Nationalpark Bike Marathon 2019

Posted on September 6, 2019 with tags cycling, sports. Part 6 of a 6-part series on bike races. See previous post.

Fitness has many meanings

This is a longer story… but I think it’s interesting, nonetheless.

The previous 6 months

Due to my long-going foot injury, my training was sporadic at the end of 2018, and by February I realised I will have to stop most if not all training in order to have a chance of recovery. I knew that meant no bike races this year, and I was fine with that. Well, I had to.

The only compromise was that I wanted to do one race, the NBM short route, since that is really easy (both technique and endurance), and even untrained should be fine.

So my fitness (well, CTL) went down and down and down, and my weight didn’t improve either.

As April and May went by, my foot was getting better, but training on the indoor trainer was still causing problems and moving my recovery backwards, so easy times.

By June things were looking better - even was able to do a couple slow runs!, July started even better, but trainer sessions were still a no-go. Only early August I could reliably do a short trainer session without issues. The good side was that since around June I could bike to work and back without problems, but that’s a short commute.

But, I felt confident I could do ~50Km on a bike with some uphill, so I registered for the race.

In August I could also restart trainer sessions, and to my pleasant surprise, even harder ones. So, I started preparing for the race in the last 2 weeks before it :( Well, better than nothing.

Overall, my CTL went from 62-65 in August 2018, to 6 (six!!) in early May, and started increasing in June, reaching a peak of 23 on the day before the race. That’s almost three times lower… so my expectations for the race were low. Especially as the longest ride I did in these 6 months was one hour long or so, whereas the race is double this time.

The race week

Things were going quite well. I also started doing some of the Zwift Academy workouts, more precisely 1 and 2 which are at low power, and everything good.

On Wednesday however, I did workout number 3, which has two “as hard as possible” intervals. Which are exactly the ones that my foot can’t yet do, so it caused some pain, and some concern about the race.

Then we went to Scuol, and I didn’t feel very well on Thursday as I was driving. I thought some exercise would help, so I went for a short run, which reminded me I made my foot worse the previous day, and was even more concerned.

On Friday morning, instead of better, I felt terrible. All I wanted was to go back to bed and sleep the whole day, but I knew that would mean no race tomorrow. I thought - maybe some slight walking would be better for me than lie in bed… At least I didn’t have a running nose or couching, but this definitely felt like a cold.

We went up with the gondola, walked ~2Km, got back down, and I was feeling at least not worse. All this time, I was overly dressed and feeling cold, while everybody else was in t-shirt.

A bit of rest in the afternoon helped, I went and picked my race number and felt better. After dinner, as I was preparing my stuff for next morning, I started feeling a bit better about doing the race. “Did not start” was now out of the question, but whether it will be a DNF was not clear yet.

Race (day)

Thankfully the race doesn’t start early for this specific route, so the morning was relatively relaxed. But then of course I was late a few minutes, so I hurried on my bike to the train station, only to realise I’m among the early people. Loading bike, get on the bus (the train station in Scuol is off-line for repairs), long bus ride to start point, and then… 2 hours of waiting. And to think I thought I’m 5 minutes late :)

I spent the two hours just reading email and browsing the internet (and posting a selfie on FB), and then finally it was on.

And I was surprised how “on” the race was from the first 100 meters. Despite repeated announcements in those two hours that the first 2-3 km do not matter since they’re through the S-chanf village, people started going very hard as soon as there was some space.

So I find myself going 40km/h (forty!!!) on a mountain bike on relatively flat gravel road. This sounds unbelievable, right? But the data says:

  • race started at 1’660m altitude
  • after the first 4.4km, I was at 1’650m, with a total altitude gain of 37m (and thus a total descent of 47m); thus, not flat-flat, but not downhill
  • over this 4.4km, my average speed was 32.5km/h, and that includes starting from zero speed, and in the block (average speed for the first minute was 20km/h)

While 32.5km/h on an MTB sounds cool, the sad part was that I knew this was unsustainable, both from the pure speed point of view, and from the heart rate point of view. I was already at 148bpm after 2½ minutes, but then at minute 6 it went over 160bpm and stayed that way. That is above my LTHR (estimated by various Garmin devices), so I was dipping into reserves. VeloViewer estimates power output here was 300-370W in these initial minutes, which is again above my FTP, so…

But, it was fun. Then at 4.5 a bit of climb (800m long, 50 altitude, ~6.3%), after which it became mostly flow on gravel. And for the next hour, until the single long climb (towards Guarda), it was the best ride I had this year, and one of the best segments in races in general. Yes, there are a few short climbs here and there (e.g. a 10% one over ~700m, another ~11% one over 300m or so), but in general it’s slowly descending route from ~1700m altitude to almost 1400m (plus add in another ~120m gained), so ~420m descent over ~22km. This means, despite the short climbs, average speed is still god - a bit more than 25km/h, which made this a very, very nice segment. No foot pain, no exertion, mean heart rate 152bpm, which is fine. Estimated power is a bit high (mean 231W, NP: 271W ← this is strange, too high); I’d really like to have a power meter on my MTB as well.

Then, after about an hour, the climb towards Guarda starts. It’s an easy climb for a fit person, but as I said I was worse for fitness this year, and also my weight was not good. Data for this segment:

  • it took me 33m:48s
  • 281m altitude gained
  • 4.7km length
  • mean HR: 145bpm
  • mean cadence: 75rpm

I remember stopping to drink once, and maybe another time to rest for about half a minute, but not sure. I stopped in total 33s during this half hour.

Then slowly descending on nice roads towards the next small climb to Ftan, then another short climb (thankfully, I was pretty dead at this point) of 780m distance, 7m36s including almost a minute stop, then down, another tiny climb, then down for the finish.

At the finish, knowing that there’s a final climb after you descend into Scuol itself and before the finish, I gathered all my reserves to do the climb standing. Alas, it was a bit longer than I thought; I think I managed to do 75-80% of it standing, but then sat down. Nevertheless, a good short climb:

  • 22m altitude over 245m distance, done in 1m02s
  • mean grade 8.8%, max grade 13.9%
  • mean HR 161bpm, max HR 167bpm which actually was my max for this race
  • mean speed 14.0km/h
  • estimated mean power 433W, NP: 499w; seems optimistic, but I’ll take it :)

Not bad, not bad. I was pretty happy about being able to push this hard, for an entire minute, at the end of the race. Yay for 1m power?

And obligatory picture, which also shows the grade pretty well:

Final climb! And beating my PR by ~9%
Final climb! And beating my PR by ~9%

I don’t know how the photographer managed to do it, but having those other people in the picture makes it look much better :)

Comparison with last year

Let’s first look at official race results:

  • 2018: 2h11m37s
  • 2019: 2h22m13s

That’s 8% slower. Honestly, I thought I will do much worse, given my lack of training. Or does a 2.5× lower CTL only result in 8% time loss?

Honestly, I don’t think so. I think what saved me this year was that—since I couldn’t do bike rides—I did much more cross-train as in core exercises. Nothing fancy, just planks, push-ups, yoga, etc. but it helped significantly. If my foot will be fine and I can do both for next year, I’ll be in a much better position.

And this is why the sub-title of this post is “Fitness has many meanings”. I really need to diversify my training in general, but I was thinking in a somewhat theoretical way about it; this race showed it quite practically.

If I look at Strava data, it gives an even more clear picture:

  • on the 1 hour long flat segment I was telling about, which I really loved, I got a PR beating previous year by 1 minute; Strava estimates 250W for this hour, which is what my FTP was last year;
  • on all the climbs, I was slower than last year, as expected, but on the longer climbs significantly so; and I was many times slower than even 2016, when I did the next longer route.

And I just realise, of the 10½m I took longer this year, 6½m I lost on the Guarda climb :)

So yes, you can’t discount fitness, but leg fitness is not everything, and Training Peaks it seems can’t show overall fitness.

At least I did beat my PR on the finishing climb (1m12s vs. 1m19s last year), because I had left aside those final reserves for it.

Next steps

Assuming I’m successful at dealing my foot issue, and that early next year I can restart consistent training, I’m not concerned. I need to put in regular session, I also need to put in long sessions. The success story here is clear, it all depends on willpower.

Oh, and losing ~10kg of fat wouldn’t be bad, like at all.