Thursday, June 4, 2009

post-May fitness assessment

I've definitely seen tangible fitness improvements in May. For the first time all year, I've been able to train fairly consistently without sickness. Okay, so I missed some time after my crash at Berkeley Hills. Okay, so I missed some time when I scratched my eye with a contact lens. But after a nice "recovery week" of four consecutive rest days with a gradual transition back to training, I was feeling really good. And my three race efforts, although I had trouble at each of them, were of obvious advantage.

But where do I stand relative to last year? Consider the maximal power curves, comparing data taken from a subset of rides in March to May 2008 to data taken from non-race rides in May and the first few days of June 2009:

maximal power curve comparison


Starting on the left, I've clearly been sprinting well this year compared to last year. Moving right, I've done exactly one decent 5 minute interval, compared to a notable 200 second interval (3⅓ minutes) from last year. But in the near-20-minute range associated with Old La Honda climbs, you can see last year's data rise clearly above. Moving further right, multi-hour rides from last year were at higher power. This includes rides like the Roaster's Ride and race data. True, I've not been using my Powertap at races this year. But I haven't raced hard much more than two hours: Berkeley Hills I crashed out of after 30-something miles. Mount Hamilton I fried after having ridden really hard for an hour and change. At Spring Hill I dropped out after two hours (44 miles). So in that 3-5 hour range not many solid efforts.

Also shown in the plot are CP model data. The anaerobic work capacity (AWC) from this year appears relatively higher: it is listed as the ratio of AWC to critical power (CP), which has units time and is labeled τ. But the issue with the CP model is it requires near-optimal efforts over at least two sufficiently different time intervals.

My best anaerobic effort was that 5 minute interval I did in the Headlands back on May 5. I completed only one; when I attempted my second I had nothing left. When feeling well I'd be able to complete at least 4, preferably up to 6 of these, with my best being the second or third of the set. This was soon before I took my recovery period, as I was feeling depleted.

And my best Old La Honda effort was this week, on Wednesday's Noon Ride. The day before I thrashed myself on a short hill workout, the "Ghetto Blasters" loop from my days with Stanford Cycling oh-so-long-ago. Ghetto blasters, unfortunately, aren't good at putting up impressive points on the maximal power curve, although I did manage to set a PR-this-year for around 30-seconds. In any case, by Wednesday's Noon Ride the next day I was still feeling that Tue-evening workout a bit, and after doing the two sides of Old La Honda (the west side slowly with other Noon-riders), I felt bonked.

Let's consider the two exemplary OLH efforts: the one from 9 April 2008, and the one from this Wednesday. The running average of power from the beginning of the climb is shown in the following plot:

maximal power curve comparison


In the 2008 climb, I actually started out a bit slowly, waiting a few seconds before I decided to test myself. The average power took awhile to recover from this initial delay, but once it did, reaching the 290 watt range, it barely faded, and what amount it did fade I managed to recover in the final few hundred meters. In contrast, in Wednesday's climb I started out at a similar 290 watts. Indeed, the recent short hill work I've done made this effort feel easy. I was doing well, hitting the first mailboxes at 6:30 on my watch, quite good for me. But then I really began to fade. While 290 watts felt relaxed near the start, it got to be a struggle to even stay above 250. I'd led at the bottom, but as I faded I was caught by Matt. I tried to apply pressure but couldn't drop him, so followed him instead. He surged away from me at the finish, leaving me to struggle in behind.

In summary, I think I have a better OLH in me right now. Maybe not 23 W better, but better than the 266 I put on the board on Wednesday.

Curiously, my time was much better in this week's climb than in the one from 2008. There are at least three identifiable reasons for this. One is weight: my equipment on Wed was slightly lighter (maybe 120 grams from a lighter saddle, Ti bolts in my stem, and Al bowties on my pedals... plus some undocumented difference in water). But also my AM weight was 5.2 lb lighter this time. That's a big deal, but as is evident from the W/kg number, my power-per-unit weight was still greater in the 2008 climb. Another factor is drafting: although I faded, I had the advantage of drafting Matt for part of the climb this year, while last year was a pure solo effort. And the final factor was wind. Last year's climb was with a notable headwind (although it wasn't very strong), while this Wednesday there may have been a bit of tailwind. Wind on Old La Honda is always relative modest, but even undetectable levels of wind can have an effect. Indeed, I did significantly better than Wed's 17:51 in other rides during 2008, although that April ride was my best recorded power number.

So while the stopwatch can be misleading, power meters don't lie: my power on OLH this year is way lower than I was achieving last year. But I must remind myself last year I had a much more successful training experience early in the year: the Christmas Tour out of San Diego, Dan Smith's training camp, and some good long miles with the Roaster's crew. This year I've struggled to find continuity between sickness and injury, and my early emphasis on running didn't seem to translate well into cycling fitness. So I don't want to allow myself to become discouraged. I burned out last year after Diamond Valley in early July. Maybe this year I'll start later but last through Cal Cup, where I had nothing last year.

Saturday: Ross's Hillclimb. Last year I was second in the E3 race. This year I'm planning on riding 35+, part of the same pack but picked separately. It'll be interesting to see what happens. Obviously there's no indication I'm at the same level of preparation as I was in 2008. But I'll show up with a lighter bike: last year I had my Powertap wheel (with batteries which had expired at the start line, so no data!) which is a brick. This year: my Mount Washingtons. Indeed, this will be a chance for my recent weight-weenie addiction to pay off, at least a bit. But power almost always trumps equipment weight: while light weight stuff may save even 20 seconds on a climb like Pine Flat road, I'd much rather have that extra 18 watts of CP.

Saturday will tell. Breakthrough rides do happen. Maybe I'm due.

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