Cycling, walking, hitting a ball

I must confess to having lapsed a bit on the cycling this last couple of months. This is only temporary and I am no less enthusiastic about social and leisure cycling and as a means of transport. The relative lapse is due in some part to how successful cycling has been as part of my retirement strategy to lose weight and get fit. As I’ve got lighter and fitter I have started to enjoy walking again and have been tempted back on to the squash court. I gave up regular squash and cycling at much the same time at the age of about 40, the beginning of my slippery slope to obesity and sloth.

I'm on the right of the picture, shell shocked after finishing as runner up in a handicap racketball tournament.

I’m on the right of the picture, shell shocked after finishing as runner up in a handicap racketball tournament.

Since August I have been playing racketball, similar to squash and played on the same indoor courts. I’ve joined the Bradford U3A racketball group and we play twice a week. I still seem to have a good squash brain and my speed around the court and stroke play are getting better. I have managed to win a small local U3A handicap tournament and was runner up in another. This was partly due to me being at the time an unknown and playing in some old track bottoms and plimsolls. All this led to a generous handicap!  I have added to my list of targets, alongside some sportives, to enter the Yorkshire Closed Racketball Championships in the over 65 category next September. And as of this week I am the U3A national racketball advisor with the role of networking and developing racketball in other U3A regions. Racketball can be just as competitive and demanding as squash but because it is easier to learn and play decent rallies it is particularly good for beginners of all ages. I enjoy very much the sessions with the ‘mixed ability’ U3A group. Several of us are ex-squash players but most are new to racket sports. We have an excellent coach, Saeed, and an extensive repertoire of skills practice routines and various ways of playing games that allow individuals of widely varying ability to play on near equal terms. We all get plenty of exercise in a safe and supportive environment and enjoy the social side when we finish a session and go to the club cafe and bar. Some of the keener members have joined the club that hosts our U3A sessions so they can play in the club ladders and mini-leagues.

In addition to this I have developed a range of walks from my home though the greenbelt of the Aire Valley. These make use of an extensive network of paths and bridleways through mixed pasture and woodland. They range in length between 2 and 6 miles, nearly all off road, and typically I do them non-stop at an average speed of 3.5 miles an hour. I’m doing these walks about 3 time a week. This with the racketball and the occasional session on my turbo rollers is helping me get a bit fitter and not put on any weight.

I have definitely lapsed on the diet side of things. I got down to 14 stone 3 lb early in the summer but have stabilised at 14 stone 7 for the last 3 months. I’m not unhappy about this and in any case I couldn’t go on losing weight at the same rate as I had for the first year when I started at 17 stone 7 lbs. I’ll be happy to get through the winter at about where I am now and have a push to lose another stone by spring. I’m not anticipating too much trouble achieving this as I will get more exercise from racketball as I improve and get more involved in competitive play and  I will be increasing my cycling as soon as the weather takes a turn for the better.

Report after 12 months activity

This post reports on activity for June, July and August and completes the first year’s progress. At the beginning of this 3 months my weight was 14 stone 4 lb and, as this was my weight at the end, I clearly lost no weight over the period. In face I put on about 8 lbs over the 2 holidays I had – cycling in Islay and 2 weeks in France. So arguably I lost 8 lbs, sort of!

June Summary:
Road  168 miles,  9183 calories
Turbo 1 hours 45 mins, 782 calories
Weight 14 stone 3 lb, weight loss 1 lb
Exercise 9965 calories = 2.85 lb so diet = +1.85 lb
Note: put on about 6 lbs on Islay 1st week!

July Summary:
Road 52.3miles, 3353 calories
Turbo 45 mins, 445calories
Weight 14 stone 3 lb; total weight loss 0 lb
Exercise 9965 calories = 2.85 lb so diet = +2.85 lb

August Summary:
Road 99.4 miles, 6,206 calories
Turbo 30 mins, 265 calories
Total weight gain 1 lb; final 14 stone 4 lb
Exercise 6471 calories = 1.85 lb  so diet = + 0.85 lb

The overall effect of gaining weight on holiday, sliding a bit more generally in between times and not doing as much cycling as I had hoped means that I have plateaued at 14 stone 4 lb. I had a bad and recurring cold over this period too that curtailed my activity. However, overall weight loss for the year is 3 stone 1 lb, leaving me in a good place to start the next push to get down to 13 stone 7 lb.

Report after 9 months activity

This post follows on from the previous 2 activity reports – the first 3 months activity (summarising September, October and November) and  December to February activity. This post will summarises my activity for March, April and May after which I was 14 stone 4 lb. It has been a good 3 months with 8 lb weight loss. However, cycling activity has tailed off in June so fitness is probably static.

Turbo sessions, 3 hours 41 minutes, 1875 calories
Road rides, 51 miles, 4 hours 33 minutes, 3467 calories
End weight 14 stone 9 lb
Total weight loss 3 lb
Exercise 1.5 lb, diet 1.5 lb
Calories per minute 12.7 road,  8.5 turbo

Turbo sessions, 4 hours 1 mins, 1812 calories
Road rides,114.7 miles, 7427 calories
End weight 14 stone 7 lbs
Total weight loss 2 lb
Exercise 9239 calories = 2.6 lb so diet = +0.6 lb

Turbo sessions 2 hours 33 mins, 985 calories
Road rides 18.4 miles 1,269 calories
Weight loss 3 lb
Total weight loss
Exercise calories 2254 = 0.6 lb, diet weight loss = 2.4 lb

Weight at end of month, 14 stone 4 lb.

Preparation for sportives

Quite a few months ago I registered for the Otley Intermediate Sportive to be run on the 14th September. At the time I was coping just about OK with 12 miles or so social rides and so thought that by September I would able to handle the 29 miles of the gently undulating provisional route advertised. However, when the finalised route was published quite recently it had been increased to 36 miles. This is not in itself a problem as I did a flattish 35 mile ride a few weeks ago the east of Leeds and managed OK despite being very tired at the end. The problem with the new sportive route is that it is significantly hilly. It climbs Norwood Edge, a National Hill Climb venue, about 1 mile long with an average gradient of 9% with the first third rearing up at between 12% and 17%. There are quite a few other significant climbs as well. The finalised route can be viewed on the Garmin website (For contrast, this is the provisional 26 mile route


This will be taking on a great deal more than I had anticipated. My road bike has a bottom gear of 33 inches. I find I am having to resort to this on gradients of 6% so I will definitely be struggling on most of Norwood Edge, which rarely slackens off to below 6%, and some of the other climbs. I may find some sections unridable. I have about 2 and a half months to get lighter and fitter for this but it’s a big ask. I will do it and should be able to finish in the maximum time allowance which I think is calculated at 8 mph so it should be about 4 hours 54 mins. I will probably try to ride Norwood Edge a couple of weeks before the event and perhaps the whole route to get an idea of how I will do. I’m thinking about driving it in the next couple of weeks or so but I suspect this will scare me to death!

In the meantime I’ve decided to revert to toe clips and straps on my new bike. The new clipless  pedals I bought and the shoes that go with them (all Shimano SPD) are fine and I’m sure I will use these in the future. But for the moment I need to use shoes that are more comfortable and easier to walk in when I get to the hills!

The marginal gain of ageing

lardSince I started on this project to lose weight and get fitter through a change in eating and getting back on my bike I have so far lost 3 stone 1 lb. That is 39 x 500 gramme packets of lard. One thing that has surprised me a bit and which I found rather disconcerting, initially at least, was that a rather skinny individual was emerging as the blubber disappeared. I rather assumed I would begin to see something like the body shape I had in my 30s, or perhaps 40s. It is quite clear however that over the last 30 years or so (I’m 67 now) I have lost a fair bit of muscle and my arms and legs are quite a bit thinner than they used to be. This has been largely disguised by the build up of fat over the same period but is now becoming apparent. This probably partly explains the high fat percentage I had, round 40% last October, since my lean weight was going down at the same time that my fat weight was going up. It is now roundabout 31%, a lot better but a way to go to get into the 17% to 25% that is regarded as healthy for my age. I’m not quite sure what the calculation is but I guess I will need to lose another 18 lb or so to get down to the 25% upper limit. At present rate of progress this could be about the end of November.

As I’ve indicated in other posts, it looks like about 30% of my weight loss is down to the cycling and the other 70% due to changes in my eating habits. So diet has been the main factor. From the point of view of cycling for someone like me performance gains are usually down to losing weight and thus improving the power/weight ratio. In fact losing 3 stone even without getting any fitter would have improved my performance significantly even without any increase in fitness and power. But there is no doubt that, through the cycling, my fitness has improved significantly. My resting pulse is now 55 bpm (down from 75) and my blood pressure has come down to normal from being rather high. The long up hill drags that make up a large part of my regular local training runs are now ridden in slightly higher gears at a slightly faster speed, due both to weight loss and improved fitness. Nothing dramatic but encouraging signs of progress.

So perhaps the fact that I have lost muscle bulk over the last 30 years or so is a small blessing in disguise. If I continue to lose weight and strengthen the muscles through cycling without putting any more muscle on I may improve a little more than I had expected. There are all sorts of well documented factors in the ageing process that lead to physical deterioration, limitations on heart and lung function, maximum power outputs, recovery times and so on. Perhaps a small off-set to this can be a changing body shape. As you get older you can get meaner and leaner. In fact changing body shape has been an increasingly important part of elite athletes’ training and dietary regimes and strategies in recent years. Bradley Wiggins’ strenuous efforts to shed a few kilogrammes in pursuit of Grand Tour success is well known. And of course a major factor in Lance Armstrong’s transformation from a Tour also ran to a 7 times winner (leaving aside other reasons) is the equally dramatic transformation in his body shape after cancer.

December to February activity

The first 3 months activity, September, October and November, were summarised in the post earlier. This is a summary of December, January and February. At the beginning last September I weighed about 17 stone, By the end of the first 3 months I was down to 15 stone 10 lbs. Now, at the end of February, I am down to 14 stone 12 lbs. Weight loss has been quite a bit slower therefore but this period covers Christmas and the New Year. In fact I put on about 3 pounds over December. In addition my riding on the road has reduced quite a bit, perhaps not surprising given it is winter. On the whole I am pleased with my progress and I am on target to get below 14 stone in another 3 months, the end of May, when I will probably take delivery of a new Chris Hoy road bike.

12 x turbo sessions total minutes 380
1 road ride 11 miles
End weight 15 stone 10 lb

14 x turbo sessions total minutes 425
2 road rides total 13 miles
End weight 15 stone 5 lb

11 x turbo sessions total minutes 355
4 road rides total 41 miles
End weight 14 stone 12 lb

Following a rough calculation I did in an earlier post I decided it would be interesting to calculate each month’s weight loss as a percentage due to exercise and to calorie reduced diet. On the basis that 1 lb loss is the equivalent of a 3,500 calorie deficit it is possible to use the calories burnt figure given by a combination of my Polar HR monitor and the Garmin ride calculator to calculate weight loss due to exercise and this as a percentage of the total loss over each month. The figures for the months I have the data for are:

November: Total loss 6 lb, loss due to exercise 2.25 lb or 37% (exercise calories = 7861)

December: Total gain(!) 3 lb, loss due to exercise 1.1 lb, presumably the gain would have been 4.1 lb without the exercise  (exercise calories = 3987)

January: Total loss 5 lb, loss due to exercise 1.48 lb or 30%  (exercise calories = 5185)

February: Total loss 7 lb, loss due to exercise 1.7 lb or 24% (exercise calories 6,079)

December included the festive season of course and equivalent to a 2 week break in exercise. It looks like a pattern is emerging of 7 lb loss per 3 months with about 25%-30% dues to cycling. My weight at the end of February is 14 stone 12 lb so by the end of May I could be down to 13 stone 5 lb. This would amount to a total loss of 4 stone since July last year.

The importance of ‘weight’ training

This post is mainly a list of resources, links and quotes about the relationship between fitness, weight and cycling performance. As I have discovered myself, losing weight is the single most effective way to improve performance. I guess this is pretty obvious really. Given the same level of fitness and strength, you will go further, go faster, climb hills more easily if you are not carrying several kilos of lard with you. I am undoubtedly fitter and stronger now than I was 6 months ago. But the improvement in my performance on the road, especially on the climbs, is all about my 2 stone weight loss. I’ve read in several places now that the key to weight loss is calorie reduction and that in most sensible and doable diet/exercise regimes typically 80% of weight loss comes from changes in eating. My experience, so far at least, seems to confirm this.

The arithmetic is quite simple. One pound of fat stored is 3500 calories. It takes 3500 calories worth of exercise to reduce your fat store by 1 lb. So, taking last November as an example, I burnt about 8000 calories on my bike, on the road and on the turbo. This amount to 2.25 lbs of fat. However I lost 9 lbs that month. So, in a fairly active month, 75% of my weight loss is down to my reduced calorie diet and 25% to cycling. In December I only did 4000 calories worth on the bike and had put 2 lb on by the end of the month. Presumably I’d have put on 3 lb without the exercise. January is looking a lot better and so far I have done 4000 calories worth already with a week to go. So far I have lost a further 4 lbs since New Year, again about 25% down to the exercise.

Hopefully the next stone will come off over the rest of winter and I will be down to under 14 stone 7 lbs by the end of March. If I succeed it will be mainly down to keeping the calories down in my diet. However, come the Spring and Summer, and with the new bike I will buy when I’m down to under 15 stone, there should be a significant increase in my cycling and the 75%/25% ratio between dietary and exercise weight loss should shift significantly in favour of exercise.


Riding at a moderate speed (12 – 14 mph) you will burn approximately 235 calories per half hour depending on weight but this is about right for turbos and rollers I think.


Those seeking to attain the proper power-to-weight ratio often follow this rule of thumb, per the Cycling Performance Tips website: The number of pounds you carry should be no more than twice your height in inches.

So, at 6 foot, I need to weigh 10 stone 4 lb!!

Improve Cycling Performance – Optimize Body Weight

Losing five kilograms of body weight results in a remarkable 7.7-8% increase in cycling performance. That means that each kilogram of body weight is worth 4.5-5 watts of power. That’s huge, especially if you’re a masters level cyclist and your best VO2 max days are behind you.

Nutrition: Lose the pounds to gain speed and power

Wiggins told the London Evening Standard that the weight loss meant he was “carrying the equivalent of six bags of sugar less up a mountain”, adding that 1kg of body weight over a 30-minute climb equals one minute in time……

After checking your body composition you should only aim to shift any excess weight slowly and steadily. “It’s important that weight loss is modest and is no more than approximately 1lb to 2lb per week,” says Gavin Reynoldson, a teaching fellow at the University of Bath’s Department of Sports Development. “This can be achieved by reducing energy intake by about 500Kcal per day. Any more than that will likely result in impaired performance and loss of muscle mass.”

For example, for those with a light training programme (less than an hour a day of low intensity exercise) he advises 5-7g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass per day, but for a cyclist undertaking an extreme exercise programme (more than four to five hours of moderate to high intensity cycling such as a stage race), he advises 10-12g of carbohydrate per kg of body mass per day. In real terms, a piece of bread has approximately 20g of carbohydrate, and 50g of dry-weight rice has about 30g of carbohydrate.

So for me (99 kilos x 6g) this means 594 grams of carbohydrate, equivalent to 30 slices of bread or 20 x 50g portions of rice.


Some authors have suggested that riding at slow speeds (<50% VO2 max) is preferred for a weight loss program as more of the Calories expended will be supplied from fat tissue storage at lower levels of exercise. Let’s look at this argument in more detail. If you ride at 65% VO2max, your body’s fat stores will provide about half of your Caloric needs and the other half will come from glycogen reserves. At 85% VO2max, the relative number of Calories supplied from fat fall to about one third of the total number expended with the balance again coming from glycogen reserves. However, if one looks at the absolute numbers, a fit cyclist riding 30 min at 65% VO2max will burn about 220 Calories (110 fat Calories, 110 Calories from carbohydrate or glycogen stores). The same cyclist, riding at 85% VO2max will burn an additional 100 Calories (total of 320 Calories over the 30 minutes), with 110 Calories still coming from fat and the balance of 220 coming from carbohydrates. So even though fat provides a smaller percentage of the total energy needs, the actual number of fat Calories burned during the 30 minutes of exercise remains unchanged.

First 3 months activity

Although it was the Tour De France in July and a holiday in France in August that got me back on my turbo and bike, it was really September when I started to take it a bit more seriously. I had been about 17 stone 5 at the beginning of July but down to nearer 17 stone at the end of August and this modest progress was an important part of my motivation to step things up a bit. By the end of this 3 months I am down to 15 stone 10 lbs. This is a bare summary of my cycling activity for the first 3 months of more serious intent.

4 x 10 minute turbo sessions, total 40 minutes
3 x social rides with the Leeds Cycle Action Group (LCAG), total 36 miles
3 x 6.5 local rides, total miles approx. 20 miles

9 x turbo sessions (4 x 15, 4 x 20, 1 x 25) total 165 minutes
3 x social rides with LCAG, total 36 miles
5 x local rides (1 x 6.5, 3 x 7.6, 1 x 10) total 39 miles
1 social ride with Chris Robbins, near Knaresborough, total 14 miles

14 x turbo sessions (2 x 25, 12 x 30) total minutes 410
1 x social ride with LCAG, total 12 miles
4 local rides (1 x 6.5, 3 x 10) total 65 miles

Monthly totals:
September turbo 40 minutes, road miles 56
October turbo 165 minutes, road miles 89
November turbo 410 minutes, road miles 77

The local circuit round Greengates has been lengthened into a 10 mile variant over the period and the turbo sessions have been lengthened to 30 minutes. I suspect these will stay the same now for the next 2 or 3 months with the shorter circuit being used if time or the weather are against me. I will continue to go on the LCAG social rides whenever possible throughout the winter.

Over the period of 3 months I have been on a modest calorie reduced diet aiming at the low end of 1500 – 2000 per day. My weight today is 15 stone 10 lbs. Assuming it was 17 stone at the end of August it represents a loss of 1 stone 4 lbs. If I keep this up for the next 3 months I will be about 14 stone 6 lb by the end of February. This is unlikely as weight loss will get harder I’m sure. Frankly, if I’m under 15 stone by then I will be delighted. Especially as this is my target for rewarding myself with a decent road bike!

Why I will never win the Tour De France

I’m currently reading Tyler Hamilton’s ‘The Secret Race’ that gives the low down on his time with the US Postal professional cycling team and Lance Armstrong. The focus of the book is the doping regime their top riders used to win the Tour De France, particularly the use of EPO. They employed the notorious Dr. Michele Ferrari as their coach and doctor. What I found interesting is that the use of EPO was a part of the training and racing regime but the underlying science and other aspects of the training programme, innovative at the time, are now the orthodoxy. Minus the illegal drug use, the Ferrari training programme informs nearly all scientific training programmes today. It’s all about maximising certain numbers. Whether this is done within or without the rules, everyone is chasing the same numbers. One number that is a prerequisite to winning the Tour De France is that you must be able to sustain a certain power output, measured as wattage. The figure you need to achieve is 6.7 watts per kilogramme body weight. So for me to win the Tour De France at my present weight my threshold wattage would need to be 670 watts. Since Bradley Wiggins’s is something like 450 watts the problem is obvious. Assuming mine is about 200 watts, I would have to weigh about 30 kilos, 4 stone 10 oz. to achieve a figure of 6.7 watts per kilogramme.

michele ferrari

Michele Ferrari – doctor and coach to many of the world’s top athletes

This is why, according to Hamilton, Ferrari was obsessed about weight and diet. He may have been the overseer of their EPO, testosterone, steroids and other performance enhancement and  ‘recovery’ medication but to them he was more like a body weight fascist from the extreme wing of Weight Watchers. His argument was that for the vast majority of racing cyclists the easiest way to maximise their watt/kilogram ratio was to lose weight. It is interesting that central to Bradley Wiggin’s preparation for the Tour De France was a weight loss programme to shed 7 kilograms  – over a stone – without losing power. From the 77 kilos of his track days he was down to 69 for the Tour. In the process he reduced the percentage of his weight made up of fat from 7% to 4%. I’ve reduced my percentage body fat in the last 5 months by 7 percentage points. Easy. But I started from a high of 42%. This is another reason I will never win the Tour De France.

It is because of the science of cycling performance now – it’s all about the numbers – that  I still prefer road racing to track racing. Bradley himself admits that he is more relaxed and comfortable competing on the track. If you know the numbers, you know who will win the 4000 metre pursuit, for instance. In fact, why not get all the figures independently certified and decide the medals at a meeting of doctors? Of course events with an element of strategy, team tactics and chance, like the Madison or points race, cannot be reduced to just the numbers.

Wiggins crashes out of the 2011 Tour De France

Outside of purely technical track events perhaps, the numbers do not always win. As Tyler Hamilton says, there is no measurement for the amount a cyclist is able or prepared to suffer. In my own experience I have known racers who have succeeded because they can out-suffer their opponents on a particular day. And team strategy and tactics are often decisive in the outcome of races, not to mention the psychological aspects. And then you might fall off and break a collarbone, like Wiggins did on stage 7 of the 2011 Tour. But what was he doing languishing in the middle of the bunch on a sprinters’ stage (Mark Cavendish won it riding for HTC) over a flattish route where his sole responsibility as the team’s general classification man was to avoid crashes by riding near the front? Wiggins was in the form of his life, according to the numbers, but this counted for naught.

Training with heart monitor – update

Since starting to use a heart rate monitor, as outlined in a previous post, I have had some confusing results. All the various formulae for calculating my maximum heart rate based on my age (66) give a figure of round about 160 yet on my bike I have seen a figure of 177 on a couple of hills. So, using this figure, I have revised the values for the various training zones that are now as follows:

Zone 1 (60-65% of maximum heart rate): For long, easy rides, to improve the combustion and storage of fats. (106-115)

Zone 2 (65-75% of MHR): The basic base training zone. Longish rides of medium stress. (115-133)

Zone 3 (75-82% of MHR): For development of aerobic capacity and endurance with moderate volume at very controlled intensity. (133-145)

Zone 4 (82-89% of MHR): For simulating pace when tapering for a race. (145-158)

Zone 5 (89-94% of MHR): For raising anaerobic threshold. Good sessions for 10- and 25-mile time-trials. (158-166)

Zone 6 (94-100% of MHR): For high-intensity interval training to increase maximum power and speed (166-177)

My typical maximum and average heart rates for sessions on the turbo are maximum HR = 145-155, average HR = 120-130. This puts most of my turbo training in the “for simulating pace when tapering for a race”. I should emphasis that I am pedalling briskly, 80 to 90 rpm, and feeling quite comfortable. This is not hard training.

On my last 10 mile ride involving 589 feet of climbing and averaging 10.8 mph my maximum heart rate was 175 and the average 155. In other words I was in ranges 4, 5 and 6 (tapering for racing, anaerobic threshold and high intensity) for most of the ride. It seems that to stay anywhere near my theoretical fat burning zone (106-115) I would have to take it very easy. I suspect that even getting off and walking up the hills would put me above this! I have no idea what this means for my general state of fitness. I am now down to 15 stone 11 lbs, a weight loss of 1 stone 8 lb in about 3 months so the fat is going somewhere. 
Anyway, I’m not dead yet so I’ll keep going with the same programme.