Project 16:40: So, how unfit am I?

Last week I wrote about a new challenge I’ve set for myself. The idea behind ‘Project 16:40’ is very simple: work towards a new PB – 16 minutes and 40 seconds – on Melbourne’s most popular climb: the 1 in 20.

Actually managing a new PB, well, that’ll be anything but simple.

I wrote last time that my first step down this path would be setting a baseline measurement – going out and riding the 1 in 20 as hard as I could, in order to see how much work I have to do. And so last weekend that’s exactly what I did.

My expectations were low. It was a warm day, I’d ridden hard the day before so my legs felt heavy, and my fitness these days could be charitably described as “average”. So when I left home and headed out towards the Dandenongs on Saturday, I figured I’d be happy with anything faster than 19:41 – less than three minutes off my PB.

When I got to the start of the climb in The Basin I was feeling really sluggish. I wondered if I should either a) leave the baseline ride for another day, or b) be a little more forgiving with my goal of finishing within three minutes of my PB.

I decided I’d climb the 1 in 20 once as a warm-up, in the hope that my legs felt a bit better afterwards. They did. By the time I’d climbed to Sassafras and descended back to The Basin, I felt a little more optimistic. My legs weren’t great by any stretch, but they were better than they had been half an hour earlier.

As I started my effort, I tried to remind myself not to go too hard too early. It’s been a bit of a theme in my recent efforts up the 1 in 20: set off too aggressively, realise by the false flat that I’ve made a meal of it, then blow up spectacularly and limp through the final few kilometres.

After a kilometre or so on Saturday I felt strong – an encouraging sign that my pacing was about where it needed to be. By the time I got to the false flat, it was starting to feel a lot harder. By the end of the false flat, I was feeling pretty ragged and in real danger of blowing up.

Those last kilometres weren’t pretty, but they weren’t as bad as they have been in recent efforts. I was confident I’d done enough to finish inside 19:41.

When I crossed the finish line and hit the lap button on my watch, I was surprised and delighted to see the time I’d managed. 18:38. More than a minute faster than I’d hoped for.

That’s a little less than two minutes off my PB. Still a long way away, to be sure – I’ll need an improvement of 10.5% to set a new PB – but it’s not as far off as I thought I was.

Here’s the Strava file for my effort, for those that are interested. And here are some stats:

Climb time: 18:38
Average speed: 21.6 km/h
Average cadence: 94 rpm
Average heart rate: 176 bpm
Max heart rate: 189 bpm
New VO2max according to Garmin watch: 55 mL/kg/min

Average power: 305 watts
My weight: 76 kg
Power-to-weight ratio: 4.01 W/kg

I’ve written extensively in the past about why power-to-weight ratios matter when climbing, but the upshot is this: If I’m going to beat my PB, that power-to-weight ratio will need to go up quite a bit.

Bike Calculator tells me that a time of 16:40 on the 1 in 20 will require around 4.5 W/kg. There’s two levers I can pull in my quest to reach that number: I can increase the amount of power I can produce, and/or I can reduce my weight.

Let’s say my weight stays at 76 kg. To get to 4.5 W/kg, I’ll need to produce around 345 W – an increase of 40 W. Alternatively, if my weight drops to, say, 73 kg, my required power will drop to around 335 W – an increase of 30 W …

I’m sure I’ll dive further into the number-based nerdery as this series unfolds. I’ll also dive further into the issue of pacing, which seems to be an interesting factor on an ascent like this, with its two sustained sections of climbing and a false flat in the middle.

In the meantime, I’m calling my baseline ride a win. Sure, I’ve got plenty of work to do if I’m going to crack a new PB on the 1 in 20, but that process is what this project is all about.

Now to start training …

7 Replies to “Project 16:40: So, how unfit am I?”

  1. It is great having you back online, i have always loved your posts.

    Please keep it up, we all need to head back to the mountains!

  2. Have you considered reducing gearing?
    What size gear are you using?
    Or is this one of the unmovables in your effort?

    1. I tend to climb at a pretty high cadence (average 94rpm for the effort in this post) so I don’t think I’m running too big a gear. I find it most comfortable to spin rather than grind away.

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