I have a framed quote in the Studio in Richardson, that was pulled from a magazine a long, long time ago. It comes from Gary Klein, who was one of the pioneers of Mountain Biking. It reads like this... :
"Mountain Biking is about adventure and the rediscovery of your childhood freedom. It removes you from the daily grind and puts you in an environment with endless possibilities. Wildlife, Epic Views, a personal epiphany about what really matters, and tasting your own endorphines after a long, hard climb. The reward is looking back at obstacles, that are now behind you, and realizing that anything is possible."
I think this very theme should be applied to road cycling on hilly or even mountainous terrain, and on the weekend of September 27th, that's EXACTLY what I did, with clients Brian Terrell and Kyle Keeter.
The morning began with a 2-hour trip North, to Ardmore, Oklahoma. It's interesting - when we live and spend most of our days in North Texas, getting outside of that bubble is revealing and refreshing. I've noticed before that the moment I cross in to Oklahoma, traffic on 35N just begins to space itself out, until there are moments when you feel that you're the only vehicle out on the road. Furthermore, the lack of traffic tends to lead to a better highway ride, and I certainly felt that. Second, the terrain becomes noticeably more rolling, and you find that your Cruise Control sometimes has to shift down to help you hold speed. It's times like this, when I know that I'm in the type of cycling terrain that I love the most!
I got to Ardmore early enough to eat breakfast right off the highway, and it brought back a vague memory of a time when I traveled to Kansas City with my grandparents by car. Both of them are gone, but I remember they used to stop at Ponders, which was a great place to eat breakfast. Well, Ponders has been sold to a chain, but I did get to have a good healthy breakfast, and I'm glad I did, because we ended up riding over 80 miles that day, on some GREAT terrain!
I met up with Brian and Kyle in a city park, and after prepping our bikes and ensuring that we had enough food and water, about 12 or 13 of us rolled out. It was about 10 degrees cooler than D/FW, and we rolled DUE NORTH on US77, for about five miles, before the challenging terrain began to present itself. Now, I was with a number of cyclists with whom I was not familiar, other than my clients, but we remained friendly and comfortable, until around mile 12, when the first true incline presented itself. This actually ended up being our longest climb of the day, but it was deceptive.
I'm going to provide a link to the ride through www.ridewithgps.com
. I think it's public, but you may have to register. I prefer Ride With GPS to the other guys because I helped them early in their development, the owners are friends, and they don't have nearly as much gobbledy-gook junk and advertising as the other map-based trip sites. The image is the link, so click on it to follow along. While we're here, lets' have a quick lesson in wattage, slope, pacing, heart rate, and how to use a power meter effectively.
Once you're in to Ride With GPS, use the zooming feature to look at roughly miles 11.75 through 13.25. Click on Watts, HR, Cadence, and elevation, and then look in the upper right area, and make sure you're on the 'Metrics' tab. Everyone's results will vary here and there, but here's the gist of it.
Now, look at the timeline image on your browser, and then look again at the image above. We've got moment-by-moment, and then summaries of the block. Now, let's get my description of what happened and why...
I was concerned in the morning rollout, upon seeing just how calm things were and how far we could see, that the climbs, when they arrived, would prove challenging, and honestly, I was right. These rides usually end up becoming ego-fests, and since I was unfamiliar with the territory, I did my utmost to let others lead. That said, I knew it when I felt it, that this hill was going to be a long, gradual effort to a peak that would be unseen and gradual. There just aren't any real immediate conversions from climb to descent in these mid-continent hills. So the mental plan I made for myself was to marshall my watts, let the natural leaders do the work, and then, when they'd punished themselves, to ride at a pace that was sustainable for me in my current condition.
That said - it didn't quite go to plan.
Terrain and company tend to dictate effort, and as slope rises, you have to respond with more raw power to the pedals. Right now, I calculate my Critical Power, which is the highest average power I can sustain for an extended period of time, right around an hour or so (similar to Functional Threshold Power) to be about 270 normalized watts, and if you follow my training programs, I believe I have about 22,000 Joules of energy available to me above that Critical Power. At 11.78 miles, I crest 269 watts, and I don't dip below that number again until 12.63 miles. I burned at least 100 KiloJoules, averaged 314 watts, though it FELT LIKE 325 watts (on this chart, it's called "WR" Power, but we usually refer to it as "Normalized" Power... it's a better way to measure power because it takes in to account what's going on inside your body on a metabolic basis, and what energy systems you're burning through), and my heart rate went from an active 147 beats per minute, to a near-max value of 193 BPM. I THINK my max is about a 196 or 7, but honestly, when a rider gets there, he or she kind of knows that there's not much left in the legs, and the lungs are going to take a while to recover. I burned almost 13,363 Joules above Critical Power, which was about 60% of my reserves, so while I probably could have soldiered on, the HR, the high Normalized Power, and my relative lack of training at or above Critical Power, had me actually backing off and settling down to a more stately sub-CP wattage of 250, then 230 watts, for the next 2 minutes, as my HR dropped, my breathing became a bit more normal, and as the slope lessened, my cadence went back up.
For the record, I was NOT the strongest rider on the day. In fact, there were at least 3 other cyclists who were stronger on the climbs - some younger, some older. But the point is that I rode that hill, and others that I'll describe next in this post, with a pacing strategy that worked for me, and allowed me to improve over the course of the day, while also teaching my clients some of the same concepts.
Here's an image of the 'Meat' part of that first climb.
Not surprisingly, once I dropped my wattage BELOW Critical Power, HR dropped, cadence rose, and my Critical Power began to reconstitute itself, so that I could hopefully be better prepared for the next set of climbs.
Now that the first real "Hill" was out of the way, and I knew my limits, I spoke with my clients, Brian and Kyle, and asked them how they'd paced themselves. Though I don't have their files with me at this time, I did learn that they, too, had basically pushed themselves to a point where they couldn't sustain their effort, all in an attempt to 'keep up' with other cyclists, and they'd taken themselves to a point where their HR and cadence just could not be sustained. In other words, they "Blew Up", and were unable to sustain even modest wattage below Critical Power, for a period of time. We then decided that on the NEXT hill, which was several minutes away, when we'd be more fully recovered, we would attempt to roll up the hill at a rolling 30-second average of 120% of FTP. How did that work? Well, here - have a look.
The next hill was roughly 8/10ths of a mile, at a noticeable 6.2% average gradient. If my FTP/CP is roughly 270 watts, then 120% of that is ~325 watts.
So, with a goal in mind, I didn't quite average 325 watts, but I DID average ~315 watts for 4 minutes, which comes out to about 115% of that Threshold FTP/CP value, and THIS time, I was SLIGHTLY stronger, and kept myself a bit closer to the leaders. HR didn't go through the ceiling, Cadence was modest, around 84 rpm,
With an FTP of 270 watts entered, the predicted cadence, riding in the easiest gear on my bike, which is a 39 tooth chainring up front, and a 25 tooth chainring in the back, while weighing in at 82 kilos, riding 170mm cranks (I like them short for my hips and for aerodynamic positioning), yields a predicted cadence of 86 rpm. What did I actually average? .... 84. That's ~2.5% off. NOT BAD! NOT BAD AT ALL!!! Interestingly, when we look at my predicted speed of 16.87 kph, vs the actual speed of 11mph, which is 17.70kph, the delta there is about 4% above the prediction. Again - you know, I will take that any day, and the reality is that there were probably some efficiencies in my setup or aerodynamics that may have affected those numbers. I was riding tubular tires on aero wheels, for example, and I was wearing an aero skinsuit. Stuff like that. ALL of it matters!
But back to the hills of Ardmore.
We rode like that for the rest of the day. Climbing at or near 120% of FTP for the longer climbs, not worrying too much about what our rolling 30sec and per-lap Normalized Power numbers were for the shorter hills. The day ended up being just about perfect in terms of temps and wind, but this leads me to a final thought to share.... When it all matters, at the end of a ride, it's how you managed all of your energy in the hours and minutes before, that count the most.
The 10 miles back to the car were a straight shot south, along the route upon which we had traveled outbound, and the return home, in the early afternoon, ended up just hitting that period of time in the day when the WIND picks up. And if you live in North Texas, or in this case, Southern Oklahoma, most of the time, in late September, that wind comes STRAIGHT OUT OF THE SOUTH or SOUTHWEST. So we were in for a LONG, HAUL, HOME.
Now - Hop back on to the RideWithGPS tab, and look at the final ten miles or so. Specifically, take a look at the wattage profile... Here's a glimpse.
Kyle and I both had to get back to Dallas for early evening appointments, so we left the bunch and did our best to paceline ourselves back to the cars. However, with the winds only growing, and the fact that Kyle is roughly 8" taller than me, and just less experienced with wattage pacing, we turned it in to another teachable hour.
We started off agreeing to NOT go above our respective thresholds, and to attempt to alternate pulls for about one minute before dropping back. We also agreed to communicate if one of us was just simply pulling too strongly and dropping the other cyclist. When that proved too much, I took longer pulls, and made sure that when we both pulled in our turn, that we did so further and further below FTP. Finally, when Kyle was just hammered, I took over and pulled us both in. It was TEAMWORK that led to the grand finale, but it was also the fact that these were the final miles of a HUMONGOUS effort, for which we were only mildly prepared.
Any chance you get to head out to new scenery or location or elevation, please, go do it. Trap that data on your power meter. Analyze it. Use the tools I've mentioned above so that NEXT TIME, you get out there, you'll remember what you're capable of, what your limitations may be, and how you can optimize your ride, in the moment, as well as before and after. Wattage and Science and Training really CAN serve to make it more fun. You just have to know how to look at that hill, at that course, at that day, and both prepare for it beforehand, and make the most of it while you're there!
Ride on! - I'll try to get a post of the Glen Rose Rally up shortly. Thanks for reading!!!