Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Monday Musings on a Tuesday: When Opportunity Knocks

I had a hangover yesterday.

But it wasn't THAT kind of hangover.  It was an exercise hangover, ha ha.  This past weekend was nothing short of amazing.  Actually, the last 4 days have been amazing.  All because I offered up my time.

This past weekend, I got the opportunity to be a part of a Peaks Coaching Group Women's cycling camp led by the one and only Hunter Allen.  He's kind of a big deal in the world of cycling with power.  It all came about on Wednesday when a friend of a friend here in Clermont posted that she was looking for another female rider that was willing to cover off her "C" group of riders.  I thought why the heck not.  I'm always looking for new people to ride with AND, it was all ladies which is even better AND, I'd get to learn from one of the best in the business.

The camp was an intro to power and cycling skills camp.  I've been training with power for almost 4 years now so I understand the basics but in terms of real in depth analysis, I feel I have some gaps in my knowledge.  And I know my cycling skills need some work as well.  What better person to learn from than Hunter and what better environment than with a group of likeminded women.  It was a no brainer.

It also gave me the opportunity to meet Julie McKenzie, who is the friend of my friend Marianne.  Julie added me on Facebook shortly after my second trip to Clermont in October 2016.  I never got a chance to meet her last year so when she posted on Facebook that she needed some help with this camp, I jumped at the chance.  It was one of the best impulsive decisions I've ever made.  You know when you say yes to something and then you second guess yourself and think oh shit what have I done?  Every single bit of worry or apprehension I had completely evaporated within 10 minutes of meeting the awesome group of ladies I would be spending the next 3 days with.

There were 14 ladies in total, not including me.  One from Canada (Winnipeg to be exact), one from Bermuda and the rest from various places across the US.  It was a diverse group in terms of abilities but all of these ladies knew their way around a bike.  A few of them were racers, a handful were triathletes and the rest were just women that really enjoyed riding their bikes.  All of them were there for the same reason - to improve their skills and their knowledge.

The camp started on Thursday night with a 2 hour talk about cycling skills and the basics of power and why it was a more reliable metric than heart rate.  Hunter touched a bit on the metrics in Training Peaks but the big ones he focused on were TSS and IF (Intensity Factor).  That two hours flew by.  I have notes scribbled in a notebook that I have to decipher when my brain is up to the task, ha ha.

The next day was divided up into two main workouts.  The first 2 hours of the day were spent doing drills, getting the group comfortable riding in a group with other people around them and learning how to handle their bikes in a group.  We did some wheel touching and shoulder leans while riding in circles on grass.  That was incredibly unnerving but my partner, Sarah, and I managed to do it.  Not without a lot of nervous laughter though.  We then headed off to a parking lot to practice steering and cornering.  I haven't gotten the hang of the steering technique that Hunter taught us, but the cornering was much better.  Especially cornering to my right.  I'm much more comfortable going fast that way vs. cornering left.  I now know what I need to work on.

The best kind of bike gang!
From the parking lot, we headed off onto the newly paved Hancock Trail to learn how to pace line.  We rode along there and then up the back of Sugarloaf Mountain and then down the front side.  I had such a blast on that descent.

Coming back along the Hancock Trail

Heading out to Sugarloaf Mountain
We then turned around and headed back to the hotel for lunch and a group data analysis session.  I found these sessions to be so insightful. Hunter would download everyone's Garmins and upload the files to WK04 and then analyze areas he thought people did really well on and areas where they could improve.  He then gave suggestions on things they could do to improve.

Post Ride data analysis
Saturday was our longer ride (90km) that consisted of a 1 minute power test (up a hill) as well as a 20 minute FTP test.  I have never done an FTP test outside.  It was evil and awesome all at the same time.  The course they mapped out had some good climbs but some good descents as well.  We were also dealing with a massive headwind and a lot of heat.  This past weekend temps were in the high 20's low 30's.  It was hot.  We did that after close to 45km of riding already.  It was hard.  I'm not used to doing a TT on my road bike either.  I came away with an FTP of 207w according to Hunter.  He went with my normalized power (218w) for the 20 minute segment because the course was hilly and it wasn't a steady state effort like it would be on the trainer.   It's not where I was last year but it's getting closer.  I suspect by the time I come back from Florida it will be close to where I was heading into my peak training last year.

Megumi taking off on the start of her 20 minute test.  You can see the first climb in the distance
Sunday was spent learning about rotating pace lines.  It was a little touch and go at first but once we got going, we did a pretty good job.  It's not an easy skill to learn and if you are nervous in a group or you're unsure of the skills of the people that you're riding with, it makes it challenging.   Once we had that down, we stopped on a flat stretch of road and learned how to sprint.  We practiced learning how to shift in the drops while being out of the saddle (AHHH), how to let the bike rock back and forth.  We then started sprinting.  We did some sprints in the small ring and surprisingly that's where I had my best power effort of the day, ha ha.  We then moved to big ring sprints.  Once we had practiced those, we started racing each other.  Julie and another woman, Mia, who is an elite road racer and coach from Wisconsin, raced against each other and the speed was just incredible.  Mia hit 1000w.  ONE THOUSAND WATTS.  I can't even FATHOM that.  I think my max was 586w.

Sarah and I sprinting
After we had sprinted our hearts out, Hunter broke us into groups.  I was with Julie's group.  We strategized, rode down to the start and rolled out.



Our plan was for Julie to cover the breaks and then the rest of us had to keep Katherine, our sprinter sheltered.  But the other team went on the attack right away and threw us for a loop so we all just ended up chasing people down the road.  For the second race Hunter gave us a strategy he wanted us to stick to.  We were going man to man so Julie assigned each one of us a person to mark.  We rolled out again and the jostling for position started.  This really felt like a race, there was a lot of moving around.  Katherine, who has raced for years, knew what to watch for as the rest of us were just hanging on for dear life.  I was near her at one point and I could hear her saying they were forming a lead out line.  I watched to see what Mia, a veteran racer, was doing and she was obviously pulling Lynda, who was the woman that I had to mark.  So I stuck to Lynda's wheel like glue.  I could see them moving up through the group and over to the right hand side of the road.  I kept on Lynda's wheel.  Mia was getting closer to the front.  I knew if she got past the front of the group, that would be it.  A small gap started to open up on the right.  We were getting close to the finish line.  I was pretty sure I heard Katherine saying watch Mia and Lynda.  The gap opened up a bit more so I thought I'd catch them off guard, shoot the gap and sprint to the line.  I didn't think Lynda could out sprint me if I got the jump on her so I went for it.   I didn't hear or see anyone coming after me but I knew someone would.  Sure enough, just as I got to the finish line, I see Mia's wheel come up beside me.  I'm pretty sure she caught me right at the line.  Had I waited another 15-20s, I think I would have gotten to the line first.  But DAMN was that ever exciting.  I totally get the adrenaline rush.  That was a LOT of fun.

Back at the hotel we went over our data again.  I got some insights into where my weaknesses are and  how I can improve them, which was immensely helpful.  Hunter also looked at people's overall fitness trends if they had a lot of data on their Garmins.  I only had data from the end of December so there wasn't a lot to look at but you can definitely see the training load build over the last little while, ha ha.  This weekend resulted in a massive peak in fatigue so we'll see how the next few days go.  You know you're tired when your Training Peaks app tells you that you should consider taking a rest day, ha ha.  So I took yesterday off and was still feeling a fair bit of fatigue this morning so I skipped my swim.  I may go later in the day as long as it doesn't rain.



I covered 239km on two wheels last week, the majority of it over the weekend.  That also included 1844m of climbing!  It's been a long time since I've cycled 3 days in a row or climbed that much in 3 days (hello indoor riding!)  It wasn't what I had planned for the weekend, it was a million times better.

I can't even begin to thank Julie enough for bringing me in to the camp and letting me stick around for the weekend.  It was an experience I won't soon forget.  I hope to cross paths with these ladies again.

Dinner out at the Crooked Spoon











Thursday, February 8, 2018

What I've Tried: Heart Rate Variability Monitoring

If you've seen my IG stories then you will have seen snippets of me talking about HRV.  What exactly is HRV?  HRV stands for heart rate variability and it is the variation in time from one heart beat to another.   I'm sure you're now wondering why you should care about it.  Well....I'm going to get up on my heart rate training soapbox now and tell you why.

Despite how good exercise makes us feel, we have to remember that it is a stress on the body.  Our bodies can't distinguish between exercise stress and other stress.  If you train with heart rate and pay attention to your data, you will notice changes in your resting heart rate over a point in time.  This can be due to increased cardiovascular fitness (your heart rate becomes lower) impending sickness (your resting heart rate is higher than normal) or dehydration (resting HR will also be higher than normal).  Many things can affect your heart rate.

Your heart is controlled by your autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is the involuntary part of your nervous system.  This system breaks into two more branches, called the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches.  When you're under stress, the sympathetic part of your ANS is active.  It puts all systems on alert.  The other branch, the parasympathetic branch, is the relaxed part that just goes about it's business when you're in a relaxed state.  When your heart rate increases, that means the sympathetic branch is more active.  Your heart rate beats in a more regular rhythm when you're stressed.  That also means that your HRV (time between heart beats) decreases. (source)

When you're more relaxed, your heart rate decreases and beats only to meet the body's requirements.   If you've ever taken your heart rate manually, I'm sure you've noticed that your heart rate doesn't always beat like a metronome.  In this state, your HRV increases.  Meaning that the time between beats increases.   Because of these differences, HRV is a great indicator of the balance between the activity of the 2 branches of the autonomic nervous system and therefore it's an indirect measurement of stress.  Higher HRV means lower stress.  Lower HRV means higher stress (source)

Heart rate offers athletes as to how their body is responding to the stress of exercise as well as any other stressors they have in their life.  Garmin and Polar have factored this into their watch technology with their versions of recovery advisors.   They measure the stress put on your heart through your effort and give you an estimated time to full recovery.  I say estimated because everyone is different.  Some people recover faster than others.  Also, what you do post activity will greatly affect your ability to recovery.  If you don't eat and rehydrate immediately after a workout, that will delay your recovery.  If you don't sleep well, that will also affect your recovery.  There are several external factors that can affect how well you recover.

How do you know when you're fully recovered?  That's the tough part for a lot of athletes.  These days with all the technology available to track our fitness, there really is no excuse not to track your recovery.  The latest Garmin (735xt) has an HRV recovery feature in it.  And you can download various apps that will also track your recovery by monitoring heart rate variability.

For the last year I have been using HRV4Training.  It is an app that I downloaded on my phone.  I think it was $13.  I chose this one because it didn't require a heart rate strap.  The last thing I wanted to do was to sleep with my heart rate strap on.  No thank you.  Instead, this app takes a reading from your fingertip.  According to the creators, this is just as accurate as using your heart rate strap because "current generation phones can be used to detect changes in blood volume during a cardiac cycle by illuminating the skin and measuring changes in light absorption using the camera"  (source).

HOW FREAKING COOL IS THAT?!?!??!?!

How it works:

When I get up in the morning, I go and get my phone (I don't keep it in the bedroom) then go back and lie down.  I fully relax and let my heart rate come back down before I take the measurement.  The measurement takes 1 minute and it's quite bright since the uses light in addition to the camera.  The app can link to Strava and Training Peaks so it can collect your workout data for analysis.  Once the measurement is done, you answer a series of questions based on your training, how you feel, how your training was, if you're sore, if you drank any alcohol the night before etc.  Based on your answers and your HRV, it will tell you if you're good to go, if you should limit intensity or take a rest day.



The app also allows you to track your CTL and ATL (fitness and fatigue).  It gives you a V02 max estimate.  You can analyze correlations between various things like sleep and heart rate.  You can analyze HRV trends to see if you're adapting to your training.  There is SO much information and data in this app.  If you're a data junkie, then you'll love this app.

Current bike fitness over the last 2 months.  As you can see I've had a few hard bike workouts in there.


This is based on my last 2 months of riding.  Some de-conditioning happening + going a bit too hard on my last two rides means that I have to be careful with my effort over the next little while.
Even though I'm in the moderate category for injury, my training is still considered well polarized.  
So how does this affect my training?  I still plan my workouts for the week, but I will adjust my intensity accordingly depending on how well I've recovered.   So there is always a plan B depending on what my HRV score says in the morning.   No more powering through workouts when I really should be taking it easy.  No more dogging it on days that I am totally able to go hard.  The thing that really changed in terms of my training schedule is my regularly scheduled day off.  I used to schedule one day off a week religiously regardless of whether or not I needed it.  Now, I will do a short easy workout, usually a swim or a restorative yoga class vs taking the entire day off.  Sometimes there are days where I mentally don't feel like doing anything and I'm feeling a bit tired so even if my HRV is within normal ranges, I will still take a day off because while I may not need to physically recharge, I need the mental break from training.   As a result, my training has become a bit more fluid and I have yet to feel any sort of burn out.

Training this way has definitely made me pay more attention to recovery and patterns that start to emerge when I don't necessarily take the best care of myself.  The older I get, the more important tracking recovery becomes.

How to you track your recovery?  By feel?  By resting heart rate?  Or not at all?











Monday, February 5, 2018

Monday Musings: Finding my Groove

HOLA!

I can't believe we've been here for a week already.  It feels like longer.  Probably because we're fairly familiar with Clermont.  We've settled into the house quickly.  I'm still working on figuring out a routine as I have friends down there that are on different training schedules so I'm trying to work in company for workouts when I can.  Especially bike workouts.  I'm comfortable riding on the Trail on my own but not out on the roads outside Clermont.  There are a fair bit of bike lanes here but I don't know exactly where all of them are.  That being said I have mapped a few routes on Strava that I think I'd be ok doing on my own so we'll see how I fare over the next few weeks.  I've also got to finalize our camp routes as well.

Surprisingly it was Wednesday before I actually got out on my bike!  Monday wasn't the nicest day so I finished running around getting groceries and house supplies and then went to the NTC to do a weight workout.  Tuesday was chilly and my friend Marianne asked me if I wanted to join her for a run on the clay trail and since I hadn't done a long run the week before I figured I might as well.  I didn't want to miss out on an opportunity to run the trail with some company.  G isn't running right now due to his knee so I wasn't sure when I'd get the opportunity to run it.  Wednesday was the first really nice day of the week so I took to the trail and rode into Winter Garden.  I can't believe how much has changed in the last year.  There is so much new development along the trail it's crazy.  I do think if we are going to bite the bullet and buy a place here, we need to do it in the next couple of years before prices start to get higher.  We did end up spending some of Saturday afternoon driving around looking at houses in some of the new developments.  I can't get over what you can get here for under $300,000 USD.  It's insane.   Realistically if we really want to make this snow bird thing work, we'd really have to downsize in Toronto into a condo.  OR, we move out of the city.  Both not really ideal right now.  So, looks like I need to start buying lottery tickets, haha.

Sunday was a day off for me and G was still taking it easy so we went to the local farmers market in downtown Clermont, stopped at The Energy Lab for the BEST coffee ever and sat on the patio for a bit.  We dropped our purchases off at the house, hopped back in the car and went exploring.  We ended up in Tavares at the worst Wendy's in the world.  From there we opted to head to Mount Dora to check it out again.  We went last year but didn't see anything of interest.  Turns out we actually missed the turn to go into the historic part of the city.  D'oh.  We didn't miss it this year.  As we drove in we realized that this weekend was the 35th annual Mount Dora Art Festival so the town was HOPPING even though it was raining.  We'll definitely be back to explore further.  There looked to be a lot of interesting shops and a bunch of awesome restaurants.  It's only about a 45 minute drive from Clermont so it may even warrant a bike ride out there for lunch or coffee.

Mount Dora Art Festival

Mount Dora Art Festival
I watched some of the Super Bowl, but went to bed with about 10 minutes left.  I was happy wake up  to see that the Eagles won.   Tom Brady has won enough, it's nice to see someone else at the top, ha ha.  My fave commercials of the night:  The Doritos Battle Rap followed closely by the NFL commercial with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham dancing.  SO funny.  All in all it was a lovely first week here.  

This is what went down workout wise:

Monday:  45 minute lower body strength session with a 3km run.  1.5km run to the gym and 1.5km run back

Tuesday:  16km clay trail run, followed by a 30 minute mobility class.  SO good!

Wednesday:  48.8km ride to Winter Garden for coffee.  I went out in the afternoon and it was SO windy.  I had forgotten just how windy it gets here.   It made that ride fairly challenging!




Thursday:  SLAP swim in the 50m pool.  Holy smokes, that was so hard.  I hadn't swam in over a week and this was a tough workout.  I do love swimming at the NTC though.  So awesome.



Friday:  Run to and from the gym - 3km, 60 minute full body workout then a really easy 20km spin with G on the trail

Saturday:  Another ride to Winter Garden with the Cycling Hub.  53.4km  And of course a stop for coffee afterwards.



Sunday:  OFF

Swim:  2500m
Bike:  123km
Run:  22.4km

Total time:  9h 43 minutes.   I was supposed to be on a recovery week this week time wise (just under 7 hours) but I was just so excited to be able to be outside I got a little carried away.  Luckily my workouts were mostly all easy with the exception of my swim so my training stress wasn't too high.

This week, I'll be getting much more stuck in with my training along with working on some other blog post ideas I've had swimming around in my head so stay tuned for that!

Happy Monday gang!  Don't dread Monday - look at it as another opportunity to create something amazing.  Master your mindset!

~ Coach PK