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The Breakdown

The Breakdown

 

Testing, Day 3:

Corn
Corn

As I approached the usual secret testing location outside Manchester, I was struck by the ominous sight of the vast fields of corn. On this day I half expected a re-enactment of that classic 80’s film that popped into my head. Of course, I’m fit and I’m always up for a good chase scene so I thought, “why not, let’s go for it!”

ULVTeam and I finished day three of testing with some good success. From the previous days, the team worked feverishly to make adjustments here and there to improve the performance and fit. We managed to get in a number of runs both with the top shell off and on.

Setup
Setup

 

Critical factors we were looking at were the clearances between my hand and the shell. It’s an incredibly tight fit in that area, more so than anywhere else. It’s such a tight fit that I did manage to hit my hands on the inside of the shell and had to alter my pedalling position to prevent it from getting worse. Luckily the team took some notes and went back to make some revisions.

Tight fit
Tight fit

Along with the fit, we also tested out the camera system. As you can see there are no windows so the only view I have to the outside world is through this system. As you can see, my view is through a small monitor, with a backup monitor being added later. It’s quite different from the normal handcycling viewpoint in that I have no depth perception so judging speed is quite default as is judging the stopping point. The catch team appear to go from ants to giants in half a second even when I’m slowing. In reality it’s also much darker than the picture indicates. I can see nothing except what’s on that screen.

Early shell
Early shell

 

Camera
Camera
View inside
View inside

The Return to Training

 

This sight should be familiar to most people who have ridden a handcycle. And as anyone who rides a handcycle will know, inevitably you’ll wind up riding with this on wondering why you’re so slow and out of shape. Of course I was riding with this on for other reasons.

 

For the last few weeks my coach has been having me ride with the parking brake on to add extra resistance both to sustained high power outputs as well as sprints. This makes for quite the challenge as not only do I have the extra resistance, I also lose one of my cooling fans as it’s needed to keep the rim from overheating and blowing out my tyre. In the end that’s a god thing though as Arion4 gets hot, very hot, as I found out today. Day 1 of the 2nd week of road testing. But that’s a story for another day.

The extra resistance on the bike, combined with the max weight lifts in the gym have proven to be quite taxing and have kept me on the edge of my game. I’m still seeing some improvements in max power levels as well as longer durations on sprints, but sometimes that can take a toll. On these last week’s I’ve been doing sustained ramp efforts combined with sprints to simulate on of the techniques we might use on the race day. On Tuesday I felt good and strong and all the power levels were just where I needed them to be.  But two days later, on the exact same ride, I could find no power and no endurance. This close to the event, that was devastating. But, rather than let that slow me down, I worked with Coach Davie to come up with a recovery plan to make sure that everything was in order, from rest to diet and making sure I was fit for this week’s series of road tests.

 

Last but not least, I’m always keen to get everyone I can to at least try a handbike. Getting all the team members out on my bike has been part of the fun of these road tests. The added bonus is getting the Staff advisors out as well. Though I may need to watch that as some of them seem to have an issue bringing the bike back!!

Joyriding
Joyriding

2nd Day of Road Testing

2nd Day of Road Testing

Setting sun 1
Setting Sun

Spent the morning in the lab tweaking and adjusting the bike then back to Manchester for some tests.

 

Successfully got in a number of runs and managed some good speeds. Left the team to make a few more adjustments as the sun was setting on a cool blustery evening.

 

About to head back this morning for another full day of road testing. POWER UP!!

 

 

Preparing the bike
Preparing the Bike
A little Ambiance
A little Ambiance

First Day of Road Testing

First Day of Road Testing

After many weeks of waiting and discussions with the team about parts, and even popping down to dry fit the seat and forks, I was finally able to ride the bike today.

I met the team out at a top secret airfield deep in the heart of Manchester early this morning. Having seen the rainstorms that infiltrated the North, I was concerned as the morning skies were grey and foreboding. On my final approach, it even started to sprinkle, potentially putting the test at risk.

As I got closer, to the testing site, I came across a rather stern gate keeper. Despite my explanations of the situation, time and time he refused to let me pass his hut, saying “it’s closed, it’s closed”. Fearing I would never get through I tried one last ditch appeal; trying to break his resolve with compassion of the deepest kind I asked, “Do you mind if I try anyway?”

“Nah, go on lad.”

Seriously? That easy?

And soon after I was met by Liverpool’s intrepid team leader, bounding across the pothole strewn road to guide me to the test area, for as close as I was, I couldn’t see it, that’s how shrouded the testing was. With Stephen hitching a ride, he guided me to a small village where in an area of great prominence, there lay a large seemingly magical egg, for all to behold!

And behold it I did.

Then I realised it was the bike and it was surrounded by tents from their camping. So keen were the team to be ready to start bright and early, they actually risked the rain and camped out at the site.

It was rather exciting to finally be able to get on the bike and take it for a spin, and what a ride it is! Some of the topics we had discussed in an earlier visit had been implemented and we made a few final adjustments to optimise the fit, and soon we too to the runway.

Alongside the film crew from Renishaw Engineering, we took a few runs down the runway getting a feel for the bike, testing and adjusting as the day went on.

I’ll say it’s a rather unusual feeling to be sealed in a shell and viewing the world through a tiny monitor when travelling at speed. It really changes your perspective on the world. But it did make me wonder why, on a couple of occasions, when I came onto the catch zone, some of the catchers kept running away.

All in all it was a great day. I have to say I’m really impressed with the development and design of the bike. The team have clearly been working exceptionally hard, particularly in the last couple of weeks. Tomorrow we are back at the University for some additional fitting, and then hopefully back to the test track for another workout.

 

 

Quiz: Stages of the Tour de France or the hazy glow of mountains in the distance?

Quiz: Stages of the Tour de France or the hazy glow of mountains in the distance?

 

Training Peaks Stages

It’s now less than a month before the first race and everything is coming together. The team at Liverpool are making great progress on the bike and my power targets are right at the estimates. Training has been exhausting but now that I have some time, and after a surprisingly abysmal training ride today, it’s time to look back and see the progress that I’ve made and remind myself that one day of poor performance is nothing against all that’s been built up.

 

Today marks the 127th training session I’ve had with Davie Lines of Espresso Cycle Coaching. I’ve also had 72 Strength sessions with Bob Clark at #BOBSGARAGE amongst the roughly 41 weeks I’ve dedicated to training for the World Human Powered Speed Challenge.

 

I’ve had the occasional off day before but with less than a month to go, they feel so much more significant. Combined with the workload of the last few weeks which has left me utterly exhausted an off day seems to have so much more of an impact.

 

Plus, I haven’t been able to keep up on the blog and ramble about the developments in the bike, the trip to Liverpool the other week, the trip this week, some of the training techniques and strategies… blah blah blah.

 

So to kick off getting things updated, and reminding myself about how far I’ve come and how close I am to hitting the targets that I’ve been aiming for, let’s have a look at some of my achievements over the last few months.

 

The weight sessions look the most impressive, but that’s mainly because Bob has me do the sensible thing and work up in weights, quite contrary to what I probably would’ve done had I managed them on my own. But, after 72 sessions I’ve seen the following improvements in weights:

 

Floor press                         700%

Chest Supported Row      700%

OH DB Press                       125%

Lat Pulldown                      300%

Biceps                                 50%

 

That’s not the full extent of the lifts that I’ve been doing but it’s what I could match up with my starting point, some of which I wasn’t even lifting actual weights. Beyond this, I have managed to lift my body weight which is a bit tricky as the more I lift the more muscle mass I gain and the more difficult that becomes. But, it’s a great thing to be able to do as mid-lift one day I realised… If I slipped and was hanging on the edge of a cliff and there was no one around to help me, I’d have to lift my body weight on my own or die. It’s a pretty useful skill we should all have, really.

On the bike, after 127 sessions I’ve seen the following improvements:

 

5 sec Power        40%

10 sec Power      44%

12 sec Power      53%

20 sec Power      61%

30 sec Power      66%

1 min Power       42%

 

Of course these don’t look quite as impressive since the baseline I had to take these from was 2 ½ months into my training when I’d already made substantial improvements, so these are more about the specifically targeted power levels for Battle Mountain. It’s also why I’ve not gone beyond the one minute range, for Battle Mountain, endurance is of little consequence, yet I’ve still made good improvements in the longer durations.

 

Of course my FTP has improved as well but like endurance, that’s largely irrelevant. For those that don’t know, FTP is the theoretical maximum power one should be able to sustain in an hour of riding.

 

To achieve this, I’ve managed to clock over 3600 miles on the bike since I started the dedicated training programme.

So, one bad day out of all that is pretty insignificant when I look at how far I’ve come. Over the last few months I’ve achieved and exceeded the targets that I estimated I’d need in order break the speed record. I’ve changed my riding style to get the most out of my body, and I’ve discovered how critical it is that my mind and body be completely focused on one goal, and one goal alone.

 

So, there’s nothing like an off day to remind you of where you came from and what you can achieve.

 

And the answer to the quiz question; it’s neither. That’s been my training profile over the last 8 months or so. All the ups and down.

I thought your arms would be a lot bigger

I thought your arms would be a lot bigger

A few weeks ago I did a wee speaking engagement and met someone who said something to the effect of: “I thought your arms would be a lot bigger.”

Well, burst my bubble!

It got me thinking. How big are my arms, and what do they look like when I’m riding? Do they show that muscular prowess one would expect to have after so much training?

See for yourself and let me know:

20-sec Max Effort Slo Mo

https://youtu.be/tMQkKCMvHYg

Slo Mo Arms
Slo Mo Arms

Mind, when this was said to me, it was shortly after having taken two weeks off to deal with the flu and I think my muscles did shrink rather quickly. But, one of the key points about handcycling that’s so easy to overlook is that it’s not only about riding with your arms, it’s also about incorporating your shoulders and back as well.

Further, each cadence requires a different type of muscle group to optimise it; a slow cadence might use one muscle group, but as high cadence might use another, and you’re never necessarily using one muscle group completely independently.

The trick for me, and one of the key points of my training, is getting all the muscle groups working together at all times regardless of cadence. Some muscles are definitely great at low cadences but those need to be trained to fire just as well at higher speeds. Similarly, other muscles rely on speed for their power, but they need to be trained to generate force at low speeds.

Everything has to work as one. Despite it appearing that a handcycle is all about working the arms, it’s about so much more, and especially about getting many parts of the body to work seamlessly together.

VO2 MAX

VO2 MAX

After a fairly long run of sprints, the VO2 max intervals have been brought back for me. These have been one of a small handful of rides that have really revealed the power of psychology.

VO2 Max
VO2 Max

The first couple of these I had no problem doing them, it was just a matter of getting on the bike, hitting the targets without over-reaching and be done. But, at some point something changed and I started to believe I couldn’t possibly sustain my VO2 max for as long as I needed, or do it repeatedly.

As this happened, when these rides came up I started getting uncomfortable and I’d subconsciously keep finding ways to delay them later in the day. I was well aware that I was delaying these and I knew why, but I also knew that I could meet the targets and, in fact, once I got riding I found these to be strangely relaxing and meditative.

This week, the VO2 max rides were reintroduced and this was the first week in a while where I didn’t have that subconscious fear that I’d fail. I was happy to get one and ride. In fact, yesterday, my 18th day on the go with training I was completely exhausted might otherwise not have felt like riding. But the VO2 max session drew me in…

I rode

I relaxed

I enjoyed it

Not yesterday’s session, but 1 min of VO2 max none-the-less:

https://youtu.be/Q753zIyl7o4

Speed Limit and Q&A

Speed Limit and Q&A

So, when I was originally planning my own attempt at the Battle Mountain speed record, I worked out what speed I thought was possible to achieve. Then, when I joined up with the University of Liverpool Velocipede Team I got their targets which coincided well with mine.

But then I got to thinking… it’s seems that there is a tradition at Battle Mountain of having the police arrest all the riders who break the speed limit on Route 305. This got me thinking… I want that!

So the other day I popped online and “drove” the course looking for speed limit signs. I didn’t see any. I didn’t see much at all. There’s not much along that road except for scrub and desert.

Luckily, Lori from the Nevada Department of Transportation got back to me quickly with a reply not only letting me know what the speed limit was, but also taking the time to supply me with a map screen shot of a speed limit sign on the course.

Speed limit SR 305 S of Battle Mtn
Speed limit SR 305 S of Battle Mtn

To be honest, I was hoping that they still had the old school 55 mph U.S. speed limits out there but clearly times have changed. Given that the handcycling speed record is about 45 mph, hitting 55 could very well be within the possibilities.

As you can see though, NDOT have gone and put a 70mph limit on that road. Off hand, I don’t know if that’s physically possible on a handbike but, I still want to break the speed limit on that road and I’ve going to give it my best shot!

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I’ve got an interactive Q&A section on my website. Feel free to send me any questions you might have about my training, involvement in handcycling, Battle Mountain. I’ll try to answer any question as best I can and it might help me to know what my followers are interested in rather than me just rambling, as I so easily do. I’m not used to having followers so this would be a great chance for me to get to know you as well.

Off to the gym today, it’s a full weekend there, and 10 sprints this afternoon. With luck, I’ll do the right number today!

Rest Day and Psychology

Rest Day and Psychology

It’s a rest day today, the first full one I’ve had in about in about 19 days, and well needed. Currently I’m doing one of the things I struggle with the most, actually resting. Having a nice cup of coffee and watching the Tour De France helps though. I’ve had a full week of increasing weight training and over-working on the bike, which was my fault, as well as a few considerations about the psychology of performance. Luckily though, I was able to finish yesterday with a rather relaxing series of VO2 max sessions.

This week was week three of a refined strength session. As I get closer to race week in Battle Mountain, the weights are increasing with reps decreasing. But there are a few where the weight just can’t go up quite yet, so the focus is on keeping the reps up and working on going beyond what I feel is possible.

On the bike, much of the work has been sprints as that will be a critical feature of the ride. I’ve been using a variety of sprinting techniques from accelerating from a near stop to sprinting from a mid-level cruising power. The two styles take a surprisingly different type of focus to maximise the power output to hit the peak targets. They’ve also had the added challenge of me needing to compensate for the decreased crank length needed to match the race bike. All in all, the results show that I’m well on par with the power estimates that I did many months ago.

The biggest battle this week has been exhaustion. A couple of times this week I’ve actually had to sleep between strength and bike sessions, which is virtually unheard of from me. The only time I’m usually able to sleep during the day is if I’ve not slept at all for a couple of nights. This is a rather telling indication of how intense the training is just now. Of course, I did make it worse on a riding session the other day where I looked at the title and the time and went ahead with my sprints. It wasn’t until I reviewed the results for the second time about half an hour after the ride that I noticed I was only supposed to have done 10 sprints rather than the 20 I actually did.

It’s been a bit of a psychology week as well. I’ve finished reading “Endure Mind, Body and the Elastic Limits of Human Performance”, by Alex Hutchinson. It’s a great book looking at many aspects of the impact of psychology in a diverse selection of human feats from running to Arctic exploration. It reiterates on thing I’ve been well aware of in my training, the impact of the mind. While it might not be the one thing that wins you the race, it can very easily be the one thing that prevents you from doing so no matter how well prepared you are physically.

Emirates Arena
Emirates Arena

On the back of this, I was lucky to have been squeezed into a workshop on “Psychological health and Performance” hosted by Scottish Cycling at Emirates Arena and featuring Dr Tony Westbury. (Thanks to Paul and Craig at Scottish Cycling for getting me into the session, and thank to all the World Cup fans who didn’t attend for making room!)

The workshop was very informative and while it only scratched the surface of performance psychology, it did clarify a few things for me and opened up some new ideas to consider. It’s a complex subject and unfortunately, psychology has a bit of a taboo history behind it, with the somewhat still present belief that if you look at psychology, you’re weak. But, when you’ve had those moments either in life or in your sport when you’ve thought you can’t possibly go on, and somehow you found a means to do it, that’s what it’s all about: Understanding yourself and how to squeeze out every ounce of possibility no matter what the situation. Now, my next read is “Faster, Fitter, Happier,” by Dr Tony Westbury (Courtesy of Dr Tony Westbury and/ or Scottish Cycling).

With luck, today I will actually rest and leave the racing to the riders entertaining and energising me on the Tour De France. It’s the one day I get before going right back into a morning ride and an afternoon strength session and hopefully tomorrow, I’ll remember to only do 10 sprints instead of 20!

Road Trials

Road Trials

This week I headed out to meet up with Coach Davie Lines of Espresso Cycle Coaching to do some road testing. As we wind down to the last 8 weeks of training we are now looking at more frequent tests on the road. This week was an opportunity to test a number of changes that probably made the test much more difficult, but revealed how critical it will be to get the application of power correct.

The first road test was completed with a wide range cassette vs a much narrower range on the recent test. This gave me the opportunity to try out the finer adjustments in cadence that will be available in the race scenario. While it does impose some other limitations on the ride, more critical aspects could be easier to finesse.

I finally had the chance to try out my disc wheels as well. I’d previously picked them up for time-trialling but, as I’ve had to put the time-trails on hold, I thought I should get used to the road feel to eliminate one rider-to-bike interface variable. Being significantly lighter and more rigid than my usual spoke wheels, I expected them to accelerate faster and provide a much harsher and harder to control ride. I can’t say I noticed a difference in acceleration but they didn’t provide a ride any harsher than the spoke wheels. I certainly won’t be put off my ride quality, but I can confirm that it’s rather deafening having you head between two discs, but still a fantastic sound.

Lastly, I had the chance to try the new short cranks on the road. In my first trials of them, I saw a significant difference in power and the road testing confirmed that change. Despite this change, my ride today showed a noticeable improvement over the previous same ride. Ultimately, this simply means that a change in the mechanical system requires a corresponding change in technique and mind set. It would be very easy to see all the months of hard work I’ve done disappear simply because of an equipment change and give up. But, I know I’ve got that power there, it’s just a matter of getting it out, and the improvements over the last two comparable rides as well as the sprint PB’s from the other day show that the power is there. So, the biggest factor with this and all the other equipment changes is mind set and belief.

The end result of the road testing was;

As I was being followed by Davie I was able to get some external perspective on what I was doing and how I could change things to make improvements.

It revealed that the riding technique is critical. It’s not just enough to ride, I need to ride properly, and the specifics of how still need to be worked out.

Similarly, it’s not just about riding it’s about being fully aware and fully engaged on the target. It’s about putting every bit of energy and focus on the one task and not over thinking and over analysing it.

I can honestly say that the results of the road test were more revealing than something to cheer about. But, so often we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes, and I’m certain I won’t be resting on my laurels for the next 8 weeks.

Next steps are continuing to develop power and refining technique.

Road test A (approx. 5:30)

https://youtu.be/zemT4ru7ABA

Road test B (approx. 7:00)

https://youtu.be/Jd6YHvqJ69o

A Week in Review

It’s been a busy week and very exhausting. So much so that this post was supposed to be out on Monday but by the time I’d gotten done with training and recovery, I had very little energy left to write and edit pictures and videos. So, here’s a some of the weeks run down

Coaching

Last weekend I spend my one rest day not actually resting that much, rather I headed out to finish my British cycling Level 2 Coaching award. It’s been a rather long journey as a handcyclist working on getting this qualification sorted out and I’m not ashamed to say that it took me three attempts. On my first attempt I managed to flip my mountain bike and fractured my ribs putting me in A&E and off riding for quite a few weeks. On my second effort there arose some debate about how to coach handcyclist, and how translate and develop material that would work within the boundaries of the existing coaching structures. After many conversations, I managed to get back on the course for the final day. Then under a hot blaring sun I presented my final lesson and along with quite a sunburn I managed to get my Level 2 coaching qualification.

Equipment changes

Along with all the training, I’ve also been working on matching my training bike up to the specs of the ULVTeam bike in order to get adjusted to the configuration I’ll be riding with. Recently I got a matching cassette so that the gear steps will be the same between bikes. I also got my discs situated and ready for the road testing I’d completed this week as well. But the biggest change came in a slightly mysterious package…

Cranks Wrapped
Cranks Wrapped

OK, it wasn’t that mysterious to me. I’d been talking with Chris at Draft Wheelchairs for a few days about this particular package. We went back and forth on some measurements and finally came to the conclusion that I just needed to try it. Chris was fantastic, as usual, with his tech knowledge and not only found me the parts I needed, but overnighted them to me with a note to try them to see if they worked before anything else. This was brilliant as I was hoping to get them situated for the road test this week. Big thanks to Chris at Draft Wheelchairs for all the info and the quick turnaround on the cranks.

Cranks
Cranks

In chatting about the bike design with ULVTteam, I discovered that the cranks they were using were shorter and narrower than those on my bike; 160mm vs 170mm and 5cm narrower. Realising this could be a crucial factor as I would be losing leverage and the width different could change how my muscles engage I opted to swap my stock cranks for some new ones, ASAP, so that I’d have time to get used to them.

I’m glad I did as the first ride on the new cranks proved to be a disappointment, with noticeable changes in power when compared to the same ride completed just days earlier. Then when I took the bike out for some road testing the other day, the same situation existed. With the change in leverage, my power levels just weren’t the same, and not by a small margin. This was very worrying.

With a reduction in power this lead to the idea that we might have to investigate changing the strategy for how the power is applied in order to compensate for the loss of leverage; basically, getting power via cadence. But in training there are a lot of options to work with. And on my ride yesterday, I opted to utilize some psychology. In a nutshell, I told myself that a change in equipment wasn’t going to diminish my power output. And pleasantly, it didn’t. Yesterday, even with the short cranks, I managed to set two PB’s in power!

 

New bigger equipment

The engineers at the University of Liverpool supplied me with this brilliant picture the other day.

Shell Polished
Shell Polished Credit: ULVTeam

This is the first I’ve seen of the bikes shells as one unit. Currently they are working like mad to smooth and polish the shell in addition to getting the seam between the top and bottom as smooth and close fitting as possible. Then, they’ll be one to assembling the inner components.

It looks like they are making great progress and road testing before Battle Mountain should be happening in the near future. Big thanks to the team for all the work they are putting into the bike.

More thanks

Speaking of thanks, I’d like to give a big thanks to my fried Dave K for proofreading my blog posts. Well, actually he read them and asked if I wanted him to point out my typos. So, a few messages went back and forth and hopefully I should look a bit more intelligent!

A wee teaser

This week I also got in another road test which I’ll be posting about shortly but in the meantime a small teaser from the road test this week

https://youtu.be/gZU7y7s2sUI