It’s been a while. Having a kid 8 months ago will do that to you. I just wanted to post something, anything, as a placeholder if nothing else and to express my contentment in life at the moment and my satisfaction with where I am right now (physically, spiritually, psychologically…).

Sure things could always be better. Work is a grind and the child is still learning how to sleep. There’s never enough time for, well, pretty much anything. The upheaval of life twists us and bends us. Different stressors re-shape us. And I’ve always been guilty of conspiring against myself: constantly aiming higher and wanting more. The pursuit of perfection is both a virtue and a curse. But every once in a small while I stop, breathe, and reflect on where I am and where I’ve come from, and how lucky I am.

Boy, what a journey. It’s been a long, winding and at times uncertain road, but we’ve come a long way, baby, and it’s only getting better.

Quick Update

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I’ve been so busy riding that I haven’t left any time for blogging!

Looking back at my goals for 2014, I have some updates:

Thrilled to say I’ve already exceeded my 2014 goal of 4,000 kilometres, and it’s only mid-July.

I’ve also accomplished two significant organized rides (one Gran Fondo, and one charity ride) with the Penticton Gran Fondo being one of the most challenging physical experiences I’ve endured – temperatures as high as 44º C on the road over 160 kilometres and upwards of 2,000 meters of elevation gain.

I’m climbing my butt off this week, attempting to accomplish a Strava/Rapha challenge “Rapha Rising” which means riding 8,800 vertical meters over 9 days. I’m half-way there and have the rest of the week to hit it.

I still have the Tour de Victoria Gran Fondo in August, and we’ve booked our tickets to Calgary in early September to check out the prologue of the Tour of Alberta.

Water has been my new best friend; I drink 3-4 litres per day plus whatever I consume on my rides.

The spare tire is nearly gone – I had no idea it would be so hard to get rid of it! Cutting out my morning hot chocolates seems to have had an effect. I’m also trying hard(er) to be gluten-free per my doctor’s instructions. That and less dairy milk, which could have an inflammatory impact on my gut.

Still have 2 months of cycling to go in this season, and although we’re busy getting ready to move to Victoria next month (YAY!!!!!!) and we’re now expecting our first child, I think I can safely get to 5,000 kilometres this season, if not more.

Life. Is. Awesome. :-)

Training Program

Zone 1. The emphasis of my new training program, at least for the first month, is staying in Zone 1.

I had my consultation at Peak Centre yesterday where my new coach (Lewis) presented my personal training program. He ran me through my assessment results, his philosophy on where my fitness is and what is possible ahead of my summer Fondos, and what needs to happen in the space between.

Here’s what I learned.* (*disclaimer: I am a good listener, but not a professional. Peak Centre coaches are professionals. Trust their advice, not mine!)

There are five training “Zones” which are defined by three different thresholds that your body works within depending on your level of exertion. The thresholds are your Aerobic, Lactate, and VO2max. (Here’s a little graphic – politely cut and pasted from my assessment report – to show you how the Zones and thresholds intertwine:)

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“Aerobic” was explained to me as the most basic, least-exertive threshold level beneath which one can theoretically be active for hours, so long as that person stays fuelled. It is the type of exercise where energy is produced by the body burning mostly oxygen from the blood-stream via the lungs.

“Lactate” is the following threshold. Exertion beyond the Aerobic threshold is where the body is working harder and moves to “Anaerobic” work, from burning oxygen in simpler, easier Aerobic capacity to more long-fibre, carbohydrate-burning, lactic acid-as-a-byproduct-producing work. This cannot be sustained for hours; typically 40-60 minutes maximum. It is the type of effort where muscles fatigue due to lactate and eventually succumb.

“VO2max” is a measure of the maximal Aerobic output possible for an individual. Athletes cannot sustain effort at their VO2 max for more than a few minutes. All-out sprinting would be an example of VO2 max.

The long story short of my assessment and resultant training program, is that Lewis wants me to focus on increasing my Aerobic Threshold. As stated in my report,

“For most cycling events, the Aerobic Threshold and Lactate Threshold are the most relevant to our performances. The aerobic threshold is the critical threshold for most endurance events that last 2 hours or more. You can think of it as the power output you can maintain for prolonged periods without tiring or the power output you can maintain and still recover effectively. Improving your aerobic threshold will allow you to ride faster at long distances while experiencing less fatigue.”

What’s interesting, and many cyclists may find this surprising (or at least I did) is that rather than training above the Aerobic threshold to get your body more accustomed to higher levels of output (which is ineffective), my coach has asked me to stay beneath my Aerobic threshold for long, sustained periods, which is the best way to raise it.

His logic makes sense. Training above your Aerobic threshold means you’re working Anaerobically and because they’re fundamentally different processes,  there’s no way you’re benefitting one by training the other. It’s like practicing tennis to get good at golf. Whereas working beneath the Aerobic threshold, you’re becoming accustomed to long periods of exertion with the right muscles and behaviours, which builds a strong Aerobic foundation.

So my program was drawn up for me, and it includes 3-4 long, steady rides per week in Zone 1 – which is fundamentally easy and slow effort, by the way (good bye Personal Bests and KOMs for a while!) – and one “aggressive” ride in Zone 3, to ensure I’m doing some Anaerobic work.

Zone 1, for me, is power output below 155 watts (as I said, quite easy) and Zone 3 is a tight gap of 205 – 220 watts. Zone 3 once per week will comprise of mainly trainer time, cycling 18-40 minute intervals of (3x 220 + 3x 205) x 3, and then building up to four sets of each. Outdoors on the odd occasion, Zone 3 work can include practicing skills like 30 minute uninterrupted hill climbing, whose focus is to raise my Lactate Threshold. I’m also tasked with two Strength-Flexibility-Core days per week and stretching daily.

Zone 1 does have additional benefits, I’ve learned, besides building up Aerobic capacity. It is the best Zone for burning fat. Beyond Zone 1, when you get into Anaerobic exertion, the body transfers over to carbohydrate burning and very little fat is consumed. Hence why they call Zone 2 the “Junk Miles” Zone – people sweat, they feel like they’re working hard, but they’re neither building Aerobics, burning fat, nor actually pushing their Anaerobic capacity in Zone 3. It’s wasted effort.

What was most eye-opening during my consultation was discovering that I’d been spending most of my riding in Zone 2. Reviewing my Strava segments, and recalling that many of my average power outputs have been in Zone 2 is shocking! Of course I’ve seen some improvement in my cycling and my capacities, but realizing my failure to train most effectively to increase my thresholds is potentially a revelation if the training program does indeed produce the results I expect.

There’s only one way to find out!

Back in the Saddle…

Season 2014 is starting to kick into high gear. (Please excuse the pun)

After spending much of the winter fastened to my trainer and working out in the gym, I am finally getting outside onto dry roads and spring-like weather. As the leaves bud and flowers bloom, with temperatures in the mid-teens (Celsius), I’m rediscovering the magic of riding outdoors and gasp! turning and cornering.

I am approaching this new season with heightened enthusiasm, lofty goals and deliberate and highly researched methods of achieving them (such as is my nature):

The rides I am targeting:

June 21 – #GearUp4CF Cystic Fibrosis Kick-Off Ride, Vancouver-Chilliwack – (100 km)

July 13 – Prospera Axel Merckx Granfondo, Penticton (160 km)

August 24 – Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria (150 km)

In preparation for these rides, and an overall fulfilling and enjoyable cycling season, not only am I aiming to ride 100 – 200 km per week (and taking Fridays off from June thru August, as I did last year), but I’ve signed up for fitness assessments and subsequent coaching and an individual training plan from Peak Centre for Human Performance.

My “goals” although not specific, are to shed the remaining tummy tire I currently have; become a better cyclist (in terms of technique, strength, results and enjoyment), and ultimately become the best cyclist I can be. Not only do I want to get stronger (both increasing my power and my endurance), I also want to get to know my body better – my limits – and better manage energy and output during rides. I want to be more in tune with my performance so I can be a better tactician: conserving where necessary and plan attacks, rather than arriving at finish lines barely hanging on.

I’ve been told during various consultations with Peak employees that this is exactly the service they provide.

I did my initial fitness pre-assessment last weekend – comprised of hooking my bike to a trainer, hooking that up to a CompuTrainer resistance unit, then hooking myself up to a helmet-mounted snorkel with a nose clip. Breathing only through my mouth, and thus only through the snorkel, the technicians are able to measure my breathing as well as the efficiency with which I use oxygen (VO2 Max). I pedal at a consistent cadence (90 RPM) and every 3 minutes the resistance is increased by 30 watts. Furthermore, my heart rate and breathing are monitored (to measure my aerobic threshold) and at every 3 minute interval blood is taken to measure my lactate threshold.

This data will be interpreted by my coach, strengths and weaknesses will be learned, and a specific training program will be crafted to help me focus on areas of improvement.

I must say, the assessment is no walk in the park. As with every test, you give it your all – I was completely gassed by the end of it – but 10 minutes later you chastise yourself for not pushing a little bit harder. It was compounded by the discomfort of a pinched nose and breathing exclusively (dry air) through the snorkel. Oh and the pin pricks  to the finger every 3 minutes. Yes, I’m a princess…

And although in my mind I felt like it was easy-going for quite a while and then suddenly got hard, my personal computer data (which you will see below) shows a very gradual increase in heart rate and power, before I crashed.

Initial lay-person’s look at my test results show that I’m horribly average. I maxed out at approximately 3/4 of my potential aerobic power (given my age, size, etc.) – thus my fitness does not coincide with my ability.

Not surprising I suppose, considering this is only my second year of cycling, but still, a bit deflating. However that’s why I’m doing this program, and improving is my main motivation.

Stay tuned for details on my coaching and training program!

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1st Trip Up Cypress Mountain of 2014

Played a wee bit of hooky on a beautiful Monday afternoon to hit Cypress Mountain for the first time this year. With the forecast showing rain for the rest of the week, the opportunity was calling out to me.

My relatively consistent hard work through the winter has apparently paid off – although it was no cake-walk, I scored lots of 2nd Bests and Personal Bests for this ride on Strava, and considering my other ascents were mid-summer and early fall (peak fitness or nearer) I’m quite chuffed. That said, Cypress certainly hasn’t gotten any easier!

Happy to say no stops on the way up, and I didn’t push too hard (despite results) rather focusing on a really good rhythm of ~65-70 RPM, ~170-175 BPM and 215-240 watts throughout.

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Neighbourly Ride to Deep Cove

Hooked up with a couple of neighbours in my building, plus the local mechanic who runs a bike shop across the street! It was my first outing with two of them. As it turned out due to experience levels, it was more of a recovery pace than a real ride, but still really nice to get out and hope to head out with them at a more serious pace in the future. Reassuring to have a mechanic on board as well, plus he knows many great routes!

Riding from home to Deep Cove meant taking the Second Narrows Bridge, who’s narrow pedestrian sidewalk is currently under renovation, meaning two lanes on one side… Dog’s breakfast. Therefore coming home we navigated through North Vancouver to the Lion’s Gate which was great – added some diversity and was much more pleasant.


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Thoughts on Climbing: high cadence versus slow grind

I’ve been paying particular attention lately to climbing technique, and specifically fast cadence+low gear versus slow cadence+slightly higher gear.

It stems in some ways from my Pain Cave training videos. During these work outs the instructor often alternates intervals between slow “over-gear” efforts at 50-60, or 60-70 RPM in the hardest gear, and then transitions after a recovery period into fast cadence, 100+ RPM.

They make plain the fact that slower cadence efforts activate and utilize muscle, while fast cadence work targets the heart and cardiovascular strength. Paying attention to heart rate during these exercises, I can vouch for that.

In fact, my work outs are clear: 50-60 RPM in my hardest gear produces approximately 210 watts and an average speed of 30-32 km/hr. By contrast, 100 RPM at a similar effort (6-7/10) produces nearly the same numbers.

If this comparison is accurate, I’ve found that my muscles are stronger than my cardio since I have an easier time producing sustained work at lower cadence than I do at higher cadence. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that taller people (I’m 6’2″) are generally more suited to low cadence work thanks to longer limbs/levers.

I often thought that the best way to conquer a long climb was to find a rhythm at as high a cadence as possible without red-zoning my heart rate, and at a lower/lowest gear. I found inspiration in my first attentive viewings of the 2013 Tour de France and in particular champion Christopher Froome as he scaled Mont Ventoux. “That’s how you do it,” I said, as he attacked the slopes with legs firing at ridiculously high cadence like pistons of an engine (right around the time the French commentators started calling him a doper).

But it was a revelatory moment during my ascent up to Waimea earlier this month that I questioned this learned wisdom. Half way up the 17 kilometre hill I was passed (not that uncommon, sadly) by two men, one of whom was having little difficulty, and pedalling at what appeared to be 50-60 RPM. He was not breathing very hard and was in a higher gear, still pushing 15-17 km/hr on a 5% grade.

I noticed later on that they were supported by a van whose driver was retrieving discarded water bottles, filling them up, leap-frogging the riders and handing them back. Also, the second man was in quite a bit more distress than the first rider, and less of great shape, but a far flashier bicycle, so my immediate guess was he was a wealthy person who’d paid a coach or retired pro for a supported ride.

Could this purported coach or retired pro be exhibiting a valid technique of chugging out low reps to climb a hill rather than my presumed requisite low gear/fast cadence? I immediately thought of my Pain Cave videos – was “over-gear” a valid way to climb hills and not just a training technique?

I immediately upped a couple of gears, dropped my cadence by 20 and started to grind, activating my muscles and relieving my heart. I don’t know if it was because the terrain flattened out a bit, or because this technique was helpful, or because I had a new hare to chase in these two men, but for some reason the climb became easier and I was able to up my speed 2 km/hr.

I will continue to experiment with both techniques in forthcoming climbs, but at least for me – still in the newbie phase of road cycling strategy – this was a light-bulb moment. Perhaps alternating mid-climb is appropriate to shake things up from time to time.