Time Trials

Anfield 100 2016

An unexpected impulse of mine this season has been to do more long distance events. After the first few races this year I realised I could race and train around the ongoing niggles I picked over a season ago. Feeling like I pretty much sat last season out the hunger to time trial and push myself further has never been greater. So preparation for 100 mile time trials has been lacking. That said I do have a fairly good training base to work off.

This was a 100 mile time trial so this post is of equivalent length to endure. I am using the post to simply download the experience from my brain for future reference and it will probably read just like that. Suffice to say though that the experience of my first 100 mile time trial was extreme. I took myself as far as I have ever been into an energy deficit. On the final lap my brain had begun to leave my body. I could not see for the amount of sweat accumulated on to my glasses. My power meter no longer reconciled with the effort it was taking to turn the pedals.

All the time I was craving speed above my current average. Chanting and bargaining to myself scanning my Garmin every second for the most positive number to convince my body it was almost done. 10kms resonated better than 15 minutes to go. Then 10 minutes seemed easier than 7kms. Eventually the relief of seeing the finish, which must have been moved about 3 miles down the road from where I had passed it on the previous 4 laps. I could barely pedal let alone sprint home.

I rolled down the road barely moving my legs. A little worried about having to come to a stop and what would happen when I tried to stand up. It didn’t seem probable at that time that I would spend the following days plotting how I would go faster in the next one. The thought, I think, would have horrified me. I look back to that moment now with a knot of excitement in my stomach.

Preparation for my first 100 TT

Ideally if you are only interested in 100 mile TTs I would imagine a training week would have at least 1 endurance ride of 4-5 hours. The problem with these rides is that even if you aren’t going hard in them you end up not particularly good for a day or so after. Spreading myself thinly I have a number of goals this season and as such I couldn’t afford to destroy race days. So my training schedule has consisted of 1 long ride every 2 weeks.

Apart from that long ride every 2 weeks I didn’t change much else. The few days prior I just did my usual short primer rides that are supposed to boost muscle glycogen and ate lots around them. Boosting the glycogen stores is a necessity if you train a lot as it is likely that you are already entering each day a little depleted. Starting the race this way would be a recipe for disaster.

The course

The rolling Shropshire terrain makes an interesting but not very quick course. I was told before I entered that this isn’t a fast event but instead a ‘must do’ classic. I didn’t know if this would be not just my first but also my last 100 mile TT so why not check off this classic. The event has been running since 1889 when the winner’s time was 7:11:00. Take a look at page 9 of this pdf to see the incremental improvement of riders and equipment over the years. The event has been run so long that it is a fantastic example of the improvements in performance cycling over the years.

Starting near Shawbury the course goes north to Tern Hill and then west to Prees, at this point it’s all been up hill and on the day was into a head wind, returning to Tern Hill with a welcome tail wind (when I did it), then after a brief visit to the Muller factory, school trip over, we get to the main circuit. That’s 25 miles done. The circuit is then completed 4 times with a mixture of long straight A roads and rolling twisting B roads. Each lap I looked forward to the twisty rolling Section between Shawbury and Crudginton.

The worst section was the road up from Crudginton to Episley roundabout. It was in fact bitter sweet. I took a recce of the circuit prior to the race and the road surface was horribly rough in places. I had made a mental note that this would be horrible on the day. In fact I felt it was the opposite. I knew once I got to this section I was almost back at Episley so in the end it was encouraging to be bounced around by the poorly maintained road.

The most frustrating part was the start of each lap after Episley. The road looked flat and it felt like I was at the top of a hill but my senses were deceiving. Each lap I got frustrated at how slowly I was going in this section and would see the average speed hit its lowest point each time on this part of the lap. It was only after a kilometre or two that the road begins to give back some speed.

Nutrition plan

I don’t tend to take on carbohydrates during my training rides and I am new to racing distances in which it is necessary to take carbs on during the ride, so I went cautiously. I took a 750ml bottle of High5 Energy Source which I drank most of by hour 3 and a High5 Isogel before the start and then each hour. I was handed a fresh bottle of Energy Source on Lap 3 which I probably drank half of.

Ideally I would have consumed more and will probably aim to do so next time. I’ll do a few more training rides with gels etc. and get the stomach used to that amount of sugar. Some advice I have received is to have some solid food as well. Again something to try in training.

I was dancing a fine line with what I took on, but that could be due to my inability to drink from a bottle without blowing half a litre of air into my stomach.

Pacing

“Don’t go out too hard” is the advice you always hear and see when researching long distances, well in fact pretty much any time trail. I was determined not to do so. I was also aware that the start of the course is not favourable, mostly up hill and headwind. I knew the chimp in my head would be leaping up and down trying to convince me that I need to be going faster. Ready for this I managed to keep him in check.

Using a power meter it is possible from much shorter efforts to estimate your capabilities in longer distances. It is pretty amazing and testament to the science that the number of watts I deduced from my thousands of training and race files pointed to a wattage that was spot on for me.

Keeping an eye on that chimp I nailed the wattage from the start and was lap to lap of the course within 3 watts doing my highest power on the final lap. Interestingly the average power was consistent but my heart rate rose from the first lap at 148bpm to 151bpm on lap 3 then on the final lap it jumped to 157. I suspect the slight rise is dehydration which points to me needing to be drinking more, or it could be as muscles tire we start recruiting more compensatory patterns of movement. Plus, in that final lap, I was requiring a lot of self talk and, generally, pedalling became more of a whole of body effort. If you were nearby you would no doubt have heard ‘just, huh, 10, huh, kilometres, huh, to, huh, go’ followed by ‘you can, huh, do anything, huh, for, huh, 20 minutes’.

Average speed was fairly consistent around 40.1km/h which I assumed to be 25mph. My second lap was the quickest of over 40.2km/h. The small differences in average could be luck with traffic, wind variability etc. My third and slowest lap I had slowed a bit to grab a bottle which probably dropped .1km/h.

All the time though I was nursing that 40.1km/h average. Convinced that would see me duck under the 4hr mark. After all the planning and analysis I enjoy doing around these events I fell down at a simple conversion error. Had I known I was heading to be 1 minute 50 seconds longer than the 4hrs earlier, could I have found that extra? In hindsight, as much as I would like to say yes, I think I was spent at the end and squeezed out what I could. You can always think after time trials that grabbing those extra seconds was possible, but ultimately there and then in the moment you were doing everything you could to get to that finish line as soon as possible. I was certainly motivated to the end and extremely tired.

A mate of mine thought he had finished one lap early. I just can not imagine the agony of thinking you have finished to be told that you have another lap to go.

Self management

Riding time trials like this seems to be as much about mental fortitude as it is about physical fitness. I usually find, in the races I do my best in, I am almost like the supervisor of the machine. I’m in charge, but some how disconnected to what is actually going on. In the Anfield 100 I drifted in and out of this state of mind.

At about 25 miles the edge of my right foot was painful under load. I figured out that it was from holding a bit of tension on my right ankle which wasn’t allowing my foot to naturally press down evenly on the pedal. It was painful to pedal but I managed to keep the wattage going and gradually it began to be less of an issue. (It probably didn’t help that I was using my brand new shoes.)

I then started with a bit of left hip flexor tightness/overuse. I realised that all of these things seemed to be occurring because of tension I was holding in various muscles. I kept telling myself to relax and I concentrated on keeping all the muscles as free and relaxed as possible. This really seemed to help and as new pains came in, going through this process of relaxation seemed to stave off major issues.

I also spent some time after turns and on small rises standing in a big gear on the pedals to just stretch out and allow a change of blood flow to some essential regions. On that, note I had zero saddle soreness, although I nearly slipped off the saddle with the amount of Vaseline I slapped on down there.

Finishing the race I was depleted. I was probably quite dehydrated and certainly in need of food.

It’s a drag

An interesting observation I had when analysing the data after the race was how bad my CdA was for this race. Compared to my short distance races I had lost around 6 minutes. My best CdA was in the first 25 miles and worst was on the final two laps. There are potentially a few causes for this:

  • Position
    I likely unconsciously relaxed my position knowing that it was going to be a long time. I haven’t felt any postural soreness afterwards which leads me to think this is the case too. I could also do a 10 mile TT the evening afterwards with a CdA comparable to my best.
  • Carrying a bottle and gels
    My bottle is a very un-aero 750ml bidon. Cylinders are the worst shape aerodynamically. The problem is if you are having bottles passed you need a lot of aero bottles and will not be able to rely on neutral service for a bottle.
  • The cost of keeping the engine ticking
    During the race I was drinking and opening gels. Sitting up momentarily and standing in places I wouldn’t dream of doing in a shorter distance race. This will no doubt improve as I become more accustomed to the distance.

In fact it’s quite interesting how my drag numbers evolved during the race.

Difference from Average 10-25 mile CdA

 
Diff Hypothesis
First 25 +0.012 Carrying bottle, drank a few times from it
Circuit 1 +0.020 Started taking gels, perhaps started to relax shoulders.
Circuit 2 +0.015 The best CdA of the circuits. This was my fastest circuit.
Circuit 3 +0.025 Tiring at this point continuing to drink and take a gel
Circuit 4 +0.025 Very tired I don’t think I had a gel this lap and probably didn’t drink much.

Short term gains can be made from addressing the above points. The cost of carrying my bottle and gels seems to be around 0.01. Solving this alone would gain me 3 minutes.

The result

I just missed out on going under my target time of 4hrs. This would have been the icing on the cake. I am not overly disappointed as I think I was close enough, falling a minute fifty seconds outside. In the end I felt lucky to get a time at all. A nervous wait at the board for my time to appear after all other times had been put up and the prize ceremony had gone ahead, they obviously didn’t expect my time to trouble the top podium. My time wasn’t appearing. I told the organiser and eventually a time was found, great, but it was 18 minutes too long. Eventually the times were checked and my official time of 4:01:54 was correctly listed.

It struck me more than any other time trial how a single event can be so different between competitors. By this I mean that the winning time was 3 hours 33 minutes whilst there were some competitors out there for over 5 hours. It should be remembered that all are riding at their maximum. The hat really has to be doffed to those that were out there pushing themselves for 5 plus hours. 4 hours was enough for me. The winner had it easy 😉

 

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4 comments

    1. Thanks Tejvan. I think the rolling course of the Anfield would suit you. If you’re doing it without a helper the club have a proper ‘fly through’ feed station where they will pass you your bottle. I think that is a great touch.

    1. Thanks. The circuits help break the 4hrs up. Copious amounts of Vaseline in the right places helps too.

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