Tuesday, May 25, 2010

315 W

I ran on a treadmill at the Westin in Boston last week and it estimated my power output to be about 315 W while I was running at 9 mph. 9 mph is a speed I can hold for about 30-35 minutes on a treadmill. I can run a bit faster outside, even though the consensus is that running on a treadmill is easier than running on the road.

As I mentioned before I agree with that statement, for short distances. I can certainly run at a faster speed on a treadmill for short periods of time, but I cannot hold this for very long. The reason I believe is lack of cooling. I am probably relatively inefficient in that I tend to generate a lot of heat and sweat a lot. I certainly sweat a lot more than other people around me, and it is not uncommon for me to leave a sizable pool of sweat behind after a long stationary workout.

Yesterday I rode on my rollers and I held 325W for 30 minutes (in aero position). I would not call it maximal effort but it was up there. What I like about this is that numbers are nicely consistent. It appears that something in the range of 315-325W is what I can hold for about 30-35 minutes. According to the lookup tables that would correspond to a speed of about 40 km/h (24.8 mph). The real speed is likely higher since this was done in a deep aero position.

My speed on the rollers was lower but it is a rather arbitrary quantity and depends a lot on the setting on my Kreitler "Killer Headwind" fan.

On the standard 20 minute test I can get a power to weight of 4.2 or better (mid Cat 2 range), but so far I have never gone all out on such a test so it is possible that I would do even better.

On Saturday and Sunday I rode a 35 mile loop through Orinda, Moraga and over Pinehurst. On Monday I rode on rollers, including the 30 minutes at 325W. Today I ran to Montclair and back for 8.8 miles. All I can say is that this time I felt a whole lot better than last time I did that run.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rule number one

For competitive endurance events, rule number one states: check your weight. More than anything else, training plans, expensive gadgets, supplements and all, maintaining a low body weight is the key to success.

Low body weight is key to success in running, cycling, climbing, cross country skiing and other aerobic events. It is less important for swimming as long as you can maintain a good body position -which I postulate is largely a matter of body type.

Since I use this blog to keep track of my workouts, here is my update. I haven't done any since May 7 so this may be a bit long.
On Sat, May 8 I rode 25 miles with Alistair.
On May 9, I rested and watched the Berkeley Hills Road Race.
On Monday I ran 6.5 miles in the hills, in the rain.
On Tuesday I ran 8.6 miles to Montclair and back.
On Wednesday I rode for 1.5 hours.
On Thursday I once again ran 8.6 but it did not go so well this time around.
On Friday I rode the Bear's loop with Pig Farm Hill for a total of 20 miles.
Then on Saturday we went to Grass Valley for the mountain bike league state championships. I rode 7 miles with Annelise on the course.
On Sunday I rode some with Annelise and we went to Sacramento to see the finish of stage 1 of the Tour of California.
Monday was another rainy day and I rode 1:03 on rollers, including 20 minutes at over 325W.
On Tuesday I flew to Boston and swam in the pool for about 1 mile.
On Wednesday I rode 45 min on a stationary bike, and then ran 1 mile at 9 mph on the treadmill.
On Thursday I swam 100 laps in the pool -probably a bit less than a mile.
On Friday I rode the Bears loop plus Pig Farm hill.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Once again the sport of cycling is being rocked by another doping scandal. Although the Floyd Landis' accusations made front page news in the mainstream US media yesterday, it seems most of the amateur cycling community prefers to ignore it. And who can blame them? Doping is a hot potato and it is a sore spot. So much so that you can't even joke about it anymore.

Floyd's claims are by no means unique or new. He is saying what others have said before, some as recently as a few months ago, that the use of performance-enhancing substances is rampant in the peloton. But this time, the messenger and his past exploits may overshadow the message. Furthermore, in naming Lance and Bruyneel, Floyd has ensured that his message would gain high visibility but also draw attention to his, rather shaky or shady, personal past.

Yet Floyd is not the first one to point the finger at Armstrong. Nor is he the only non-Frenchman to do so. (Americans of course like to believe that the French would secretly enjoy bringing down Lance, while they seem to forget that the fortunes of Lance and the Tour de France are now willy-nilly intertwined and symbiotic). If I remember correctly, the honor of being the first insider to point at Lance, goes to Frankie Andreu, who was once a beloved American cyclist, but is now all but forgotten (and tarnished). But then again, Frankie never won the Tour or did anything as spectacular as Floyd.

It is of course easy to fault Floyd and brand him as a cheater who never really won but instead stole victory by illegal means. But that would be closing one's eyes to the many documented reports that clearly show Floyd was a very capable and fit cyclist, who was certainly strong enough to win the Tour without performance-enhancing substances. Unfortunately since his return from a 2 year suspension, Floyd's performance has been substantially sub-par, which makes it all the more easy to claim that he only won because he applied testosterone patches to his privates.

Although I believe in the power of pharmaceuticals I also know that such dramatic improvements are out of the question. No amount of HGH, steroids, EPO, and-or other concoctions is going to make an average Cat 1 racer into a Tour de France winner. I would even go as far as claim that the performance-enhancing power of most substances remains unproven.

Although there are some data on the short term benefits of HGH and EPO, and possibly on the long benefits of steroids for things such as weight lifting, sprinting, and hitting home runs, the data on aerobic endurance performance are not there. While it seems logical that to assume that these substances should work, and while all the physiological and medical knowledge points us in that direction, this remains far from proven.

Just a little bit of experience with drug trials for regular (so-called ethical) pharmaceuticals should be enough to convince anyone that trying to predict drug efficacy remains akin to trying to predict the future. While EPO may well help someone win a time-trial, its long term benefits are unknown, and it would not surprise me in the least if one found that the long term effect is nil or even negative.

Unfortunately, from a scientific perspective, the current attitude towards drugs and sports effectively precludes any serious study of the matter. Although WADA occasionally studies or supports studies that look at short term benefits (a recent study showing HGH could improve sprinting performance comes to mind), such studies are too few and far between to really make a difference.

Once again, experience from real life clinical trials shows that large studies, involving thousands of persons and running over several years are needed to disentangle such matters. What is really ironic is that such large scale testing appears to be happening right now -all indications are that large scale doping in professional sports has been going on for decades now, and continues to this day- but without the benefit of scientific data gathering and analysis.

One can only lament the huge missed opportunity here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bike handling

Cycling is a sport that involves some technique. In road racing for example, we expect the rider to have good bike handling skills. That involves being able to ride in a straight line, hold that line through turns, and be comfortable riding close to other riders. Apart from such basic skills, more advanced skills are also required if one is to do well in a road race. Skills such as taking off and putting on clothing, grabbing food and water bottles, eating and drinking, hopping over obstacles, going down twisty descents, etc.

In mountain biking similar but different skills need to be mastered. Most important there is to distribute one's weight when climbing steep hills with occasional loss of traction. More difficult is hopping logs, riding in gravel or sand, and going around tight turns in mud. Yet these skills can make the difference between winning and finishing in the back.

Most cyclists who start at a young age easily master bike handling skills. Although not all become experts, most will manage to do well enough so biking handling is no limiting factor. Occasionally one will find a pro cyclist who has not mastered a basic skill, but was nonetheless able to reach the pinnacle of the sport. Perhaps the most famous example is Frederico Bahamontes, nicknamed, "The Eagle of Toledo" for his great climbing skills.

Frederico was the best climber of his generation, yet he was afraid of heights and did not descend well. He would often wait at the top of a climb for a friendly rider to join him so they could ride down together. At other times he would get caught on the descent by his competitors. Since Frederico scored his points, and made his fame at the top, this did not matter much.

The situation with respect to basic bike handling is different for cyclists who pick up the sport at a later stage in life. The largest group of those are triathletes, who are infamous for their poor riding skills. Triathletes may not ride in packs or draft for most of their events, and perhaps as a result, many don't know how to ride straight, let alone draft well.

Riding straight is considered the most basic skill a rider can acquire. In countries where people use bicycles for transportation -such as Belgium- all kids are taught to ride straight, whether they become racers or not. Riding straight is a key element in bike safety. Riding straight means suppressing natural reflexes that turn the body whenever the head turns. While such reflexes are useful when walking, doing so while riding is a recipe for disaster. The rider suddenly swerves in the middle of the road.

If you decide to ride a bike for exercise, please learn this one skill. It is more tricky than you think, but it may save your life one day. Learn to ride straight. If you want to proceed to bicycle racing, you will absolutely need to master this, lest you want to go down all the time and take a lot of people with you.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Overreaching is the term USA Cycling prefers for what many people call overtraining. USA Cycling reserves the latter for a more chronic condition that is persistent for an extended period of time and cannot be remedied by a few days of rest. It is all in the definition I guess.

No matter what you call it, overreaching is a serious matter and it is something that occurs rather frequently, especially in the younger and older age groups. It is also largely unrecognized and many believe that any drop in performance is necessarily caused by too little training instead of by too much training.

One prominent masters racer recently told me: "I haven't seen anyone around here train too much or race too much." One could hardly hope for a clearer statement. It is also wrong. And I know it is wrong, because I was one of those people once who trained too much. And I wasn't even racing all that often or riding mega-miles. Yet I was clearly overreached and it showed in poor results, trouble sleeping, edgy behavior, mood swings and the like.

At the time I rode almost everyday. I was part of a group of elite racers, whose average fitness at the time was well beyond mine, and therefore I was riding too hard too often. Although my daily rides were 30 miles or less, with two 50+ milers on the weekend, the overall intensity was such that it was too much for me. I was constantly tired, slept poorly, was prone to fits of anger and suffered declining performance. It was only after I backed off a little that things started improving. The backing off was done rather naturally (and unintentionally) by the demands of work. My performance quickly improved.

Ever since I started following junior racing up close, I have seen many examples of overreaching, and even a few of overtraining. I have also seen and heard of junior racers who are so stressed by high expectations that they simply burn out and leave the sport altogether.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Easy rider

I took it easy the past couple of weeks. On Monday April 26, I rode 18 miles on the mountain bike and found that it needed a new cassette. The new chain kept on slipping over the older cogs. Since I did not have a mountain cassette I used a SRAM 9 speed road cassette. The biggest cog is a 23, which on a mountain bike looks minuscule.

On Tuesday I rode on rollers for an hour, including a hard 20 minutes. I also recalibrated my power meter and was able to ride 320+ watts for 20 minutes.

On Wednesday I ran 6.5 miles in the hills.

On Thursday I did some coaching on the Bear's loop in preparation for the upcoming Berkeley Hills Road Race. We practiced several skills and overall I had a great time.

Friday I rode 31 miles to the top of Redwood.

All in all it was a pretty average week.

On May 1 we went to Los Altos for Cat's Hill, and then took off after to Monterey for the NorCal mountain bike league race at Fort Ord. Both days I rode around Fort Ord on my Kuota, exploring the Sea Otter Road Race course. On Sunday I rode over to Laguna Seca and watched the cars for a while. There was quite a bit of wind coming off the Pacific and under those conditions riding was pretty hard.

Monday, May 3rd I rode 45 miles through Orinda and Moraga and up Redwood. On Tuesday I rode another 35. Then on Wednesday I flew to Chicago to lead a panel on neurogenesis at the BIO meeting. I spent most of my day traveling but was able to go swimming for 45 minutes in a hotel pool that was as hot as a sauna. Even though the pool was a lap pool designed for workouts, the water temperature made any hard effort impossible to sustain.

On Thursday I swam another 45 in that same pool, which by the way was located on the 30th floor and had a great view of Lake Michigan. I also rode for 15 minutes on a stationary bike. Today, I rode 40 miles to Lafayette and back. This weekend is the Berkeley Hills Road Race in Orinda.