The SRM PowerMeter is an incredible tool for a coach and athlete to monitor the training and racing over time. It's consistent, it's accurate, it's reliable. But is life this way? Is any race that way? Nope. You actually have to deal with life and situations in races as they come up. The power tells the story of the race and helps us better to train specifically for the demands of the race, which hopefully can help the coach and athlete deal more successfully with "life" happens.
Pua Mata had an incredible year, both on and off the bike this year. Overcoming a broken leg in March, to winning 5 of her first 6 races back from that injury, adding another national championship to her list of accomplishments all led to her having one of her most successful years as a professional mountain bike racer. Capping the season off with another big win at this years's addition of La Ruta de los Conquistadores, I couldn't be more proud of her as an athlete and as a person.
After a great win at the Pisgah MTB Stage race, Pua took some rest and before ramping back up in for the final training block, we had a few things to work around. Injury and sickness occur for everyone; and thankfully, it was nothing major, but the lead into La Ruta this year was far different than last year. As a coach, you can't hide that from the athlete when the athlete is the ONE DOING THE TRAINING, but we talked through that the engine was already built and did our best with what we had. A few solid sessions later, Pua was off to Costa Rica to connect with teammates Alex Grant and Manuel "Manny" Prado to recon the Jungle and get set for a week of racing.
This is the make or break day... for everyone. Professional and amateurs alike do not really enjoy this day on the whole. Each one of my athletes go into day one with this gameplan:
2. Do your best
3. Stick to what we practiced in training (pacing, hydration, nutrition)
If you are going for the win, the 3 points above remain with a few other specific details, but overall, if you don't take care of the most important, the specific strategies don't matter. Pua wanted to go faster this year than last, but I reassured her to stick to the top 3 and we'll be fine. She did, and she was.
You can see in the SRM power data above, climbing the first hill just as fast, if not slightly faster than last year, the power and fitness was just fine. Climbing right around threshold for the first major hill climb, just under 45min, that was the plan and wise pacing by Pua. At this point, hill climbing professionals like Pua can pace and climb better than most - it is literally their job. Next up: the Jungle.
Here, we knew that the specificity of training (time on her feet spent hiking with her bike) just wasn't there like last year, due to a number of factors. The reality was there, and we just had to go for it. Because she's mentally tougher than I've ever seen her, she moved through the jungle just about as fast as last year. It zapped her legs a bit more, and I think later in the stage we saw it, but not too bad. I was seeing her on the course the whole day, telling her to settle in and drink more, so I do think that maybe led to some of it. Still having a few burly days left, we'll skim a minute here and there in aid stations if it means getting what we need and not stressing the body as much.
Also, she burns through about 600-700kJ per hour on a day like this. A smaller athlete, such as herself, doesn't have as many stored calories onboard, so pushing the food and electrolytes all day was encouraged. You can see on the SRM file about 3,400kJ on the day; due to some time off the bike spent hiking, I would estimate her total expenditure around 3,600-3,700 total.
I missed her specific feed at Aid #2 by a few seconds... literally seeing her pedal away from the CTS aid station as we pulled up. But, part of the CTS Race Support is making sure we have our athletes double, even triple covered. Pua was smart in slowing down, dropping the pack, getting what she needed, and getting out quickly. Talking to her on the road, telling her to drink more, I could see she needed calories. At the next Aid, we had her get off the bike, gave some whole food, lubed the chain, brought some perspective, and off she went. The longest hill climb was next:
Making quick work of it, I never worry about Pua climbing a mountain. Look at her pacing: perfectly ridden at upper tempo to start where it's steeper, lower tempo to finish. About 2,600ft in 7.7 miles, she climbed it in 56min. Knowing that this was a big calorie and fluid burner, she again stopped at the top, filled up on everything, and off she went. On these long days, taking more onboard and in is always what I encouraged. I even gave Chris an extra bottle at the top of the hill climb, though there was only 20k left to go. And he needed it!
Pua took the stage win and finished 30-40min ahead of the next pro women, the 2011 La Ruta winner. She had a comfortable lead, but in these races, nothing is for certain. Pua knows that better than anyone, so took care of herself well and got to bed early for the next day.
The infamous Volcano Climb Day! Ticos dread it because of the altitude, gringos dread the 6,600ft climb in less than 20miles. And let's not forget the trechorous descent of volcanic rock, river crossings, mud, monkeys, and madness.
This day is not as long as day 1, which is welcoming, but nowhere close to being easy. This day usually has quite a bit of temperature change, as you climb from around 3,000ft to just below 10,000ft of altitude in less than 3hrs for many.
Pua started the day smart: climbing right where she should, right at threshold or just below for 15-20min, shedding some of the ambitious other racers who always think they have good legs at the start, but really do not.
But she too settles into the long climb. Note how the power stabilizes into the 200-220W zone. This is Pua's sweet spot for climbing on long days, at tempo or just below. Note too how the power does come down a bit, little by little as she climbs higher and higher, while the HR remains about the same. This is typical for most athletes, and though it doesn't phase Pua as much, she still feels it too. Power will come down at the same perceived effort due to decreased partial pressures of oxygen; in other words, less O2 is getting into the muscles, so it feels harder to do the same power. The athlete will either push harder to keep the watts up, or keep the effort feeling the same and let the power drop a little. In Pua's case, which is smarter for her, is to keep the effort the same and ride a pace that is sustainable, letting the power stair step down over time.
I was at the top waiting for riders to come up, freezing my butt off. Knowing it was cold, I knew Pua probably wasn't staying on top of her hydration as well as she normally does. Cold and hard efforts makes riders not want to take in fluids. The plan was to put the Camelbak on at the top, full of sports drink, get some food, and go. We made a quick pit stop, Pua put on some warm clothes, knocked down a banana and hot coffee I handed her, and off she went.
I often say you climb all the way up and then climb all the way down on today's stage. You can see Pua hitting the climbs, but just endurance riding on the way down, knowing she put in most of the time to the next female on the hill climb. You can also see the power coming back up as the altitude drops. Another 30min to the lead, she took the women's stage win and held comfortably to the overall lead.
A slightly later start to the day, but the longest distance yet to cover, the racers made their way through the mountain town of Turrialba, over a few hills, then onward toward the Carribean... but not without a few challenges along the way.
The stage with the least amount of climbing, the riders still had over 3,000ft of gain in the first 25miles. Shorter climbs, and all at sea level, you can see Pua pacing a bit higher today, at Tempo and Steady State power, on each hill. The goal was to stay with some of the top male riders so once we hit the flats, she had a group to work with. She did a wonderful job of that, as you can see at the hill climb efforts below on the power file:
But as I was driving from aid station to aid station, all I saw was Pua at the front... then pull off to let the men roll through... then the men not pulling through... then Pua doing all of the work again. Men... so, she was doing more work then than the others. More sports drink and calories for her at the next aid station.
The railroad crossings are the big mental hurdle for riders on this stage. Literally walking on railroad bridges, over rivers and gorges, it's a bit of a gut check. Last year, Pua slowed down a bit here. Mentally preparing for them this year in training, she trotted across like the champ she is and made quick work of them. In the previous year, we started a a different location, so comparing the stage this year to last doesn't do much good. Comparing the specific sections of this year to last is good. Moving through those sections just as fast even faster this year, was good to see. Flat, fast, and challenging, we see higher cadences and moderate efforts on the SRM:
Not ever really needing to dig deep on this day, knowing she just needed to finish and win was hers, Pua kept a brisk pace up, but it was riding what we call "Endurance" and "tempo" all day, or staying pretty much aerobic.
I was giving her more sports drink to take in at aid stations than planned, using the water to cool her. You can see on the power file that the temperature was in the high 90's while riding and shoots up above 100 while walking over the railroad bridges. That's important to note, as the heat stress on today's stage can zap a rider quicker than hard efforts. Fluid intake, electrolytes, and simple carbohydrates are the key to surviving this one. Hot and challenging, another 2,700kJ burned on the day, out in the elements racing for over 4.5hrs, it's a taxing day before the celebration!
Putting a final 30+ min on the next competitor, Pua crossed the line in typical classy form: bike overhead with a big smile on her face as she is crowned the Champion of La Ruta again.
Every athlete has challenges they face each year. Some huge, others small, but they always occur. Having the most reliable and accuate training and feedback in training, like the use of an SRM power meter, brings perspective and guideance to both the athlete and coach to help ensure success. We used the power meter as much as possible this year, and as you can see - it worked pretty darn well.