at how the "red" heart rate line is quite low for the first part of the test before picking up. That low bit is probably bringing the average down by a beat or two.
And, once we take into account Joe Friel's very valid point about motivation on solo training runs, the figure I got of 166bpm for the lactate threshold seems not unrealistic.

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