Tag Archives: Strava

Bridesmaid but never a bride

Yep, I went out yesterday and tried to take back the Woodland Way Sprint Climb segment. As has been the case often recently, I came up just a tad bit short. It was great to get a personal record, but I missed the KOM by 1 measly second.

I’ll come back to that effort in another post. Today I’m going back in time a bit to another time when I was a bridesmaid. Or, I guess I should say a groomsman…

Yes, this time I came up short behind Christopher Uberti. He has raced for several continental pro and elite cycling teams. You may have seen him a few years in the SmartStop colors. Most recently you may have seen him doing yeoman’s work in the Athens Twilight criterium race.

Chris is one of those guys on Strava with a little PRO badge by his name.  You’ll see a few of these on the Strava leaderboards around Greenville, SC. I think it might be time for Mr. Hematocrit to pay this place a visit!

There are a number of professional riders that live in the area. However, Greenville for many years was the location for the USA Cycling Professional Road Racing Championships. Some of the times up and over Paris Mountain still refer back to Strava data uploaded from those races.

This segment isn’t one of those. It is somewhat unique in that it is one of the few segments I created myself. It is long enough, safe enough, and challenging enough to be a segment. It doesn’t hurt that it is relatively close to my home.

I enjoyed the KOM for a bit back in 2013 before Mr. Uberti showed up one day and crushed my time by about 16 seconds. It was just about this time I started seeing his times popping up on other Strava segments I enjoyed. This wasn’t the last one I would see fall to him.

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 8.55.26 AMHere is the thing. I make getting this KOM a goal in my old man cycling world. Chris picks it up just out doing what he does. If you look at the ride where he claimed the top spot you will see he named it, “Tooling around.” On this ride he claimed three KOMs and a number of PRs.

I don’t be grudge these guys their KOMs. Frankly, I am glad there are some times posted by pros. It gives me a chance to see the speeds and efforts it takes to ride at that level.

However, I freely admit that when it comes to pro times on Strava, I feel no shame in cherry picking. I figure it is only fair to level the playing field and give us amateurs a chance on the leaderboard. Sometimes you do what you can to avoid having to catch another bouquet.

Brainy brawn beats brawn

When publishing my last Strava Segment Series video, I was pretty happy with myself. I told the story of losing my KOM on a segment in Cleveland Park and then tying for it the following day. At that point, I didn’t see how anyone could go much below the 40 second time set by Nathan Race and myself. Well, the next day that record fell.

Ron Babington is there on the left.

Ron (left) helping his friend Matt attempt Everesting .

Ron Babington is a certified stud. You have to be when you do the Tour Divide on a single speed! I’ve also come across him helping a friend attempt to climb Mt. Everest on a bicycle. Okay, so the attempt was to climb the equivalent of the height of that peak in the Himalayas… but still, that’s a lot of suffering.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he would give me a run for my money on the Woodland Way Sprint Climb segment. However, I didn’t expect it to lose it by 5 seconds! Yep, Ron thrashed us by covering the .2 mile distance in 35 seconds.

I just had to take a look at his attempt and try to figure out how he pulled it off. This can be done by pulling up Strava and utilizing the Strava Effort Comparison feature that you find on each segment leaderboard page. It was easy to see that by the time we crested the initial kick about halfway through Ron had a 3 second gain on me. At that point, things kind of leveled off until the very end when it shows Ron picking up another second.

Click image to access Strava page.

Click image to access Strava page.

Well, he definitely schooled me on that one. That lead me to take a closer look at his effort. I could see that he averaged 784 watts. On my attempt with 40 seconds I averaged 901 watts. It was going to be really hard to overcome that. The only way I would be able to beat Ron would be to 1) become a monster able to average 1200 watts plus for 35 seconds, or 2) find out how I could go faster without using as many watts.

Then I noticed something. I entered the segment at around 24 mph. Ron hit the start at over 35 mph. While it would not explain the entire 4 seconds, it certainly helps explain that initial jump of 3 seconds and some of the lower average wattage. Momentum is a wonderful thing!

That raised another question. How did he do it? How did he get up to 35 mph in that short run up from the stop sign to the segment start point? You would have to ramp up your wattage pretty high to hit that and then you would be going right into the climb. You would think that would have led him to burn out more toward the end.

Then an idea hit me and I confirmed it by going back to trace Ron’s route on Strava. What he did was to come off Washington Street which would have given him more distance to build up speed. Plus, it is a natural ramp that would help him get up to speed without having to put out as much power. He was using gravity to help him gain momentum.

Now, all that does not explain the burst of power toward the end of his attempt. Gravity would definitely be working against him at that point and any momentum gained by his rolling start would have been scrubbed off yards before. That can only be chalked up to a hard man giving it a go when his legs are rocks and his lungs looking for that next gulp of oxygen!

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Bottom line is that Ron bested me with his brain and his brawn. The fastest person isn’t always the strongest, but when you combine strength with synapses… that is a hard man to best. So, kudos to you, Ron.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to go out there and give it a go. I figured Ron learned a little about how to attack the climb from my video. I can at least attempt to return the favor by learning from his Strava profile!

Strava gives us a chance to better ourselves and compete against our friends. That’s what makes it fun! That, and Ron’s cool facial hair.

Strava Segment: Woodland Way Sprint Climb

I could have headed over to Donaldson Center for the Tuesday Night World Championships or stayed home for the throw down on Watopia. Instead, I made my way to Cleveland Park to make an attempt at earning back my KOM on the Woodland Way Sprint Climb segment.

My secondary objective was to get some video of the attempt in order to create another installment of my YouTube Strava Segments series. The cameras were prepped and the lighting was great. So I had no doubt I’d get some some good video. Whether I would get the KOM was not so certain.

Woodland Way Sprint Climb is .2 miles long with a 3% average grade. That average is a bit deceitful when it comes to understanding how much that segment can hurt. If you divide the climb into two sections you find the first portion averages more like 6%. The second section even has some negative grade. This combination actually adds to the challenge.

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I rolled into the park feeling kind of fatigued. The night before I climbed on the trainer to help get in some miles for the $5000 fundraising campaign on Watopia. As I was spinning, I felt that my legs were very flat. I made an attempt on the Watopia climb and it was as if my legs were telling me to “Shut up, Jonathan.”

After several laps of the abbreviated park route due to bridge construction, I decided it didn’t matter how my legs felt. I was going to have to give it an attempt at some point. It was now or I might as well go home.

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“Pain is good. Pain means you are going fast.” This is what I told myself. “Your legs might feel tired, but you’ve got power. This is yours.” I picked up the pace and my confidence lifted with my cadence.

I hit the base of the climb in 53×11. The Felt surged forward and I could feel the power transferring to the rubber on the road. As I fought against the grade, there were times when the bicycle seemed to want to buck to the right or left. I worked to keep it going as straight as possible to avoid any waste of movement.

I had no idea what power I was putting out. I just went hard. With the top in sight the effort began to catch up with me. I did feel that fatigue, but what I felt beneath it was power. The training was making itself known. My legs were riding through it.

Then I crested the major part of the climb and now I had to deal with something else. While earlier I was fighting getting bogged down, now I was fighting to get power and speed from a more rapidly turning crank. The problem was it still wasn’t turning fast enough.

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The slow twitch muscle that helped me on the climb was now working against me. I couldn’t get my cadence up enough to take advantage of the negative to shallow grade. My wattage dropped and my speed increased, but not by as much as it could have. In the words of Jeremy Clarkson, “More powaaarrrr!”

As I crossed the line I was done. It wasn’t that I was gasping for air or felt nausea. It was that my legs felt like two sticks of wood. With the effort done, so were they. Had I been in a race, I would have been dropped right there.

It was with some surprise I arrived home to find I had indeed earned back my crown. However, it wasn’t an out-and-out victory. I had tied Nathan Race’s KOM of 40 seconds.

I’ll take it! A PR and sharing the KOM isn’t so bad. Yes, I do believe it can be done faster. However, I’m not sure I could get the speed I would need to make the jump to 39 seconds. Frankly, I think this one will stand for a bit.

That is just fine with me! My legs aren’t ready to go out there to defend it.

The shorter they are the harder they fall

Got another alert from Strava last night. Seems I just lost another KOM. This one has me concerned. I’m not sure I’ll be getting this one back.

The segment is the Woodland Way Sprint Climb… or is it the Woodland Way Burst? This is an example of one of the annoying things about Strava. These two segments are basically the same thing with the later being a bit shorter than the former. There is also a Woodland Sprint Interval which is shorter still. I removed my 7 second KOM from that leaderboard because I realize there was absolutely no way I went up that segment at 56 mph!

That leads us to a second thing you have to keep in mind when you are looking at the leaderboards with your mouth dropped open as you consider some of the times posted. In some cases you may even think that someone rode through the segment in their car. However, that isn’t always the case, and the shorter the segment the more likely you’ll see these wildly varying times.

The point is, it takes time and distance to make up a segment. Time is measured by the distance. Gimpy GPS data can lead to suspect time. My 7 second climb up the first part of Woodland Way is a perfect example. The more real estate Strava has to work with, the more accurate the time will be. Throw is the fact that Woodland Way is heavily covered in foliage and Woodland Sprint Interval can be a Strava tracking nightmare.

I had this confirmed from Strava when I once created a segment called Wellington Wall. I was frustrated because people were actually getting the KOM (which is a tough one to claim!) by simply riding down a perpendicular street. I went to Strava to see if I could find out what was going on and they let me know that the segment was too short. Also, it was in a wooded area that at times led to errant GPS readings.

So, I went back and increased the length of the segment. It is still a tough one with an average 17% grade! However, there are no longer any false-positive KOMs.

For this reason, I’m putting my focus on the Woodland Way Sprint Climb. While the Woodland Sprint Interval segment was the first created of the three, it can’t be trusted to be an accurate leaderboard. Woodland Burst is longer than the Interval, but I figure if you get the Woodland Way Sprint Climb, you are probably going to land the Burst anyway.

I am going to give it a try, but I’m not holding out much hope on this one. I know how hard I’ve gone up this segment. That one second looms large!

That is the other thing about short segments. The shorter the distance the less you have to work with to gain speed. The amount of speed you need to shave off a second grows each time a rider chops it down. At some point, you reach the lowest time humanly possible.

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When I took the KOM back in 2012, I crossed the segment in 41 seconds at 25.9 mph. I had to put out 710 watts to make it happen. Yesterday, Nathan Race knocked out a 40 second time at 26.6 mph. Strava shows he averaged 861 watts for the climb with a max of 1404 watts!

It doesn’t matter if Nathan did it in 40.9 seconds and I do it in 40.1 seconds. It still shows up as 40 seconds on Strava. Best case scenario there is that I manage a tie.

To get down in the 39 second range will require me to average over 27.5 mph. That will require quite an increase in power output! The closest segment I’ve done recently to this is the Walker Wimps. It is the same distance, but most of the climb is at the end instead of the start — kind of the opposite of my target segment. Also the average grade is 7% while Woodland Way Sprint Climb is 3%.

The question becomes… “Can I put out around 900 watts for 39 seconds?” My lungs and legs are screaming at me just thinking about it! However, I’m thinking that is what it is going to take if I’m to reclaim the crown.

Here is my one hope. You see, I’ve never actually set out to claim this segment. I landed the KOM back when I was attempting to get the KOM for the Cleveland Loop. That means I was not going all out up the climb because I was having to conserve a bit for the best time over a 2 mile effort. I landed the Cleveland Loop KOM that day with a time of 6:15 and then reclaimed it at 6:05, but I’m pretty certain I’ve lost it for good to Christopher Uberti (a continental professional who races for Smart Stop) who owns the KOM at 5:02.

Well, stay tuned… I’ll go for it and hopefully won’t die trying!

UPDATE: So what happened when an attempt was made to take back the KOM?

Are you willing to do what it takes?

The title of my Strava activity for Tuesday’s World Championships was, “I don’t want to talk about it.” I’m not getting ready to go back on that by discussing it here. However, its time to use the blog as a catharsis to get rid of some bad mojo. So, bear with me!

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Here is the deal. I’m riding pretty well for early in this year. I’m seeing my functional threshold power increase and I’m sure I’m ready to take it to some long charity rides. However, I have an Achilles heel.

When it comes to racing (whether on the real road TNWC or Zwift’s virtual one), my FTP isn’t helping me much. Why? Well, you see, in racing no one just gets in a rhythm and rides that way to the end. Racing really is all about surges.

So, here I am trying to stay protected from the wind, but still stay up front in a race. The field begins to thin into a long line as the pace picks up. A break of three goes off the front. I wait. One by one the riders ahead of me move off like we are on a rotating pace line. Now I am on the front.

Suddenly, there is an attack of one rider, then two, and a third joins in an attempt to bridge over to the three already up the road. I have a choice to make. Do I rotate off the front and let the field pull me up to the forming break, or do I take matters into my own hands and follow?

For the sake of illustration, lets say I decide to jump on the wheel of the third rider and allow those attackers to help bring me up to the riders ahead. Well, two things are going to happen… 1) we are going to make it up to the break and then another scenario presents itself, or 2) as I grab the wheel going past me the field recognizes the threat and accelerates to neutralize the attack.

Either way, none of this takes place at a constant power output. Now, suppose I make it up to the break, but it becomes disorganized. After being away for a few minutes, the field behind gets organized to bring us back, or a new batch of riders attacks from the field to bridge up to us.

I’ve put out an effort to get up in the break. Just as I’m starting to get my heart rate under control, I’m faced with a new threat and a new need to ratchet up the power. This happens multiple times within the race.

Even if you make the decision to sit in the field (which I find it very hard to do), you can’t totally escape these surges. Often the field is like a rubber band. A movement starts at the front and everyone surges to release the tension being created as the front stretches away from the back. Then the front slows as the threat is neutralized or allowed to break away. The rear then collapses into the center. Only to have this happen again and again until a result is determined.

So, how do you prepare for this? Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen by just going out and riding your bike for hours and hours on end. It doesn’t happen by going out and doing 20 minute time trials at your functional threshold power.

PowerInterval Chart

90 min. 2 x [3 x 3 min. @ PI (3 min. RBI)(5 min RBS)] with chain falling off

How do you prepare? Intervals. You go out and do short bursts of power for one to five minutes. You rest for a minute or two and then engage in the next burst of pain. You do this until you are sick of them.

That is my problem. I’m loving riding my bicycle right now. I’m feeling strong. I could go out and do a time trial and possibly get a personal best. However, put me in a criterium, or even a road race, and I am toast.

However, I have not done a single interval training session. The result is that early in a race I can ride like I’m going to rule the field, but when the surges begin and I have to react to one or two attacks… I get ruled by the field!

Yes, a little bit of patience and correct reading of the tactics around me would definitely allow me to last longer, but I would only end up being field fodder when it really mattered. Yes, I need those things, but ultimately I’m going to have to face the training demons — intervals.

But here is the question… Do I care? Do I care enough about finishing well in what amounts to be a glorified shop ride that I am willing to put myself through that discomfort? Why can’t I just gain that ability by participating? Why can’t I just ride laps on Watopia going for jersey’s every now and again?

Oh, you’re still reading? I told you that this was a catharsis for me. This blog is more me talking to myself than to you. However, if you are new to cycling — especially competitive amateur cycling — I hope you will understand the truth of my words.

Intervals aren’t sexy. They are only fun for the cross fit riders of bicycles. However, if you want to be competitive and not just be field fodder, you are going to have to do intervals.

The question remains, “Are you willing to do what it takes?”

Well, that didn’t take long

I was in a meeting at mid afternoon when the Beautiful Redhead texted me to invite me to a dinner with the cast of a play she is acting in this summer. Their plan was to have a quick dinner and then do a table reading. My plan was to join her for the food and then head out on the Felt. I had some work to do.

The menu consisted of hamburgers and hotdogs with fixings, potato salad, chips, and strawberries. I downed the grilled burger and about a third of a hotdog along with potato salad and chips. I topped it off with three strawberries. After thanking the host and kissing my wife goodbye, I headed back home to prep for my ride.

I rolled off shortly after 6PM. My plan was to make my way out to the scene of a thief. As you may recall from yesterday’s blog, John James had called me out in the street at noon for a shootout over a Strava segment. He had stolen the Walker Wimps segment from me by one second.

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Came upon Towmater while riding my route.

First I had to get my brain to sort out how best to get to the scene of the crime. I typically come upon this segment while riding with the Sunshine Cycle Shop Saturday morning ride. I don’t even need to think about how to wind my way through the Hour of Power route. However, when I tried to navigate my way there via a more direct route, it took a little bit for me to get it clear in my head.

That done I found myself on Locust Hill Road nearing the area of the segment. It was then I regretted my dinner. You see, I sometimes have a bad problem with acid reflux. Char grilled meat is something I love, but something that doesn’t return the charity!

I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll just say that I had to pull over to the side of the road and relieve some of the acid (what is it, bile?) from my stomach. Actually, I didn’t have a choice. My stomach made me pull over!

Anyway, with that done, I was starting to feel much better. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to carry out my plan, but as I neared Walker Road, I was feeling the best I had since starting the ride. I decided to give it a go.

Paris Mountain in the distance. Home is on the other side.

Paris Mountain in the distance. Home is on the other side.

My plan was to go as hard as I could in my 53×11. I could then evaluate that performance and return another time to go for winning back my KOM. I was guessing I would need to go up a bit on my cassette to get my best time. After making the adjustments, I could return with my GoPro and use the attempt as one of my Strava Segment videos. It’s always good to get the KOM when you’re recording it.

The battlefield. The segment starts at the bridge and ends around the turn at the top of the hill.

The battlefield. The segment starts at the bridge and ends after the turn at the top of the hill.

I rolled down and hit the flat portion over the bridge. So far so good. I felt strong coming into the first part of the grade. I had no idea how much wattage I was putting out. That would be discovered later. It wasn’t until about two thirds up the climb that I started to feel bogged down in my gearing.

In my mind I thought, “Well, here is where I’ll lose it. I’m not keeping my momentum very well.” Still, I kept trying to grind to the finish and then through the finish. Immediately, I knew if I was going to go any faster, it was going to be done through technique and not effort! I had given it a pretty good go.

From there, I took it easy back toward home. My mind was wondering what the results of the effort might be. It then turned to the beauty around me. The final portion of the ride was in the cool of the evening with the sun beginning to set.

Coming over Piney Mountain Road toward home.

Coming over Piney Mountain Road toward home.

Coming over Piney Mountain Road, I stopped at Pleasantburg and looked toward the west. Right where the sun was beginning to slip behind the hill was the knoll where George Hincapie’s house is located. I wondered what his view might be of the sun setting over Paris Mountain casting its shadows toward Greenville’s skyline.

About that time I heard the sound of a well maintained bicycle coming up behind me. It was Matt Tebbetts. He had just come over the mountain and was delayed because he had to stop to help a motorcyclist who had wiped out going too fast down the east side. It made me thankful I had made it this far safely.

We rolled off talking and I mentioned I was sorry I couldn’t stay with him when we formed a break during the Tuesday night training race. “Oh, not a problem,” he said. “I’m just glad you’re back.”

At home, I loaded the data up to Strava from my Garmin. This happens automatically as soon as my Garmin connects to my wireless network. I then log in to the Strava app on my phone to change the name and adjust any details about the activity. Before I could even do that, I got a notice I had received a Kudo for the ride. When I did log in I found a crown graphic.

Click to see the full leader board.

Click to see the full leaderboard.

Turns out on my test run, I had won back my KOM by one second. It was kind of fun to toss it back at John. I imagine it won’t be long before he’ll be gunning for it. It will be fun trying to defend it. Yeah, I guess I am “back.” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I like the way it feels.

The Zwift Effect

My iPhone beeped with a notification. I glanced at the screen to find that Strava was alerting me that one of my KOM’s had been taken by John James. Sure enough I found that John had taken Walker Wimps – one of the KOM’s along the Sunshine Cycle Shop Saturday morning shop ride.

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The image above is a screen shot of the Strava leaderboard as of May 3, 2015. As you can see, John took the segment by one second. Since he weighs a “few” pounds less than me, you can see he was able to accomplish this at 720 watts. It is going to be a challenge to take it back!

Being the gracious (but competitive) person that I am, I commented on John’s Strava entry for this activity. “Of course, this means war!” John and I share a number of close KOM times – even sharing the top spot on a couple of them. However, especially recently, he has been getting the upper hand.

Actually, this post isn’t about our Strava battles. It is about his reply to me, “That is what Strava is all about. Maybe this will get you off that island.” Yes, Zwift had made its way into the conversation without me bringing it up. Frankly it didn’t surprise me.

So, what is Zwift? Check out this video from the Low Cadence YouTube channel.

I typed my reply, “I knew as soon as the app notified me of your comment that it would be something like that! Hey, I rode out to your neighborhood yesterday. That has to count for something.” I was finding myself defending my relationship with my trainer — or more specifically a virtual online world.

I could probably go into some type of philosophical and psychological essay seeking to explain the effect that this interactive simulation has on the cyclist’s internal drive and interpersonal relationships, but that isn’t where my mind first went. My first thought was, “Well, have I really spent less time on the road than I have in the past?”

I defended my Zwift addiction making the claim to myself that it had not taken away from my time on the road, but had only added to it. There was only one way to find out. The activity records from Strava would not lie. So, I went back to see how 2015 compared to 2014.

First, let’s take a look at 2014. From January through April of that year, I rode on the trainer 38 times. I ventured out of the basement and onto the roads 20 times. In January, I didn’t ride outside. In April, I spent the vast majority of my rides outside (12 out of 15). March was evenly split and February had 10 trainer rides to 1 road ride.

So, how does that compare to this year? Over those same months, I rode the trainer 71 times. I put rubber to asphalt 11 times. January (pre-Zwift) I actually rode outside in 2015 more times than I did in 2014. However, April was basically turned around backward with 21 of 25 activities taking place on Jarvis Island and Watopia.

Now, I have to ask you… does that need defending? From January through April of 2014, I was on my bicycle a total of 58 times. In 2015 that grew to 82 times. In 2015, I spent 96 hours riding my bicycle. During that same period in 2014, I amassed 77 hours.

I find people’s reactions to these numbers to be interesting. If you were to say that you did this on a trainer, they would say, “Oh, you are a hard man. I couldn’t discipline myself to ride the trainer that much!” However, if you lead with the fact that you have discovered this new “computer game” that makes it fun to ride the trainer, suddenly the trainer becomes a gimmick.

Well, I’m getting older and I find I’m less and less concerned about what people think of my training methods or my sock height. Bottom line is this… using Zwift has pushed my motivation button. It has gotten me back on the bicycle in a way I have not been since I before I broke my neck in 2010.

As my schedule (centered around a university setting) moves into the summer break period, I’m certain the number of rides on the road will far outpace those on the trainer. However, I know that should the summer showers come or work hours steal away the daylight hours, I still have a place in the Solomon Islands waiting for me. All I need to do is go to my basement.

The end result is that those times when I am on the road I will be stronger than I have been in several years. I will be able to maintain that fitness in a way I have not before. Zwift does not take away from my time on the road. It will simply enhance it.

Hear that, John James? I’m coming for you! Walker Wimps will be mine!

Update: Want to know what happened? Read about the ongoing battle here.

Well, that might explain it

I was feeling pretty down after my training race on Friday. Tuesday evening’s training race didn’t end with me finishing, but I hadn’t planned on making it to the end. While I made it to the end of Friday’s race, it wasn’t the performance that I wanted. Perhaps I shouldn’t feel so bad about it when I look at the data.

It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that I even felt getting on the bicycle. My legs had felt pretty heavy all morning, but by mid afternoon I was feeling the itch. So, I decided to brush off the SE Bikes Draft single speed and ride to Main Street, Greenville for a cup of coffee.

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As usual, I was glad I made my choice to ride as soon as I started up my street to merge onto the bike lane that would take me to Cleveland Park and then on to Greenville’s Falls Park and downtown. I’d sit out on Main Street with a coffee and people watch for a bit. Then I’d ride the 3 miles back to my home.

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 3.38.59 PMOh, boy! As I neared Falls Park along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, I started seeing crowds of people. Then when I reached Falls Park I discovered the above scene. You can see the stone bridge there to the left of the photograph. It is covered with people… and that was the path I wanted to follow to my coffee stop. I love the beautiful park, but today it was time for a change of plans!

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 3.42.42 PMSo, I headed rode around the Main Street area to pick up the Swamp Rabbit Trail on the other side of the downtown area. While there were still a number of cyclists, families out for walks, and dogs pulling their owners along; I found the ride along the shaded trail to be refreshing.

As I pulled into Travelers Rest, I stopped at a street to wait for traffic to clear. Someone pulled up beside me on a bicycle. I looked over and discovered my old teammate Randy McCreight. Even today, I remember the time so many years ago when I first began to ride on the road. I was doing laps in Cleveland Park and I saw this guy killing in on the route. While I figured he was way above my level, he stopped to take the time to talk with me and encourage me. That was Randy. Randy hasn’t changed.

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Turns out Randy was heading to Travelers Rest for the same reason I was. Coffee. So, we decided to ride on together to Tandem. We sat talking over our cups. The conversation turned to Zwift and then Randy’s non-profit Village Wrench. It was good to catch up, but the afternoon had passed and it was time to head home.

Randy headed back to Greenville on the SRT. I decided to head home on the roads. I needed to get home more quickly and I figured I would make better time riding with the cars than trying to dodge pedestrians on the trail!

It was at this time I felt the bite again. On the rolling terrain, I found myself getting a bit of a workout with the track gearing. Only once do I recall instinctively reaching for my SRAM shifters just to find there was no gear to shift! It did remind me of the fatigue I was feeling.

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This chart shows my workouts over the last 365 days. It is May 3 and I am already at the fitness level that I reached on July 4 in 2014. This is the fastest I’ve reached that level in the three years I’ve been tracking this data in Strava.

Bottom line is I just think I am getting tired. Just Friday, that Fatigue number was 88. While I think there were some technical issues why I had some struggles in the Friday Training Race, I realize that another contributor is my need for some rest.

Training is not just not fulfilling workouts. Training is also about resting. Sometimes the resting is the hardest part of the process! Well, I think next week’s work schedule just might help me with the rest objective. I think it is time for an easy week.

We’ll see what happens then!

 

 

I am not a flier and here is my passport

There is a brouhaha brewing over on Jarvis Island. Seems like in nearly every forum I go to catch up on the happenings with Zwift, I run into this discussion. It is something I’ve noticed, but just didn’t let it get in the way of my experience. The topic is the presence of “fliers”.

A flier is someone who flies around the virtual island at speeds at or above Tour de France winning levels. This can be frustrating for other users because 1) it is hard to ride along with someone that can go that fast, and 2) it takes a good deal of the fun going for the jersey competitions when someone is posting times well above what you can. So, people are looking for ways to minimize the impact of, or better yet eliminate, the fliers.

Check out this related post: EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors.

Fliers come in two varieties.

Ignorant. Now, I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. Point is they are just ignorant to the way the system works. Most of these folks are using non-power based trainer or rollers. They probably do not have the right pressure in their tires or have the resistance set improperly on their trainers. This causes an inaccurate reading by the Zwift engine that calculates their power. They are amped to see themselves beating everyone on the island ignorant to the fact that it is all a virtual lie.

Cheater. I’m not sure how many of these folks are out there. My guess is the vast majority of the fliers fall in the ignorant category. However, there could be those who enter incorrect data in order to gain an advantage. For instance, Zwift uses your weight to help determine your power to weight ratio. Basically, the heavier you are, the more power you must produce to go a particular speed. A lighter person is able to reach that same speed with less power.

Things get interesting because a heavier rider can typically produce more power (assuming the same fitness level between the heavier and lighter rider).  So, if the heavier rider lies and puts the weight of the lighter rider as his own, his power to weight ratio goes into pro levels. This becomes especially noticeable on climbs.

Well, it got me to thinking. What is my power to weight ratio? I also had to consider time. You see a rider can sometimes produce very high power to weight ratios, but there is a limit to amount of time he can hold it. So, producing 1000 watts of power is very doable for a number of seconds, but to hold it for several minutes is… well, I wish!

So, I am opening the files to go on record that if you see me on the island riding a bit faster than you, I’m not a cheater, and best I can tell I am not ignorant. Here is my “electronic passport”.

Power Curve

Power Curve

Above is my Power Curve for the last six months. This includes both riding on Zwift and in the real world. I do think that reading above 1600 is bogus and due to a misconfigured power meter. My best high end power numbers in a sprint tops off around 1500 watts. As I have ridden on Zwift — especially with the Kickr trainer — I have a hard time getting over 1200 watts.

As time goes by, the numbers get even more reliable. So, my five minute time is a reasonable 390 watts. You will see that start dropping dramatically to the 30 minute level and then the bottom drops out at a little over an hour when I’m spinning along at 200 watts.

Now, on a given day, my weight fluctuates between 172 and 174 lbs. Today I weighed in at 173 — or 78.5 kg. With these two numbers I am able to determine my power to weight ratio.  So, at five minutes my power to weight ratio would be 4.97. In a sprint — for about 10 seconds — you’ll see a number like 14.02 as my watts per kilogram. Here is how the above chart would convert:

Watts per Kilogram

Watts per Kilogram

This leads us to the factor of time. This is often shown as the number next to “Functional Threshold Power” (FTP). This is the power that you should be able to hold for an hour. However, because most people don’t just go out there and ride that hard for an hour, there are tests you can do that use shorter rides to give you your FTP. Really, this doesn’t necessarily measure your ability as a cyclist. It also doesn’t mean that your test numbers will translate into an hour effort. However, it is a good benchmark to use when setting up a training plan with power.

Strava's Estimated FTP

Strava’s Estimated FTP

Thing is, I haven’t taken one of these tests in over a year. Back when I was racing I got up to 315 watts for my FTP. Last year I barely tipped 300 watts. Since I don’t know what my test results would be now days (nor do I care that much), I just follow along with Strava’s estimated FTP. It tells me that I’m clocking in at 308 watts. Based on how I’m feeling, that seems about on target with past results. However, I doubt seriously I could hold that wattage for 60 minutes. I’m guessing it would be more around 265 to 275 watts.

What does all this mean? Well, I don’t know for sure. That gives me a watts per kilogram of 3.92.

When it comes to Zwift, it means that I can knock out an 8 second Green Jersey sprint consistently and sometimes squeak into the 7 second realm. I can climb the Col d’Zwift in 53 seconds almost every time and on a good day have broken the 50 second barrier. Recently I’ve been focusing on getting my lap times down and this week knocked out a PR of 7:10. Considering my real world abilities that seems to be pretty consistent with reality.

Here is the other thing to consider… after I get that 8 second sprint, you aren’t going to see me knock out the Col d’Zwift in 50 seconds. I can put out some good amounts of wattage for short periods of time, but then my match is burned. If I ever land the triple jersey (getting all three jersey’s on the island) it is because 1) I got each jersey on different laps, and 2) the stronger guys aren’t on the island.

Oh yeah, and because there were no fliers.

EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors

Dopers! Dopers, the lot of you! EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors.

I stepped on a landmine yesterday. I got a notice that there was a comment posted to the Zwift Club discussion page on Strava. It brought up a point I had not considered before and which even when I read it did not take very seriously. Then the shrapnel started flying!

It would appear that the person commenting was not a Zwift user and was upset about people using Zwift using elevation data in Strava — specifically for climbing challenges. Here, I’ll let you read it for yourself.

Using this Club to add elevation is just wrong, you’re not out really riding and don’t tell me the trainer is just as hard as real climbing. I was just out in a blizzard climbing real hills with a real headwind. Trainers are an essential piece of training equipment, to use them to cheat on elevation is weak. Post your rides as what they are, trainer miles and nothing more. I use a trainer but have 0 miles posted. You are not riding a bike, your front wheel is not moving, spare me the BS roller riders as you never left your cozy house or wherever it is that makes you feel warm & fuzzy. Cheaters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 11.07.13 AMFor fun I responded with the following line, “Dopers! Dopers, the lot of you! EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors.” I thought that would be the end of it, but is seems that lots of other people wanted to also make their own smart alec remarks. Then, as these things often do, it turned kind of nasty.

However, I’m not here to dwell on that. I actually began to wonder what really is the difference.

First, let me point out that folks using Zwift cannot simply mark the ride as a trainer ride. If they do that, it removes all the GPS data and basically destroys any record of what you did on Jarvis Island. So, that is not an option.

So, let’s turn our attention to “climbing” on Zwift’s Jarvis Island and riding uphill in the “real world.” Obviously, riding a trainer in your basement is not the same experience as riding out on the road. While it might not be like comparing apples to oranges, it can be more like comparing oranges to grapefruit. They look very similar, but are different. At the same time, eating an orange doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat a grapefruit.

I went out Tuesday and rode for 2.5 hours covering 33.5 miles and climbed 4,386 feet. Earlier in the month I had joined the Strava Climbing Challenge not because I thought I would accomplish it, but because I like to see how close I can get to meeting the goal. I was somewhat surprised when that ride put me over the bar and I earned my little virtual badge.

As it turns out, I made up the majority (though not all) of the remaining 9,052 feet on my trainer riding the virtual road and climbs of Jarvis Island. Wow, that is a lot! It took me by surprise.

So, how long did it take me to do that? In an attempt to find out, I went to my century ride completed earlier this month. I rode the trainer for 5 hours and 40 minutes. I covered 100 Zwift miles and climbed a total of 5,203 feet. This effort was accomplished on a dumb trainer.

Each lap on Jarvis Island is 155 feet when going counterclockwise and 157 feet when going clockwise. This means I would need to complete 59 laps to amass over 9000 feet on the trainer. Averaging 10 minutes a lap would mean I would need to ride nearly 10 hours on the trainer. To be honest, giving myself 10 minutes on average is kind of generous.

Compare that to repeats on Paris Mountain’s Altamont Road. Each repeat would net me 850 feet (to the towers). It would take me on average 18 minutes per climb up with 5 minutes down. So, basically 11 repeats would have me in the saddle for under 4 hours and 30 minutes.

I’m not here to pass judgement on which of those two options is the harder feat. Having done both, I can say it is a draw. Each has its own pain, but in different ways. If I had to make a choice of which I would prefer to use to gain the elevation, it would be Altamont. Mentally, that is definitely the easier option.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 11.08.54 AM

Now, throw in the option to use the Wahoo Kickr with Zwift and the grapefruit starts looking and tasting a lot more like an orange! When using the dumb trainer to climb on Zwift, the only thing that really changes is the time it takes to “climb.” Yes, you could get your elevation by spinning along at 75 watts. However, it would take you absolutely forever!

With the Kickr you will come to a standstill if you try that. Why? Because just as the real road combined with gravity creates a greater resistance when you climb, the Kickr begins to build resistance into the trainer according to the “virtual” grade data sent to it from Zwift.

So, in this case, if you were to put a virtual Paris Mountain in Zwift, you would find that it would basically take the same wattage to overcome the resistance on the trainer as it would on the road. Granted, it could not be exact because of environmental differences. I’m convinced though that it would be close.

My conclusion? I probably will not join a Strava climbing challenge in the future if I know that the majority of my time will be spent on Zwift. At the same time, I am not going to sweat it out if I happen to join a challenge and have a few Zwift rides sprinkled among the efforts.

I love the road. A virtual world can never replace that. I love to climb. Caesars Head, Sassafras, Skyuka, Paris Mountain, and other grades in my beloved Upstate will always call me with a stronger voice than a virtual island. If there is one thing I don’t like about Zwift it is the fact that it does not have a Paris Mountain type climb on it.

At the same time, do not call trainer rides — especially those using technology such as Zwift and trainers such as the Wahoo Kickr — pansy rides. I’d even go so far as to say you cannot call it cheating. The effort is the same and the surrounding environment is not germane. If you are riding in a blizzard to get your elevation and someone else is climbing in South America, do the people in the lower hemisphere not get to count their feet?