Editor Elizabeth Hufton puts her Wattbike training to the test to see if her winter efforts are paying off

Wattbike - Liz HuftonBeing a swot doesn’t make you popular, but that never bothered me. Exam results were something I looked forward to at school. It’s the same with tri.

Usually, races are exciting – a chance to prove that despite the many things in life we can’t control, performance in sport rewards hard work. So after seven weeks of Wattbike training, diligently following sport scientist Eddie Fletcher’s winter plan, I was keen to replicate the test we’d performed in September and, hopefully, earn a gold star.

Highs and lows
Things didn’t quite go to plan. I just couldn’t manage a full minute at 235W – the next stage up from my previous test – and my left/right leg power balance, which had responded obediently during training, seemed to be all over the place. Time to download the data from the Wattbike and see if Eddie could make sense of it. His response? “I like!”

I just hadn’t read the results carefully enough. Eddie sent back screengrabs comparing this test to the last one, clearly showing an improvement in left/right balance. He also suggested that, with his professional supervision, that 235W goal might have been within reach. So why did it still feel so much like hard work? “It does take a while for that left/right balance to become natural,” says Eddie. “That’s the beauty of the Wattbike – you can see it all the time. Without that visual aid it’s difficult to get it right. I would hope that within another four weeks it will become more natural for you.”

Time well spent
While I had Eddie’s attention, I had a few more questions about training. Well, one really – did I really have to do the time-consuming warm-up and cool down? “If athletes are strapped for time, it’s the actual workout they should reduce – that’s how important it is to me that they do the warm-up and cool-down,” says Eddie. “The body doesn’t like what we ask it to do, so you have to prepare it. When we warm up, we’re getting the heart-rate up; we’re getting the body temperature up, the breathing switched on and using high leg speed to switch on the brain. I know from all the tests I’ve done that if I warm someone up I get a better performance out of them.”

What about the dreary cool-down? “If you’ve been doing some high-intensity work and you just stop, the lactate will continue to climb,” says Eddie. “That makes you feel ill. If you’re cooling down the body is ‘buffering’ that lactate and bringing it down. If you don’t cool down you won’t be able to do the session you have planned the next day.”

The one exception, says Eddie, is long, easy Zone 1 to 2 rides, which just need a gentle five-minute easing in. Clutching my good report, it’s time to put that advice into practice for another month.

PROGRESS REPORT

The subject: Elizabeth Hufton, Triathlon Plus editor
AGE: 34
Bike PBs
1:14:32 (Olympic distance),
7:05:34 (Ironman)
Test results update:
Max 1min power (Sep): 220 watts
Max 1min power (Nov): 227 watts
Max HR (Sep): 188bpm
Max HR (Nov): 189bpm
Left/right power distribution (Sep): 56%/44%
Left/right power distribution (Nov): 52%/48%
Angle of peak force (Sep): 111/120
Angle of peak force (Nov): 113/114

Elizabeth says:
“When I repeated the RAMP test, I was expecting great things, but was initially disappointed. I thought I’d be able to push on another 15 watts but couldn’t quite do it, and found it really hard to control my right/left balance. Having spoken to Eddie afterwards and had positive feedback, I feel much better. I feel my endurance is building and I’m able to enjoy my one or two road rides a week with a much better level of fitness than I’d usually have in winter.”

Eddie  says:
“It does take a while to get that smooth pedalling action but you’re not far off that mythical 50/50 – you’re a long way forward from where you were in that initial test. Throughout each one-minute RAMP your left/right balance was much closer. Your overall result of 227W is a slight improvement but doing a test on your own is difficult – I suspect had you done it under my supervision I would have pushed you to the 235W stage, a gain of around seven per cent. I see great signs of improvement.”