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Thursday 30 April 2015

Wattbike Test at Inspire2tri: On Pain of Fire, Ants & Excrement

I'd stripped off in public. Something that would usually NEVER happen. Unless my clothes were a) on fire b) covered with ants c) covered in poo. And even then it would probably have to be someone else’s poo. 


However, my reason for stripping off wasn’t too do with insects, flames OR excrement. It was something much scarier. I was going to do The Wattbike Test. The equivalent pain of racing a 5k PB ... but condensed into 3 minutes. And in front of other people. 

I was going to be hotter than microwaved coffee hence the strip down to shorts and crop top but I was hoping the results would make it worth it.  

I was warming up on the turbo for 20 minutes on a structured warm up with the 10 other people in the room. The studio was filling up with the sounds of acceleration on the sprints, heavy breathing and nervous farts. Well my corner of it was, anyway.  

The Farty Corner

Coach Mary had planned it so we all started the warm up at different times. This way we’d have 20 minutes of spinning on our own bikes on the turbo and be ready to go on with the same preparation each. We had 2 Wattbikes in the centre of the room with our turbos ringed around them. A bit like a cage fight but with more pedals and farting. But about the same amount of sweat and desperation. 

The Wattbike Test is 3 minutes long and from these results I’d have accurate heart rate information which would mean I could make sure I’m training in the right zones. In other words making my training as efficient as possible. I’d know I was doing my easy rides easy enough and pushing hard enough on the REALLY horrible turbo sessions. I’d be able to judge it by my heart rate now through the readings I’d be getting on my watch via my HR monitor strap, rather than on my rather less accurate scale of ‘a bit sweaty’ to ‘legs feel wobbly now’. 

However as a result of going far too fast on the warm up due to a mixture of nerves and the adrenaline of watching other people do their tests on the Wattbike first, I was now boiling hot. I wasn’t ‘glowing’ or ‘perspiring’, I had reached ‘revoltingly sweaty’. Loz on the bike next to me and I exchanged glances. Yep. The vests were coming off. Being super organised triathletes *cough*, we’d worn cropped sports tops underneath in the event of an emergency (bee attacks, tummy button fires) and this was an emergency. A Wattbike emergency. We were in fact exposing far less skin than the average Victorian swimmer, but we were also in a roomful of athletes. Slinky, non-sweaty, buffed athletes. 

Sod it. We were BOILING. 

*Tops off*

People were just going to have to ignore any wobbly bits I was displaying. None of the INTERESTING wobbly bits, mind you but probably wobbly nonetheless.

The relief was immediate. But short lived. My turn on Wattbike of Death. 

Me being me encountered a problem. 1 minute into my 3 minute test – the point where I thought my eyeballs were boiling – Coach Mary realised that the HR displayed on the bike wasn’t mine. The perils of having 10 other people in the room also wearing HR monitors. 

So off the Wattbike, back onto my own bike for some easy spin and to let my heart rate drop back down from ‘hummingbird’ to ‘extremely nervous’. Or at least from ‘hum’ to ‘thunder’. 

But on the plus side, I’d had one go on the bike, hadn’t fallen off and it was already adjusted to fit me. I was impressed. It had taken 30 seconds to set it up (less than the average spin bike!) and through a few easy changes, it would fit both the 6ft Adam and the 5’4 me. At least I didn’t have to worry about not being able to reach the pedals.   

This isn't so bad ... (Source: Inspire2Tri)

Recovery time up and back on the bike. 3 minutes doesn’t sound long, does it? 0.5% of an exam. The length of time a crème egg lasts in my house. The time from leaving the house to realising your mobile is on the kitchen counter at home ...

But 3 minutes is a VERY long time.

And it’s very difficult to pace.

Ok ... this isn't quite so much fun now (Source: Inspire2Tri)
I knew that I would need to be trying my hardest to get the most accurate results I could, but it would be crazy to do my usual thing of flying off as hard as possible at the beginning and then dying about 45 seconds later. I’d need to go hard but try and pace myself to last the 3 minutes. And for 30 seconds it was fine. It was really fine. And then I realised I had to do that FIVE MORE TIMES.  

I really hit the all time low when Coach Mary announced I ‘only’ had two more minutes left. ONLY two minutes? That’s two minutes in which it appears my legs will simply give up on me, shrivel up, die and fall off. Two minutes in which my eyeballs appear to be forcing themselves down my nostrils. And 2 minutes in which I will simply suck all of the air from the room and die on the floor trying to fill my lungs.

And then it was over. 

I had no ideas of the figures on the display, I had been keeping my eyes purely on the cadence looking to hold the same revolutions-per-minute on the pedals. I was dimly aware that the display was flashing away, the same way I was aware of the cheers of the others as they encouraged me onwards and as I had encouraged them but it wasn’t important. The important thing had been keeping going. However now I WAS interested in the results. Wattbike users report significant gains in performance after training on a Wattbike (source), being able to keep an eye on the key variables and using the information you’re given as a tool to help efficient training are just two of the benefits. 

Max Minute Power (MMP): 274w
Max Heart rate: 176BPM
Power/Mass:                       4.72W/kg
V02 max estimate:               3.2 l/min, 55.6 ml/kg/min
MET:                                  15.9

But more importantly for me were my heart rate zones:

Training Zone HR (bpm)
Recovery            <106
Zone 1 Basic 107-114
Zone 2 Basic 115-132
Zone 3 Intensive 133-144
Zone 4 Intensive 145-157
Zone 5 Maximal 158-165
Zone 6 Maximal 166-176

Using these accurate training zones, I would be able to check I was riding at the right intensity while training. I have the terrible habit of trying to do everything at top speed, far too fast and not getting the benefit of the work I’m putting in. With this data, Coach Mary would be able to check that I was behaving myself and shout at me with terrible accuracy when I was slacking off or trying to do everything at high speed. And I would have no defence. The data would speak for itself. 

However, it would be me reaping the benefits. Rather than lots of junk miles, my training could be refined and now my sessions could be targeted. I could ensure that my training was pointing me directly at my goal. 

Now I knew what I SHOULD be doing. All that I need to do is actually to do it. 

Monday 13 April 2015

Not All Girls Are Made of Sugar and Spice ...

Linville Gorge, May 2014. Photo by Joanna @jpomilioThis amazing image was made by Steph and you can visit her blog here

Not all girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice ...

Some girls are made of adventure and beer and brains and no fear ...


Wednesday 8 April 2015

Bicester Triathlon: Urine Tide Lines, Biblical Weather & Bulldogs.

Men were passing me on the bike leg of the triathlon. I’d expected to be overtaken, but bizarrely they all seemed to be grinning. Or gurning. How strange. 

Had I got my helmet on back to front? My trisuit had maybe split up the arse?

Then I realised. They weren’t gurning OR grinning. The headwind was so strong, our mouths, open for breathing were being blown around. It was the cycling equivalent of blasting a bulldog with a leafblower. 

This is what a bulldog looks like when it's being blasted by a leaf blower. AMAZING. (Source)
I’d expected the weather to be a bit rainy, but I hadn’t expected the wind to be quite as strong as it was. There were WAVES in the puddles and sideways trees. The course was a great one and was very flat – but unsheltered. Which meant the wind could really have fun trying to blow me backwards while I desperately tried to cycle forwards.  I’d hoped for a bike PB over the 20km with all my turbo training over the last few months, but today I’d be happy with not ending up in the hedge or under a lorry. Actually moving forwards was to be a bonus. 

I’d suspected things weren’t going to go my way when I’d had to stop my bike in traffic within 5 minutes of starting, unable to overtake the stationary line of cars waiting to turn right at the roundabout at the end. The man in front of me whom I’d been trying desperately to catch since we set off turning into a dot in the distance. Bloody traffic.  There was nothing I could do about it though. I waited until I could start moving again, put my head down and started pedalling like a dervish. 

The morning had started so well too ...

There were crème eggs at registration. There were toilets without queues AND with loo roll. I’d even passed a sign to a village called ‘Hardwick’, the surname of my coach which I’d taken as a good omen.

AND I’d made a new friend. This was unintentional and the poor chap didn’t have much choice in the matter. It had been break point. In the car, I’d realised I probably should have popped to the loo before leaving home. 

FORTUNATELY, there were plenty of service stations on my journey ... UNFORTUNATELY I’d forgotten my bike lock and didn’t dare leave the bike unlocked on the back of the car. 

Same dilemma when I got the venue. Transition wasn’t yet open and I didn’t want to leave the bike unlocked on the car in a field or unlocked against the wall outside the loos. 

I had the brief thought about whether I could fit my bike into one of the toilet cubicles. Then decided it would be impossible to actually go to loo with the cubicle filled up with bike.

Then I spotted George. He looked reasonably trustworthy. And he had his own bike. He didn’t need 2, right? (Don’t ask a triathlete this question) I had three options. 1. Take bike into toilet and attempt acrobatic style wee while balancing over bike 2. Leave bike with trustworthy looking stranger.  3.Wet self while trying to decide.  

I took option 2. And New-Friend-George was promoted to Bike Babysitter. 

However I may have peeked back out of door to see whether he was attempting to cycle away on his own bike with mine tucked under his arm. He wasn’t. 

I found the loos and got myself registered – they were giving out FREE crème eggs!!! - and then did my own spot of Bike Babysitting as New Friend discovered he had same lock-less problem.

The children’s triathlon had started so I watched them coming through transition with their bikes and heading out for the run. It was pouring with rain, the wind was blowing trees sideways and the massive heavy metal barriers kept blowing over. And there were small children running in trisuits. Basically in swimsuits with legs. I’d brought my own trisuit but had been planning on putting a couple of layers over the top. 

I spotted a small child shivering.  Dressed in a small red trisuit, he had finished his race and was recovering in a sheltered corner out of the howling wind. “Weren’t you cold in just a trisuit?” I asked sympathetically looking for an excuse for me to wear my nice thick bike jacket over the top. He looked up at me. “Yes” And holding up a MASSIVE medal. “...but I won.” That was me told then.  

Transition opened at 10am. I always feel better when my bike was racked and kit set up, although in this weather it was unlikely to stay set up. The bike were swaying on the racks due to the strong winds and kit boxes were already scattered across the field. I set up my shoes, towel and other bits and pieces inside a bin bag and held it down with my heavy Huub tri bag. If the wind managed to blow my fully laden tri bag away then the bikes would already be in the trees. 

My bike is the one with the white saddle. 
I’d already had a narrow squeak thanks to the weather this morning. The registration envelope had got so sodden with the rain that the bottom had fallen out and I’d been unknowingly trailing helmet stickers and fliers all around transition. Luckily someone stopped me and handed me my timing chip “I think you might need this ...”. Ah. I retraced my steps and recollected my damp items. Like a breadcrumb trail but with race information and stickers instead of crumbs.

My bike was racked on the field under the rugby goal posts. There were no rack numbers – it was first come, first served. As soon as transition opened it was like a Next sale. Chaos. What is it with triathletes and elbowing? Seriously guys, calm down! You’re not in the open water now, you know! *Surreptitiously kicks man in ankle for good racking spot* 

As soon as everything was set up, I wandered over to the pool to watch the swimmers. I was really impressed with the spectating area. Loads of space to watch the swimmers and it was warm. Important if you’re hanging around in swim kit. And it was here I had my favourite surprise of the day! My friend Rae had come to cheer me on! I’d come to the triathlon on my own so it was wonderful to have someone cheering for me! Thank you, thank you!

I got changed and got myself down to the pool edge. The triathlon had started at 8:30am but due to the staggered start I didn’t get into the pool until 12:30. Which due to the nervous swimmers was by this point about 90% urine. I’d heard Coca Cola was good for killing water germs, but at this point the only thing likely to save me was neat bleach. I was expecting brown tide lines when I got out of the pool later. 

Pretending I'm not nervous ...
The earlier swimmers had been 2 to a lane and it had looked quite sedate and calm while they swam perfect breastroke. It all looked a bit different now. Swimmers thrashing up and down and a man with bright pink calf guards zipping up and down the nearside lane. Hats hadn’t been supplied at this triathlon so there were multiple coloured heads bobbing around like Christmas baubles.

For once before a race, I didn’t feel nervous. I felt sick, but not nervous. I knew that I might hate every second but unlike my only other pool triathlon I was confident I could actually swim 400m this time and whether armbands would be allowed wasn’t so much of a concern. Before I knew it I was being called up along with 5 others and it was my turn. 

Pic by Rae
I slipped into the pool and took a couple of seconds to adjust my goggles and get my face under the water. Yep. 90% urine.

And we were off. The swim was ... unexpected. I felt comfortable. I could do this. Maybe not gracefully or without a bit of thrashing around, but I could do this. Maybe the wee made the pool easier to swim in. Who knows but as I exited the pool after my 16th lap I remembered to stop my swim watch and looked down to see 7:47 – a new swim PB. 

Pic by Rae

After the nice warm pool area and a run through the leisure centre past the plastic palm trees and kiddie pool, going outside was a nasty surprise. Running over the muddy grass and stony tarmac in bare feet to the transition area, the cold rain and the wind chilled my damp skin.

Pic by Rae

To get to the bikes, we ran around 3 edges of the square transition area and it was very easy to find my bike under the towering goal rugby post. As soon as I got to transition, I sat down to get my socks on and bike shoes on. No point falling over and knocking my own bike off the rack. Besides I’d probably get disqualified for touching my bike without my helmet on. Even if I was lying across it sideways with all my kit underneath me.  The talc in the shoes and socks was a blessing as it meant I didn’t have to waste time drying my feet, but could just roll my socks on (Thanks again Veggie Runners!). Bike jacket on (sorry small child in trisuit but I’m a WIMP), number belt on, helmet on. No sunglasses required today. 

I ran out of transition holding my bike saddle. Or I thought I did but the photos show that I appear to be holding the handlebars as well. How I managed to avoid tripping myself up on the pedals I don’t know. I was probably concentrating on trying to run in bike shoes with rigid soles and 2 lumps of plastic attached while sliding around on wet tarmac. Who knows. The expression on my face in the picture is mainly confusion so maybe I was trying to work out the meaning of life or something. 

Or possibly wondering why the trees were bending sideways and what all this cold wet stuff coming from the sky was. 

Pic by Rae

And then I was being overtaken by the bulldog leafblower cyclists.I didn’t mind being overtaken by the men so much. I’d known I would be overtaken after all. Cycling isn’t my strong point. In fact I don’t think I have a triathlon strong point, but if I had, it wouldn’t be cycling. The first few past whummed past me with their disc wheels and sperm helmets, then the next wave with road bikes and aero bars, then the ones with mountain bikes and baskets ... and then a lady overtook me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of being a girl. I love being able to wear heels and dresses, to run in pink kit. And I love chicking the blokes to a finishing line. But I don’t like being overtaken by other women. The irritating thing, is that it’s inevitable, I’m just not good enough at cycling to NOT be overtaken. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I got a bit of a move on and managed to keep her in sight for a bit but not for long. I consoled myself by overtaking everyone else I could see. Including all the girls. The overtaking rule only works one way, you know ...
The cycling was HARD. I dislike running in a strong headwind, but cycling in it was worse. It felt as though I was pushing against an invisible wall, but every time I passed a gateway the sideways gusts blew me across the road. I consoled myself with the fact that everyone had the same conditions. That we were all equalised by the weather. If the trees whipping around hadn’t driven the point home, the waves coming towards me in the puddles was a clue that it might be a bit blowy out. 

It was my bike’s first race but she didn’t seem to be nervous. In fact she behaved like a dream.  I had no problems clipping in and out and after the hill-push-start of the other day, I’d also ensured I’d left the bike in the right gear. If only I could have managed better than what felt like 3mph against the wind.

As it was a looped bike course there was a section on the way back with a tailwind. Sweet. I made the most out of the fact I was finally out of the headwind and started pushing the speed up. The roads weren’t too busy but there were a couple of junctions I had to stop at. It just wasn’t worth risking it. Most of the cars were fairly courteous and I was very impressed with a man driving a silver Mercedes who drove onto the verge in his beautiful car to give the cyclists plenty of room. There were a few incidents though mainly due to the weather conditions but I did what I could to minimise my risk. 

After what felt like only a minute out of the headwind, I was at the roundabout turning left and starting the loop again. This time it felt much faster. Why do the second loops always feel quicker? I pushed round the second time, helped by knowing where I was going this time and within a blink I was heading back into transition.

Transition felt much faster this time. Bike racked, a quick change of shoes, helmet off and out of the run exit. A man ran out about the same time as me and he had a quick sideways glance and sped up. Huh. Trying to race me? I have pent up frustration for not being able to move on the bike! I may not being able to catch speedy bike lady so I’ll overtake you instead! Poor man. He was probably only going to offer me a gel or something. 

The run was 5 laps of a km out and back loop. It was nice being able to see where you had to go at all times but 5 laps felt a LOT. I had a quick check of my pace, but the strong winds meant that it was difficult to judge so I decided to run on effort and concentrate on cracking on. I’d secretly hoped fast-bike-lady would be a slow runner and I could exact revenge by zooming past and doing my evil laugh but no luck.  She was probably a lovely person, but I had fast-bike-riding-envy. I would NOT be sharing my gels with her. 

Pic by Rae
The first 3 kilometre laps took forever. May be exaggerating somewhat but they felt like forever. I felt like I could have done another 20km bike ride in the time it took me to do the first few loops. I decided it was my bike jacket jinxing me so I flung it at poor Rae who had come to cheer me on but instead had been demoted to Stinky-Sweaty-Bike-Jacket babysitter instead. 

The photographer was sitting at the turnaround point, I spotted him on lap 4. As a result my race photos are horrendous up until lap 3 and at laps 4 & 5 I’m gurning away at the photographer and trying to pretend I’m having a wonderful time and 80% of the way through a triathlon is my favourite place to be and I’m not considering walking / hurling or throttling fast lady cyclists AT ALL.  

On lap 4 the icy rain started up again. I’d missed it and it complemented the freezing wind well. 

On lap 5. Finally. One last push. Rae cheered me on (she’d spotted my Eyes of Death look on laps 3 and 4 and had wisely decided to cheer non-verbally for those 2) and I gave it one last push towards the inflatable arch (which must have been tethered with iron cables to stand the winds) and made it over the finish line  with the jubilant commentator announcing the finish of a “Sarah Brooker”.  

Hang on. Who?

Never mind. I’m finished. Where’s that medal?

And as a special treat, here’s the bulldog with a leaf blower video. This is what I think of when I get overtaken by cyclists in a high wind. 

  • Will be a definite PB course if the weather is decent as was so flat. But ... if weather is bad you have no shelter out on the course. Unless you’re in the pool!
  • Great for spectators, especially the pool!
  • Nice friendly race.
  • Parking is close to venue. 
  • Helpful marshals. 

  • Organisation: Swim times weren’t streamed until about 1 week beforehand. Transition opening times changed last minute (I would have had to have been at transition racking bike at 7:30am for a race that started at 12:30 which would have meant a 5:30am start). Great that these changed but better if it wasn’t last minute.
  • Some unusual results particularly on the run, the downfall of 5 laps is people lose count. 
  • No results on the day. 
  • If you’re going to shout people’s names out when they cross the line (a lovely touch!) please get them right. *huff*

6th lady 
2nd in AG

P.S. Fast-Cycling-Lady? You’re AWESOME. Please will you teach me to go as fast as you?