Thursday, January 4, 2018

Oval Chainrings as Treatment for a Hamstring Injury


I have to start this post by saying I've always been the world's biggest skeptic when it comes to oval chainrings. When I first started working in a bike shop in the mid-eighties, Shimano had a huge marketing push on Biopace, claiming less effort and fresher legs. Despite what Sheldon Brown said, I could never feel any benefit to chainrings that were anything but round.

Photo credit: Ebay seller bicyclists_retreat

Fast-track to the 21st century, when in 2014 I listened with pleasure as one of my favourite podcasters, Tri-Talk's David Warden, completely trashed Rotor's Q-rings. In Episode 71, triathlon coach Dave Warden put the Q rings through a trial using Computrainer, side by side with regular round rings. In this N=2 experiment, he found that power output using Q rings was significantly less than round rings. The experiment appears to be very well designed, controlled and executed. However, though I think Dave's methodology and knowledge are great, I acknowledge that it's one guy's experiment, and certainly not up to the standard of a peer-reviewed study. Still, after listening to the podcast, you will seriously doubt any potential benefit of Q-rings. Dave himself has said he has since stopped recommending Q-rings to his coached athletes.

So I must say I was intrigued when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France using Osymetric rings in 2012. Chris Froome also started using them in 2011 as he says in this Cycling Weekly video, and has won three Tours on them.  

Photo credit: Cycling Weekly

Osymetric rings have significantly more ovality than anything I have seen before. They are quite different from Biopace (which seemed to have misplaced the ovoid altogether) and much more exaggerated than Rotor's Q-rings. A bit more research in the company revealed that it was a small operation run out of France by Jean-Louis Talo, with no affiliation to any major parts manufacturer and their marketing machines. He didn't actually sponsor any of the riders using his chainrings, and some have had to request waivers from their sponsors to use them! Interesting, and very unusual for the world's best pros to use specialized equipment not for any money, but only because it gives them a performance advantage.

Still, I was doubtful... until... I developed a serious chronic case of proximal hamstring tendinopathy. I had been struggling with it for nearly a year. It's a somewhat uncommon running injury that is very hard to get rid of, described beautifully in this video by Dr. Jason Metzl. I blame long runs on rolling hills, terrain I can't really avoid where I live. The main symptoms are a loss of running speed and power, pain just below the butt when running uphill, and a sharp pain when sliding the leg back (doing a motion like scraping mud off your shoe). Thankfully, it hurt a lot less to ride a bike (compared to running), but I could feel it as a uncomfortable niggle. As a precaution I lowered my saddle somewhat, and raised the cockpit, which reduced the niggle, and I hoped that it would help the recovery (having stopped running altogether). But it occurred to me that a chainring designed to eliminate the "dead spot," that exact bit of the pedal stroke at the bottom where you "scrape" back, might eliminate the niggle. I now had an excuse to overlook my skepticism and slap some oval rings on my bike! Just like Wiggo and Froomie!

And the crazy thing is that it worked. Immediately I could feel that any soreness I felt at the bottom of the pedal stroke was gone. Where running was a 8/10 on the pain scale, and normal bike riding a 3/10, riding with Osymetric rings was a 1/10. I didn't now have to forego my favorite sport of cycling because I had injured myself running! Life was good again!



Osymetric Rings on my tri bike.  And yes, the shifting is absolute crap.

Within a few months of riding with oval rings my injury completely disappeared. A few months of riding on Osymetric oval rings did what nearly a year of physiotherapy, including deep tissue work, stretching, and acupuncture, could not do.

This result is completely unscientific, N=1, but it is consistent with what we know about muscle firing. It does make sense that unloading those muscles and tendons in the kinetic chain behind the leg would help an injury there heal. With a round chainring, there is significant recruitment of the hamstring (biceps femoris) at the dead spot at the bottom of the stroke, as shown in the image below, derived from electromyography (EMG) data, and it makes sense that a very oval ring might push some of load that further up the downstroke, to the quads (vastus medialis, intermedius and iateralis and rectus femoris). 

Image credit: Stephen Thordarson


Unfortunately the only studies that have been done on oval rings seem to be manufacturer-sponsored, and designed to show a power benefit, or a reduction in effort (heart rate, lactate, VO2). And all the studies are unconvincing if not dubious. Good summaries of the available literature can be found here and here.  My own rudimentary research doing FTP tests on different days, on the same course, in similar environmental conditions, showed no clear power benefit (and no handicap either).  Oval rings can exaggerate power readings on a crank-based powemeter, so I used a hub-based Powertap, 

It would be interesting to see if the rationale for oval rings could be made more convincing if the studies focused on helping riders deal with pathologies like hamstring tendionopathy, or in that vein, how it might reduce the loads on running muscles, which could make triathletes that much more comfortable after a transition from bike to run.



Disclosure: This unit was provided to my shop by the local distributor at wholesale pricing.  Pricing was somewhat more than comparable round chainrings from Sram or Shimano.  I received no benefit from any manufacturer in writing this article.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

FTP Testing - Coggan or Friel? Is the 5% discount too much?

Dr. Justin Choo on the Dragon's ITT course, North Lantau


Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is defined as the average power that you can maintain on the bike for a one-hour, all out, race effort.

Knowing your FTP allows you to set zones that form the basis for your training. There are many different protocols used to test for FTP. Two of the most widely used methods are the Coggan test, and the Friel test.

Presented in his book Training and Racing with a Power Meter (widely considered to be the power training bible), the Coggan Protocol is essentially as follows:
  1. 20 minutes easy warm up 
  2. 3 x 1-minute wind ups with a minute rest between (100 RPM pedal cadence)
  3. 5 minutes easy
  4. 5 minutes all out (hard at first, but not so hard that you can't complete the effort)
  5. 10 minutes easy
  6. 20-minute time trial effort (this is the test - like the previous 5-minute all out effort, keep in control, hard but steady, you don't want to over cook it and die at the end)
  7. 10 to 15 minute cool down
You then take your average power over the 20-minute hard effort, and subract 5% to get an estimate of your FTP.

Another popular and much simpler test is what I've always referred to as the Friel Protocol. It is:
  1. Warm up
  2. 30-minute time trial (this is the test) all by yourself (no training partners and not in a race - it should be done as if it was a race for the entire 30 minutes)
  3. 10 minutes into the test click the lap button on your heart rate / GPS device 
  4. When done look to see what your average heart rate was for the last 20 minutes - that number is an approximation of your Lactate Threshhold Heart Rate (LTHR)
  5. When done, look to see what your average power was for the entire 30 minutes - that number is an approximation of your FTP
It is elegant in that it yields an FTP in 30 minutes with no correction. And in the same test you also get you get a nice LTHR estimate from the last 20 minutes, and again no correction is applied. Essentially you are chopping off the first 10 minutes in which the heart rate climbs more rapidly up to homeostasis, and then settles to climb more gradually around the LTHR, around the last 20 minutes (see pic below, with the initial heart rate ramp up highlighted).

FTP Test, with initial heart rate ramp up highlighted

The main differences between Friel and Coggan then are:
  • Duration of test - the Friel test uses average power over 30-minutes, the Coggan test over 20-minutes.
  • Discount to calculate FTP - the Coggan average power is discounted by 5%, there is no correction on the Friel test.
  • Warm up - the Coggan method tires you out with a hard warm up, the Friel warm up is easier (but the test is longer).
Friel has argued that no correction is needed because when you do a test alone, you feel sorry for yourself, and without the adrenaline of a race situation to push you, you simply can't push yourself hard enough.

And I totally agree with him!

I propose that the 5% correction factor is excessive for most non-elite athletes.  Age group athletes just don't have the chronic tolerance for pain that elite and professional athletes do. These people, as part of their job, need to habitually push themselves to levels that they race at. The have formed a mental discipline and self-knowledge that allows them to dig deep and simulate a race situation within themselves. Psychologist and researcher Sian Beilock describes this ability well in her book Choke. Being able to simulate a race situation in your head, visualize all the accouterments of the competitive atmosphere, and then be able to push your body to suffer as though you were in it, is a honed skill. And it's a skill that pro and elite athletes usually possess, but that many age groupers do not!

Thus, I think the 5% correction is excessive for non-elite athletes, and a better estimate of FTP for age groupers is the Friel estimate, or the Coggan estimate, with the hard warm up but without the 5% reduction.

I've seen this for my own performances and those of nearly all my power meter customers. The long race time trials yield 1-hour average power levels within 1-2 watts of the predicted ones without correction. And I suspect this would be the case for most age groupers. I can back this up with numerous race time trial results and step test lab test results from the Institute of Human Performance at HKU from me and my customers!

FTP ramp test at HKU
One very negative repercussion of this then is that if we are discounting the FTP test number by 5%, then we are setting our training zones too low, and thus not getting the full effect that we should be getting from our training.

So with that I was surprised while reading Joe Friel's latest book, Fast After 50, that the FTP test he is now recommending is the Coggan test and not the 30 min test that most of us refer to as the "Friel" test!  In all his previous books (there are many!) and on his blog, he has always advocated the 30-minute test. So I asked him in an email about the change. His reply:
Hi Tony, 
Thanks for your note.  Good insights. I have used both methods (and more) but the Coggan 20-min test has become the standard, it seems. Do whatever works best for you and your clients. There is no right or wrong here. I also tell coaches to trust themselves when it comes to making an opinionated change in FTP based on recent training data. FTP changes a bit on a daily basis due to fatigue and other lifestyle factors not to mention psychological variables also. It even changes during a ride. Weather can affect it. So there are many variables. What we are aiming for is to get a ballpark number—albeit a small ballpark.
Good luck! 
Fair enough. I could find no research to validate the use of the 5% Coggan discount, and none that considers that it might be different for non-elite athletes.

So until I find some validation, I won't be discounting my own FTP test numbers when setting my power training zones, and I don't recommend that my customers do either, unless, that is, they are elite athletes.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Saddle Comfort Part 1 - Friction

I tell all my bike fit customers dealing with saddle issues that we can boil (no pun intended) saddle discomfort issues down to 3 specific issues:

1) Friction
2) Bone Pain and Bruising
3) Numbness

This article deals with the first, Friction, probably the easiest to deal with.

Let's get real, serious cycling involves spending a lot of time putting a lot of load and heat on very little patches of skin.  It goes without saying that a proper bike fit and comfortable saddle are crucial to preventing these problems, but I am amazed  at how reluctant people sometimes are to use cycling-specific creams and lubricants. These are  effective, and can make the difference between a great ride and a plunge into hell. A plunge into hell being something like being in a stage race and having to deal with blistering in the perineal area. NOT fun. Anybody who's had bad chaffing, a boil or a blister in the tender parts knows what I am talking about. Fortunately, these traumas can often easily be prevented with the use of appropriate products.



At the Bike Energy Lab, we sell 3 different body lubes:

Assos Chamois Crème

  • from the Swiss maker of very comfortable and popular cycling shorts
  • probably the best known anti friction product available
  • thick cream that is essentially a thick magic potion of exotic ingredients like glycine soja oil, daucus carota sativa root, beta-carotene, beeswax, etc.
  • is slightly mentholated (Euro-style), giving a cool-heat sensation, but not ideal for women
  • can be applied to skin or for extra protection, in addition, directly to the chamois, but put too much on and you'll feel like you are wearing a soggy diaper
  • sells for HK$180 for a tub of 140ml

Brave Soldier Friction Zone

  • very similar to Assos but a bit more oily
  • magic potion with ingredients like soybean oil, beeswax, various seed oils and tee tree oil, aloe vera, and cocoa seed butter
  • slight menthol fragrance as well, so not great for women
  • costs HK$140 for a 74ml tube

Body Glide

  • originally designed for runners to prevent chaffing and blistering
  • sold as a hard stick like deodorant
  • harder to apply to some areas of the body (like creases and folds)
  • unlike the two potions above, does not feel remotely greasy, but can feel a bit slippery, like putting on a coat of plastic
  • fragrance free and does not have any methol, so definitely better for women than the other two options above
  • costs $128 for a 70g stick



My fellow bike fitter and friend Jon Blyer at Acme Bicycle Co. in Brooklyn, N.Y., also has a great recipe for homemade chamois creme.

DIY Chamois Creme

Recipe:
8 oz Vaseline - for lubrication
1/2 oz Neosporin - for antibacterial protection
¼-½ tsp tea tree oil - because it smells since and has some antiseptic properties.

Directions: Warm the Vaseline in a bath of warm water. Once it gets soft, stir in the other ingredients. A large “tub” of his homemade cream costs around HK$40 to make.  Disclaimer: I can’t be responsible if any homemade cream like this one stains the chamois in your expensive shorts, but that said, any good quality short should be able to handle any of the above creams.  This one can be applied to body and shorts. It is long lasting, though perhaps not a long lasting as the 3 commercial options above.



All of the above products are extremely effective at preventing blisters and chaffing. I think any serious cyclist should use an anti-friction product on any outdoor ride longer than one hour. On tri and TT bikes, and for any indoor riding, because the position in this case is more static and the potential for friction issues greater, I recommend using an anti-friction product on each and every ride. 

I always say that unlike numbness, which should normally not be tolerated and is your body's way of telling you that you need a different saddle, it's sometimes worth pushing through with a saddle you don't think you might tolerate at first because of friction, as long as an appropriate anti-friction product is used. A saddle that you may not think is the perfect saddle for you just may be once you do.

So with a customer who was minor complaints with a new saddle, perhaps slight hot spots, or light blistering, and that person has not used any creams prior, I will recommend that it MAY BE worth pushing through for a few weeks with the use of creams.

It is certainly true that some areas of the skin, in between the legs and in the perineal area, sometimes just don't adapt, and the skin just won't get thick enough, and if things are trending worse after 2-3 weeks, I'll recommend moving on to a different saddle.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New UCI Rule Change on Saddle Angle



Relief for the perineum! Good news for customers riding UCI-regulated time trials (including local races here in Hong Kong). The former rule required an ISM-type saddle to be at most 2.5 degrees nose down. Now the mfg-recommended 4-5 degrees will be UCI legal, finally!

See information on the new ruling here:
Ball Breaking Saddle Rules Updated
And a good rundown on upcoming rule changes here:
Q&A with UCI technical manager Mark Barfield

Sunday, March 22, 2015

How do I Calibrate my Powertap G3 with my Garmin Computer?



I love the Powertap for it's ease of use, simplicity, and industry-leading price point for an accurate power unit. Powertap units, certainly the third generation of them, just work. They are robust, durable, and accurate.

As a Powertap retailer, the first question I invariably get from a customer who has just purchased a unit. The Powertap web site and documentation is surprisingly barren of any procedure for how it should be done on a Garmin, and in fact the data that the Garmin presents the user has changed recently in newer Garmin firmware, just because Garmin made it so. Powertap is a completely distinct company and has limited input in just how Garmin sets up its firmware and its calibration functions.

Here's my take on Calibrating a Powertap G3:

When you "calibrate" a Powertap on a Garmin, you are not in fact calibrating anything, you are just forcing the Garmin unit to recognize what a zero load condition looks like, i.e. manual zero, or zeroing the torque.

So the procedure is:
- spin your pedals backwards to wake up the hub
- run the calibrate routine in your Garmin (while not sitting on the bike or applying weight to the pedals)
- then go riding

Previous generations of Garmin firmware simply read the sensor ID rather than the calibration value. Newer Garmin firmwares give you the calibration number (usually around zero, see how its determined here), and the torque, which will be zero since you have no weight on the bike or pedals. The calibration number varies with temperature.

Now, Garmin units let you turn on a function called "autozero" which zeros the torque whenever you are coasting. If you have this set (which I recommend) you don't really need to "calibrate" since the unit is always resetting the torque to zero when you are coasting down hills.

So you would only need to calibrate the unit if the temperature changed a lot since the last "calibration" and you wanted to make sure the power was really accurate before the first time you coasted down a hill that day, which is when it would automatically autozero for the first time. So in reality, you never need to calibrate if you have autozero set, which is the beauty of PT, but I do just to check the calibration number is reasonable, maybe once a week.

Also, when I am training I have my Garmin screen set to show me 3 sec power (I find anything less is just too jumpy, that's the nature of power). When I am coasting downhill I check every now and then that it does indeed read zero (after 3 seconds obviously). Incidentally I also like to track Lap Power, Last Lap Power, and Max Power, if I'm doing intervals. The Garmin also lets you choose other time average intervals, like 5 minutes, which some people find useful.

If you're really keen and curious you can actually truly calibrate the unit (i.e. check the accuracy and precision) yourself using that torque value it gives you on the Garmin calibration screen.
Two very similar procedures to accomplish this are given here and here (this is also called a stomp test as it involves stomping on, or putting a weight on, the pedals).

For a ridiculous amount of information well beyond what an average user would need, you can always refer to the Slowtwitch Official Powertap thread.  Alex Simmons has also posted some interesting information at his blog here though it is not specific to using a Powertap with a Garmin head unit (which is what most people seem to use these days) but rather to the old Powertap "Little Yellow Computer," or LYC.

Edited 2 May 2017 with new link to Powertap calibration offset values.






Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Syncing Golden Cheetah Across Multiple Computers Using Dropbox




As far as power analysis tools go, Golden Cheetah is the ultimate bike geek's tool.  It is robust, powerful, embodies some of the most useful tools available for training with power, and best of all, it's open source and free to use.

However, unlike say Training Peaks, Golden Cheetah (GC) data does not reside in the cloud. At this point (GC version 3.1), the database data for all your workouts resides in a single directory on your computer.  It's quite easy to port the database from one computer to another, say when migrating to a newer machine, just by transferring the directory which holds your workout data to the new machine.  But there is no way at this point to natively sync the data across multiple machines.

In my case, which I'm sure would be like that of many others, I have a desktop PC where I have diligently loaded all my workouts for analysis in GC.  I would like to be able to access this data while on the road on my laptop PC.  But in addition to this, I would also like to be able to edit the database (i.e. add new workouts) while on the road using my laptop, and have those workouts uploaded to a cloud database so I can view them in GC on my work PC when I get back from a trip.

There are other methods of doing this, namely involving symbolic links, as described here and here. Another way is to install the program on a USB stick.  However, the advantage of using the sync option below is that is is robust and potentially safer, in that that the data will remain resident and synced on all machines running GC.

So here's how to do it.  You'll need:

  • Two or more computers and the same version of GC running on each of those computers (current version is V3.1)
  • A Dropbox Account
  • A nifty program called Dropbox Folder Sync.  This allows you to use Windows Explorer to find any directory on your computer and Sync it to Dropbox.  Dropbox doesn't let you do this yet, you have to drag a directory to the Dropbox folder for the sync to happen.  So in essence, this add-on preserves the GC default directory location intact and creates a symbolic link to the Dropbox Directory for you.

Let's call "Computer 1" the original machine with all your workout data.  In my case, it's my desktop.

We'll call "Computer 2" the new machine that you want to access the original database.  You may also use this machine to add new workouts.  So in my case, it's my laptop, and I'll upload workouts to this computer while on the road.

The main trick with this is figuring out where the GC files reside on each machine, which is easy to do actually.

Just open GC on each computer and click on the Help Menu on the menu bar.



Under Help, click on About and you'll see something like this window:


So the GC programmers have kindly told us exactly where the files are located.  In my case, it's at C:/Users/user/AppData/Local/GoldenCheetah/your_name.  If you right click on this item you can copy it to the Clipboard and into Notepad or somewhere so you can refer to it later.  The name will correspond to the name you wrote in GC after you first installed it on your computer.

Then, go to this location on your computer (you may want to change settings in Windows Explorer (I'm using Windows 7) so you can see hidden folders.

Then right click on that directory and Sync it with Dropbox. The "Dropbox Folder Sync > Sync with Dropbox" menu item that will have been added by the Dropbox Folder Sync Add On.



An little arrow will  magically appear on the folder and the files will start to appear in your Dropbox folder.

Now, that the data is synced to Dropbox, we can move it to Computer 2.

In Computer 2, ensure you have the same version of GC running.  To keep things clean, ensure your user name in GC on computer 2 is spelled exactly the same as on Computer 1.  GC will crease a user database directory with the same name as on Computer 1.  If you have previously used a different name or different spelling, use the "Athlete > Open Window > New Athlete" function on the menu bar to create an account with exactly the same name you used on Computer 1.  You can delete the old name (just by deleting the old directory) at a later time.

Using Windows Explorer, find the database directory on Computer 2.  If you're using the same version of Windows, it will be a very similar location to the one you found on Computer 1 (C:/Users/user/AppData/Local/GoldenCheetah/your_name).  Go into that your_name directory, and, very important, ERASE any files there.  This will ensure that the files from Computer 1 are cleanly copied into that location during the sync.

Go back up one level back to the name, and again, right click to access the "Dropbox Folder Sync > Sync with Dropbox" menu item as you did above on Computer 1, and click on it to start the sync.  You'll be asked if you want to MERGE files, to which you'll answer yes.  (This item is critical.  Dropbox allows you to merge files this way, Microsoft's OneDrive does not at this point, so you can't use that as your cloud location for GC files).

The GC database files will now magically appear in the database name folder on Computer 2.

Any changes you make in Golden Cheetah on either computer show now be reflected in the Dropbox folder, and hence in the user database folder on each computer!

Hope this works for you!  Let me know using the comments if it doesn't.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Shopping for a Bike Fitter?


The best article I have ever read on this subject is this one by Dan Empfield.  In an article published in the "early days" of Slowtwitch, he succinctly describes all the "hallmarks of a good tri bike fitter."   I agree with him, and the article could equality hold for a good road bike fitter by substituting "road" for "tri" throughout the article.

Now, he's biased of course. How? Because he's a fitter and the characteristics he describes are his own. But that said, he is generally acknowledged to be a pretty damn good fitter, and the fact he regularly packs his California 'compound' with fitters and bike manufacturers wanting to learn from him attests to that fact. He most definitely knows whereof he speaks.

So with that, in full disclosure, I am also a fitter, and the tips I describe below do suspiciously sound like things I do, and qualifications I have, but I think they would pass an external test of a higher order.

I  started working in bike shops in Canada over 30 years ago, even before I was legally permitted to work, which led me to a job at the best shop in town when I turned 16.  This is also around when I started to race bikes.

The consummate bike geek, I loved bikes so much I thought I might do an education in engineering.  Though when I graduated, iconic Canadian brands like Cervelo and Race Face had not yet appeared, and I was content working in aviation between bike shop jobs, which conveniently draws on the same knowledge base, namely ergonomics (the fitting of humans to machines), aerodynamics, and lightweight materials and structures.

I've worked at some of the best bike shops in Canada, and more recently in Hong Kong, developing a comprehensive understanding of bicycle frame geometry and design principles, and a deep knowledge of component and equipment selection. I continue in my passion for cycling as a Retul and FIST-certified bike fitter at the Hong Kong-based Bike Energy Lab, and still continue to race in local cycling and triathlon events.

Coach and Fitter Matt Steinmetz of 51 Speedshop

How to Chose a Bike Fitter

Thanks to growing awareness of the benefits of fitness, increased increased cycling, and excellent performances by Asian athletes at international cycling events, cycling and triathlon are experiencing rapid growth in Asia and Hong Kong. I am amazed when I go to a race at just how many people are riding awesome equipment, and just how much people are willing to spend on their bikes. However, there are certainly some fairly sub-optimal, potentially dangerous, and simply odd positions out there. Some cyclists ignore the fact that with an expense of only a very small fraction of what they have spent on their bike, they could go significantly faster, for less effort, in more comfort. Thankfully, with the growth of the sport has come the growth of the discipline of bike fitting. Five years ago, the popular triathlon website Slowtwitch.com listed only four fitters in Australasia. It now lists 14.

Finding a fitter can be difficult, or it can be easy. It can almost always be said that any fitting is better than none, but why not ensure that your time and money is well spent? Here are few easy questions to ask a prospective fitter before choosing to give him or her your hard-earned time and money.

1. How much does it cost?

A bike fitter needs to be supported by tools. These include not only a large complement of bicycle repair tools, but also highly specialized fitting tools. A full Retul motion capture system can cost upwards of $14,000 USD, while a fitting bike might cost an additional $6,000 to $12,000. That investment is reflected in the price of a fitting. Depending on the time and degree of precision involved, bike fits typically range in price from $150 to $400 USD. 



2. What's your background?

Most fitters these days tend to have a background either in engineering or the health sciences, such as a fitness trainer or coach, exercise physiologist, physical therapist, chiropractor, or sports medicine practitioner.

Although a university-level education is not the only way to achieve this knowledge and discipline, it certainly is one way, and a degree (or two) in a related subject certainly demonstrates some depth of knowledge and familiarity with the scientific process. Science is important because without it, we don't have the justification needed to place a cyclist in one position versus another. Without it, a recommendation to make a positional change is just one person's opinion.

Since you probably don't train like people did in the early 1900s, why should you be fitted by a fitter who uses trial and error methods from that era? What distinguishes modern bike fitting from old-school fitting is science, and I strongly feel that a passion for science, and learning about the newest technologies and methods, is essential.

Red Flag: watch out for a fitter who hides behind science. Although science gives us beautifully precise terms to explain various bio-mechanical conditions, make sure he or she can explain things in terms you understand. For example, if your prospective fitter asks you something like: "Are you femorally rotated? Are you seeking athletic ambidexterity and would you like me to correct that pelvic obliquity?" and you have no idea what he or she is taking about, ask him or her to speak your language.


3. What certifications do you have?

There are many individuals and bike shops conducting bike fits these days. Some are better than others, some have certifications, and some don't. Some have certifications from bike manufacturers, some from independent fitting organizations or schools. Some of these certifications require the fitter to pass a knowledge test, some don't. Some require that a continuing education or re-certification program be followed to ensure continued competency, others are granted for life. Suffice to say that not all certifications are equal, and it would be difficult for the average cyclist or triathlete consumer to easily distinguish the benefits of one from the other.

As a rule of thumb, I recommend that your prospective fitter have at least one or two certifications. Also, no more than one of these should be from a manufacturer, since a manufacturer's protocol will obviously tend to focus on and favour a specific manufacturer's bikes (one example is the BG Fit certification from Specialized).

Some independent fitting protocols with certified fitters in Asia include FIST/Slowtwich, Bikefit Systems, and Retul (which actually has just been acquired by bike manufacturer Specialized, but it for now works independently from the Specialized BG Fit certification process).



4. Do you ride?

The only way your fitter will have any empathy for how you feel at the end of a five hour ride is if the fitter knows what it's like to ride for five hours! Just as you'd only hire a coach with a solid background and appreciation for the sport, best stick with a fitter who has put some solid hours in the saddle, just like you have (or will).


Photo Credit: Chi Fai Lam

5. What if I don't like how it feels? Do you have a warranty?

Luckily, most fits will result in a position that is (hopefully) better than the one you had. Realistically, it is doubtful that a fitter will have a money-back guarantee. All fittings involve an exchange of information and it is reasonable that the fitter will want to be properly compensated for providing the service and consultation. Do make sure that your fitter is receptive to a post-fit consultation and working with you with issues that might materialize outside of the fit studio. Indeed, despite what some fitters might tell you, it is impossible to duplicate a long and hard outdoor session in a studio.

Red Flag: Beware of any power guarantees. Any fitter who promises that a fitting will turn you into a 20% more powerful cyclist doesn't understand how cycling works. Most of the power produced by a cyclist is used to overcome aerodynamic drag. It is quite easy for a fitter to give a client a more powerful position, but if the effect that this position has on aerodynamic drag is not considered in detail, it will not make you faster. In fact, that "more-powerful" position might just make you a lot slower! Unless your prospective fitter has a wind tunnel, don't believe any spurious claims.



6. Do you have bike shop experience? 

If you value your bike, you'll appreciate a bike fitter who knows his or her way around a bike intimately. In the past few years we have seen the introduction of a plethora of new standards in bike design; things like completely new bottom bracket standards, integrated headset/stem designs, and complex electronic shifting systems. Ideally, a fitter will have experience working as a mechanic in a shop and will know how to property tighten a bolt to the proper torque specification, and how to gingerly move those Di2 electronic shifter cables out of the way to replace your aerobar without causing any damage. Having significant experience with lightweight bike parts and frames is critical, or you may end up walking out of the fitting with a broken bike part, or worse, a cracked frame! Make sure your fitter uses a torque wrench when tightening any critical fastener.

A fitter with solid shop experience will also be able to accomplish the job faster and with more safety as far as the bike is concerned.

7. Do you work in a bike shop or are you independent?

While some bike shops view fitting as an impediment to a quick sale (since they might actually have to find you a bike that fits, whether or not they have it in stock), some manufacturers have unabashedly resorted to using bike fitting as a marketing tool. While I think this is generally a positive development, it also tends to result in recommendations towards a bike from that manufacturer, so there is an inherent conflict of interest.

One definite advantage of working with a fitter in a big bike shop is the easy availability of mechanics, parts and tools. One disadvantage is that the fitter may be under some pressure to upsell you parts you may not really need, and he or she might want to push on you a bike or parts that happen to be in stock, to keep that inventory moving. An independent fitter is well placed to give advice and recommendations tailored only to your needs regardless of stock availability, or your ability to afford them. However, do make sure that an independent fitter has a reasonable selection of specialized bike tools and equipment.

8. How long have you been fitting? How many fits have you done?

Perhaps more important than any other factor discussed above is a fitter's experience fitting people to bikes. A good experienced fitter doesn't need to rely on his or her bike fitting tools even though he has them. An experience fitter will have an internal database of bike fit problems and corrections, because he or she has seen many similar issues before. Ensure that you are truly comfortable with any prospective fitter's level of experience. In this case, the more the better.

Red Flag: Beware of the "Bike Whisperer"-type who has all the answers. Bikes aren't animals and you can't whisper at them to make them fit properly. Also, no two customers are alike, and even the most experienced fitter hasn't solved all the world's bike fit problems. A good fit is the result of a collaborative process. Sometimes solutions to fit problems require a significant amount of investigation and iteration. You may need to trial a new position over a few days, and give some feedback to your fitter so that he or she can improve it. Make sure any prospective fitter is willing to work with your specific needs and idiosyncrasies, and won't simply fit you into a template. If your prospective fitter's motto is "my way or the wrong way," best steer away.

A thorough post-fit report is essential.

So ask these questions before going to that bike fitting. They will help ensure that whatever fitter you chose is someone you feel you can trust, someone you feel has your best interests at heart, and someone who can communicate with you in your language. The outcome will likely be a bike that fits better, and the knowledge that on that bike, you are as comfortable and fast as you can be.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Sweet Spot Protocol for Hong Kong

The members of the Lantau Buffalos Team Time Trial team are in a heated internal competition, as we had a few more riders than slots for the HKCA race.  We are using the TC10 course just outside Discovery Bay, Hong Kong, to chose the team.  Since this is a great basic test of fitness, the results can also be used to come up with a sweet spot for training for steady state events.  I've drafted the below and copied here in case anyone else might benefit from it.




HOW TO FIND YOUR SWEET SPOT FOR TRI AND TT TRAINING
Based on Friel Heart Rate Zones

Go out and do a test on the 16k TC10 course or any flat, 10 mile (16 km) course.
  • 20 minutes easy warm up
  • 3 x 1-minute wind ups with a minute rest between (100 RPM pedal cadence)
  • 5 minutes easy
  • 5 minutes all out (hard at first, but not so hard that you can't complete the effort)
  • 10 minutes easy
  •  25-30 minute time trial effort (like the previous 5-minute all out effort, keep in control, hard but steady, you don't want to over cook it and die at the end - INSERT YOUR 10 MILE COURSE HERE)
  • 10 to 15 minute cool down
Then, take the average heart rate over the last 20 minutes of the TC10 course (you can just eyeball the plot in Strava or Garmin Connect, or if more precision is necessary use a program like SportTracks or Training Peaks to insert a lap at the finish time minus 20 minutes). This number is your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR).

Heart Rate Zones:
Then, use the factors below (from this link) to determine your HR zones.

Bike Zones
Zone 1 Less than 81% of LTHR 
Zone 2 81% to 89% of LTHR   
Zone 3 90% to 93% of LTHR   
Zone 4 94% to 99% of LTHR 
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR 
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR 
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

More on HR training use the Friel zones can be found here, here, and here.

Sweet Spot:
The Sweet Spot for steady state racing (like triathlons and time trials, as opposed to road races, sprinting, etc.) is 95% of LTHR, plus or minus 5%.  So, for example, if my 20min average is 154bpm.  My sweet spot is 154 x 0.95 = 146, or a range of around 138-154bpm. Note that this corresponds to Friel's zones 3 and 4.

If you are training by power, use the average power over the ENTIRE TC10 test (not just the last 20min).  This is your Functional Threshold Power.  Your power "Sweet Spot" is at 90% of the FTP plus/minus 5%

The advantages of doing this test yourself over a set course and distance is that you are more likely to push yourself harder if it's a fixed distance, plus you might get some bragging rights on Strava!  You don't have to pay a lab to get the numbers, and it's easy to repeat and check your progress over time.  Note that your LTHR won't change much, but your power will increase and time decrease with training.

I don't  recommend any method that uses the 220-AGE formula  to determine heart rate training zones.  The 220-AGE formula has been completely discredited, and just from polling my own small network of bike fit customers, friends, and team mates, doesn't account for the very large range of variability of people's heart rates at threshold, which seems to have little correlation to age.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Downloading Open Source Maps for Garmin Edge Computers


A not so widely advertised feature of the Garmin Edge cycling computers is the ability to use free maps from open sources. There are two main reasons why someone would want to this:
  • Garmin maps can be very expensive; or,
  • to get a map for an area not covered by Garmin maps.
An open source map downloaded this way will not natively provide for turn-by-turn navigation, though this function can easily be added by uploading a course (*.crs file) to the unit that has been pre-processed by Bike Route Toaster.

That said, for simple map navigation, these maps are great, free, and totally legit.

Here’s how to do it:

Select and Download the Map Area:

Download and install Mobile Atlas Creator (MobAC). Formerly known as TrekBuddy Atlas Creator, it is an open source (GPL) program which creates offline atlases for GPS handhelds and cell phone applications.

Install it (unzip it) and run it simply by clicking on the Mobile Atlas Creator.exe file (if you plan on using it a lot, just make a shortcut to this file on your Desktop). You’ll be presented with a screen that looks like this:



You can easily change the map area in view by zooming in and out with your mouse wheel. To move to the left and right simply move the mouse with the right mouse button pressed. You’ll note a scale for Zoom level in the upper left hand side of the map screen. Centre the screen on the area you would like to capture. 

Under map source in the margin on the left, you’ll see a drop down menu with various open map sources. Older versions of MobAC would let you view non-open-source maps, like those of Microsoft Maps and Google Maps, but these agencies required MobAC to remove these sources, and all that is available now are those maps from OpenStreetMap. This is fine for cycling actually, as I have found the best map for cycling is the OpenStreetMap Cyclemap. It shows off-road bike trails (including MTB trails), as well as elevation contours.

So, under the Map Source drop down menu, select OpenStreetMap Cyclemap. Under Zoom level, check only 14. Higher zoom levels do not work in the Edge devices, and lower zoom levels do not show up with enough detail. Note that unlike Google Maps on your Iphone or Android phone, which looks at distinct tiles on different levels when zooming in and out, Garmin devices let you look at one big picture map, and when you press + and – on the unit to zoom in and out, it just increases or decreases the magnification on that one big map, so it is critical that you use the right zoom level, and only one zoom level.

Now, give your map a name in the Name: box, and click on Add Selection. Your screen should look like this below: 



Then, simply click on Create atlas and your file will be created (*.kmz format) in the location specified.

Moving the kmz file to your unit then simply requires that you plug the Garmin unit in with USB cable, and transfer it to the right location, as follows:

Install the Custom Map on your Garmin Edge:

(Note, this procedure applies specifically to the Edge 800, but would be similar for the 705).

1. Plug your unit into your PC via the USB;

2. Open the directory for the SD card (assuming you have one, if you don’t, simply use the existing memory card in the unit, assuming there is enough space on it);

3. Create a directory inside the Garmin directory called CustomMaps (no space), so something like k:\Garmin\CustomMaps;


4. Move the .kmz file into it.

Then, disable the other maps in your Garmin 800

1. Unplug the unit from the PC and turn it on;

2. Go Menu > Settings (wrench icon) > System > Map > Select Information Map;

3. Click on the other maps and select Disable;

4. Click on the Custom Map HK_Territory (or whatever you've called it) and make sure it is Enabled.

That’s it!

The result should look like this when looking at the map page in the unit. Note the detailed contours and trails, and even the golf course area in grey, around the Discovery Bay district here in Hong Kong:









Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TTT Tips

Ahhh, the cool temperatures, the polluted wind, the yellow-blue sky.  It's January in Hong Kong again.  That means its time for the Hong Kong Cycling Association's Team Time Trial.  A big kick in the legs to wake them up to some hard training after a bit of time off.


For a good summary of how the team time trial works, Bike Radar has a great article on how it all works here.  The Lost River Cycling Club has some nice descriptions of the different types of pacelines here.  Note that the direction you pull off depends on the wind.  The guys behind the lead should be sheltered, the guys pulling off from the front do so into the wind, like this:
SINGLE / DOUBLE / ROTATING / ECHELON
Drawing taken from the book 
Bicycling Street Smarts by John Allen

If there is no wind, in Hong Kong (and the UK, Australia, New Zealand etc.), you pull off to the right.

Some more points: 

Be Smooth
!

The usual comment from many new riders to the team time trial is that the hardest part of the race is catching the train after doing a pull.  This implies that they were just pulling too hard, perhaps going well into anaerobic.

Easily the most important rule for team time trials is: DO NOT SURGE under any circumstances when taking the lead. When the front rider has finished their turn, the rider behind checks the speed on their computer and maintains that 
speed (assuming of course the road conditions remain constant).

The rider who has finished their pull moves to the windward side and decreases their speed slightly, allowing the other riders to pass. At least one member of the team will be riding near their anaerobic threshold, so if the lead rider accelerates they will be pushed so hard they may not finish. If no one is near their maximum, the team is not riding fast enough.

Stay Close!
The closer you are to the rider in front the less work you have to do. It is important to keep it tight. Don’t forget that if you are at the front you may have to gingerly pick a track around stealthy holes and obstacles. Better to do this than to point them out by taking the hands off the bars, which is rarely a good idea in an aero tuck on a TT bike. Consider calling out the really bad obstacles.


Stick Together!
We can all go out and do Lactate Threshold sessions by ourselves, and we now that some of us are fitter than others on any particular day, but it is important in the TTT to work as a TEAM.  It is important to keep the egos in check just for a few hours and work together. Some of the responsibilities the riders all have in this are: 
  1. If you are taking a pull at the front and feel strong, go ahead and  take a longer pull (say 1-2 minutes instead of the normal 30 secs); if you feel like accelerating, make sure you take a peek behind you to ensure that the train is still together, otherwise slow down;
  2. If you feel like dying and that the train is going too fast, take shorter pulls, (like 10-20 secs) and say "slow down" quietly as you drop to the back, communicate to the rest of guys that you are suffering, but DON'T just out of the blue, drop out altogether; 
  3. If you are the last guy in the train, try and help the next guy dropping in behind you.  If you feel strong, consider dropping back a tiny bit and pull the guy up (but be careful not to risk getting dropped yourself!).  If you see that the guy is suffering, communicate it up the train.
After you have taken a turn at the front, the correct protocol is:
  1. Look over your right shoulder and take a peek behind you to make sure there are no trucks/cars/other teams coming.  This is the cue to everyone behind you that you are going to drop off.  There is no need to (like some other teams do) wave your arm frantically or yell out to the guy behind you to move up.  A good team will be in tune enough to anticipate when the guy in front will drop off.
  2. Gently drift to the right (or left if the wind is strong enough from the right that the echelon is going anti-clockwise)
  3. Do not abruptly turn right when done your turn.  If you do this, and if the guy behind you's wheel is overlapping a bit, you will manage to make the entire train crash spectacularly! 
About the time at the front:
Assuming a train of 5 or more riders, the following pull times seem to work well:
- 15-30secs for uphill or into a headwind,
- 30-40secs on the flat
- 40-60secs downhill when the speed is up.
And of course, if you are dying, TAKE SHORTER PULLS! Your teammates will appreciate that much more than seeing you drop out.

About pacing strategy:
It is easy to go off fast.  The heart is pumping, the adrenaline is rushing through your system, and you are keen to get going.  However, numerous studies have shown that going off too fast usually leads to slower TT times. In fact, nearly every single running world record that has ever been set had pacing that was equal or negatively split (that is, the pace in the first half was equal to or slower than in the second half).  It is probably safe to say that this would apply to most endurance events (and the hour record splits bear this out).  Triathlon coach Joe Friel has called "Poor Ability to Pace" the number one mistake of athletes.

So what works? A "J" shape for the pace is usually ideal.  To an extent, accept that the adrenaline will keep things going at a good clip initially.  Settle in to a slower more comfortable and realistic pace, and finish off with a bang, keeping in mind that a negative split is important, as is keeping the pace of the group aerobic right until nearly the end. A good way to monitor this is with a power meter. A heart rate monitor can also be used, in conjunction with bike speed, knowing that heart rate will drift up naturally in a long event, even if perceived exertion does not.

What about hills or strong winds?
Should the pace pick up, stay the same, or slow down?  I've often wondered about this and how it would affect the outcome of a race. I finally found a solution based on scientific approach based on minimizing exposure to the hill or wind, in order to minimize the energy cost.  These guidelines are the result (based on a single rider):
  • Coast at >50km/h
  • Pedal Easy at >40km/h
  • Pedal Steady at >30km/h
  • Pedal Mod-Hard at >20km/h
  • Pedal Hard at >10km/h
So, for the faster speeds of a TTT, perhaps a 10kph adjustment might be justifiable?  Thus, if the team was on a downhill and it's speed was greater than 60kph, it would be better to just coast.  However, if the hill was so steep that the speed up the hill was below 20kph, it would make sense to go hard.

Some other useful pacing tips (from individual time trialing) can be found here and here.

About the Race Plan:
Since this is a team effort, it is important to have all the riders on the same page at all times.  One way to help achieve this is with a race plan.  Some of the things that need to be discussed before the race starts are:
  • Starting order
  • Timing – what time targets are you aiming for that negative split?
  • Speed - what speed is required to achieve planned splits?
  • Mechanical issues -what to do if someone has a flat or a mechanical problem 
  • Nutrition
  • Team members getting dropped

About the gear
:
Lots has been written about the cost effectiveness of TT bikes, aero accessories, bike fittings, and other aids (see here and here).   That said, it doesn't always make sense to rush out and buy aero bars.  Most people I see with tri bars on a road bike have made their bikes heavier, and made themselves slower and less powerful. This has finally been pointed out in the mainstream cycling press and will be the subject of a detailed post to come.  That said, an aero helmet is usually a worthwhile purchase. However, the best return on investment, by far, is TRAINING, and preferably focused, TT specific training at lactate threshold or just below, in the sweet spot.

Happy training!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ironman Western Australia Race Report

One of my bike fit customers, Olivier Baillet, recently wrote a gripping report of his race at Ironman Western Australia.


This is a comeback of sorts for Olivier, as he returned to the sport of triathlon after a seven year absence with a goal of qualifying again for Kona at age 40.  His comeback culminated in a victory in the highly contested 40-45 age category at the 2010 Taiwan 70.3, and a 7th place at  Ironman Western Australia, which was indeed good enough to get him to Kona. Although Olivier is easily the smartest and most dedicated self-coached triathlete I know, his report highlights just how much a great performance is actually a mental battle with oneself.


Reprinted with permission of the author, Olivier Baillet.






October 2002. It's over 40 degrees and I'm walking, my body just can't take it anymore. I am heading towards the Energy Lab and I know I still need to do a u-turn before heading back to town. My mind starts to fall apart as I realize that the elusive dream of breaking 10 hours in Kona is over. Around me it's a battlefield with victims all over the place but no winner: everybody is in pain and there are lying bodies here and there. I start to jog again, pain is my friend, pain is weakness that leaves the body, pain is part of the game, pain IS the game, I'm stronger than pain. I catch up with one of my training buddies from New York, who tells me that we're on pace to break 10:30. Not what I wanted, but still a decent goal. My legs are progressively coming back, I am now running on the hill when the 1989 Ironbattle between Mark Allen and Dave Scott took place, I now know I will finish that bloody thing, and I just do it, crossing the finish line in 10.26.

The following day I realize that, although I gained 24' compared to 2001, which was the worst year ever in terms of wind conditions, I only gained 9 places; 361st overall in 2002 versus 370th in 2001. An average of 16 hours of training for 9 months for that! I had to make a decision. I would never be top 100 in Hawaii, I can't stand the heat, and I have made no progress in a year. And then it came: that's it, I quit, it's time to move on, I have lived a fantastic adventure since May 2000, when my wife bought me my first road bike ever, with a Hawaii qualification in Lake Placid 2001 at my first attempt at the distance with a 9:51, a second qualification for Hawaii the following year thanks to an age group win at the Keauhou Half Ironman, but I have reached my limit. But while I decided to turn the page, I swore to myself one thing: I'll come back to Kona, at 40 years of age, with my wife and my 2 (future) kids, whatever it takes. I turned 40 last week, will still be 40 next October, and the kids love to visit new beach places...

***

December 2010. The sun is out, the sky is blue, the stillness of the people is surreal and I'm super ready. Oh yeah, I am so, so super ready. I am containing myself, keeping that energy that wants to explode inside of me. These minutes before a big race count among the most exciting moments in my life. 3, 6, or 9 months of training are finally going to make sense. I just want to unleash that fire. It's time. Time to race. But before that, it's time for acknowledgement, and for thanks. Thanks for being at 40 healthier and stronger than ever. Thanks for having a wife who supports me and allows me to pursue my quest. Thanks for being part of that marvellous display of human will. Thanks for feeling that cool water up to my waist, breathing that fresh air, feeling the sun on my face. I purposely face opposite to the race direction to absorb the sunrays. Yeah, now I'm ready, bring it on! 

Bang! The washing machine is turned on in a split second. Finally!!! I tuck my head down and manage to refrain from shouting out of joy. Yesss, this is it, it's happening now, and it is here. I love that feeling of human mess, swimming one of top of each other, elbowing, I know it is part of the game, I know it won't last, and I know most people hate it and fear it, which makes me stronger.

Then we all start to progressively settle into our respective rhythm. We swim along a wooden jetty on our left and come back the other way. It's nice to race with the Australians as they are such good swimmers. For a while, I can't help admiring the stroke of the guy on my left. Slower cadence than me, smoother, effortless. Unfortunately I suddenly get swum over by a pair of huge arms, coming from nowhere. Apparently Mr big guy wants to follow the nice pair of feet I was drafting on. I resist, gently trying to push the guy out, but it doesn't take long before I lose the battle. Oh well, there's plenty of fast feet around, and by the way, here is a nice pair. Unfortunately, while I was battling with big arms, I lost touch with the big group in front of me and I know I will never get it back. So here I am in the lead of another big pack, not where I want to be. It's not long though before some of the guys behind me get impatient with my pace and take the lead. I'm fine to be passed and follow the stream, and I finally touch ground after 55' of relatively pleasant and calm swimming. 3' off my best, but right where I tend to be normally, and exactly on target. One down, two to go.

A guy thanks me with a smile: thanks, I drafted on you the whole way, nice pace!  And pass me running like a rabbit while I struggle to catch my breath. Whatever, I stick to my mantra: my race, my pace. I pass the timing mat. I know I have tens of people watching the race online and receiving my swim split right now. I know you guys are here. You almost all know what 55' means, it's as if I were sending an email to say 'hi guys, I'm doing just fine... And you ain't seen nothing yet!'.

Back to reality, it's time for the frantic T1 transition. Focus, Olivier, focus, you can't screw up anything. "Number 730! 730!" I shout, show me the row where my transition bag is, as right now I could do with some help. Ok, stay calm. Seat, please volunteer, help me to get my wetsuit off, armwarmers ? No, it's warm enough, gloves ? Yes, you need comfort and security, put them on. Socks ? It will slow you down to put them on, sure, but wait, comfort and security you just said, so ok but don't be surprised if your transition time is slow. Gel flask ? Yes, slide it into the bike jersey pocket, in case the 1500 calorie bottle on your bike cage falls, and don't forget to carry the salt tablets too. Helmet, oh I love the integrated visor, so cool. Ok, here I am standing again, last circular check, I have everything I need for 180k, thanks volunteer for cleaning my mess, and off I go. "730, 730!!" ah, I can see my white disk wheel sticking out, and I sprint towards my bike. Quick gaze, alles klar, tyres OK, and mount! Yoohoo, ok, cadence, cadence, cadence, get the blood flushing into your legs, tie your shoes tight, more, yeah, right there, perfect. We're now zooming through the crowd, they're shouting encouragements, great, feel the energy, suck it up, suck it up, oh I love that sport, I love it so much!!! I feel amazing!

And then like in every race, we competitors enter into a different world that spectators cannot imagine. A world of silence and loneliness. We left the crowd behind already a while ago. The airplanes flying by at 50kph are getting more rare. I start to shut down into my own world. I'm entering into my bubble. Then, as my mind gets more and more quiet, I remember an interview I read 8 or 9 years ago. 'The Zone', as Peter Reid -3 times Ironman World champion- says, I'm progressively entering the Zone. It takes a while, more than 50k, before I reach that stage, as I'm still troubled by the strong cyclists overtaking me and the threat of getting trapped into a potential drafting position, forcing me to slow down when I get passed. But I'm getting there, the Zone. First time ever. I hear the wind in my aero helmet and the aggressive sound -but so smooth, so sexy at the same time- of my disk wheel. Man, this is so good. Delightful. What a joy, what a pleasure. Then comes a windy portion. I remember what Natasha Badmann -5 times IM World Champion- said in Hawaii in 2001 when she mentioned that in the 80kph crosswind she felt like 'she was spreading her wings and could fly'. My jaw fell on the floor when she said that, but now I know what she meant. Use the energy from the wind, use it, don't battle it. Facing now a solid headwind, I think it's time to spread my wings too. At the same time, I remember what my yoga teacher says when I feel like crying in the pigeon pose: Ease into the effort. She's right, I shouldn't be pushing too hard, it's too early. The race hasn't started yet. Patience.



Over 37kph average and this feels like nothing. I'm starting to pass female pros, and they had a 15' headstart. Girls, no paycheck for you today, I shouldn't be in front of you. Drink, eat, grasp Gatorage at water station, through away empty bidon at the right place, thanks volunteer! Check speed, still average 37 plus. Man, I'm strong! Check heart rate: 130, too easy, you can go harder than that. Push, push, push. Hey, I know this guy, he passed me 1h ago. Ok, they start dropping like flies, and I'm still steady. Man, I love that sound, voohoohoo, God bless the inventor of the disk wheel. My legs are still feeling OK, it's my arms that start to suffer. The road surface is most of the time pretty rough, and the vibrations are taking a toll on my triceps. But it's ok, I don't need them anymore, just my legs. Thanks God a junction is coming. Out of the saddle, voluntarily change pace, change gear, I need that change, I need a break into the monotony, and too bad if I lose 15-20 seconds in the process. I'm doing very well and by 80k I know I am as fast as I have ever been over that distance in a race, covering it in 2h08. Except that in the race I did that, total bike distance was 80k. No worries, my legs are still fresh, I can probably hold that, or not far from it, for an extra 100k. I am now convinced that I will break 5h on the bike, a goal inside the big goal. While I race for myself as I have my own motivation and my own agenda, I must say that being part of the quite exclusive sub 5h bike split cyclists makes me proud, especially as a HKG SIR cyclist. Another junction: "I love your bike" says a supporter. Me too, man, me too. And I love that stuff. Average speed hasn't gone down, still around 37kph. I'm lapping tons of people, but I barely see them. In the Zone, I'm so present and absent at the same time. I feel indestructible.

Careful as I am, I realized at km 120 that I have swallowed much more than two thirds of my calories and decide to take less for a while. I don't want stomach problems on the run. Hope I'll have it all digested within 2 hours. 140k: moment of truth. I have not ridden more than that distance since March. Testing a completely unorthodox method (patent pending), I have done all my training rides faster than what I estimated to be Ironman race pace, but not a single really long distance ride. To cap it all, I have been in the no man's land for already 20k, so not much to look at or look forward to. Basically, me and my competitors are way past the 'show one's muscles' phase where we play the game of zooming by at 50 kph, enjoying the feeling of speed and rejoicing from the devastating effect this makes to the guy just passed who feels like he's standing still. At this stage of the game, we are all trying to conserve energy while holding tough towards the end of the bike. Not many passes occur around that period at that level. Hence the loneliness, and weariness, and the significant risk of slowing down. Historically, the 140k-160k period has always been my weak point, in every Ironman. What usually crumbles at this stage, if and only if my nutrition has been tip top, is the mind, the capacity to focus. Oddly enough, I haven't read much in the sports 'literature' about what it takes to focus for 10 hours non stop, but I know I never managed to be on top of things for that long. But as semi-pro buddy Erich said, 'Busselton IM is so boring... but you must press and press and press the pedals all the way'. That's what I'm doing my friend, believe me, but boredom is not far. Still, boring as it may get, I find that time passes very fast. The final stretch is tough though, the headwind has picked up quite a bit and I can't wait to be running, I see my instant and average speeds drop and I'm not happy with that, not happy at all. Still, I can see in front a guy who passed me ages ago, so I'm still catching up on people. Riding in the long corridor towards the transition, with the thick crowd yelling at us, I raise my left arm in a gesture meaning "c'mon, it's time to raise your voice", and fair enough, everybody starts to shout and clap, and I'm like a sponge swallowing all this power released in the air. But suddendly I channel my mind into getting into a rehearsal mode: in a minute, you'll have to dismount, leave your helmet, put your visor, your sunglasses, get all your supplements in case something goes wrong (Ibuprofen, caffeine tablets, salt tablets, magnesium spray for the cramps). Focus, Olivier, focus. 



Transition's done already, and my legs feel terrible. No surprise here, that is the quintessence of triathlon! But I'm running 4:15/km... You're going too fast man, slow down. Same scenario as on the bike, guys pass me as if I were a spectator standing and watching. That's ridiculous: are they running 3:30ies or what ? My race, my pace, my race, my pace, my... What's that, a stitch, stomach pain ? No, that can't be. I can't get a stitch at such a slow pace! Keep running, pain is my friend, a stich is nothing, keep running. Pain gets worse though. In an attempt to ease into it, I read the inscriptions on the pavement, written with chalk. Some are funny 'Dad, I'm pregnant!', perfect timing to get this kind of news, in the beginning of the marathon of an Ironman. Some are just nice to read 'Number XX, you're inspirational'. It's true, the 1300 athletes are inspirational, we all are, together, we're inspiring thousands of people, today, now. I then start to think about my group of friends, my support team, my 'Ironman village' as someone wrote it recently. Yeah, we all need a village to get through that phenomenal undertaking. I think about my wife and my kids, my physical therapist, my bike fitter, my training buddies from the Lantau Buffalos, the SIRs, the Dragons, the people from the 3 triathlon shops I go to in HKG: they are all behind me, wanting me to have a great race. I am now running with my clenched right fist deep into my right kidney and I can feel the pity in the eyes of several supporters in the crowd. Yes, not a pretty sight, I know, but that bloody hurts, and it's starting to get the better on me. In fact, it hurts so much that I think for a minute or two: 'man, I didn't pick up the best moment to get a crisis of appendicitis'. Then the worst thing happened: a guy from my age group passes me. The 'E' letter on his right calf, which is the letter for the 40-44 age category, strikes me like lightning. And then another one passes by little after. I know at that time that I am still well in contention for a slot for the World Championship. Very few people finish the swim-bike combination in less than 6 hours, which is what I have just done. A fantastic achievement to my standards, but which would be meaningless if not followed by a solid marathon. I need a 3:20 marathon to get that slot, and I have been training for that pace, and faster, for over a year now. On a normal day, I can do that. But right now I'm walking. I feel sorry for myself, why do I always put myself in situations like this, why I am always looking for such misery ? And then, right in front of me, I read: 'don't take life too seriously'. A few meters after 'dad, in my eyes, you're an Ironman', with the drawing of a pair of eyes with the symbol of Ironman in it. 

OK, Olivier, two things: 1) you are NOT going into a depressive move if you don't go to the World Championship, even if it means the world to you and 2) you are NOT coming back home this time with a 'Did Not Finish' tattooed on your forehead like last March at Ironman Port Macquarie. In every Ironman, there is a moment of truth. Hammering the swim, hammering the bike, all this is easy if everything goes according to plan. But it's not what I came for. I came to see what I'm made of, I came to see if my mental fortitude, that which carried me through 4 Ironmans, 3 ultra trails, and at the top of a couple of pretty high mountains, was still there. Has age made me weaker? Is being more fulfilled in my life and having less things to prove to myself a good reason to have turned my mental of steel into the white marshmallow kind of stuff that my daughter likes so much ? So it's happening now. You cannot control everything, but you can always make decisions. Attitude is everything. I make a decision: stop moving, press that fist deeper, bend over, fist deeper, deeper. I stay like this forever. It hurts so much. Deeper, deeper. Pain is my friend, pain is my friend. It's working, the pain starts to subside, I'm walking now, soon I start jogging, finally I'm running again. Man, I'm back! Next decision: from now on, I'm exclusively drinking Coke, washing out my digestion problems, diffusing flush of sugar into my blood, electrifying my brain with caffeine. Yeah, I'm back for good, it's holding well, it seems, but don't get too excited either, that was pretty close! 

Let's start that thing all over again. I have no idea how many minutes I have lost. These have been really painful 15 km, but it's over, I'm now running 4:45/km again. Just hold that pace and don't blow up. The 'feel strong' is back, the zone too. I'm passing, passing and passing. Nobody can maintain my pace around me. I walk at every aid station, swallowing coke and putting ice my mouth as the temperature rises, losing 10 to 20" each time in the process but I don't care. If it's hard for me, it's hard for everybody. I'm trained for that, oh boy, I'm so super trained for that. Oops, I'm running 4:20 pace, too fast. Half marathon mark. Finally! The race starts here. All the rest has been a warm up, a build up. Now guys will drop like flies, or fly! For all my heavy legs and my digestion problem, I'm closer to the second category. I'm catching up. The crowd is shouting encouragements: looking strong Oli, go Olivier, great job Oliver, whatever the name they use, no doubt, they're talking about me, and I don't think they're lying. It's time to tuck my head down, raise that heart rate, and push, push, push. Right there, 50m away, is the blond guy in my Age Group who passed me at the beginning of the run. OK, after more than 8 hours of almost solo endurance effort, it's time to actually race for a place. The guy looks so-so, I would say, and I can feel I can take him down. Aid station... Now, now, go! While he's making a slight incurve to get a drink, I pass through the exterior part of the road, at a pace that doesn't look like a sprint, it would be too obvious and would not impress him, but at a sustained pace that doesn't leave a doubt: I want him to think: 'man, he looks strong, so far into the race, there's nothing I can do'. And nothing he did, the poor fellow. Ok, head down again. I remember the silly catch phrase from Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: I am still a machine. Yes, I am, churning my legs and arms. Overall, I'm slow, but at this stage, it feels like I'm not. And then, a few kilometres after, in front me, the second guy who passed me, right there, ready to be picked up. Ok, he's in better shape than the other, and it takes me a while to catch him up. At each lap we are given a black bracelet. I have done 3 laps and I took the time to check his wrist: so did he. Damn, if he reacts, we're in for a 4k battle until the finish chute. I don't want that. Even if I had a bad marathon start, I may still be in contention for Hawaii, and the last slot may be decided between him and me. He doesn't know that. Ignorance is bliss. I decide to pass him slowly, hiding my bracelets as much as possible, turning my hand and wrist so that he cannot see that we're even in terms of km. No reaction, he's not coming with me, he's done. Now, I'm gonna have to find the perfect line between pushing with the hope of potentially catching up fading competition ahead of me and keeping enough energy to reach the end. Time accelerates suddenly, the pain is gone, 'orange!', I shout to the volunteers, yeah, give me that orange bracelet, opening me the access to the finish line. And then it hits me. I had forbidden myself to visualize that image in advance as I would get so excited that I couldn't sleep after that. But here it is, the finish line. The emotion is overwhelming, the fire has to go out, I am hoping to cry but it's not coming, it's not coming, but it has to go out, somehow, and then it comes, no cry but a huge scream, I shout like a madman and at the same time I explode in laughter with a satanic laugh, I shout, shout and shout. I did it, I did it. 9:24, personal best by 27 minutes, stronger than ever before. 

The following day, after a very emotional awards ceremony full of suspense and a bit of luck (as several guys in front of me decided not to take their slots for Hawaii), I get my slot for the Holy Grail. What a quest, what a journey, what an adventure. Ironman is so much more than swim, bike and run; it can be a life changing process. 

I wish all of you, whatever your level, your aspirations, your pain threshold, your willpower, will get that kind of fulfilment once in your life.  
Olivier Baillet