Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Winter is coming

It's hard to make this statement in the middle of September, but the honest fact is that the short days of winter are approaching.  I've been lucky this year and have managed to ride almost as much as I wish to without being forced to resort to the enemy of all outdoor cyclists - the dreaded trainer.  These torture devices make a routine that seems barely worth putting on the bibs to go do into an ordeal of epic proportions.  You can ride 8 hours on the road, but 45 minutes on the trainer and you feel like you've been kicked by a mule.

Cold Days are ahead

For preparation for the winter, I've been trying to put together a better training plan for 2014.  Going into 2013, I had the primary goal of completing the Assault on Mt Mitchell, and as a biproduct of that I had placed goals to increase my base mileage on the bike from ~4,000mi in 2012 to 5,200mi+ in 2013.  This equates to averaging 100mi a week.  I'm definitely ahead of schedule to meet the challenge, but the problem with this type of challenge for me is that I focus too much on the numbers, and not enough on enjoying the experiences. Beyond that, I don't believe just having an ever increasing base mile number as my primary cycling goal will get me to a place where I'll be happy with my own fitness or cycling ability.

For 2014 my planning right now is to focus more on performance and less on pure mileage.  Without having concrete plans written down, I want to feel like I can continue to improve my form and overall fitness without feeling like I have to put in a monstrous number of base miles.  Having a few focused plans to work on key areas of my development is going to be a big part of that.  I already have a few workouts that I bought last year in preparation for the 2012 Gran Fondo Hincapie that I'd like to make a dedicated effort to complete, and I'd like to take the time to get in an 8-week CompuTrainer class from Greenville Cycling Center.  These types of workouts should help me to continue to quantify my current fitness, and give me more concrete numbers to understand where I am as far as cycling fitness.

Part of doing any structured workout routine is managing how to get in the workout on the wet/cold days, when leaving the house just isn't a good idea.  I recently got a second hand trainer from one of my friends, so I now have some options.  I took my spare wheel and I've set it up to use on the trainer with an older tire and my old cassette. This way I'm not putting undo stress on my good rear wheel, nor excessive trainer mileage on my tires.

Once I had the basic hardware worked out, I started trying to figure out the software.  While poking around, I had run into both Cycleops VirtualTraining and TrainerRoad.com.  Both of these have the promise of allowing you to ride along a pre-established venue on your computer, while mystically using your speed/cadence sensor to estimate your power and adjust your time on the course accordingly.  They even show virtual cyclists racing with you and attempting to steal your KOM!  These looked fantastic, and I thought they would be a great option for keeping the time on the bike interesting, as well as allowing me to virtually work on some of my rides while indoors as a change of pace.  The first problem is that to even see how well these programs work, I'd have to plunk down between $10 and $15 for a subscription to their service.  I am always nervous about "buy before you try", and in this case it was probably warranted.  I went so far as to install the base software for Cycleops to try out their demo routes, but I ran into technical snags getting my PC to connect to the speed sensor using their software.

The problem, after much searching I found out, is that the USB ANT+ stick that came with my wife's Garmin watch, is a "1.0" varient.  This means that it can only read 4 different ANT+ sources at a time.  The Cycleops software was originally designed to be used with their higher end trainers, and as such required more than 4 sensors to work properly.  Thus Cycleops requires you to use an "ANT+ 2.0" adapter.  This is a road block to me, as I didn't feel that I needed to rush out and spend $50 for a new USB adapter so I could spend money on a monthly service to ride indoors.  It looked like the holy grail of affordable computer-based training would be elusive.

While searching out solutions to my USB adapter issue, what I did find was reference to an open-source training option known as Golden Cheetah.  While the software is not as wiz-bang as the pay for play options, it does have a lot of really nice features and supports older "1.0" ANT+ adapters.  I was easily able to input the make and model of my trainer, and pair up my heart rate and speed sensors to the software to try out a workout with estimated power.  I was able to export the workout to a TCX file and upload it to Strava manually, as the hooks in the software to upload it automatically were having some problems with my Strava account.  I was able to upload the workout directly from GC into TrainingPeaks, though.

The Import of Data into Strava

There do seem to be several features that the pay-for-play software guys have an advantage, though.  For example, while it will play a video while you are riding, it really doesn't have a way to have your telemetry data show up as a HUD on top of the video (that I can tell so far).  I'm also not sure if it will let you simulate riding famous courses (or even a GPS route you upload) at this point, either.   I've only gotten a small amount of time between the trainer and the software, but there is promise that I can get some solid structured workouts set up.  The documentation in general is a little bit sparse as well.  Going through the user's guide there are several sections, especially in regards to live data, that had empty entries.  The wiki was likewise slightly sparse.

As the software started out as a way to gather data from the seldom-standard power meters 6 years ago to analyse and upload to various training software, what it does as an open source product is quite amazing.  I'm intending to spend more time with it during the upcoming months as the weather turns cooler, and hopefully I can post updates as well as tips and tricks.  The idea of riding on a trainer still doesn't instill a lot of joy in me, but having a distraction and data to play with definitely will help move it along.

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