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An Epic Ride – Though I Would Have Preferred it Wasn’t

Strava displays a “Suffer Score” along with other summary information about each ride that you upload.  The Suffer Score is a value calculated using your heart rate during a ride relative to your maximum heart rate, and the distance ridden.  The higher your Suffer Score, the harder you worked during that ride.

A descriptor is assigned to Suffer Scores.  100 to 150 is a Tough score.  151 to 250 is an Extreme score.  Anything greater than 250 is an Epic score.

I have only twice had a Suffer Score in the Epic category.  The first was during the Kuantan Century Ride last year.  My average speed was 28 kph.  My average heart rate during that ride was 144 bpm, over a distance of 161 km.  I felt trashed for the last 20 kms of that ride.

My second Epic effort was yesterday.  I rode with four other Flipsiders from Bandar Sunway to Morib and back.  This ride was  133km.  My average speed was 26.6 kph.  Despite the shorter distance and lower average speed, my heart rate averaged 140 bpm.  Not much less than it was during the Kuantan ride.  And again I felt trashed for the last 20 kms of the ride.

I have had rides that had a lot more climbing, and were therefore more difficult  – although this wasn’t easy either, given that the sun was beating down and that the temperature felt like 36 °Celsius.

I suffered, despite the flatness of the Morib ride, due to an alarming lack of fitness.  I knew that being inactive for more than three months would have a negative effect, but I didn’t expect it to be this bad.

The route took us west along the KESAS Highway.  It was my first time riding west of Sunway Lagoon, though my companions have done this ride before.

We exited the KESAS Highway at the Bandar Botanik interchange, where we turned left onto Jalan Langat.  I have been on that section of road before, during the ride to Port Dickson, and during the Klang Premiere Century ride.

Morib

We weren’t on Jalan Langat very long before we had to make a stop at a PETRONAS petrol station.  Justin had a flat tire.  I took the opportunity to take an opportunistic photograph.

Photograph courtesy of Mark Lim

Photograph courtesy of Mark Lim

We had stopped at the PETRONAS Johan Setia.

Two hours into the ride my left arm and shoulder had started aching.  I spent a lot of time sitting up on my saddle to give my arm and shoulder a rest.  Marco is smiling in his selfie, but you can see that Mark and I are wilting in the heat.  At this point we had another fifteen kilometers to go before we got to Morib.  Those were some of the longest kilometers I have ever ridden.

Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

It was a relief to finally arrive at Taman Seri Bayou Morib.  Marked on the beach side by this pretty art installation.

Morib Sculpture

We had ridden 75 kilometers.  There were serious doubts in my mind that I would make it all the way back to Sunway.

I didn’t look it at the time, but I did feel somewhat rejuvenated after these.

Morib Dutch Lady

Four cartons of cold chocolate milk.

The others looked cheery while waiting for their nasi lemak.  I had some too.  It was very good.

Morib Makan

It was about 11.00am when we started the return leg.  This wasn’t the last sit-down I needed before we got back to Bandar Sunway.

Morib Sign

The return leg was 17 kms shorter than the outbound leg.  We had done a loop to the east of Bandar Sunway at the start.  Despite the shorter homeward distance, my average speed dropped from 27.6 kph to 25.5 kph.  Even with the slower pace, my average heart rate went up from 137 bpm to 145 bpm.  That must be when my Suffer Score ventured into Epic territory.

I really was struggling over the last 20 kms.  I kept looking at my Garmin, convinced that I had covered three or four kilometers since the last time I checked it.  Only to find that I was only fifteen hundred meters further forward.  Right about the time I was going to pack it in and collapse on the edge of the road, a rest area hove into view.  There was only about 6 kms to go, but I wouldn’t have made it without that final fifteen minute rest in the air-conditioned PETRONAS shop – and without an ice-cream.

I would have preferred an easier ride.  Especially after such a long time off the bike.  It does however make me believe that I will finish the Malacca Century Ride next Sunday.

Hopefully it won’t be another Epic!

The Cult of Strava

The Social Facilitation Theory argues that social evaluation has an impact on performance.

The psychologist Norman Triplett was the first to study this effect, starting in 1898.  He found that cyclists had better race times when in the company of other cyclists.  Further research demonstrated something we now consider obvious:  humans try harder when matched against others. Later work would demonstrate that the mere presence of others could inspire us to work harder.

Fast forward 110 years.   Social facilitation meets social sharing (think Facebook) and Strava is born.  Cyclists now have a way to record the details of a ride and compare those details with those of every other Strava member who has done the same ride.  Thanks to a smartphone app that does away with the need for a dedicated cycling GPS, some one million cyclists use Strava today, and that user base continues to grow.  Cyclists now have access to social evaluation on a massive scale.

Thousands of Strava users have created segments, or specific sections, of their cycling routes.  Any segments will be displayed as part of your ride data in the Strava application.

Strava Segment

The segments table shows your performance on the current ride relative to your previous efforts on the same ride.  Each segment is identified, and the segment distance, elevation, and your performance parameters are displayed.  If your latest performance on a segment is one of your better ones you get a little medal:  gold for a Personal Record, silver for a 2nd best and bronze for a 3rd best time.

Click on a segment and social facilitation comes into play.

Strava Leaderboard

Note: Rider names have been deleted

Now you see your best performance on a segment relative to every other rider on Strava who has ridden the same segment.  I see I need to ride this segment just 0.1 kph faster to be in the top 50!

If I want a hit to my ego I can view the results for men only.  Fortunately for my ego there is only one woman ahead of me on the leaderboard for this segment.  For now.

If I want to feel better I can view the results by age group.  There are only six of us in the 55 to 64 age group for this segment so I am definitely in the top ten!

The ability to virtually compete against others should be a boon, and it is for most riders.  Strava was created to encourage cyclists to train, to climb higher and go faster.  I get a kick out of achieving new personal bests, and this is true for many others as well.

I don’t have the physical gifts to challenge for King of the Mountain (KOM) status.  So there is no chance of seeing one of these, which signifies being atop a segment leaderboard,  on my Strava profile.

Strava KOM

I have been known to push hard for the fastest time in my age group for certain segments though.  Social facilitation in action.

The same social facilitation effect can be a bane as well.  There are people out there who are so competitive that every ride is a do-or-die race in the hunt for KOM crowns.   In some cases literally.  William Flint was killed when he collided with an oncoming car on a downhill stretch of road while apparently trying to reclaim his KOM status.

And in a sad reflection of the recent state of affairs in the professional peloton, riders so inclined can now even artificially enhance their Strava results by giving their data a boost with the help of the website DigitalEPO.com.

I’ll leave the KOM sniping to the insanely driven Type A personality riders.  But I do wonder if I can knock two seconds off my time for the Puchong Jaya climb tonight.

By the Numbers

I bought a Garmin Edge 705 when my first road bike was delivered.  I used it initially to record where and how far I had ridden.  You can download the details of your rides to a Garmin website called Garmin Connect.  Among other things Garmin Connect displays maps showing exactly where you went on your ride, or run or hike.  It was fun to be able to show my biker chick where I had gone on my bike.

Garmin Edge 705

When I started doing longer rides with the West End group I used the speed display to help me keep a consistent pace when I took my turns at the front of the peloton.  I hadn’t bothered to install the speed sensor, or the cadence sensor for that matter.  I depended on the speed data calculated by the GPS chip. I used the heart rate monitor out of a casual interest in what my pulse rate was rather than as a training aid.

I rode solo during my first year in the Netherlands.  The “Back To Start” function came in useful on more than one occasion.  One canal, or windmill, 0r field of cows looks much like another.  No help when you are lost and 40 km / 25 mi from home.

The heart rate monitor saw some serious use once I started doing organised rides (by that I mean longer and faster than I was used to) with the Not Possibles.  By that time I had a rough idea of what my heart rate zones were.  Tracking my pulse rate helped me manage my effort so that I didn’t wear myself out before the end of the ride.

Since 31st January 2010 I have been transferring all my rides to Garmin Connect.  There are 412 rides in my account.  I took a look at all that data today.

The first set of numbers shows how much ground I have covered on my bicycles in three and a half years.  Enough to get me from Kuala Lumpur to Warsaw and back.  24,448 km / 15,191 mi.

Total KM

68% of my time since January 2010 has been spent in the Netherlands.  It follows that most of that pedaling was amongst windmills and canals.

What surprised me was the average length of my rides.

Ave KM

I hadn’t expected the average Houston ride to be slightly longer than the average Den Haag ride.  I must have done more 20 to 30 km / 12 to 18 mi rides in Holland than I thought.

I am not surprised that the average ride length has dropped in Kuala Lumpur.  I do the Damansara Heights ride fairly regularly.  That one never exceeds 16 km / 10 mi.  The Putrajaya ride tops out at just over 20 km / 12 mi.

The shorter rides in Kuala Lumpur are somewhat made up for by more frequent rides as compared to Houston and Den Haag.

Ride Frequency

I rode on average every 4 days in Houston.  In Kuala Lumpur it is every 2.6 days.  I put that down to linking up with a group of cyclists as soon as I arrived in Kuala Lumpur.  There are four or five groups rides per week in Kuala Lumpur.  There were three weekly group rides in Houston, and only one per week in Den Haag.

Elevation data is suspect.  The barometric altimeter in the Edge 705 is not accurate if it is not calibrated before every ride..  I don’t bother.  Websites like Strava and Ride With GPS allow users to overwrite GPS elevation data with data calculated using a variety of data sources and algorithms.  This “corrected” elevation data is often, but not always, more reliable.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to look at elevation data for comparative reasons.  I did expect the data to show that rides in Kuala Lumpur require the most climbing.

Ave Climbing

The average for Houston surprised me at first, but upon reflection it makes sense.  Chappell Hill was within easy reach by car.  We rode quite a bit there.  Training for the hills of Austin that were to come in the BP MS150!

The Netherlands is as flat as advertised.  Cyclists are only partly joking when they say they go to a multi-storey car park to practice hill climbs.  The Dutch hide some elevation in the dunes along the coast but that is about it.  The climbing average for Den Haag is padded by a few visits to Limburg and Belgium, where there are some real hills.

Regular readers will already know that I was startled by the degree of climbing required when riding around Kuala Lumpur.

Total Climbing

It won’t be long before I surpass the number of meters I climbed whilst in the low country.

The final number is also for guidance only.  You know what I mean if you have ever looked at the “calories burned” numbers that exercise machines produce.

Bic Macs

However I won’t let details get in the way of feeling pleased with myself for burning the caloric equivalent of 1,802 Big Macs.

A milestone ahead, pardon the pun, is 25,000 km / 15,534 mi total distance.  I’ll be beyond 1,000,000 calories burned by then.  I wonder what number that would be in nasi lemak terms?