Thursday, June 29, 2006

Check out the backside on this Beech (Mtn)

On Memorial Day I climbed the front (south) side of Beech Mountain for the first time and wrote about it in an earlier blog entry. As best I can tell from the Garmin data I've gathered, the front-side climb is about 3 miles at an average grade of 9%. I felt pretty good about having made the climb but some of my thunder was stolen when I heard a rumor that the back (north) side of the mountain, while much less popular among cyclists, supposedly has a two mile stretch at an average grade of 12%. Ever since Memorial Day I've wanted to go back and confirm that rumor. Today, armed with a Garmin 305 and a PowerTap SL, I finally had the chance to do so.

I've attached a copy of the elevation/grade graph--complements of my Garmin 305--which shows me doing a loop up (front), down (backside), and back up (the backside) of the mountain. The front side (Highway 184) gains approximately 1425 feet in three miles. The back side has a two mile stretch (Pinnacle Ridge Road) that gains a whopping 1300 feet in 2 miles.

Because I had my PowerTap SL with me, I was able to measure my wattage for the climbs and compare my actual numbers with those predicted by this online velocity calculator. For example, I made the three mile front-side climb at an average speed of 7.4mph at 290 watts. I weigh about 170 pounds with kit and shoes on, my bike weighs about 21 pounds with water bottles. I plugged in 9% for the grade, 3000 feet for the elevation, and 75 degrees for the temperature. Sure enough, the calculater estimates an average speed of 7.4 mph! Amazing.

There is a 500 foot section of Pinnacle Ridge road that is *extremely* steep as you can see from the graph--as steep as anything I've ever attempted to climb. Using a combination of the PowerTap SL, my Garmin 305, and the velocity calculator, I was able to confirm that it averages 18% for that 500 foot section with one 200 foot spot that averages nearly 20%. Even at 350-400 watts I was really glad I had my triple with its 30-25 granny gear because my speed was only around 4.5 mph. At times I thought I might actually topple over sideways due to lack of speed. Unbelievable.

Anyway, pardon the geeky numbers. I thought it might be interesting to fellow Freds.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I'm No Lance Armstrong

Today was my trip to the Human Performance at Meredith College. It was absolutely fascinating... I discovered that my maximum heart rate is 191 instead of the previously measured high of 186. I'm guessing my ability to ride while in pain has increasing as opposed to my actual heart rate. My VO2Max was measured at 60 which was higher than expected based on my age (38) and my general lack of physical activity until two years ago (I lost 65 pounds early last year). To put this in perspective, Lance Armstrong's VO2Max was measured at almost 84 and I believe his V02Max power is somewhere on the order of 800 watts. Unfortunately, my VO2Max power--at least as measured by this test in which wattage was increased by 40 every three minutes--was only about 365. Is this something I can improve with training or am I genetically limited? Only time will tell.

Regardless, my LT (as measured by the 4 mm lactate level via a prick to the ear every few minutes) was only 285 so that means I've got some room for improvement before I start reaching my VO2Max. (This jibes with today's 20 minute average power measurement of 305 watts, incidentally). I also found out that at just under 6'0" and 165 pounds I'm still at 14% body fat so I could theoretically get down to 155 pounds (i.e. 70kg) without too much difficulty, thereby increasing my W/kg numbers somewhat.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Just got my PowerTap for "Watt" it's worth

Well, after weeks of waiting, my new Mike Garcia wheels with the PowerTap SL hub finally arrived yesterday! It was good timing as well because my Fathers Day gift this year was a visit yesterday to the Human Performance Lab at a nearby university where I went in for V02Max/Threshold testing.

So, armed with the PowerTap SL, a copy of "Training and Racing with a Power Meter" and a CyclingPeaks WKO+ license, I'm ready to begin getting more serious about my training. It's all pretty exciting for this cyclist.

Basically, I've just finished my first full year of cycling (4200 miles since last June with 3000 miles so far this year) and hope to be able to build up to the point where I can actually do some road racing next year. Today I went out and did a two-and-a-half hour ride where I did a 20-minute best-effort, a 5-minute best-effort, a 1-minute best effort, and a couple of 15-second best efforts, interspersed with fairly easy riding. Here are my numbers:

5s: 1137 watts
1m: 595 watts
5m: 350 watts
20m: 305 watts

Interestingly, even though I tried to take things fairly easy in between the "best efforts" I still ended up with a NP150 of 3.51 W/kg partly due to the hilly nature of the course, I suppose.

Anyway, it's obvious from the numbers that I've never worked on sprints and one-minute efforts. I'm assuming these will have to *significantly* improve in order to be able to compete--especially in criteriums (criteria?).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day Solo Century

I missed a turn during my planned 80-miler today and decided to turn into a solo century. I'm a Father and this is my day to do what I want, ferhecksakes!

I had participated in a couple of supported century events previously but this was my first solo stab at it. A bit too warm and windy for my tastes, but it will only get hotter around here so I might as well get used to it. Fortunately, not much climbing (only about 3500 feet of ascent). I stopped at a couple of gas stations along the way to refuel which worked out well. I felt hydrated and fueled the whole way but I did start getting tired toward the end mostly because I ended up picking up speed along the way. Seems like I always start my endurance rides with the goal of going nice and easy and then end up going harder than I am supposed to. Oh well.

Anyway, 100.0 miles, 5 hours 25 minutes saddle time. Averaged 17.5 mph for the first 2 hours and about 19 mph or so the rest of the way. Fun stuff and the makings of a great Fathers Day tradition.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Carolina TT Series 06/06

Last night I participated for the first time in the Endurance Magazine Time Trial Series at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, NC. It's a 10-mile cycling time trial held every few weeks during the summer and early fall with as many as 400 participants starting at 10-15 second intervals. I'm not a huge NASCAR fan, but the thought of being able to ride my bike around the speedway seemed pretty cool to me.

My only previous experience with time trialing was about a month ago when I did the 20km bike leg of a Sprint triathlon as a member of a relay team. That event was fun enough that I bought an inexpensive set of clip-on aero bars and began to incorporate aero position riding into my regular training plan.

My goal for this first trip to the speedway was simply to "learn the ropes" and hopefully not make a fool of myself. I really had no idea how fast I would be able to go on a pancake flat course with no turns or stops but I had hoped to finish in under 24:30, the average Cat5 time from the previous two events this year. A buddy of mine was nice enough to come along for the ride and after an obligatory stop for a bag of M&Ms and a meatball sub--elite athletes can't perform on an empty stomach after all--we arrived at the speedway about 45 minutes before my start time where we were ushered into a parking spot inside the oval next to the garage. I had forgotten my Cyclops trainer, but there were plenty of places to warm up on the infield, which was convenient.

One of the first things I noticed was that there were a LOT of very serious cyclists and triathletes at this event. It was a veritable expo of high end bikes, team kits, and full disc rear wheels. I would guess that well over half of the participants had a dedicated TT bike and a surprisingly large percentage of that group had a full aero helmet and a one-piece TT suit. It was a little bit intimidating but the nice thing about a time trial is that your only competition is yourself. Besides, it's better to exceed expectation on a scratched up late-90s road bike than under-perform on a spotless $6000 carbon rocket.

Before I go on, I should point out that I didn’t do the best job of preparing (read: resting up) for this event. On Saturday morning I had done a fairly intense V02Max workout (warm up, six sets of 5 minutes as hard as I could go, cool down) and then immediately headed to the gym to do my first leg workout in several months. Why I decided to work my legs after such a long lifting layoff is anyone’s guess but on Sunday morning I was extremely sore and yet I still felt the need to go on the 70-mile endurance ride I had planned. On Monday I was so sore I could hardly walk and on Tuesday (the day of the Time Trial) things weren’t much better. Nevertheless, my warm up on the speedway infield wasn’t too bad and I figured the worst case scenario would be I’d cramp up, fall over, and get run over by someone going 30mph. What the hell, nothing to lose.

I put on my chip strap, pinned on my Tyvek number, and headed to the start line. Just like in the Tour de France there was one guy to hold the bike so you could start with your feet already snapped into the pedals and another guy doing the count-down (5-4-3-2-1). I could hear Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwyn talking:

Phil: “Zimmerman’s really got his work cut out for him now.”
Paul: “Yes, Phil, Zimmerman’s really got his work cut out for him.”
Phil: “What, no water bottle? You’ll be done in 20 minutes.”

Actually, it was one of the guys at the start line who made the remark about the water bottle, but in my daydream perhaps I misunderstood what he was saying because I certainly wasn't planning to have the composure and wherewithal to actually reach down and take a sip of water during this 25 minute trip into the depths of hell. Fortunately, the sudden fear of not having enough water was immediately pushed aside by the much more imminent realization that I was assuredly going to topple over sideways as soon as the guy let go of my bike. As it turned out, I got off OK without falling over and stood on the pedals for a few moments to gather speed. Once in the saddle and into the aero bars I tried to focus on staying smooth and ratcheting my effort right up to the edge of sustainability without going over. My legs were definitely sore from lifting weights but not tired to do more suffering.

I've done several 2x20 and 6x5 workouts on the trainer in the last month so I felt like I had a pretty good idea what I could sustain. The highest I had ever measured my heart rate in previous all-out cycling efforts was 183. During my 20km triathlon ride, my heart rate had averaged around 175, so I figured I would try to stay in that same range. The goal was obviously to go hard enough to be completely miserable and wish I could make it all stop but not so hard as to burn out early, but whether due to the adrenaline rush or the Mountain Dew I drank with the sub sandwich, my heart rate jumped up to 180 bpm within the first 30 seconds of the start. My intensity during the first half lap was probably a bit to high but I soon settled into a sustainable rhythm. I felt pretty good; uncomfortable, of course, but good. Still, my heart rate stayed high, averaging anywhere from 182 to 185 beats per minute for each of the 10 miles. Within a mile or two I simply decided to not worry about it and focus instead on staying aero, keeping my upper body relaxed, and maintaining my cadence sweet-spot of 100-105 rpm.

I was surprised to find that even on a flat track with no abrupt turns there were still some sections that were noticeably harder than others. Based on my GPS readings I believe one end of the track is about 20 feet higher than the other end and there appeared to be a small amount of wind (maybe 5mph) blowing into the final turn. I tried to just keep a constant effort and not worry too much about my speed but I could tell that it was just above 25mph on the “fast” sections of track and in the mid 24s on the “slow” sections. As the seconds ticked by at an agonizingly slow rate, I predicted that I would finish with an average speed just shy of 25mph and that’s exactly where I ended up. My time was 24:17, slightly better than the goal I had set for myself but in retrospect it would have been great to break the magic 25 miles-per-hour number.

As I think about what I did well and what I need to improve, I’m pretty happy with my pacing, my pre-race eating/drinking, and my warm-up. I have to wait until I see some pictures to know if my position was adequate but there’s always room for improvement there. I also feel like I probably should have requested a later start time since I had to do quite a bit of weaving to get around slower riders. I obviously should have been better rested for the event and at some point if I continue doing these time trials I’m going to invest in a dedicated TT bike. For now, I’ll simply upgrade my wheels and work on the engine. Depending on how that goes, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think I can break 23:00 by the end of the season, so that’s my goal.

Friday, June 02, 2006

VO2Max... Do I really want to know?

My wife recently asked me what I wanted for Fathers Day. I'm notoriously hard to buy for because, frankly, I pretty much already have all of the items I want in life that cost less than $50. But this year I did come up with something I want: I'd like to get my fitness level tested at the Human Performance Lab at nearby Meredith College.

Or do I? Maybe I don't really want to know. You see, one of the key indicators of fitness and athletic performance potential measured at the lab is relative VO2Max. It's essentially a measure of how much oxygen your body can process over time as a function of your total body weight. In short, it calculates your genetic ability to do endurance related activity like running or cycling. The average college age male has a VO2Max of around 45. Lance Armstrong's VO2Max is one of the highest ever recorded, probably somewhere around 80. For better or worse, once you reach a certain basic level of fitness "competency", your VO2Max ends up being pretty much a genetically predetermined number. So even though our society likes to tell kids that they can grow up to be whatever they want, desire and effort only count for so much. There are only a select number of genetic freaks who actually have the physiological makeup required to win the Tour de France or the Boston Marathon.

If it turns out I have a high VO2Max, then I'll be glad I got the test done. But if I have a low VO2Max ("Well, Mr. Zimmerman, it appears that no matter how much you train you will always be a rather mediocre athlete") then frankly I'd rather not know.