Operation 300 Part C
I didn’t make it to 100 miles with an average power of 300w. I completed 90 miles, in 3 hours 33 minutes with an average power of 300w. That was as good as it was going to get. It’s worth noting I suppose that when I stopped I had not hit the wall- continuing for another 10 miles was possible, but it wasn’t possible while maintaining a total average at or above 300w. Based on what I was feeling (which was pretty wretched) I would have guessed that I could have maybe got the final 10 miles in and at the end of it would have had a complete total number around 295w average. Of course, what’s the point in that- anyone can ride around for 100 miles with a power number that is less than 300w.
There are a few questions that come to mind and I think there are some things to explore to help answer them. Two major things come up: how is it that I was able to do 4 hours at 300w before, but on the day of the challenge I failed in less time? Why do I undergo a precipitous drop-off after about 3 hours? After those questions, the next big question is- can I fix the problems and complete the challenge?
I’ll start with the last question first- can I get better and achieve the goal? I think I can. I think it is possible and I think there are a few things to work on that might allow me to get there.
By looking at the first two questions there are a few things to explore which may open the door to success. How did I do 4 hours before but less on the day of the challenge? In short, I believe a huge element of this was in the course selection, which allowed different muscle recruitment. For the first, 4 hour effort, I wasn’t looking for a fast course. Any course would do, so with that in mind I hit up my local training roads which include a lot of climbing and pedal-able descents. As a result, I was able to alternate muscle groups frequently and of the total ride time about half was out of the saddle (see below- data obtained as a metric from the Garmin Vector power meter used for both exercises). Spending as much time out of the saddle as possible allowed me to recruit a significantly different set of muscles, thereby allowing me to spread the fatigue across more systems, thereby delaying failure. Compare that to the second effort focused on speed/distance. Only 30 minutes were out of the saddle (more in keeping with a flat route with no climbs and an effort to stay compact and fast). Moreover, 3 hours (50% more than the first effort) were in the saddle- ploughing along in the drops for the most part. In short, it seems that a large component of the failure before 4 hours was the focused work falling on one muscle system. It seems that failure came at the muscular level with both thighs cramping and leading to the end (end of 300w output anyway). It seems that the engine could cope (as evidenced by the longer effort which had been achieved previously) but the effector muscles were taken to failure before that. This is of course a hypothesis but seems like something that can be explored for improvement. If I want to do 4 hours on a flat course, I suppose ideally training on a flat course would be required. If I need to use a single muscle system- train that single system. Or alternatively, perhaps a non-flat course might work- could I find a course that allows me to do more climbing out of the saddle and therefore allow me to shift to a standing position, but not so much that my average speed is significantly below 25mph (on the day of the second activity my average speed was 25.4mph)? This concept opens of a lot of doors regarding training a preparation and gives plenty of food for thought as to how to get close to my goal the next time.
The second element of both efforts warranting further analysis is the power drop-off after 3 hours. For both long efforts I averaged almost identical power in the first 3 hours (306w for the first, 305w for the second effort). For the last 55 minutes of the longer first effort my average power was 281w, for the last 33 minutes of the second effort my average power was 274w, an 8% and 10% drop respectively, relative to the first 3 hours. That’s a big, consistent drop-off. I say drop off as the power average for the first 3 hours was very flat (by design) in both efforts but at about 3 hours it really started to get difficult to keep the power up. As stated above, I hypothesize the longer time at work and marginally lower drop-off in the first effort is likely associated with the muscle groups doing the work being different in the two exercises. In addition to simply looking at postponing the time at which power begins to fall, perhaps I could explore averaging less in the first 3 hours. Five or 6 watts doesn't sound like much but it's 2% too high for 3 hours. Any good time-trialist knows that the key to success is being spot on your target, not above or below. Could I have managed to average 301w for that time instead, perhaps allowing me to postpone failure for an additional 10 minutes or more? The answer is that I don't know, but it's something that warrants looking into.
Finally, it's worth bearing in mind the conditions and equipment I used. The day was not perfect (cold with rain to be precise). For any given power speed will be increased with higher temperatures. The average ride temperature on the day of the distance effort was 47 degrees Fahrenheit. A higher temperature would undoubtedly have allowed more speed, but as a trade off, sweating and fluid loss as a result needs to be factored in. Nonetheless, 10-15 degrees increased temperature would probably have been a net gain. Of more significance is the equipment used. I was bundled up in weatherproof gear- not much consideration of aerodynamics. On a warmer and dryer day, an aero jersey or skin suit would have provided free speed. As the day was forecast for rain I took the decision to use my standard road bike with training wheels (tubeless for puncture protection- which didn't help but did at least allow a very quick repair). Using my competition racing bike, with faster tires, more aerodynamic wheels and components would have been free speed. I don't however regret my equipment decision. I was pretty cold as it was (gear changes got hard with numb hands at some points)- wearing less was not an option. If I got a puncture even with tubeless, how many may I have got with silky fast and supple, but thin, racing tyres? Who knows, but as things stand, conditions being equal, I would have made the same choices. As for a TT bike- no chance for 4 hours! My current TT bike position is arranged for up to maybe 60 minutes and the time and effort to adapt it for a more Iron Man-esque effort was not available in the few months up to the attempt- fitness and power were a priority. In future, it would be a definite option with a longer build-up.
I came up a little short on the day. But I'm relatively content with the work and progress I made in 3 months. I took two weeks off the bike completely and went on holiday at the end of the Summer. My first day back on the bike was 9th September 2019, with the effort on 22nd December. I got quite far (90 miles to be exact) but not quite far enough. Next time, I think I can do it. I think I can get to 100.
Click [here] for the next blog in this series.