Feeling On Top of The World (from a cycling perspective)

It is 31st October 2014 and I feel on top of the world with regards to my cycling. I feel strong, climbs I used to have difficulty with are now feeling, dare I say it, easy and I ride with a feeling of positivity and enjoyment. Given, I was struggling on rides earlier this year, it is worth reflecting on exactly what has happened and how lessons learnt can be used to fuel further improvement, not only in cycling, but in other areas of my life.

What are the main reasons for the improvements:

  1. Weight loss – I now weigh 69.5kg compared to 74.5kg in January, a loss of 5kg or 6.7%. More impressive is my body fat has come down from 12% to 8%, a reduction of 35%
  2. I have used trainingpeaks.com to plan, monitor, and review my training sessions. I have consistently raised my total stress score (TSS) from an average of 38 per day in April to an average of 80 by the end of September. My Intensity Factor has remained around the 0.7 mark for most of the year so the increase in training volume has delivered the biggest improvements. I can now train more regularly than I could earlier this year. Last year I would have struggled to train more often than four times per week. In addition to cycling 3 or 4 times, I have also been going to the gym, typically twice a week but at least once. I have focused on building strength in my core, chest, back and arms.
  3. My heart rate has come down by 20 bpm across different exercise intensities but it has also risen into the high 170’s when I am required to make a big effort which is not something I could have done earlier in the year. Earlier in the year I could only last a few seconds when I hit 170 or higher. I can infer that either my heart is stronger, the stroke volume is greater, my blood plasma volume has increased, there is an increase in both mitochondria and mitochondrial enzymes
  4. I can cycle longer distances with less food which indicates that my body is burning more fat which means my metabolic system is more efficient at working aerobically and less reliant on anaerobic energy production
  5. I can cycle at a higher pace without my legs succumbing to increasing fatigue
  6. I can climb so much easier without breathing too heavily which again suggests improvements in my aerobic metabolism
  7. I can push bigger gears for longer periods of time without fatigue and cramps. There are still occasional niggles of cramps but nothing major. I have recently been working on improving my fast twitch muscle resistance to fatigue by doing sessions that focus on pushing big gears over sustained periods of time.
  8. I have been training consistently – I typically train 6 times per week with one rest day. In days between demanding workouts I do recovery rides rather than simply rest
  9. I rest fully when I feel tired. I use recovery rides to gauge my rate of recovery and when I feel fully recovered I increase the intensity. In my last period of R&R I took a total of 12 days off during my last recovery period. I came back from it feeling the strongest I have ever felt on a bike and definitely a level or two higher than I was previously.
  10. I have been adhering to a strict calorie-control diet to lose approx. 0.5kg per week. I have reduced the total weight of fats I eat and maintained carbohydrates at around 300-350g per day. I have matched calorie intake to training sessions, therefore, on demanding days I have eaten more and conversely on easier days I have eaten less. I have always eaten within 1 hour of a training session and I have consumed enough calories to replenish what has been consumed during the session. I have used myfitnesspal.com to monitor, inform and control my calorie intake.
  11. I now eat three times every day, breakfast, lunch, and supper. Occasionally, I’ll add a snack if I’ve done a particularly demanding session to help quickly replenish muscle and liver glycogen stores.

I definitely need to do some more objective-style reviewing of my performance improvements and try to understand more clearly what is having the biggest impact on my performance. I kind of have an outline idea but it isn’t certain but then again where the body is concerned there never appears to be any definitive arguments for one course of action as opposed to another. For every argument for one way of doing something there is a counter-argument professing the exact opposite. So, armed with more objective facts I intend to nail down what is behind my improvements in order of priority and contribution and then use this to inform, refine, and design my upcoming training programme.


Achieved Weight Goal 31/10/2014

I am delighted to record the fact I have finally achieved my target weight of 69.5kg!!!! Wey hey, absolutely over the moon. This has taken the best part of two years to achieve and has many of my posts will attest it has been an enormous challenge and on many occasions I have been left desolate by my inability to get my weight down. So, to finally reach the target I set out to achieve is just amazing and I must take this opportunity of recording it and patting myself on the back.

High Heart Rate & Low Fatigue – 21st October 2014

On last Sunday’s club run my HR rose to 180 and for over 2 minutes it averaged 178 and 1 minute 179. During this period of elevated HR I had no trouble breathing and there was an absence of muscle fatigue in my legs. I had been in a chain gang all the way from the Whimple turn-off on the Rockbeare straight and we were climbing the last leg just before the new science park. I knew the effort was demanding but I felt in control and not about to keel over. I was riding alongside two other riders, one of whom was Alistair Lobban who I know is a strong rider (cat 3), and I felt I just had an edge over him which is a bit of a turn up for the books as Alistair usually outmuscles me.

At the time I couldn’t quite believe that my HR had risen so much and yet I hadn’t blown up. Clearly, my body was coping at a level that previously it would not have coped with. This got my head spinning with the potential training opportunities and performance gains. If previously I had blown up in the high 160’s HR then what could I now achieve if I could keep cycling within myself in the high 170’s? Exciting times indeed and what was behind the apparent performance improvement?

As for the physiological performance improvement how could this be explained?

  1. I had rested for nearly three weeks – this included 2 or 3 recovery rides per week and very little gym work.
  2. My rest & recovery followed a block of training which had been uninterrupted since mid-July.
  3. My recent training block had focused on improving VO2 Max, strength and muscle endurance where I increased my VO2 Max power (CP5 342w, CP20 274w) and my climbing had notably improved.
  4. Working on VO2 Max had clearly improved my Anaerobic Capacity. Although AC hadn’t been the main focus, it is inevitable that it would have been worked when training at VO2 Max because there is overlap between the body’s different energy systems, especially at the upper end between VO2 Max and AC.
  5. My weight had reduced down to 70kg just a few days prior to this ride so I was carrying a lot less weight than I was just 2 months ago (approx 74kg).
  6. I had eaten quite well just 2 days before this ride so my glycogen stores would have been well stocked. I was also well hydrated.

After my last training block I felt very fatigued both mentally and physically. I was acutely aware of the need to rest properly and not to rush back into training. I was also conscious of the need to keep my legs spinning and so I made sure I went out and did some recovery rides at power below 150w and typically 90 mins duration. I also closely monitored my HRV which steadily decreased during my R&R. I think my HRV would have declined more quickly without the recovery rides. I can’t say that the HRV readings provided an accurate measure on when to return to training but they were useful in monitoring how my body was responding to the R&R. With regards to returning to training I became more sensitive to how my body was responding. With each successive recovery ride I pushed a little harder to see how I felt but one thing I certainly didn’t do was rush back to start my next period of training. I’m glad that I took this approach as the evidence from my last club ride was that my body appears to have fully recovered from my previous training block and more importantly my body has changed physiologically such that I can now train at a higher HR. This, as I said above, is extremely exciting as it opens the door to new training possibilities, namely:

  • Anaerobic Capacity training such as hill repeats
  • Time-trial training – long intervals at near maximum effort
  • Sprint training
  • Strength training

I am beginning to set my sights higher with regards to what I can achieve from my training. It is becoming clear that getting the balance right between training & rest and setting the right intensity for training sessions is returning very positive results. So, what is realistic in terms of what I can now achieve?

  • Goal 1 – complete a 10 mile TT in less than 24 minutes – average speed 25mph
  • Goal 2 – climb Stoke Hill course in less than 5m 30secs
  • Goal 3 – complete a 24 mile TT in less than 60 minutes – average speed 24mph
  • Goal 4 – complete 100 mile TT in less than 300 minutes – average speed 20mph

In order to achieve these goals I will need to improve my power output profile as follows:

  • CP1 = 600w (468w) = 28%
  • CP5 = 400w (342w) = 17%
  • CP20 = 325w (274w) = 19%
  • CP60 = 305w (256w) = 19%

My speed/power based on recent training sessions is as follows:

  • 265w 20.3mph = 13.05w per mph
  • 241w 19.2mph = 12.55w per mph
  • 224w 17.6mph = 12.73w per mph

Therefore, to achieve an average speed of 25mph I would need to turn out approx. 320w. Therefore, breaking down goal 1 of riding a 10m TT at an average speed of 25mph:

  • Step 1 by 9/11/14 – 25m @ 275w & 10m @ 280w
  • Step 2 by 30/11/14 –  20m @ 280w & 10m @ 290w
  • Step 3 by 21/12/14 -20m @ 290w & 10m @ 300w
  • Step 4 by 11/1/15 – 15m @ 300w & 10m @ 310w
  • Step 5 by 1/2/15 – 15m @ 305w & 10m @ 315w
  • Step 6 by 22/2/15 – 15m @ 310w & 10m @ 320w
  • Step 7 by 15/3/15 – 15m @ 315w & 10m @ 325w
  • Step 8 by 5/4/15 – 15m @ 320w & 10m @ 330w
  • Step 9 by 26/4/15 – 15m @ 325w & 10m @ 335w

If we assume each of these steps is achieved within a 2-week training block followed by a 1-week R&R then I will achieve my target of 320w and average speed of 25mph by April 26th 2015. As the TT season starts in May this will give me just enough training time to achieve my target assuming no layoffs or injuries. I think I should make CP20 @ 320w and average speed of 25mph as my main training focus. This will feed very nicely into all my other training goals.


The gains needed are extremely high

October – New Training Period

At the end of September I set myself the following:

  1. Introducing a new strength programme as the current one has been running now without too much change for three months
  2. Introduce anaerobic training sessions
  3. Add a recovery ride midweek following a hard session
  4. Introduce anaerobic capacity hill repeats
  5. Using long intervals to improve muscular endurance
  6. Maintain long endurance rides
  7. Complete two sessions in one day – a recovery ride in the morning and strength training in the afternoon
  8. Targets: increase CP1 to 600w, CP5 to 350w, CP20 to 280w on the flat, 290w when climbing, Tss 736/week
  9. Reduce to 2 training weeks so a 3-week cycle. 2nd 3-week cycle to focus on CP60 rather than CP20
  10. Begin breathing exercises in final recovery week of September and continue through October

I have yet to start my October training due to the after effects of mental and physical fatigue. I am now approaching the point were I want to start again. Another consideration is the changing weather. It is getting darker earlier and it is far more changeable. Therefore, I need to have alternative indoor sessions planned in the event it is not possible to train outdoors. Therefore, I need to explore both turbo and gym sessions as alternatives.

My main targets:

  • Increase CP1 to 600w
  • Increase CP5 to 350w
  • Increase CP20 to 280w
  • Tss 700 for weeks 1 & 2 and 475 for week 3

Mental Fatigue 13th October 2014

T a demanding 3-week training block in September I began to feel mentally as well as physically fatigued. originally, I had planned to take a one week recovery and then return to a new three-week training period, however, I have made a number of changes, notably:

  1. I have extended my recovery from one to two weeks
  2. I have decided to schedule two-week training periods followed by one week of recovery
  3. I will be joining a gym where they have a wider selection of weight resistance machines and run classes

During my recovery I have begun to realise that my mind as well as my body will eventually succumb to fatigue. Presumably there must be some kind of chemical imbalance that leads to mental fatigue – it is a defence mechanism to prevent one from overtraining and causing actual physical harm by way of an injury or illness. My HRV has come down from the low 70’s to about the high 50’s and has only recently started to climb again and I am reading this as a signal that my body is approaching recovery from a long accumulated period of training, from March right through until the end of September, that is, six months.

My position is to return to full training shortly and that means averaging around 100 TSS points per week for the two-week full-on training period and somewhere around 60-75 TSS points for the recovery week.

One positive over the past two-weeks has been my continued adherence to the performance-management diet. My weight is now 70.8kg and I feel confident that I can lower it to my target weight of 69.5kg within a few weeks.