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Widely Varying Energy - How's That Work?

seajaysseajays Posts: 330
edited February 2015 in Commuting chat
I've noticed since starting my commute that each day can be quite different in terms of how you feel, whether you have the energy, and how hard it is on the legs etc. This can have quite widely varying levels of performance - with some days seeming to fly, and other being a real struggle. The thing is there doesn't seem to be an obvious pattern or reason why one day can be great and the next is so different...

So it got me to wondering... how do people who compete manage to prepare and be ready for the "big race" with the best energy levels etc.? Clearly randomly varying performance is a no-no, so it must be possible to mitigate it somehow. Is it something that gets better with time/fitness, or is it a combination of all sorts of preparation, or do you just somehow "burn through" the tough start and it all evens out in the end anyway?
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  • timothywtimothyw Posts: 2,482
    The first thing to point out is that most of the reason that you feel good/bad on a given day of commuting is because of head/tail winds and very little to do with anything else. You get used to travelling at a certain speed over familiar roads, and if you can't make those speeds you push yourself harder and struggle, making it feel like a bad day, and vice versa with a nice tail wind.

    Pro's preparing for a big race will deliberately taper (which is to say, reduce their training load) in approaching a big event in order to ensure that their bodies are fully recovered ready to race, being properly rested is pretty much the key part of the equation. The most common thing you hear when coaches talk about amateur mistakes is that we don't go hard enough on our hard days, and we don't go easy enough on our easy days. By going sort of hard all the time we fail to create adequate stimulus, and we don't really give our bodies the chance to recover. Hard efforts should mean so hard that you are ready to fall off the bike - recovery rides mean so slow that grannies on shoppers overtake us.

    That's all becoming a bit of a digression from the question you've asked though. Part of it (and you'll find this yourself if you do more long rides/club runs) is that you can start a hundred mile ride with your legs feeling pretty rough, but at long as you keep a steady pace for the first couple of hours the oxygenated blood getting pumped round your legs means that you'll feel better as the ride goes on, and before you know it you're hammering away feeling fresh as a daisy. This is pretty much how it goes on the long stage races - the peloton as a whole take it pretty easy (relatively speaking!) for the first couple of hours and it's only in the last 50k that the racing really starts as they try to bring back the breakaways etc.

    It's also worth pointing out that throughout most of the history of pro cycling the way that riders keep it up is by doing loads of drugs that accelerate recovery (steroids/HGH/testosterone/cortisone etc) make them more able to undertake repeated big efforts (EPO/blood doping) or help them ignore the pain in their legs (amphetamines/caffeine/painkillers).
  • tgotbtgotb Posts: 4,714
    In addition to all the above, have a think about what you're eating too - for instance do the hard days tend to come when you've been eating less carbs? If so, that doesn't mean you should stuff yourself with pasta every day, just recognise that when you ride after a light meal you're training a different aspect of your metabolism (and consider doing the pasta thing the night before a race).
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  • Agree with the above that the wind is probably the biggest factor, even slight winds have a noticeable effect on your pace, especially on roads you know well. Temperature can be an issue too.

    That said even when on the turbo, when there's obviously no wind, some days I feel better than others.
  • iPeteiPete Posts: 6,076
    And don't forget the cold, I read (and happy to be corrected on this, I'm sure there are lots of atmospheric variables!) that riding at 20 mph in 0 degree C is 20% harder than 20 degree C in terms of air density, then you can add colder muscles to make it that bit harder.

    If you ride with power or a heart rate monitor and have Strava Pro, the Fitness and Freshness graph is well worth looking at and understanding.
  • il_principeil_principe Posts: 9,146
    This is why Velodromes are kept so warm. Cold air makes a big difference, although I think the difference between 25 and -5 is about 10% increase in drag. Also cold roads = cold tires and increased rolling resistance.

    Add to that your bulky winter clothing and things get harder still.
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  • But you get to a point where you're overheating and lose power as a result too.
  • The RookieThe Rookie Posts: 27,748
    The key to wind resistance is air density, so temperature AND pressure, that said in the UK the former has a much bigger effect as we don't get many extremes in barometric pressure.

    Temperature is based on kelvin where 0K is -273C, so 0C to +27.3C is a 10% reduction in air density.
  • seajaysseajays Posts: 330
    Thanks guys - the air density thing is fascinating for winter, as I hadn't appreciated that - it's interesting just how much of a difference it can make! Found a chart here which says from 25°C to -40°C the different is almost 28% more effort!

    http://www.icebike.org/Articles/SlowerWinter.htm
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  • How often are you going to experience -40C in the UK? I've only experienced low temps when windchill is taken into acount on tops of UK hills. What is the affect of riding at +6 or 7C compared to say 16C, That is a more likely comparison right now, and is likely to be only 3 or 4%. You get a bigger affect with 1% lower hydration levels (1% = 10% loss in performance I think I read a few places).

    I wonder, and this is just spitballing an idea here, since aerodynamics has a big difference in speed could there be some difference in your position when tired? I sometimes (but not always) sit up a bit when I'm tired, out of sorts or feeling ill. On my hybrid I noticed I was able to get about 2mph and even more just by bending my arms a bit and tucking lower. That is a more upright bike than a road bike but it went some way to explaining how on the commuter I took 5 to 10 minutes (or more) longer than I used to do on my old road bike. Obvious but that affect is worse in a headwind.

    Also, I find some nights I am on a roll but I get stuck behind someone or at lights then fail to get back into the same roll and ease of pedalling. On those occcasions I found I tired quickly. Other nights I'm just not in the mood or not up to a good ride. Not always something physical we can put our finger on, if it was then there would be no need for the elites to visit sports psychologists.
  • dhopedhope Posts: 6,699
    How often are you going to experience -40C in the UK?
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  • I noticed the same when I started commuting. A lot of it is down to diet (keep eating carbs) but also cummulative tiredness. In SW London I find this is accentuated by whether you are able to get in the peloton which makes it quicker and easier.
  • verminvermin Posts: 1,739
    For me, it's most often simply a function of tiredness/recovery. Too little sleep and the body shuts down.
  • seajaysseajays Posts: 330
    How often are you going to experience -40C in the UK? I've only experienced low temps when windchill is taken into acount on tops of UK hills. What is the affect of riding at +6 or 7C compared to say 16C, That is a more likely comparison right now, and is likely to be only 3 or 4%.

    Yeah - I just found it fascinating that there was such a significant difference from air density at all - I would never even have considered it as a factor (even the 3 or 4% is a lot). But then we have had several mornings below -3°C here recently, so that's closing on 10% more effort from our summer temperatures in air density alone! :shock:
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  • Take a look at the thorn cycles website. Download the pdf brochure it has a lot of info on bikes but also what affects performance such as tyre pressure, size, aerodynamics, etc. It's their view on the science of it. Interesting I thought.
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