Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Jordan Engineering BBQ Bass Ride

BBQ Bass Ride details:

Start - 9am Saturday, June 9th at the Jordan Engineering, Inc. parking lot @ 144 N. Warren St., Monticello, GA (across the street from the courthouse). My cell # is 706-318-6786 in case you get lost in the big city.
Route - 75 miles on rural roads through Jasper, Morgan, and Putnam Counties with 58' per mile of climbing. Click on the map below or visit The course will be marked.
Pace - I expect the bunch may separate into a couple of groups -- probably a 16-17 mph group and a little faster 18-19 mph pack, but we will try to regroup a couple of times during the ride for BBQ or a Bass.
Support - I'll have a couple of rolling rest stops driving the route with tools, food, drink, and Bass in case they're needed. If you want to hang out in truck for a few minutes then jump back into the group, feel free. We'll regroup a couple of times and will stop at Kinorhook BBQ for lunch at mile 46. BBQ and Beer are on the house.
Route Options - If you'd like to ride, but want a shorter route, let me know and I'll hook you up.
If you think you'll be riding, send me an e-mail at The folks at the little BBQ place need to know whether to expect 5 riders or 25 for lunch.

Click map to enlarge.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Edgar Soto - Nashville

This weekend at the Edgar Soto race in Nashville finally got me back in the groove with racing. I've raced a few times this year, but none of them had the same feel as last year's Georgia Cup races. Albany's road race was slow and boring; in Perry I think my TT time was mixed up and I know my dirt road skills were screwed up. Gainesville was a good circuit race, but a single race doesn't have the same feel as an omnium weekend.

The Edgar Soto TT course was fairly hilly (100' of climbing per mile) and just technical enough that leaving my TT bike at home might have been a good call, although I don't think I would have gone slower on the Cervelo. I finished the course in 10th place at 18:28.

The 3-lap, 11-mile circuit course was constantly rolling, but only had a couple of spots that might be called climbs. It was sort of like 11 miles of Pate Road with a little longer climbing sections. The 60-rider field pretty much stayed together for the first two laps. On the first climb of the third lap, I saw a couple of riders up front seem to get a little jittery, so I took advantage of an opening near the yellow line to move up from about 20th to about 5th position. Just as I moved up a little gap started to form a few spots behind me. As we surged a little to open the gap further, somebody in the middle of the group must have touched a wheel and gone down. I ended up with 9 other riders in the front group. We formed a good pace line and stayed away for the last 10 miles. I took 7th of 10 in a long downhill sprint finish. Our group picked up about a minute and a half on the field -- that would've been helpful if it were a stage race instead of an omnium.

The crit course was a 6-turn clockwise course with just enough gradual climb on one side to give me a little help against the bigger sprinters. It played out like most of my crits: I struggled hard to stay with the front group for a few laps, then gradually slipped off the back with other large chunks of riders (10 to 20). Over the final 20 minutes, I gradually bridged my way from group to group to get back into the front 20 riders, but never got back to the front group of 10 or so riders. I finished 16th.

Jeff Clayton finished the TT 53rd in 17:55, but had a great circuit race, finishing 13th and picking up a couple of minutes on most of the field. He finished 16th with the front group in the crit, moving him to 13th in GC. If he rides well in Monday's road race, he could grab a top 10 in a large (125) cat 4 field.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ergomo Accuracy Check

Since I deal with wattage numbers a lot, I thought I'd use some numbers from a recent ride to check my Ergomo Pro's accuracy. I have no reason to doubt the numbers it's giving me, but a good real world check now and then makes sense.

The best way to calculate wattage is using data from a climb because air resistance becomes almost negligible at low speeds. Since air resistance is the most difficult to accurately measure (using friction factors and frontal area estimates), the smaller role that it plays, the more confidence I have in the calculation.

I used a wattage calculation spreadsheet to input bike weight, body weight, climb length, climb slope, air temperature, air friction factor, tire rolling resistance, drivetrain friction, rider frontal area, and power output (I entered the average power reading from the climb as measured by my Ergomo Pro).

I was amazed to find that the spreadsheet calculation for climb time matched my actual climb time (as recorded by my Ergomo) to the exact second -- 1 minute, 5 seconds. Later I performed the same calculation for one other climb on the same ride and it matched the calculation by 1 second. That satisfies me that my power meter is giving me good data.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pedal force & muscle fatigue

Past testing has shown me that I achieve my highest power for a constant heart rate (150 bpm) at 65 rpm. My power is significantly higher at that cadence than at 55 rpm or 75 rpm. That's a lot lower (about 20 rpm lower) than my normal cadence. I've more or less ignored the heart rate/cadence data due to two assumptions that I've held:

1. The goal is not to achieve the lowest heart rate, it's to put out the maximum wattage.
2. The higher muscle force required to hold the lower cadence at a given wattage would result in power fade on longer rides more than would a higher cadence with lower muscle force.

This past week's experiments with higher pedal force (a low-cadence hill repeat session last week and last night's group ride) revealed an interesting new wrinkle: My perceived exertion is significantly less when climbing at high power and low cadence than it has been with higher cadence. I guess that's to be expected because the higher cadence climbing is putting a larger share of the physiological load on oxygen transfer (aerobic system). The higher force, lower cadence approach is much more anaerobic. My average pedal force for the 1-minute interstate hill climb on Pate was about 600 lb-in (that's equivalent to alternating 90-lb one-leg squats). That's a lot higher than my typical pedal force of around 450 lb-in.

So the question boils down to this: Can I reduce my cadence when climbing hard and still have the same amount of gas left at the end of a 2 to 4 hour ride. If so, I think I can climb faster with less pain -- and those are both good things.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Switching back to strength

So the cycling tripod is skills, VO2, and strength.

For me, skills work is the most difficult to improve because I don't enjoy doing cornering drills and one-leg intervals and because skills improvement is difficult to quantify, so I can't easily see improvement. Also, I think skills are determined for a large part by genetics. My brother-in-law was a much better athlete in high school than I was; but 20 years later, I can easily best him in any type of speed or endurance sport. However, I never have stood, still don't stand, and never will stand a chance against him in any skills test. He's better at golf, tennis, darts, horseshoes, skeet, bowling, Frisbee, basketball.... you get the picture. I think skills are inborn and you can only do so much to improve them.

Oxygen transfer can be greatly improved with training. Lots of that improvement comes from losing body fat and some of it comes from getting more efficient at processing oxygen. But after a decade of training, increasing oxygen transfer even a little bit gets very difficult. My oxygen transfer genetics are pretty good (VO2max=67 ml/kg/min - most people who like to ride bikes, swim, and run for fun have pretty good oxygen transfer, otherwise they'd be miserable and probably would spend more time golfing and writing). This is the leg that I lean on the most by far for my current cycling ability. If I had been born with a VO2max of 45, I likely wouldn't have become a cyclist.

Strength is the one leg of the tripod where I might have room for some significant gains. The next phase of my training will include lots of pedal force work such as low cadence intervals and more sprint work. I'll see if I can make improvements in FTP through muscle strength and increase maximum power output with neuromuscular training. The key is to add this additional training while still doing enough of the stuff I've already been doing so that my oxygen transfer doesn't suffer.

As a side note: There has been enough written on strength training (particularly on off-season weight training) for cycling to fill lots of books; but I tried weight training last winter and I'm not convinced that it was helpful for me - particularly if you consider that I could have spent that time doing low cadence work on the bike. I guess if I skip the squats this winter and suffer next spring I'll be changing my tune.

The cycling tripod

There's so much information available about how to best train your body to ride a bike faster, it can get overwhelming fast - even for someone who likes soaking up the numbers. To simplify the situation and look a the big picture, I often view training like a tripod having legs of 1. skills, 2. oxygen delivery, and 3. strength.

Skills includes the stuff you do with your brain and nervous system. Skills are the driver of the car. I use the term skills to describe a whole bunch of unrelated things like racing strategy, bike handling, bike fit, positive thinking, level of aggression, desire to win, pedaling efficiency, quick thinking, knowing when to grind in the saddle and when to stand, and knowing when to push a big gear and when to spin.

Oxygen delivery
Oxygen delivery is your carburetor. It's measured as how much oxygen (fuel) you can deliver to the motor (muscles). Your maximum oxygen delivery is measured by VO2max (which I've already covered in detail in a prior post), but other oxygen delivery benchmarks can more important than VO2max. Your aerobic threshold AeT (lower oxygen burning limit) and anaerobic threshold (AT), which is also known as lactate threshold (LT) or functional threshold (FT), your upper oxygen burning limit, together establish the effort range at which you can ride for a long time. The bigger the range between your AeT and AT, the better off you are.

After your brain has selected a cadence and riding position and has decided to attack or sit in, and your carburetor has supplied as much oxygen to your muscles as possible, it's all over but the crying. Your maximum performance then depends on how much force your legs are able to put into the pedals. Your cadence and pedal force together will dictate wattage output and speed.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Aerobic Threshold

Aerobic threshold AeT is the heart rate at which you start burning fat using oxygen as an exclusive energy source (no lactic acid is produced while burning just oxygen). The lower your AeT, the better, but it's not a crucial number when it comes to performance - AT is much more important. If your AeT rises above your endurance training heartrate, it could become a problem because you would not be burning oxygen exclusively during long easy rides. Tony, who performed my testing, told me that his goal is to have the spread between AeT and AT, expressed as %maxHR be at least 10%, which is what mine is now. My AeT is 70% of HRmax and my AT is 80% of HRmax.

My AeT has risen 11 bpm from 116 bpm to 127 bpm since December 2005. That's usually an indicator that I have cut back on base training. I was confused when I first saw this result because my mileage over the winter and into the spring has been a lot higher than in prior years. From November to February this year I did a long ride (50-130 miles) with the Peach Peloton almost every weekend and rode the trainer 3 to 5 nights a week, so I should have had plenty of base miles, right? The problem is that when riding the Peach Peloton rides, I counted it as winter base training; but considering what my FTP was at the time (probably 220 watts in November and around 245 watts by February) I was doing a lot of that riding in my mid to high tempo range (80-90% of FTP). So even though I was putting in lots of miles, they weren't purely endurance miles that would effectively target my AeT.

I don't think that doing lots of tempo riding in the winter was a big negative, though. It probably did a lot to help me increase my FTP. And if I can start next winter's training rides with a higher FTP of around 260 watts, then riding at the same NP as last year in the winter rides (200 watts) will be 75% of FTP, which will be more a appropriate base mile pace for me and will also make those rides a lot less taxing.

VO2max and body fat percentage

Yesterday I found a relationship between cycling performance, oxygen transfer, and body fat percentage that I have always missed.

We'll start with oxygen transfer. I think I have a solid understanding of VO2max: it's the maximum amount of oxygen your body can process expressed in milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute. Below is a detailed description of VO2max. In a later post I'll describe how I plan to use my VO2max testing result (67 ml/kg/min) from yesterday to better structure my bike training.

Variables determining a person's VO2max include lots of body processes and physical characteristics. I'm not formally trained in any of this stuff, I'll probably leave some things out and my info might not be perfect, so take it with a grain of salt, but here are a few of the variables:

  • Lung capacity - every time you breathe air into your lungs, air comes in contact with the interior surface of your lungs, which is flooded with 'used' oxygen-deficient blood that just came from working muscles. The concentration of oxygen is higher in the air than in the blood, so some oxygen diffuses into the blood, which is pumped back to the working muscles. So the area of contact between the air and the blood is important. The greater your lung capacity (volume of air you can inhale), the greater oxygen transfer you get with every breath. An average male can breath about 6 liters of air. Miguel Indurain's lungs can hold 8 liters.
  • Health of lungs - lots of things can damage your lungs. The obvious ones are smoking or working in an asbestos factory, but others such as having pneumonia, getting lots of chest colds, living in a big city, or living downwind of a large coal-fired power plant can also have effects. Lung health deterioration is one of the primary reasons that VO2max is expected to decline by about 0.5 ml/kg/min per year after age 30.
  • Blood volume - the volume of blood in your body doesn't change much with weight changes, but does increase somewhat with extended athletic training. The more blood you have the more oxygen you can move from the lungs to the muscles.
  • Heart capacity - hearts come in different sizes and strengths. I think heart size is mostly genetic, but exercise can strengthen the heart's muscles and allow it to pump more blood. Indurain's heart could pump 50 liters per minute (13 gallons/minute) of blood. For comparison, flow from a typical residential shower head is 2 or 3 gallons per minute, so think of 20 shower heads flowing at once. That's a LOT of blood!
  • Artery size - The bigger the 'pipes' carrying blood from your heart to your muscles, the more blood that can flow and the more oxygen that can catch a ride. I've seen pictures of artery cross sections for untrained average males compared to those of highly trained athletes. The difference is quite dramatic. Arteries in trained athletes can dilate to a much greater size (it seems like I remember that it was more than double) when higher blood flow is required.
  • Capillary density - The more you exercise hard and deprive your muscles of oxygen when they need it, the more your body will respond by growing capillaries to distribute more oxygen in the right places within the muscles. This is one of the primary reasons why athletic training is so sport-specific. A world-class long distance runner might have great lung capacity, heart capacity, and arterial size; but if he hasn't developed high capillary denisty in his cycling muscles, he may be bettered by even moderately-trained cyclists due to their specific training.
  • Cellular efficiency - The efficiency with which your cells convert the oxygen to sugars that your muscles can use to contract is important and can be improved through training. Changes in the number and efficiency of cell mitochondria and the efficiency with which you can buffer lactic acid are two examples.

That's what I knew about oxygen transfer before yesterday. But there is a significant factor related to body weight and body fat percentage that I have always missed or ignored. When analyzing cycling performance, I have always looked at body weight just the way I would look at the weight of the bike - just mass to be pulled up the hill in the gravity equation. I had always assumed that where accelerations and climbing were not a part of the equation (like a long, flat time trial), that body weight was not a real factor in performance except for the relatively small effect it has on body size and increased frontal area/wind friction. My friend Jeff, who won the Georgia state TT jersey for Cat5 last year, is powerful and he's not fat by any definition, but one look at him and you'd know he'd play tackle, not flanker. The fact that he won the TT jersey on a relatively flat course didn't surprise me a bit - it make perfect sense that he could excel in a discipline where I thought his power was important but his weight didn't matter much. But now I realize that there's more to look at in a flat TT than just power production.

What I know now is that blood volume is pretty constant for a given training level. So let's look at this scenario: In the spring I weigh 147 lbs and train 15 hours per week. My body fat percentage is 9.1 percent. I reach a certain fitness level by April and I can average 268 watts for a flat April TT, riding at maybe 23.5 mph. During the summer I maintain the same training regimen, but I add a pint of Chunky Monkey to my diet every other night. By September, I'm still well-trained and fit, and I have the same equipment, but I weigh 160 pounds and have a little excess fat (maybe 14% body fat). I ride the same TT course again, but this time I only produce 245 watts and my speed falls to 22.1 mph. Why did this happen?

It happened because in the fall I have to distribute my blood volume over more body tissue. I have 13 pounds of fat in my body in the fall that wasn't there in the spring (13 pounds is equivalent to 52 sticks of butter). Fat is blood dense, so there is a lot of my blood hanging out in that 13 pounds of fat that can't be used to carry oxygen to my cycling muscles, so I can't generate as much power and I go slower.

The end result is that body weight and body fat percentage has more of an effect on cycling performance than I had previously thought.

Metabolic Testing Results

Cycling is a great sport. It's healthy, it's social, and it can be extremely competitive. It gives me a free pass to eat good food and drink great wine. And if group rides are any indication, I can hope to maintain fitness and strength in cycling for several decades to come. But that's enough waxing poetic, now for the numbers.

A lot of the enjoyment I get from cycling is from being a lab rat in the science experiment of training. About 17 months ago, when I was first considering switching from triathlon to full-time cycling, I decided I'd get tested for some basic metabolic benchmarks. It was December 2005, I'd been training with some sort of structure for about 5 years, and the numbers looked something like this:

December 2005
Predicted max heartrate: 182 bpm
Lactate threshold (LT): 135 bpm (heartrate where sugar burning takes over as energy)
Aerobic threshold (AeT): 116 bpm (heartrate where I first start burning fat)
VO2max: 64 ml/kg/min (ability to uptake and use oxygen)
Body fat percentage: 10.4%

Yesterday I had the numbers run again to find out how they've changed after a year and a half of more intense cycling-specific training.

May 2007
Predicted max heartrate: 182 bpm
LT: 145 bpm
AeT: 127 bpm
VO2max: 67, but hit 70+ for short period in test
Body fat percentage: 9.1%

Over the next few posts, I'll take a look at each of the results and their implications to my training and racing (and eating). Also, I learned a few new things about exercise physiology from Tony Myers at ATS that I found interesting, so I'll elaborate on those as well.