The Power of Fatigue; Racing Transcontinental

I use a powermeter and keep records of just about everything. Just occasionally my Garmin likes to delete something without permission!

A powermeter is an incredible tool, allowing me to track everything I do, not just to analyse the performance, but to use it to plan going forward. I used my data from Transcontinental (TCR) 2015 and the training I did for it, to refine and plan my training into TCR 2016. Training went pretty much perfect and I was stronger than ever starting the race. My threshold was around 350-60W, at 70kg, I know you’ll want to know that. But beyond simple threshold, I could ride strong all day, there wouldn’t have been many people who could have come training with me, day after day, all day.

This is a ride I did at the end of my build. 

I posted the below image on twitter before, but it shows my overall fitness, into and during the race. You can see in the weeks before the race, I went on the offensive, training very hard and building. This was two fold; I know a few weeks of super hard work brings me into brilliant form, but also, I had been studying and just finished my exams, so I was not able to train as much as I would like all year, this point marked the end of my exams and more time.

This post will sort of demonstrate what it takes. It gives you the numbers, which attempt to translate the bodies feeling. Only those who have been there will really know. It is another world.

 

 

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I wont try to explain all the nuances of this graph here. If it is not something you’re familiar with, check out the book Training and Racing with a Powermeter, A. Coggan, H. Allen. Or see here

The first thing to note from the graph, before we even look at the race, is the rise in the yellow line (form) and drop in pink line (fatigue), before the race. I found in 2015 that pretty much hanging up my bicycle in the week before the race, although leaving me very fresh, left me feeling super motivated and rearing to race. I could have ridden a bit more and a bit harder in the week before the race, from a physical point, but mentally I found this approach perfect. I arrived at the start line with no injuries or niggles, sleeping great and feeling ready to race.

 

Day 1; The first 24 hours (hyperlinked to training peaks file)

Or so I thought, you can see the spike in the pink, as I put in a monster first 24 hours. The red dot at that point indicated the training stress (TSS) for the ride, a decent 728. I could have ridden harder in the first 24 hours, but I knew the alps were coming and I did not want to push my body too hard. The average power was 170W, normalised 196W.
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An interesting data point to pick out from this first day, is the 13,382KJ burned. That’s equivalent to 13,383 calories, which is more or less on the absolute upper limit, as defined by Asker Jeukendrup (world renowned sports scientist). Keep this chart in mind, as the calorie burned figure is going to drop! Calories burned is set by power produced, as 1 Watt is 1 Joule/Second and a Joule is a measure of energy. It takes 4.184 Joules to change the temperature of water by 1 degree Celsius, the measure of a Calorie. Anyway, without going into all the details (see here), it’s fair to say 1KJ when cycling is equivalent to 1 calorie, due to the efficiency of the human body.  And riding at 300W for 1 hour burns approx. 1000 calories.

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Moving south, 17.8mph average. Not bad for not being 100%.

 

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Day 2; Checkpoint 1 rest

So here things went wrong, I realised I had a chest infection. How I still don’t know, bad luck. I wash my hands all the time, I avoid people like the plague. Just one of those things. I took 36 hours out at checkpoint one to rest. The fatigue dropped as I rested.

 

Day 3; Back on the road

I felt good today, my chest was still an issue but my legs were getting there. Today was not a long day. I respected the fact I still had a chest infection and stopped early, to eat 2 large Madconalds meals and a full 9 hours sleep!

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-11TSB, feeling pretty good

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Today was just a rolling along day, there was the parcours for checkpoint one first, Col de Ceyssat.

 

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Day 4; The Swiss Alps

Now this is where it’s gutting.  I, or my Garmin deleted the file. We’ve argued over whos fault it was, but blame has not been accepted. A bit of a shame, as today was a monster day. My legs were on one today, and my chest was clearing up.  I was riding like I should have from the start, strong.

From checking the Tracker, the day looked like below. I crossed several mountains, around 7000 meters worth of climbing! I like the mountains.

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Day 5: Into Italy.

Again, the Garmin plays games. Next year I will take a back up device to record data, something more rock solid. The Garmin seems to have lost signal and missed part of the afternoon, how I don’t know.

Today was again a big day of climbing and riding, pretty much through the entire Dolomites. Starting at 05:20am and riding till the early hours of the next day. This file goes from 05:20 until I arrived at the checkpoint at around 21:00 and had dinner.

 

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Now you can begin to see the fatigue set in and my power drop. Average power has fallen from the 170 to 140 region. My legs are tired and I can’t push harder. This drop will also be influenced by climbing and descending, not putting power out on descents (saving energy) average power drops off. Still, normalised power also falls, agreeing with the onset in fatigue and reduction in ability to pedal hard! With the fall in power output, a reduction in calories burned occurs too, as explained earlier. Still, more power then most. Real fatigue is still yet to come.

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Day 6; Heading South

I would say today was a long day, but all days were now long! I was in full race mode, bit between my teeth, pushing my body to the limit.

Today was split into a few files. I was now nervous of my Garmin, it had not liked the rain on the first day, and so I saved files more often. I’ve used fitfiletools.com to combine them.

Again the day commenced at 05:40, after a 2 hour sleep.

 

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Today is the day the fatigue hits like a freight train. I mean, I feel fine, I am tired but operating well, but there is not much in my legs. I would get dropped on the slow club run, only managing 143NP for the day.  But it’s just about moving, always moving. I still manage to burn 7285 calories in the days riding, but only accumulating 321TSS. Something I could do in a tough 4-5h road race!

My TSB was -123!

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In the space of the day I left Italy, rode briefly through Slovenia, rode the Croatian coast and then climbed up into Bosnia. A busy day indeed. I opted for a lumpier, but shorter route through Bosnia. I thought for me, it would be the fastest option, and I think it was.

I stopped around 02:30 for 1h30 sleep. There is a pretty messed up story from this night, I lost the plot. I’ll tell the story some time.

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Day 7: Bosnia

Up down and hot.

Another long day in the saddle, little stopping and much riding. Progress was being made and I was enjoying riding in new places. The sun was hot and I enjoyed the good weather. I made it over the border into Montenegro today and then had to climb Durmitor. A really tough night.

This was probably my longest day of riding. I rode well into day 8 and didn’t sleep till about 04:00. I included that riding in this file, its not so much split day wise by calendar days, but by when I slept.

Another level of fatigue today, power really falls off. As Andrew Coggan says, all you can do is all you can do. And all I can do is just keep spinning.

-154 TSB!!

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Up and down all day.

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Day 8

I got to bed really late because of Durmitor, so I was late starting today, I needed 4hours sleep so riding didn’t start till, 10:30. Today was pretty unproductive. Progress was good, but cut short really early. A storm bigger than I’ve ever seen rolled in when I was in Kosvo near the Macedonian border, I tried to ride through it but had to cut my losses when I feared for my life, another story. Play stopped at 21:00 and I forgot to set an alarm (fatigue) and did not wake till 5am. I was lucky I woke then! The storm was past and only light rain left.

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One take away from this day is my average and normalised power has risen. I had slept for 4 hours the night before and was recovering. Previously I’d been sleeping for 1-3 hours and had been really pushing it. A longer sleep allowed my body to recover a little.

 

-167TSB Unchartered terretory!? 

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Day 9: The push to the finish

I’d over slept, I didn’t get going until 05:30, I was rested and I was ready to ride straight to the finish. It was a mere 500 miles and I had no intention on sleeping again. I knew I could ride 500miles straight with no sleep. It would be hard, but I’d done it before, and I could do it again now. I was going to push for second place. I know I can suffer it. If Neil and Carlos wanted that podium, I was going to make them go to hell and back for it. I was there already!

Once again, things were not on my side. I suffered 3 pinch flat punctures at around 3am (day 10), I was forced to stop as I had run out of inner tubes. The cause for he pinch flats was the rim tape failing. These things happened, I accepted it and just dealt with it. It happens to the best, poor Richie Porte more often than most!

Back to spinning today, tired. Just keep moving. Still nearly 7000 calories today.

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My TSB had reduced, not that I felt any better! Survival mode.

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Making progress, thanks to the decent roads and lack of mountains, finally!

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Day 10: The end.

This day was brutal. It was the hardest day of my life, and I’ve had some really bad times. By this point my body had shut down with the stop to sort my wheel. I had a tear in my left leg hamstring and it barley worked, every pedal stroke was like a knife in my leg. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, suffereing is my weakness. I can suffer too much. But sometimes, it becomes my strength, and I got it done.

Not much left in the body, just getting through it. A very tough day.

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The final two hours. My left leg was gone.

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Most of the day was into a block headwind, totally horrible. So much shouting and screaming at the bike and world.

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Oh and I estimate I lost 4-5kg. From 72kg pre race. Estimation as no scales and much swelling. A fair hit to upper body muscle.