Don: Cycling Tech
There are a number of ways that we can assess our fitness and determine whether we are progressing toward our goals. Some of the simplest metrics are time and distance, tracking how fast we can cover a set distance, or how far we can ride for a set period of time. Another option might be to track how our heart rate responds efforts that vary over time and distance. And then there's power--we can measure our average watts over a specific time or distance.
The problem with these metrics is that they are impacted by a number of variables that that make it difficult to get an accurate measure of performance. Speed and time tests are impacted by wind, terrain, temperature, and traffic, while heart rate is dependent on such factors as fatigue, hydration, temperature, and humidity. And even tracking average watts only offers on a rough approximation of actual performance, as this value doesn't express the relationship between power and body weight; if power testing is done outside, downhills, coasting, and tailwinds all have the effect of depressing overall average power.
A good performance assessment not only minimizes uncontrollable variables, it also provides useful and actionable information on which we can structure our training and anticipate our upcoming performances. For cycling, one of the best means of assessing performance is through power testing, which helps us determine our thresholds and training zones and enables us to profile our strengths and weaknesses as cyclists. Power testing doesn’t have to be complicated, but it is important to keep the following in mind:
1. A consistent environment. While it is possible to obtain accurate and
repeatable data outdoors, it's critical to minimize variable conditions as much
as possible. Indoors is ideal, as
conditions will be far more consistent throughout the year.
2. A good power measuring device. A power meter MUST
be consistent, accurate, and precise in order to obtain data that provides
usable information. Note that the better
on the bike power meters (Quarq, SRM, and Powertap) measure power output from
both legs; other power meters will measure the power from one leg and then
double it. The problem with the later
approach is that we never produce power symmetrically across a range of
cadences and effort; as a result, data that doubles one-sides power should be
regarded as an approximation.
3. An understanding of protocols and data. Even with a
consistent, accurate, and precise power measuring device (a direct force power
meter or indoor smart trainer) and a stable indoor environment, it's important
that you understand what the data is telling you. Average power isn't useful in itself; average
power seen within the context of cadence, output variations, heart rate
response, and body mass will tell a more complete story. A good reading of data recorded after a
properly structured test session will accommodate multiple factors when
4. FTP is a measure of how hard you can work for sixty minutes. You can use your FTP value to set training zones and
calculate pacing strategies for your events.
For events shorter than 60 minutes in duration, you will be able to
perform at a level above your sixty minute FTP; for longer events, you should
plan on riding below your FTP, based on the anticipated time of your race.
There are a number of different types of assessments that can be used to help athletes train more efficiently. Most tests run approximately one hour, including warmup and cool down periods. For athletes who train by heart rate, a ramp test is used in which your heart rate is recorded at one minute intervals, as the resistance against which you are pedaling gradually increases over time. By plotting your data, you can calculate your heart rate at threshold, which then is used to set your training zones. Also, sport-specific training zones can be extrapolate from your ramp test. For athletes who have access to a power meter or Computrainer, a standard power test centered on a twenty-minute time trial effort provides important information and can be used to set power-based training zones (twenty minutes is short enough to be able to pace consistently, and long enough to be able to calculate sixty minute values). For those interested in learning more about the types of events most suitable for their unique physical characteristics, a series of short maximum power efforts placed within the context of a separate FTP test provides a remarkably detailed performance profile. This combination of data will suggest whether short or long course events, for instance, are a good match for a specific athlete.
Knowing your FTP will help you maximize the effectiveness of your interval sessions by enabling you to establish targets hard enough to result in positive adaptation, while not so hard that recovery becomes problematic. Placing your FTP in relationship to your body weight will determine your watts per kilogram ratio, which is a good metric to track within the context of your training goals. And knowing the percentages of your FTP for your sessions enables you to calculate the short- and long-term training loads that you place on your body, which is invaluable in developing a sustainable plan for your upcoming races. While it is relatively easy to design a range of assessments to profile different aspects of your performances, it is important that that the conditions of your tests are consistent, reliable, and accurate, and that you place the data recorded during the test in a context that reflects best practices and which accommodates time of assessment variables.
To learn more about performance testing or to schedule an assessment session, contact Vmps: email@example.com
The days are getting short and the temperature is dropping. You've had a long, productive season and made gains in your training and racing. You're tired from the long season, and it's time to take a break. But taking a break doesn't mean putting your bike away for the next several months. Don't give up your hard-earned fitness--start thinking about next season now.
There are three primary attributes
associated with cycling: strength (the ability to push down hard on the
pedals); speed (the ability to spin the pedals at a rapid pace; endurance (the
ability to pedal for extended periods of time). For most athletes, and
especially for older athletes, strength is the most difficult attribute to
improve, and it's the attribute that's most quickly lost after the cessation of
training. A good off season training program will focus on developing
strength on the bike, enabling you to establish a solid foundation for the
upcoming season. Endurance is the attribute easiest to develop; it's also
the attribute that's quickest to recover. For November, December, and
January, cut back the overall volume of your training and concentrate instead
in getting in one to two high intensity, short to moderate duration cycling
workouts. Add endurance rides later in your preparation, when the winter
weather begins to break.
Don't neglect your core strength and
overall fitness. Resistance training and lifting weights will help
establish and maintain overall body health. Unfortunately, there is
fairly extensive literature that indicates that strength training off of the
bike does little to increase on the bike power. But this said,
strengthening your core will enable you to maintain an aero position for longer
periods of time and extend the amount to time that you can ride at near maximal effort. When considering off-the-bike strength training, focus on
higher repetitions rather than higher weights/higher resistance, and carefully
maintain your form and range of motion. Also, make sure that your
off-the-bike sessions don't negatively impact your on-the-bike strength
training--if you want to lift weights on the same days that you ride, lift after
you are done riding.
There are many advantages to riding
indoors, apart from protection from inclement weather. Most indoor
trainers have relatively small moments of inertia, which is a fancy way of
saying that you have to work harder when you ride inside. On
an indoor trainer, you can't coast, and the dead spots of your pedal stroke is
accentuated; because the conditions are so controllable, you can structure
highly specific workouts to maximize your training time. With a
Computrainer or similar smart trainer, you can build erg workouts in which the
trainer controls the resistance for you, enabling you to focus on developing
maximum power on the bike. Because you don't have to worry about traffic
and variable road conditions, and because you aren't going to struggle to keep
warm, time spent indoors on the bike represents a fantastic return on the time
that you invest in your training.
4. When possible, try to ride indoors with friends. Use your weekday sessions for short, higher intensity interval sessions; on the weekends, dial back the intensity quite a bit and instead extend the duration of your sessions. 90 - 120 minutes is more than adequate for early off-season long course event preparation. Ride at a conversational pace, watch a video, or listen to some music. The goal is to ride at a light enough pace to recover from the prior week's intervals and to prepare for the following week's sessions.
As November approaches and you're beginning to plan your off-season workouts, keep in mind that you're essentially trying to balance two different types of training: short, higher intensity interval sessions; longer, low intensity endurance sessions. As the off-season progresses, you can manipulate the ratios of these workout types and introduce additional variables, such as high cadence efforts. Maximize your on the bike training time by riding indoors and consider doing some of your higher intensity work on a smart trainer in ergometer mode, which will force you to ride at your specified resistance. Rest by decreasing the overall time that you spend on the bike, but try to schedule one to two interval sessions per week. A smart, structured training program will enable you to build off of your current fitness and set the foundation for an even better season next year.
Click on image to enlarge.Click on image to enlarge.
Ironman Muskoka has
a greater overall elevation gain then Lake Placid and Mt. Tremblant. Like Mt. Tremblant, there are no long,
sustained climbs; rather, Muskoka is characterized by series of continuous
hills that mark (as some riders describe) a saw tooth profile. None of the
hills are overly steep, but they come in rapid succession, in much the same
fashion as IM Wisconsin. Muskoka is a
two lap course that circles Lake of Bays.
On the course, there are two out-and-back sections, one of which is on
Seabreeze Road, where you will have to do a 180 degree turn. The other out-and-back section is on Portage
Road, which connects the transition area to the course proper. This is not a fast bike course and riders
should expect to post slower times than they normally would record for a half
or full IM distance ride. This said, the
setting for the race is exceptionally beautiful. Muskoka is part of Cottage Country, a region
renowned for its scenery.
The key to riding Muskoka is understanding its terrain. This part of Ontario is known for its short, repetitive hills, none of which gain significant elevation, and none of which provide substantial opportunity for recovery. Note that one of the most challenging section of the course is located immediately outside of transition on Portage Road.
The first ~20km are on secondary roads, technical in nature, and varying in quality. This section provides a good opportunity to establish your nutrition and hydration patterns for the remainder of the race. The right turn onto Dwight Beach Road will lead to a short, steep downhill. On this section, it is best to be on your base bars.
From 20km to 60km,
you'll mostly ride highway, and the hills will be longer and more gradual than
those on the secondary roads. At
approximately the 35km mark, you will encounter a short, steep hill as you take
a brief detour off of the highway. On this downhill, consider remaining in your base bars.
A right turn will take you onto Brunel Road at approximately the 60km mark and later the turn onto South Portage Road will bring you back to the spurt that connects the course with the transition. This section, like the others, is characterized by a repetitious series of hills, and conservation of energy will be of paramount importance.
Strategies, Notes, and Other Stuff
Best of luck to all Vmps athletes, as well as all athletes competing at Muskoka!.
Ironman Mt Tremblant has very similar elevation gain as IM Lake Placid, but rather than bunching the bulk of gain in two, long climbs, climbing takes place throughout the entire course at Tremblant. Tremblant’s course has excellent quality roads and while there are no long climbs (save for Cheminn Duplessis at approximately the 40 mile mark), plenty are steep, topping out at 8%. None of the descents are technical; as this is an out-and-back-course, you’ll get to bomb down the same hills in the opposite direction. From the official Mt. Tremblant site:
When looking at the course, there are three extended sections that link climbs together:
The approximate locations of the climbs are:
Section One: Montee Ryan
Section Two: Route 117
Section Three: Back through Montee Ryan
Section Four Chemin Duplessis
Strategies, Notes, and Other Stuff
Best of luck to all Vmps athletes, as well as all athletes competing at Mt. Tremblant.
As the summer heat is upon us and preparations are in full swing for our "A" half and full distance events, it's time to turn our thoughts to hydration. Exercise performance can be significantly impacted with the loss of approximately 2% of bodyweight due to dehydration. Other studies indicate an approximately 30% decline in work capacity can result with as little as 5% loss of body weight due to dehydration. Clearly, it is critical that an effective hydration strategy is developed as part of event preparation.
How we carry our fluids on the bike is an important component of our overall hydration strategies, and improper configuration of our bikes to accommodate hydration needs can create significant aerodynamic penalties. The most aero of bicycles can lose their advantages with poor bottle placements; in some instances, careful placement of our hydration equipment may even lead to measurable aerodynamic gains. Don't be this rider:
Keep in mind that cycling primarily is an event centered on airflow management. Effectively managing airflow enables greater speeds with less effort. (Remember, approximately 90% of our work on the bike is used to overcome aerodynamic drag.) The goal Is to enable air to flow smoothly as possible around our bodies and our bikes; as air passes over us, areas of low pressure and turbulence will form, which increase aerodynamic drag. The greater the aerodynamic drag, the harder we have to work to maintain a given speed.
In the image above, notice the zones in blue, which represents turbulent air flow. The red areas are regions of significantly disturbed airflow, most of which is associated with the movement of our legs. As we ride, air flows around and over our bodies, eventually collapsing back on itself behind our bike. The area behind the seat is critical in this regard: while the airflow is disturbed in this region, it can be extended rearward and made much more turbulent through the introduction of non-airfoil items. Unfortunately, this is the location where most triathletes add water bottles to meet their hydration needs.
Note the distance that separates the two saddle mounted water bottles from the rider in the above image. In this instance, as air flows over the rider's back and begins to collapse, it encounters a large, distinctly non-aerodynamic water bottle placement. This, in turn, increases turbulence and drag, which means that the rider has to work much harder for a given speed. Ideally, saddle mounted water bottles should be buried underneath the seat as much as possible, which partially removes them from air flow:
Additionally, no more than a single bottle should be placed behind the seat. Riders can zip tie a standard cage to their saddle rails (see image above) or rely on a simple Velcro strap to mount their bottle:
Again, the key is to minimize the disruption of bottle placement on airflow transition as much as possible. Note the fairing (since declared illegal) on the rider below:
Obviously, an athlete will need more than a single bottle to complete a long course event. Adding bottles to the center triangle of the bike's frame is a common strategy, but this can compromise aerodynamics:
For the rider above, rather than mounting two bottles inside of the frame, moving the bottle from the downtube to behind the seat, tucking it underneath the rails, will increase aerodynamic efficiency. Leaving the bottle on the seat tube is an acceptable compromise, as this area already experiences significant aerodynamic turbulence and (in some instance) the seat tube placement can help split air around the rear wheel, thus shifting some turbulence further rearward on the bike.
Bottle placement on the seat tube is important, and the trend is to mount bottles as close to the bike's bottom bracket as possible to minimize aerodynamic penalties. Cervelo designed their P4 bike with this in mind. There are aftermarket bottles that can be used on most current triathlon bikes, some of which are brand specific, while others are adaptable to multiple brands:
Compare the bottle placement on the Giant above to the placement on the Quintana Roo below. The placement on the Giant should yield a smaller aerodynamic penalty.
So far, we have looked at how to minimize the impact that bottle placement might have on our aerodynamic efficiency. It is possible to use bottle placement to enhance our aerodynamics by focusing on the front end of our bikes. The front end of our bikes represents the leading edge of the surface that presents itself to the wind. It is possible to use a water bottle to strategically manage airflow, leading to aerodynamic gains. There are a variety of handlebar mounted water bottle options available today and they fall into two categories: horizontally mounted bottles; and vertically mounted bottles.
Vertically mounted bottles fit between the aerobars and when mounted closely against the frame, they can increase the efficiency of airflow around the top tube and stem of the bike; in some instance, a properly mounted vertical bottle will route air around items placed immediately behind the stem, such as a small bag for nutrition items or spare tubes. A vertically mounted bottle also can mitigate a poorly designed front end of a bike by routing air around the head tube. All of the examples above are acceptable options for the long course athlete. Keep in mind, however that the convenience of the straw for hydration can be compromised by its length. A cylindrical cross section is remarkably unaerodynamic, and a long straw will create significant and measurable drag. The key when using vertical bottles is to keep the straw as short as possible.
The other option is to mount the water bottle horizontally between the aerobar extensions. Do so fills in the gap between the arms, which helps direct air around the body, in effect functioning as a fairing. Horizontally mounted bottle offer a measurable amount of drag reduction, so much so that the UCI (cycling's international governing body) has prohibited their use. A standard bottle cage can be zip tied between the extensions; additionally, there are a number of dedicated mounts that one can purchase, though their benefits over a zip tied cage is minimal.
As the popularity of horizontally mounted bottles has grown, manufacturers have developed more sophisticated versions that enable their use without removing them from their mounts:
Hydration is critical for a successful long course performance, and smart athletes will pay an equal amount of attention to the aerodynamic impact that their hydration strategies might entail. And part of this strategy is the planned use of feed stations during the course of the event--rather than carrying all the liquid that you need to consume during your ride, refill if possible during the course of the event. The more accessories that you add to your bike, the greater the potential aerodynamic impact.
Even for 140.6 races, you do not have to carry all of your fluids. Do some advance research and learn how many feed stations will be available day of the event and what their nutrition and hydration options might be. Many athletes can compete very successfully carrying only two bottles--one with plain water, and the other with a preferred sports drink. With a little planning and careful bottle placement, you will retain most of the aerodynamic properties of your bike and have a faster race.
Now that the calendar tells us that spring has arrive and we’ve begun to turn our thoughts toward long rides in the warm sunshine, it might be a good time for us to remember why we spent so much time training indoors since last November. While there are many athletes who will train exclusively indoors, regardless of the weather or the season--Andy Potts is one such competitor who comes to mind--you don’t have to give up the freedom of the trail or the open road to be successful. There are many professional triathletes and cyclists, however, who incorporate indoor training year ‘round to optimize their performance.
Especially for time-starved athletes who need to balance the demands of their sport with career, family, and recovery, indoor training sessions offer great returns. For mechanical and physiological reasons, riding indoors creates a greater training impulse than riding outside: riding outside, it’s difficult to realize a consistent effort due to environmental conditions (temperature, wind, traffic, etc.) and technical considerations (we get much more recovery pedaling outside, when we coast each pedal stroke, than indoors on a trainer, where we have to pedal with force the entire ride. Because of the greater training impulse associated with indoor riding, we can assume that an hour on the trainer is roughly equivalent to ninety minutes out on the road, for a given training session.
The short version of this is that you can achieve a greater training impulse indoors than out, which means that your session can be shorter. For the most part, your body doesn’t care how training stress accumulates during a workout; what does matter is the volume of training stress per session. One can train six hours outside for an IM competition, or four indoors and achieve the same level of preparation.
Perhaps more importantly, riding indoors enables you to control the variables that impact the quality of your workouts. For the past several years, I’ve done all of my intervals--both in-season and off--indoors, as I can concentrate on producing as much power as possible, without having to worry about road conditions or weather. These indoor sessions enable me to ride at an intensity that would not be safe outdoors; because the mechanical efficiency of riding indoors is less than that of riding outside, I’m also training myself to produce power for a greater percentage of my pedal stroke than usual, which translates into more power on race day.
Now that the 2015 season has begun, I’ll continue to ride indoors. I’ll do all of my intervals on the trainer, where I can accurately plot my progression throughout the season and minimize variables that impact the quality of my workouts. I’ll still do some long rides indoors in preparation for long events and to avoid the negative impact that cold, wet weather might have on the training stress that I’ve planned for specific sessions. I’ll race outside, and when the weather is nice, I’ll do recovery rides outside, too. And when I want to do light endurance rides, there’s nothing better than going out with a group of friends on a warm, summer day.
Ironman Lake Placid has a rich, long history and is an event attractive to both first-time long course athletes and multi-long course finishers. The bike course has a reputation of being very difficult, and depending on where you do most of your riding, the course can be characterized anywhere from rolling to mountainous. The profile of the bike course is as follows (rumor has it that the swim predominately is flat). See: http://www.mapmyride.com/us/lake-placid-ny/ironman-lake-placid-bike-course-route-403905
I've ridden and raced this course many times. If you ride in central and northern New England, you won't have much difficulty with the climbs at Lake Placid. Mt. Wachusetts is considerably harder than any climb at IMLP, and the ride around Quabbin Reservoir also is much more challenging. The difficulty of Lake Placid is one of pacing. The first significant climb is only two miles out of town, so it can be tempting to let adrenalin and excitement take over and ride too hard. Similarly, a lot of athletes get into trouble when they try to make up time pushing big gears hard on the downhills. Most of the potential loss or gain in time will occur in the middle twenty miles or so, and on the gradual stretches of the final climb.
All things being equal, riders should shoot for negative splits on multi-loop courses. Lake Placid, long finish hill and occasionally windy conditions, make negative splits more challenging. A good race strategy would be to use RPE to monitor your pacing, with heart rate and power data being used to provide additional secondary feedback.
The key to keep in mind that the course itself can be divided into a series of segments that roughly can be defined as follows, based on significant climbs:
S1: ~2.1 miles to 7.4: Opening pitch is steep, but once past pull-off area, grade decreased significantly. The bottom is the hardest part of this climb. Start the climb in an easy gear and try to keep well below threshold. Use any slight downhills for recovery--and remember, they are not steep enough to go into a big gear and really push. (Overall RPE 3-4 on the steepest sections)
S2: ~7.8 miles to 14.5: Primarily downhill, some parts fast. Use this stretch for recovery, hydration, fueling, etc. On the steeper downhills, go into a bigger gear and soft pedal to keep the legs moving. HR and watts should drop significantly on this segment. (RPE 1-2)
S3: 14.5 to 23.2. Rolling, but generally trending downhill. Cadence self-selected around normal long course race RPMs. You're mostly racing this segment. RPE ~3.
S4: ~23.2 to 25.4 and 26.4 to 27.8: These are two steep poppers. Gear down for the climb and use the descent between them to recover, fuel, and hydrate. The key for these two climbs it to adopt a relatively steady cadence--don't gear down so much that you carry a high cadence, which will later impact your run. RPE 4-5 on the climbs.
S5: ~27.8 to 42.25: Mostly rolling, with a 200' / 1.5% climb at 37.8. Pay attention to respiratory/HR and cadence. If your heart rate and respiratory rates become labored--difficult to hold a conversation, then go one gear harder and drop cadence by ~5 RPM. This is another segment in which you are consciously racing, and not focusing so much on recovery. RPE 3-4.
S6: ~42.5 to 55: This is your final climb. In general, it's shallower than the opening climb, though there is a steeper pitch ~46.7 to 47.6. View this segment as a long headwind stretch in which you focus on HR and cadence. At the 48 mile mark, the course still trends upward, but at a grade similar to 42 to 46 miles. RPE ~3-4.
Good luck to all who are racing IMLP. Preparing for a race of this nature is an accomplishment in itself. When in doubt, be conservative, always cross reference any pacing schedules or on the bike data with your RPE scale, and (most importantly!) enjoy your race!
Reminders and Advice
[good breakdown of the bike course]
Lake Placid Guide
I've been getting a
number of questions regarding affordable carbon race wheels, so I thought that
I'd share some information with the group.
Industry leaders in carbon wheels include Zipp, Hed, Reynolds, and Enve. These companies make excellent wheels that
have a solid track record. They are
relatively expensive, but their cost is, in part, tied to their
research and development, as well as customer support. If something goes wrong with them, you'll
have direct access to the manufacturer or its authorized representatives. Carbon clincher rims represent sophisticated material design and manufacturing, and these mainstream vendors pioneered the use of carbon fiber in this application.
Most of these wheels
are manufactured in the East Asia, and the wheels are built using each
company's proprietary molds. There are
two manufacturers in China, however, that also sell generic, unbranded carbon
wheelsets. While they don't have the
name cache associated with the mainstream wheel manufacturers, they do offer
very good value for the consumer. These
wheels normally include some of the latest design cues that are common today,
such as wide rim widths to help decrease rolling resistance, toroidal
aerodynamic profiles to help decrease rolling resistance, and structural carbon
builds (rather than attaching a thin carbon fairing to a standard rim, the
fairing is a structural part of the wheel).
Normally, these generic carbon wheels also come with carbon-specific
brake pads and lightweight quick release skewers. These are solid, workman-like wheels--while
other manufacturers might offer hubs that are a bit better in quality, most
users will be satisfied with the generics--and you can't beat the prices, which
run approximately $450 - $500, shipped and delivered. So, for about one-quarter the price, you'll get 90-95% of the performance of high cost, name-brand wheels. The trade-off is that you are dealing with a vendor who is located overseas, without a local representative.
wheels are available via Ebay and are built to order (you'll have your choice
of hub and spoke colors, etc.) and normally are delivered within two
weeks. Vendor communication tends to be
excellent, and your Ebay's terms of agreement protects your purchase in the
unlikely event that something goes wrong with the transaction. While most of the high-end manufacturers will
offer a replacement cost for wheels damaged in use, these are so inexpensive
that you can purchase an entire new set if you damage one of your wheels.
An Ebay search for "carbon clincher wheels" will yield pages of results. I look for a seller with several hundred transactions associated with his/her Ebay identity. In terms of offerings, a very fast wheelset combination would be an 88mm rear wheel, paired with a 60mm front. This will give a fantastic balance of aerodynamics and handling. A more conservative pairing would be 60mm front and rear, 50mm front and rear, or 38mm front and rear. The shallower wheels tend to be lighter, while the deeper wheels tend to be faster. I prefer to run a deeper rear wheel than the front, which stabilizes handling in cross winds.
Other details to consider--most of you will be using SRAM or Shimano for your drivetrain, so make sure that you purchase SRAM/Shimano-compatible rear hubs. Otherwise, double-check to make sure that you are purchasing clincher wheels, or you'll have to buy special tires and glue them to the rims.
Here's a typical listing on Ebay--in fact, I bought this very set of wheels for testing :
Also, check for delivery times and shipping costs. Sometimes shipping is included in the purchase price, while other times it is not. Shipping usually will run approximately $60. Also note delivery times tend to be very conservative and you'll likely receive the wheels well before the stated delivery date.
Generic carbon wheels are a viable option for cost-sensitive cyclists who are looking for good values in their equipment upgrades.
(Note: Click on the images below for close-up view)
There are a good number of tools such as BestBikeSplit, which can help athletes and coaches establish an appropriate pacing strategy for the cycling segment of an upcoming event. These tools are a good start in developing a strategy, but too often they are used as a definitive guide on race day; if any of the original assumptions about variables change or are proven to be inaccurate, then the entire model can result in a less than optimal race performance. A sound pacing methodology will rely on a number of inputs, including day of event record of perceived exertion and likely weather conditions.
BestBikeSplit bases its predictions on a number of data entry elements that helps it create a model
used to predict race day performance.
For the bike, values such as wheel type, wheel width, tire type and
rolling resistance, and riding style all are entered; based on these inputs,
drag coefficients can be calculated for a variety of yaw angles.
These are important numbers, for when placed into the context of rider weight, functional threshold power, and course profile, a predictive strategy can be modeled, the accuracy of which directly depends on the quality of the data entered. While default values for tire rolling resistance and drag coefficient (CdA) can be accepted, more accurate data can be entered based on specific tire testing (each model of tire will have its own rolling resistance value) and wind tunnel or field test aerodynamic data (there is a big variation among riders in efficiency of their aero position).
After these basic inputs are entered, a course can be selected (in this case, Ironman Coeur d'Alene) on which the entered data is run. In addition to equipment, rolling resistance, and CdA details, factors such as rider weight, road surface, likely weather, and functional threshold power are factored into day of the race modeling. The model itself is remarkably detailed and provides such information as anticipated bike split, average yaw angle (useful for specific equipment selection), and anticipated power values:
Additionally, based on its profile, the course itself is broken into specific segments, each with a specific pacing target:
BestBikeSplit is a fantastic tool that presents a large amount of remarkably granular data. And while I have a good amount of confidence in the data returned by this tool, I do not want to confuse precision with accuracy. BestBikeSplit relies on day of event data elements, but it does not take into account the cumulative effect of training on race day performance.
Training is a greater determiner of race day performance than equipment variables (though one can ruin an event with especially poor equipment selection), and the variables that factor into peak event performance are many and need to be recorded over time. There are a number of excellent tools that track short and long term training stresses and training adaptations to help predict the time and duration of a taper leading up to an important event. Phil Skiba's Apollo software enables users to determine their responses to training and predict performance ability on any given day, based on aggregated data. Like BestBikeSplit, the data is remarkably detailed, though its accuracy directly depends on the quality of information collected on an ongoing basis. Users of TrainingPeaks also have access to retrospective and predictive performance data in the form of its Performance Management Chart, though the user will need to place this information within context:
BestBikeSplit, Apollo, and TrainingPeaks all are fantastic tools, and each has their own unique advantages. The value and utility of each, however, directly depends on both the quality of the data used, the size of the data set, and (most importantly) the interpretation and contextualization of the results offered to the user. But establishing a pacing strategy for an upcoming race need not be all that complicated, and what follows are some simple strategies that can be used to help establish a pacing model that you can use the day of your big event.
A key concept to understand is threshold, whether it is heart rate at threshold or power at threshold. The short definition is that threshold is the maximum heart rate (HR) or power that one can sustain over the course of one hour. Most performance calculations are keyed to threshold values. If your race is shorter than sixty minutes, then it is possible to perform above your HR or power values, with the percentage above threshold increasing as the event duration decreases. If your event is longer than 60 minutes, then the percentage of threshold that you should race will decrease as the event increases in duration.
Based on historical data (and adjusted to specific athlete considerations), most Ironman-distance races can be paced between 72-75% of power at threshold value (FTP). A similar range can be established for HR pacing, though HR response is more volatile to heat, hydration, and fatigue. (HR can be used, but with greater generality than power.) Now, all of this sounds easy--if an athlete has a functional power threshold of 285, then setting an average pace of 215 watts should result in a good bike split, while enabling a good run afterward. There are a number of easy to use speed-distance-time calculators (see MachineHead Software and Analytic Cycling) that will predict your event time, assuming that there are relatively few variations in course grade. Throw in hills and wind, calculations can get pretty complicated (see BestBikeSplit, above); add in athlete condition day of the event (tired, sick, well-rested and peaked, etc.), planning becomes even more complex.
Suppose an athlete was preparing for a moderately hilly Ironman event, such as Coeur d'Alene. Further suppose that the athlete is interested in used data to help establish race day pace rather than having specific values dictate pace, believing that a successful performance is predicated on the ability to adapt to changing race conditions.
The first step is to
review the course profile:
The course itself is not horrible--there are some shorter, steep hills, but we are talking about 500 feet of gain. The profile looks way worse than it rides. Two laps will make pacing a bit easier, as the rider can shoot for negative spits. (In this case, negative splits mean that the second lap of the course will be faster than the first. ) The course profile is such that the athlete cannot simply try to average n-watts as a pacing strategy, as watts will be above this value on the climbs, and well below it on the descents. Overall, the athlete will want to average a certain power, but at any given extended period during the ride, power values will vary greatly from this overall average.
Our athlete has a FTP of 285 watts, which means that ideally (assuming adequate rest and recovery) he will average between 215 and 220 watts for the overall ride (this athlete is on the advanced/elite end of the continuum, so he may be able to maintain a pace closer to 80% of FTP (this would be a tough ride and I would not recommend this for his first lap!).
Our next step is to define the median bike split of the top 40 competitors in this athlete's age group. The tight distribution of finish times--notwithstanding the first two outlier performances--are clustered in a tight group, which is indicative of a strong field. Also note that the finish times are relatively slow as compared to the time predicted by the date entered into BestBikeSplit. A snapshot of the 2012 results shows the following splits for this athlete's age group, sorted in ascending order by time:
Checking the results from 2012 suggests that the times--and therefore the conditions of 2013 were not anomalous:
The median split for the top 40 age-specific group performance for 2013 is 5:20:00. This is approximately 12 minutes slower than the prediction made using BestBikeSplit, which is fine--remember, most tools will take into account data at a specific moment in time, which may or may not have a high degree of accuracy.
The historic average high for Coeur d'Alene day of the race is 86F, with a low of 57F. Right now the forecast for 2014 is for sun and 87F, with the low of 68F (Accuweather). The athlete will need to factor in the heat in anticipation for his run, but a lot will depend on humidity day of the event, too.
(Following is from WeatherSpark) Median humidity is approximately 45%, so not a major factor, either. A better measure is dew point--short version is that the athlete should not worry too much about humidity, based on forecast data as of now.
Median cloud cover late June is <10%. There should be a lot of sun. Median wind speed for late June should be ~8mph, which at ground level will read less than 5mph. This low wind speed will impact his cooling, but also will result in low yaw angles (which is good for aerodynamics). Daily max wind velocity is approximately 15mph. Wind should not be a factor.
Based on historic data, a SE wind should be anticipated:
On the course route
itself, the athlete should experience a light quartering headwind, which will
place a premium in holding an aerodynamic position.
Major variations in power output will be associated with elevation changes. In order to achieve a finish time at or below historic medians for his specific age group, the athlete should strive for an overall normalized power of 220, keeping in mind that downhills will depress his power averages. This said, power demands will escalate during the relatively short, but steep climbs, and it is recommend that the athlete does not exceed FTP thresholds beyond 120% when climbing these hills. The course profile can be divided into four segments:
Pacing should be based by segment, with A and C representing segments in which steady output is possible. Using the lap function/average power (or average normalized power) on the athlete's computer and watch will make it easier for him to track power data for pacing. For segments A and C, the athlete should attempt to maintain an average value of 220 watts, normalized power. On segments B and D, the hilly segments, the athlete should not exceed more than 120% of FTP on the steepest of climbs; in these segments, special consideration should be given to using downhill sections for recovery.
Given the fitness level of this athlete, a 5:15 minute bike split is an appropriate goal. As a two lap course, ideally, this athlete will ride a second lap faster than the first. To achieve this split with equal lap times would yield 2:37:30; for the purposes of this race, the athlete is recommended to set 2:40 as a first lap split, and then pick up the pace to realize a 2:35 minute split for lap two. If he is feeling good, he can pick up the pace a bit more for the second lap. In terms of miles per hour--again, used to provide a holistic sense of this pace--a 2:40 split would yield an average speed of 21 mph, while a 2:35 minute split would yield an average speed of 21.7. The ratios of these splits can be adjusted relative to each other, too. And if the athlete is feeling strong, then increasing the speed a full mile per hour the second lap is a possibility (keeping in mind the following marathon, of course!).
Data collection and review is critical during competition, but such information should be used to check trends and to make sure that intensity does not drift too high, thus negatively impacting performance. While data elements such as HR and power offer utility for pacing, perceived exertion still is one of the best ways to monitor performance day of the event, as it accounts for the impact of different levels of intensity.
There are a number of different perceived exertion scales; what matters is that a scale is referenced consistently during workouts leading to one's important event and that the subjective values of the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale are cross-referenced to specific HR, power, and other quantitative performance data. In other words, quantitative performance data is used to normalize and adjust one's perceived sense of exertion. By keying in on physiological responses such as HR and respiratory rate, an athlete can establish an accurate sense of the relative cost of an effort. Below is a commonly used RPE scale:
For the first lap of CdA, an RPE of 3-4 is recommended; if the athlete is feeling strong and confident, then lap two's RPE can be bumped to 4 or even low 5 (though low 5 would be risky for the upcoming run). By monitoring breathing patterns, the athlete can establish an effective pace keyed to his specific physiological response day of--and even more importantly, during--the event. Targeting numbers alone might not account for fatigue, nutrition, or hydration concerns, so any numeric value associated with power, HR, speed, or cadence should be placed in one's immediate physiological context. Use the numbers to track trends and for overall patterns (crap, I'm suffering and my watts are way low--I'm very tired!), but focus on consistency in RPE.
For the hills, bumping RPE to 5-6 may be necessary on the steeper and longer hills. But for every instance of a high RPE, there needs to be a corresponding period in which RPE is lower than normal to achieve some level of recovery.
Given the high financial and emotional cost associated with long course events such as Lake Placid or Coeur d'Alene, it is natural to look for assurances wherever possible to maximize one's chances for success. It is important to look at both quantitative and qualitative data when establishing a pacing strategy, and successful athletes are those who are able to adjust their strategies to meet unforeseen situations.