Sunday, October 16, 2016

Athletic Adventures 4 : Rest Week Analytics

Not much time to write folks, although I would like to tell you all about a fascinating recovery week between the 10th and 16th of this month through some images. No, it's actually shocking.

The shocking aspect was realizing how carried away I can get in the act of "sitting around", i.e pure idleness on a chair in front of a computer punching buttons all day. Unfortunately, I size heavy industrial oil/gas equipment for a living where there's a predominance of mental loading than physical loading. I suppose the physical loading comes when you did something you weren't supposed to and get called into the boss' office... 

Not all days of this past week did I wear my activity tracker to work, but when I did, it clearly registered around 8-9 hours average of sitting down (in my defense, some of those hours were spent at home studying quick and dirty ways to get fast before a time trial at the end of the month, so I propose to count these hours as 'mindful' sports-contributive sitting and if there's no such thing I say we define one now)

My wife regularly poked fun at me when I wore my watch to sleep for around 5 nights this past week. The plan was exactly that, to get some idea of how much snooze I'd be getting. I highly recommend you not do this, atleast not after a heavy dinner when one of you, either you...or your loving partner rolls over onto your wrist and crushes the buttons of the watch while in mindless slumber.

So here are the clock plots for your criticism.

Day 1 

Day 2 

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Biomarkers. On the evening of the 6th day, I got a quick orthostatic test done to check my HRV. Although this was done towards the later part of the day, I assess the 77 RMSSD resting as good and 40 RMSSD standing as perhaps indicating I've too much on my mind. Maybe my fight or flight system gets activated, don't know. That said, a result in vacuum doesn't indicate much, but I plan on taking down multiple readings to establish a baseline.

A comparison between similar tests done 2 months back indicates that in general, my RMSSD's have gone up and that's a good thing. Besides, a datapoint during a recovery week is good to refer back to in future. (actually, these statements might all be fancy ways of saying that the hole in your credit card for the month is valid, that such and such expensive measuring device you bought is highly relevant and it gives new meaning to your normally mundane and unquantified life)

Boy. Between now and the end of the month, I take a trip to London where between my work hours, I can squeeze in some run training under colder conditions.  The time trial, a B race, will be in Abu Dhabi at the end of the month which I hope I can attend only if my boss doesn't ask me to stay longer in Britain. Between hoping that I don't get stabbed on a UK train post-Brexit and I don't catch a fever (I'd rather get stabbed than get a fever), I'll hope to push a decently sized peak into the race season in November.  

Stay tuned for more fun...

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Athletic Adventures Part 3 : Spending Money (Unwisely) and First Races

Continuing on from previous posts...

As every amateur athlete who has deep pockets and little talent, the urge to spend money on stuff without putting on much time in training caught up with me last week. 

After looking it up in the yellow book (yes I still use Yellow Book), I found a little known shop known as Das Cycles. It sounded rad, more rad than other cycle shops, especially the Little Flower bike shop, which just made me feel weak in the chest. C'mon, who labels a bike shop Little Flower?

So I went to this Das Cycles, situated purposelessly in the middle of no-man's land past the purposely located sewage plant and demanded some slick new tires.

While being shown around, I picked up a fight with a burly man with the big mustache (maybe Das himself) when he remarked in his infinite wisdom that tires don't make a difference to rolling inertia. Heresy! To make my point, I bought the most expensive set of tires available which told something else on it's packaging and stormed off the shop with a determined nod.

Not to poo poo burly men with moutaches, I love these guys. But don't you think these salesmen should keep opinions to themselves and not contradict with the marketing hype on product packaging? Just make it easy for buyers jeez. It's time salesmen started believing in advertising, or is that not the trend nowadays? Everyone seems to have an opinion!

Wasting money aside, I had decided to run/jog a few miles with what little time I had last week and headed off to my first track meet ever , that's right, ever hosted at NYU Abu Dhabi by the good folks at the University's Athletics department.

The one thing I did quite right the past week was not the running/jogging part but the eating. Knowing that I was fully carb loaded for the early season races, I sucked in all the air in the poshy looking air conditioned 200m track and stood on the start line with a few kids.

With near to zero fitness, I knew the upcoming vomit session wasn't going to be friendly to me. Just as I was about to think that I could brag on Facebook I was the first Indian to do this (as is also the trend nowadays by Indian men), I spotted two other desi guys straddling me left and right on the track. Great. There goes that dream.

I had scratched off a new quick notes on a napkin before the race after copious referering to Google. Even tried Siri on my wife's Iphone 7. "Hey Siri, how do I run this track race...:"   The reply promptly automated from the phone's speakers : "Sorry, to watch this race, you cannot run but must drive 150km", and showed me a location pin to a camel track near the border of UAE and Saudi Arabia.

With something like that race strategy in the back of my mind, I whisked off the start line at the gun shot. For the next 3 minutes, it was indeed lung surgery as I kept the two Indians at bay to take 3rd place at the 800m's. Then as every self-respecting Indian does, I went and shook their hands and started the usual round of questions, shaking my head and all  'ah where are you from in India, ... ah I much is your salary...?'

Results, split times and stride rates for 800m were like so :

Distance       Time        Stride Rate
200m           0:00:42        101
200m           0:00:42         99
200m           0:00:42         98
200m           0:00:42         97

TotalTime    0:02:47

After being the second loser at the 800's, I forgot the fact that I had registered for the men's 1500's as well that afternoon. I peered at my watch! Yikes, not even 3 minutes left for the other race to start. Zero fitness and zero recovery do not go together well, said Abraham Lincoln once when he was cutting wood (Did you know Lincoln also coined the phrase 'my legs feel like wood..' commonly used among cyclists and runners today on social media after hard workouts...)

At the 1500m start line, the Indian dudes had disappeared leaving me like a black man in Middle America. What more motivation do you need to run?

Unfortunately, my heart rate was 250 already and not slowing down. The gun shot went and I fell back, puttered along the track like a poorly maintained padmini, almost puked a little somewhere in lane 5 just next to lane Anerobic Thresholdia (which I was on by the way) and just managed to hop over the finish line as janitors were switching off the lights in the arena.

Results and split times for 1500m were like so :

Distance       Time        Stride Rate
200m           0:00:51         95
200m           0:00:51         95
200m           0:00:51         94
200m           0:00:51         94
200m           0:00:51         94
200m           0:00:51         93
200m           0:00:51         93
100m           0:00:25         92

TotalTime    0:06:21

Two embarrassing finishes later, I took my belongings and secretly existed the premises with tail between the legs.

Thank you NYUAD and Mr. Wayne Young, director of Athletics for the event. Kudos to all the runners who took a shot at racing with Mr. Zero Fitness.

This ends two weeks of sporting adventure. More to follow. Stay tuned. No, watch this space.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Athletic Adventures Part 2 : World's First Strava'd Shopping Experience

In the first installment of this series, I described in brief how I got rid of 70 kgs of dust on my bike and spent a whole sleepless night thinking about a training plan. 

This week, I've upped the ambitiousness a notch up. 

That's right. 

In what might be a world's first for any Indian, I broke into my normal training regimen with a walk through the city block with my wife. The world's first bit is where I went ahead and strava'd the whole experience. 

With GPS and smart watches these days, I argue that husbands need to do more to monitor their health. And when I say health, I just don't mean cholesterol, BP etc. I mean real time transients. Because what goes on in real-time transients is what you don't see, and what you don't see is what might actually put a dent in your life later on.

On this particular instance, the wife whispers in your ear 'let's go on a stroll dear' which you later realize is a cover for mentally capturing items that must, key word must, be bought from retail outlets that dot the walking course. 

We now have data for what this obstacle avoidance workout might be like. 

Initially, things started out for me with a relaxed and elated feeling that this might be a normal walk. With great expectations, I hit "record" on my watch. 

Until a few garment shops came into view and what was a nice outdoor workout quickly turned shape and form into an indoor, potentially disastrous monetary heart attack.

The next few moments as I say were pure dread, with the observation of high prices on some of the tags I was shown and the unstoppable magnetic power of human desire tugging at the credit card which was hidden deep inside three layers of my clothing. 

The instinctual tactic at this point was to slowly increase pace and walk away from this retail outlet before I lost three layers of my clothing and the credit card. 

These moments have been perfectly captured with the spike in heart rate and pace upon realization of what's going on.  Observe the little squiggly in the GPS waypoints and the labeled spikes in walking pace.

Oh...and the last spike in heart rate was not from the near brush with shopping. As I was intently focused on the great escape and whilst looking back sometime during those crucial seconds to see how far I had made it, I collided hard with a street sign in front of me. 

As I sit with a big bump on my head, I stop my breath to think about the enormity of this all. 

This was my first week of training.  I think it's going to be a tough season ahead.... 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Athletic Adventures Part 1 : The Season Plan

After several bouts of serious life disruption from career moves and shifting living spaces, I think I may have finally settled down this year to ink some rough plans to get ready for the Emirates athletics menu.  (Spoiler alert : this is where I ignore the important things in my life and talk instead about exercise). 

My 2015/16 season had been more emptier than a Detroit night street. I had sunk into the glitzy (not) life of utter workaholism where I think my rear end got the better of the workout, if any. After watching Indian paralympians get gold at the Rio Olympics, I figured I've had it, that I deserve some modicum of change in life and I better get out there and check if the 'ol Indian diesel engine in me still purred.

My bike had been sitting in an old apartment gathering fine 24 karat Arabian crud - nasty stuff that gets lodged around bottom brackets and crevices in your brake shoes. What should have been a nice looking 20 kg carbon bike is now 100 kg and you're still not sitting on it. I took the bike into the shower and poured copies amounts of water on it, probably giving Dubai Water Authority a scare that day. 

I've wondered, in my humble middle class mind of second uses, whether bikes could double as dust-o-meters. The dust-o-meter works because it presents you the horror of all that you could be ingesting as well if you were in the same room. Could it be a new internet-of-things thing? Let's ask the right questions here.

A conundrum has been what to shoot for goals as I started thinking about training.  After a night of mental laboring on this issue and burning through midnight oil, I came out with a conclusion. I had two end points in my race calender and a whole lot of empty space in between. 

Point A - Duathlons : I missed the whole multisport mojo the past year so I figured I want to try the Giant Duathlon series this year again.  Things would be faster and fiercer with me slipping into the 30-39 age category and to be anywhere in the top 30 in a total field of 30 would, I imagine, be a great hurdle or I'd have to somehow re-write my passport. This is also the point in your life when you wish there was a category to race against the kiddies, but as all government regulations these days, even this one is banned.

Point B - A Half or Full Marathon : I have never ran the Dubai marathon against the Ethiopians before, so that I thought would be interesting to include as the highlight of this season. But the challenge was that it would conflict with the 4th Duathlon race on January 20th and if I was going to do Duathlons, I would be in it for the long haul. The other option would be to skip the Dubai marathon and focus instead on facing the half Ethiopians at the RAK Half Marathon in February. 

Decisions decisions. Taking a look at the two events above, both require different ingredients in training. The sprint Duathlon is fast and intense from the get go, favoring a strong gastrointestinal system for the puke-recover-puke style of workload. The marathon is a 3 hour jog calling for a disciplined 18-24 week phased approach where you the pretend Alberto Salazar run around the city so much that the local taxi drivers hold you in contempt. Plus when they shout behind your back demanding an explanation , you can't hear them anyway, you're plugged in.

Finally, it made sense I should just dump the full marathon (and associated prize monies) and focus instead on the half. So yeah, probably, most likely, no marathon even this season. That's one less medal I have to worry about finding space for. One less dust-o-meter.  

More soon.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

An Answer to India's Olympics Medal Drought

On the eve of Rio 2016, a BBC‬ writer managed to tie the words "Olympic", "losers" and "India" all in one headline

Cringe worthy? Indian papers say India has it's strongest contingent yet (this includes a 43 year old Leander Paes in the tennis squad!). Critics on the other hand argue ‪that ‎India‬ has a long culture of sublime laziness, kicking athleticism down in the priorities and engaging kids to be studious so they can be doctors or lawyers and a perhaps a better "value" proposition in an arranged marriage. 

Those things aside, in progressive cities like Bangalore, people are "discovering the sports" and a new means of ego-boosting. I doubt the next wave of Indian super-athletes will come from wide waisted middle managers riding expensive carbon fiber bicycles or aunties/uncles running marathons and brandishing their "also ran" medals. It keeps the spirit up but IMO there's little to show performance wise when they compete with athletes from Western countries. 

So what are the options? You can take the current crop of sportstars and keep hammering them to do better. However, there is no substitute to raw talent if you want to beat the best. 

Which is why I maintain this idyllic sense that it's in the cold high mountain states of North India or in poor and isolated foresty villages of Central and South India where people with statistically anomalous genetic potential reside. You would hope that in these parts of the country, teachers, sports coaches and sports governing bodies are keeping ears and eyes open to tap into this potential in a sustainable way, i.e giving new people an opportunity into sports without subjecting them to exploitation.

Ultimately, I think you can, with an outpouring of lots of money, organize fantastic training camps and bring up athletes over a long term to be world champions. But you can't organize training camps without first correctly identifying that golden potential by technically adept coaches.  Its a challenge but it's a big part of the answer to winning more ‪medals. Perhaps there ought to be a serious national hunt for athletes (and even coaches) in the same rigor as we search for beauty pageants, singers and dancers. 

In the following video, Indian coaches compare the Indian runner to the Kenyan runner by going over key physiological attributes required for maximum performance. It's an enlightening discussion on what's missing in Indian athletics by using running as an example.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Renovation of a Spitfire MK.1 by Guy Martin

Turns out that British television has some genuinely interesting technical shows. 

The following is a well meaning Ch 4 production to the satisfaction of airplane gear-heads, WW veteran pilots and their families. It chronicles the two-year restoration of an excavated WWII Spitfire MK.1 to more than just a bill of flight-worthiness. 

The goal to the build is nothing less than absolute perfection with accuracy to every single detail just as how engineering drawings specified in the 1930's. It would then be demonstrated to the family of a nationally celebrated RAF pilot Jeffrey Stevenson who flew it in the Battle of Dunkirk but crashed it on a beach during the Dunkirk evacuation.

The Spitfire was one of the few instruments of war that changed the dynamics of World War II. A beautiful hand crafted machine of war, it was powered by a mammoth 1000hp RR Merlin 12 cyl engine drinking fuel upto a gallon a minute for an hour's worth of flight. It's 7 x 303 automatic guns and a top speed exceeding 300 mph became a serious deterrent to the German Luftwaffe in the skies over Britain.

The facts given in the video are stupefying. For example, the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory where they were made was 80 football fields in size and housed around 14000 factory workers. The plane had more than 3000 different parts. 40% of the workforce who build these aircraft were women, who worked every single day of the week and interestingly, earned equal pay as men. Around 60 Spitfires were built every single week at Castle Bromwich.

Guy Martin, a speed freak of the Isle of Man TT fame, makes it all the more entertaining to watch. I don't know if anyone could else could be as incredulous and resourceful a co-presenter as he, getting his hands dirty in the build operation himself but who obviously can't contain his amazement of the facts behind the plane. I'm frankly not so concerned if he stopped racing the TT, just as long as he got involved in efforts like this.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mechanical Cheating in Pro Cycling : An Analysis

The controversy of mechanical cheating in professional cycling is building up like an orchestra crescendo. Like the beginning of Lance Armstrong's infamous doping saga, reporters in Europe are mostly driving the exposé of this recent development. It sounded like a ridiculous claim to many until for the first time this year, a female Belgian rider was caught racing professionally with a motorized bike. Therefore, further attention to this issue is validated.

6 years ago when I explored a newsbreak by Rai TV's Davide Cassani on Cozy Beehive (see link), I looked into a power assist e-motor called 'Gruber Assist' just to find out the state of the art in pedaling assists. I estimated then that the 900 gram motor-control unit powered by a 1000 gram Li-Mn battery could supply a nominal 135 Watts for an hour from a 4.5 Ah capacity battery. There is a sleeker version of the Gruber Assist called 'Vivax Assist' which can reportedly supplement 110 Watts with a 6 Ah capacity battery. 

The motor’s maximum power can be calculated with a stall current and a nominal voltage and is about 50% of the stall torque for DC (see illustration on left). On assuming that Gruber's maximum short-term power was close to 200 Watts, it sounded like an appreciable supplemental power to use on a decisive cobbled climb. Such was the allegation from Cassani atleast.  

News broke a few days back that two French reporters, using infrared cameras, were able to track signals of "hidden devices" within certain bikes at the Strada Bianche and Coppi e Bartali races this year. No cyclists were officially named to the public. Five or more bikes were reportedly found emitting heat signals, with 5 of them at the seat tube and 2 at the rear hub and cassette.

At this point, the curious question might be : what is an estimated peak power necessary in cycling, for example, in an attack? Secondly, what are the required forces and crank torques? With those questions answered, one could begin an attempt to look for a motor. 

These questions was explored in a rough but fun estimation in a post titled Anatomy of a Cancellara Attack. As the title suggests, I was interested in plucking apart the physics behind a Cancellara attack using a video playback analysis technique. The focus was on a decisive segment in the 2010 Paris Roubaix when Cancellara attacked a pack of breakaway riders including another venerable specialist Tom Boonen. Cancellara would go on to win that race.

According to the estimations I made then, the speed transient in the attack went from 49 kph to around 58 kph (+/- 2 kph due to the error from the video analysis) in less than 5 seconds. The full results from the transient analysis based on estimations of Cancellara's racing weight, cadence and chosen gearing were as follows :

The 1190 Watts was reasonable for a Cancellara attack (infact just before this race, he had reportedly put 1400 Watts in an attack on the Muur at the 2010 Tour of Flanders). To drive this power at the estimated 100 rpm required an estimated 92 N.m of crank torque. 

Some years back, Andy Coggan Ph.D had shared plots from his "quadrant analysis" in which raw power meter data files were used to extract average effective pedaling force and circumferential pedaling velocity, which were then plotted on an x-y axis. Being a lover of all things technical in cycling, I quickly saved these for later reference and now they become useful.

The plots presented below show the signature of the preferred neuromuscular response of a rider to the stress of the riding scenario. Over several thousands of pedal strokes, a map is drawn out on the pedal force vs pedaling velocity chart specific to the racing scenario.

The first plot is from a flat 40k TT at an average power of 294 W at 80 rpm average. One finds variations are less and force is more or less concentrated around 200 N for majority of the time. Using 200 N yields a torque of 35 N.m using an assumed 175mm pedal crank. A high value of 550 N in the plot corresponds to a torque value of 96 N.m. This comes very close to the torque number from my own calculations into Cancellara's Paris Roubaix attack (see above). 

The second plot is from an actual road race on flat to rolling terrain at an average power of 250 W at at 78 rpm average. Here, unlike the sustained efforts of the TT, pedal force shows much more variations. 

In this plot, observe there were excursions in pedaling force upto 600 N and beyond. 600 N at 1.5 m/s pedal velocity using an assumed 175 mm crank length is still only 930 Watts at 105 Nm of crank torque. 

From the above discussion, one finds that crank torques in excess of 100 N.m are visible on a rider's pedaling signature, so the earlier estimate is not unreasonable. For the race winning attack at the 2010 Paris Roubaix from Cancellara, the first few seconds required 102-103 N.m at 110 RPM (assuming a 175mm crank length). 

Now what remains is to find a suitable motor able to deliver  approximately 100 N.m. My understanding of the precision motor market is limited, however there are very compact motors and planetary gearsets available. 

Below is a preliminary selection for a 4 pole x 200 W brushless DC motor. At 60-65 mm in length and just 30 mm in diameter, it's a tad smaller than an oversized road bike seat tube.  At a stall current of 171 A, it produces a maximum short term power of 171A x 36V = 6000 Watts, providing safety margins for cycling application. 

Since nominal motor torque is low, the motor has to be coupled with a precision ground gearset to be able to amplify torque at the low cadence of around 100 RPM. My previous experience in planetary gearsets have shown that "planetaries" offer low footprints with low noise generation. 

The preliminary gearset I could find was 80 mm in diameter. At 93:1 reduction in 3 stages at 70% efficiency, it can deliver a max continuous torque and power of 120 N.m and 410 Watts. Note that I had to go to the biggest gearset in this particular OEM's range to ensure the calculated torque estimate from earlier fell within the range of the device. At 81 mm, I suppose it could fit within the oversize 90 mm bottom bracket area but this needs checking.

Finally, a 90 degree 1:1 bevel gear is required on the gearbox output shaft to convert vertical downwards rotation to sideways rotation of the crank. A thorough investigation might yield a more optimal motor and gearing selection than shown below. 

What is interesting is that my preliminary selection totaled around 4 kg in weight, excluding weight of the battery pack and other required accessories.  A 45000 mAh powerbank I recently bought weighed 0.9 kg. So if we added another 1 kg, you're left with a total of 5 kg conservative that the cyclist has to carry. In a world where we have sub 7 kg carbon fiber bike frames, this exceeds 70% of that weight. I'm surprised that a commercial offering, if at all, could deliver attractive specifications within the weight and dimensional requirements of professional cycling.

That said, a custom built motor package specifically for someone intending to cheat makes sense. However, a package built in someone's garage could end up producing appreciable levels of heat due to low efficiency, unless the individual(s) making it knew what they were doing.

For example, a 200 W motor at 75% efficiency will produce, according to one chart online, 0.2 kW x 250 W/kW = 50 Watts heat loss which is 25% of the nameplate power rating. If this is the case, then using the given value of housing-air thermal resistance of 7.4 K/W and an assumed air temperature of 25 degree C, one expects the temperature of the motor itself to cross 300 degree C. Since the motor is constrained inside a sealed tube, that heat will build up within the space. Motor heat loss increases with efficiency drop.

Therefore, the claim that French reporters picked up heat with thermal detectors warrant a full fledged investigation.

Motor Selection (Example) 

Reduction Gear Selection (Example)

Heat vs Efficiency - Electric Motors

*   *   *