Saturday, April 30, 2011

Normalized Power vs. Average Power Discrepancy

When I got back from my ride today, I downloaded my ride data from my Garmin Edge 500 into Garmin Connect (online) software.  I was "pleasantly" surprised to see my Average Power for my 2 hr. + ride was 250w.  (See Garmin Connect Data on left).  That's a LOT higher than what I normally see on a 2-3 hr. ride...especially since today's ride was a regular route of mine. 

Then, after uploading my Garmin Connect data into Training Peaks WKO+, I discovered that my Normalized Power was 220w and my Average Power was only 170w.  (See WKO+ graph on left).  At first, I didn't know what to make of it.  Why should there be a 30w difference between my Normalized Power in WKO+ and Average Power on my Garmin Edge computer?  I think the following explanation will answer why.

When you ride outside, there are many factors that affect your ride: wind, hills, accelerations, drafting, long steady grinding, coasting, etc.  Because of this variability, Average Power is not a true indicator of your true metabolic demands of your ride.  What complicates things even more is that Average Power can include zero power (not pedaling/coasting) or no zero power.  Naturally, if Average Power includes zeros you're going to see low numbers like my 170w power reading.  If Average Power does NOT include zeros you're going to see high numbers like my 250w power reading.  BTW, I programmed my Garmin Edge NOT to include zeros when computing Average Power...which is why the high number. 

To account for the variableness of a ride, Training Peaks WKO+ software includes an algorithm which provides a better measure of the true metablolic demands of the ride called "Normalized Power".  Normalized Power provides a better measure of the true physiological demands of the ride.

I'll tell you why Average Power (w/ no zeros) computed by my Garmn Edge 500 is NOT a good metric to use.  When I'm riding and not pedaling, I'm essentially recovering. Therefore, when I do pedal again..I'm relatively refreshed and able to put the pedal to the metal and keep the power up.  Besides, with an FTP of 260w (my current hour power) there is no way that I'd be able to average 250w for 2+ hrs. on my ride today (like my Garmin Edge 500 said I did).  Using Average Power (w/ zeros) computed by my Garmin Edge 500 may be a better metric except for the fact that it's demoralizing to ride hard for 2+ hrs. and see that you only averaged a paltry 170w..a power number I usually warmup with on my trainer.  BTW, Normalized Power will equal your Average Power on your trainer because you are constantly pedaling.  If you Garmin owners don't believe me, check it out yourself.  Upload your Edge 500 data into Garmin Connect then Upload it into Training Peaks WKO+ and you'll see the same number for Average Power and Normalized Power.

So, stick with Normalized Power as a metric for analyzing power's a more realistic power number for the work/effort you performed on your ride.

Power ON! Coach Rob

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Post-race data analysis

By now everyone (that races) should have a race or two under their belt.  And, there is NO BETTER WAY to improve your performance than to analyze your post-race power data.  Your post-race data will definitely point-out your strengths and weaknesses.  When I analyze my athletes post-race power data I use Training Peaks WKO+ version 3 software.  There isn't a better software package on the market.  If you own a power MUST purchase this software.

If you don't know how to use WKO+ software, I highly recommend Hunter Allen/Dr. Andy Coggan's book, "Training and Racing w/ a Power Meter, 2nd ed.".  It will not only teach you how to use the software but it will define every metric that your bike computer records.  You can buy the book online or at most larger bookstores (like Barnes and Nobel).  I have used MANY bike computers and the head unit/computer I recommend is the Garmin Edge 500.   Check it out at Garmin:

What I like about the Edge 500 is:
a. the size.  It's small and the screens are customizable.
b. battery life.  I never have to charge it.  It actually charges when I connect it to my computer for downloading.
c. color.  It used to come in only blue, but now you can purchase it in black..and I believe other colors.
d. waterproof.  I even accidently machine-washed it one time and it performed flawlessly afterwards.
e. easy downloads into Training Peaks or Garmin software.
f. GPS capable.  It will save your route and allow you to upload it into Google Earth where you can generate an elevation profile of your race/route.
g. ANT+ compatible.  It talks to ANT+ power meters, heart rate monitors, speed/cadence sensors, etc.
h. easily transferable to other bikes.  The mount is one of the best in the industry.
i. solid.  It will take a licking (and keep on ticking) on any bike: Cross, Mtn, Road, etc.
j. the screen.  You can see it clearly under any lighting condition.
k. the price.  It's priced right.
l. the controls.  It's easy to work all controls/button with gloves.
m. etc.. the list goes on.

When you download your race day is what I look at/for AS A MINIMUM (all of these metrics are explained in detail in "Training and Racing with a Power Meter, 2nd edition"):
a. Average HR for the entire well as HRmax (if reached).
b. Average Power for the entire race..usually Normalized Power.
c. Elevation profile.  Was it a hilly race..more elevation than normal?
d. 5, 20, 30 and 60 minute power peaks.  When?  Where? 
e. If you got dropped...where..why? Did you burn a match?
f. How many matches did you burn (if any)?  More than your matchbook contained?
g. Training Stress Score (TSS) for the entire race.
h. Energy expenditure.  Were you properly fueled/hydrated?
i. Weather. Temps in particular.  Were you overheated?  Was it hot/humid, cold, windy, raining, etc.?
j. Quadrant analysis.  Were you in the right quadrant for the demands of the race?
k. Multi-file/Range analysis.  I like to compare laps of a Crit or Road Race.
l. Intensity Factor (IF) and Functional Threshold Power (FTP)
m. Comparison from years past of same or similar race.
n. Percentage of Zero Power.  You want to sit-in at least 15% of the race.  If not, you were probably expending too much energy.
o. Time in power/heart rate ranges.  Were you racing at Threshold Power/HR for over an hour?
p. Power profile. W/kg?

All of this data (and MUCH more) is displayed in Training Peaks Software.  In addition to this data review, evaluate/assess your race day tactics.  Did you successfully breakaway?  Did you get gapped on the hills, descents, turns, etc.  Were you able to accelerate successfully?  Were you blocked-in?  Were you sitting-in up front, middle or the back of the pack?  Record ALL of this information as it will help you assess your strengths and weaknesses.  Train your weaknesses.

BTW, I review the race day data as soon as I can so the race is still vivid in my mind. If you wait to review your data, you may forget important times/points in the race like: when breaks occurred, when you tried to bridge gaps, when you got gapped, when you were out front, when you drafted, etc. 

Remember, your race day data is the BEST data to analyze because you're (hopefully) giving it all you have.  It will highlight your strengths and weaknesses.  Again, all of this data can be saved in your WKO+ software...for post-race review. 

Power ON!  Coach Rob

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Train HARD..and have FUN!

A lot of times I prescribe workouts for my athletes that aren't really much fun.  How do I know that?  Because I perform every workout that I prescribe...and a lot of them are just TOUGH workouts.  In fact, one of them almost had me puking afterwards.  And, I was thinking, if they're NOT fun..then maybe my athletes aren't doing them.  (BTW, I purposely have athletes email me their power files for just that reason- a) I want to see if they did them and b) I want to see if they did them at the intensity they should.)  And, if they're not doing them..well, they're not going to progress (get stronger/faster) and achieve their goals.  And, I think that reflects on a poor coach.  After all, it's my job to help the athletes reach their goals faster.  Therefore, I believe it's incumbent upon me (and all good coaches) to mix it up and make their workouts fun.

There really is no excuse why you can't train hard and have fun at the same time.  If you're not having fun training hard..then perhaps you should alter/change the way you're training.  Let's face it..when you train hard, it's uncomfortable.  Unless of course you're one of those lucky athletes that have a high Lactate Threshold and/or tolerance for pain.  Well, at least for me it's uncomfortable when the legs start burning and your HR is elevated for most of the ride. 

So, here's a list of ideas you can institute in your training plan/program to make it more fun when you ride/train hard:

a. If you're short on time, or the weather is not cooperating, nothing wrong with an indoor workout during the Spring/Summer.  Also, ride/train with a friend or a group from time to time instead of riding solo.  Chatting while riding will take your mind off your aching legs.  Definitely find a partner when doing Anaerobic Capacity workouts- share the pain.
b. pick a new training route when you ride. It will spice up the ride.
c. stop if you have to on longer rides and will allow you to maintain your energy levels.  Go ahead and jump on that cookie or pastry.  Get some colder fluids.  Just don't stop for more than 5 minutes.
d. wear the right stuff. If it's raining, like it was for my 3 hr. ride today, wear a good waterproof jacket and cover your shoes with waterproof covers.  There is nothing worse then climbing with cold wet soggy shoes where your feet are swimming around.  Dress in layers so if it gets too can take a layer off.  Heat stress will rob you of power/energy...besides making you feel like crap.
e. pace yourself.  There is no sense going out too hard on a long ride only to limp home. Finish strong!
f. ride hard one day then take a scenic recovery ride the next day.  Or, just take off the next day and do something fun.  Riding hard day after day will lead to overtraining and burnout.
g. keep your bike well maintained and adjusted.  Nothing more frustrating then going out on a long ride and having shifting problems, brakes rubbing, noisy chain/bottom bracket, etc.
h. treat yourself after the ride. Go ahead grab that beer, pizza, milk shake, cookie, earned it.  Make sure you consume some protein along with the Carbs.
i.  relax after the TV, better yet, take a nap..again, you earned it.
j. download your training ride, from your computer, and look at all of that hard work.  Check out the normalized power for the ride and elevation gain.  The harder you rode and more you climbed will make it more fulfilling.  Go ahead, pat yourself on the back for all your hard work.
k. if you're really lucky and have the time (and money) get a massage periodically after a HARD ride..or the day after.  You earned it didn't you?
l.  buy something for your bike or for yourself.  You don't have to spend much.  Bar tape for the bike, Gu's/Energy bars for the next ride, etc.

Don't lose sight of the best reason for cycling/'s FUN!  If it's not..make it.

Power ON!  Coach Rob

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Train with Consistency

By now, most of you (racers) should have built a good base on which to develop higher intensity training; the same intensity that's required to be competitive during your races.  You should have also had at least one race under your belt too.  That race, regardless of the result, should help you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.  Train your weaknesses and race your strengths.

Training hard, at higher intensity, will stress your body physically to new highs.  Just as important as the hi-intensity training is the recovery period.  During the recovery period is when your body will adapt and get it's IMPERATIVE that you train hard and rest afterwards.  This training cycle is what's called adaptation or super-compensation (see my former blogs on supercompensation).  It's this training effect that will make you ride stronger, faster and longer.  It's a physiological adaptation.  The older you are the more rest you'll need.

But, what I even think is MORE important in your training is your "consistency".  You can't ride hard one week then take off on vacation another week- completely off the bike.  Otherwise, your body will think that your "hard" week was just an aberration of sorts and maintain its current fitness level.  That's why some racers seem to plateau.  On the contrary, you can't keep going hard EVERY week or you risk over-reaching or burnout.  So, there's a balance that's required.  That's why some racers utilize a four-week training block of 3 weeks on and 1 week off...even during the racing season.  Except, the off-week doesn't mean "off the bike" it just means an easier lower volume week.  You still want to throw in some short hi-intensity workouts and spirited solo or group rides.  For your big 'A' event..don't forget to taper so you are fresh for the race.

Ok, so how do you keep this balance and be consistent?  For me, I try to enter a practice race at least once per week.  Since I live out of a suitcase during the week for business, I enter a practice race on Tuesday Nights in Southern MD.  (I drive so it's easy to take my bike.  If you fly, rent a bike..I've done it)  Some weeks I'll go out with the 'A' guys, the Cat 2/3s and just try to hang on.  Other weeks I'll go out with the 'B' guys, the Cat 4/5s, and try to win the race.  There are plenty of them just have to look.  For you Philly area racers, there is Greater Valley races on Thursday night.  That race has it all: Cat 1-5s. The practice race will allow you to try things like: breaking away (if you're strong enough), sitting-in more and conserving for the final sprint, moving through the pack, practicing cornering skills, accelerations, etc. all at HIGH race-pace intensity.  The following day is a rest/recovery day- OFF the bike.  Heck if you ride/race hard, you won't want to ride the next day.  After the rest day, if I'm not entered in a race, I try to find a fast group ride with better/faster/stronger riders.  Don't worry about being dropped or hanging on.  It's all about the high intensity training..nothing more.  Leave your ego at home before you ride.  For some of you, finding a fast group ride that challenges you may be a difficult task.  So, you may have to drive an hour after work to find such a group..but they're out there. 

This is what a consistent, high intensity week might look like:
Monday: Tempo/fun ride
Tuesday: Practice Race or Fast Group ride
Wednesday: Rest/Recovery ride
Thursday: Practice Race or Fast Group ride
Friday: Pre-race Workout (no more than 1 hr.)
Saturday: Race Day
Sunday: Day OFF (go to church, spend time with the family, go fishing, relax read a book, etc.)

If you can't make a Practice Race or Fast Group ride during the week, I like to fit-in my Anaerobic Capacity Workouts with 15 or 30sec sprint intervals.  You can do them on your trainer or find a 1/4 mile hill (with an 8-10% grade) in a residential neighborhood.  One hour is all you need..including rest intervals.  I like the latter since I'm tired of looking at my trainer.  Besides, there is no substitute for training on the road..cause that's where you race..not in your basement on a trainer.  For me, I increase my FTP at least 20w from April to June with this training/racing schedule...and I'm an old fart.  You may see higher increases.

The other thing you MUST keep in mind when training is to ensure your training is "race specific".  If you're a Crit racer, a long 3-4 hr. ride is NOT going to help you as much as a shorter hi-intensity ride (1-2 hrs.) that includes sprint intervals.  For you road racers that go on group rides, target the hills if you can..because you WILL see them in a race and you want to be prepared for them.  Hit em hard and hit em often.  Actually, you want to look forward to them in a race...not dread them.  Every training session should have a purpose.

For the athletes I coach (and race), I'm done coaching for the year at the end of this month.  Why?  Because I'm just too busy with work, vacation, my own training, training camps, racing, fishing, photography, spending time with the family, etc.  I don't want to cheat you the time in preparing your weekly training schedule. Besides, it's racing season now..and that's how you'll be training and getting racing.  I'll be checking in with you to see how you're progressing.  Just keep it going.  The key is consistency!  Good luck, ride/race safe...and have fun.  Power ON! Coach Rob

Monday, April 11, 2011

2011 Tour of the Battenkill

The Tour of the Batenkill- for me in three words, not so good.  I crashed 9.5 miles into the race on the steeper uphill section of Perry Hill Rd.  (And, I was in the middle of the pack..where I thought I was safe.)  Actually, I didn't go was 3 guys in front of me that went down and I went crashing into them.  I don't know how I didn't go down..but I was lucky enough to unclip one foot and come to a screeching halt on top of one of the guys.  I actually jammed/twisted my foot trying to stop so fast.  If I had to guess, I'd say the guy in front of me touched wheels with the guy in front of him.  That's all it takes.  We weren't going fast (I'm guessing 8-10 mph) since we were climbing, but the fact that I had to stop in my BIG ring on a hill was NOT good.  I turned back down the hill, shifted into my small ring and circled back up the hill.  But, that short 1 minute incident was all it took for me to lose contact with my Masters 50+ group- they were gone.  At that point I pretty much knew my race was over.  I had a choice, do I pack it in and ride 9.53 miles back to my car or do I hump it pretty much on my own for the next 54 miles.  I chose the latter- after all, I trained hard for 6 mos. for this race and lost over 12 lbs.  Besides, I wanted to see/ride the course...and I did.

It was a long day in the saddle..too long in fact that I almost bonked.  I was on the road 45 minutes more than I expected to be..but that's what happens when you ride a race pretty much on your own without the benefit of drafting.  I looked at my Power Meter data (post-race) and saw that I averaged 220w (normalized power) for three hours and forty-five minutes.  I also averaged 167 bpm for the entire race.  That's 86% of my HRmax for close to 4 hrs. (non-stop except for the crash) burning just shy of 3000 calories along the way- with only one and a half bottles of water, one bottle of gatorade and two Gu's/gels that I carried on my bike.

Having said all that, it really was a beautiful day for a bike race.  Temps were in the low to mid 60s..clear skies.  The wind picked-up later in the race and made it difficult on already tired legs.  My Garmin computer said I climbed 4500 ft.  I don't know if that is correct or not since the race guide said it was close to 1000 ft. less.  All I know is, there was a lot of climbing.   I can see where people say that this is one of the toughest one-day races in America.  It's one thing to recreational ride a course like Battenkill and another to RACE it.  I think there were 10 dirt/gravel sections of road.  As a friend of mine said, "It's a beast".   As a whole I don't think my team (Team Pure Energy Cycling) faired so well on the day.  I heard there were a bunch of flats, mechanicals, etc.  But, there were some bright spots..Bobby Lea taking 4th place in the Pro race and Jim Ludovici (who I coached) 15th in the Cat 4 race. Great job guys!

I was very disappointed with the day..but that's racing.  Thank God I didn't get hurt in the I'm thankful for that.  (I heard there was a crash earlier on in the day on a high speed descent on gravel where they had to med-evac someone to the hospital).  I really wanted to place well..hoping it would reflect the hard work I put in over the Winter and my 12 lb. weight loss.  Having said that, I did notice I climbed MUCH better than I have that's a plus.  The only thing I can do now, is keep it goin' and look for another race where I can hopefully show-off my hard work and weight loss.  Until then, Power ON!  Coach Rob

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Re-assessing/re-evaluating your 2010/2011 training goals

Back in November 2010, you may recall I posted a blog re: my/your 2011 training goals.  In it, I posted a chart that I hoped to use to track three very important metrics: Functional Threshold Power (FTP), Body Weight (lbs) and Power to Weight Ration (w/kg) during my Annual Training Plan.

Just today, I re-assessed my Annual Training Plan based on where I was on the chart.  You can see that my goal weight has been achieved.  That's right, I lost 12 pounds since November 2011.  I'm really proud of myself for that because it wasn't easy with all of the business travel.  It takes a lot of self-control and discipline not to eat junk on the road.  Where I fell a little short of my goal(s) was my FTP and w/kg.  Rather, I fell a lot short.  I'm guessing the reason for the shortfall is twofold: 1) I lost some strength in my legs during the weight loss and 2) I over-estimated my ability to increase my FTP 40 watts.  (I don't know why I thought that was obtainable..especially for an old goat like me).  That's ok, that's the reason you re-assess/re-evaluate your training goals as the season progresses and make more realistic ones.  For me, I think a more realistic goal would be to increase my FTP 20-25 watts instead.  But, it's still April and to be honest with you the weather has not been cooperating as much as I'd like to get out on the road and ride more.  That, and my busy work schedule.  So, for now, I'm going to give myself 2 more mos. (until June 1st- my birthday) to increase 10 watts more than where I am now.  That should be realistic...and THAT should make me happy.  The only thing that would make me happier is if that translated to better race results.  Guess we'll see.  The good news/thing is..I was able to increase my w/kg..which is already showing in my climbing ability.  So, have you met your 2010/2011 training goals?  What do you have to do to meet them if you haven't?  Power ON! Coach Rob

Racing in the rain

I believe the older I get the wiser I get.  However, I'm sure the younger generation may call "wiser" "softer" instead with regard to training/racing in the rain.  Personally, I don't ride in the rain if I don't have to..because I really don't like it..which is primarily why I don't.  Think about it, what is there to like about riding in the rain:
a. a steady stream of water pouring into your mouth from the rider in front of you
b. reduced visibility even w/ goggles/glasses treated with anti-fog and water repellant
c. cold/bone chilling rides once you're wet (especially if you stop for even a minute)
d. you can't slow down and brake as well
e. you'll lose traction when climbing steep hills
f. you have a chance of washing out/falling on a turn
g. painted road surfaces are like ice
h. metal bridge grates are slippier than ice
i. you increase your chance of flats
j. the rain gets in your bottom bracket, wheels, computers, etc.
k. drivers on the road can't see you as well
l. your nice clean bike gets all gunked up
m. it's slower riding because of the added weight and resistance
n. etc.

I could go on and on with the list..really, it's not that hard.  But, there is probably one advantage to training/riding in the rain that trumps all of the above..and that is: it's the best preparation there is for racing in the rain..when you MUST.  I recently queried my friend, and Cat 2 racer, Jason Wood on riding in the rain.  Jason rides in all-weather: sleet, rain, snow, heat, cold, etc.    Here's what he said re: racing in the rain, "Racing in the rain and mud is more about mindset than anything.  Remember, everyone has the same conditions so if you can enjoy it you will have a mental edge that could help you."  I have no reason to believe that statement isn't 100% correct/dead-on.

Here are a few great tips that Jason gave me that I'd like to pass on as well (my comments in parenthesis):

a.  I would definitely wear clear lenses.  They fog up quickly though, so I would recommend going to the store and getting some anti-fog stuff to put on the lenses beforehand.  (Oh, little advice from scuba diving..spit works pretty good as an anti-fog solution.  Just rinse it off after spitting.  If that grosses you out, Windex works ok too)

b.  If it is cold I would wear a rain jacket, if it is warm I would not.  Being wet in a race is only an issue if it is cold.  (Every rain jacket that I've ever purchased, including Goretex jackets, make me wetter with sweat than from the rain.  So, find one that breathes well..with underarm vents)

c.  Aero booties are great for wet races to keep the feet dry a little longer. If it is really warm I wouldnt wear them, but if it is 50F or less I would likely wear them.  (Don't wear the big/bulky winter booties..they'll feel like Frankenstein monster boots when wet)

d.  Lower your tire pressure a fraction because of the gravel roads but you dont want it too low because you could end up with a pinch flat.  Gravel roads and rain make it a tough decision about what to do about tire pressure.  Maybe just go about 10psi lower then you normally do.  As long as there has been a good rain to clear all of the oil off the road, cornering on wet roads is no different then cornering on dry roads. Just be careful if it is just lightly raining, because that is when the oil just sits on the road, then conditions can be dangerous. As long as it pours, or at least rains steadily for a while before the start- the corners will be fine.

e. Steep climbs on gravel will likely be easier seated if its wet, dry wont be an issue, unless its REALLY steep then you may have a problem standing.  But, one thing I've experienced on gravel, after rain, is some spots get really really soft.  It may feel like you are riding through sand for some sections which takes good power and balance to get through it.  Just be patient in it and dont over react in these situations.

f.  I usually keep my bottles open when I'm riding so i dont have to fuss with pulling out the spout when I want to drink.  But, if its muddy/rainy I'd make sure to keep them closed when they are on your bike so they dont collect dirt and road debris in them.  (Funny, out in Lancaster PA you better have a cap that goes over your water bottle spout or you'll be drinking cow dung for the first few sips when it's raining and you're racing on their country roads.  Been there done that.)

g.  If you're racing a course like Battenkill, this is the one race I'd carry an extra tube with me- and another CO2.  (Oh, I will)

h. Practice riding in the rain when it's warm.  Work on cornering.  You can go much faster than you think.  (Do I have to Jason? ha)

Anyway, Jason is right, the only way to get better at racing in the rain is to practice/train in the rain.  Shouldn't be hard to find a rainy day to ride/train in get out there.

Power ON! Coach Rob

Pacing during longer races

Photo: Graham Watson
For most recreational racers, the choice for weekend racing is either a road race: consisting of five or more 5-10 mile loops through an open suburban setting (such as farm country) or a criterium consisting of upwards of twenty or more 1 mile loops/laps through a downtown business/urban setting (such as a college campus or town/city).  The former lasting up to an hour and a half, and latter no more than an hour.  What are rarer are the longer road races lasting upwards of 3-5 hours and covering up to 100 miles or more- kind of what you see during the Stages of the Tour de France or what our fellow Ironman Triathletes see during their races.  Most recreational cycling racers will never get the chance to race these longer durations because these races are just not offered locally (with any regularity)...unless of course you want to travel out West and race the Furnace Creek 508 or enter the Race Across AMerica (RAAM).  But these are multi-day races.   For the Pros, these types of races I'm talking about are the "Spring Classics"- some of the toughest one-day cycling races on the planet.  But, there is one race that I can think of (that is sort of local for us in the Northeast), that is a "tough" one-day race, and that is the "Tour of the Battenkill" (in upstate New York).  This race is open to both Pros and Amateurs although it fills up FAST.  For amateurs, the Tour of the Battenkill is a 100km (66 mile) race over paved, dirt/gravel roads with some steep climbs.  So, we'll use this race as an example of "how to pace yourself for a long race".  I believe proper pacing is THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect/consideration of a long race..followed by nutrition which is a very close second.  This blog will actually help me review/remember what to do and what NOT to do before and during the race..since I'll be racing Battenkill this weekend.  I can tell you right now, if you do NOT pace yourself correctly on a race like WILL blow-up (bonk, whatever you want to call it) and your results will NOT be pretty and you definitely won't meet your goal.  Before I talk about pacing, let me give you my Top 3 tips on other things you want to be cognizant of before and during a longer race:

1. Equipment- The first thing you want to make sure of is that your bike, accessories (tubes/tires/etc.), power meter, HR monitor, computer, watch, etc. are working properly and you have fresh batteries installed.  The last thing you want is a battery going out in your Power Meter or Head Unit/Bike Computer during a long least that's the last thing I want failing since I rely on it so much.  Check your tires for cuts/abrasions/etc.  Also, give your bike a good cleaning..and inspect all parts for rust, cracks, cable fraying, etc. days BEFORE your you have time to replace/repair a part if need be.  Again, the last thing you want during a long race is a mechanical.  If you break/bust a're pretty much done for the day.  Don't forget to lube everything AFTER you clean your bike.  Also, if it's a "hilly" race like Battenkill, make sure you have something like an 11-27 cassette on the back wheel instead of a 12-23...or move to a Compact Crank.  Sure, you may be able to grunt/power it up the steep hills with a 12-23 but it will come at a cost- an energy cost.  We'll get into that more later.

2. Nutrition (and hydration)- As I said before, proper nutrition is a close second (in my book) consideration for longer races.  If you don't fuel (and hydrate) your body WILL fail. i.e. you WILL bonk..and game over.  Don't rely on Food Stops for your energy requirements.  Remember, there are volunteers working this area that have absolutely no idea what you want or what you be as self-reliant/independent during the race as you can be.  Carry some gu's/gels and make sure you have at least one bottle of gatorade/accelerade on your bike at all times.

3. Clothing- This may sound rather benign a consideration..but I put it right up there with equipment and nutrition.  Why?  Because if you don't wear the proper clothing you're either going to "overheat" which will reduce your power output during the race, or you will be "chilled/cold" which will rob your body of energy..because it's spending too much time trying to warm your extremeties.  Also, be prepared for the rain..especially in the Spring since it rains just about every other day.  Do you have clear rain glasses treated with a water repellent?  Do you have a good rain jacket that will keep you warm while letting heat escape?  Do you have shoe covers to prevent your feet from getting soggy/wet?

Ok, now on to pacing.  As I said before, I honestly believe that "pacing" yourself properly is the most important consideration while racing a longer race and achieving your goal.  Why?  Go too hard..and you WILL bonk regardless of whether you're properly fueled or not.  Go too easy..and you're NOT going to keep up with the pace necessary to place well or (again) achieve your goal.  Pacing yourself correctly is also "sitting-in" and conserving energy during the fast flat-sections of the course as well as sitting (vs. standing) during long steep ascents thus conserving energy.  Remember, when you ride in long races everyone is pretty much given a (hypothetical) full-tank of gas at the start.  Hit the accelerator too hard at the beginning of the race and you're going to run out of gas.  Run out of gas..and you're done for the day.  So, back off.  Sounds easy huh?  Well, here's where pacing becomes an art and a science.  If you don't hit the accelerator (at all) early on in the race, you risk being dropped from the group/pack.  If you're separated or dropped from the group..guess what?  No benefit of sitting-in and conserving energy/fuel later on.  And, trust me, if you get dropped early-on in a 100 mile race..and you have to ride's going to be one long/painful ride to the finish line- ESPECIALLY if it's a windy day.  So, how do you know when to hit the accelerator and how much to lay/stay on it?  Good question.  That's why I said that pacing is both an art and science.  And, it's the "art" part that you only learn through experience.  I like to use a pack of matches to explain/describe the "art" part.  Everyone starts a race with a pack of matches.  Except, not everyone has the same number of matches.  My book/pack may contain 5 matches..yours 8 or possibly only 3.  Burn too many matches..and you're out/done/fini for the day.  You need to know how many matches are in your pack.  Again, not everyone starts with the same number of matches AND you need to know when you can burn them.  The "science" part I leave up to my Power Meter.  My Power Meter (PM) is pretty much the ONLY tool I use for pacing.  (I always wear a Heart Rate monitor as well, but my HR monitor is more of a tachometer for tells me when I'm redlining and when I should back off the throttle a bit).  The PM will help you pace yourself by establishing a "ceiling" of sorts on both the flats and the ascents.  I know that when I'm riding the flats at Threshold pace I can ride at least an hour at 250 watts (my FTP) and hours at 200+ watts.  And, I know for steep ascents, when I'm riding at VO2max pace I can ride for 5 minutes at a time in the 300+ watt range...WITHOUT blowing-up.  Additionally, your PM will calculate your energy expenditure during the ride which will allow you to estimate your kilo-calorie consumption to keep properly fueled.

I bet you (a beer) that if you asked either Hunter Allen or Dr. Andy Coggan, the authors of "Training and Racing with a Power Meter" what they believe is the single most important function/purpose of a PM for racing..they will both answer- PACING.  I haven't bought a beer yet.  If you're racing Battenkill this weekend, like I am, be aware of your pacing.  Most importantly, race safe and HAVE FUN!  Cheers  Rob

Power ON!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Spring Classics

Each Spring a series of one-day bike races in Western Europe helps define the leaders for the upcoming season of professional cycling.  These races are usually held in everything but the best of conditions: cold, mud, rain, cobblestones, steep hills, etc.  These are the legendary "Spring Classics" which have been run for a hundred years or more. 

Tomorrow, April 3rd, 2011 is the Tour of Flanders.  The Tour of Flanders is noted for its rough conditons: steep climbs and cobbled roads combined with normally cold and rainy weather to create a miserable racing experience.  Held in Flanders, Belgium, this race draws thousands of fans.  If you've ever been to Belgium in the Spring, as I have, you'll know that it it typically cold and rainy..making for a tough day of bike racing.

In the USA the Spring Classics have caught on in popularity as well- although not as legendary/famous as the Western European races.  Next weekend is the "Queen of the Classics" in the States- the Tour of the Battenkill held in Battenkill Valley, NY.  It is one of the toughest one-day races in America.  The course contains steep hills, dirt/gravel roads, and typically wet conditions.  Just yesterday, the Battenkill Valley received over 6 inches of snow..which will make for wet/muddy roads on race day next weekend.  The race had over 2000 registrants in the first 24 hrs. this year..and seems to get bigger (and better) each year.

For those of you that don't race, Kermesse Sports (run by my friend Brian Ignatin) hosts Spring Classics local to Bucks and Hunterdon Counties.  These are not races..they are challenging rides (that some race).  For 2011, Brian has scheduled 3 rides: Hell of Hunterdon, Fools Classic, and Fleche Buffoon.  The Hell of Hunterdon was last weekend, the Fools Classic today, and the Fleche Buffoon in two weekends (following the Tour of the Battenkill).  You can register for the Fleche Buffoon at Bike Reg.   You can find more information on his website:

If you don't think you can make one of Brian's rides..why not create your own Spring Classic.  Just today, I made up my own Spring Classic of sorts.  (Actually, for me, it was a warmup ride for next weeks Tour of the Battenkill).  It was a 1 1/2 hr. ride that included 5 dirt road sections (that were muddy w/ potholes), nearly 2,000 ft. of climbing, etc.  The good thing, for me at least, was the temps were in the mid 50s.

If you've never ridden your bike on dirt/gravel roads, you really don't need a cyclocross bike or mountain bike.  A road bike with wider (durable) tires is all you need.  I prefer Continental 4 season tires that are 25mm wide.  What I like about riding on dirt/gravel roads is picking the smoothest/fastest line around potholes, mud, stones, etc.  It's kind of like skiing moguls..where you need to pick the best line for the smoothest/fastest run without getting thrown around.  What I don't like about riding on dirt/gravel roads, however, are the washboard bumps that send shocks up my spine (a spine that already has two herniated discs).  But, a good set of eyes will help avoid such shocks.

The weather is finally starting to feel like Spring with temps exceeding 50F...and periodic rain.  So, get out there and ride some of the dirt/gravel roads in your area. It's great training for summer riding..especially if you ever get caught out in the rain. 

If you want a copy of the course I rode today (shown above), send me an email and I'll send you the GPS file.  Have fun! Power ON! Coach Rob

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sometimes you just have to ride/train when you can NOT when you want!

For me, riding/training/racing on a bike is a good way to stay healthy, keep in-shape, be competitive, enjoy the outdoors, etc.  It's also a good excuse to keep my weight in-check.  If I were single and could afford it, I'd probably move to San Diego where I could be outdoors all year round training/riding/exercising.  Especially after this brutal Winter in the Northeast.

With my busy work schedule (during the week) and extracurricular activities on the weekends, I pretty much ride/train when I can NOT when I want.  Additionally, the older I get (and probably wiser I get) I refrain from riding outdoors on the road when the temps dip below 40F or if it's raining.  Why?  Because I just don't enjoy it..that's why.  I'd rather train indoors during inclement weather.  Besides, if you don't enjoy something in life..why do it?  That just doesn't make sense to me...seeing riders outside in the cold looking absolutely miserable.  Unless, of course, you know that some of your races might take place in temps below 40F and/or raining.  For you, that is good training...and a definite motivational boost on race day.

So, for those of you that have crazy work schedules like mine where you live out of a suitcase during the week and the weekends are either spent: travelling w/ the family, photographing, coaching or officiating, fixing the house, or whatever...RELAX and just fit what training you can in-between.  The point is, why beat yourself up for something you can't control.  Instead, learn to work training into your busy schedule.  I like to take my bike with me when I drive on business travel.  If I can't ride outside on the road after work, or race, I'll setup the bike on the trainer inside the hotel room.  If I fly and can't take the bike..I'll resign to the fact that I have to use a local gyms spin bike..or even worse, use the hotels recumbent bike.  (BTW, most hotels have recumbent bikes for fitness bikes instead of upright trainers).  Just this past week, I had to use a recumbent bike at both Hampton Inns that I stayed at- one in Maryland and one in Virginia.  I'm not crazy about recumbent fitness cycles..but it's better than nothing.  (BTW, that's me in the photo at the Hampton Inn Fitness Center (if you can call it that).  I shot the pic into the mirror with my iPhone.  Notice my laptop propped up on the bike stand w/ my Battenkill DVD playing).

When you line up for your first race of the season..feel good knowing you've done everything in your power to train the way you needed to train to prepare for the race.  And, let the race result be what it is.  If you do well..AWESOME..if you don't, no did what you could..and you can't be disappointed with that.  Now, on the other hand..if you just blew-off your training because you were either too lazy to do the work..or just felt like doing something else with your free time..I don't feel sorry for you.  But, you have no one to blame other than yourself.  That's what's so nice about cycling racing.  Your race result is normally a function of how much work/training you spend in the off-season.

My last piece of advice for those of you that are preparing for one-day events, whether it's the Tour of Battenkill, a Grand Fondo, Cyclosportif, Ironman event, the weeks leading up to the race..RELAX.  This is the time to start tapering-off NOT trying to get that last minute 5 hr. hump-fest of a ride in.  For one, it's only going to lead to some kind of injury, but more importantly, it's also NOT going to do you any good- performance wise.  There are bunch of reports out there (written by the PhD weenies of the world) as well as real-life proof that workouts within two weeks of your event will NOT improve your performance.  In fact, most injuries that I hear about occur within the weeks leading up to big races.  That's because the athletes feel they have to get that last minute hard effort in to ensure a good race day performance. 

So, train when you can..and make the most of it.  Most importantly, have fun with it.  Isn't that why we do it?  That's why I do.  Power ON! Coach Rob