Normalized Power

What’s the best method to calculate normalized power?

Thesis: There probably isn’t one, but the PeaksWare method certainly isn’t the best.

Background: The objective of a normalized power metric is to report a value for relative ‘difficulty in output’ in executing an effort with a certain power profile. The specific desire is that this representative of the metabolic and cardiovascular challenge of the effort, it is not generally used to assess neuromuscular or strength or anaerobic difficulty. There have been additional metrics built off of Normalized Power, most notably V.I. for assessing whether or not an effort was well paced. I want to be specific that the criticism of NP algorithms that follows is an evaluation on the above-stated goal only, not on all of the various interpretations and rules of thumb based on it.

Normalized Power herein refers specifically to Normalized Powerâ„¢, the most widely spread variant of this algorithm used by cyclists, trademarked in 2013 by PeaksWare LLC, the owners of TrainingPeaks and WKO software.

The PeaksWare method for calculation normalized power has two pieces of logic applied. Part 1, the power sequence is smoothed to better represent the load on the cardiovascular system. Heart rate, breathing rate, glucose consumption are smooth changes that occur over many seconds, more seconds than the Adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate energy systems in the muscles can supply. Part 2, the power sequence is weighted. The logic here is that the difficulty in sustaining the production of power goes up really quickly above threshold because limited reservoirs are being drawn down. Those reservoirs are basically blood sugar and blood oxygen content, and to a lesser degree, muscle and liver glycogen. They are not ATP and CP, those were theoretically addressed by the Part1 smoothing. Part 3, this weighted sequence is averaged to get a single value.

The PeaksWare method of calculation is to use a 30 second square window moving average to pre-smooth the power sequence and use a 4th power weighting function on the smoothed profile. The TrainingPeaks guys claim that this algorithm combined with these parameters achieves the outcome of representing metabolic and cardiovascular challenge, and that the balance of these parameters is generally correct for everyone and generally correct for all variations of efforts.

This is the point where everyone’s bullshit alarm should be blinking red and the sirens sounding. The 30 seconds square window moving average is clearly not correct for everyone. Some people are absolutely murdered by power variations on the order of 10 seconds, some people are not. Early in a base phase of training, going a little “into the red” can be a workout ender and require very long recoveries, whereas in the midst of a good season when primed up for racing, an athlete can go deeper into the red and recover from it faster. That’s a change to the anaerobic capacity following training that system. Should the results of a metric that purportedly assesses metabolic and cardiovascular challenge be sensitive to the high variability between athletes in anaerobic capacity? No, the metric should be generally insensitive.

Quick test on the PeaksWare method. 10 minute ride total. 9.5 minutes spent at 50% of FTP with a 30second sprint at 3x FTP in the middle of it. The average power is 63% of FTP. I would suggest that the normalized power for this effort should be lower than FTP. The athete didn’t demonstrate the capacity to cardiovascularly do anything above FTP. They showed an OK sprint. What does the PeaksWare method suggest for NP for this effort? 120% of FTP. I generally think that’s wrong.

Further, it’s my assessment (based on my collected power data alone) that the parameters of 30seconds and 4th power, even if they give good results for certain kinds of efforts, are more sensitive to the algorithm than they should be. If we had a better algorithm for normalized power we wouldn’t need to memorize the laundry-list of situations where “normalized power doesn’t apply”. The concept always applies, the algorithm however, sometimes fails.

Onto a recent example: The 2upTT I competed in last week [link]. The effort is particularly appropriate to inform the discussion as it is both “max effort” and not perfectly even pacing on the short time scale but is relatively well paced on the long scale.

The below plot shows which NP is reported (y-axis) for each variation in the power averaging parameter (x-axis) and the power weighting (colour-axis). The dashed lines show the intersection of the PeaksWare algorithm gives a value of 336.8 W normalized power for that effort. Is it reasonable – yes, it’s a reasonable evaluation of the effort. BUT, I do want to highlight a couple features on this plot. The “steepness” of the output curve for any weighting (colour) around 30 seconds is much steeper than the steepness around 60-90 seconds. The meaning is that for *some* efforts the PeaksWare NP algorithm in the region that it is used is quite sensitive to the parameters of the algorithm.

Power Normalization

Followup plot to the above. I put the colour-axis from the above plot on the Y-axis (didn’t adjust colours) and then highlighted all of the combinations of exponent and an averaging window that give the same result as the PeaksWare parameters. Basically, there’s a tradeoff, the more power smoothing you apply to the raw data, the bigger the weighting exponent you need to boost the value for NP up. The less smoothing you apply, the less you need to boost the weighting of the hard efforts. The argument for these parameters cannot be made from one effort, and I am not making one based on the 2upTT being analyzed. Just showing that you can get the same answer many different ways.

Parameter_Map

The question of “why the 4th power” is a glaring one. That rate of scaling is a red flag for me. It may be the most appropriate parameter to put into an algorithm with flawed logic to yield a correctresults. That doesn’t mean it is a good solution to the overall objective. Let’s assess for a moment, what a 30sec 3xFTP sprint thrown into the effort should mean for normalized power. The PeaksWare algorithm is going to weight a portion of that effort as 81 times as demanding as continuing to ride at FTP. Considering 3x the power was transferred, the effort is really weighted “up” by 27 times. Does the body really respond cardiovascularly by such an enormous factor? My experience is no. Substrate consumption efficiency is measured as degraded in the lab when you draw down CP, but it’s not a factor of 27. A factor of more like ~4-5 seems more appropriate. That parameter doesn’t get the “correct” result in the PeaksWare algorithm, but it could mean that the algorithm and parameter are co-broken and compensating for one another.

Final critique: PeaksWare provides no satisfactory analog for instantaneous NP. Such a concept shouldn’t be impossible. As they’re not in the business of providing ANT+ scraping and display to head units (like Garmin for example) they have largely evaded this shortfall. If you ride along with some power variability, it is not logically impossible to assess what the instantaneous draw on the cardiovascular/metabolic systems in your body is/are. Instead of spouting that “instantaneous NP has no meaning”, it’s more appropriate to make your NP algorithm provide the meaning that is logically connected to the concept.


Now, it’s easier to critique than to provide solutions… and I am sure to be critiqued for the above because people love to get religious about their power numbers. So, I’ll present an alternative.

I want to draw on first principles for muscle/O2 transport/substrate consumption energy systems. I am going to guess the weighting factor a-priori. The argument is that burning anaerobic fuel is done at a discounted efficiency compared with aerobic fuel burn. When I ask muscles to generate power above FTP, I’ll agree that I’m going in debt, but it’s not the 27x debt from an exponent of 4, it’s more like a 4x or 5x debt. If we consider that theoretical 3x FTP sprint that generally an athlete can do with cadence on flat ground (reasonably achieved with CP system, not a strength/neuromuscularly limited 4-5x FTP sprint, that they also are using torque and may only be able to achieve sprinting uphill) the exponent should be between log(4×3)/log(3) & log(5×3)/log(3) = between 2.26 & 2.46. If you think you can only sprint at 2.5x FTP maybe the exponent, is 2.5-2.7, but then you’re probably getting old, or you need to work on getting your gainz!.

Then that debt has the potential to be repaid as you work under FTP as extra O2 and glucose are delivered. How long that takes is basically an assessment of how long it takes you to catch your breath after a sprint. Coach Corey typically wanted to know peak HR and HR 1 minute after cresting Emily Murphy Hill (2min @ ~FTP into 40sec max effort sprint), which was certainly not resting HR, but I was usually back to zone 2 with a coasting/pedaling recovery and sometimes all the way back to zone 1. I don’t really have any other assessment for how long it takes to catch my breath except for that one example. It doesn’t matter so much, whether the HR or breathing rate is back down, but those are the simple markers that your body is generally not still trying to “catch up” from an anaerobic effort for much more than a minute after the fact.

InstNormPower

OK, so one simple proposal for power normalization is that you would weight power numbers with an exponent (w) and then take an exponentially weighted moving average with a timeconstant T. The weighting is done first, representing the effect of the instantaneous cardiovascular efficiency of the effort. The time averaging models the impact to the breathing rate or HR over time. There are assumptions here, but without growing the model to include three parameters I don’t have a bright idea for a solution. The appropriate parameters are guessed to be 2.36 and a weight of maybe 1/20 or 1/30 each second. Impulse response of a weighting of 1/20 will have decreased by 80% within the minute which seems appropriate. A weighting of 1/30 will have reduced by 80% of the original response before 90 seconds. The summary metric for this normalized power for an effort is simply the average of the instantaneous normalized powers.

Power Normalization EWMA

To start to analyze this algorithm, let’s map this normalized power metric against the parameter space for the same TT. I am using the denominator from the exponential weighting as a proxy for the square window width from PeaksWare. They aren’t identical but they are analogs so I am going to plot the same parameter space and using the same axis for NP even though it overflows the top with this version of the algorithm. Increasing the weighting of an anaerobic effort increases the normalized power as expected. The larger weighings give rise to much larger values, the cause is the order of weighting then time averaging vs time averaging then weighting. Easy to observe from the plot that increasing the time averaging also increases the normalized power. With the PeaksWare method, you don’t get this effect “in general” although in some cases you will. The interpretation is based on the principle of what we modeled. That is: if you believe the impact of going anaerobic takes longer to recover from (longer time constant), you simultaneously believe that the cardiovascular performance requirement to make that effort is a higher benchmark. Interestingly after 15-20 seconds of weighting, the algorithm becomes less sensitive to this parameter. The plotted values of exponent 2.3 and 2.4 are demarcated on this plot, showing a NP estimate in the range of the one provided by the PeaksWare estimate is achieved. It’s actually unnerving how close.

Parameter_Map_EWMA

Now perhaps most interestingly. What is the instantaneous normalized power profile from the 2upTT. I am plotting here with a ^2.36 weighting and 25 second EWMA time constant.

Power_Summary_EWMA

click to enlarge

The trendline points out two really big things. The hardest part of team time trials is the sprint to get on the wheel of the person pulling through. Easy to see that when Will pulls through he is putting me in the hurt box big time, it takes the better part of my effort to recover from those spikes. They are prominent after rotation 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15… i.e. most of the swaps, I was most in the hurt-box after getting back on, not when I quit on the front. Interestingly, late in the race, it becomes more prevalent that I am resting when not on the front and going deep when I am on the front. The cause is basically that the speeds are higher due to the downhill and the draft is better.

Quick test on that sprint effort. 10 minute ride total. 9.5 minutes spent at 50% of FTP with a 30second sprint at 3x FTP in the middle of it. The average power is still 63% of FTP. Instantaneous normalized power peaks at 2.6x FTP which falls appreciably short of 3x FTP. That seems approximately correct to me, maybe a bit high. I had previously suggested that the normalized power for the effort as a whole should be lower than FTP and the result is indeed 72% of FTP. Increasing the EWMA time constant from 25 seconds to 90 would blunt the peak instantaneous NP to only 1.8x FTP, and change the result of the overall effort’s FTP by only 1%. This is not wholly unsurprising, I had previously shown that after 15sec the algorithm is not terribly sensitive to changes in this parameter.

Disadvantages of this algorithm: If you’ve got a really lopsided effort, going kinda hard in one part and really hard in the other part, it’s not going to give you as much “credit” towards an overall normalized power as the PeaksWare strategy would/does. If you think that’s a big disadvantage I’ll propose that you were construing more from your NP numbers than you should have been doing in the first place.

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Taft Hill 2-up Team Time Trial

Power summary of the 2Up TT last night with Will.

I think both of us were pretty cooked at the end of Worlds the night before (I did 55 minutes solo to finish) but we opted to go for it anyways. We found out at the start line that there was actually going to be a race against Jim and Mike, we had previously been assuming it was essentially just a race against the clock and the best time of the series, previously set by Will and Tim 2 weeks earlier.

Power_Summary

click to enlarge

First off, a power summary. Race time was 37min15sec. Average power was 327 Watts. with a 5% fatigue curve assumption, I should be able to do 103% of FTP… and well… that really didn’t happen.

Pacing was typical for not having done a whole heck of a lot of practice. It *felt* like I was getting pretty good recoveries in between some of the very first efforts and so I was pushing myself when on the front. A lack of 2upTT practice meant that I probably wasn’t reading the situation quite correctly. I did mention to Will that he was killing me when he pulled through after a few swaps, I think that comment may have helped to reign in both of our efforts and generally it was pretty good for the middle two quarters of the race. I had a weak patch from 28-32 minutes, which shows up in the power a bit but is better evidenced on a later image showing I was taking shorter pulls there.

Power_Overlay

click to enlarge

Next plot shows I was doing 50-100 more watts on the front than when in the draft. The two lines come together on the most climbey-portion of the course which Will led over the climbs and I pulled on the front on the flats between. I was OK with this, I had climbed better than Will the day prior so I should probably let him set the pace when the grade was up.

Summary of this plot is 356 Watts average while on the front, 297 Watts average while in the draft.

Effort of Pulls

Next plot breaks up the efforts, showing the discrepancy between front and back position was greater on the way home. Aerodynamics playing a larger role when the grade was slightly downhill and the speeds were higher. Evidenced also by Jim and Mike and all their aero gear helping to pull out a few seconds from us on that portion of the course. The lower plot shows there’s a much higher power variability when on the back, trying to stay in the sweet-spot of the draft.

Length of Pulls

Next plot shows who was taking longer efforts on the front. Generally we were pretty fair, I did a couple longer ones early, I think partly to help calm the pace. I then was only taking short efforts on the front late in the game when my legs started to struggle. For Will to take 4 efforts in a row during the closing stages that were 15+ seconds longer than mine was really really solid. That was the only thing that kept us close to the Great Divide boys.

Sumtotal – Hickey on the front for 22 more seconds than me.

Cadence

click to enlarge

Final plot is cadence. I was in the money zone. Despite having sore legs I did have enough focus to execute correctly and keep the cadence up. When the muscles are blown out it’s even more important to shift as much stress as possible to the cardiovascular system and running 95+ rpm is key for me there. You can see the two climbs in the first half where I stood out of the saddle when Will was on the front, even there I was still doing pretty good cadence to try and keep the stress on the cardio.

(19 seconds coasting excluded from the trend lines)

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The Motherlode

‘The Motherlode’ is the name given to the 210 mile course variant at the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder. The event leaves from Spearfish South Dakota and heads up and into the Black Hills. Last year I raced the 110 mile ‘Gold Rush’ course and decided to go for the big one this time around, more sightseeing opportunities… or something like that. There is also a ‘Gold Dust’ 70 mile option on offer.

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The “Grand” Loop

Pre-dawn rollout.

A photo posted by Joshua Krabbe (@jdkrabbe) on

Two miles high at 9am. #WYMTM

A photo posted by Joshua Krabbe (@jdkrabbe) on


the map
the profile
Click to Enlarge

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Stagecoach Classic 2016

Rooftop Cartegena

I returned to Winter Park this past weekend to take in the 3rd annual stagecoach classic. I had attended the 2nd edition after having missed out on the inaugural event because I was in Cartegena with Jason in January 2014 and too busy drinking Club Colombia, sitting beside rooftop pools, and riding bikes up and down giant mountain passes to think about zipping around the nordic trails.

Notable discussion at the finish line about how/why the waxing was apparently slower this time around compared to last year even though the conditions should have been faster with the warm conditions. The tracks were perhaps a little softer than the previous year, but not so soft that they were breaking down as a result of hard kicking. Following the weekend I crunched the numbers to compare finishing times of people who competed both years. On average people were about 3 minutes slower than last year with 31/44 of those competing both years being slower than last.

Histogram
Also calculated as a percentage of finish time.

The wax probably wasn’t really the contributing factor. Upon review of my GPS data there were some course modifications, in particular one notable one that made the course longer. Mystery seemingly solved. I felt notably better on the long steep climb at km 8 than I did the previous year and felt notably worse in the double-poling sections than I did last year… probably due to having lived at 5000 ft long enough to have made some notable adaptations and also due to weak-ass abs. I served myself some significant double-poling intervals the next day to inflict some damage. Some core-improvement before the Birkie would really be nice, it’s too late to make a huge difference but probably worth trying.

Main Difference
The field near km ~17. Red line shows the longer 2016 route.

Finish
Finish descent.
Altered due to new road I think.
Km8
After Aid #1.
Different but not longer.

Overall I’m a fan of the changes, made the course closer to 30kms, it was still a bit short. There are some simple loops that could be added around km 7-8 that could add another bit of distance to the front half of the race as well without dramatically altering anything or making things too much more difficult, just padding in some extra distance.

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Mount Evans Hill Climb

A project in correcting power data for altitude to gauge aerobic stress.

The aerobic stress of a cycling effort is gauged “fairly” by using power (assuming the power meter is calibrated. c.f. Brailsford’s Bullshit) only when the relative aerobic effort stays fair across the measurement. In the case of going to altitude, the blood-delivery demands on the heart, blood, and lungs increases because the amount of oxygen being drawn into the lungs with each breath is reduced. The effect is a physiological state of “I am breathing like I am doing 330 watts, but I’m only getting 270 watts out of my legs”.

Below is my power data from the Mt.Evans Hill climb (July 25, 2015). I rode in the Pro-1-2 field and placed right near the back of the pack. I dispatched myself out the rear of the peloton at 9.7 kms (end of the blue datapoints) and rode solo (green datapoints) the remaining 33.9 kms. We had just surged for a minute at around 4.4 Watts/kg and I was going to find myself in serious trouble in short order if I kept with the pack. The result here is 280.0 Watts which amounts to around 3.22 Watts/kg. The duration of my effort was 140.6 minutes. My bike weighed an additional 17.5 lbs and I started with 3.3 lbs of fluids which I consumed by halfway where I took on another 3.3 lbs of fluids which I drank by the top.


power data vs time with splined trendlines
Click to Enlarge

The power data is exponentially weighted by the altitude that it was produced at (i.e. weighted by oxygen content of air at that altitude) and then corrected by the time-weighted altitude of the effort. The correction is linear and amounts to ensuring that the mean-power calculation matches the corrected and uncorrected data. (This finds that relative to sea-level [exp(0)=1] this power has a mean discount of 67.15% or equivalently the ride occurred at an average of 3185 m elevation). The formula is at right and the predicted trend for power is shown below in blue. Note that this trend is not itself exponential as the rate of ascent was not linear.


power data vs time with trend expected by altitude
Shows distinct difference between riding with the peloton and riding solo.
Click to Enlarge

Performance relative to the expected trendline is also calculated (i.e. flatten the blue line above to determine when I was going hard and when I was going easy in terms of oxygen delivery). The trend below matches to a much greater degree the perceived exertion during the race, the fact that I felt like I was absolutely lighting it up towards the finish is clear on this plot, and not clear at all from the power data alone. Following the short descent to Summit Lake around 6700 seconds I get onto the final switchbacks where I push myself 5% rising to 15% above the average “aerobic power” for the effort. Consider that Coggans power-zones are all about 15% of FTP wide I managed to lift myself almost an entire zone towards the finish. This was not a case of holding things in reserve to spend at the finish. It was the case of getting in serious anaerobic debt during the final 20 minutes of the effort.


Power trend relative to the expected flat-line based on altitude-weighted average.
Click to Enlarge

Finally a few extrapolations that show that the model is imperfect. It suggests that if done at sea level I should/would have been able to do 417 Watts. If done in Edmonton I should have been able to do 383 Watts. Some TT-like efforts in the 140 minute range that I have at much lower elevations are my two races at Oliver in the 93km TT where I managed 284 and 298 watts. Neither of those efforts in Oliver was O2 constrained. The model works well to predict fade as I move from where I am acclimatized (arguably ~1500 m) to where I am not (4200 m) because it accounts correctly for the rate-limiting feature of cycling ergogenesis in those conditions. Going from Ft.Collins down, the rate-limiting feature of my performance over a 2+hr effort would not be oxygen delivery and so the gains in performance would not be seen.


Sea level watts!
Click to Enlarge

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Season Planning Seminar

The Invitation:

First thing back after Christmas (well at least close to first thing) is a good time to lay some plans for the next season. This is partly because everyone is highly motivated at this time of year and full of the ‘New Years Resolutions’ vibe. This week, we’d like to have a club seminar/workshop on self-coaching and season planning. The seminar to start will be informative, but informal, and I’m going to try and address some basics about training for triathlon and explain some of the associated jargon used to discuss this kind of stuff. I’ll also give an idea of how you can design and monitor progress with a training plan. We’ll finish off by each sketching out a plan for ourselves for the season ahead (2013!). Hopefully when you leave you’ll have an idea of what kinds of training lies between here and a successful event or events in the coming year, but also some self-coaching skills to monitor and adapt that plan along the way.

If you’ve attended the club seminar on this topic in years past I hope I can make the evening of value to you. While the actual training plan template I’m going to stick with is based on Joe Friel’s TTB which is the template we’ve used in years past, the seminar won’t be just walking through that process.

Details:

Room ED-177,

Tuesday Jan 15

8:30-10:00 pm

There should be enough time to shower and get over there by then. The club will be buying some Pizza for attendees. If you cannot figure out how to make it there by 8pm… then you really need to work on your transitions before race season.

Homework Part 1:

Homework is optional but recommended.

Please come to the seminar this Tuesday evening with some idea of what you’d like to do in the sport of triathlon (or swimming, biking or running as standalone sports) in 2013. If you’re hoping to sign up for your first ever race now isn’t a bad time to decide which one you might like to try. If you’ve been racing for years and have so many favourite races that they conflict with eachother on your calendar then now isn’t a bad time to start choosing. The race calendar in Alberta doesn’t change much from year to year, if you have a look at these websites you can probably get a pretty good idea of what your options may be for racing in 2013.

FYI:The club’s training plan is loosely based around an end of May race and/or an early July race. Examples would be Coronation Triathlon or Oliver Half Ironman, and then Edmonton ITU [out of date website at the moment] or Great White North. Registration for Great White North is still open but there are less than 100 spots left if you are interested in that.

Homework Part 2:

I have attached four documents. They are stolen directly from Joe Friel’s book about season planning for Triathlon.

  1. A survey of your basic abilities in Swim&Bike&Run. Hopefully this will help you identify what you need to work on in training.
  2. A good survey of your mental strength in sport. I have done this survey at the end of my season for 4 years running and learn something about myself each year. It is worth 5 minutes of your time, maybe not right now, but sometime when you need help procrastinating.
  3. A worksheet that can help you identify quantify what is most likely limiting your athletic success if #1 didn’t give you a good enough idea.
  4. A page that can help you outline the steps in training between now and success in 2012 by stating some goals and identifying what it will require of you. If you do take the time to fill it out, it will help you make a commitment to what you want to do. Putting things in writing can be an important step in the process.

Doing these surveys ahead of time is optional, but will likely be very beneficial.

Disclaimer:

Training methodologies are sometimes a bit like a religion. When you involve part of your life (i.e. all the training you do) with the way of thinking laid out by a certain school of thought (i.e. some group of exercise physiologists suffering from a severe case of groupthink) then you can become pretty defensive about the way you understand things to be. I’ll be among the first to admit that the way I understand and think about training is influenced by the people I have learned from, but I made an effort to do a good job in choosing teachers who knew their stuff. So, what I’ll cover is a very popular and very successful training methodology, it is not the only philosophy that exists. While I’m in the process of giving disclaimers, I’d better add another one: Triathlon is a fantastic sport but it’s a bad religion. We do this stuff for fun, think about that when you’re planning and setting goals for 2013.

Resources for the Season Planning Seminar

Also worth referencing for an “idea” but no more than idea… is Friel’s hours breakdown. As I will stress in the seminar. Appropriate load is the load that creates a training response that can be absorbed by your body, not by what some chat suggests. This is merely an idea of some typical patterns.

The presentation slides are attached here.

The Friel ATP chart is attached here.

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How hard?

I imagine that I’d like to relay some stories from the Pyrenees on this blog in the coming months. They should be accompanied by appropriate photos and I’m making an effort to edit the photos down to a bite-sized snapshot rather than just dumping them all on the internet. The world doesn’t revolve around quantity, it revolves around quality. Quality riding is what I went to France for this fall and it’s exactly what I found. Typical days I was on the road for ten hours setting off within minutes of the sun rising, sometimes a bit less than that (but never much less) and sometimes a bit more (twilight, but never pitch-black). The average day was 8 hours 45 minutes of riding and around four and a half kilometers of vertical. A fellow rider remarked to his son over the phone one night “We biked up Mount Everest yesterday and today! Tomorrow and the next day we’re going to do it again!”

I remarked on twitter that this was by far the most challenging thing I’d ever done. The hardest day, stage 3, which had me worried for my wellbeing was impacted largely by mental challenges in addition to the physical. That said, it was the most physically demanding ride to complete that I had ever done. It would later be surpassed by Stage 6 which was completed with relatively fresh legs after a day of recovery.

A number of people have questioned whether or not it’s possible that these rides were so much harder than all of the ridiculous ideas that I can think up for myself at home. The answer to that question is both “Yes” and “No”. I’ll illustrate with a couple graphs to compare. The first is a chart showing the energy expenditures for each day measured in calories. These are calculations, but they are calibrated calculations and quite accurate, especially relative to one another. Included is how much fuel (food) must be converted into actual cycling motion. This does not include general bodily functions, the demands of thermo-regulation which are very large when your body is displaying symptoms of hypothermia, and does not include the body’s activity of muscular recovery running overdrive all night long between the stages repairing some of the damage inflicted to the body one day so that more damage can be done the next. Also not included are the energy demands of chewing approximately five times an average human’s daily intake of food!

Photo from gallery: CCC Pyrenees 2012
Caloric expenditure for various rides

The ten stages of CCC are listed at left. To their right are the energy expenditures of four of the most insane training rides I’ve done in the vicinity of Edmonton. The first two are “PL2010″ and “PL2011″ which are 200 & 240 km training rides on my TT bike interspersed with intervals all the way from home to Pigeon Lake and back. “FullCM+” was Edmonton Road and Track’s ‘Full Calmar’ ride extended with a visit to Spring-Lake with added intervals to make it 230kms long. Finally “THawk” is a 180km Tomahawk loop ridden steady-tempo, the hilliest training ride that we have in the vicinity of Edmonton. The next three rides are from my Jasper Training Weekend “JTW:1-3″, done as preparation for CCC in Jasper National Park, trying to find as much sustained climbing as I could. Finally at right are four ‘event’ rides completed in the mountains. The first two are races at Ironman Canada in 2010 and 2011. Next up is a 300km ride over Highwood Pass and back, and the final ride, and only one in excess of 8000 cal is the Golden Triangle ride completed this past summer.

Within the energy expenditure for each ride I have highlighted in red, the energy expenditure that plain physics demands to complete the ride is in red. This is the amount of energy needed to lug my body and bike over the mountain, nothing extra for aerodynamic drag or ‘going fast’, just the energy to complete. A full 18 hills on the Thursday Night circuit is about 700 calories for me and I’ll typically blow away another 800-1000 calories on a Thursday evening by doing it “fast”. Up to 60% of my energy on a Hills-night ride is spent going fast. On a long flat training ride, more than 85% of my energy is spent going fast. In the Pyrenees every day I was doing rides that were nearly as big as I could possibly do in terms of energy expenditure and less than 30% of my energy was spent going fast.

The magnitude of effort required to complete the first stage of the CCC was about 50% more than was required to complete the Golden Triangle. We then did the same thing the next day… and the load just piled on with basically no respite until the end (if you can call those days respite. Stage 9 had abnormally low grades (only 7 or 8%!) on two of the passes because we were in Spain so the mileage was high but the climbing low. Stage 10 was slightly abridged so that we could finish with time to pack bikes before a celebratory dinner of pork cheeks and some fine Catalan red wine.

I’ll also post the following chart, displaying the average work rate in calories burned per hour (stipulations as above regarding the many calories that are ignored). It shows that on average the intensity of these rides was on the low end for something I’d be able to sustain for an incredibly tough training day at home. This is for two reasons, the first is that when I plan a ride that is as hard as I can possibly handle at home I normally have at most a moderate day before and a moderate day after, never another that is similarly difficult. The second reason is that about 50% of the mileage completed in the Pyrenees was done while descending. The roads are technical on the descents and generally it’s irresponsible to pedal because you’re trying not to gain too much speed so that you don’t overheat your brakes and destroy your wheels. Those descents provide a good opportunity for digesting food at a lowered heart rate, so while the chart indicates that on average the day-long work rate is lower, the up-hill work rate is higher (up to 25% higher = comparable with age-group winning IM average effort) and the down-hill work rate is essentially zero with a few exceptions.

Photo from gallery: CCC Pyrenees 2012
Work Rate (calories per hour) for various rides

I hope these charts give an idea of how hard is hard. I rode 86 hours and 15 minutes over the course of the 11 days on the trip but I think that’s possibly the most misleading metric for how hard the challenge was so I don’t think I’ll mention that stat again. It was hardly about the time, it was all about the quantity of work that needed to be done and so hopefully this has given an illustration of how much work that was. I’ll just make one last reminder that we did all 10 of those rides in the course of just 11 days.

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Jasper Training Block – 2012

I leave for France in two weeks. The final training block consisted of a week of ~15 hours that was front-end loaded leaving me headed into the weekend well rested so I could string together three relatively big days. My hope was that I would get myself a bit metabolically fatigued by loading on some volume. The weather wasn’t warm enough to be conducive to very early morning riding and the sun set too soon to do any late evening riding so all of the days were of reasonable length and difficulty, nothing was extreme. All told, I managed 15 hours 40 minutes of riding over the course of three days with a total ascent of 6000 meters. That’s a very small taste of what I have coming at me when I get to France, but I managed this 3 day block with minimal discomfort. I did screw up the eating when battling a block-headwind for two hours which had me running on fumes for the final 3 hours of my Sunday ride… retrospectively that’s encouraging. I can still climb at sustained rates in excess of 800m/hour when my blood sugar is a total mess. I was also able to climb the final pitch (4 kms averaging 6%) of the Marmot Basin road 3 seconds faster (alone) at the end of the third day than I did (racing S.Mundy) on the first day of the weekend.

Ride stats follow:



Saturday: Maligne Lake + Marmot Hill climb


Sunday: Miette Hotspring + Pyramid Lake + Tram Station + Marmot Hill climb


Monday: Marmot Hill climb + Athabasca Falls + Marmot Hill climb

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ITT Provincial Championships – 2012

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012
Second place on Elite Podium with
Brian Countryman and Stefan Schreiber.
Bruce Copeland (Master) beat all of us!
snapped by Stephen Paiano

Provincial Championships of the race of truth went down this past weekend. It was the flattest ITT course that has been raced for provincials in a number of years, much much flatter than ACME, and arguably flatter than when it was on the ring road in Calgary, and definitely flatter than the Canmore course. I don’t know the history long enough back before that to know which other courses have hosted provincials. We raced west from Graminia school near Devon with two 90 degree turned for about 19kms, pulled a 180 and returned him the same way. We had a light but consistent breeze from the south meaning we had a crosswind for the majority of the course. The road quality isn’t dangerous (i.e. potholes) but it is about as bumpy as a road gets where you can still call it paved. I had very sore hips following the race as a result of the pavement quality.

I hoped to average 360 watts which if well distributed should put me close to the win based on the field of guys who had signed up. I had been off the TT bike for the previous 3 weeks, which wasn’t what I had planned, but with work demanding some things of me on Tuesday nights which are my designated TT nights it was just how it was. In the end I managed 349 watts average with a normalized power of 352, indicating a variability of less than one percent! That doesn’t mean I executed perfectly though, I would say I made a fair number of mistakes.

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012

Starting with the non-mistakes. I did recon the course the day before and was feeling familiar. I think I’ve ridden that road in excess of 10 times this season now so I knew how it all fit together. I loosened up with a walk first thing in the morning and ate a big but late breakfast timed for the start. I did my electrolyte loading protocol that I developed last year because it was supposed to be hot (it was, 30 degrees and sunny) and started my warmup at 45 minutes before the start. I warmed up a half hour including 5 minutes in the bottom of Z4 and then did another interval pushing towards the top of Z4 and lifting cadence which I’ve found is important to do so that my glutes loosen up and I can access good power around 125+ cadence. This is especially important for crit-racing warmup and probably less so for TT. I warmed up with an ice pack under my jersey to keep my core temperature from starting to rise prematurely and headed over to the start on time (never making that mistake again after the disaster in Banff).

If you look at my overall pacing from the above chart you can see a strong start, probably a bit too strong. I was relatively consistent though the first third dialed in to the 360 watt target, and showed a drop of nearly 10% between the halfway mark and the four fifths mark. That fade can be attributed a few things, a small overestimation of average power, rising core temperature, lack of practice in the back-half of long intervals and generally poor pain tolerance. The pain tolerance issue is partially driven by lack of specific practice this season. Most of my suffering in 2012 has been amongst other athletes, not on my own. This has been good for motivation during those training sessions but adversely affected my capability to motivate myself through the really intense moments of pain and the mental battle to stay attentive to the appropriate stimuli in this race. I was able to recruit a strong finish from myself… but it was actually probably too strong. I could have fared better through the second half overall if I could have started a mental push for the finishline from a bit further out. If I think of my best time-trials, the push for the finish started from between 2/3 and 3/4 of the way through the race, usually drawing mentally on the idea that I had an endurance card to play relative to most of my competition. I suppose if I ever did have that advantage I also had it in this race but I was preoccupied with pain management this time around. On Sunday I only had a finishing push from 88% of the way through to the finish, only half of the finishing kick that I’ve shown before.

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012

The variability in speed over this course was minimal, the consistency of the course was sufficient that it would be very difficult to apply more power when moving slowly and less when moving quickly. The power distribution shown at right indicates that I wasn’t really able to execute any strategic power distribution at all. I think that’s mostly because it was pretty much impossible to do without more hills. Nothing was steep enough downhill to provide material rest so consequently there wasn’t really anywhere I could spend more power in exchange.

Upon closer examination of the power file there are three things that I saw happen. For each one I’m going to plot the power variability from what I should have been doing ‘on average’ at that point vs how much power I actually was doing. The ’should have’ is the white line from above, which already isn’t perfect but the factors affecting the overall pacing are generally separate from what I’m going to show here.

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012

Setting out I did my best not to totally load up my legs from the start line and settled in quite well during the first 5kms. After negotiating the first two corners I was feeling into my groove and started to get a bit impatient because things were under control. This was where first mistake happened. I should have been content to sit at about 360 watts and wait for the pain to catch up with me, the race had barely begun. I should have noted that my heart-rate was already starting to get close to 180 bpm. Instead I just took note of my breathing which was totally controlled (as it should have been) and started to raise my game a little bit. Raising my game a little bit amounted to doing 800 meters at an average wattage 60 W higher than I should have been. Being worried that I wasn’t going hard enough I basically redlined for more than a minute. As a direct result of that stupidity I took my heart-rate across the 180bpm line, and loaded up my legs heavily with lactate. It took a subsequent kilometer averaging 40-50 watts below target to get that lactate to clear. I’m lucky that I’ve been working on lactate clearance because if I hadn’t that could have effectively been the end of my race. It wasn’t, but it put me firmly into discomfort a lot earlier along the way than I should have been. From that point to the turnaround I had to start employing all of the motivation that I could find to stay focused. Normally I don’t have to start into my reserve of pain-tolerance that until halfway.

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012

Following the U-turn this plot basically show some incredible variability. I am not doing many prolonged surges above or below my target watts but it shows that I’m having a hard time getting it right. I’ll do a half dozen pedal strokes hard and almost immediately back off the throttle because it is killing my legs. The whole section is done with minimal shifting of the gears but this is a real section of muscle-protest and it’s clear from the profile that I’m incapable of calming myself down and just doing what it takes. Riding smart and distributing my power through this section would spare the legs from a lot more pain that’s going to develop soon (next plot) but I just wasn’t able to do it. The result is me not getting as much speed out of the power that I am putting into the road as I should have been because I couldn’t stay calm to do it. I distinctly remember feeling like things were on the edge of falling apart when I couldn’t sustain a feeling of ‘push’. I was lucky to have a 30 second power displayed on my Garmin, because it kept me in the game, confirming that I was doing alright and that I hadn’t blown apart yet which was consoling.

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012

The final case study comes basically immediately before I start to make a final drive for the finishline. What I can see in the power profile here is a succession of spots where I lift my power output up and then gradually it fades off again. This is indicative of an argument between my head and my body, where I am consistently asking myself to pick it up a little bit and then fading back again. Unlike the previous plot, I’m no longer able to keep the average power up. I’m fading and getting mad or frustrated with my legs and starting to push them again briefly. These are little periods of pushing myself too hard and fading back relatively gradually. There’s quite a bit of acceleration and deceleration going on here. I’m shifting gears quite a bit to try and find a cadence where I can generate power but I’m not finding anything that I can manage to settle on, pretty much everything hurts at this point and the finishline still seems a long ways away.

Photo from gallery: Racing 2012
These things are hard to get!

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