Keeping track of cycling and training

I’m starting to get a bit serious about cycling.  It’s one thing to ride every weekend (regardless of weather) and put down the k’s, it’s another to establish a training program.

(Spoiler alert: I do not have a fully-fledged training program yet, but I’m getting together the pieces.)

Tracking

A fairly simple step is to track activity.  I’ve used MapMyRide, Strava and now Garmin Fit to keep track of my rides.  My current preference is Garmin Fit because it is easy in Australia to find accessories that are compatible with it, whereas both MapMyRide and Strava work with proprietary adapters. (That’s probably true of the Garmin too, but at least I can get Garmin stuff.)

Sharing with others is not essential.  Websites will not compare your times to others if you mark your rides as ‘private’, so you won’t know where you sit in the pack.  I suggest that you keep rides public.  If you are at the back of the pack, so what!  I tend to be at the rear for climbs, but nearer the front on flat or downhill sections.  What does that tell me?

Recording

The parameters that you record will have a big impact on what you can analyse.  The combination of parameters may even influence the accuracy of the analysis:

  • Speed, distance and time can be recorded on a classic cycle computer for a few bucks.  You could fiddle and produce an upload file for analysis, but just buy a GPS device instead.
  • Using GPS gives position at a given time and therefore speed, distance and time second by second.  You also get elevation over time, which means slope or grade. With grade and distance you can see climbs in terms of category.
  • Cadence is the rotational speed of your pedalling measured in revolutions per minute (rpm).  Most cheap cycle computers have cadence.  Knowing your cadence on a road bike is especially useful when attempting endurance rides, where a high cadence usually means longer endurance.  On a mountain bike cadence is trickier to maintain because of the variation in terrain and speed.
  • Knowing your Heart Rate is very important for training.  Understanding which heart rate zone you are in will have a big impact on the effectiveness of your training.
  • Power is useful, but very expensive to monitor.  Some indoor trainers can be used to measure power as a function of speed, load and cadence.  But to measure on the bike, you are looking at $1600-2000 for pedal, crank or hub sensors.

Analysis

If you rode the same route on a few occasions, then your best time would mean the fastest and the best ride, right?  But what if one day the traffic light faeries were smiling, the traffic was light and you didn’t have to stop or even slow down.  The total time taken is not a reliable guide.

However, your times on a defined section of road (or track) are comparable and often give a good indication of performance.  As you improve from fitness or technique, you’ll find yourself beating old times or matching old times with

MapMyRide, Strava and Garmin Connect all have graphs and averages and maps and stuff.  It is up to your taste which one suits you.  I liked MapMyRide, but the website was clunky (since improved).  I used Strava app on iPhone until I bought the Garmin ABT+ adapter that it wouldn’t recognise.  So now I use Garmin Fit on iPhone and upload the GPX files to Strava with premium membership.  The extra features are just about worth it, especially if you have a heart rate monitor and/or power meter.

BTW, using Garmin Fit as my app means that I can’t see live Strava segment times.  Probably for the best that I just ride steadily and not try to beat a particular time.

Yes, but how did you feel about that?

I’m starting to record how I felt during the ride as a score out of 10.  This can be more useful than time.  If you feel crappy, then there may be something wrong with your training, position on the bike, clothing or general mental well-being.    Some days you should stay off the bike and some days being on the bike can make it better.

Hint: I get cheered up whenever a warm breeze blows, as one did on an otherwise cold and calm Canberra morning last Tuesday (scored 9/10).  The trick is to keep up there even when the breeze turns cold.

Recently I’ve been up and down in how I’m feeling but my times have been my best or close to my best.  And I’ve re-based the score so an old 10/10 is now 7.5/10 to give me a bit more room at the top.

Coach

As luck would have it, my boss is not only a racer on- and off-road but also a level 2 accredited cycling coach.  It has been great to discuss my weekend’s riding and get expert analysis.  Every week I’ve been able to make a little change or notice a subtle difference, whether it be maintaining high cadence or knowing what part of a climb to attack.

I also subscribe to http://www.cycling-inform.com for tips.  I haven’t bought any of their training packages yet, but the combination of a Kirk Kinetic indoor trainer and training DVDs seems a good way to learn.

Noticed anything?

In the past two months I’ve noticed a real improvement in my fitness.  I’ve been slowly improving my times since 30/12/2012, but the recent changes have been fairly dramatic.  Sections that used to knock me out are now covered much easier.  Climbs that had me redlining at 195 bpm (or higher!) are now peaking at 180-185 bpm.  On a very steep and loose section I briefly hit 199 bpm but my heart rate started to fall, even though I still had a few minutes left on that climb and averaged 175 for a very tough section.  And I rode the whole thing.

When I ride with my colleague, I can converse with little effort while he is struggling for breath and I spend most of my time in zones 1 and 2 (or 2 and 3, if you use the Garmin zones).

It seems that the endurance riding I did during Winter never allowing my legs to get lactic is paying off.  I recently completed some steep climbs nearby at a 95% effort and didn’t feel any soreness afterwards.  The theory is that low-intensity distance riding builds capillaries throughout the muscles and if you get lactic during that time, the capillaries burn and the effort is lost.  When your muscles have dense capillaries, you can feed and remove waste much more easily.  Therefore it is easier to push harder without the burn while you’re riding or the pain afterwards.

There’s still a way to go.  But seeing the green shoots of fitness and some further weight loss is more than enough encouragement to aim for longer and harder challenges.  Such as riding the 140km Canberra’s Centenary Trail in a day next weekend or attempting a 200km Audax.

Measure for measure

 

Garmin Fit (Yet Another Cycling App!)

I’ve moved to yet another iPhone app for cycling.  In my defence, Garmin has the best GPS (in general) and support and a free and comprehensive website, viz. Garmin Connect.

What to buy

I couldn’t quite spring for $399 for a Garmin 510 bundle:

  • I’d just bought a bike and spent all of my money;
  • I bought a DuoTrap integrated cadence and speed sensor for it;
  • A conventional speed and cadence sensor won’t fit on my MTB, probably;
  • I have a lovely Suunto M2 HRM, but it is ANT, which is not compatible with ANT+;
  • I really only wanted to interface a HR belt to my iPhone.

As luck (or design) would have it, the Garmin ANT+ iPhone adapter will not work with Strava or MapMyRide.  Forget interoperability!  I could buy a compatible adapter and belt from the Internet, but I wanted one that was locally supported.

Garmin Fit App

So, I bought the Garmin Fit app.  It happily detected my ANT+ Adapter (in fact, the iPhone switches to the Garmin Fit app when the adapter is plugged in), the DuoTrap and the HR belt.  The interface is simple and attractive and the display pages, while not configurable, are at least logically arranged:

  1. Map, time, distance and music controls;
  2. Time, distance, speed, calories;
  3. Heart Rate, Average HR, Cadence, Average Cadence;
  4. Power, 3s Power, Average Power; Lap Power;
  5. Max Power

Activities seem to be limited to Running, Cycling, Walking and Other, but that is only the simple app interface.  Once the activity is synced to the Garmin Connect website there’s many more options and sub-categories to choose from.  Changing location from Outdoors to Indoors will switch off GPS, which is useful for recording heart rate while on a stationary bike or cross-trainer.  Sensors are detected very quickly.

Garmin Connect

The matching website presents a lot of data.  If you have a cadence sensor the website will show the number of pedal strokes you did.  The analysis features compare similar rides that you have ridden; there’s no segments posted by others to compare to.  So I export each ride as a TCX file to upload to Strava for sharing.

I’ll write more about the website in a future post, including how to upload data from a Tanita scale.