Friday, December 16, 2011

Mid Season CX Musings... but coming a little late.

As the cross (CX) season begins its final push towards Nationals and Master's Worlds, some random thoughts come to mind.

CX is as much a learning process as it is an endurance sport:

Source Endurance has done a couple CX clinics this fall with the goal of providing the basic skills from which a solid CX season could be built on.  What we didn't have time to explain or show was that the skills are one third of the process. Fitness is also a big part. Experience sums up the final component to CX success.

There is no such thing as a perfect CX race.  Everyone will make mistakes and the key is to minimize the effect those mistakes have on your race.  Mistakes can be anything from not getting clipped in to sliding down a muddy hill on your stomach.  Next, how does each rider react to the mistakes?

At some point there is a limit to how many mistakes you can make before it affects your ability to ride unhindered through all the obstacles of a CX course.  This can influenced by number and severity of the crash/ bobble but also by how much you lose in each instance strategically.

General CX Strategy: Keep in mind that this is very dynamic and that the time frame for the 3 stages are dynamic.

Beginning: All out, fast, establish your field position.  Take some risks but the general understanding is that you can't win the race in the first couple of laps but you can lose it.  Stay upright.  Remember that you have to be in a position to win before you can make that happen.  Many riders will fail here because of a bad warm up or creative excuse making.
Middle:  Once the field position is established, the shift should be towards the tactical race.  Remember, you are racing other riders on the course for places. Many inexperienced riders race the course with other riders on it.  The goal here is to race to gain advantages that you can exploit over your opponents.  Some risks should be taken here and perhaps bigger risks depending on the reward.  Often times, you'll see small groups form and break up as the attacks happen.  Once you gain an advantage, it's off to the races!  But if you are put at a disadvantage, you'll be chasing hard.

Finale: By now, fatigue has started to wear on everyone and depending on how the race has gone thus far, you are either reacting to your opponents punches or they are reacting to yours.  However, risk/ reward is now more important as it is dramatically influenced by the tactical situation on the course.  The tables can be turned here quickly and the rider with the advantage can quickly become the rider who is stuck in checkmate.  The general rule: If you have an advantage, take it to the finish line.

Monday, December 5, 2011

2012 CX National Championships- Men Elite Prediction

Tim Johnson.  That's my prediction and barring injury or illness at this point of the season, and I'm sticking to it.  I told a few friends back in September that the one who will win CX Nationals will only begin to see championship form around Thanksgiving.  And I'll followup the statement with this, "the guys who are winning consistently in the early and middle season will struggle with the races as nationals approaches." Here is my reasoning:

Course Conditions: 
Guaranteed to be icy with snow. With a January average max temperature of 28F,  Madison has had at least 3" of snow on the ground in January every year since 1992 except for 2001.  Also, anytime your host city has ice skating, snowshoeing and ice fishing on the city calendar, all within 6 days of the Elite races, ice will be a guaranteed feature of the course.  This means all the pre-riding, early races, and fall recon of the course is worthless.  Ice offers virtually no traction and very few riders, even at the professional level have the necessary combination of mental toughness, horsepower, throttle feathering ability and handling skills to negotiate it at the national championship level.

Tim, however, does have that combination and he has proven it.  Looking back the recent national championships and cross referencing them with memory and news, we can review Tim's results:
2000 Overland Park, KS.  Ice, snow. 1st.
2005 Providence, RI. Ice, mud. I couldn't seem to find his result from the Dec. 9 event.  Any help?
2007 Kansas City, KS. Ice, mud, more ice. 1st.



ZEROtraction Cross Film Trailer from Gizmo Pictures on Vimeo.

2009 Bend, OR. Ice, mud. 1st.

The only time that it appears that Tim lost an icy national championship was when Todd Wells won in 2005.  However, Todd will not be in Madison in order to make a run at the coming Olympic games.

Advantage, Tim.

Fitness and Form: 
Equally, if not more important, is Tim's preparation for the event.  It was well publicized that Tim was taking the 2012 CX Champs with a much different approach than year's past.  His build up was going to be longer, more gradual and it was not going to include a full road schedule.

There are probably multiple reasons for this but I'll only cover the big ones.

Improvement in quality and depth of field:
Todd Wells said it and I've heard it repeated in many different interviews.  CX is bigger and moving away from the fringe.  As this shift occurs, more fast riders are concentrating on the CX season and expecting results.  Todd Wells said that he is having a more difficult time jumping from the mountain scene to the cross scene and winning as the sport continues to grow.  In all likelihood, the next few years could see the increased proliferation of CX specialists in the US.  That brings with it faster races, and makes it more difficult to win the races and the UCI points. Indeed, as soon as you have competition, then within a narrow range of individuals training will become a crucial determinant of who wins loses.

Let's face it.  Everyone gets older.  While the newest research points that the effects of age can be thwarted, eventually, it does catch up to us all.  With aging, the first element that begins to fade is the explosiveness of athletes.  At 34 Tim may just now be feeling the effects of this.  Vo2 and Aerobic abilities usually are not effected significantly until probably after he retires.  However, in an event where only one place matters, one half of 1% can be the difference between a stars and bars jersey and finishing in any other position. 

The buildup, both physical and mental:
It was very well publicized that Tim's build started slow.  He said it himself in an interview, "I'm going to suck at the beginning." On the other hand, while I've only spoken with Tim briefly a couple of times and never this season, his interviews are very candid and he understand his limits as well his own mortality.  I think Tim knows that it will be a tall order to ask someone to go fast from September to January on the CX bike.  However, I do disagree with one aspect and that is this reference to the middle of the CX season being a "lull."

The "lull," downtime, mid season break, or whatever you want to call it is entirely over-hyped and under executed.  Taking the long hours of training, traveling and racing and replacing them with even more training does not constitute a rest.  Also, for proof that a true break does work, join me as we take a trip down recent memory lane and remember that in 2009 Tim suffered a separated shoulder which sidelined him the first part of the CX season.  That only led to the most successful season of Tim's career.  In 2010, Todd Wells crashed in Fort Collins, putting him on the injured reserve roster for a couple of weeks.

Over the next few weeks, we saw Todd get better and better until he finally won his first CX race of the 2010 season, the National Championship. Also, if you take a gander at the Rapha Focus schedule to see Jeremy Powers' schedule, it appears that he's racing every week.  That's alot of travel and a LOT of travel related stress for an athlete who is the fastest CX racer in the US right now.  It should be interesting to see how the stress accumulates with each top contender.  Take home message here is that in order to race at a national championship level, there needs to be a true rest, constructed or forced, on the calendar.

Also, as we take a quick peek back at some results sheets, you can see Tim inching closer and closer, by time to the front of the race.  This points to a couple of things worth note. Tim is getting (relatively) faster while his top competitors' form has stagnated or is starting to slip. Note: this is all very relative and remember a "slow" Jeremy Powers or Ryan Trebon are still capable of riding very fast indeed.

Emotional/ Psychological: 
As a Coach, it's always interesting to me to see how elite athletes handle being anything less than a super-rockstar.  I could argue that until Tim completely flops, he will remain that. Yet, he only recently, experienced the success that a 3 time national champion is accustomed to. 

Sept 14, 2011: I've already placed this link once, but here it is again.  Tim claims that he's going to have a slow start to the CX season and appears okay with it.

Nov 6, 2011: In this interview, Tim talks about how he's getting closer to racing with the best, and winning.  His patience and confidence were definitely tested the previous 6 weeks but his resolve and trust in his program held fast.  He is starting to see the form coming and it appears to be feeding his confidence.

Nov. 28, 2011: Finally, that first win of the season and Tim appears both relieved but also excited for what the remainder of the season holds now that he is riding "fast" again.

Nov 29, 2011: Tim discusses exactly how tough the first part of the season was. Again, you can feel his releif in the interview.

Dec 3, 2011: Tim wins again, confirming his buildup is working.

It takes a tremendous amount of trust in himself, his support personnel, and his program make this leap.  Also, it takes an athlete who is comfortable with success and is willing to risk some early hype to make a bigger push towards the finale.  For all the above reasons, I peg Tim Johnson as the next US CX National Champion.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Off Season: It Will Make or Break the Coming Season

By: John Hobbs, Senior Consultant

The passing of the Road World Championships tells the time of the year.  CX-ers are gritting their teeth during eye-popping efforts, winter athletes are preparing for the transition to snow, and roadies have rounded out their season and wrapping up their time off.  That time off is just where the rub can occur.   It is easy to put your feet up and not think about training, diet, or even unpacking the last few items in your race bag that haven’t seen day-light in four months.   However, the off-season to any athlete is an important time in their build for the coming season.  Proper mental and physical work during this period can go a long way in setting you up for your goals in the coming training blocks.

Rounding out the season, many athletes are fried whether they realize it or not.  Motivation for next spring’s races can carry some straight through the fatigue that comes after a peak.  However, most are looking to rest and regroup.  And that is the first part of preparing for next season—doing hardly anything.  This level of “hardly anything” varies from athlete to athlete, but involves a rest period.  Old or new injuries should be addressed as well has just taking a bit of time to fully recover.  A classic strategy is to take two weeks to a month completely off.  But, this level of recovery is not usually required and will cause some to go stir-crazy.  If you’re facing over-training syndrome or life has accumulated (remember, this is a hobby to most of us no matter how much we pretend), then a long duration of inactivity may actually be what is in order.  While from a training standpoint, this may not be ideal, the losses are minimal when compared to the potential repercussions of pushing on.   For many, however, a solid block of recovery with some activity is just what is needed.  A couple of easy recovery rides and some fun time without structure is what’s in order.  The idea is not to minimize detraining and stepping too far back.  But, again, this is a complex picture with more than just miles ridden to be considered.  One way to limit detraining is to avoid excessive time off.  Various adaptations occur fairly rapidly ranging from decreased levels of plasma in the blood to loss of mitochondria in the muscle.  Luckily, many of the physiological attributes that are quickly lost are able to be regained relatively quickly if detraining doesn’t progress too far.  These also respond to a level of “maintenance” training to avoid slipping too far down the slope.

Perhaps a Nutrition Consult is in order?
Assuming a solid recovery takes place, now it’s time to check out that smorgasbord of holiday food and drinks… and then back away.  The off-season and early part of training are the times to lose weight.  Anecdotally, this is one avenue where racers can have a major impact on the upcoming season.  The topic of weight loss and body composition goes beyond simply riding more and eating less.  Implementing strategies to achieve your weight loss goals and allow proper recovery are essential.  Some view the winter months as a break from strict dieting and plan on losing the weight when the temperatures creep upward.  The flaw with this is the effect diet has on your training.  As the intensity of training creeps, up so does the need to meet the energy output as well as substrate source with input.  This need is what can send your fitness down the tube if weight loss is attempted later in the race calendar.  In the end, having a caloric or nutrient deficit does not allow recovery from intense training.  The ramifications are two-fold.  First, without recovery, athletes face an increased risk of over-training.  Increased risk of illness and injury along with power-outputs of a kitten take long periods of rest to bounce back from.  Additionally, without adequate recovery, the workouts become ineffective.  Fatigue sets in before the goal work rate can be sustained for the prescribed duration.  This limits the gains that can be made each training session, and in extreme cases, may not provide sufficient stimulus to provide a training benefit.  This draw-back is more difficult to notice as, subjectively, an athlete may not feel too tired or sense that they have only a little twinge of fatigue.   In the end, however, they are not able to completely finish a workout, or barely finish the five efforts of the day when they should be doing six.  The off and early seasons, when the emphasis is not completely fatiguing efforts but rather relatively low intensities, are the periods to allow for a caloric deficit in order to get closer to the goal weight.  A major component of this is the substrates used for energy at the varying intensities—fat (a very abundant energy dense source) versus carbohydrate (a  limited source that takes longer to replenish). Even more importantly, this is the period to decrease weight gains.  If an athlete can limit themselves to a pound or two of excess, training and weight goals are significantly easier to achieve.

Early off-season is also the time to reflect and plan.  Athletes are encouraged to go back and look at the goals that were made for the season and see what contributed to meeting or not meeting them.  From there, decide what the next season holds.  During this period, athletes still have perspective on the previous year.  Later in the off-season when motivation increases, events from the previous season may be forgotten and lead to unrealistic goals or an athlete over-extending themselves not recalling the effects of travel, training, and racing on various parts of life and training itself.

Additionally, early planning allows for a more effective build.  While twelve weeks can allow for an athlete to come in to serious form, especially with prior training, additional time enables more freedom to progress at a slower rate.  A more gradual build not only aids in preventing injury and over-training by ensuring adequate adaptations, it permits athletes to reach the higher intensity portions of training with greater fitness, allowing for higher work rates and further adaptations.  Additionally, it establishes workouts for an athlete’s goals, rather than everybody else’s goals.  In the Texas area, early March provides a solid block racing, when up north, one hopes for rides without the threat of black-ice.  By having goals established early, proper implementation of intensity duration of workouts can occur.   And if goals and the racing calendar are conducive to it, an athlete can have two solid peaks in one season due to the work put in earlier in the year. While it may lead to comments like “dude, it’s the off season, you don’t need to go that hard” from training partners, long term planning allows for the most effective use of training in the off season.

The off-season is typically used to work on an athlete’s “base.”  This term, however, has been misused in the past leading to ineffective training.  Two major components of a workout are duration and intensity and the respective adaptations each brought.  The old school of thought still held by many proposes easy rides of long duration.  Adaptations do take place during this type of training and shouldn’t be denied.  However, the practicality and effectiveness of these workouts should be called in to question.  First, most recreational athletes do not have the luxury of a time commit allowing for 3 plus hours on the bike multiple days a week.  This is even more so in the winter months when weather and lack of daylight limit training times.  Secondly, research has shown that many of the adaptations that take place at lower intensities also take place at relatively higher intensities with a decreased duration.    In the end, athletes can begin to make fitness gains in 45 to 90 minute training session either outdoor or indoors.   It has to be remembered that that the body works on a stimulus-response system.  While workouts may or not include maximal efforts depending on the training developed between the coach and athlete, various fitness gains can be made.  And above all else, loses can be minimized with proper implementation of intensity.

The primary goals of an effective off-season are recovery and preparation.  Recovery from injuries as well as prevention can take place with little detriment to the upcoming race season.  By becoming organized and establishing realistic goals for the darker colder months, athletes can emerge at a higher fitness level and can succeed in achieving an ambitious peak.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cyclocross Course Design, Technical skills, Fitness

Groups of riders usually signal un-technical riding.
Photo Credit: Lyne Lamoureux
Following some recent races both at the national and local level, some have been asking, commenting, and wondering how Cyclocross (CX) course design plays into the outcome of the race.  This proves a very interesting topic and something that could be debated indefinitely.  But first let's talk about some things we do know regarding CX course design and conditions.

First, we know that there are virtually no statistics kept in cycling.  At least not nearly detailed, or accurate enough to warrant a color man in the commentary booth.  The next time you watch a major sport on TV, note how many statistics you are bombarded with, "this team is 3 of 8 on 3rd and long today."  Or, more vague, "this quarterback has a tendency to look to the left first, then throw right in the red zone."  Even, "this team is 19-1 when leading in the 4th quarter."  Cycling simply does not have those type of statistics available.  Instead they rely on commentators entertaining the spectators with stories or anecdotal evidence.  No one really knows what Sven Nys' win ratio is in mud, when he leads by 3sec with 1 lap to go. Expect to see more on this in later posts.

Besides the ambiance, the most notable difference between UCI CX courses and the local events most racers attend is course design.  As a whole, UCI courses tend to flow better, are faster and are much more technical at speed while local events tend to be much more compressed and constricted, slowing average speed in the belief that tight courses favor the less fit rider who can handle a bike better.  (Obviously there are reasons for the difference such as constrictions for venue selection between UCI and local events, but that's beyond the realm of this discussion.)  However, lap times for CX races tend to run 7-8 minutes each at the elite level and around 9-10 minutes for the non-elite categories.  This is important because it sets the stage for the conjecture: Tight, overly technical and ultimately slow speed course design, while meant to favor the more technically skilled rider, favors the racers who are more fit.

The theory with the course design is to mitigate the fitness component of race in favor of the technical skills.  The premise of the theory is that because some have better bike handling skills, but not as much fitness, the more turns the better.  And the tighter the turns, the better.  This allows the handlers to show off their skills and gain ground on the more fit, yet less proficient bike drivers. Unfortunately, a different result usually ensues.

Often times, a course designed as stated above will contain many tight turns that force speeds to drop dramatically and often during each lap.  Hairpin 180 degree turns are the best example. Is this technical? Absolutely, but not technical enough to put the favor in the hands of the superb bike handlers.  This is because once a rider has the fitness to reach the terminal velocity of the corner (speed at which physics limits absolute traction and speed of the corner) then the advantage dealt to the bike handlers is eliminated and is shifted back to the more fit, less technical rider.  Why?

Confusing, ain't it?
Because once that velocity is reached and the brakes are applied, everyone is RESTING! If each hairpin 180 takes 7 seconds to negotiate, then that's 7 seconds of total rest, which can seem like an amazing eternity to anyone who has done micro intervals or anaerobic capacity work (imagine getting 7 extra seconds to rest). The net effect is that the fit rider is more fresh, relatively speaking.  The more fresh rider is able to hit the gas, HARD out of every turn for the entire race if they are rested enough, relatively. The repeated, near maximal efforts will always wear more on the less fit riders and result in them eventually being dropped.

So how is the technical rider able to compete?

In order make a CX course that benefits technical ability, course must be set up in a way that allows those who have fantastic handling skills can stay at speed, while those without the skills, must pull the brakes.  But the terminal velocity of the turns must be high enough while the speed is allowed to stay high enough without expending energy while riding a particular section.  (The videos below are a great example of needing more skills to go faster, regardless of fitness)

However, there is one caveat to all this talk about bike handling... cyclo-cross will always be an endurance based sport.  This means that while fitness alone may not be a sufficient quality to succeed in CX, it will always be necessary.  Often times, superb bike handling only accounts for a handful of seconds per 7-8 minute lap and while they can make a difference they should be put in perspective.  An 8 minute lap is 480 seconds.  So, if superb handling allows up to 12 seconds per lap over another rider the net result is a ~2.5% gain which if applied to a 60 minute elite race is just under 90 seconds.  Not much.  You can practice technique for races, but you can not fake fitness.

Time indices 0:55-2:37 and 4:43-5:38, but it's a good video of Jingle CX in Iowa City, IA.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The problem with applying science to training.

John Hobbs, MEd
Senior Consultant

Many of our athletes have a history of marginally following haphazard training plans or blindly trusting current and old training fads, which had effectively prevented them from realizing most of their athletic potential.  As we have learned from our clients, equally detrimental is the blanket application of scientific literature to training.  Studies are frequently referenced in on-line articles, chat rooms, and sometimes discussed to some extent in group workouts. Discussion does empower the athlete that is more knowledgeable and allows them to effectively debunk obsolete methods and “back in my day” training regimens.  However, often missed are the intricacies of research that lead to inappropriate application of study findings.

In reality, scientific literature can be about as dry as warning labels that come pasted to equipment.  Most people don’t have the desire to stay current on the literature and really have no need to—that’s what the consultant is for.  But in the event that somebody has a topic of interest or sees a reference to a journal article, it is important to be able to have a correct interpretation of what is presented and understand the limits.  Below are just a few of the common caveats of studies that require attention before training methods are implemented or removed.

With the nature of exercise physiology, a plethora of research designs exist.  They range from molecular level comparisons of rat muscles to kangaroos on treadmills to average speed during a time trial.  The articles that most people will never see involve direct measures of performance in the given sport.  When looking at applying the information and questioning its relevance to your training, several issues should be addressed.

First, who are the researchers using as their guinea pigs?  Often, untrained individuals are used due to their availability.  Most athletes don’t want to risk their training to become part of a study that may be detrimental or use a placebo.  This may or may not have an effect on the data, depending on what is being analyzed.  In many cases, however, a stronger argument relating to performance can be made if trained individuals are used.  This is due to the fact that untrained individuals will usually show an improvement just by the nature of becoming trained.   On the flip side, if an intervention can’t produce an improvement in untrained individuals, it’s safe to question its efficacy in trained athletes until proven otherwise.

A library of literature exists showing “interval x,” “routine y” and “exercise z” showed improvements in performance.  But the context of the studies has to be questioned.  As already noted, getting competitive athletes to become part of a training study is difficult at best, let alone during the race season after many hours dedicated to intensity.  So a great time to herd up some road cyclists in to a lab is in the late fall or winter.  However, athletes have usually detrained a bit and the typical duration of a study is usually relatively short can skew data.  As a result, the training improvements may be magnified or just due to the fact that Joe Racer is doing hard intervals.  

With the periodization model currently accepted as the most effective training design, the implementation of a change in training based on literature can be difficult to place.  Will the athlete get the most benefit with early season work?  Would it be more productive when they are stronger later in the season?  Or, will it even be effective once intense structured training begins?

Study Design
With a limited number of trained volunteers and a short period to follow them, how do researchers design a study to ensure that interval x will make you faster?  The honest answer is that they don’t.  Numerous comparisons can be completed with just one intervention.  In studies looking at diet, questions arise regarding a placebo group, the amount of benefit from the change, if the subjects are just eating more, if the percent change in another part of the diet affects the results, changes in calories burned versus calories consumed and so on.  With limited resources, different studies have to be done to chip away at the different possibilities.  This is one reason why it seems that some research seems redundant—it’s analyzing a different aspect.  So when an improvement is shown to occur, it is important to look at the comparisons being made.

So, to illustrate the points, lets say we’re looking at body weight squats and a study that showed they increase time trial performance.  We’ll say two groups of cyclist are used with one group completing their normal training and another group does an additional set of squats twice a week for two months.  It’s hard to differentiate if the gains are due to the use of squats specifically or the fact that Joe Racer is training more and has periods of higher intensity.  Plus, with the study done in the off season, it can’t be determined if the benefits will be seen in six months at the peak event.  To further the problem, will the squats provide a benefit when replacing or supplementing high intensity training in a trained athlete during the meat of the training program?

One role of exercise physiology is to connect application in the real world to data in the lab.  The catch statement of “well, that works in the lab, but not the real world” is a cop out to not delve deeper in to how something may or may not affect athletes. The role of science in providing sound training strategies is invaluable.  It keeps us from adhering to silly things, such as using cigarettes to clear our lungs before each workout.  And while an article may seem to provide an avenue to revolutionize the way we see training and performance, the fact is that these discoveries are far and few; rather, each one is a piece of a larger project giving us direction.  

Asking about various training ideas is vital.  It keeps us on our toes and gives us new ideas.  And when an athlete brings ideas to us, especially backed up by a reliable literature source, it’s important that they understand why we may be apprehensive in immediately implementing them and why we could say “I don’t see the harm, why don’t we give it a shot?”

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nature Valley Grand Prix St. Paul Criterium, When Numbers Alone Can Lead You Astray

Sometimes, looking at numbers can give you a realistic idea of how hard an event is.  Using Intensity Factor number from Training Peaks helps us to understand and quantify the difficulty of the event.  Coupled with the Training Stress Score, and normalized power an experienced exercise physiologist and coach can realistically estimate how tough any particular ride or race was.

But what happens when the numbers just don't add up?  For each event, Source Endurance consultants make it a point to engage every athlete in some way to get a report/ debriefing of how it all went down.  This usually occurs during the scheduled consult.

A few weeks ago Shadd Smith competed in the Nature Valley Grand Prix (NVGP) Stage Race.  Following each stage Shadd would upload his data where it would be examined and scrutinized.  The numbers tell one story.  However, when coupled with the daily race summaries provided by Shadd, an entirely new layer of data comes to light along with some new realizations of the limits of human physiology.

In the picture below, you can see the non-smoothed race in its entirety.  The first thing that comes to mind is that it looks almost like there are attacks the entire race.  But wait, is that true? I've drawn two lines; one at Shadd's threshold and the other is at 600W.  This wattage seems to be a good measure of how many top-end efforts an elite athlete makes.  To put it in perspective, an amateur race with nine +600W efforts in 5 minutes can cause a irreversible split in the field. 

At the NVGP, Shadd produced around 15 of these efforts per every five minutes for over an hour.  All while the United Health Care Team (UHC) rode "tempo" on the front, meaning that not only was the field not splitting, Shadd was actually just sitting in the wheels, a testament to the difference between amateur and professional racing.

Towards the end of the file, you'll see where Shadd was finally unhitched, along with nearly every other rider in the field as UHC began the lead out.  This led him to ask the question, "if the normalized power from the race was significantly less than my threshold power, why did myself and so many guys get dropped?"  Indeed, even with those high power spikes, the normalized power was only 299W for the entire race.  Let's investigate..... 

Below you see a smoothed version of the same race.  Notice how the speed and power are very cyclical, indicative that not a lot of attacking is going on.  Rather, because of the UHC escort, the race was just fast, all the surges were mostly likely accelerations coming out of corners as well as the energy required to improve position.  You can see that toward the end of the race, the pace begins to edge upward.  With the accumulated fatigue from the day's efforts, this proved too much for many riders, amateur and professional.
His output numbers for the event are well within his ability level, by the numbers.  How would it be possible to gap off that many excellent riders?  To get a better view, we'll examine the non-smoothed, zoomed in view of a ~5min block of the stage.

Confirming the previous conjecture, it does appear that cyclical peaks and valleys are a product of the race course which required slowing for turns, then accelerating back to speed.  However, you'll notice the large bit of time where the is no power production, or very little. That little bit of rest, that coasting is a godsend in the short term.  The opportunity to recover just a bit makes the prospect of what is to come just a bit more bearable.

However, the coasting is also the root cause of why so many PRO and elite riders were sent home that evening with a time loss.  In order to coast for ~38% of the race and maintain a normalized power of 299W, there must be some hard efforts, and many of them as you'll note from the amount of time spent over 600W.

This brings me to the issue of recovery.  For every effort, there is a required recovery period.  As the intensity rises, recovery time increases.  However, at some point, or perhaps always, this recovery time appears to increase exponentially or at least in a non-linear fashion.
For example say at an intensity of 200W the recovery time is at a 1:1 ratio. 
300W, 1:1.5
325W, 1:2
350W, 1:4
375W, 1: 8 and so on....

This could explain how a race that appears very benign "by the numbers" was in fact one of the hardest races Shadd has ever completed.  However, without the race summary from him and the post race consult, any coach and many exercise physiologists would have a difficult time understanding this race and why the athlete, Shadd would find such a race so hard.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Source Endurance Kits available for pre order

 Download the order form HERE:2011 Summer Verge Sport Order Form

Orders are due by Tuesday July 5.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Does Fat Actively Restrict Improvement in Muscle Force Generation? The Body Weight-Muscle Mismatch

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS. Link to original article here:

Recently scientists at Penn State sewed tiny weighted vests and slipped them around the middles of healthy laboratory rats, hoping to discover how animals’ muscles respond to changes in body size. The vests increased the animals’ weight by as much as 36 percent. After five days, the scientists found that the rats’ muscles contained increased amounts of certain proteins involved in the generation of muscle force. The muscles were redesigning themselves to be stronger.

In a separate group of obese rats, however, no such changes were evident. The rats were heavy, generally exceeding the weight of the animals wearing vests, and they continued to pack on ounces during the experiment. But their muscles did not show the same increases in the proteins that improve muscle power. The obese animals were not getting stronger as they became heavier. They were in danger of becoming too fat to move.

How muscles recognize changes in body weight — and why sometimes they don’t — are questions that are likely to have relevance for people, and not just lab rats. Studies have found that “individuals who are extremely overweight often complain that moving is difficult,” said James H. Marden, a professor of biology at Penn State and co-author of the rat study. It’s possible that their muscular strength is not keeping pace with their growing body size.

But why there should be such a mismatch between body weight and muscle strength is unknown. So Dr. Marden and his colleagues began, a few years ago, to study how different creatures deal with changes in their body size and what that might suggest about the human body. They began their work with moths. Flying creatures obviously must deal accurately with body mass or risk plummeting from the sky.

As it turned out, moths are quite good at gauging what they weigh. The bigger the moth, the more its muscles showed activity from one specific gene, the troponin T gene, that expresses various proteins that help muscles to contract. In general, the more of these proteins that a muscle contains, the more forcefully it contracts.
Even when the scientists artificially increased the insects’ body weight, using the simple expedient of gluing lead shot to the moths’ abdomens, the insects’ muscles responded quickly and appropriately. Within days, the troponin T gene in the moths’ wing muscles was pumping out more of the proper proteins to make the muscles stronger. The lead-laden insects had no trouble staying aloft.

But the situation was quite different when the scientists started looking at animals that were fat. Moths don’t become obese, but certain strains of lab rodents do. “We wondered whether there might be a relationship between obesity and the action” of the troponin T gene in muscles, said Rudolf J. Schilder, a postdoctoral fellow at Penn State and lead author of the rat study.

There was. When they biopsied the leg muscles of rats bred to be fat, they found that the chubby animals’ troponin T gene seemed to malfunction. Their muscles contained some of the proteins needed to increase muscle power, but not all of them — and none in as much profusion as in lean rats, even those of a comparable body weight. “The fat rats’ muscles seemed to think that the animals were much smaller than they actually were,” Dr. Schilder said. Their muscles hadn’t come to terms with how fat the animals had become.

Dr. Schilder emphasized that he and his colleagues do not think that troponin T activity, although it is an important marker of muscle function, explains everything about how muscles respond to changes in body weight. The process almost certainly involves a host of other genes and physiological reactions, he said.

It also is not known what mechanisms cause the troponin T gene to malfunction in fat animals, although fat itself is an obvious suspect. “Fat is a very physiologically active tissue,” Dr. Schilder said. “It produces hormones and biochemical messages” that might well disrupt how the troponin T gene functions. Through continuing experiments at his lab, Dr. Schilder hopes to discern more about the role that fat plays in muscle genetics and how much body fat must accumulate before troponin T activity is affected.

But perhaps the most pressing unanswered question about body weight and muscles is what this research means for people. “It’s impossible to know at the moment,” Dr. Marden said, since human studies have not been conducted. But his group’s findings are “suggestive,” he said. “It seems likely” that there are changes in troponin T activity in obese people’s muscles and that, as a result, “it really is physiologically hard for them to move,” he said.

If so, he continued, “we may need to rethink” some exercise programs and suggestions for obese people. “Maybe we should promote activities that require less muscular strain,” he said, like a swim instead of a walk.

“No one is trying to rationalize” remaining heavy, he added, but his group’s work does indicate that misapprehensions about the extent of one’s weight problem may run deep. At the cellular level, muscles and genes may be unable to “understand,” he said, or accept how much a person weighs, a delusion with which many of us, in our minds, can sympathize.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Short term weight gain seen when traveling

Recently the question has been posed: Why do athletes tend to gain weight on travel days and is there anything that can be done to minimize it?  It usually seen on travel days and goes away over the next day or two after the travel is complete. This can pose a problem for performance as it can make the athlete feel “sluggish” and “stale” on the day of competition.  In that respect, we will give it some time on this blog as it is something to worth addressing.

Ultimately, the issue at hand is due to water retention. Unless the athlete truly makes an effort of it, there won’t be any weight gain due to fat.  Also, there is the increase of stress when traveling as the athletes’ normal life (diet and schedule) change. 

Some findings, and how they relate to athletes…

Dietary Sodium. 
It’s well documented that in the American diet, sodium consumption runs rampant.  Sodium has effect of holding water within the body as it stimulates the kidneys to re-uptake it.  This leads to “cankles” and the bloated feeling in athletes. 

Also, it can and does have the effect of elevating blood pressure.  Many athletes will run blood pressures on the low side of “normal.” Elevated blood pressure increases the afterload of the heart, meaning that more pressure must be generated to overcome systemic resistance, which means that stroke volume is decreased, which decreases performance. Many on the road eateries have menus overloaded with sodium which leads to water retention via sodium’s chemical properties which can hinder performance.

Glycogen storage:
The USOC started has funded many studies looking at different strategies as ways for prolonging exercise/ training capacity.  They confirmed that Glycogen storage is in a 1:4 ratio, glycogen: water and will lead to some weight gain in the form of water. 

With that knowledge and that of athletes and how fast athletes can burn and thus synthesize glycogen, it is reasonable that the athlete’s “normal” diet is very rich in carbohydrates (CHO), which are then converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver along with water, lots of water.  Some of the water retention isn’t so much retention as it is the athlete topping off the glycogen stores.  In short, the athlete is actually rested and ready to go.  In this instance the short term weight gain actually helps the athlete.

Treatment: advantages/ disadvantages

They’re quick and as easy as eating tic tacs.  But the repercussions can be widespread, problematic and possibly illegal (I’m not up to speed on the WADA list). 
Common drugs- I could list some common ones, but Wikipedia is better!
Foods-  Really?  Yes.  Watermelon, Green Tea, Tomatoes, Asparagus, Apple Cider Vinegar (stabilizes potassium), Artichokes, Cranberries, Parsley, Horseradish, Oats (silica).

Low sodium diet:
Sometimes it’s best to pack your own food and take it with you on long haul road trips so you don’t end up eating at Applebee’s or something equally as gross.  If you have to eat out, aim solely for the low sodium items, if you can.  Here’s a link to the restaurant nutritional info:
or the iphone app, just search “restaurant nutrition”

Compression Garments:
They promote circulation and re-circulation which prevents the blood from pooling and at least lets everything recirculate and return to the kidneys for reabsorption or secretion. They are very good for after events when athletes are dehydrated and orthostatically intolerant.

Flushing with water:
Also a good idea provided enough is consumed to make you urinate every hour-ish.  However, when driving all day, no one likes to stop that often.  And holding it that long on airplane is tortuous! Also, there’s the possibility of hyponutremia from drinking too much water.

Travel Schedule:
Perhaps the best way to deal with this is to get to the event site a day earlier, say 48 hours before the event is scheduled to start.  That gives athletes a chance to re-adjust and to “deflate.” Also, it provides the opportunity to do an actual ride the day before the race.  Many athletes tend to do better the 2nd day, and if the first day can be done before the event, it could help.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Analyzing the Tour of New Braunfelds Criterium Sprint

Every now and then we'll have an athlete produce a break through performance that truly is worth talking about.  Jed Rogers sent me this file a while back his finishing sprint immediately stood out, mostly because it was definitely better than I expected to see for February.  Jed has worked hard in the last few months to overcome a 2010 ending injury which required a good deal of off the bike work just to get him back onto two wheels.  Since then, the focus has been on getting him able to reach the finish line.  Obviously, the best sprint in the world makes no difference if the rider can not get to the finish line.  Perhaps this makes the final two minutes of Jed's race even more intriguing because his effort proved the best of two worlds: a superb sprint with lots of power but also a lack of sprinter "sharpness" as shown by some miscalculations which ultimately derailed an opportunity for a February win.

Let's start by looking at the final two minutes of the race:

Final two minutes. Yellow: power (dotted lines every 250W), Blue: Speed (dotted lines at 30 and 35mph).
The first thing to notice is the steep ramp of the power output. This is fairly indicative of a field sprint.  You can see how the power fluctuates erratically as Jed battles and maneuvers to maintain his position.  But where things get interesting is the last 560 meters. 

The numbers of the last 2 minutes are fairly impressive in and of themselves but they are even more so when you examine them more closely in the context of the sprint.  For all you numbers folks: 
Work complete: 57kJ
Average Power: 482W
Average Speed: 31.2mph.

And the numbers of the last 35 seconds....

Final 35 seconds: 
Work Completed: 31kJ
Power (min, max, avg): 0, 1384, 910 W
Speed (min, max, avg): 30.8, 37.6, 34.8 mph.

Final 35sec: Yellow: power (dotted lines every 250W), Blue: Speed (dotted lines at 30 and 35mph).
In the last few seconds of the race, Jed describes the sprint from his vantage point:

"I found myself at 550m or so and was way too far back so I had to make a move to get into position."  This is the initial acceleration from 30-34 mph that does not show here.  From there Jed was looking for a place in line to punch in, grab a quick 'rest' and sprint.  However, right as he was beginning to get settled a fateful series of events ended his chances of victory.

"Just as the winner was jumping, I had to stop pedaling, juice my brakes, and maneuver around in search of daylight to sprint."  This can be seen as the power curve nose-dives, along with a 4mph decrease in speed (12%).  But more importantly was that all of his relative forward momentum was gone and all the energy invested thus far to make that move happened had to be reinvested in order to hold even.  And hold even he did. 

"In the end, it was the top 3 of us, all frozen in place but all sprinting as hard as we could while not gaining on each other." Jed comes back with an incredible ~1400W effort after 3 previous 1000W efforts in the last 20 seconds.  This effort not only gets him up to speed fast but re-accelerates him beyond his 34.8mph to 37.6mph. That in and of itself is an amazing feat and not something that most bike racers are even capable of producing!

Jed finished 3rd in this race.  However, the things he learned will pay dividends forever.  Also, the sprint data provides some superb insight to what a sprinter of his caliber is capable of.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Keeping the Early Season Productive

Faced with abnormally high snow falls, shorter days, or wicked cold temps, keeping motivation to train is a mixture of art, motivation, and the ability to fool yourself in to thinking that you’re having fun.   So, how is this facilitated by the coach?  A bulk of this comes down to the athlete and their goals.  Individuals who peak for cross season are going to have different goals and structure than an individual who is looking to be flying in March and April.  Athletes with goals later in the year have the luxury of incorporating more cross training into their schedule.  Keeping in mind the training principal of specificity, activities that benefit cycling can be incorporated and still allow a change of pace.  Aerobic exercises such as cross country skiing are a great supplement to the schedule and allow athletes to still get to train outdoors.  Depending on the schedule we can start weaning from cross training to more bike oriented time in the spring.  Or, if there’s enough snow and the athlete wants another rig hanging in the garage, the snow bike is also an option.  This is similar to a mountain bike, but modified with extremely fat tires.  They provide great training opportunities if you can find an open area to ride.  Public places that allow cross country skiing in large open areas, such as local golf courses or a farm that turns in to a winter Nordic center, can offer a trail system for you to follow.  
But what if you don’t live in areas with snow or only want to ride?  The health club can have the answer. While some athletes may laugh at the thought of spin classes, they can be a great training tool. They don’t provide a great deal of overload and add a little “slop” to the periodization model since they are all over the place with intensity.  But, they prevent fitness loss due to detraining, and can provide stimulation for some positive physiological changes.  Plus, based on each athlete’s motivation and schedule, we have to consider what is the lesser of two evils —having greater control over the training and adding an increased risk to mental fatigue and burnout from strict trainer time and rides in bad weather, or sacrifice some of the workout quality a couple days of the week with possible increased focus on goal workouts.

Then, there are those who really need true saddle time on their own bike.  This could be due to daily schedules that are more conducive to solo training, personal preference, or the fact that the athlete’s goals for the season have key workouts during these winter and spring months. Often these individuals are relegated to “pretend riding” in the basement or garage.  The key to these training sessions is providing enough stimulation to avoid boredom.  Some individuals may not have a problem with this as a set of headphones and a power meter are something they enjoy.  The act of putting up the assigned wattage and the drive to see certain numbers provides enough stimulation.  Videos and other tricks are always good fallbacks.  But as a coach, the overall layout of the workout can have an effect.  If a peak is near, the athlete is doing hard and short intervals as part of a typical build.  These efforts are great for the trainer since it is a very controlled environment compared to the road, and the frequent changes in intensity provide variety.  With the short nature of intense workouts, athletes who aren’t close to a peak may also get these intervals.  But wait, doesn’t that go against periodization?  Yes, it does.  Often these intervals are not implemented during certain phases of an athlete’s build.  But, with the benefit of initial rapid progress, extra recovery needed between workouts, and a decrease in overall volume during these training phases, a period of high intensity can help break up the trainer suffer-fests.

Even with the all the benefits a hard VO2 type block can provide on the trainer, in many cases it’s not ideal. Care must be taken to ensure that the intense workouts are challenging and within the realm of reason.  In the winter athletes usually can’t put up the same numbers compared to when the workouts were assigned in-season.  Often these early spring months require higher volumes at a lower intensity.  So, the goal is to find other ways to add variety.  As a result, lower intensity intervals will cycle through work and rest periods much more rapidly than during the summer months.  Rather than 10 minute intervals with 3 minutes rest, trainer sessions may have 3 or 4 minute efforts with 1 minute rest.  Or over/under sets are also prescribed.  They provide short periods at varying intensities.  With a brief decrease in intensity, large amounts of work  

In the end, each workout needs to have a particular goal. Often athletes peaking in the spring and early summer are in critical stages of their build where workouts that are not stressing a particular system are essentially a waste of time.  For others, however, the focus of a period may be keeping most of the fitness and making it to the warmer months.  Short term and long term goals as well the variety of resources can make for a wide variety of training programs.
- John Hobbs, Senior Consultant