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

 

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Back in the saddle – sitting further forwards

The past 3 weekends have not been easy to fit in a ride. I’ve put on 2.5kg as a result.  My first ride in 3 weeks was going to be a bit hard, I thought, especially since I was riding with my colleague Ed who has a few KOM on Strava to his name.  The cold morning and forecast high temperature was a challenge too.  Fingerless gloves seemed a good idea but the temperature didn’t rise despite the bright sunshine.

I arrived 20 minutes early to the rendezvous and the prospect of getting sitting still and chilling wasn’t appealing  I rode a lap of Northbourne Ave and returned at 0700 not much warmer.  A nice climb to the Sutton Turn-off and back to Dickson for breakfast.  A moderate ride with plenty of PRs for me  I’d put many of the PRs down to maintaining a steady pace and high cadence.

A bicycle, a few months ago
A bicycle, a few months ago

Mountain bike seating position

I was professionally fitted for my road bike but my mountain bike was just the biggest one they had.  This year I’ve made little adjustments every few weeks and mostly realised benefits almost immediately.  But it was a mystery why my saddle was all of the way back.  I easily mono-ed up several steps on a long climb, nonchalantly riding in the saddle and lifting the front wheel with ease.  When I got home I noticed the position of the seat and the obvious leverage it would have given me.

But I was struggling with flat turns and berms and never seemed to keep the right line.  Either the front tyre would have low grip or I’d steer too much and have constantly correct.  I would often put a foot down to keep upright.

A colleague who happens to be a level 2 cycling coach said that I had to get more weight onto the front tyre to get the grip.  It seems sensible but at the same time frightening.

So I prepped the bike for this morning’s ride by putting the saddle in the middle of its rails, about 30mm forward.

I instantly found grip on the corners that I had been washing out on during previous rides.  Even the very dry and dusty conditions weren’t affecting my grip.  I could hit every flat turn and berm with confidence and a certain impunity, gliding through corners with a bit of speed.

Make small adjustments and leave time to adjust to them; that’s always been my watchword

The Bonner Widowmaker and creating segments in Strava

Strava view of Bonner Widowmaker segment
Strava view of Bonner Widowmaker segment

This morning the fog was quite thick and had only just burnt away when I went for my ride. I intended to explore a few new tracks identified as segments on Strava.  The Border Run has an alternative downhill section I wanted to check out and I also wanted to create a segment that Amandeep and I have ridden (and in my case walked) recently.

Bonner Widowmaker

That name comes from the Widowmaker Hill Climb that I saw on Wide World of Sports 30 years ago.  The main event features 1000 ft (305 m) of climbing on a nearly impossible hill.  Despite modifications such as paddle-wheel style tread rear tyres and very long chain stays, only 19 riders have reached the summit in over 4500 attempts.  I can’t find a gradient measurement, but it is beyond steep.

The Bonner Widowmaker is steep and silly like its Utahan namesake.  The average gradient is 11.25% (the figure above for distance is rounded to the nearest 100m.) with sections as steep as 23%.  It is almost too steep to walk, let alone ride up.  Or down.  The path is mostly grass with thin tyre tracks in the hard clay.  Pink quartz is scattered in sections, making the path quite bumpy.  It is so steep that your front wheel is very light and can easily leave the ground and it’s all too easy to loop the bike.  Even sitting on the nose of the saddle with my hands on the bar-ends with elbows bent and my body forward and low wasn’t enough to prevent wheelies.  But at least I was able to keep a fairly straight line.

I stopped five times.  My elapsed time was 18:18, which felt like my earlier attempts.  My resting time was 12:41, time that I spent sitting, admiring the view and waiting for my heart rate to fall to a human level.  So my riding time was 7:27.  Had I stayed on for the length of the climb, I’d say that 7:27 was a good time.  With better fitness, I might just be able to climb that hill in a single go, or at least without stopping for death 5 times.

On my first attempt on 6 April 2013 I walked 90% of it.  I simply couldn’t stay balanced when the front wheel bounced around and it was almost impossible to get my clips into the pedals to push off again.

My second attempt on 12 April 2013 with flat pedals was much better and much steadier, as previously reported.  I spent a lot of time riding across the hill and zig-zagging up it.  I only walked a 10m section just before the top to get better grip.

Props to Amandeep who has ridden the entire length a few times.  He had to stop now and again, but unlike me he rode it.

Strava – making a segment

This is very simple.  Take an existing ride and mark off a section of it, give it a name and save.  Cross-referencing with the map and altitude graph makes it easy to pinpoint the section.

I might have missed something on MapMyRide but I got the impression that I could only create a “Course” from a real map; not from a Workout.  And since many of the tracks I took weren’t on maps, I couldn’t create a Course.  (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

Segments are best made without pauses or stumbles

My segment has a few wobbles.  As my iPhone was in my jersey pocket (I can’t find my waterproof case anywhere!) when I stepped off the bike, a new wobble was recorded.  It also put little dips on the tracks that aren’t there.  It wouldn’t make sense for Strava to automatically straighten out a segment, especially if those dips and shuffles were part of the track.

I think that the solution is for me to walk the track (without the bike) and use that straight run as the basis of the segment.  I’ll record that as a walk so as not to post another impossible time.

Today’s time and my previous, impossible times

Strava recorded 18:18 as my time on the climb.  That was the elapsed time but I spent 12:41 of that resting for a total riding time of 7:27.

My previous times recorded on MapMyRide, converted to TCX files and then uploaded to Strava are 4:25 on 6 April 2013 for my first ride (or walk) and 5:03 on 12 April 2013 for my second.  Both seem to have been affected by the auto-pause function and seemed to have been tricked by my very slow progress.

The only way to post a fair time is to ride the climb in one pass or getting straight back on after stumbling.  I’m working on it.  My elapsed time of 18:18 should crumble soon as I didn’t need that much rest.  My riding time of 7:27 was slow and steady.   I wonder if I’ll even beat the impossible 4:25 one day!

Border Track detour – Mulligans DH

I’ve noticed a few Strava users taking a different line from the Border Track along a segment known as Mulligans DH (down hill).  About 1km from the junction of the Border Track and Mulligans Circuit and just over the second climb you’ll see the Treecreeper Gate to the right.  Through that gate and Mulligans DH is the track along the fence.  You avoid two steep climbs and a somewhat tricky descent adjacent to a pine forest on the Border Track going this way.

Mulligans DH is a nice down hill; no jumps, moderately rough terrain and some 90° corners just for fun.  Though the newly-metalled parts were a bit squirmy.

I took it easy at the top and let it go about 1/3 of the way down.  The final sharp corner and small climb caught me out a little so I took at fairly easy to the finish; the Curlew Gate on the Pipeline Track .  After seeing my Starva time of 3:00 was only 11 seconds behind the KOM, in hindsight I could have gone a bit faster.

Using Strava for the benefit of mankind

Perhaps that’s too high a goal.  But I am using Strava as a benchmark for my own times; firstly to log what I’m doing and secondly to see if I am improving as I go.  It would be interesting to combine heart rate and power over a ride because that’s where an improvements will be subtly obvious.  I mean that my time might be slower for a particular run but if my heart rate is relatively low, then I completed the ride more efficiently and I’m getting fitter.

The rides are a bit too hard to be in the zone for burning fat.  A 166 average HR is about 30 beats higher than it could be for a good burn and I spend 1/3 to 1/2 of the time above zone 3.  I’ll start using my cross-trainer for a steady HR-specific workout.  Winter sometimes gets an early start on ANZAC Day; we’ve had a few sub-zero mornings already.  Hopefully I’ll stick to a reasonable riding routine during Winter and be bursting by Spring.  Whenever that decides to visit.

Finally Found Kowen Forest

The location of Canberra within the ACT. Canbe...
The bit on the right that looks like it’s waving at you.  That’s Kowen Forest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Well, that was an interesting weekend…

As even the casual reader would know, I’ve had some trials finding the trails at Kowen Forest.  My Navi takes me to a forest area off Sutton Road that has been constructed for logging truck access.  There is two small parking areas, but not much cycling action.

So… I thought that I had made a plan to meet Trevor at Pushy’s ‘car park sale’ so that I could follow him to Kowen Forest.  (Bought long gloves with cuffs for Winter for $15 reduced from $80 and two $3 cable outers.)  After spending some time and little money and not finding Trevor, I drove aimlessly towards Kowen Forest.

At my third attempt I found “East Kowen Forest, Canberra” on [the old] Kings Highway.  This link to Google Maps shows the location of the car park.   I found Trevor’s car, so I was at least in the right place.  I missed the reference to “Sparrow Hill” and instead rode Northwest to some trails.  Marked with blue arrows and fairly good signs it was easy to navigate.

My first impressions of “The Kow” were just how the tracks flowed so well without requiring much climbing or superior technical skills.  It was fairly easy to maintain pace through twists and turns and really have fun.  The narrow and unfamiliar tracks did catch me out a few times; partly from the dappled light from the mid-autumn mid-morning sunlight through the pines, partly from the pine needles on the track making the edges unclear and the surface slippery and partly from being a bit absorbed in the ambience and not concentrating.

After the 4km loop I returned to the car park and then across to the Sparrow Hill trails to the South of Kings Hwy.  Again the tracks were well-marked and I must say, well-decorated.  Big thanks and respect is due to Self-Propelled Enterprises at http://selfpropelled.com.au/ for excellence in trail-building, trail-naming and trail-decorative arts.  The decoration ranged from the practical (a dual-flush toilet on Dunnies) to the abstract (cow bones tastefully arranged on another) and back to the practical (yellow reflectors hanging from a tree like a mobile or 1970’s bead curtains).

Once again I was so memorised by the beauty of the trails that I ran off on an uphill corner!  Someone had hidden the curve behind a tree and hadn’t told me.

This footage taken at the Mont 24 Hour race in 2012 gives some impression of the trails and the setting.

There was only one section that I walked: a jump that was well-marked, but I came upon it before I had worked out my line.

As for times… Strava was quite generous.  I rode the 4km loop in 17:01 for 25 place from 128 riders.  I was pushing fairly hard, so that’s a good result first time.  I finished the 11km loop in 59:00 for 189th out of 355.  I had a few off-piste excursions here, so I was a bit more careful as I progressed.  There were some sections that I seemed to take at blinding speed, though this was probably more to do with taking a wide line right to the edge and holding my nerve on the curve.  If I knew the track better I could probably go faster on the right line.

Kowen is much easier to ride than Mt Stromlo.  The physical challenge is not as great so the ride is more fun if you’re not entirely fit or you want to take it easy.

5 stars

Oh, and I returned via Pushy’s to buy the cables to match the outers, some arm warmers and a pair of 3/4 length knicks.  More to come.

MapMyRide to Strava Converter

Strava
Strava.  Ur doin’ it rong. (Photo credit: lodri)

[UPDATE 07/03/2014: Mark Filer provided a new link to a converter.  Procedure updated.]

[UPDATE 24/06/2014: Manually-created MMR workouts cannot be converted; there’s no time data.  Thanks to Amanda for working that out.  Use http://www.strava.com/upload/manual to recreate instead.]

[UPDATE 26/06/2014: Mike Palumbo, the author of the current converter, commented on the issues some of you are having.]

I’ve converted to Strava.  The app and website are so much nicer than MapMyRide.  Not perfect, but quite nice.

Naturally, I want to upload my rides from MapMyRide to Strava so that I can analyse my rides with better tools and get a good comparison against many riders.  I can even compare against myself easily and graphically.  The Strava upload instructions are at https://strava.zendesk.com/entries/20950143-Uploading-to-Strava-Website

From MapMyRide I downloaded a KML file and GPX file of my ANZAC Day ride around Mt Stromlo Loop 3.  The KML file worked well in Google Earth and let me fly over the route.

However, the GPX file failed when uploading to Strava, with the error message “Error processing activities”.  The solution is on Strava Customer Support here.  To quote Mat from the Strava Support Team,

Data exported as GPX files from MapMyFitness sites does not contain workout data, which includes the time data for your activity. Since Strava requires time data for Segments, segment matching and other analyses, data exported from MapMyFitness is not compatible directly with Strava.

If your activity on MapMyFitness sites does include workout/time data, and you would like to export that data, you can try this third-party workaround, a tool that is available on the web (but is not affiliated with Strava or MapMyFitness):

Conversion instructions

To convert and upload your MapMyRide workout, follow these simple steps:

  1. Go to http://www.mikepalumbo.com/MMRConverter/ (Thanks to Mike Palumbo for the new converter and Mark Filer for the new link!)
  2. Enter the workout ID of the ride you want to convert and click <SUBMIT>.
  3. The converted workout saves as a GPX file.
  4. On Strava http://www.strava.com/upload/select upload the GPX file.

Perfik!

What could possibly go wrong?

A surprising number of things.  Firstly, the original conversion site went offline without warning, but Mike Palumbo provided an alternative.

  1. Only recorded workouts can be converted.  Manually-created workouts do not have data to convert.  Workaround: On Strava, http://www.strava.com/upload/manual and enter the details manually.
  2. Your browser might add an extension to the .GPX file such as .XML.  Workaround: Look at the filename in full and remove any stray extensions before uploading to Strava.
  3. If the converter fails to convert, it could be an error as the upload is occurring.  To quote Mike Palumbo, “99% of the time, the issues are caused by MMR losing your time data on upload, resulting in a “NO_TIME_SERIES” error on their side. Without that data, sadly, there’s nothing I can do to export your ride or run. Sorry about that!”  Workaround: Try again?

Sunday rides and Strava v. MapMyRide

Phoenix chainring
Phoenix chainring (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Started so well.  I rode to Coffee Guru at Bonner, which is likely to become a favourite start/finish line for such rides.  I got down to the bottom of the concrete path near Mulligan’s Flat Rd and Rob Riley Circuit (known as “Bonner Training Climb” on Strava) and had a bit of a stretch.  The climb on the middle ring felt OK, a fact confirmed by my time of 5:21 and King of the Mountain status on Strava (first place out of 2 riders).

Scrambled over to the bottom of the grassy climb.  The inner chainring (the granny gear) was not letting go of the chain.  I flipped the bike upside down to find the sticky link.  A few wiggles and the problem should have been solved, but then I saw some burrs of alloy on the chainring, which I cleaned off with a screwdriver.  Until I found one almost the size of a grain of rice.  This was not so much a burr as a tooth that had been folded backwards and no amount of scraping would remove it.  It will need to be ground or filed off.  Even liberal lashings of lube that worked when the chain was not loaded could not overcome the jam when the chain was loaded and was therefore seated deeply into the chainring and hard against the burr.  The old chain would catch a little, but must have been just wide enough to not get stuck.  There would be no attempt on the climb today and walking it would have been pointless and misleading.

The rear shock pressure was just about right at 250 psi and about 15mm less sag.  The pogoing has reduced but not disappeared, I can stand and pedal with reasonable success and I was a good 10mm from bottoming out, even after some big bumps on my return ride.  However, I had to let out some air from the front fork; 180psi was way too much and 150psi was more like it.

But I really need to get the brakes bled.  The front brake lever almost touches the handlebar before it starts to work, so I had to avoid picking up speed where it would be tricky to reduce it.

Joined the border track near the Mulligans Flat Rd/Gundaroo Rd roundabout and continued on my normal run.  But this time I ended in O’Conner in the hope of seeing some bikes at Bike Culture.  Well… at least the 39 Steps cafe was open and I had a free coffee on my card!

Return was around the Southern side of Mount Ainslie.  On Telecoms Rd I was stopped by a personal trainer who sought advice on the tracks heading to Mount Ainslie.  His mission was to take “sloths” from the Department of Defence building to the East and give them an hour of pain they wouldn’t forget easily. I’m not sure if there are tracks heading from the fire trails to the peak, but there must be.  We chatted about options for a little while and then he set off to try some out.

Oasis of green in parched bushland.  Three small gulleys empty into this spot.  Sadly, I scared off the parrots that had been feeding there moments before.
Oasis of green in parched bushland. Three small gulleys empty into this spot. Sadly, I scared off the parrots that had been feeding there moments before.  132kVA poles in the background.

I took the Blue Metal Rd and turned left to follow the 132 kVA lines until I ran out of track.  I climbed the walking track until it met the fire trail.  A few moments later I was climbing a steep and rocky hill when saw a man and an 8-year-old girl jogging down the hill towards me.  They had just cleared the steepest and rockiest section when the girl tumbled forward onto her face.  Her father went all drill instructor on her arse telling her to stop crying and that the fall was nothing to worry about.  He said this even as he wiped dirt from her teeth and removed stones from a cut in her hand.  I stopped to see if everything was OK (apart from the drill instructor dad bullshit) just long to wonder.  Oh, and to put things into perspective, they were at least 1.5km distant and 50m above the nearest house or hope of first aid.  Nice one drill instructor dad.

Return was back along Goorooyarroo and Mulligan’s Flat.  Bum started to hurt, more from chafing than from pressure.

Strava was a bit of a change from MapMyRide.  For a start its display is dark (which probably helps battery life a little) with a single start/stop button.  The only stats are time (nice big numbers), distance and average speed.  I’ve since discovered that you have to swipe to see the map, though it only takes up 1/3 of the screen.  First attempt at uploading did not go well.  After 5 goes it seemed to work.  I uploaded the return journey successfully over WiFi when I got home.

A very big difference is the amount of analysis you can do in the app.  For MapMyRide you can get some information on the app but you need to use the website (and click through several levels) for analysis.  By contrast, Strava has every segment (course) you’ve ridden with leaderboard, filters, accurate grade, distance and altitude measurements.  And the units are consistent.

It’s obvious that the Strava community is much larger than the MapMyRide community. Or perhaps Strava encourages competition.  On my out ride I rode 13 segments, compared to a no courses on MapMyRide and 8 on return compared to 1 on MapMyRide.  I’ve already had a comment from the person upon whose segment I achieved KOM..  He has vowed to beat my record on Tuesday.  I’m treating that as friendly and neighbourly competition.