Thursday, 25 October 2012

Strava and commuting

This week I've been experimenting with Strava whilst commuting the 7 miles (yes, I know its not far!) And there is a nice 4.5 mile section of disused railway which has been ridden quite a fair few number of times. Last night on my journey home, I was 7 seconds off taking the top spot. 7 seconds! I thought I'd done it. I will do it at some point.
The point of Strava is to better your performance, time-trialling against others but more importantly yourself. So far in the 6 commutes I've gone for it, I've really gone for it. After the first day I left my hefty D-lock and work clothes at work. I then dropped the hydration pack out and used a bottle, all to save weight. It worked; my times got better. The past 3 days the weather in northern England in October has been unsurprisingly awful - foggy, drizzly and dark. The track is wet and muddy, leaves falling from the trees make it slippy and I could barely see 5 meters in front of me. So there's my excuse: the weather is slowing me down! Wait until I get decent conditions and I'll try again!
I don't know what the conditions were like when the fastest time was set. It could be that he's just faster than me.
The conditions do take their toll though. Today my legs were heavy and I was labouring. Tonight I decided to just do a normal ride home, sticking to my low heart rate zones. However, this in itself is not without its problems. As the weather has turned for the worse, its thicker longer gloves and a waterproof jacket. This ensures I can't quickly look at my HRM wristwatch to check my zones. Although it does have an audible alert (slow beep telling me to up the pace, fast beep telling me to slow down and quiet when everything is just right). However under the layers of clothing and layers of tyre, traffic and wind noise its difficult hear it beeping. I could wear the watch over the jacket, restricting movement or fasten it to the bars somehow. This would allow me to hear it but maybe not see the screen as its behind my headlight and definitely too dark under the trees. This of course would require some kind of custom mount too.

What would you do?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Getting into Strava

I've been using SportsTrackLive for a few years now to log my rides, but I've given Strava for Android a go. It does pretty much the same as STL (distance, time, altitude, pace etc) but it has the awesome extra feature that it allows you to add "segments" of your ride, so over time and further rides on the same course you can see how you are faring in the speed stakes. You can also see where other riders have been and made segments, so you can have a bit of friendly competition as you do it. It's strangely addictive and today I gave it a go to see how fast I could make it along the disused railway part of my commute.

First real goes using Strava

Second and third on the way to and from work respectively! Pretty pleased with that. Only 52 seconds off top spot in the southbound direction. I was behind a bloke all the way along the railway section tonight too, I couldn't get past him. It is pretty narrow and to be fair I didn't ask to be past as he was going at a canny pace. Maybe if I had gone past him I'd be sitting at the top of the leader board right now?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

EA Sports Active 2 - 9 week program finished

Now I know the name of this blog is "All Things Bikes". Well I started heart rate training properly a couple of months ago by keeping in the low heart rate zone on my commute. I felt that it wasn't particularly strenuous and at the time, football sessions had been dropping off due to not having enough players. You can see below that there was only 1 session (y-axis up the side) from the end of July/beginning of August, with not being on at all some weeks through September.

Number of football sessions (y-axis) in a 17 week period from July 1st to 16th October

Also during this time period, the number of weekly bicycle commutes was dropping. I was regularly doing at least 4 per week until around the 15th August, which was the Lakes trip. My thinking here was "Don't go out and wear your legs out unnecessarily". And then after the trip, my bike was damaged and so were my legs!
Number of weekly commutes (y-axis) in a 17 week period from July 1st to 16th October

So in between all this period of stop-start football and bicycling, I decided to break out the EA Sports Active 2 kit on the PS3 to keep on top of my fitness. I worked through the 9 week program (4 sessions per week, 36 total), starting on the 3rd August. I'd record my results in so I could keep track of how I was going.

Number of  EA Sports Active sessions in an 11 week period from August 1st to 16th October

As you can see the program overran due to weekends away biking, stag party and weddings. In the program you can do any missed workouts and alter your schedule to accommodate things like this. Unfortunately, in PS3 terms, I did not actually complete the full program; I missed the end date by two workouts. This meant I didn't get the "gold trophy" (NOOOO!) but I was able to do a custom workout and select the two I had missed #35 & #36. So in real life terms, I did complete the program.

So let's have a look at some figures from doing this 9 week program:

NOTE: All trend lines have their values up the right hand y-axis.


Weight monitored over the 9 week program
My weight decreased nicely over the first 2/3rds of the program, even decreasing slightly over the big gap in the exercises over the weekend 14th September (Stu's stag party) - not eating properly - maybe? After this it increased back to where I left off training (10th September) at 81Kg, which is a 3Kg loss. Result!

Average Heart Rate

Average heart rate monitored by the EA Sports Active kit
The average heart rate is all over the place. From as low as 82 bpm to 119 bpm, this is influenced by all sorts of external factors:
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Illness
  • How generally motivated you are
This shows that if my max heart rate is 185 bpm and Polar recommend that the weight loss zone is 70%-80%, this is 129 - 148 bpm. I was nowhere near that, more like 54%, which is in the recovery zone. Perhaps if I did the program again, I'd select the harder intensity and not the medium one.

Average recovery time

Every new week a I was made to perform a "fitness test". Heart rate recovery time is in seconds
The fitness test consisted of doing foot fires until my heart rate was up to around 130 bpm (typically after 2 minutes of the exercise), then I had to walk on the spot until it had dropped to what it was before the test. The trend of the graph is generally good. Initially it took 46 seconds, by the end of the program 33 seconds. With a big jump on the penultimate fitness test, which I can't explain - sorry!

Overall thoughts

I took on the 9 week program to stay active and see if heart rate training helps to lose a little bit of weight - I used to never veer off 82Kg so when I hit 84 I thought it would be a good experiment. And yes, I lost some weight and consequently look a little bit leaner (even if I do say so myself).

Whether I restart the 9 week program remains to be seen as it can get repetitive a bit boring. Although, it works. You need to keep on top of it, keep completing the missed workouts which will occur because life is like that and you'll see changes if you commit to exercise.

I also must add, I did absolutely no dieting, just ate and drank what I felt like.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Lakes ride - 6 Passes in 2 days - DAY 2

So after another long delay here is a quick write up of day 2 of our Lakes "adventure". I really need to keep on top of these things!

The route can be found here.

This route involved a lot of road riding, which was good as my bike was suffering. However the road went over two passes - Hardknott Pass, which is tied with another road as the steepest road in England with a 33% gradient. Impressive. I was determined to struggle up it but alas, I couldn't do it. Sam had a great bit of banter with a roadie as I continued up without him in my own personal challenge. It went something like this:

Sam "Is this any easier on a road bike?"
Roadie "NO! HARDER!"
Sam "Even with 10Kg packs on your back?"
Roadie - says nothing, just rides on.

Sometimes, you just got to love the pleasantness of pure road cyclists. They just think they are in a different class to lowly mountain bikers. Mind, this is some, not all. Just to be clear.

View from almost the top of Hardknott Pass
While Sam was busy making friends I decided to take a breather as I was finding it difficult to keep my front wheel pinned down. The views were spectacular. The natural landscapes and also the tourists attempting to drive up and down the pass. AMAZING. Cars on 3 wheels coming around the steep hairpins, stinking of burning clutches and brake discs.

Sam making his way up the pass
We were doing this the "easy way" too, if we were travelling east to west, the climbs are steeper in that direction.

The next pass was Wrynose Pass, with more 1in 33 gradients. This one I was even more determined to get up in one attempt. And I almost did. In a manoeuvre to get a better line I over-cooked it and the front wheel slipped off the tarmac into the dirt/grass at the side of the road. I got back on and completed it, so I was pretty disappointed I had that one slip. Speaking of tarmac, some of the steeper sections were rippled where it had started to slip down the hill. Crazy. I continued over the summit and onto the descent. Just as I rounded the first corner, I ran into a family who had managed to get their Fiat 500 stuck. I'm not sure how, but the husband and eldest daughter and I got pushing and we got it free and away up the hill. The guy then informed me the clutch was burning so he stopped to let it cool and couldn't get any momentum again. That's a steep bank.

Sam at the top of Stake Pass. Sweat or mist?
The last pass was Stake Pass. This was more of the same as day 1, but by now were on the way home. Fatigue was setting in and we just got on with it. The summit was like some kind of lunar landscape and the mist certainly added to the eerie feeling. However the descent on the other side was the best bit of descending we did all weekend, it was just a shame it didn't last very long. Never mind, it was still a blast, despite the narrow trail. Concentration was key.
That's me descending Stake Pass. The trail was 30cm wide and quite the drop on the right hand side!
When we made it down, it was a simple case of following the river along to Stonethwaite to finish. We passed a group of lads on full suspension bikes heading the way we'd just came. I have no idea where they were heading. It would have been a canny haul up.

We made it back to the car and youth hostel where we were generously allowed the use of the showers. 6.5 hours and we were tired, cold and hungry, but a huge sense of accomplishment made it all worthwhile.
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