Category Archives: Training

Strava

When I first got onto Strava I thought it was awesome. All my rides could be cut into segments and I could see exactly how I fared against other riders in the area. Plus at the time I had a lot of KOM’s due to the lack of other people (mainly stringer riders) on Strava, and the fact that I knew most of the riders who shared the leaderboard.

These days it has hit the saturation point, in that I hardly know anyone on the leaderboards, and then there are a lot of people who go on rides just to collect KOM’s, to the point that my collection has dwindled to just a couple. And every time I get one of those smug little emails I cringe a little. “Someone thinks you’re cool”, “Uh-oh, you just lost a KOM”, “get out there and show ’em who’s boss”, yadda yadda yadda.

So after a while I’d turned off all notifications because basically they’re all a bit patronising like that. Then after a while I start to forget that Strava even exists until someone reminds me. Even then, logging on and uploading rides seems like a chore. So why continue?

Well, there are things that the application is good for, and that is:

  • Comparing your current results to previous results
  • Viewing power estimates and performance over the length of a segment / ride
  • Finding new routes or shortcuts near your current route

I’m going to cover these below.

Comparing your current results to previous results

This is probably the most useful feature, that you can compare your results on segments over time to see how you are faring. To do this you will need to:

  1. Find a segment that you wish to compare (or add one if it is not there)
  2. Open the segment, find the leaderboard
  3. Click the ‘My Results’ tab

Another very easy way to view your progress on numerous segments at a time is to visit the site http://veloviewer.com and set yourself up there.

Viewing power estimates

This is shown everywhere is Strava, most of the time. All you need to do is enter your weight. The numbers are not accurate, they use a few guesstimates as to wind resistance, acceleration and rely heavily on the the elevation figures for that segment.

So the times that these figures would be most accurate is on rides where the air was still, a tailwind will show higher readings, and a headwind will show lower readings. These figures would also likely by more accurate on steady segments without much undulation, especially uphill segments.

For uphill segments, another useful feature is the VAM. This is Vertical Ascent in Metres (per hour), and is useful for benchmarking your performance as it is simply a speedometer of how fast you are climbing. Because wind resistance is not taken into account, it is easier to get a higher figure on a steep climb so don’t be discouraged if you’re pulling low figures on a 3% climb.

The VAM has been recorded for some of the world’s best riders on the worlds biggest races over the years so it’s easy to find useful information on it. For example it is well accepted that most riders in the Grand Tours can get around 1600-1700 VAM on the biggest climbs, it’s been said that this information was used by teams such as Team Sky to measure their opponents capabilities and guessing their expectations for finishing over the big climbs.

Finding new routes

This can be a little time consuming, but sometimes worth it. Create a segment for your current route, and then give some time for the leaderboard to generate results. Then once created you should see some results. If you’re the only one there, try shortening the route.

Once results show, view the other riders’ routes, sometimes you might stumble upon a shorter route, as starve bases the segments on a few approximate points along the length of the route, but not the entire route itself.

Strava Alternatives

If you’re using a Mac, a great app is Ascent, it’s reasonably affordable and provides a lot of statistics, including VAM, as well as some other features to graph and map, and compare your ride.

Another useful app is Golden Cheetah, which is similar to Ascent, maybe not as easy to use but is really great if you have a power meter and want to analyse your results.

Other uses of Strava

If you’re into running, you can record your runs using the Strava cycling app for your mobile phone, but at the end of the run, save your route as a ‘Run’ instead of a ‘Ride’ – The results are extremely useful, including splits, times over 1k, 5k, 10k, plus the segments created by others. Things that really could be useful for the cycling app too, when you think about it.

Strava mobile app for running

Imagine that you could have a 20 minute record, 60 minute record, most metres (feet) climbed with 10  / 20 / 60 minutes etc etc, it would be awesome. furthermore it would allow you to gauge your progress almost anywhere – imagine finding out that you climb faster when you’re not in your usual haunts, or even to compare your results overseas or at 2000m above sea level?

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Learning to ride slow

When I first started riding seriously, I had two speeds – “fast” and “flat out”. This was OK if I was only riding once or twice a week, but push it past the 3 times a week mark and I was finding myself suffering from fatigue, restlessness, and poor mood. After a couple of weeks this would lead to illness, in one case it lead to a bad case of the flu, punctuated with a mild case of pneumonia.

So, the whole point of getting out on the bike is to have fun. Sure, it’s real fun to ride fast, but it’s not much fun to do it all the time. It took me a while to learn this. Just google “overtraining” and you’ll find a wealth of information on the topic, and one thing mentioned is “recovery rides”. I only recently learned what a “recovery ride” meant, and it was not from the Internet or any of my training books.

Regardless of what your riding mates might think, a recovery ride isn’t spent at 40km/h instead of 50km/h on the straights, nor is it about going a couple of minutes below your average on the local 4km climb. A recovery ride is, as I have once heard it been said by a well respected coach, “a ride at a walking effort”, thus if you feel like you’re running or dying, it’s not a recovery ride.

The best way of learning what recovery pace is, is to go for a 30 minute walk to somewhere and back along the same route with a heart rate monitor attached, record the walk using your garmin or whatever speedo you have, and then see what the average heart rate is. For me, it sat at around 105bpm, which some people say is high, it is considering that my resting heart rate is around 60bpm.

From that point, you can set the heart rate alarm in your speedo to go off at 10bpm above this limit so you know when you are pushing it.

Otherwise, if you don’t have a speedo, focus on your stress level, this is basically made up of three things: your speed, your breathing, and your heartbeat. If you can notice any of them, you’re probably pushing yourself too hard.

How to tell if you’ve been pushing yourself too hard during the week? If you can find your pulse and have an alarm clock next to bed, count the number of beats between the changing of the minutes on your clock. This should be constant every morning – if it goes up at all, you’re probably heading towards your limit. Google “overtraining in cyclists” and you’ll find a wealth of information.