Cycling Center Dallas Blog
Cycling Center Dallas Blog
Here we talk about all things cycling - training, wattage, group rides, bike rallies, triathlons, weather, coaching, coaches, nutrition, ponderings, musings, and equipment! If you have a topic or a question, send us a note and we'll try to answer for you!
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Coach Wharton
15:18

Using the Moxy Sensor At Elevation Reveals A LOT About Adaptation Requirements to Altitude

Moxy Stage 2 Ft Davis HammerFest

As most of you know, I am always searching for ways to use technology so that we can better understand cycling fitness and performance. I’ve been using the Moxy Muscle Oxygen Sensor since 2014, and have developed some strong ideas about how its’ use in our studio can help us understand the following:

 

·         Proper Warm-Up Procedures for maximal saturation and vasodilation.

·         Fatigue when performing intervals.

·         Glycogen Depletion and replenishment.

·         The effect of intensity on muscles before, during, and after intervals.

·         Dehydration.

·         Recovery and Optimizing the timing of caloric replenishment.

As the Moxy became more common, Garmin got on board, and allowed their smart head units to accept SmO2 and ThB from Moxy’s on to the screen via custom fields, and once on screen, this data is now being recorded in the latest .FIT files, so it allows me the chance to look at information both acutely and empirically. Having these two data points, along with Heart Rate, Wattage, Cadence, Speed, Slope,  and elevation, has really opened my mind towards just what is possible, and what isn’t.

Well, we can now add a new phenomenon to my amateur observations; what happens when a cyclist trains at low elevation, but competes at a significantly higher elevation.

On April 1st and 2nd of 2017, I traveled from my home in Dallas, TX (elevation ~430’ or 130m above Sea Level), to Ft. Davis, TX, to compete in a Stage Race known as the HammerFest. Last year, my wife and I traveled out two days early, and rode some, to try and adapt to the elevation (5050’ or 1540m) and dry air. I’ve raced and ridden out here enough to know that my performance definitely suffers, and the goal in the weeks prior to the event is to raise my Threshold as high as possible, while also trying to raise my Vo2max. It’s a tall order, but there have been years where I’ve competed well. That said, most of the time, it’s a real struggle, and I have to believe it has much to do with showing up just a day before the race, and making the first stage, my body’s introduction to strain at elevation.

Now, thanks to the Moxy, I think I have the proof.

In the weeks building up to the competition, my intervals routinely showed rising wattages, with SmO2 levels bottoming out in the 25% range, give or take. I’ve known athletes who were able to take their SmO2 values down to the teens and single digits, but they came from a power-lifting background, and tended to be on the heavier side; perfect for most Texas cycling, but not ideal for Ft. Davis.

On the morning of April 1st, however, when I performed my warmup, I was SHOCKED to see that my Moxy was reading in the  MID 50% range, as soon as the signal was picked up by my Garmin 1000. At first, I felt this was a result of the low temperature, but as I went through my warmup, I saw that SmO2 would routinely drop down to 10% during my warmup efforts, but would rebound over time to a more-expected 70% or more.
SmO2 Stage 1 Ft Davis Hammerfest

Now, the first thing to consider is that during my warmups at lower elevation, I never began an interval set until my SmO2 would rebound to AT LEAST 85%, and as high as 92%. Furthermore, it takes me about 30-35 minutes to get my ThB values up to about 12.40. When I’m at both of those numbers, or close to them, I know I’m vasodilated, that my core temperature has risen, and my legs, at least (I measure at the Left lateralis), are ready for any efforts I throw at them.

On this morning, however, SmO2 never went above 79%, ThB never surpassed 12.34, and again, as soon as I put any real effort in to my surges, or the climbs, SmO2 dropped to between 8 and 15%, and ThB never changed.

Something was seriously off.
SmO2 Stage 1 Ft Davis Hammerfest Image 2

I finished the first stage, a Point-to-Point effort that climbed Mt. Locke, with three major climbs that finished at 6790’ (2070m), and was REALLY disappointed in my results. My watts were down, my cadence was low, I felt heavy and it felt like my legs were dead. As soon as the effort ended and I began to recover, my legs began to REALLY HURT, like I had just undergone a SEVERE resistance training protocol, with multiple sets of squats at high loads.

Disappointed as I was, I waited for my wife, who was also a bit disappointed in her performance, and we rode down together, to eat, recover, and prepare for the next stage, to be held that afternoon. Ironically, the physiological results of that stage were completely different, with an warmed-up average SmO2 in the 85% range, and a range-under-stress in the 30-45% range, which is MUCH more typical of my values during hard efforts. Furthermore, my ThB basically maxed at a stable at ~12.49, and the effort itself showed little change, around 12.00 or thereabouts. It did drop to 11.80-ish toward the end of the stage, but overall, my muscles “Felt” better, and I felt like I could challenge in the race. Now, it didn’t end up that way, but results aside, it’s the physiology that we’re studying in this post.

I’ll attach the files to the blog post if possible, and if not, I’ll try to set them up for download on Google Drive or something like that, for people to study independently, since, remember, I’m not a Scientist. I’m a hack.

So, what’s the lesson to be drawn from this? Without the Moxy, I never would have known just HOW IMPORTANT adaptation to elevation is for a cyclist, or any athlete’s, performance. During my first stage, I basically raced myself in to a deep state of muscle strain, and ended up sore for days afterward. Ironically, had I gone out on the Friday before the race, and actually performed some intervals of similar strain, I would have basically gotten through that penalty phase of adaptation, and would have been better prepared for the efforts at elevation on Stage 1. Who knows – I might have actually had an even better physiology for the 2nd stage, and would have been completely prepared for the third stage that was going to be held the next day. Sadly, a final winter rainstorm blew through the Davis Mountains overnight, and my wife and I both decided to skip a rainy, sleet-covered, 26 degree race with snow above 6000’ (1830m), and winds above 20mph. We’re both too old and cautious to try racing in those liminal conditions, especially when we know there’s really no financial reward to speak of, just a possible great story to be told from the ER.

The Moxy Monitor remains one of my most crucial elements for training and competition. Without it, I’m left guessing as to how ready my body is for work. I will definitely call off a training session if I see numbers that are ‘off’, and I also work hard, as a coach and as an athlete, to provide consistent, safe, effective protocols for warmup, hydration, and recovery.

Listening to your body is one thing; actually seeing it perform via wattage, heart rate, SmO2 and ThB, provides a holistic approach that is incomparable. I cannot WAIT to go back to elevation and ride – only this time, I’ll make sure I have an extra day squeezed in to actually perform some ‘elevation adaptation’ intervals, that will leave me more prepared to take on the slopes and loads required to achieve my best.

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Coach Wharton
12:12

Ft. Davis HammerFest, March 2015

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The 2015 HammerFest was an excellent example of Texas Bike Racing, complete with fantastic stage challenges, a healthy mix of athletes and categories.  And, of course, epic views and terrain.

 

I need to provide a few caveats before beginning the breakdown of the weekend the biggest being my fitness.  Bike racing in Texas is pretty small, and we all know each other to some degree or another.  


However, this is my first race in-state since February of 2012, and my first since relocating my cycling studios to new locations.  I was completely void of any real degree of fitness and entered the weekend with a wattage threshold about 60 watts below my prime.  Additionally, my body weight is about 3 to 4 kilos heavy.

 

For me, doing this race was strictly for the benefit of the camaraderie found in racing. The challenge of the venue, and as a service to the new promoter, who, like many, continues to pour her heart and soul and resources into this sport we all know and love.

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The weekend turned out to be perfect, weather-wise, as about 100 of us made the trek to the Big Bend area.  Racers were spread out among hotels, and B&B’s in the triad of Ft. Davis, Alpine, and Marfa.  Registration, rollout, and even the finish line were all within 100 feet of the ubiquitous Limpia Hotel on the main strip. Categories were combined for racing; although they were scored separately, in a Points Race format.

 

There were three stages - the first, on Saturday morning, to the summit of Mt. Locke, the second, a point-to-point out on the Scenic Loop to the park of Crow’s Nest, and the final stage on Sunday morning.  which either performed the infamous complete Scenic Loop, or did an out-and-back along the Stage 1 route and beyond.

 

My wife, Tracy, and I, brought along professional videographer and cycling aficionado, Dean Markham, With him, we used about five separate cameras, on handlebars, saddles, helmets, and in follow vehicles, to capture the essence of the races and its’ participants.

 

I know we were not able to get everyone interviewed or get all categories reviewed, and you know how things always end up on a cutting room floor when editing, but I assure you - we tried.  Expect a promotional video in the next few weeks, and longer videos and video segments on our YouTube channel as time allows and Spring progresses.

 

This was Tracy’s first time racing out there, and there was a healthy audience of over a dozen women, from all around the state and beyond.  She is much more competitive these last few years than me, and while I considered it my goal just to finish each stage, she was ready to compete a little.

 

Still, our combined focus on coaching and running a startup these last two years have taken their toll on her as well as me, and she was unused to the altitude and gradients this race provides.  That didn’t stop her from having a blast, and it didn’t stop me from enjoying her races and stories as much as my own.

 

We both finished out of the money but left with enough experience and enthusiasm to ensure that upon our return next year, we’ll both be better prepared.  Sometimes you have to experience a race, just to experience it, rather than attempt to race it.

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The Racing: Stage 1
 

The climb out to Mt. Locke started out a little chilly, as expected, but it quickly warmed up about halfway through the route, and I was dropped early on the first real climb, thus making the effort a quiet, solo affair.

 

The second climb, the longest of the three, was just beautiful, as I rode within my limits and focused on good posture for the sake of the camera on my head.  Unfortunately, right at the transition from climb to flat, where there is a good chicane in the road, I derailed.  An awesome helper in a trailing vehicle was kind enough to help me get the thing back on for the final assault.

 

I was well over 15 minutes behind the leaders but managed the climb, and then waited at the top for Dean and then Tracy.  Client Paul Konrad also made the assault, and it made me proud to see a rider who had put so much time in at the studio, perform so well!  Our descent together was a blast, and ALL of it was videotaped, so expect to see some significant action from that segment soon!

 
The Racing: Stage 2
 

Stage 2, held midafternoon, was another point-to-point, this time held out on the first part of the Scenic Loop.  Traditionally, Ft. Davis suffers from increasing winds as the afternoon wears on, and Saturday was no exception.  The racers formed tight packs, played defense, but the riders with teammates sent rabbits up the road for the rest of us to reel in.

 

I was quickly dropped, along with a rider from El Paso, and together we took turns pulling until we reached the finish, a few minutes back from the leaders.  I then went back down with some of the riders, this time enjoying a great tailwind along with the descent, and pulled over to rejoin Dean, who was filming the women’s race.

 

Now I need to note -- THAT was a great display of racing.  Watching the ATC women dominate by sending a talented cyclist off the front, and then holding back the rest of the pack like a tight champagne cork, while finally sending another rider off, to dominate the podium, was just artful.  The other riders and teams never stood a chance.

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An interview on camera afterward only confirmed my thoughts - these were true amateur professionals.  They thanked each other, congratulated each other, displayed consummate sportsmanship to the other competitors after the event ended and were cheerful and humble throughout.  They credited each other, and I later learned that they disbursed the winnings equally through the club.  THAT was incredible!

 

Dinner at Marfa’s famous Jett’s Grille, at the Paisano Hotel
Dinner that evening was in Marfa’s famous Jett’s Grille, at the Paisano Hotel. We were engaged by Dean’s stories of his cycling adventures in the 80’s and his return to the sport through our studio just a year ago.  He’s since lost over 40 lbs and purchased a new road bike, and he’ll be eagerly anticipating the local rallies and events that we travel to this year.

 
The Racing: Stage 3
 

For me, Sunday’s race, covered the Scenic Loop while Tracy’s event was an out-and-back along the Stage 1 course and beyond.  Once again, I was reminded just how incredibly fun the course is, as I rode with the group the first 20 miles.

 

I rolled off the front a short bit on the back side to get some excellent camera footage, and then rejoined the pack until the base of Bear Canyon, the first steep climb in the race.  After that, I was solo, and I made a point to focus on cadence, staying hydrated, eating on a good schedule, and enjoying the challenge and the beautiful, mostly windless day.

 

On the ride into Ft. Davis, two Cat 4’s passed me, and they both had that eager, assertive look as they chased each other into town.  I was running on fumes by that point, but reminded myself that there WILL be a next year for us, and we WILL be bringing more people with us to this unique event.

 

Ft. Davis’ Hammerfest is back, and everyone including TXBRA racers should embrace this classic stage race.  There’s something for everyone, regardless of ability or experience, and it is worth the trip.  Call it a pilgrimage, but it is just a fantastic way to see Texas, experience three great rides, and make plans to improve your fitness and enjoy the results.

 

Thanks to Peri and her hard work making this possible, and the citizens of Ft. Davis, who volunteered.

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