Am I on track?

Am I on track?

Monday, 31 December 2012

December 2012 Review

Well 2012 has drawn to a close - as I type here, there is only about 17 hours left to go!  Just enough time to drop in my final blog post for the year, and draw a line under my 'post-injury comeback year' once and for all...  But first, the all-important stats!

Mileage: 155km (2012 year-to-date: 4638km)
Weight: 79kg 

A 'moment of clarity' changed things a lot for me in December.  Normally, I ride right up until the new year, then take a few weeks off the bike totally.  Then in the last week of January I start turning the legs over again and slowly build up over the next month or so.

Looking at my 2013 goals (a blog-post to come!), I already want to be riding well by February as there is an Open race I'm keen to have a crack at. So starting in late January is too late!  So I had a decision to make - keep pushing for my 5000km 2012 total over December and let January go, or shelve the bike now for a few weeks and then hit the road again in the new year and start building for the February races.

It was an easy decision to make in the end (and a quick one!). I'm super-excited for a big 2013 after mucking about on the bike this year, so all my cycling-focus is on what I can achieve next year.  So after the first couple of weeks in December, I racked my bike and have focussed on other activities for the last few weeks.

I've learnt heaps this past year about how I train, why I train, the types of riding I love or hate, and most importantly what motivates me and what I'm capable of.  I'm looking forward to stepping things up in a (slightly!) more focussed and structured way starting tomorrow - bring on 2013!!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Product Review: Winners Choc-Berry Energy Bar

Many times on this blog, I have mentioned that as a C Grade Cyclist I am all about value-for-money, bang-for-buck, and cheap-but-effective.  As such I don't normally buy 'energy bars', and usually buy up bulk quantities of my favourite muesli bar ("Carman's Muesli Bars") whenever they come on special at the local supermarket.

A few weeks ago though, as I browsed through the aisles looking for marked-down goodness, I came across a box of Winners Energy Bars (Choc-Berry flavour) that had been knocked down to half-price as it was getting close to expiry.  always one to snap up a bargain, I grabbed them with both hands and hoped that I wouldn't have buyer's remorse later...

For those who care about the important figures - these bars have 183 calories, 5.2g of protein, 4.6g of fat, 27.7g of carbs (of which 9.1g is sugar) and 21mg of sodium.

As a rule, I don't eat prior to training rides less than 90min long (in the morning, pre-breakfast that is).  And so I normally would only wolf down a muesli bar before setting off on longer bunch rides.  This is where I used these bars - usually before setting off on my 2-3hr Planet Cycles shop rides on a Saturday morning.

Do they work?

Yes, of course they do - they provide energy.  I wouldn't say any more or less than my normal muesli bar hit, although I got the feeling they lasted a bit longer energy-wise...  That's not measurable in any way though, and could have been just placebo.

More importantly - the taste!

Taste is always subjective - but I really liked these. The texture was terrific, chewy and a little moist, and very easy to eat. I felt like I was eating something 'substantial' which is what I prefer for pre-ride food.

The actual flavour made me think of a cross between a Carman's muesli bar and a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar - in a good way!!  Just enough chocolate to flavour the bar, and a nice berry taste without being sweet.  Thumbs up from me.

Would I buy these again?

Yes, I would - with the caveat that I would only buy them on special.

I honestly believe that most 'energy bars' are massively over-priced for what they are.  I got these for around $1.50/bar, which I thought was very fair.  But I wouldn't pay more than $2/bar for them (or any other bar).

If you are the sort of person that likes buying products in this category though, then put these on your list.  Great taste and texture, ticks off the energy needs, fits easily into a rear jersey pocket.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Strava - what is it good for?

Don't know what Strava is?  I'm tempted to say you've been living under a rock!  Depending on who you talk to, Strava is either the best or the worst thing to happen to cycling in a long time...

Essentially, Strava is simply a recording tool for your rides.  You use a GPS (via either your smartphone or bike computer) which records your ride, and then you upload it later to Strava.  Simple so far, right?

What Strava is most famous for is its KOM (or QOM for the ladies) leaderboards.  Segments are created (a segment is just a stretch of road - doesn't have to be uphill - and can be any length, long or short) by users, and then a leaderboard is created that ranks you on an all-time list for that particular stretch of road.

These KOM leaderboards have polarised the cycling community in many ways. Some see it as just a fun way to test yourself, others see it as wrecking the usual convivial nature of group rides and turning everything into a race.  Personally, I think its just a bit of fun - but that's not why I'm talking about Strava in this post.

The real value of Strava is in training analysis. Keep in mind I'm talking about the free version here - there is also a premium 'paid' version that lets you record and analyse power and heartrate as well.

Keeping you honest

If you asked me 6 months ago how often I trained, I'd say "Oh, roughly 7-8 hours a week".  Looking back at Strava, I know now that on my biggest months, I averaged just under 6 hours a week!  Even my best weeks were no higher than 7 hours (with just the one outlier - a 9 hour week).

Knowing what I do (and don't do!), has helped me to develop some realistic training goals for the next month and year ahead. 


Strava shows weekly volume graphs (in either mileage or hours), which allows you to match up how you are feeling and performing with how you have been training, and thus start to look at how best to improve.

As an example, I've been able to see where I've felt in the best form and other periods where I've felt sluggish, and consider my training loads around those times to identify some correlations.

Speed graphs

One of the more recent additions to Strava has been 'speed graphs'.  Basically, for each ride (or segment) it will show a graph of your speed from start to finish.

This aspect is very useful for racing.  I've been able to look at some criteriums I've done, seen how the speed has changed over the course of the race in an easy-to-view line graph, and matched that up to when I've felt flat or struggling.

Similarly it has helped with my longer interval training.  I can see how my speed has waivered (or not) for some intervals and gotten to understood where I've backed off and could've pushed harder, or conversely been pleased when I've seen how I've managed to hold my pace high throughout each interval.

Not a magic bullet

Don't get me wrong - I know I am talking Strava up here, and I feel I've gotten a lot out of it now that I've racked up about 6 months worth of data into it.  But I should point out that simply recording data into the application won't change anything (unless you get pleasure from staring at pretty graphs).  The value is having the data there to analyse, and that analysis is facilitated by having a variety of easily accessible formats (eg graphs, calendars) in which to view it.

So should you use Strava?

If you've never used Strava, or simply written it off as a way for ego-driven speedsters to show off their best times, then I'd urge you to look more closely at how Strava can work for you - it really is so much more than just a 'leaderboard'.

It's ease of use (Android or iOS app on your smartphone), simple user interface on your PC, and super-low cost (free!) mean there are no real barriers to entry.  Personally, I use my Android smartphone to record my rides - I just initialise the GPS function before I set off, throw it in my back jersey pocket, and away I go.  I then upload the ride data at home using my own wifi, so I don't need to use mobile data at any stage at all!

Allow yourself to gather a few months worth of data to give yourself a good basis for training analysis, and then go from there.  If it turns out not to be your thing - then so be it.  But if you have an interest in developing your training off the back of real data, then you should give this application a try.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

November 2012 Review

Almost at the end of the year - where has 2012 gone?!  Road racing season is well and truly over, and the only racing left is track racing (which I don't do) and club criteriums (which finish for the year in mid-December).  So not much to do but ride-ride-ride!!

Here is what I managed to do for November - 

Mileage: 422km (2012 year-to-date: 4483km)
Weight: 78kg (steady)

Mentally, I'm already preparing myself for 2013.  I have been carefully going over all that I have done this year, and deciding what worked, what didn't, what my obstacles & stumbling blocks were and how to overcome them, and getting some basic goals sorted.  Needless to say, I will blog these in the new year to keep myself accountable!!

Meanwhile, there is (barely!) a month left of 2012 to go, and that is not time that I intend to waste!

I want to make sure I hit my 5000km goal (as per the last blog post) for the year.  I also want to try and squeeze a couple more races in before the clubs shut up shop for the year.  ANother priority is to try out a few more shop/bunch rides to suss out which ones I like the most and can become regular parts of my training next year.

Healthwise, I have had a good going over by my GP - I asked him to make sure I was in good health given I want to ramp up my mileage next year.  Turns out I have a low haematocrit (37) and low haemoglobin levels - not what you want to hear as a cyclist!

I'm getting another round of bloods done, looking at my iron & b12 levels (results still to come).  It wouldn't surprise me if I'm anaemic, as my mother & aunts have all had issues with low iron levels in the past - but time will tell.

Just to cover off any other possible causes, my GP has booked me in for a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy for next week - "cameras up both ends", he laughed (easy for him to laugh!!).  I've never had a colonoscopy before - apparently the 'prep drink' that cleans you out pre-procedure is, well, very effective...  At any rate - better to be safe then sorry, and my GP and I will have all the info we need to ensure I'm in tip-top shape for 2013.

All I need is for the weather to behave itself, and I can hopefully get some good mileage down for December to help set me up for the new year...!!