## All Change…

…up at the top of the page. Early spring – Sgwd Yr Eira near Ystradfellte.

I’ll try and change the header as the seasons change, so you’ll need to tune in at least four times a year to catch them all 😉

## Three’s

The sun was shining beautifully yesterday – it felt like Spring was finally here, despite last weeks attempt by Winter to hold on for a few more days. Beth and I went walking down at the Waterfalls near Ystradfellte, as we’d both decided to have a few days off work. You may well ask why weren’t we out on the bikes on such a nice day?

Well, last Saturday I went riding at Afan. I parked down at the lower carpark and got in a quick lap of Pen Hydd. The Wall was closed, so I rode up to do the Skyline trail. The return down the valley was to be via White’s Level. Everything was going nicely, and I was on my second ascent of the White’s/ Skyline climb when it all went wrong. I was riding at a brisk pace when my front wheel glanced off an inocuous looking rock on a short steep section and slammed into the bank at the edge of the trail. All 130mm of fork travel was taken up instantly as I came to a very abrupt halt. The forks rebounded, I overbalanced backwards and sideways, departed from my bike, bounced off a tree then fell onto some sharp pointy rocks and rolled some distance down the bank below. A general body check revealed a grazed arm, bashed knee and a broken rib.

Walking is a nice safe activity, and one that is generally suitable for people with broken ribs. To dispell that concept I slipped on some wet rocks and bashed my left knee quite badly.

The third thing hasn’t happened yet…

## Memory Lane

I went back to one of my old mountain biking haunts at the weekend. Nestled away in the Shropshire hills lies a forest with many acres of fine singletrack, steep climbs and fast flowing descents. The names of the all the trails came back to me immediately: Garlic Run, One Eye, Ariston (a climb that goes on and on), Off Camber, Foxglove and so on. Its a place that was kept quiet for years and used by only a few locals – its since played host to the National Champs in 2005 and also a Trailquest, so I needn’t be so secretive now.

If you’ve read my Nerve post, you’ll have noted my observations with regard to trail grades. I remember a good few test pieces in the Mortimer Forest, but as was the trend at the time they were all UP. Having also done some rock climbing, a system of grading the difficulty of something was very familiar, and we tried to adapt a similar system for our local trails but without much success.

However, the one thing that did prevail was the use of a quote from a Mint Sauce cartoon from December 1993. Mint climbs a long grass climb that ascends up through the clouds and eventually to the seat of god (who incidentally looks the same as Mint). God says to Mint “tough climb eh?”, to which Mint replies “middle ring all the way”. “Oh” says god.

Once you’d managed a climb in the little ring, it seemed a natural progression to attempt it in the middle ring. And by doing so was to downgrade its difficulty so you could poke fun at to your friends doing it in the little ring, but increase its difficulty relative to you doing in the little ring. Which kind of brings me back to climbing where we had our own simple system that graded boulder problems based on percieved difficulty. H-, which wasn’t hard; H, which was hard and H+, which was so hard you couldn’t do it. Simple.

## 2400 hours to go…

…or 100 days until Mountain Mayhem.

I got my solo entry confirmed last week for the newly named (but slightly less catchy sounding) T-Mobile Giant Mountain Mayhem. It’ll be my 4th 24hr solo, so I hope that the previous three will count for something by way of experience.

There’s still plenty of preparation to do, but with a good few enduro’s between now and then and particularly TransScotland, I’m hoping I’ll hit my best ever 24hr form come the big day.

## Nerve

I’ve just got back from a hard two days of riding in Scotland on the 7stanes trails. I don’t normally get that far north, but with TransScotland looming around the corner, and me having to be in Edinburgh for a conference I couldn’t resist taking my bike. I rode the some of the 7stanes a few years ago while they were still building them and noticed straight away they were very different in character to the Welsh trails with which I am very familiar.

The “difficulty” with places like Afan or Nant yr Arian comes when you attack the trails fast – the tight turns, rocky drops and fast-flowing lines become all the more difficult at a faster pace. But if you want to chill a bit, you can take it easy and go with the flow of the trail. Scotland on the other hand is just difficult. The trails required constant attention and repeatedly challenged my nerve with increasingly large drop-offs, big jumps and fades. Here’s what I got up to:

I pulled up at Glentress on Thursday night and took in a quick lap of the Red route to get my eye in, just making back to the van before it got dark. The Spooky Wood descent was brilliant, and I returned first thing Friday morning to repeat it – knowing where the berms where let me push much more harder the second time. The Glentress Black route was punctuated with the odd hail shower and mini snow storm, but didn’t really present me with any great difficulties, apart from being chased along the boundary track by a Red Grouse (yes, really). I think of the two I prefer the red route though. In the afternoon I headed over to Innerleithen for a loop of Black. The hail had cleared and I climbed up onto Minch Moor in the sunshine, battling against a deceptively strong headwind towards the top. On the descent I discovered what the Black grade means – some seriously committing rocky drops brought me to an abrupt halt a few times, and after looking hard at the climb onto and then off Razor Ridge I thought better of it.

I stopped at Dalbeattie Friday night and got ready for an early start for a three trail assault of Dalbeattie-Mabie-Ae on Saturday. The Hardrock trail at Dalbeattie does exactly what it says on the tin – Hard Rock. Graded red, I found a good few bits here much harder than anything at Glentress Black. Last time I rode here I did the Slab, but being on my own this time decided to give it a miss. I made a complete hash of riding the Whale – a technical rock lump with a groove up its spine – I fell off to the right back down onto and over the trail, still attached to my bike. Ouch. I wasn’t too keen with Mabie last time I rode it, but this time things seemed to come together – the climb and descent of Descender Bender was brilliant and I felt like I was getting into a rhythm now. I got to Ae at lunchtime. The most remote of the centres I visited was reflected in the particularly rugged nature of the trails. I enjoyed the climb of Rab’s Slippy One, and the descent down The Face was probably one of the most enjoyable bits of the whole weekend, and the only occasion where I nailed all the rocky drops with unflinching confidence.

Its quite easy sometimes to become a bit obsessed with training and all the data it produces, but of at least equal importance are your trail skills. It goes without saying I guess, but really testing your skill and nerve like I have done over the last couple of days will probably affect my riding for the rest of the year.

## Small is beautiful

After looking at them in shops for (seemingly) years thinking they look cool but I don’t really need one, I’ve finally got an MP3 player 🙂

The choice was huge, but when I actually thought about it I wanted as few features as possible. Conveniently, Apple have shoe-horned 1Gb of memory into a nicely finished aluminium case that will play up to 12 hours of music while I ride my bike. Brilliant.

So while I sat on the turbo trainer tonight I had a mix of Radiohead, R.E.M, Sheryl Crow and Underworld to help me pass the time as I turned the cranks and watched the rain come down in sheets in front of the garage door.

## ATL, CTL & TSB explained

I appear to have opened a bit of a can of worms with my Performance Manager (PM) graph. So, for those of you (Guy in particular) who want some more info, here’s an explanation of each of the graph elements and what they signify.

The PM attempts to provide you with an indication of Form by looking at the cumulative effects of your training stress (TSS). Form (according to Andy Coggan) can be regarded as Fitness + Freshness. You need both to perform at your best. Here’s how the elements of the PM help define your Form:

ATL – Acute Training Load represents your current degree of freshness, being an exponentially weighted average of your training over a period of 5-10 days. This period is referred to as a time constant (TC). The formula for ATL looks like this:

$ATL={\displaystyle ATL_y}+\frac{(TSS-ATL_y)}{\displaystyle TC_a}$

Where $ATL_y$ = yesterdays ATL, $TSS$ = current Training Stress Score and $TC_a$ = your ATL Time Constant

CTL – Chronic Training Load represents your current degree of fitness as an exponentially weighted average of you training over a 42 day period. Building your CTL is a bit like putting money in your savings account. If you don’t put much in you won’t be able to draw much out at a later date. The formula for CTL looks like this:

$CTL={\displaystyle CTL_y}+\frac{(TSS-CTL_y)}{\displaystyle TC_c}$

Where $CTLy$ = yesterdays CTL, $TSS$ = current Training Stress Score and $TC_c$ = your CTL Time Constant

TSB – Training Stress Balance. This is simply the difference between your CTL and ATL, and represents your form.

$TSB=CTL-ATL$

A negative TSB is indicative of a high training load, i.e. high ATL relative to CTL, such as would occur in a high load training week. Alternatively, a period of taper leading up to an event should correspond with an increasing TSB where ATL is reduced relative to the current CTL.

Where TSB is positive, there is a strong indication of good performance following a consistent period of training. To help me define instances of good performance, the black line on the graph shows my ten best 20 minute mean maximal power efforts. My best three correspond to a decreased ATL following a rest week, where TSB is recovering from -20 to +5. For the time being, as I’m still in a base/build phase, I’m looking to steadily increase my CTL in preparation for TransScotland and especially Mountain Mayhem.

More (and better) articles on this subject are available from the Cyclingpeaks website. The formulas for ATL and CTL are adapted from the LW Coaching website.

Edit (15/03/07): I’ve discovered to my suprise (and horror) that a search in Google for the the above terms brings you here before places like the Cyclingpeaks website. This short article doesn’t attempt to take anything away from the guys that designed all these clever fitness metrics, so if you’ve come to this page without having visiting Cyclingpeaks then click here. The text above gives my (abridged) interpretation to the system, and there’s no substitute for hearing it from the horses mouth 😉

## Pretty Graphs

Cyclingpeaks is a pretty cool piece of software. I’ve been using it to track my training progress since last November, and its taken until now for me to know where to look to see the trends in my data. Of all the graphs that show you what you’ve done, the most difficult to comprehend is the performance manager chart.

But now that I understand what I’m looking at, its certainly one of the most useful. This last week has seen me out a lot on the bike – I’ve turned out one of best Zone 3 watts/HR and hit my third best 20 minute mean maximal power this season. I was quite pleased, but by the weekend I had to admit that I was pretty tired. When I looked at the Performance Manager chart, I saw that my Chronic Training Load had gone up 13 points in the last 8 days, a 23% increase. So I don’t overcook things and get ill, I need to back off slightly to regain a bit of freshness and then look to build my CTL further through March before I start my speed work.

I’ve been inspired somewhat by the website of Dave Harris, another 24hr soloist from the US. Having just come back from injury, he finished 2nd behind Tinker at the Old Pueblo 24hr race. Besides having a wealth of really useful info on 24hr racing on his site, he’ll “be building CTL steadily until mid-spring when I’m back to the 120-140 levels where I prefer to be for ultra racing”. To some people its just numbers, but now that I’ve got my head around the PM chart, I reckon it’s pretty impressive.

## Roots

I got my first mountain bike in 1991, before full suspension had been thought of, or suspension forks for that matter. I learnt my trail skills on a basic rigid Specialized Hardrock which gradually had its heavy inferior components upgraded to shiny lighter ones until it became an Orange E3 with Pace RC36 MXCD’s by 1996.

I embraced the concept the concept of full suspension with a Schwin Rocket 88 in 1998. The design was great, by unfortunately the execution wasn’t. After progressing through numerous other full sussers, I’ve settled on the Nicolai Helius – which I really like. However, despite that I had a little hankering to get back to my roots again with a hardtail – a Cove Handjob.

Its maiden ride was at the weekend at Afan Argoed. The grin factor after a lap of Skyline and Whites Level was large. I leanrt the joy of picking lines, of sprinting out of corners and diving into berms, and of course getting punished for the mistakes a full suspension bike lets you get away with 😉