It’s been two and a half months since I broke my collarbone in Mallorca. I had surgery on the 25th of October and started riding again on the turbo 1 month after, on the 25th November. This post will be a bit of analysis on my approach to returning after a relatively long period off the bike and my progress to date.
Step 1: Finding my FTP
At 1 month on my collarbone hadn’t yet healed. I didn’t have a full range of movement or much strength on my right side so I knew I wasn’t going to be riding outside for a while. This is still the case and really, until I’m cleared to do so by a physio that’s how it is going to stay. The risks of crashing far outweigh any benefit I would get from being outside, so the turbo is my foundation for 2017. Zwift is providing the platform for workouts and entertainment – maybe even some races too. I initially wrote off Zwift as a bit of a gimmick but I was very wrong – it is a great motivator (more on this later).
The biggest challenge was regaining motivation just to get back on the bike. After a month out, it was really easy to not bother because it’s just one more day and the ‘damage’ is already done. I didn’t have a routine or any real plan and my initial riding reflected that.
Eventually I wanted to get back on the bike and see where I was at. Being reset to almost zero conditioning isn’t great but the first few rides give some amazing data to look back on (as I am doing now). The numbers (for me) were quite humbling:
So humbling in fact that others thought my power/HR data was skewed. I know Gary was being 100% sincere here (commenting on Nov 26 ride) – the next time I see someone else do an FTP test, a similar comment is being left on their ride. 🙂
He was spot on though.’August/September/October Tom’ does ~360w for 190bpm and ~300w for 174bpm heart rate. The conclusion here is that ‘November Tom’ has lost somewhere in the region of 90w-100w for the same heart rate compared to peak shape just a few months before. Ride one was pretty much an all out hour and I didn’t have much left at the end. MY FTP was set between the average (253w) and normalized power (270w) for that ride – 260w.
The below zones show the effect – everything steps up a zone. Zone 2 becomes tempo, tempo becomes threshold and threshold is now vo2 max.
The objective becomes clear: close the FTP gap.
Step 2: #Plan
After working out my FTP, I confirmed it with some 2 x 20s the next week where I could manage 270w x 270w for both initially and then 270w x 285w the second time I tried. At this stage, there were noticeable improvements after each ride as I remembered how to pedal (!) and adapted to riding on the turbo (riding with different cooling, different wheel inertia etc.). The first gains are the easiest to make and pretty much any riding at all would be beneficial.
Working out what to do next was a bit more difficult, I wasn’t really sure what riding I should be doing. My CTL sat at 48tss/d which is the lowest it has been in 2 years. My full PMC for 2015/2016 is at the bottom of my year in review post – my CTL was 110-115tss/d for most of the year.
I was sitting on a train home from work and I get a message from Dan Coops – ‘what’s your plan on building back up?’. I didn’t have one. I haven’t trained on a turbo for a period longer than 3 weeks before and generally, I disliked it. As such, my sessions were never more than 90 minutes and always a hard workout so I could burn 1,000kj as fast as possible (1h @ 279w = 1,000kj) and get off. The problem with doing this intensity (z3 or sweetspot then, above threshold now!) in an untrained state is the recovery time between sessions is much longer. I might only be able to manage 4-5h a week at that intensity and it would be difficult to manage physically.
In the middle of this random chat, the penny dropped and a plan formed – ride for longer at a lower intensity around zone 2. There is a wattage level where fatigue doesn’t accumulate from back-to-back days but still provides a decent training load. Finding this would greatly reduce the daily accumulating fatigue, let me ride for 10h+ a week and provide a great ‘sweetspot’ of calorie burn for training load (the most kcal/kj per unit of training load). Using the first two rides above as examples, the high intensity ride burnt 10kj per unit of training load whereas the z2 rode burns 14.4kj/unit. 44% more ‘work’ is done for the same stress score (whether this stress is equivalent in training value is another question..).
There were a few extra reasons why this made sense:
- Reduced hours at work
Mainly to avoid peak travel times and fighting for space on a train in my injured state in December as advised by my Occupational Health doctor. I would get home with an extra 2h in the evening which was extra time to ride.
- Time on the turbo is more efficient than time on the road
For me, 1 turbo hour is worth 1.3-1.5 hours on the road (closer to 1.3x). Below are the zone distributions from two rides. Below left is a recent 2.5h Zwift turbo ride and below right is a typical 2.5h outdoor winter ride from 2015. An hour of the outdoor ride is spent in z1, half an hour of that is coasting and 10% less calories are burned. The outdoor ride is more fun and varied (more specific later in the year too) but some 40-50 minutes of the 150 minute ride are wasted.
A 12h week on the turbo is therefore roughly worth 15-18h equivalent on the road.
- Riding at the same intensity makes it easy to monitor improvements in cadence, HR and recovery
I guess this is particularly important in the first six weeks especially as improvements come relatively quickly. I chose 200w as my target for sustained power as this would put all of my riding inside z2 and it would stay there as my FTP drifted upwards. 200w was at the top of z2 for my starting FTP of 260w and at the bottom of my target FTP of 350w.
Now, while the z2 / 200w stuff was to form the ‘bread and butter’ of my riding, the plan wasn’t to sit exclusively at this intensity. Some variety is essential for avoiding both mental and physical stagnation. I decided to try my hand at some Zwift group rides and a couple of races to mix things up and push myself (more on this below)when I felt good.
Step 3: Progress
I was able to see signs that improvements were coming:
- Fresher at the end of rides
200w became easier to the extent that at the end of a ride I wasn’t as tired and still had energy to do an extra effort. These two rides are a week apart and are almost identical in terms of average power and average heart rate. The difference was I wasn’t as tired at the end of the ride and even had enough to try out a short interval.
2. Lower HR for same effort (+ less cardiac drift)
My heart rate began to drop over time as 200w became an easier intensity relative to my FTP. The baseline for 200w was 150bpm at the beginning of December. At the beginning of January, 200w is now 140bpm or less. 150bpm is now around 220w.
3. 215w became the new 200w for long rides
Put simply, I started to notice getting stronger through December. 15w extra for a very similar HR (and perceived exertion) is an 8% improvement from 200w between these two rides which are 16 days apart. Most long rides now come out around 215-220w rather than 195-200w. I can burn more calories in the same period of time – great.
4. 2 or 2.5 hours became 4-5 hours
I can’t really explain myself for these. I didn’t think I would be able to ride for this long on a turbo, or hold the average power there. RideLondon is a specific challenge on Zwift and I felt like ticking it off. I completely wrote myself off about holding 215w for the 108mi before I even started but weirdly once I got into the second and third hour, I felt better and somehow ended the last 40 minutes or so at 285w after 5 hours of riding(!). I can’t ride to crazy places or do huge weekly mileage like everyone else does at the moment, but I at least tried to do something ridiculous with what I had and surprised myself in doing so. Ironically, 215w is what I averaged during the real RideLondon this year…
5. Top end increases (/Zwift racing)
Via Zwift, I had access to some group rides and races which run all throughout the day. I’ve been recommended these as a proving ground because they push you to the limit like a hard training session or race would. I know some very strong riders who regularly get stomped on in Zwift races, but get a max workout and improve from it – which is the ultimate objective. I tentatively joined in, curious to know what it was like to race on Zwift.
Events on Zwift are strange because when you see another rider or group of riders, everything gets competitive and then half and hour or an hour later you are a complete mess, drenched in sweat with a load of new power duration PBs wondering what the hell happened.
Firstly, I tried out the ZTR Tuesday Night Worlds. This is classed as a ‘race’ (no BC points awarded) and lasts around an hour – it runs every Tuesday at 6.30pm GMT. Riders are categorised based on FTP (in w/kg) and let loose to wreak havoc on Watopia.
This was a baptism of fire – 50 minutes of riding all out and chasing @ 296w. Basically an hour time-trial as hard as you can go – every man for himself. The motivation of riding against others is the biggest pull factor to these. I don’t think I could motivate myself to ride that hard – but it gave me a good reason to. Results for races are compiled on Zwift Power to see how you did.
Secondly, there was the SZR Joy Ride. Again, riders are categorised but the event wasn’t a race. It was an tempo ride with a ‘hot lap’ to finish. It most replicated what I get (or got…) from RPR morning sessions – good pace for 30 minutes but everyone increases the pace in the last lap or two. Anyway, the final lap was a ‘race’ and somehow it made me hold 332w for 13 minutes, with a sprint at the end. I can’t explain how that was possible, but Zwift seems to bring out more power than I thought was possible via a competitive event with people I’ll never meet.
Both of these rides showed good signs of FTP progress and I’ll definitely be using the Zwift races as motivation to test out my FTP in future.
Step 4: 6 Weeks On
Less of a ‘step’ but here’s some Golden Cheetah analysis and an idea of what progress I’ve made in 6 weeks.
The chart shows 1 November 2016 to 5 January 2017, and starts off with the freefall of CTL from 115tss/d to a low of 48. The long term target is to regain a CTL of >100.
- While I didn’t do any training for a month, the amount I did beforehand left me with some residual fitness.
- CTL (blue line) now sits at 73tss/d.
- The first two weeks of riding didn’t ramp CTL much at all
- CTL has risen by 25 points in 5 weeks for a ramp rate of 5/week. This is a little steep to be sustainable long term but I’ve managed fatigue well and avoiding most high intensity work has meant being so negative (-30 to -40 TSB / yellow line) hasn’t been as much of a problem.
100 CTL could be hit with a ramp of 4 CTL points/week by the end of February.
This is one of the more interesting charts I put together in GC. It shows the time spent in each zone, excluding zone 1, by month for the last 12 months. June/July are much lower because I rode without a power meter for some time.
- The initial observation is that the December column includes far more quality time than any other month in the last year – almost 50 hours. Typically I did just over 30h per month in z2 or above in 2016.
- The December time spent in zone 2 is basically double that of any other month.
- The intensity factor (yellow) is much higher in December than other months. This is because I am riding fewer hours, with no commuting or recovery rides to lower the value.
- Overall, it looks promising. This is new territory as far as my power distribution goes for winter training. Ultimately it comes down to how my body responds and whether it works to make me stronger.
Heart Rate and Power Trends
Here is a noisy looking chart. It plots heart rate, normalized power and the HR:power ratio for every ride I’ve done in the last 6 weeks.
The values themselves aren’t too important – the direction of the trend lines is what I look at.
- The HR curve (red) is falling while the power curve is starting to trend positive.
- This gives the Power:HR ratio has a strong positive trend – more watts are being produced per heartbeat.
- Training Peaks has a similar metric called Pw:Hr given in % which is different.
My FTP has progressed from 260w to 310w, closing 50w of the missing ~90w in the first 6 weeks of riding again. My initial reluctance to ride has disappeared and I’m eager to ride everyday (subject to a TSB > ‘-30’!). Time on the turbo seems to pass quicker than it used to – I’ve come to accept what I have to do to get into decent condition for later in the year.
A lot of people have an issue with having a lower ‘turbo FTP’ than their outdoor FTP – I’ve not been able to check this but I am assuming my power will be the same on the turbo as out in the road. This is definitely something worth testing in future.
For now, I’ll continue with the z2 work and try to get the most efficient use of my time, aiming for 100CTL and beyond. I’ll probably try and move to doing more high intensity work once I have this decent base built (to recover better). Hopefully this coincides with being able to ride outside after a bit of physio but I’m pretty happy with Zwifting for now.
Thanks for reading.