Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Jealous Guy (or Gal)

Last year I bought myself a new mountain bike, hence all the posts about mountain biking! I was looking for a hardtail to use to get in to remote Munros and the like. In the event I spent (considerably) more than I had originally planned and didn't use the bike for my original purpose. The bike handles 95% of the off-road riding I do, the remaining 5% is at trail centres, but I can muddle through or apply rule #5.

Whilst we were sorting out my bike, Cath picked up one of the display frames and couldn't believe how light it was. "I've bought the wrong bike" she thought to herself. Since then she's secretly been hankering after something similar and with a significant birthday in the offing she decided to go for a test ride on one back at the Dales Bike Centre. Originally she was looking at a 27.5 inch wheeled bike as her FS bike uses that wheel size but with her lack of height we reckoned that the original 26 inch version would be best for her so she borrowed the shop owner's wife's bike. This was the 26" version of what I have, or rather it's the original Cotic and I've the 29" version. The effective wheel diameter on the bike was actually greater than on the 27.5 wheeled hire bike, due to different tyres.

Well she really liked it so colours and parts were decided on and an order was placed. Then the waiting began. Two weeks later and the email came through that it would be ready at the weekend so we headed up to Reeth. After a bit of fettling with getting the seat the right height and so on, time for a test ride.

Proud owner of a new bike!

Riding a hardtail is a little different to a full suspension bike, you have to be a bit more active in moving about the bike. You can't just sit there and let the rear shock absorb all the little bumps you have to be up off the saddle anticipating rougher stuff and picking your line. We did a loop on the south side of the valley that we'd done before in various parts. The climb up and round the valley was in to a stiff headwind but once we began heading over to Apedale it was on our backs and we made better speed. One last climb over Greets Hill then bridleway and road (with a strong sidewind this time) back to the Centre.

Heading down Apedale.

All in all she's really pleased with it. One thing that does look slightly odd: the front rotor is the same size as that on my bike but with the smaller wheel size it looks absolutely massive as if it's a full on downhill rig!

Friday, 20 February 2015

A Dales Loop

On Saturday Cath was leading the Skipton CC club ride so I had the day to myself to fill. Having kept myself indoors on the turbo-trainer for virtually all of January to avoid icy roads I was keen to get a longer ride in.

It always helps to have an aim when getting out and for this ride I was looking at both distance and pacing. Pacing isn't that hard to do on a road bike in flattish terrain, if you've a heart rate monitor you just aim to keep your HR within certain bounds. Things get more interesting and harder when there's lots of up and down involved add in riding a mountain rather than a road bike and it simply adds to the interest.

I'd worked out a route that took me through Skipton, Appletreewick and Hebden mainly via roads before striking uphill past the old mines at Yarnbury and dropping down to Kilnsey (cafe stop). The second half crossed Mastiles Lane (with the added incentive of trying to clean the initial climb) to Malham Tarn, down to Malham, up on to Weets Top, down to Hetton then over Barden Moor and back home through Skipton. A total of 96Km.

Riding a mountain bike on the road is an exercise in frustration, even with the forks locked out it isn't particularly efficient with low pressure tyres set up for off-road activities. It wasn't until the climb up from Parcival Hall that the tarmac finally came to an end. For two kilometres. Then it was back on the black stuff to get to Hebden.

I'd ridden down the track between Hebden and Yarnbury but never up it. It's actually a very steady climb with a few small rocky steps and a couple of beck crossings along with several gates to break up the flow. Riding through the old mines was surprisingly hard work - along with a headwind the surface was that slightly soft texture you get following a thaw (the last time Cath and I were up here it was sheet ice and we did a total of 6Km in over an hour). It was like riding on sand.

It was a relief to get on to the tops and scurry along next to the occasional snow bank. Mossdale came soon enough and I only had the top three gates to deal with on the descent to Conistone as the farmers were out feeding their stock so the lower gates were open. Across the valley to the cafe at Kilnsey: 3hrs15mins for the first 48Km.

Half an hour and I'm replenished but I've one of the big climbs of the day to come: Mastiles Lane. Since I was pacing myself for the whole ride rather than rushing at individual sections it didn't turn out too bad - I nearly had to put a foot down right at the top when I spun on some exposed damp limestone but managed to push through. 

Then it was on over to Malham Tarn. One of the problems with drawing out a somewhat convoluted route on a map is that once on the ground you can see shortcuts to points ahead. So it was that I could see Weets Top all of ten minutes to the south when I still had to go west to Malham Tarn, down to Malham and then climb back up. Very tempting!

The climb up to Weets Top from Goredale along Hawthorns Lane is a real drag, quite steep and seemingly never ending. Then, when you do leave the road it's still uphill at a similar angle. The payoff is that in the next 6Km to Hetton there's very little uphill. Which is probably just as well given that there's another hard climb coming up.

I've never managed to clean the climb from Rylstone up on to Barden Moor and so it proved today, just one section just below the top defeating me. The ride over the moor and down to Halton Heights is a blast with one quick change of line to avoid a cyclist coming up the track (only the second I'd seen all day).

The last bit of off-road is one I've never done before: Halton Heights down to Halton East. A good firm track at first there's then a section of rather deep muddy dips to get to the fell gate. From here on down it's very bumpy and muddy.

Once back on tarmac it just remains to get home - with one last hill in the way. Total moving time was just under 7hrs giving an average speed of 14kmh. Not bad since it's the longest ride on the mountain bike that I've done since early September. That time I'd done 8Km extra in the same time so I've a little extra fitness to get back.

Overall not too bad - didn't feel particularly fatigued afterwards and I could have kept going at that pace for some time longer.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Data, Data everywhere nor any time to Think

(with apologies to Tenysson)

Take a close look at many club cyclists and most triathletes these days and they and their bikes will be kitted out with an array of electronic devices that not long ago would have only been available in well equipped sports laboratories. Heart rate monitors, power meters and the like all communicating with a central unit that can display this information to the cyclist in real time as well as broadcasting it further afield. The data is also recorded so that it can be analysed post ride. Most of the head units are also GPS enabled so that the rider can plot their ride on mapping software.

But other than bragging rights (colloquially known as "willy waving") what's all this data used for? Well for many, not a lot. Online systems such as Strava will use the GPS data to map out your rides and show the times over whatever segments you have passed through potentially handing out "cups" or "King of the Mountains" should you be particularly quick but other than displaying the rest of the data not a lot is done with it. Training applications such as TrainingPeaks or Golden Cheetah will provide basic analysis of the personal data but ignore most of the GPS derived data. There is then the problem (and it really is a problem) of how to do the analysis of the data and how to draw the correct conclusions from it, i.e. convert data to information.

With the generally crap weather that the winter months have brought us recently I've been spending a lot of time on the turbo trainer which while hardly interesting is better than doing nothing or sliding around on icy roads. Simply getting on a turbo and spinning away is deadly boring, after twenty minutes you've had enough. Fortunately there are ways round this with varying degrees of cost depending on what kit you already have. Many GPS units let you set up workouts that let you vary the effort you are doing so you can set them up to make/encourage you to do two minutes' hard effort every ten minutes or whatever takes your fancy. It's a bit basic though. There are also video services such as Sufferfest - you set up a computer in front of the turbo and ride along to race footage along with exhortations to go for it.

I settled on Trainerroad (TR) which is sort of halfway between the two: it consists of predefined workouts but has on-screen instructions and tips to help you along. Another advantage was that it is power based rather than heart rate based so no dealing with the lag between changes in effort and your HR going up or down. Although I don't have a power meter TR has power profiles for lots of turbo trainers in their virtual power section - not 100% accurate but so long as the values are consistent then you can work against them and it's a bit cheaper than £600+ for a power meter! The TR training plans also include regular fitness tests as each workout is adjusted to your current fitness level - an estimate of how much power you can sustain for an hour known as Functional Threshold Power (FTP).

After a couple of weeks following one of the training plans based on my estimated FTP all was going well. The workouts were hard but then that's the point but I was completing them OK and either matching expected power or exceeding it. Some of the workouts in the plan are 90mins long - there's no way I could sit on a turbo for that length of time without some stimulus but with things to do and targets to meet . Then on Monday things went a bit wrong and I had to finish the workout without completing the last effort. Although slightly different in number and length of efforts, the workout was no harder than one the previous week but I felt as if I'd been trying to sprint through the efforts rather than a measured output. Time to look at the data.

A quick look at the data in Strava (it shows HR, power, cadence, etc but doesn't do any real analysis) showed my heart rate was constantly climbing from effort to effort. Cardiac drift isn't unusual in exercise but rather than a sawtooth profile where each effort is similar to the previous one, each effort carried on from where the previous one had left off. By the third effort my heart rate was at 95% of my theoretical maximum for nearly the entire ten minute effort! Although the rest intervals had my HR dropping back to reasonable levels it was obvious that I wasn't really recovering.

Moving over to Golden Cheetah and comparing the distribution of my HR with a previous workout showed the problem. Whereas the previous week I'd spent less than 30% of the workout in upper zone 3 or higher, this workout it was over 60% and that while producing less power. My power output was even more telling: at the end of the third effort my power dropped by over 30% with no corresponding drop in heart rate. Plotting heart rate vs power was even more telling. I was starting with a cold or some form of infection.

Rather a lot of time spent in Zone 4

This is from a decent session, virtually no time in zone 4.

Sure enough by Wednesday morning I'd got the tell-tale tickle at the back of my nose/throat. By Wednesday evening it hadn't really developed so I chanced doing the planned workout which I completed OK though my power tailed off for the last effort. By Friday it was back and even short efforts on a ride over to Wycoller on Saturday had my HR soaring so it might be best to lay off the training for a while.

Actually the efforts on Saturday showed that the limited turbo training I've done so far has already made improvements: there was very little muscular stress and the limiting factors were my heart and lungs going in to overdrive! This is somewhat unusual for me: my muscles are normally screaming while heart and lungs are ticking along.

Went out for a quick ride this evening it was a bit icy so times weren't brilliant, especially on the downhills where you had to be careful of suddenly coming across sheet ice. The climbs though felt good, not as fast as my fastest times but those were done in daylight and on dry ground rather than at night with ice and snow.

I wasn't expecting anything outstanding but was pleased with how things went especially with regards muscle efficiency and lack of tiredness in my legs. Will be nice to get out of the other side of this bug.