Friday, 12 August 2011


Before I had Otter, I had fitness. I had watts. I had several seasons of consistent training and racing, virtually injury-free, and with some pretty decent results.

This is what my PMC looked like:
January to October 2010: Before Otter

In January I was just starting to rebuild after a couple of months off following the Ironman world championships in mid-October, and 2010 was the season I went from triathlete to cyclist. The big peaks indicate periods of huge training loads (February in Lanzarote, April with lots of road racing, July at the Ras Cymru). Between the peaks -- which were followed by actual peaks in performance -- there are a few troughs where life took over: illness, minor injuries, holidays. The end of the season in early October coincided with peaking for hill climbs, thus shorter more intense training sessions for very short (~5 minute) races. Over the whole season I went from a CTL of just under 70 to a peak of over 120, then tailed off to 85 by end of season.

With this in mind, I had great ideas of how life would be once she was born, how I would take a few weeks to recover then get back into shape as quickly as possible. Hours-long road races and TTs were out, of course, but shorter stuff like hill climbs seemed like just the thing I could do after childbirth. Supposedly my extra red blood cells would mean a kick to my Vo2max and everyone knows that you lose weight while breastfeeding, right? HA HA.

This is my PMC now:
October 2010 to August 2011: After Otter

From the 85 I was at last October, my CTL fell dramatically over the winter, picked up again in spring, then went into freefall to an all-time low of 30 at the start of August. I'm holding that steady now, but not really building it back up, though that's more due to lack of time to train than lack of desire.

But even with an unplanned c-section (and my fitness did play a big role in helping me recover quickly from that), I still thought post-birth that I could fulfill my pre-birth expectations. Two weeks afterwards I rode my bike for the first time -- stamina was low, legs felt terrible, but ah the fresh air! The wind on my face and the sun on my arms! Never mind the watts.

Then a few more weeks passed and my power didn't seem to be improving. Worse yet my body just didn't want to push itself much. And apart from the massive weight loss I got in the week after she was born, I wasn't losing any more! It felt like I was newly pregnant again -- outwardly not looking too bad, but inwardly no legs, no motivation, no power. And no sleep to boot. Still, I was happy to be out on the bike. Though starting to rethink my expectations a bit. Ok, definitely no road races. Probably not even a 10 mile TT, especially with wrecked ab muscles and a sore lower back in desperate need of some core work. Even hill climbing, that beacon of hope in the distance, was starting to look pretty unlikely.

Nine weeks in, I now have to admit that 2011 is going to be a washout season. My FTP has barely climbed from the 185 watts I had in April to 205 watts today. Last year's 240-250 watts seems like a dream. The last 5kgs of pregnancy weight is not going to come off my body without a fight -- probably not til Christmas when Otter starts to wean, or maybe even later til I completely stop breastfeeding. Which means that there's no way I'll attempt hill-climbing, which is all about low weight and high watts. Pretty much the opposite of what I have now!

So 2011 is the season that wasn't. Quite forgettable in athletic terms... yet so memorable in life terms. We have the best prize of all -- we have Otter! What's a few missed races and lost watts when I have a beautiful kid to show for my efforts.


How long til she's on a bike of her own?

Saturday, 18 June 2011

New Beginnings

I should have known that going out and buying a swimsuit appropriate for my 9-months-pregnant body would mean I'd use it once and promptly go into labour. And that's exactly what happened, I went for a swim on Monday night, the day after my due date, and that night woke up in a puddle. Four days of latent labour, full waters being broken, induction leading to the most pain I've ever felt in my life, and a c-section later, we had our little one, a girl we've named Otter. She weighed 8lbs 9oz at birth, but at only 19 inches long it's looking like she takes after short stocky me rather than tall lanky Jim. She was a superstar throughout the entire labour, her HR very steady and showing no distress, and scoring a 9 out of 10 on the one-minute Apgar test (10 out of 10 at five minutes). In fact, she appears to be very strong and fit and the midwives have nothing but compliments for us.

Despite a stressful and tiring labour for me -- both physically and emotionally -- I'm recovering well (something I chalk up to my great fitness going into it) and already looking forward to when I can get on my bike again. I'll give it another week then start out with gentle spinning on the turbo and see how it goes. My CTL has already plummetted to below 50 in the short time I've been off the bike, with more to lose before I can start back again, but that was to be expected.

Otter at 24hrs old
Otter at 24hrs old

Just in case it sounds like I'm bragging or overconfident or anything... let it be known that I'm really just getting through each day as it comes, trying to catch sleep when I can, nursing very sore nipples (and massive knockers, wahey!) and generally letting Otter lead me as to what she needs and when. Having a newborn glued to you nearly 24/7 is quite a bit harder than I imagined. When Jim goes back to work next week it'll be even more challenging. But it seems Otter is a pretty easy baby so there's that to be thankful for at least!

I have no idea what I'm doing!

So over the next little while, I'll be doing more supporting than riding while Jim does a few TTs he's entered. I'll have to live my racing life a bit vicariously through him, though I hope myself to manage a 10-mile TT by end of summer, then a few hill climbs. Racing a crit isn't out of the question but I'm not holding myself to it. Longer road races are quite unlikely as I just won't have the time to train for or race them well. Instead I'll dig out my running shoes again and start to build up the miles there for the autumn cross-country season. Once Otter is big enough to go in a jogger, we'll buy one. But I think a bike seat is still a long ways off!

My favourite view of Jim in TT mode

Sunday, 5 June 2011

June 5

Today was my due date. And I rode 35km in Richmond Park, mostly to say that I did it. Total of 75km ridden this week. Goal accomplished! No pics to mark the occasion but I can verify that I'm now wearing one of Jim's medium-sized KW jerseys, my quads hit the bottom of my bump with every pedal revolution (giving me an unintentional bowleggedness) and afterwards my ribs feel battered and bruised from having a 8-pound baby's legs squashed into them. An hour to 90 minutes is my max these days on the bike then I've had enough.

Ironically I feel fairly fit still -- in fact, I put in the highest peak 1-minute and 5-minute power I've seen in about six weeks, though that was partly due to my annoyance at how many slow and silly cyclists were in my way today! -- but riding a bike is ceasing to be much fun now. Glad to have ridden as long as I did but the time has come to stop I think.

So... the other day I finally relented and bought a swimsuit to fit my giant whale-like shape. Tomorrow or the next day I'll visit the pool for a swim. Looking forward to it actually, as it'll be a novelty to swim with such a huge belly -- will I float more than usual or start sinking? What'll work best, freestyle, backstroke, or breastroke (dare I say butterfly)? All of this will be interesting to discover and it'll give me something to keep my mind and body occupied while I wait for this now-overdue baby to make an appearance.

But sorry, no pics of me in said swimsuit will follow. It was bad enough seeing myself in the changeroom mirror when I tried it on!

For those with no imagination, I'll probably look something like this.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Training Partners

It's a good thing I wrote my last post when I did and not a week later, as it's true what everyone says about 30 weeks and beyond: the baby grows by half a pound a week, your lungs get more and more compressed, and life is suddenly a lot tougher again. Three weeks on and I can't even run up a flight of stairs without feeling completely winded! These days my rides have as few rises in the road as possible, and my usual quick out-of-the-saddle sprint to get through roundabouts and come out of corners has been reduced to a slow careful slog.

But I can't complain as I'm still fairly comfortable on the bike, the weather has turned to glorious spring, and the longer days means more time to ride in the evenings. It could be a whole lot worse, and frankly I'm going to plan this timing for the next kid too -- it would be horrible to be 30 weeks in the middle of autumn with nothing but dark dreary short days to look forward to for the next four months.

As I've been forced to watch many others pass me by -- quite literally, as every cyclist on a road bike these days overtakes me -- it's been interesting to contemplate this dramatic fall in speed and power and think about my journey through various training partners since I got pregnant. I hesitate to say "regression" though that's of course what it's been; it's nicer to think of it in terms of getting to know various folks in the club as I join them on rides I'd have rarely done otherwise.

Pre-pregnancy to week 6
Still riding lots with Jim and the other 2nd/3rd cat racers in my club, which means hard training sessions and hammerfests that really push my limits at times. Club runs are those of the more social variety as recovery and mental health rides, where I hold back a lot on the flats and drop most people on the climbs whether I'm trying to or not. In other words, I'm in pretty peak form.

Weeks 6-18
The sudden influx of morning sickness means faster-paced club runs are about as hard as I care to ride. Full of fit guys and girls, not road racers but strong TTers and hardened sportivers nonetheless, up for pushing the effort from time to time but mostly wanting a steady good-paced ride and that suits me fine. It's touch and go at times, and I end up doing a lot of solo rides as I just can't tell on any given day how good or bad I'll feel or if I'll want to bail after an hour. But by the end of November I'm still going pretty well, having only gained a few kgs. We hold a club race skills training day at Hillingdon and the 4-lap scratch race at the end turns out to be more fun than I thought. Things are looking up, and when the snow flies just before Christmas I'm out on the cross bike having a blast. Racing has gone out the window though, after a few half-hearted attempts at cross and getting too depressed with how slow I am, I decide my season is officially done, and I'm now sucking the wheels of those fit guys and girls starting their winter training periods.

Weeks 19-29
I'm feeling much better, more or less back to normal, though the weight is piling on and this is having some adverse effects. "Club run pace" is the default for me now, with the occasional burn-up at the end. Raising my stem about 2cm helps accommodate the growing bulk in my midsection, but I find myself having to reach down and physically shift my belly upwards to get comfortable on the bike as occasionally I get a side stitch or ache from the awkwardness of it. I buy an 11-32 cassette (eschewing the 11-34 thinking I'll never want a 34-tooth cog... ha ha, how naive is that!), prompting the guys at Sigma Sport to refer to it as the "maternity cassette". Nonetheless, my ego gets a shock when I end up having to get off and walk up the last 200m of steep and nasty Pebblehill Road near Boxhill. Still, it's going well and I'm actually gaining fitness back, able to do long rides of over four hours and 100km as long as I can stop to pee every hour!

In fact in March I do more miles than I have since the previous July, helped by numerous midweek "work dodgers" rides with fellow Wheelers who are off work or working strange shifts. Of course, the average speed is a lot slower and towards the latter weeks I find myself deliberately avoiding routes with steeper hills. The top corner of Coombe Road, or the steep early section of Crocknorth is about all I can manage now. It's starting to get more than frustrating being dropped up every hill, no matter the gradient, by average club run pace folks, but I can still hold my own on the rollers and flat sections. Ironically, descending becomes more fun and secure with the extra weight, not to mention faster! I'm still leading club runs but generally from 3rd wheel shouting out the turns rather than sitting on the front a lot myself. Clubmates are starting to make jokes about whether they should be prepared to deliver a baby on a ride, and any time I fall to the back of the group I'm met with concerned looks and questions of whether I'm feeling all right.

Weeks 30-?
The end of March sees me off the bike for an entire week as I juggle all the tasks of moving into a new house and getting out of the old flat. The movers come and I can barely go up two flights of stairs empty-handed let alone lift or move many boxes. It's shocking how breathless I've suddenly become, and how quickly my heart races with any small effort. Finally a few days after moving into the new house I get out for a glorious sunny ride and manage 22km/h average speed for the first hour. Three hours later I make it home quite exhausted and I have to admit my 100km riding days are over for now. Club runs now see me volunteering to lead the "newbie" ride, with its slow pace on the flats and even slower pace up the hills (I'm last up the two shallowest hills we ride -- the so-called backmarker -- and get dropped easily now on the smallest of rollers). Richmond Park laps are of the TT-course variety, avoiding both Dark Hill at Kingston gate and Test hill near Robin Hood gate. Any headwind on a hill sees me slow to a virtual crawl. Where's that 34-tooth cog I should have bought!

Worst of all, I no longer have any mental desire to work hard, and my legs feel like jelly if I do. My HR shoots up so high with any effort that I have to ease off otherwise I feel sick. It's like the first trimester all over again, only 25lbs heavier. Riding has become about getting out for some sun and fresh air, and all thoughts of power or speed or effort are completely gone. It's hard to guess what my FTP might be, but I suspect I could not hold more than 175w for an hour these days. Luckily I can diesel along at 130w for several hours still, but I'm getting less and less motivated to ride, and more and more fearful of hills. Still, I'm pretty stubborn and have yet to pull out my upright old MTB for a last-ditch resort to ride on the flat towpaths. Even as I see my CTL drop again (after hitting a max of 85 in week 29) I can't be too fussed about it. Even with the nice weather, I just don't feel like riding much anymore. Though at least I still have a few training partners left, the guys who are coming back from injury or extended lay-offs or just plain fat unfit cabbies (you know who you are!)

The final weeks
This is where it all becomes a mystery. I had said I wanted to keep riding til my birthday which would be the end of the 37th week, but that's looking like a big ask now. To be honest, I'd be happy to go into labour by then! A few weeks early is starting to look like a great plan. In the meantime I'll have to start making plans to stay active somehow. The pool is seeming most likely, and brisk walking seems to feel like proper exercise. In fact, anything but sitting on the couch feels like work...

The future
Over the past several months I've gone through the whole gamut, from riding with the strongest and fittest members of my club to riding with the weakest. It's been strange to measure myself against others and watch the slow decline in performance, knowing that a group I join to ride with will soon be saying good-bye a short while later as they leave me behind. I can only hope that the months after the baby see me progressing back up through the groups, improving the way I declined til finally I can ride with Jim again at his speed. Though of course riding with Jim again is going to mean a whole new problem to solve for both of us! But it's something I've really missed so it's worth the effort to make it happen in the future, even for just a rare Sunday. Anyone want to baby-sit?

29 weeks
33 weeks

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

"So how long are you going to keep riding?"

... must be the most frequently asked question of me these days when I'm out on a group ride. I guess people assume that sooner or later I'll stop, and I guess I will stop at some point. But when? Who knows? I always say in reply, "as long as I can!" then add that while I've never done gone through a pregnancy before and really can't predict what will happen, I'll continue to ride as long as I'm comfortable and healthy and happy with it. Which is true. I see no reason to get off my bike and with the days getting longer again and the weather improving, the last thing I want to do is stop riding!

The funny thing is, after a huge drop in fitness last autumn (that first trimester really kicked my ass), I've been bouncing back quite steadily. Late last summer, post-peak and post-holidays, my CTL was hovering around 100 with a few road races and a handful of hill climbs to go before taking a real break. Then I got pregnant and by Week 6 -- within two weeks of the embryo implanting itself -- morning sickness had hit and my life was turned upside down.

It was like suffering a two-month hangover. Energy I used to have disappeared, I suddenly went completely off some foods and couldn't get enough of others, training became a miserable chore (so I stopped training, though of course I kept riding), and generally I felt like crap for the next eight weeks. My CTL plummetted from 100 to 59 by mid-November and while I started to feel better around this point and managed to get out more (week 14 marked a big turning point), the bad weather and then going away for Christmas kept me from any consistent riding for a few more weeks.

In the meantime, I had lost a lot of power and had to rejig my FTP to compensate for it. Not wanting to do any proper FTP testing (and I suspect my power curve has gone a bit haywire these days anyway, what with my top end aerobic power dropping like a rock but my low level endurance dieselling along like it always has), I estimated my threshold using perceived effort and muddling with the intensity factor of various rides.

This meant my tried-and-tested 240w FTP in late September was cut nearly 15% to 210w in one fell swoop in early October (numbers from the National Hill Climb in late October, the only race I've cared about since I got pregnant, confirm this). Then from the end of November onwards I gradually gained some back, leaving me with about 215-220w these days, though I feel that may drop again as my lungs seem to become more and more encroached by a growing baby! So my PMC chart below is based on those estimates, meaning the TSS and CTL numbers will be a best estimate as well.

PMC from September til now (week 28).

I was interested right from the start in trying to stay as fit as possible throughout pregnancy, and scientific curiosity motivated me to track it as best I could. So much to my delight, about halfway through the second trimester I realised that I was getting stronger again, and actually wanting to push myself a bit harder. Within reason of course! My body simply won't let me push into uncomfortable territory for long these days anyway; I can hover happily around a sweet-spot tempo effort but any hard effort leaves me cranky and tired afterwards.

But I can still ride lots and often, as long as I stop frequently and put easy days between hard days. Last week I had a TSS of 780, putting in over 350km and 13 hours of riding, the most I've done in any week since September. And since my season's low of 56 CTL at end of December, I've managed to climb steadily back up to 75. Eventually I will have to stop riding, but if I can keep that kind of fitness going between now and then I'll be pretty happy.

Obligatory bump shot:

That silly look must be what they mean by "glowing"?

Bump in KW kit