I do maths on the bike

I’ve always been a numbers person. And that’s probably the reason I took Additional Maths at school and was a complete nerd and outcast and shunned by all. Kidding. Partly.

It’s likely that I will remember your phone number before I remember your name.

I don’t like “odd” numbers. And by odd I mean I just don’t like them. Like 3, 9 and 23. But 5 is okay.

I liked my Gun Run number, 8262, because 8 minus 2 is 6 and the 2 is repeated. I like looking for patterns.

My favourite number is 7.

I am so glad that my mom held out a few extra minutes so that I was born on the 30th of September and not the 29th. That would have killed me.

During swim sets I enjoy watching the clock. Leaving on 45sec means repetition.

Start at 0, 45, 30, 15, 0, repeat.

If I have to do 30 x 100m I will start counting down in fractions. After one I’ve done 1/30. After 3 I’ve 1/10 and need to do that another 10 times, etc.

clock

Numbers and analysing stuff just does it for me. At varsity I did a BSc Mathematical Statistics and this really tested my love of numbers, but we got through it.

So training with power is just up my alley. The watts I generate on each pedal stroke are measured by the PowerTap in my back wheel and recorded on my Joule GPS and saved for later analysis.

Joule

Training with power completely changed the way I cycle. No more freewheeling down a hill – because then a big fat zero is displayed on my Joule and coach will be able to see this later when he looks at my training files.. No more soft pedaling in the middle of a bunch because then I am not riding the exact watts that my coach specified in my program (although I have had to learn to be a bit flexible in some special cases).

I’ve learnt to ride much more consistently. Cyclists usually see a hill and want to thrash it out to the top and then cruise over the top. Because I am seeing my exact output I can often let them go and then catch them as they slow down over the top.

Training with power is incomparable to training with HR. Say you need to ride 5min at 170 HR. If you go hard for 1min your HR will go up. Continue going hard, but decrease the effort a bit as you tire and your HR won’t go down. HR stays at 170.

Now to maintain the same power your HR is going to keep on climbing as it gets harder and harder to ride at the same watts. Training is never easy and as you improve, the goal posts change. Tempo watts will go from 210w to 220w and you’re able to quantify your improvement and track your progress.

In a recent interview, Jan Frodeno (Olympic triathlon champ) was asked if he uses a power meter. His response was: “I’m German. Of course I run a power meter.” This testifies to the precision and quality of training that using a power meter in training allows one to achieve.

Because I am super A-type, over the years my coach has had to try and get me to relax a bit or I might have killed myself in the pursuit of the perfect cycling power graphs. I’ll get a bit anxious if I am not nailing the exact power that he specified in my program or if I suddenly end up riding in a group and can’t ride as hard as I’d like to.

I do most of my cycling training alone because of this. Not that I would choose to, but cycling with power can make you a bit of an anti-social cyclist if you need to do a structured session like ride at 220w for 90min or do 12 x 30sec at 380w. So it’s really just easier. I will, however, tell my coach if there’s a weekend group ride that I want to do and he will work it into my program so that I can be flexible.

My MTB PowerTap
My MTB PowerTap

One of the harder sessions that I often find on my program is something like 50min at threshold broken down as 8min + 7 x 6min at 250w. These will be done on a hill so that it’s easier to maintain the power and the last 45sec of each rep might be standing at 60 cadence. Turn around when done and head back down the hill to start the next one.

I had to do this session last Thursday morning followed by a run off the bike. I see this session on the program and think “ouch”. I’ve done them often enough to know how much they hurt.

I will generally do this session on Helshoogte as it has a nice constant gradient, but lately it’s been too unsafe to go there alone and so I’ve had to find another hill in Stellenbosch. This one is not quite as nice in that the gradient changes often requiring you to gear up or down as necessary and even get out the saddle when it gets too steep.

250w is quite a lot for me. It hurts pretty much from the start and you just need to grit your teeth and tell yourself that you can do it. It’s sessions like these that you can mentally draw on for confidence when going into a race.

So in my head it goes something like this:

Okay, that’s 8min done already. Only 42min to go. I can do this.

2 down. One quarter done.

3. Flip. I’ve still got 5 to go. This is getting hard already.

4. Half way. I can do this. I only need to repeat what I’ve already done.

5. Eish the numbers are dropping. Legs are burning. I am pulling ugly faces as I try and maintain 250w. Is it okay if I just do 245w? What is a 5w drop percentage wise? Then I’ll work it out. 2%. That seems okay. I can deal with just 2% lower than what coach asked for.

6. Okay. 245w now. OUCH OUCH OUCH. Only 2 to go.

7. OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH. Really ugly faces.

8. Now I’ll count down the minutes. 2min down. I’ve done 1/3. Only 4min to go. 3min down. Half way. I can do this. 4min. Only 2min to go. 1min to go. And then I am done!

High fives all round!! Oh wait. I am by myself on a hill in the middle of nowhere.

It’s this ability to push oneself so incredibly hard when no one is watching (and perversely enjoy it) that separates firstly the athletes from the non-athletes and secondly the good athlete from the average athlete.

Stellies

Limp home. Running shoes on and out the door for a 25min build run just to get used to the change of mode.

Then I’ll get home and upload the file, with detailed comments on how the session went, so that my coach can view it online.

It looks something like this:

CycleOps PowerAgent software used for analysing power data
CycleOps PowerAgent software used for analysing power data

Endless hours of number fun!.

I am incredibly lucky as I am a Bicycle Power Trading ambassador. They bring in PowerTap power meters, CycleOps indoor trainers and stationary bikes as well as Saris bike racks. They provide me with a PowerTap for both my road and MTB. These are expensive items that I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford,  but they are absolutely invaluable training tools for cyclists and triathletes.

Bicycle Power Trading (BPT) have been an incredible sponsor since 2010 and always go above and beyond when assisting me. But they don’t only do it for me. BPT are well-known for their incredible, fast service and fantastic customer support. I strongly believe that PowerTap is the most reliable and easy to use power meter on the market and is one of only two power meters that is independently verified to be accurate.

PowerTap is super easy to set up and use and requires very little maintenance. DC Rainmaker, who writes the only reviews worth reading when it comes to anything cycling/ triathlon-“techy”, recently wrote: “PowerTap is the closest I get to ‘set it and forget it’ when it comes to power meters on the market today (talking specifically to calibration/offset variance and stability).”

It is so cool to be associated with a brand that I truly believe in! It makes me a very passionate brand ambassdor 🙂

If you are looking at taking your cycling to the next level, you must take a look at PowerTap (www.bicyclepower.co.za) and contact me if you have any questions.

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