Monday, January 25, 2010

S.M.A.R.T. Goals for 2010

We're now three weeks into 2010, and I've been very busy riding and working. However, I did take some time before the calendar year rolled over to write down some goals I have. Goals are a tricky thing. They're born well intentioned and nurtured by enthusiasm, but often die a quick and quiet death at the hands of neglect. Consider how many people begin the new year with the goal of "getting into shape." That's an admirable goal, but it's so open-ended, it can't help but fail. While I was listening to the Two John's Podcast, I was reminded of the S.M.A.R.T. system of forming goals. There's more to forming a goal than simply snatching a high ideal out of mid-air. If you want to succeed and fulfill your goal, you need a plan. The S.M.A.R.T. acronym is a surefire way of forming both a goal and a plan at the same time. With it, fulfilling a goal is almost a surety.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. To see exactly how the system works, let's use the common cycling "goal" of "becoming a better cyclist." After applying S.M.A.R.T., it is transformed into, "Increase my average power output over a 40km time trial from 300 to 325 watts by July 4th." This new goal is definitely specific, few cyclists can argue that an increase in wattage makes someone a better cyclist. It is measurable (assuming you have a PowerTap). If you have hit 350 watts on occasion and already average 300 watts over the time trial, sustaining 325 watts is a very attainable goal. It is also realistic, a 8% gain in average power over six months is achievable with consistent training. And it is timely since you have set a certain date by which you want to complete the goal. Thus an amorphous goal without any direction has been transformed into a carefully crafted goal. So what are my cycling goals for 2010?

My main goal for 2010 is to increase my mileage for the year to at least 3,000 miles by December 31, 2010. That may not sound like much to some of the daily riders out there, but I'm relegated to riding 2-3 times a week. The remaining days are consumed by running and work. To accomplish this I've committed myself to completing at least one "long" ride of 30 miles or more a week. As long as winter maintains its icy grip, these will be closer to 30 miles until summer when longer days and warmer temperatures allow me to stretch those numbers. Regardless, an added long ride will help me get closer to 3000 miles for the year. Last year (my first year of riding) I managed to ride a hair over 2300 miles. Adding another 700 miles over the span of a year seems very realistic.

My second goal is to break the 54 minute mark on my 16 mile home loop by May 1. This is the loop I typically ride after work. It involves one climb of a mile at a 6% grade and a long steady 3 mile false flat on the return. Currently my best time is 55 minutes 22 seconds. When I first began clocking myself in August, my times were 58 minutes 21 seconds. After a steady diet of intervals and hill repeats I've dropped three minutes off my time. I'm hoping that over the next three months, my times can continue to improve at a steady rate as my aerobic capacity improves.

My final goal is to learn about training by measuring power. A power meter is the most accurate way to measure cycling performance. Unlike heart rate zones, power meters are unaffected by inconsistencies in biological rhythms or diet which can cause fluctuations in heart rate. Speed is easily affected by elevation and wind, it's not a very accurate measurement. However, power is. Whether you spin the cranks fast in an easy gear, or grind away in a hard one, the power output is the same. However, training with power isn't cheap or easy. A fair amount of knowledge is required and power meters (like the PowerTap or Quarq) are pricey. So in the next two months, I would first like to gain knowledge about the principles of training with power and whether they will apply to me. Then I will undoubtedly convince myself that I would be dumb not to sink $1500 in a PowerTap SL+. Seriously, this isn't really a goal which fits into the S.M.A.R.T. system. But it is something I'm very interested in. We'll see if it actually comes to fruition.

That's my basic plan for 2010, what are your S.M.A.R.T. goals?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Roller Derby!

It's winter time. Cold temperatures, and frozen precipitation have blanketed most of the country. Does that mean it's time to stop riding? No of course not. My big Christmas score this year was a set of rollers. I debated between rollers and a trainer for quite a while. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks. On one hand, trainers provide more resistance and the ability to hammer away. Since the bike is fixed in a static position, it's easy to simulate standing climbs, and intervals. The learning curve with trainers is virtually zero. Once your bike is in place, you're ready to pedal. Rollers on the other hand are a stability ball for cyclists. While they don't provide as much resistance, rollers require balance, handlebar control, and smooth pedal strokes to stay upright. Since there is nothing holding the bike, any lapse in concentration can lead to a nasty fall as many youtuber's have proven. After much debate, I settled on rollers with the goal of improving my balance and ability to hold a line. I'll freely admit I was a bit nervous about them after seeing and hearing many first time roller horror stories. For the record this is not me:

Undeterred, I placed my order for Cycleops aluminum rollers. Rollers are available in machined aluminum and PVC. Aluminum is a quieter material and is less prone to warping than PVC rollers which can become distorted due to UV damage or heat. The size of rollers also makes a difference. The smaller the diameter of a roller, the greater the resistance they provide. Kreitler provides a great guide to picking the right rollers on its website. The Cycleops rollers I chose have a 3.25" diameter rollers - the most common size which provide balance between power and tempo compared to 4.5" or 2.5" models. They also have an optional magnetic resistance unit that can be added later.

The unit ships ready to use. The only setup required is positioning the front roller directly under the tire. The instructions provide a guide, advising the front roller to be just ahead of the front wheel hub. That however, resulted in me consistently falling off the back every time I got on the rollers. All that was needed was a slight tweak, moving the front roller just a bit farther ahead and I was ready to go.

The Cycleops unit ships ready to use. Unfolding is all the assembly required

I was surprised by the size of the frame which is made of only 1/2" square tubing. However, once it is locked into place it feels quite sturdy even when stepping directly on it while mounting or dismounting the bike. It is however, a small target to hit if an emergency stop is required. Having something else to grab a hold of is a good idea, but more on that later. When the work out is done, the rollers fold flat and are easily stowed in a closet or beneath a bed. Another advantage compared to more bulky trainers.

Riding on rollers is a bit nerve-racking the first time. Since the bike is hovering about six inches in the air, it's difficult to get a foot on the ground. Best bet is to step on the roller's frame and then get started pedaling. The best tip I got was to learn riding in an open door way. The door frame provides an easy hand hold on either side and a great place to grasp when getting started. If there is one thing you take away from reading this blog, please let it be this: the first time you ride on rollers, set them up in a doorway. No matter how capable a cyclist you are, it just takes a momentary lapse in concentration to lead to a 0 mph crash on rollers. Doorways are great insurance against this. I started riding the rollers in short time spans, holding onto the door with my left hand while pedaling and steering to get a feel. After a few minutes I got up the courage to put my left hand on the handle bars and pedal for a few seconds before losing control and grabbing the door frame again. The next time I was able to extend my time with both hands on the bars up to a couple of minutes. By the third time I was able to complete a hour without holding onto anything. I did still have a wall nearby in case of emergencies.

The rollers in place and ready to use

Despite all the horror stories I saw and heard, I didn't find rollers that difficult to stay upright on (be kind cycling gods). However, once on them you realize how much focus it takes to ride them effectively. Any minute handlebar movements lead to drastic changes in the wheel. Movements of your body or leaning cause the back wheel to move. There are plenty of times I found myself watching my wheel go careening towards the edge of the roller. Somehow I was able to correct it back into the center each time. I quickly learned that it's best to look a few feet ahead and focus on a smooth pedal stroke. Look down and things go off kilter quickly. Fiddle with the handlebars too much and the front wheel starts wobbling like a drunk on a high wire. Focus on keeping the front wheel straight and everything works great. I'm getting better with them, I've even dared to pedal for a bit with no hands. But I still have quite a ways to go to match the roller skill level of some others out there:

Even at full rpm's the rollers themselves are very quiet. There is so little noise that watching TV or listening to music is very easy to do. Really the only downside I've found is having little bits of tire rubber smeared on a towel I placed beneath the rollers to catch my sweat. Speaking of sweat, since you're riding in a stationary warm climate there are no evaporative effects. As a result by the time you're done with an hour on the rollers, EVERYTHING is soaked with sweat. I now understand the importance of a towel on your bike to keep corrosive sweat from working its way into the bike's components.

The rollers have really been a nice addition to my cycling stable. They require a bit of skill and finesse to use, but it's nothing that a little patience and practice can't teach. I can see a measurable difference in my road riding when I'm back on the road. I now hold a tighter line and am in better control of my bike especially in windy conditions. If you're considering some form of indoor training this winter, rollers are a worthy investment with long-term payoffs in cycling ability.