Everested …

It was a warm one yesterday. Late in the winter that can only mean one thing – a north wind, and to make sure we noticed it blew up a gale last evening. Not too much of a mess this time.

Today the weather is perfect, cool, sunny and just a light wind. Ideal for a ride with my very own Gayle at the end of which I checked in with Strava to find that I’d climbed 8,750 meters for the month. If I really was climbing Mt. Everest I’d be at the South Summit. That is very definitely in the death zone, no place to linger. So I got back on the bike and rode off to my favorite hill.

The Cornice Traverse is a knife-edge. On my left there is a drop of 2,400 m down the north-west face, to the right 3,050 m down the Kangshung Face. Getting the bike up the Hillary Step is a bugger of a job but …

It’s done, 8,848 m. It took me 21 rides over 27 days. The current record holder is Ronan McLaughlin. He did it in 1 ride of 7:04:41.

Devil’s Peak – North Face …

Early this month it looked like the state of Victoria was going to be sentenced to house arrest again. I quickly got in a long ride that I thought would be my last for a while.

There are only four reasons that we may leave home and whilst one of them is for exercise it seemed for a few days that we would all be restricted to one hour a day within five kilometers of home. That became the reality for the majority – those that live in the big smoke. Out in the sticks we were allowed greater freedom. We can exercise longer and go further.

The prospect of an hour a day got me thinking of how to avoid a crash in my fitness. I resolved to up the intensity making repeated use of a local hill. When all was clarified it still seemed a good time to chase the Strava Climbing Challenge of 7,500m in a month.

I wrote about the phenomenon of Everesting back in May. So this month has been a serial mini-Everesting. (In the interim the rest of the cycling world has moved on to Trenching – 11,034 meters, the depth of the Mariana Trench. Yes, in a day).

Since I wasn’t restricted to 5km I could make use of a better hill than the nearest one. There is a Strava segment not too far away called Devil’s Peak. It sounds more impressive than it is. The segment is on the south side. On the north side there is a steeper section 1.6km long and about 60m high. That section includes another Strava segment with the far less impressive name Dunolly-Avoca Road Climb. I prefer to think of it as The Devil’s Peak North Face. Real hills are a long way away.

So up and down I went. It took seven visits to nail the Strava Climbing Challenge and get my merit badge …

with efforts that looked like this …

 

And with a week left in the month!

As of yesterday 398,811 people had taken the challenge. My position was 82,002nd. The leader is Lukas Rathgeber who had been out 22 times and notched up 79,028m. He’s in Switzerland. He has real mountains and I suspect extremely strong legs.

A recent Strava innovation is an award for the person who has completed the most runs through a segment in the last 90 days. That makes you the local Legend and you get a set of laurels. Given the population density here in the Goldfields it can take as few as one ride through a segment to become a local legend. Modesty almost prevents me from boasting no fewer than 43 sets of laurels. I have completed the Dunolly-Avoca Road Climb 80 times in the last 90 days, most of them in the last 20 – I think I should get freehold title rather than laurels.

By the way …

Of the dozens of comments that yesterday’s post elicited none make the point better than this one from Roy …

Yes, you must wear a helmet. In a recent bike accident when I hit the back of a 4WD I received a nasty gash around my left eye. My helmeted head put a significant dent in the metal above the tail light. The Emergency Dept staff put it simply. No helmet no Roy!!

The outside world is no place for your brain.

Readers outside Australia may also be wondering why we are attacked by Magpies when they never have that privilege. The answer to that is simple. Our Magpie isn’t really a Magpie at all.

The Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) must have reminded the early settlers of their own Magpie which is not a close relative. It does seem a stretch but bear in mind they had been at sea for a long time.

This one is the original. It’s formal name in English is the Eurasian Magpie, scientifically Pica pica.

There are many other examples of birds that migrants have misnamed for similar looking species back home.

Wear That Helmet …

Personal protective equipment is big news presently.

Cyclists in Melbourne are presently restricted to an hour’s ride a day and no further than 5km from home. Traffic volumes are down but it seems that some drivers see this as an opportunity to drive faster than usual. Where I live cyclists are not quite so restricted but the  roads I ride are open highway – all the traffic is going fast.

It’s worth remembering that Kreisfeld & Harrison 2019 examined the injuries sustained by cyclists and found that about half of those that died did so because of head injuries. So wear that helmet.

Hang on, is that an endorsement? The figures are for Australia. Helmets are compulsory in Australia and compliance is high. Helmets didn’t do a lot for those that died but hey …

there are other good reasons.

Helmets provide excellent protection from Magpie attack. The bird in the video staunchly defends its stretch of road. Where most Magpies are content to swoop without making contact this one routinely hits you in the back of the head. They always attack from behind. I have seen a fox running flat out to escape the attention of a pair of these feisty birds.

 

AIHW: R Kreisfeld & JE Harrison 2019. Pedal cyclist deaths and hospitalisations, 1999–00 to 2015–16. Injury research and statistics series no. 123. Cat. no. INJCAT 203. Canberra: AIHW.

Hot Air …

Over the last few days I’ve estimated my VO2max by some of the many methods available to those unfortunate enough to lack a gas analyzer and cycle ergometer.

The first couple of methods don’t involve getting up out of your chair, the second is the simplest – the inputs are just your resting pulse and your age. The next two involve exercise. The inputs are your weight and active pulse or measured power.

The Rockport test doesn’t involve exercising at maximum capacity, at least not unless you are totally out of shape, therefore it is suitable for elderly gentlemen. The six minute power is meant to be a maximal effort.

It is interesting how close the results cluster together. Whether that is anywhere near a lab measured VO2max is an unknown.

Method

How

Link

VO2max

World Fitness

Questionaire

World Fitness

47

Resting Pulse

Take pulse

MDApp method 1

42

Rockport

Walk 1 mile fast

MDApp method 2

39

6 minute power

Cycle

Michael Konczer

40.6

VO2max peaks in young adults and then declines at about 1% a year. Young and middle aged men can halve the rate of decline by regular vigorous exercise but the rest of us are stuck with it. It is largely the consequence of a declining maximum heart rate. The second most important culprit is increasing body fat.

After 70 it’s supposed that VO2max drops off a cliff but the evidence is getting pretty thin at that stage. Clearly nobody told Giuseppe Marinoni who set the Hour Record in the men’s 80 to 84 category last year by cycling 39.004 km.

Great things are still possible.

How Fit … ?

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we learn that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42 which I’m sure is correct. If we ask Strava how fit I am the answer is …

154.

Not bad, eh?

In fact three point six (recurring) times greater than the meaning of everything but notice that back in February when I started tracking my bike riding on Strava my fitness was zero. As far as I can recall I had a pulse and could ride around the block – zero it could not have been.

It looks as though my fitness has improved and in the last couple of months there is the suggestion of a plateau. The dotted line at the right hand end is a prediction of what would happen if I quit exercise. In broad terms I wouldn’t argue with all that but what does the 154 represent? If you are a 152 am I fitter than you?

There are a number of metrics in Strava and other fitness and training apps for which you can find an explanation but not a definition or a formula. Strava’s explanation from their glossary is …

While fitness is a complicated concept, it can be simplified to an accumulation of training. The Fitness Score is calculated using Training Load and/or Relative Effort to measure your daily training, and an impulse-response model to quantify its effect over time. This will intuitively capture the development of fitness from training, as well as the loss of fitness during a break.

and you won’t find Relative Effort or Training Load in the glossary.

So training volume goes into a black box where it is fiddled with in mysterious ways and out comes the answer in unspecified units.

Fitness is indeed a complicated concept. The word fitness has a great deal of work to do. At it’s broadest it means capacity to do something. It’s gets a lot easier to get a handle on it when you define the something. Let’s make that endurance exercise. Now we can consider the factors that contribute to capacity. They may be physical characteristics that the athlete in question is stuck with such as leg length or characteristics that are amenable to manipulation such as weight and body composition.

Endurance sports are various ways of turning food into distance covered with the prize going to the fastest person to the finishing line. Oxygen is required to burn the food. A good measure of fitness therefore is the maximum rate at which oxygen can be utilised or VO₂max. It comes in two flavours – absolute and relative.

To measure VO₂max accurately is a laboratory task. Inspired air is compared with expired air to find the amount of oxygen removed by an athlete as they perform a steadily harder task until the athlete cannot continue or the oxygen consumption reaches a plateau. The difference in humidity and temperature of inspired and expired air has to be addressed. A mask is worn throughout.

The Absolute VO₂max is simply the number of litres of oxygen taken up per minute going full gas. For relative VO₂max you divide by weight and express the result in millilitres per minute per kilogram. In a series of tests for a single athlete it’s handy to have both in order to distinguish between the contributions of adaptation and weight loss. If comparing one athlete with another relative VO₂max is more useful.

As the saying goes “Test is better than guessed” but it requires attendance at a lab and a fee in the vicinity of $200 a time. It’s not a one off – if it’s worth doing then it’s worth doing regularly to ensure that training is having the desired effect.

There are ways to estimate VO₂max rather than measure it. These don’t involve wearing a mask and analyzing expired air. Some don’t even involve exercise!

If you are interested in an estimate at the level of a general health interest try the online calculator at worldfitness.org. In my case I think the answer was a little flattering. Four different ways are on offer at MDApp including one based solely on resting heart rate and age. For the other three you will need to do some exercise. The Rockport Walking Test involves a one mile walk. The formula includes a refinement that reduces the error involved in being the wrong gender.

For the price of five or six visits to the laboratory you can buy a smart watch that will estimate your VO₂max and tell the time. Passler et al 2019 (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health) tested a bunch of wearable devices and concluded that they don’t do a particularly good job of measuring energy expenditure or calculating VO₂max.I believe they are reasonably good at keeping time and some play music.

If you are male and have a power meter you can estimate VO₂max by investing six minutes of your life in all out effort on the bike and plugging the result into a calculator provided by Michael Konczer. I haven’t been able to find a formula for females. So sorry girls – you’re walking. The formula used is …

It is an informative site with a table that you can consult to see how your result stacks up.

Regular testing is the ideal way to keep track of progress. A six minute test over the same course is directly comparable especially when measured by power rather than distance because that reduces the problem of variable winds. Estimating VO₂max from it may not be as exact as a lab measurement but the error will be much the same each time and it gives a value that will serve well enough for rough comparisons with other athletes. Friends will be delighted to hear of your improvement.

VO₂max is a very handy metric but by itself it will not tell you who will win the next race. Economy is the ratio of work done to energy expended and this varies from athlete to athlete as does the ability to tolerate workloads close to maximum. According to Allen, Coggan and McGregor VO₂max is to be found somewhere between 106 and 120% of functional threshold power (FTP).  If you know all those numbers for every entrant your crystal ball has a better chance. And the higher your VO₂max the better the chance that it will be you.

Back in the Zone …

Back to the daily grind. It was strongly tipped that our fearless leader would lock the entire state down again but instead he has mandated masks. If nothing else it will improve the appearance of the Victorian public. But I digress. The theme was power meters.

Functional Threshold Power measured on the bike is a handy way to adapt training intensity to a particular individual. Zones based on heart rate are another easily accessible method and a chest strap is less expensive than a power meter. Exercise physiologists have laboratories and all sorts of tech and therefore the means to make things way more complicated. By and large, though, the physiologists prefer a three zone system rather than five or seven,

You can find a good post (and podcast) by Dr Shawn Bearden on the topic <HERE>.

The zones or domains have nice practical names moderate, heavy and severe. The boundaries are only slightly fuzzy, rather than mostly arbitrary, and correspond with changes that can be demonstrated in the laboratory.

During moderate exercise oxygen consumption increases with work load. If you drew a graph it would be linear. At the same time lactate levels rise very little. As the intensity increases there comes a point where the slope of oxygen consumption increases and you enter the heavy zone. Round about the same point the lactate level heads gently upwards. FTP is close to the top of the heavy domain.

The moderate zone is easy, efficient and sustainable. The heavy zone is less efficient but still sustainable. Increase the load further and lactate begins to rise more rapidly, breathing becomes laboured and exhaustion beckons. The severe zone is inefficient and unsustainable but essential for a place on the podium.

from https://www.highnorth.co.uk/articles/cycling-training-zones

The boundary between moderate and heavy sits at about 65 to 70% of FTP or at the top of zone 2 in the Coggan model that I discussed recently. Severe kicks in at the top of zone 4 (roughly).

Race pace for endurance events is in the heavy zone but should you train there? Proponents of polarised training say no. Training at moderate levels will build stamina and pace efficiently with the athlete adapting and recovering from fatigue optimally. Top this off with some training in the severe zone.

So perhaps the most important use of a power meter in training is to ensure your easy days are easy enough. You don’t need a power meter to tell you when you’re going flat out.

In the Zone …

Armed with my newly established functional threshold power (FTP) I can set my power zones and use these to guide my training.

The ideal training program stretches the envelope and leads to greater fitness – remember stress, recovery, adaptation. Too aggressive a program tears the envelope. Lack of adequate recovery can make the process inefficient. And the cardinal sin would be not training hard enough.

Behind this there is an assumption of a predictable dose/response mechanism which simply doesn’t exist. In every study of training outcomes, no matter whether the subjects have been recruited from the couch or are trained athletes, the gains vary and may even be negligible. There are, as well, diminishing returns for the highly trained but then they are better placed to deal with the bigger doses.

Training zones help to tailor the dose to the individual.

The continuum from not pedaling  (0 Watts) to pedaling as hard as you can may best be communicated by dividing it into a number of zones. The most popular seems to be that devised by Andrew Coggan utilizing seven levels. Your FTP serves as the anchor point so that the zones have some correlation with your physiology. It is at or close to the point where a graph of blood lactate makes a noticeable increase in slope indicating the beginning of an oxygen debt.

Level

Description

% of FTP

1

Active Recovery

<55

2

Endurance

56-75

3

Tempo

76-90

4

Lactate Threshold

91-105

5

VO2max

106-120

6

Anaerobic Capacity

121-150

7

Neuromuscular Power

N/A

There are other schemes with different names and/or a different number of levels. The notion that there is any significant difference between high level 2 and low level 3 is nonsensical. The state of the athlete (rested, fatigued, hungover) is likely to have a far greater effect on the response than the difference in power output.

In general terms levels 1 through 3 are all day levels – for those with the patience and all day backsides. The time that you can sustain the higher levels falls away rapidly.

Different athletes have different strengths and weaknesses in large part determined by the muscles they were born with. In any workout session the further you are from your FTP the less accurate is the zone as a guide to the likely benefit. This can be addressed by measuring your best power output for a number of time periods and setting zones that better match your current abilities. Too great an obsession with the numbers may not be all that beneficial because departures from the norm are likely to be at the sprint end of the spectrum where workouts are likely to be maximal rather than at a target power.

In summary. The power meter is a measuring device. FTP is a  valid way of calibrating the athlete to work with one. The power zones around it are largely arbitrary, handy for communication between athlete and coach and excellent material to bore your mother with. On your easy days the power meter is a good guide as a number not to be exceeded. On hard days effort is the key, analyse the numbers after the session to check on progress. And every day remember that happiness is not measured in Watts.