Why the TPRNo1 was my hardest race yet and why I raced it the hardest. Power metrics, comparisons to TCR and TPBR, how to be efficient and all around data nerdery

Introduction

I’m just back from the inaugural Transpyrenees Race, the #TPRNo1. Held from October, 4th to October, 11th and with start and finish in Biarritz at the basque coast in south-western France it was organised by the lovely folks of Lost Dot. Lost Dot of course is organising the Transcontinental Race and who now for the first time had implemented this self-supported bikepacking race across the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and back again, building upon the original idea and first scoutings by Mike Hall. And it was great! 

Since I was very motivated for this race and since I wanted to look at my numbers and progress as fast as possible I began immediately working with my data and sorting all the metrics. And of course I immediately ingested all my photography into Lightroom for further processing, keywording etc. So I already analysed my metrics and I could of course draw on all my data and charts from former races. So I figured I’ll start my blogging about the Transpyrenees with just this: my immediate learnings, how the TPRNo1 compares to e.g. the Transcontinental in numbers and feel and all around data geekery. I also have for the first time written such a race report in English first while I normally write my articles in German and only rarely add a separate English version (as I did with the beginnings of my yet to be finished TCRNo6-Journal.

I will follow this first article up later with a more journal style blog entry with more details on my experiences and how the days went, what I saw and felt etc.

So let’s jump right into this!

As readers of my Blog will know since long I have power meters on all my bikes and I analyse my training and race/event data with GoldenCheetah (amongst other software and web services). This not only gives me entertainment when resting between training rides (since we all know we get stronger while we are recovering after submitting ourselves to enough stress and failing to do so means failing to get stronger and we all can browse pictures of pretty bikes on Instagram only for so long) but also valuable insight. At least I like to think so. ;-)

One of my main gripes with my performances in Ultra races so far are my frequent „low wattage days“. Be advised that I can have thoroughly enjoyed a race as a whole and nevertheless having gripes with my performance. I also can happily stroll through a historic inner city by bike on my holidays and be glad that I have my activity recorded with my Wahoo and all sorts of metrics. Yes, you too can smell the roses and eat your cake while you have a cycling computer mounted on your stem. Just try it. „No Garmin, no Rules“ is just a crutch for easily distracted or way to competitive people who need to be protected from themselves. But I digress.

Being the data geek that I am I already wrote at length on the topic of my so-called on- and off-days (See here in German: Das Transcontinental Race: Zahlen, Daten, Fakten – TCRNo5 und TCRNo6 im Vergleich). Meaning were I might ride one day in a Transcontinental Race with a normalised power of 150 and where I might then just ride with a measly NP of 110 the next day. Of course you have to look at all the variables like probably days with predominantly descents or maybe a hike-a-bike section and the like. And I always had the hunch that the temperature was much more of a killer than I would think it was. But I went through all possible explanations and checked them off one by one as you can see when reading the mentioned article.

Temperature issues:

Of course we (meaning TCR riders) all groaned under the heat waves in southern and south eastern Europe. Lucifer in TCRNo5 and a complete summer drought and scorching heat across wide areas of Europe in TCRNo6. The Three Peaks Bike Race’s second edition (TPBR2019) I rode this summer from Vienna to Barcelona was not different. If at all, my temperature recordings show it had the most severe of conditions I rode in yet. The temperatures in the Po plain and later in southern France in the Camargue region were extreme. Bordering on 50 degrees (maximum recorded: 48 degrees Celsius) and this was in riding! Meaning, the computer didn’t just stood there with the bike in the sun and got baked. This was cooled by the wind in motion! The Wahoo recorded in the end of July over 6 continued hours above 35° C and over 4.3 hours over 40 °C. Compared to that the hottest day in TCRNo5 (I started riding a bit after Monte Grappa, crossed the North Italian plain and rode into the Kanal Valley and therein up to the Austrian border) just had 3 hours above 35 ° C and just 0.94 hours above 40 °C. While my recording peaked at over 50 °C that day this was indeed in standing where I forgot to put my bike into the shade while having an ice cream. Subsequently my Wahoo overheated and I had to cool it off in the village fountain before I could continue.

Temperature Curve TPBR2019, 25th of July, 2019 (Southern France, Provence and Camargue)
Temperature Curve TCRNo5, 3th of August, 2017 (North Italy and Kanal Valley)

But in my analysis of the on and off days I couldn’t really discover a correlation between the temperature and the wattage. More strikingly and what I found was the main culprit was my energy intake. You can read the according article here (Ultracycling-Ernährung im Selbstversorger-Rennen: Quer durch Europa von Supermarkt zu Tanke – mein TCRNo6 Ernährungstagebuch). It’s written in German, but you will recognise the table format of the daily metrics I also use in this article here and you can follow the charts. It gives also a great insight into the energy demands and the energy intake I could manage in TCRNo6 where I photographed each and every food haul I made and estimated the caloric value of my daily intake. It showed, that I simply couldn’t keep up with the energy expenditure I had and after days with especially high negative balance the following days wattage simply wasn’t there.

Appetite:

But nevertheless in all this not just food availability but also my appetite comes into play. At 30 plus or even 40 plus degrees I could stand in front of the nicest of bread displays and a carbs heaven but I wouldn’t have appetite for this nor could I be forced to eat the bare minimum of maybe a roll or a dry pannini with just crude ham as you would get in any bar in Italy for example. It would take at least a nice soft bread, ample mayonnaise and maybe a nice curry sauce with juicy chicken bits. This would actually suit me just fine with a good oomph in regard to calories. But the availability of these is not very widespread depending where you just are in Europe. Also you wouldn’t think that I often also struggle with my french fries in a McDonalds Menu after such hot days, especially if it would be earlier in the evening still. Instead when going after my appetite in strolling through supermarket aisles I check the bakery shelfs for juicy pastries and savory pies but mostly I’m drawn to the dairy cases and look for Joghurt (I like the ones with muesli toppings to stir in for a bit of added carbs) or preferably milk rice, some smoothies, ice-cream and also fresh fruit like melons (or convenience chopped and mixed fruit cups). Of course this isn’t optimal for 3 reasons:

First and foremost, it’s not very calorie dense. Second, it doesn’t lend itself well to eat on the bike. So it costs (in the heat all to willingly spent) time in front of the shade of the supermarket or gas station or even better yet, in the air-conditioned confines of said places to eat that rapidly melting ice-cream or scoop up that milk rice (which much to my dismay isn’t very widely available in Europe. Try to find it in Italian or French Supermarkets… oh these poor people!). And third, you can’t just really stock up on ice-cream or Melons for the next 100 km of riding meaning even more frequent Supermarket stops.

So I was constantly thinking how I could improve my hot weather riding and also scrutinise my preferred go-to food in regard of widespread availability, transportability, caloric content and palatability also in warm weather. Yeah, cheeseburgers are one thing but not that widespread available and also I can’t eat too many of them in succession. No, 7 Days Croissants are definitely out of question. I knew you would ask… ;-) They thoroughly invalidate the palatability prerequisite. I found these triangle shaped packed sandwiches you see in supermarkets and many gas stations a seemingly good alternative. But really tested them only at the end of the TPBR2019. The only drawback I see with these is that the form factor of the packaging doesn’t really lend itself for getting these into your jersey pocket nor in your food pouch. Even the strapping below the bungee cords on top of your seat-pack is a bit finicky but works. As well as from the form factor as from the palatability I prefer baguette style packaged sandwiches. Like the soft bread with mayonnaise, curry sauce and chicken sandwich mentioned earlier. But you don’t find these that often. And a third type are these soft tortilla wraps, packaged in two small pieces. Also – nothing you would really find in a magaziny or potraviny somewhere in south eastern Europe but you could have luck in bigger gas stations. Which are spread far and between for the areas where the TPRNo1 would lead us. But instead you would come by at least one if not more Carrefours or Intermarchés and there you would find all three and more types of food. Another really cool discovery for me in this race were Beignets! Oh what lovely caloric dense, somewhat moist and filled with either fruit confiture or hazelnut cream little balls of yummy energy. Being a good deal smaller than a normal „Berliner“ (jelly-filled doughnut) it can be eaten in one big or two smaller bites and easily be put into a bag of 10 into the food pouch and then munched even on steep climbs easily enough. :) These were my staple apart from the baguette sandwiches. Of course I had much other stuff like pain au chocolat etc., too.

Colder Race and revolutionised mindset:

So these were my ponderings. Amplified after the TPBR2019 (by the way you can read my detailed journal about it here in German: Three Peaks Bike Race 2019 – ReCapNo 44) where I hit new highs in temperatures to endure and new lows in my wattage. People without power meters probably won’t notice it that much. All in all I guess your heartrate would be like on any other day after days of effort. And you just simply won’t recognise the ratio which goes into trying to cope with the heat stress and the ratio which would propel you forward. All in all, when in the flats you would ride with a somewhat acceptable speed. But far from optimal what you would normally be able to do. Sure you would probably moan under the heat and I know that many of the scratches in TCRNo5 and TCRNo6 where citing the heat as one reason. But apart from this you would be blissfully unaware just how much of a percentage you would leave on the table. I on the other hand was now dead set on to see how much I would be capable of when I could strike out that heat variable and race in colder conditions. And be able to fuel myself better. As well in regard to a better appetite when it’s not that hot and in regard to better be able to find stuff I like in the available supply.


Key differences of the TPRNo1 compared to TCR and TPBR

Of course a whole lot of other things changed as well. So you can’t see the TPRNo1 as a controlled experiment with just the top temperatures removed. No Ultra race can be controlled. Some things of note which made the TPRNo1 the hardest Ultra-Race I’ve yet participated in were of course:

  1. The total amount of climbing

Where the Transcontinental Race simply has the scale and grandeur that you cross whole mountain ranges instead of just a few mountains and also always has some nasty (or shall we say demanding, but also rewarding) parcours’ (I dubbed TCRNo6 the steep edition with the Silvretta Hochalpenstraße, then even steeper beautiful Mangrt and finally the effin’ steep Karkonosze Pass amongst other bits) there is much room for long flat bits and smooth gradients across the valleys even in the mountains. On top of this come the long stretches across flatter parts of Europe. So the typical climbing factor of a TCR is around 10. Meaning, that for every 1 km you would see 10 times as many metres of climbing. So an average 250 km stint would net you an average vertical gain of 2500 meters. Sure, there are days where you are predominantly climbing and you get higher values. But the highest climbing factor in TCRNo6 was 17.4 for me and it would get as low as 3.8 for one day. Mostly it was around 9 to 11, though. That’s a typical middle mountain range value right there. Even the Three Peaks Bike Race comes in only at around 11. Not so the TPRNo1, though! There we are day in day out in typical alpine marathon range with a climbing factor of 19.2!

The daily average vertical gain was a whopping 4.760 metres! That is 2031 m of climbing more per average day than in TPBR2019 and 2236 m of climbing more per average day than in TCRNo6.

  1. Time of year and temperatures

I think we were incredibly lucky with the weather in TPRNo1. That’s also what the people from there said. We had mostly sun and nice weather. On one day I encountered the worst of headwinds I ever encountered on a bike on the whole stretch from the Spanish Coast from Roses after CP 3 back up north. It was gusty and with a good proportion of crosswind also, making it sketchy at times to even stay on the bike. The slightest amount of rising gradient would nearly bring me to a complete standstill and riding in the aerobars was completely out of question. But apart from that just a bit of rain occurred on two days. Well, that bit of rain was actually halfway refreshing and not to bad at all on the first day where it would accompany us until cresting the main ridge of the Pyrenees into the warmer and drier southern side. The second day of rain was not that nice as it would slowly but ever so steadily drizzle and soak everything as soon as you were somewhere above 1000 metres above sea level and in the ever present low clouds of that day. Especially after the Col du Soulor and the Col d’Aubisque and the following descent, already well after nightfall a bit heavier rain would suck the energy out of you. That was hard, but that was still ok. It could have easily worse! My Wahoo measured 5 °C on top of the Tourmalet and 4 °C on top of the Col d’Aubisque that day. Factor in the Windchill in the descends and you know how it must have felt (I treasure my puffy jacket under my rain jacket). But you can also see how easily that drizzle could have turned into sleet and how easily the roads could have been covered in treacherous and slippy conditions!

On the Col de Val Louron-Azet

Also on the other days with sun it was nevertheless a constant challenge to layer right. To stop for putting stuff on and off or suffer the consequences. And while not as hot as in the summer, the aspect of the high variance of the temperatures was a stressor all by itself. On a normal day I would start still in the dark with around 7 °C and then have the mercury rise for the afternoon in around 25 to 30 degrees. Changing in rapid succession depending whether you were climbing in the headwind and in the shade which would have you shiver even in climbing or with a tailwind and exposed to the sun where you would soon sweat if you left the armwarmers up and the vest or even the rain jacket on. Descending into a deeply shaded gorge with a river running beside the road meant the same.

  1. Road conditions

Again the comparison with the TCR: also there you would encounter all sorts of roads and surfaces. And the parcours would make sure this doesn’t all gets to smooth by throwing at least a tiny (or a big) bit of gravel or at least B-road in. But the shear length of travel you do on your own route planning and where you would normally try to find the fastest and thereby also smoothest route (as well as for speed of travel as for comfort and for ease of night riding) makes for an overall rather good road experience (barring lack of information or special considerations for traffic). In the TPRNo1 the majority of the route consisted of mandatory parcours. Which all lead to magnificent places and areas but at least for the southern and eastern legs of the TPRNo1 were nearly complete on B-roads. Which was cool for the places it brought us to and the far and in between car traffic but it meant also that every encountered gradient was mostly very steep or even effin’ steep. I don’t think I ever thought on a parcours „oh how lovely this moderate climb is…“ ;-). Also the roads were bendy, at times rough and you nearly always had to expect grit or gravel somewhere in a corner. In some of the shady stretches where a river ran along you’d also be wise to be on your guard for not wiping out on a mossy part or simply wet tarmac. So even the descents couldn’t at times be ridden with full gas. At other times though it was a blast cooking around the bends with much added confidence by my 35 mm file-threaded slicks. Good times! But you could also be completely stalled in your progress by finding out that the descent you were about to tackle in the dark was completely covered in loose chippings for road maintenance. Stalling your progress, adding more time for probably already aching hands and wrists braking down hills and cols.

  1. Binary climbing

This has a twofold meaning. A) when the road turned up it mostly turned really up! Meaning that 11 to 16 percent gradient were more often the norm than what you would normally expect from a bigger alpine pass. And there were steeper stretches still! I certainly found myself frequently wishing for even lower gears than my already quite comfortable 1:1 gearing ratio I have now with 33 tooth in front and 33 in the back.

But with the term „binary climbing“ I want to emphasise another fact: later in the day, sometimes already in late afternoon you always had to decide whether to take the next climb or not. 1 or 0. On or off. Knowing that either you could make it in time for some bivvy in lower altitudes or better yet some accommodation in the next village or not. Or be out of that remote parcours section in time for reaching a bed somewhere or not. Knowing that the remote parts and time of the year would mean that the next village shown on google maps might be completely devoid of life in that time of year and the next accommodation was an hour or two of riding after reaching the foot of the downhill of that climb in front of you.

  1. Gravel parcours

I guess we all could count ourselves lucky that just shortly before the race Anna removed the first Gravel Parcours out of safety concerns regarding hunting and made the optional tarmac section of that parcours mandatory instead. But even so this meant that there was a rather technical downhill gravel section at Parcours A which was more difficult than I had imagined and of course one of the highlights of the Race, the ascent from Tor to the top of the Port de Cabus into Andorra. Which was quite something else. Just calling it Gravel wouldn’t do this really tricky and steep climb justice. It was a real lecture in trying to find a good path for your wheels and powering through some sections with technical skill. Hoping that your power and energy would bring you to the next a bit flatter bits to catch your breath again and assess the further trail. Of course for some parts just pushing your bike would have been more sensible. But where is the fun in that? ;-) Also I was on my road shoes and thus simply wouldn’t want to ruin my cleats. So I rode that whole darn thing.

This was actually a really beautiful and also really nicely rideable section ride before Tor on the climb to the Port de Cabus.
  1. My own mindset

I really wanted to up my game and progress as a participant of such races. I was really looking forward for the TPRNo1 and had put some good training and key efforts in after completing the TPBR2019 this summer. I also knew (and found it verified after finally seeing the start list) that such a race would lure the more experienced participants of similar races and the ones with confidence in their climbing capabilities to the start line. So I’d like to think that the starter field of the TPRNo1, while of course still rather diversely spread between experience and ambitions, was skewed to even more capable and confident cyclists than say a Transcontinental Race. I might be biased, you are welcome to express otherwise in the comments. :) So I wanted to ride farther (despite knowing there would be way more climbing) than before on daily average, I wanted to ride longer and stopp for fewer hours (as well for sleeping as in the day for refueling), I wanted to put out more and foremost more consistent power day to day and I wanted to see were this would place me overall in the end. I even was willing to forego my usual photo ambitions and to take mostly only iPhone snaps instead of using my Sony RX100 III.


Success and satisfaction

Coming in as 33rd out of 107 participants, with 41 riders having to scratch, in such a stacked field (see above) leaves me very satisfied. Just finishing such a race in this Pyrenees set-up is no mean feat as I deem it harder than the Transcontinental.

And with a further 5 people within only 2 hours earlier at the finish than me this shows me that I can improve even further. Because while on the one hand I made an effort to continue to ride strong on the last day I simply couldn’t be bothered to wake up earlier in the day and wasn’t too bothered by the fact that I even overslept my alarm that morning by a full hour. Instead I even took the time to wax my chain and give a bit of love to my bike after that gruelling wet 6 cols day before. Maybe I even hop a few places further up after the final check for placings because there might be some difficulties with the adherence to the parcours for some riders (hopefully not myself).

But more important than the mere position on the leaderboard is the sense of progression and accomplishment by myself. I feel I made real progress in tackling such bikepacking races and as I was certain I learned many new things again. And I didn’t got disappointed. You never stop learning and you always get richer in experience. Also with experiencing and meeting other people on the road and of course fellow participants.

So have a look at all the metrics I wrote about above. I entered the data of all of my TPRNo1 stints into my known spread sheet which you can see below the following explanations.

You can see that the data is clustered in some blocks. The first block consists of the date, the stint numbering and the basic track metrics like distance and vertical gain.

Block 2 shows where and when I started that day and where I ended my daily stint.

I guess Block 3 is the most important one for Ultra racing because apart from being a somewhat fast rider you predominantly have to be an efficient rider. So sleep time and moving / stopping time are of utmost importance. You can see that of course the column „sleep time“ isn’t just the difference between stopping time the day/night before and the starting time the next morning (when I press „start“ on my Wahoo). To be it that way it would mean I instantly keel over from the bike into a slumber and after waking up hopping directly on the bike and continue riding. That can sometimes be the case for a short kip but even only for a somewhat substantial rest on a bench you probably would have a bit of prepping time around that. Eat something before sleeping (ok, you could do this on the approach of your sleeping place on the bike still), getting out the sleeping mat and putting it in the bags at least for example. The columns „activity time“, „moving time“ and „pause time“ are ride metrics inside the activitiy. Meaning in between starting and stopping the Wahoo for the day. Of course this means that for getting the complete stopping time you have to add the time between the stopping and starting the Wahoo also. I did this and you can see that this amounts to 10 hours and 19 minutes not moving per day on average in the TPRNo1. Which is still a rather high number. But it is nearly 2 hours less than in the TPBR2019 and its 2 hours and 25 minutes less than in TCRNo6. Where I rather comfortably reached the finisher party in time for its start.

Block 4 contains the average moving speeds in regard to the recorded activity (so not in regard to 24 hours of a day). 

And Block 5 finally contains all the power metrics (well and also the temperature). You can see that I succeeded in having a much more consistent riding by looking at the „NP / Daniels Wattage“ (Normalised Power) and the „IF“ (Intensity factor) column. All this doesn’t came easy, though. Riding for so long per day, successfully reducing my supermarket stopping time and shifting to do more stuff on the bike put more load on my hands and joints as well as contact points in general. Add that grinding in low cadences for extended periods of time and it may be no wonder that I felt my knees already at day 3 or so. I then really had problems in the morning of the 5th stint, where I started in Aunat still in the parcours E and was to reach the beginning of the parcours F, the Raid Pyrenèen. So all the mighty passes of the Pyrenees where still ahead of me… oh my. It was the first time in a race where I had to resort to Ibuprofen. But also on all the days before and the days thereafter – it was a near constant effort to remind myself to ride strongly. To crank out at least the power I would normally have in the upper region of my endurance zone (zone 2 of the 5 zone model from Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan). What means around 170 to 200 Watts for my current FTP. My mantra for this race therefore was „I am strong!“ and „my body is strong!“. Reinforcing that my body will cope with all the weather and all the climbing just fine. And reminding me to make use of my potential! I _am_ capable of producing a rather good FTP value of around 4 watts/kg! Ok, sustaining it is another thing altogether. As well as for 1 hour as for whole days. But it would lead to far for this article to discuss the diverse principles behind deriving FTP values and how different energy systems might skew this value in its estimation and how many of the training population could hold which proportion of said FTP over an hour (where this value should be an exact metric of the wattage you _could_ hold over an hour). But this doesn’t diminish its value for planning and analysing training and racing data.

So „I am strong!“ was there to remind me that I should use my potential and don’t just be satisfied with just 150 watts when I should go 180 or even more! And it worked! Of course two things were also in my favour: it’s always easier to produce power in a climb than in a flat. At least for me and what I gather for the majority of cyclists. And another strong motivator was the nature of that „binary climbs“ as I coined it a bit above. I knew I simply _had_ to be over that Col by 22:00 o’clock after I made that commitment by tackling it and booking a hotel somewhere behind it! This helped immensely storming relentlessly over dark cols in the night! Even the many passive controls and the three Checkpoints in the first half of the race helped massively in the pacing. Every day there was something to aim for. Sometimes even more than one Checkpoint. So it was CP 1 in the mid of day 1 and then CP 2 at day 2 and after that „of course I go for CP 3 on day 3“ and so on. While in a Transcontinental Race you could lull yourself into a few days of solitude and travel time between two checkpoints here there was a constant sense of urge.

You can kind of see this in the Critical Power Curve Display of GoldenCheetah. See the following picture for this:

Golden Cheetah Critical Power curve with Stint 1 of the TPRNo1 selected

This chart shows a cumulation of all the highest values of power for a given duration I produced in the last 3 months. Yeah – you can clearly see that I’m certainly no watt monster nor a sprinter. Even when I try for explosive power (what I rarely do since that’s not good for my old creaky joints ;-)) you see there is still ample room to reach a 4 digit value even for 1 second. You also see the highest values of Watts I produced for, say, 3 minutes or 10 minutes etc. Where you can see a distinct fall off you can be sure that there was this one interval session with e.g. 5 minutes or that one hill where I went all out and it ended after 17 minutes and so on. You get the idea. If all I did after such one hard session or climb was noodling along at 100 watts you would see a steep fall off after such marks. One such kink you see at the very right end of that CP curve. That’s after 19:10 hours. This was the duration of stint 1 of my TPRNo1 race. You see that there must have been an even longer ride in the last 3 months. But not that much longer. But with way less power held at the tail end. You see also, that the Power duration curve of my Stint 1 still recorded 125 Watts for the very end and that for 8 hours my ride was still in zone 2 territory with 150 watts on average. You also see that from around 5:30 hours duration there is no value higher than that from the recorded activity of stint 1. Thus you see I set a new maximum power for all these durations from 5:30 to 19:10 hours. Of course this was the very first stint and therefore I was rested after a good tapering and went into the race with full glycogen stores. It’s only natural, that the following days will suffer. But how much and would they stay consistent? Yes, they did!

Look at the following chart to see all the stints combined into one chart.

Golden Cheetah Critical Power curve with all Stints of the TPRNo1 displayed

By the way, you can see in the following table also, that I had a total energy expenditure of 8666 kJ as recorded by my power meter! That’s by far the most energy I produced and thus spend in one stint! 8666 kJ is a lot! It’s over 4.7 times my basic metabolic rate when resting. I was rather good with my eating that day but not _that_ good. I prepared milk bread rolls with ham and baguette with ham (which I ate partly for breakfast right at the start and thereafter). Also milk bread rolls with peanut butter (these were a bit too hard to chew – I should also have added jelly). I started with one bidon with energy mix, I had 2 cokes, a magnum white choclate ice cream and potato crisps at CP1, I bought a whole slew of savoury pastries, more coke, joghurt and fruit squeezies in a supermarket in Jaca (the first stop after the CP1) and I had also 8 Beignets with me from the day before which I all ate in one go near the top of the first real col before the Spain border. Together with I guess 5 powergels this amounted to 7382 kcal ingested. Not bad, mind you. But still around 2941 kcal short of what I would have needed to completely balance my output together with the resting metabolic rate. Of course I can compare kilo Joules roughly with kilo calories here because as a rule of thumb we can assume the efficiency factor of the human body at around 25 % for cycling activities. I.E. from every 4 kcal taken in, 3 go into the production of heat and 1 into production of actual force. It’s very handy that this is nearly the same ratio as converting kJ to kcals. So we can look at the directly measured and cumulated energy in kJ and know how much kcal we should eat. 

Snacks at CP1 (left) and first supermarket food haul of the race in Jaca (right)

Lastly, Block 6 contains a few first quick notes on the day and the choice of accomodation with a column showing whether I bivvied or whether I choose to stay in a hotel or pension/guest house. For the #TPRNo1 being a race in the autumn with fewer daylight hours and cold nights, even when not at altitude, I opted for 100 % hotel accommodation since I don’t like to burden myself even with the negligible weight (and for me not so negligible volume) of an ultralight sleeping bag. I had my normal sleeping setup with me nevertheless. Consisting of my ultralight sleeping mat, my borahgear bivy and on top of that an emergency blanket which would have helped me in a pinch. Because I knew villages with open hotels would be few and far between. It was at times a bit challenging but then again worked even better than I had imagined. So I had every night a nice warm shower and a good nights rest in a real bed which helped immensely. And I found it was quite efficient, too.

Now after that explanations have a look at the actual table. I broke it down into two pictures and you also can access a high resolution PDF by clicking on the following link

TPRNo1 Daily Metric Overview Table (part 1)
TPRNo1 Daily Metric Overview Table (part 2)

So how did it work out? I think really fine as I have already mentioned!

Here I would like to re-iterate and elaborate a few reasons how I succeeded in having lesser stopped time than in my previous 4 bikepacking races (TCRNo5, TCRNo6, TPBR2018, TPBR2019):

1.) No extended Supermarket and Gas Station stops with resting and eating in front of them (Joghurts, milk rice, ice-cream etc.). Instead getting Baguettes or Beignets for eating on the bike. Just rarely eating stuff in front of the market and only for a few quick bites and drinking a can of coke or iced coffee.

2.) Quicker runs through supermarkets compared to former races. A) because I was disciplining myself and B) because of less variation: I mostly shopped in Carrefours and Intermarchés and thus found my stuff rather quick instead of strolling through a wide diversity of grocery shops across Europe and trying to find stuff for my current appetite.

3.) Not even a single McDonalds visit in the whole race. Not even in Andorra where I knew I would come right by one. While very convenient, sitting for an evening meal in a McDonalds (or other fast food franchise) before reaching my sleeping destination would count in the stopped time of the recorded activity and thus skew pause times compared to stints / activities of days where I wouldn’t do this but instead opt to eat a purchased sandwich after stopping the Wahoo and before go to bed/bivy. Of course that’s why overall stopped time not moving (including sleeping, maybe showering if available, toilet and stuff) is the better overall metric. But even having said this, a short visit in a good sorted supermarket can be more efficient than a McDonalds visit. Both can provide you with new water in your bidons, stuff to eat right now and stuff to conveniently put in your food pouches for later (think cheeseburgers), but in supermarkets there is more variety available. And you usually don’t have to wait half an hour for your deluxe burger menu as I had just this summer in Embrun. You also don’t get tempted to use the free WiFi to browse around in your social media feeds… That doesn’t mean that a stop at a McDonalds can at times be the most efficient thing you can do with everything conveniently in one place (like a quick hot meal, a toilet, water, wifi and mostly secure ways to park your bike and have it in direct view and access) and at a wide span of hours across the day.

4.) Deliberate decision to just take photos with my iPhone (save very few exceptions). So it was stop, quarter turn the iPhone from the cockpit-mounted quadlock and snap versus stop, fiddle the Sony RX100 mk. III out of my back pocket, get it out of its ziplock bag which protects it against the damp sweaty atmosphere there and then doing a dozen shots in different focal lengths and camera orientations and maybe slightly different view points. I did a bit of the latter with the iPhone also but was overall more quicker and less interrupted in my riding.

5.) A counter point to this, i.e. one aspect which was potentially causing a bit of more stopping time was the weather and the temperature changes. I had frequent stops (at least at the top of climbs) where just throwing on (or leaving on) the rain jacket wouldn’t have sufficed. Instead it was Rain jacket off, Primaloft Vest or even Puffy Jacket on, Rain jacket on and then continue. Or even putting leg warmers on for the last downhill of the night (if they weren’t on already). To protect this stuff from the rain it would have to be fetched out of and then for the next climb stowed into the seat pack again. This is just more involved than just fetching out a wind gilet out of the jersey pocket or the frame bag.

I have still room for optimisation:

10:19 hours overall stopping time minus the 2:52 hours on average while on the bike means an average 7:27 hours night rest. My factual average sleeping time was only 4:42 hours and I found this adequate. At some days I was happier with an hour more and at some days I figured a bit less was also ok. But that leaves me with 7:27 – 4:42 = 2:45 hours of wind down and prepping time. And this should / could be minimised. It includes checking in, showering (for the TPRNo1 I had a hotel or pension room every night – if I hadn’t I would typically clean myself with wet wipes before go to sleep), brushing the teeth, hook up at least the Wahoo and the iPhone to the charger (a bit topping up is always helping as it would leave the dynamo chargers buffer battery topped of by itself and thus preserving energy for when it would be needed and avoids it having to draw current from the dynamo thus saving you precious watts), once in the race charge up each of the two batteries of the Sram red eTap AXS, eat a bit right before sleeping to get energy in (either a ready made baguette bought earlier in the day or possibly even something found at the hotel. Once a bit of muesli with milk, once a panini and a few salted nuts at a bar), then really just a quick glance at Trackleaders.com, on Twitter (this time only the mentions, not the whole feed) and on Instagram (again, just only at the very lovely Transpyrenees.cc coverage and on my own mentions but not answering most of them – but keep it coming folks, they were all read and very welcomed), then closing my eyes real quick and find sleep in the same way. In the morning after wake up it’s applying a bit from the anti-chafing stick on my outer and inner toes, then putting on the socks. Going to the toilet, then putting chamois cream on, put base layer and bib shorts on, then put jersey and shoes on. Already begin something to eat. Either another baguette or wraps purchased the day before or a muesli from the hotel and twice a kinda self-made freeze-dried expedition style meal just with cold water. Once also a real breakfast at the hotel. Then stuff charger and cables back in ziplock bag and back in frame pack, put the chamois cream back in handlebar bag, Put tooth paste, brush, anti-chafing stick in hygiene zip-log back and put this together with Sleeping T-Shirt and trekking pants in drysack and this in the seat-pack. Then put Cap, Helmet, Rain-Jacket (also against the morning cold) and gloves on and head out with the bike. It helps immensely when the bike is with you in your room or at least directly downstairs as I was lucky to have in each of my nights accommodations.

And while I feel I have this rather dialled and I know one of my time sinks is the WC act which just needs some time to simply not feel constricted in the day ahead (quite literally ;-)) I know there is still a bit of room to get more efficient. E.g. an even quicker shower. Or foregoing a real breakfast in a hotel categorically. On Sunday morning I thought it would be a good thing to get some real food in before hitting an expected slim supply on the Sunday. A Sunday mostly in France, even. With France being the proverbial worst country of Europe to get supplies in bikepacking races in general and especially on Sundays. And this hotel had a somewhat acceptable time for beginning of the breakfast: 7:30 am. While very welcome with yummy carbs, proteins and also fresh vitamins it also meant that I only hit the road at 8:20 am. Way to late and with some minor regret as I would soon come by open Boulangeries in the next 3 villages and even an open supermarket – go figure. One other place which cost me a bit more morning prepping time then usual was that very nice old AirBnB with it’s old blind dog in the downstairs kitchen. First I had to try two times this morning to make my morning business which gave me a good overview over my social media but effectively lost time and second I then was treading in the kitchen carefully while preparing a few milk bread rolls with jam for the first riding hours and while packing my bike to not stumble over or harm the blind dog. One other noteworthy long winding down and prepping time was the night after the soaking 6 cols day. Arriving at 20 minutes before 11 pm in the Gîte I telephoned and booked, trying to communicate with the nice french lady in mangled french and then going for three hot teas while showering and then proceeding to lay out all my stuff to dry, put towels in the shoes after getting out the insoles and then proceed to dry out at least the insoles, the leg warmers and the bib shorts with the hair dryer did cost some time before going to sleep. But also gave me snug and dry clothes to put on the following morning. Socks I left halfway wet because I had a second pair. That following morning I also took time to run my chain through a wet wipe and put some new chain wax on it.

Drive train care

But yeah – overall I’m rather pleased with my progress in efficiency and feel that I haven’t really faffed once in the TPRNo1 but every standing minute was while maybe not ultimately necessary but at least providing some sensible advantage in my well being or in enjoyment of the process. It should be somewhat easy to go from this point and shave another 45 Minutes of my time around the sleeping and arrive at 2 hours maximum additional to the pure sleep time.

I hope you enjoyed getting a bit of insight in my approach of this race and the challenges it proved from a more data oriented and applicatory point of view. As a next step I will write a more experience oriented journal of my complete race also. So stay tuned!

All in all the inaugural Transpyrenees Race was a wonderful event which I enjoyed thoroughly. Thank you Lost dot for coming up with another very rewarding race experience and opportunity for coming together as a bikepacking and endurance cycling family. Greetings to all friends – old and new. Let’s hope we’ll soon meet again!


12 Kommentare zu „Why the TPRNo1 was my hardest race yet and why I raced it the hardest. Power metrics, comparisons to TCR and TPBR, how to be efficient and all around data nerdery

  1. Wow that’s a lot of detail, I thought I was meticulous in my daily habits but nothing in comparison!
    Glad you pulled off your best performance, it was clearly the result of hard work and best thinking.
    I too found the heat a big factor in power output. Eating when hot was for me just requiring different food. A lot of milkshakes, smoothies and sugary food but in the cooler evening I managed better food.
    Important to me was having some protein to eat before sleeping, I managed always to find milk, nuts etc and hoped to help my legs for the next day

    1. Hi Richard, yeah – the best finds in 2 of my places to stay over night were indeed milk and muesli. In that Gite were I stayed the last night I had a bowl before bed (eating while drying my stuff) and one for breakfast. And those baguette sandwiches provided protein, too.

  2. Hello Thorsten,
    Thank you very much for these detailed insights. I‘m fascinated from your epic bike rides on the long haul distance.
    Reading your comments regarding food on hot days I have a question. Wouldn‘t it make sense to train intensively riding on body fat for instance by training with empty stomach?
    Best regards
    Thomas

    1. Hi Thomas,
      thanks for your comment. Phew, you are open a can of worms there… ;-) Not sure if I want to go down that rabbit hole because that’s deep…

      There are several principles we are touching here: a) a normal vs. ketogenic diet – I won’t go into much detail here but I’m not convinced any „extreme“ diet is worth following. I’m a firm believer of „no dogmatics“ and „eat everything“ (mostly healthy and wholesome). In the words of Matts Fitzgerald (The Endurance Diet) „eating everything is healthy. Second, eating everything is natural. And third, eating everything is enjoyable.“

      But that was not was you have asked. So B) the benefits of fasted training or train low carb (because really empty stomach wouldn’t be recommended). Yeah I did a bit of this. I think it helps a bit. But then again despite much hype and current widespread use also e.g. in Triathlon training there seems to be no really clear evidence whether it really works.

      Then C) building up on B) or as an added explanation for B) is the concept of VLa max. Which describes the maximal lactate build-up rate. Equivalent to the more known VO2 max, high values of VLa max are sign of and an estimator for a good and quickly available maximum power. But it’s detrimental for your longer endurance cabability because you’re quite a carb hog then and burn relatively early more carbs than fat. Apparently I have a very high VLa max (despite also not really able to produce high power… but I also don’t train for this). A lab test showed this in 2017. The trainer then prescribed a program which also included fasted (lowcarb, that means pure proteins were allowed and also recommended as a breakfast) rides. Well – the following test reveiled an even higher VLa max. So I have my reservations on the concept of VLa max and the respective type of tests. You can read the details here: https://torstenfrank.wordpress.com/2017/03/05/training-im-radsport-professionelle-leistungsdiagnostik-bei-staps-meine-resultate-im-vergleich-und-gedanken-zur-vla-max/

      And to conclude: Even with a good trained / genetically given rate of burning fat vs carbs this ratio is always moving relative to the effort you are putting in. Meaning, the effort levels where you probably are purely on fat burning are way to low and the efforts which are at a somewhat desireable level will be always rely on some carbs or glycogen respectively. It might be trainable but you won’t get to the point where you can just ride without food for the day or with just a can of olive oil.

  3. Something went wrong with my answer, Don‘t know why.
    I‘m personally still too far away from this kind of cycling but highly fascinated. Maybe I‘ll start with something easier like 500 or 600 km in Germany within two days.

    1. Hi Malte, ja, die Sony kommt auf jeden Fall wieder mit! Mal sehen, werde mir was suchen, wie ich die schneller Zücken kann. Und ich hoffe ja, dass ich einen Platz für’s Atlas Mountain Race bekomme. Vielleicht würde ich dafür dann sogar ein kompaktes MFT System mitnehmen. Olympus hat gerade die OM-D E-M5 mk III vorgestellt, auf die ich quasi schon seit 5 Jahren gewartet habe… ^^

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