Operation 300 Part A
Want to see the Strava record of this event?
I have always wanted to see if I could ride a bike for 100 miles whilst averaging 300w. I don't know why but it has been a bit of an ambition. So I decided, seeing as I am not a professional and have no 'off season', that in the Autumn and early Winter of 2019 that I'd go for it. Set it as a goal and see if I could. This is the story of that attempt.
Since moving to California and realising that road races here are often long, long rides have been a factor in my regular workouts. I've never got close to 100 miles averaging 300w solo so there'd need to be a bit of a workup. I went traveling for two weeks at the end of Summer and then got back at it mid September, spending a month just riding with not too much focus or distance. I then began focusing efforts on the total time/distance but absent the high power. I did several 100 mile rides where the first half was tail-gunning a group ride or solo at a low intensity, for example 250w, before going for a 50 mile, 300w effort. These had gone pretty well and had given me some confidence moving forward. I could cover the distance well. I could do the power well for parts of the distance. The phase of piecing together the time and distance and power into a single unit then began.
I had put some work into looking at my equipment- should I used my TT bike? I had practised workouts on my TT rig but it quickly became apparent that I wouldn't have time to adapt to that machine prior to the scheduled event date. I planned the final effort for just before Christmas, so after about 3 months of preparation. At that time I was going abroad for a holiday so there was a hard stop in the 3rd week of December. The time prior to that required focused work on power and endurance. It seemed that the time required to not only adapt myself for a 4-hour TT bike ride, but also to adapt my set-up for longer distance work (not high-power, sub-60 minute TT efforts) would be absent. I made a pretty early decision to use a road bike- time was pressing.
The next step would be to see if I could get 4 hours at 300w, ignoring distance. Obviously conditions and course selection will drastically effect total distance (climbing is slow) so the goal here was time not distance. I had calculated that I'd maybe need 4 hours to do 100 miles on a favourable (read: flat) course, so hitting that time, irrespective of distance was my first goal. If I could do 4 hours, presumably I could then get a more ideal course where I work for the same time, but get close the the required distance. My local training roads offer a few options for courses with climbs which are followed by descents which allow pedaling to maintain power. I would have to do a few out-back-out-backs to get the total time but it didn't matter. I had a goal and had a good route and so I gave it a go.
A big test was nutrition. What would I eat and drink? My first plan had me consuming a gel every 10 miles (so 9 gels) and two bars at some point in that time. I also took three bottles of energy drink to drink in that time and I was adamant that I would be diligent about eating and drinking. This after all was largely an exercise in nutrition as well as endurance. So, on a day lacking any real significance, I gave it a go- 4 hours at 300w. In summary, this effort ended in disaster. The route was good and the effort was good but the nutrition was way off. I diligently shoved down a gel every 10 miles and drunk as much sugary drink as I could. By 60 miles disaster struck. At this time I had eaten 5 gels and a bar as well as consumed a litre of sugar drink. My stomach was not amused. I felt full, bloated and developed a debilitating stitch. It seemed like I was struggling to breathe and I was unable to pedal with intensity. After 3 hours I called it. I'd averaged 300w, but the nutrition was too much. OK- back to planning.
A new plan. Seeing as the intake was too much, I'd scale the gels down to every 12 miles and instead of taking sugar solution to drink, use pure water. I reasoned that I would acquire enough electrolytes and fuel from the gels so the water would only be needed for hydration purposes and to enable efficient absorption. I'd also try a solid bar or two in there to have something more substantial at a couple of points.
Take two. On another autumnal day of insignificance, I tried again. Four hours, 300w. The effort went well. I settled into my rhythm, the early miles at a higher power forcing me to tell myself to focus and hold back. The miles ticked up and I hit my first gel. The distance accrued and more gel marks came and went. Twenty four miles, second gel. Thirty-six miles, the third, 48 miles, the fourth. As the 50 mile point came and went I began to feel nervous. This is where I had began to understand my excessive consumption in the first effort, had I made the same mistake? Mile 60 came, where I had come a cropper the previous attempt but unlike before, where discomfort had manifested, I felt good. The lower intake, longer digestion time between gels and water instead of electrolyte drink seemed to have been right. I continued. I hit the 3 hours mark knowing that my nutrition was far improved and my energy levels felt good. Onto the last hour.
As the 3 hour mark hit I had a total average power of 306w. Just one hour to go. I knew I had some power in the bank due to my 2% excess for the first 3 hours so even in the case of the inevitable power drop-off that would come, I could still hit the target. I kept going, feeling not too bad. My power was not as effortless as the first two hours but it was still decent. I kept going and let the fatigue become part of the effort. I knew it would get uncomfortable and here I was, my prediction being realised. The final 30 minutes of the effort were climbing. I approached the climb and tried to mix up the work- in the saddle, out of the saddle, high and low cadence. I hustled up the climb. My power average was dropping but still was good. I was almost done.
I approached the final 15 minutes of work and 'Ping!'- my left hamstring cramped. This could and did happen, no big deal. That's why you have two hamstrings, right? I settled into a slightly lower power, looking to take up the slack with my other leg. I kept going, mindful to not overexert the ailing hamstring but also mindful to keep power. My average had fallen slightly- 301w for the entire effort, but I only had 10 minutes or so to go. I pushed on, trying to mix seated and standing postures. Things were slowly progressing, my target moving closer, I was almost there. One push out of the saddle and then, again, 'Ping!'- this time my left quadriceps cramped. Must admit, something new for me- never had both parts of a leg cramp! I was admittedly about 3 hours 50 minutes into a 300w effort, so perhaps that's where you have to go to learn new things?
I had to hustle. Almost there. Yes, my left leg had abandoned me but I had to keep going. Not long to go. My average power now at 3 hours 51 minutes was exactly 300w. I ket going, round a corner, up the final part of the climb. Cramp was permeating my work, staining the effort, but I was close. I kept climbing, came around a corner, struggling under the weight of exhaustion and muscle failure. One more turn, one slight ramp, one more bend in the road. 'Beep'- the lap button sound on my computer, pure bliss, pure relief. It was over. I had hit my goal*. I had on my screen an average of 300w.
My nutrition had been spot on. I didn't bonk but hit exhaustion at my goal time. I was content. My bike and clothing were not optimised for speed and neither was the course. I'd averaged 21mph/33.8kmph on a course which had included almost 5000ft of climbing. I knew I'd need to go faster on the day of the test, but I also knew that I could do the power. Satisfied and exhausted I trundled home, pretty pleased with the work. Things were progressing. Onwards to my goal- I was on the way.
*For the eagle-eyed who checked the Strava file you'll notice that I actually completed 3 hours 55 minutes for this effort. I cut it short because I had hit the top of the final climb on the route which meant that I'd struggle to keep power on the following steep decent, but mostly because of Strava's ludicrous power algorithm. My plan was to fall to 299w and sprint the last 30 seconds to get a 300w average on my computer screen for 4 hours. Perfect. However, Strava's algorithm is not the same as Garmin's, so in many instances a number on your computer, when uploaded to Strava is often a watt or two less. Having spoken to Strava about this they know about it- it is their method of data reduction which differs from Garmin's, the problem is that I, and all others, use our computers to measure intervals, not some post-hoc analysis we can't even see. With this in mind I was reticent to have an average power too close to the 299/300w boundary as the idea of my work on Strava reading "299w for 4 hours" was too much to bear. I'd rather it say "300w for 3 hours 55" and know that I wouldn't get Strava pick-pocketed after the fact. That's my explanation, and if explaining away one's inadequacies on the internet is not what the internet is for, then I don't know what its purpose is.
Click [here] for the next blog in this series.