Project 16:40: Not the start I was hoping for

Welcome back to Project 16:40, a series in which I’m working towards a new PB of 16:40 or better on my favourite local climb: the 1 in 20.

A couple of weeks back I wrote about how I went out to the 1 in 20 and set a baseline time. It went well – I managed a faster time than I was expecting which gave me a nice confidence boost for the period ahead. Since then, well, things have been a little more frustrating.

I had a couple good rides and felt like I was making good progress with my training, and then things took a disappointing turn. Allow me to tell the story by way of some ride recaps.

January 30

Went out for a great ride with my brother Brendan out towards Yarra Glen then back along Buttermans Track to St. Andrews (my first time along there). We rode more gravel than anticipated, and it was plenty climby, but it was a wonderful, tough ride with great company. A very enjoyable ride that was good for the baseline fitness. (60 km with 1,300 metres of climbing)

February 1

A short after-dinner ride in which I spent around 15 minutes in the drops on the way home. I don’t tend to spend much time in the drops, especially on the flats, but I figured that if I’m going to get the most out of the 1 in 20’s false-flat, I’ll need some practice at getting a bit more aero than I normally do (I’ll have a future blog post on this subject). Good, satisfying training. (26 km with 245 m of climbing)

February 2

In a Twitter DM, Nick Squillari – multiple-time top-10 finisher in the Australian Nationals time trial – suggested I start doing some VO2max efforts as part of my training. His rationale: an “increase in VO2 [efforts of around 5-10 minutes] is the space FTP is then able to move in to.” For context, FTP is functional threshold power; the power you can maintain for an hour. To set a new PB on the 1 in 20, I’ll need to lift my FTP and Nick’s suggestion is increasing my VO2max will help with that.

I figured I’d give it a shot, but that I’d start slowly, having never done such efforts before. On the Park Road hill in Park Orchards I did three, three-minute efforts, with three minutes between each effort. Nick had recommended 5 x 3 minutes but my feeling was that I’d work towards that over the weeks to come.

For my first three-minute block I put out an average of 413 watts (5.4 W/kg). For the second, 376 W (4.95 W/kg). And the third: 361 W (3.75 W/kg). So yeah, I definitely faded.

It was hard. Super hard. But it felt like I was doing some good. My normalised power for the ride was 244 W (3.21 W/kg) which is the highest I’ve seen in a while, even if it was just a one-hour ride. As a bonus: my Garmin watch said at the end of the ride that my VO2max had increased to 56 mL/kg/min – one higher than when I did my baseline effort on the 1 in 20. So that was a small win too. (23 km, 500 m of climbing).

February 5

A family beach day down at Dromana gave me the opportunity to get in a good ride and meet the family down there. I rode hard down the Eastlink Trail, out onto Nepean Highway and down to Dromana, putting in a solid effort the entire way there. I didn’t do any specific efforts – this was just about building that base fitness and riding at solid intensity for a few hours.

It all went well and I even got there with enough time spare to hit a short but steep climb in Dromana before the family arrived. After the ride though, and into the next morning, my left knee felt a little irritated, under the kneecap. I wasn’t too worried, but figured I’d keep an eye on it. (75 km, 455 m)

Looking out over Port Philip Bay from one of the steep streets in Dromana.

February 6

Truthfully, I knew my knee wasn’t 100% when I set out for the Dandenongs, but I went anyway. I figured I’d just do an easy spin up the 1 in 20 and that would be fine. Just more base building and familiarisation with the climb.

Again, my knee was tetchy afterwards and I started to think that maybe I’d made a mistake. You see, a little over a year earlier, I’d endured a months-long bout with patellar tendinopathy, right as I was trying to train up for an Everesting (all of which is covered in my book). This knee issue was starting to feel a lot like that. Not overly painful, exactly, but irritated, uncomfortable, and showing no signs of getting better. Not good. (35 km, 490 m)

February 10

I gave my knee a few days to settle down, but in hindsight, I should have given it longer. Again I went out to the 1 in 20, again telling myself I’d take it easy, but by the time I got to the top it was pretty clear that I was back in the same sort of territory I was in a year earlier: facing a bunch of work to get the knee right. Very demoralising and more than a little annoying. (35 km, 490 m)

It’s been a frustrating week and a bit since that last ride. My knee has felt irritated and uncomfortable a lot of the time and being at the desk all day certainly hasn’t helped. After that February 10 ride I took more than a week off the bike to try to give my knee a chance to get better, but it’s been very slow going.

But, it feels like there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. I saw a physio earlier this week and got a diagnosis: patellar tendinopathy, as I suspected. I’m not really sure when or how I did it, but it’s a load-related injury – at some point I overloaded the tendon with more load than it was used to and did some damage.

Thankfully, knowing what the issue is means I can start treating it properly, and so I’ve been doing some exercises and stretches to try to get the tendon back in shape.

At the physio’s suggestion I waited until this weekend to ride, and when I did I took it super easy. Just a really cruisey hour spent spinning a small gear on flat bike tracks. It went … fine? The knee held up alright and writing this a few hours later, it definitely doesn’t feel worse. So that’s something.

My biggest challenge from here, as the knee improves, will be making sure I take it easy. On multiple occasions last year I went out for a ride thinking my knee was better, pushed too hard, and ended up setting myself back several weeks. I’m really keen not to do that again.

I need to remind myself that while it’s really frustrating not being able to ride properly at the moment – and not being able to train for this project! – it’s going to be even more frustrating if I’m in the same position in a month or two’s time.

Thankfully I’m not working to a particularly deadline, so there’s no real time pressure like there was with my Everesting (I had to do the ride and get the manuscript in by a set date). I’m just really impatient to get back to it and start making progress, rather than sitting here feeling like any fitness I did have is going to waste!

Anyway, let’s see how the next week or so goes. Hopefully I’m through the worst of it.

Until next time, thanks for reading, and ride safe!

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