Back Running

This week’s training went pretty well. I sat down and worked out an idealised training week which would allow me to get 4 rides and 4 runs in without too much messing around. I decided to go with rides on Mon, Tue, Fri & Sat mornings, and runs on Mon & Thurs evenings plus Wed and Sat mornings. Wednesday morning will be a long run and Saturday morning will be a long bike ride.

Given that the Double Gong is on Nov. 7th I’ll focus on riding until then, after which I can dial things back a bit and up the running if I’ve decided to do Canberra Half. Starting running again this week was pretty tough. Aerobically I have no problem, but I find I tend to run too quickly and my legs feel completely trashed the next day. I need to force myself to slow down for a couple of weeks until my achilles and other weak points get used to the stresses involved.

Myself and Marc got a good bike ride in on Sunday morning: Bobbin Head - Hawkesbury - Ettalong - Palm Beach - Bobbin Head for a total of 113km and 1700m of climbing. I forgot to eat early and often, so I was close to cramping big-time for the last 15km - that really annoying cramping where if you try to stretch your quads your hamstrings cramp and vice versa. The only solution is to soft-pedal as much as possible!

Anyway, that ride knocked me for six and I spent the afternoon on the couch watching TV. Lesson learned: more food, more often!

Last Week: 8h16, 184km, 86.0kg

Back Training

Recently it had been three months since my last bout of proper exercise, riding through the Alps with Kev, so I figured enough time had elapsed and I should get my shit together and get back on the bike. Literally. I was back to my habitual weight of 89kg as I’d stacked on a couple of kilos enjoying the culinary delights of Europe, so, since the morning’s were still cold enough to discourage me from getting out of bed to train, I figured I’d do a couple of weeks of a ketogenic diet to shed some quick fat.

Three weeks and almost 4kg lighter, the weather had improved a bit so exercise began in earnest. While waiting for the weather to improve, I’d entered the Alpine Classic at the end of January, a 200km jaunt over the Australian Alps, so that’s now my main target. I’d also committed to doing the Double Gong with Marc, which consists of the usual Gong Ride from Sydney to Woollongong and then turning around and riding back. That’s a total of roughly 180km, with one or two short hills to liven things up. That’s on Nov. 7th, so it’s a slightly more immediate concern.

I’ve also just noticed that this year’s Canberra Half Ironman is the 10th and final running of the event, and since this was the event which defeated me in 2008 as I went in badly underprepared, so I’d like to give it another go this year. However, not having run in a year, and not having swum in two are my main concerns, so I think I’ll wait another month and see how things are going before deciding whether to enter or not.

Still, plenty of events on the horizon, so lots of training to do.

Last week: 5h47, 116km, 85.5kg

Col d'Eze Revisited

There’s an observatory on one of the hills above my apartment, so I decided that I’d ride up there today. Now that I’ve got net access in the apartment, I looked up Google Maps and noticed that the road I’d be taking continued on up to Col d’Eze where I’d ridden yesterday, so I decided I might as well head up there again. I wanted to go a bit further than Eze, without heading down to the coast, and I thought Mont Agel looked like a suitable destination. At 1200m above sea-level it would provide a good climbing opportunity. However, when I zoomed in to Street View I noticed the coverage stopped halfway up the climb. A sign at the side of the road pointed out that the top is a military installation and therefore access is ‘interdit’. That was the end of that plan! (isn’t Street View wonderful :-)

A 6am alarm this morning, a spot of breakfast and I was out on the road by seven. I saw a few other cyclist heading in different directions, but apart from that there was almost zero traffic. Perfect cycling conditions. After a few flat kilometres I reached the turn off which would take me up to the Observatory and the climbing started. My Garmin was registering a consistent gradient of between 7 and 9%, so I settled into a rhythm and trundled along, enjoying the view into the hills behind Nice as I got higher and higher. The maps indicated a side road which would take me right up to the Observatory itself, but when I got there access was barred by a closed gate and a sign indicating what time the tour was.

Just cycled up here…

Back on the road I continued towards Col d’Eze, joining up with yesterday’s route after about a kilometre. The breeze coming off the sea was pushing clouds up the hill in front of me and as I got higher I ended up cycling through the clouds for a while. It was pretty handy for keeping me cool, and I could still see blue skies every now and then, so I knew that I’d be in sunshine again when I reached the top.

Clouds being pushed uphill by the sea breeze

Once at Col d’Eze, I’d took a planned detour up to the Parc Forestier to add a bit of extra climbing and to make up for the fact that I couldn’t go up Mont Agel. The road was a bit longer than expected, but once at the top I was back in sunshine and could look into the hills behind Nice and see the clouds rolling in from the mountains.

The hills behind Nice

Clouds rolling in over the mountains

Rather than going back the way I came, the map had shown another route which would take me back to the main road, so I headed off down there. There was a sign which seemed to indicate that bikes were forbidden, but the relevant barrier was open and I saw a ranger shortly afterwards who said ‘bonjour’ so there didn’t seem to be a problem. A later sign said access was forbidden, except for bikes so it was all a bit confusing.

Shortly afterward the road surface disappeared, to be replaced with something resembling a fire trail in the Blue Mountains - lots of loose stones. Since I had come a fair way downhill, I was reluctant to turn around and head back up, so I continued on, imagining myself on the Strade Bianche, the unpaved roads used this year in the Giro’s 8th stage (won by Cadel), though thankfully without the rain & mud. My reverie was quickly interrupted by the hiss of a puncture, my first in 5,000km of riding. After a relatively straightforward tube change I was thinking to myself “I’m in the middle of nowhere here, with another 2-3km of this crappy surface, and I’ve only one more CO2 cartridge. I hope I don’t puncture again!” I took off gingerly and tried both to avoid the worst of the stones and to minimise the weight on the tyres, until the surface improved after nearly a kilometre. Now things weren’t too bad. The track would have been perfect for a bike: narrow, dropping downhill with plenty of switchbacks, were it not for a surface which was still composed of loose gravel and water bars every 50m to prevent erosion.

My version of the Strade Bianche (the non-stony version)

After another kilometre of this I was back on the main road for a couple of kilometres before taking a right and enjoying a long downhill ride into the valley behind the hills I’d just climbed up. I had two cars in front of me to show me the way and carving through the sweeping bends was great fun. Back on the valley floor it was a pretty cruisey ride, following the river back to Nice. Home by 10am, a quick shower and then off down to the patisserie for some real French chocolate croissants. Happy days!

Col d'Eze

(it seems the Garmin got confused and merged yesterday's ride to Juan-les-Pins with today's in the opposite direction)

After yesterday’s debacle I was keen to get out and ensure that the Shimano/SRAM hybrid was OK in the hills. Kevin suggested I try out the climb to Col d’Eze, so after figuring out where it was on the map I plotted a route. This all took a bit longer than anticipated, as without internet in the apartment, or a data package on my French SIM, I was restricted to paper maps, not Google Maps. Old-skool!

Off I went at 7am this morning, greeted with clear blue skies and nary a car on the roads. I had two Michelin maps stuck in my back pocket to assist with route-finding and things were looking good. Getting on to the road to Col d’Eze required a couple of U-turns as I realised I’d overshot the required turn, but I was slowly making my way uphill at gradients between 7 and 12%. Avenue de la Condamine was my target, and once there it was simply a case of following the road until I reached the Col. The relatively constant gradient made it easy enough to settle in to a rhythm and I reached the top around 8am.

Near Col d'Eze looking back towards Nice

Just to rub things in, I texted Kev to point out that he was probably sitting on a bus on his way to work, whereas I was sitting atop the Col on my way to Monaco! Rather than drop straight back down to the coast I decided on the longer, more gradual downhill which would take me above Monte Carlo and would reach the coast closer to Menton. The morning traffic had picked up a bit and I was settled in behind a group of cars when a rider wearing a Monaco club outfit went past. I decided to follow him and, since he obviously knew the roads, I was able to speed downhill with relative abandon, using him as a guide to how tight upcoming corners were. Over the course of about 10km I only lost about 150m to him, so I was pretty happy with that and since we were travelling a lot faster than the cars, I didn’t have anyone behind me waiting to get past. Good fun.

I reached the coast at a small town between Menton and Cap Martin. I was off the edge of the detailed Nice map I had, and the other map covered the whole South-East of the country so it wasn’t detailed enough to figure out which streets I needed to take, so I decided to stick to the coast and follow the road signs for Nice, being careful to avoid ending up on the autoroute! This was probably the best part of the ride: the Mediterranean on one side, the mountains on the other, and riding through all the famous towns in the area: Cap Martin, Monte Carlo, part of the F1 course in Monaco, Cap-d’Ail, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, a coffee stop in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, then back home to Nice.

Rascasse Corner on the Monaco F1 track

Near Beaulieu-sur-Mer, looking back to where I've come from

...and where I'm going to.

The harbour in St. Jean Cap Ferrat

Almost home: near Villefranche-sur-Mer, looking towards Nice

Home four hours and 70km or so after I’d started, and it was still only 1130am. Despite the roads being narrow and cars having to wait behind me in parts, no-one honked at me, no-one told me to get off the road, and everyone left a decent amount of room when going past. A big difference from bogan Sydney drivers! I could get used to living in this part of the world.


Oh well, all good things come to an end, and in my case my training has been undone by a knee injury! I first noticed a niggle in my left knee after the long day of climbing in the Royal National Park a couple of weeks ago. It felt like my patella wasn’t tracking properly, but was scraping on something. Since I’d been fiddling with the float on my pedals and my seat in the days prior to the ride, I assumed that was the problem. I put them back to their previous settings and had no trouble with the knee over the following two weeks so thought nothing more of it.

I’d booked in to see a physio anyway and when the appointment came up I went along for an assessment. She diagnosed me as hardly using my core at all, having bad posture and accused me of being a tight-arse :) Well not quite, but she did say I had tight glutes and all those things were probably contributing to my knee issue in varying degrees. Exercises and stretches were prescribed.

I continued training but the problem flared up again when I did my next hard interval session, requiring me to put a lot of power out. It’s not painful, so I wasn’t too concerned and I stuck to my plan and went down to ride some serious hills with Simon the weekend before last. Although I was concerned at how the knee would cope, I needed to find out now rather than wait until I got to France. While the ride wasn’t too much of an issue, the knee was quite sore at the end of it and I was straight into the physio on Monday.

Ultimately it’s an inflammation and there’s no way of knowing whether I’m doing damage to cartilage or not without doing an MRI which isn’t practical since I’m off to France in less than a week. Hailey’s diagnosis was to take it easy for a bit, build back up gradually and see how the knee reacts, so I took last week off the bike completely, which was probably just as well as it took until Thursday before my knee felt OK again! I have only done one ride this week due to copious amounts of rain, but I’ve a long, flat ride scheduled for the weekend, so that will give a good indication of what’s going on.

If that relatively easy ride causes multi-day inflammation I may have to seriously revise my cycling plans in France. After all, if a 118km ride with 1800m vertical causes 6 days of knee pain, the 175km w/ 5000m vertical of La Marmotte could be a real problem!

In the meantime I just have to keep going my exercises and stretches and see what happens. Fingers crossed.

The Hills Are Alive...

…with the sound of cyclists suffering! Two weeks ago I headed down to Port Kembla to go for a ride with a friend of mine, Simon. He was going to take me up two of the bigger climbs near him - Saddleback (avg: 6.6%, max: 14%) and Jamberoo (avg: 8.5%, max: 18%) - so I could see what climbing ‘proper’ gradients is like before heading off to France.

I had my full France set-up on the bike: compact cranks, an 11-28 on the rear, plus my new Garmin 500 GPS telling me all the details on the ride: speed, cadence, HR, plus new stuff like gradient and VAM (how fast I was going vertically in metres/hour).

As it turned out Saddleback wasn’t too bad, although there were one or two super-steep pitches where my Garmin told me it was 18%, though I’m not sure how accurate it is for stuff like that yet. Jamberoo was a whole different ball game as it’s just relentless. The first couple of kilometres are just constant 10-15% with no let up which is really tough. Myself and Simon climbed at our own pace, and I’d stop every now and again to wait for him, but also to get a much-needed break! Lugging 86kg up a 14% grade is hard bloody work! There’s a section where it eases off in the middle and then the last few kilometres are mainly around 6-7% with a few 10%+ pitches.

All up we rode 118km but my knee was pretty sore by the end of it. Will have to head back to the physio!

A Good Week

I racked up another good week on the bike this week, topped off by a 4hr ride yesterday. After failing to climb the Waterfall climb without stopping last week, I resolved this week to ride to Waterfall, descend the climb, turn around and ride home. I also wanted to try eating more on the ride and to see if I could keep the power down in the latter stages of the ride as well.

With this in mind, I made up a concentrated solution from carb/protein powder to take occasional swigs out of as I rode, and this worked out pretty well. I also stopped at two petrol stations along the ride to buy a muesli bar and some jellies, and also to refill my water bottles. In truth I may have overdone it, as while I had no problem maintaining the power all the way home, I was close to getting a stitch, which probably means I was eating more than my stomach could absorb under effort.

The other good news is that I made it up the Waterfall climb without too much pain. The top section was still tough, but I’d made a point of noting the exact distance on the way down, so this time I knew exactly how much suffering was left before the top. It definitely wasn’t as hard as last week, partly due to the fact that I’d eaten properly this week and partly due to the fact that I’d ridden 4h50 when I started the climb last week, rather than 2h00 when I started yesterday.

While reading up on the features of the power meter software I use, I discovered the Performance Management Chart above, which shows how much work I am absorbing. The most important line is the blue one which is an indication of my fitness level and it’s increasing slowly but surely. The pink line indicates the average amount of work I’ve done over the last few days, and the yellow line indicates how much of a hole I’ve dug for myself in doing the work - basically how knackered I am. The yellow line is basically the pink line mirrored about the blue line, e.g: when the pink line peaks at approx. 72 (right axis) my fitness level was 38 (right-axis) and my cumulative fatigue was 34. This makes sense as the fitter you are, the less of a toll a given work load takes on me.

Over the last three weeks my weight has dropped from 89.3 to 86.2 this morning as well, so, so far so good, things are moving in the right direction.

Long Ride

One of the concerns I had when I initially received my training program from Alex was that it didn’t include any rides longer than three hours. Given that La Marmotte, even if everything goes perfectly, will most likely take me at least eight hours, this could have been a problem. Alex told me just to go on an extra-long ride every couple of weeks, but otherwise to stick to the plan. With that in mind, on Saturday I resolved to ride for five hours with some small hills thrown in.

I’d ordered a second bottle cage and bidon which had arrived earlier in the week, so I stocked up on water, threw a few muesli bars in my jersey pockets and hit the road, armed with $50 for food refills and emergencies. The first part of the ride was straightforward enough as it’s my usual Saturday long ride, but once I got to Cronulla it was all relatively new territory. I’d ridden the route once before a few years ago as part of the Gong Ride so I knew where I was going.

There were plenty of cyclists heading South as well, though I resisted the temptation to tack onto the back of the pelotons and stuck to my own pace. Once past the Audley entrance to the National Park there was a nice, wide shoulder to the road and less traffic lights which made things more enjoyable, though I was also my first and only encounter with dickheads, as some arsehole hung out the passenger window and roared something at me as he went past, hoping to scare me off my bike. At best he got a mild look of surprise on my face, but no wobbles on the bike!

I entered the park at Waterfall and got to practice some descending, a skill which will be vitally important in France, then got stuck into the gradual climb up to Otford which felt a lot easier than the last time I had done it a few years ago. That must mean I’m a lot fitter, as I’m certainly not lighter! I reached Stanwell Tops after 2h 40m and I was still feeling good. The only problem I had was that my lower back was acting up, presumably due to the different position and different recruitment of muscles while climbing. A bit of stretching sorted things out quickly, but I’ll have to do lots more stretching over the next few months to really loosen up the muscles around the back/hip area. The last thing I need is back troubles when faced with two hours plus of continuous climbing!

Stanwell Tops was my rough turn around point, and I knew it would be a bit easier on the way back as it was gradually downhill for most of it. Unfortunately the first 10km or so was still rolling hills, so I wasn’t quite done with the uphill stuff yet, but once back to Waterfall I was back on the smooth, wide shoulder, with a slight tailwind meaning 40km/h+ was easy enough. Once I made it back to Cronulla I was back on my normal long-ride route and it was just a matter of counting down the kilometres until I was home.

The last half an hour was a bit tough mentally. I was starting to get properly fatigued and was struggling to keep the power up where I wanted it. As I headed back to the coast I was also riding into a headwind which didn’t help matters but I stuck with it and made it home without too much hassle: 4h 57m ride time, not including traffic light stops etc. for a grand total of 132.3km, my longest ride by 32km.

Now I’ll have to plan a six hour route in a couple of weeks!

Training Roundup

It would seem that I haven’t commented at all on how my training program is going since I did the MAP tests and rented the power meter seven weeks ago. Pretty slack of me, so I’ll try and summarise it a bit here.

The basic structure of a training week is that I ride on Mon, Tue, Wed, Thurs, with a day off on Friday, a long ride on Saturday and then Sunday off as well. The key sessions are a tempo ride on Monday, a hard intervals session on Thursday and then the long ride on Saturday. Each session has a required power band that I must ride in for the duration of the ride, with the power bands determined from my MAP test results as follows:

Recovery0 - 162
1162 - 223
2203 - 264
3244 - 284
4264 - 305
5284 - 345

Long rides are in Zone 1, tempo in Zone 2 and intervals in Zone 4. Since each zone comprises a fairly wide power band, and since power fluctuates pretty easily on-road, I opted to aim for the middle of the relevant power band, so 200W for Z1, 230W for Z2 and 285W for Z4.

The first two weeks of the programme were a bit of struggle. The weather was atrocious for the first week, resulting in me missing scheduled sessions which wasn’t an auspicious start. The second week was much better and I managed to get all the required sessions done. The next two weeks were basically time off as first Mum & Dad were here for a visit and then I was in NZ for Bevin’s wedding, although I did managed to do some MTBing while over there so at least I wasn’t sitting on my arse all the time. On my return from NZ, if I had continued the program where I’d left off, I would have done one week and then had a rest week, so I opted to just restart the program from scratch so I’d have a full three weeks before the next rest week and that’s what I’ve been doing.

So far, so good, though I missed one session the week before last. I’m finding things getting easier as I go along, though I want to string a couple of decent weeks training together to see what the cumulative fatigue over a 3-4 week block will be like. I’ll have done three solid weeks this Sunday, so I’ll see how I feel then.


Week 12h 38m73.7km
Week 26h 55m192.3km
Week 37h 25m80km - MTB
Week 40h0km
Week 54h 30m121.8km
Week 69h 53m269.1km
2010 Goal: Weight

As mentioned previously, I’ve entered La Marmotte and have engaged a coach to train me for the event. While I’m confident that he knows what he’s talking about and will be well capable of designing a programme to prepare me for the event, there are two other obstacles to success.

The first is my inherent laziness. Family and swimmers who trained with me will remember my lack of discipline when it came to training. Sure, I trained, but rarely as much as I should have, and if it wasn’t for the fact that my sister was more dedicated than I, I’d have remained in bed a lot more often when the 4:45am alarm went off. Still, that’s my cross to bear and I can only resolve to force myself out of bed in the morning as required.

The second problem is my weight, or more specifically the surplus of it. The advantage gained by extra weight travelling downhill is more than wiped out by the disadvantage of carrying said extra weight uphill, so in an event with 5000m of climbing, being 89.5kg is a distinct handicap. In September I was weighing in at 93.4kg and the commencement of cycling training, combined with a mini-diet, got me down to 88.3kg by November as which point I stopped the mini diet. The idea was to see if I could maintain the new lower weight for a while before making another step down. Christmas was the big hurdle, but I think I did OK to limit the weight gain to about a kilo.

Anyway, the scales tell me I consist of 20.5% body fat, leaving my non-fat body weighing 71.2kg. If I could get to 10% BF I’d then be down to 78.3kg or a 13% weight loss. That should help my climbing be something less than glacial! The plan at this stage is to do nothing until I’ve completed the MAP test, as the results are useless if I’m tired or lacking energy for the test, then to reactivate the mini-diet in stages to get to my goal weight. However, if I’m losing weight anyway as a result of following the training program, there’ll be no need for the mini-diet. Time will tell.