Diary of a self-coached athlete

The past couple weeks of training have been relatively successful. Successful in the sense that I am once again able to be completing workouts. Success has not been marked by extraordinary speed or fitness. That is most-certainly not there, Taking 5 weeks off of everything due to my trouble with the Achilles has been a bit of a rough go of things. Finding routine again though has been good and I’ve had a lot of joy in just getting back into the roll of things.

As I’m not pursuing Ironman in the imminent future, discussion with my coach has resulted in a situation where I’m the one planning all of my own workouts. Steven Lord will still be on-board for occasional discussions and feedback when I solicit it but for 2011 the thinking and planning is once again all mine. I’ll be posting a blog entry similar to this one (without this preamble in future) as an update of my progress in the previous 4 weeks and charting the plan for the next four weeks.

I’ll start with two weekly summaries of the previous two weeks. The focus has been on recovery and getting back into training safely and gradually. It meant that during the first week I only logged 10kms of running over 3 different runs. The second week I logged almost 33kms over the course of 6 running sessions. This was meant to be slightly higher as I had opted to allow myself to try and run up to 70 minutes duration on Saturday on my first run outside. I opted to be prudent and trimmed this run short as I could feel that my legs were getting quite fatigued and I logged only 9.5kms in 52 minutes.


2010-11-15 to 2010-11-21

Sport Total Distance Total Time Min Pace Ave Pace Max Pace Pace Units
Bike 90 km 3:00:00 30 30 30 kph
Hike 3 km 0:30:00 6 6 6 kph
Run 10.14 km 0:54:00 5:20 5:20 5:20 min per km
Swim 1500 m 0:40:00 2:40 2:40 2:40 min per 100 meters
Weights 0 mi 0:30:00 na na na no pace units
Yoga 0 mi 0:40:00 na na na no pace units
Total Time 6 hrs 14min

2010-11-22 to 2010-11-28

Sport Total Distance Total Time Min Pace Ave Pace Max Pace Pace Units
Bike 90 km 3:00:00 30 30 30 kph
Run 32.75 km 2:55:00 6:15 5:21 4:45 min per km
Swim 3500 m 1:26:33 3:00 2:28 1:39 min per 100 meters
Weights 0 mi 1:05:00 na na na no pace units
Yoga 0 mi 0:40:00 na na na no pace units
Total Time 9 hrs 6min

During this period of time I’ve also done a few things worth noting here on the blog. I signed up to ski the 55km Birkebeiner with a 5.5kg pack like I did back in 2009. This was a very difficult challenge that last time I did it but overall it was a good time. You can read all about that adventure in the world of suffering [here]. To be completely honest, right now I’m in pretty poor shape skiing-wise, certainly no better than the last time I did it. So I’ll be putting in a bit more of a concerted effort in that regard as the race approaches to ensure that I’m not going to be knocking myself out by doing this, I still don’t think it will be easy (nor should it be easy, that’s the point. Borrowing from the theme of a recent post I’ll refer you to Rule #10). I’ve got some company along for the ride on this endeavor as at least Jan and Dave have also signed up for the ultra-long version and I’m sure Stefan, Emily and many others will be joining us for the faster versions of the race in mid-February.

I’m hoping to use XC skiing as a way to improve my aerobic fitness with relatively low impact demands, because doing that on the bike requires too much wall-staring while sitting on a turbo. The fitness has been dropped significantly during my time away with zero physical activity. This was no surprise, but because I want to be careful how I rebuild I’m going to use this form of low impact cross training to beef it up before I expect to be running 50 miles per week. This isn’t an abnormal strategy for me. The following picture is an interesting plot of how the three sports of swim/bike/run (green/blue/red) respectively have helped to total up to 100% of my fitness (y-axis) over the past few years (x-axis). It’s obvious from this chart that each winter there’s a significant amount of cross training that occurs to keep me from going crazy, and then as the cross-training fitness fades away the specificity of the other fitnesses for triathlon rises. The black vertical bar indicates the present time. Remember here that this has erased the information of my overall fitness by normalizing to 100%. You can see that I’ll be developing about 1/3 of my fitness outside of the sports of triathlon before really pouring focus into the run in a way that I never have before (red band gets THICK!). For interest sake I slapped in a bunch of big but totally achievable bike weeks following the marathon to show what would happen if I really focus on the bike during May, by early June I’m likely able to be a pretty focused cyclist again, but it will take almost a month to do it. Patience, patience, patience.

Photo from gallery: Performance Management Charts

I’ve also elected to use a Pfitzinger style training plan for my running in the lead-up to the marathon on May 1 (I’ve elected to race the BMO Vancouver Marathon) and so have back-calculated all the dates and plugged in the running sessions along the way with relatively reasonable hypotheses for the training duration and intensity of each. For my first marathon I followed a plan more closely based on the FURMAN FIRST strategy, but based on watching my response to training in the past year I am quite sure that I will respond better to a program with a different style. The Pfitzinger plan is composed of four mesocycles (parts) with different focus along the way and I’ve elected (at least right now – I may change my mind) to try and do the final three stages as close to the plan’s guide as is possible. I have however opted to use a slightly prolonged version of the endurance building phase that is based more closely to what has proven successful during the past year of my running than is set out by the running plan. I’m also very interested in continuing to track my MAF Heart Rate during training to monitor it’s progress as I believe this metric is an extremely important indicator of potential success at long course triathlon. I’ll be tracking this very specifically during the endurance building phases of preparation and then tracking it perhaps a bit less directly when I have to get into the later phases of the Pfitzinger plan. There is a lot of marathon pace running that will occur and if I select run courses intelligently I’ll be able to find myself some periods of good testing along the way during that training. It means training for the sake of testing in the endurance mesocycle and testing for the sake of training in the final three mesocycles. It means I won’t be doing the MAF tests in as controlled an environment and for a full 5 miles as I did this past year. My observation in retrospect is that, even if you try and be controlled, your data is going to be perturbed by all sorts of factors. I’m better off to be more frequently recording data regarding my MAF pace than to be relying on occasional testing metrics. I hope I have recorded my season-worst MAF result of 5:18/km or 8:32/mile during my first (rather short but I believe accurate) test last week since the running has been underway. It’s a far cry from the 4:04 or so I got to at my season’s best pace, but it leaves a lot of room for improvement which in some sense is satisfying. It proves that I am a human being, in discussion with swim coach Matt, this is actually a really healthy thing to learn when your fitness doesn’t immediately matter.

All in all the running program if completed as planned will result in me hitting a running fitness metric approximately 40% greater than I have ever achieved in my life before. I can do that without getting anywhere near the levels of training stress that I endured this past season (because I’m doing it with single-sport focus) so while I sounds like I’m really planning to stretch myself, I am pretty confident that I can do this while maintaining a lot better life-balance than some periods of 2010. My run-training stresses should not exceed what I have done in the past and my overall training stress balance will be significantly easier than this past year. The chart seen here indicates the plan if I am successful in hitting every workout along the way, and because the chronic load (red) is somewhat cumulative in nature, I know that due to the times I come up short in training and have to skip things that this is a best case scenario.

Photo from gallery: Performance Management Charts
click image for larger

Planned training for the next four weeks has been laid out: [in this .pdf file] if you’re interested in looking at it. Rather simply, I’m slowly building a long run on Saturdays, and the first of the runs came up short this past week so it might be the case that this plan is a bit ambitious, I reserve the right to lay off a bit with that progression and not make it up to 20kms before Christmas. Although, if I keep hitting frequency in a similar way to that which I have in the past two weeks (10 runs in 15 days) I think comfortably getting that long run out to 20kms is not going to be an issue. All my running is subject to a strict MAF cap with the exception of the Tuesday night club run where I am free to run as I feel. Cycling is twice weekly along with swimming, and I am hitting the gym twice weekly to work with light weights at 20 repetitions, two or three sets depending on the movement and emphasizing a full range of motion with preference for multi-joint and free weights. This is going well, and is designed to allow me to hit a few weeks of high strength focus in early January prior to the running volume starting to take off. Whether or not these strength gains can be maintained through much of the running focus is questionable but doing this feels like an appropriate response to establish confident and balanced muscles following a period of limping and being lazy.

The performance management chart metrics calculated for this period of time are as follows:

Photo from gallery: Performance Management Charts

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Starvation workouts – looking back

Jesse Kropelnicki just had an article on Xtri about so called ‘Starvation workouts’, or workouts where you try and force your body to function with higher aerobic efficiency by not feeding it what it would most like to have (pure sugar) and thus the hope is that you would be training it to default into slightly more favorable substrate usage ratios the next time you workout. In short, teach your body to burn more fat as fuel source so it uses less of the more limited carbohydrate fuel source at any given intensity.

Here’s a copy of the article. I have no idea if it is copyrighted or whatever, I presume he writes it and distributes it for free so that it gets read and he gets the publicity. I’m posting it here… so it gets read… and I can vouch for the guy otherwise having a lot of very good and very interesting stuff to say (The stuff written about critical volume has played a foundational role in how I think about training). You can read his stuff on the QT2 website as well as occasionally on XTri… so there’s my publicity plug…

The main focus of Ironman training and racing is on the improvement of metabolic efficiency. Developing metabolic efficiency is nothing more than training the body to use aerobic energy systems at the highest paces/wattages possible. This is the least costly way to fuel the body during exercise. There is a great deal of debate around how best to develop this aerobic efficiency. I, as most, would argue that training at intensities right around aerobic threshold (AeT) is the most effective way to improve the body’s aerobic efficiency. But, a recent push makes the argument that dietary changes can impact these adaptations. To this end, it has been hypothesized that “starvation workouts” can help to promote efficiency. These are rides and/or runs where athletes essentially starve themselves, in an effort to force the body to use fat as its fuel source. For example, an athlete on a long aerobic ride of 3 to 4 hours would consume only water, throughout. In my opinion the research on this practice is very uncertain, and is accompanied by a great deal of potential detriments, none of which make it an acceptable risk. Some of these potential detriments include:

1) Starvation workouts can be extremely catabolic, as the body is forced to attack lean muscle mass in order to create carbohydrates for fuel. This process of neoglucogenesis is nightmarish for lower BMI athletes, who are already strength limited, and older athletes (females beyond the age of 45 and males older than 50), who by the nature of their age have difficulty maintaining lean muscle mass. This assault on the body disintegrates muscle mass, thus exacerbating an already problematic limiter. Furthermore, depriving the body of the fuel that it needs to train over long durations can set the stage for a compromised immune system, leading to missed training time due to illness.

2) I am a firm believer that athletes should avoid nutritionally limited workouts, at all costs. In essence, never ever bonk! Be it a typical training workout or race day, it should NEVER happen. Starvation workouts create an atmosphere primed for bonking. This means that your workout is likely to be limited by a lack of fuel, prior to the physical energy systems being appropriately trained or stressed. This is in direct conflict with the reason why we do all of this training, in the first place, and focus so much time and effort on effective recovery. The goal of any workout should be to promote an environment where the athlete can have better and better workouts, pushing previous limiters, thus increasing fitness. Too many sacrifices are made, on a day-to-day basis, aimed at improving our fitness and racing, to allow our efforts to be limited by that over which we have 100% control over.

3)At the Ironman distance, training the gut to be able to absorb the nutrients in their intended race fuel is part and parcel to effectively executing their race plan. This is especially so for those with high sweat rates. These athletes often experience races that are limited by nutrition, rather than a true display of their fitness. Starvation workouts do not provide the opportunity to train this very limiter….race nutrition! We end up seeing athletes who are forced to walk through a great deal of the marathon, because they have not trained their bodies to consume and process the calories that will be required to race effectively. Because each of our athletes is equipped with a personalized race fueling strategy, that is practiced every single day in training (I cannot begin to tell you how many Power Bars and Power Gels QT2ers consume throughout the year), QT2 continues to produce some of the fastest Ironman marathoners in the professional and age group ranks.

4) I often hear of athletes using these starvation workouts during the early season base phase of training, while simultaneously in the gym trying to build strength. The catabolic nature of these types of workouts mixes terribly with the anabolic atmosphere that should be created, through a well-developed weight-training program, to create a positive hormonal balance.

Ironman racing has a nice clean series of events, namely the swim, bike, and run, with overtones of race fueling throughout and within each. How well an athlete has fueled their race does not typically become apparent until the run. I have always believed that the best way to approach limiters, in triathlon, is to first deal with those that exist in series with one another. With this in mind, and knowing that an athlete’s inability to handle their race nutrition is what typically undermines their Ironman, I try to first focus on this limiter as it typically occurs earliest in the chain of events. It really does not do much good to focus on a limiter that occurs further down the line, since it may never have the opportunity to actually become a limiter on race day. An athlete’s metabolic efficiency, on the other hand, is typically a limiter that appears in parallel with most of his or her other limiters. The cases are rare that an athlete’s race will come to a screeching halt, due to poor metabolic efficiency. Therefore, not until we are 100% certain that an athlete does not have a nutritional limiter, should we begin to even consider any unorthodox ways of improving metabolic efficiency, that could even possibly undermine the athlete’s ability to consume and process appropriate race fuels.

But, if you absolutely insist upon incorporating starvation workouts into your training regimen, I recommend trying it no more than once a month, and not until you have full confidence in all aspects of your training, racing, and fueling. At this time, there simply has not been enough research performed, on the topic, for me to feel confident endorsing it to any of our athletes. As with anything else in life, whether or not to utilize starvation workouts is really a matter of risk versus reward. In my opinion, the possible benefits of these workouts simply do not outweigh the potential risks.

Jesse Kropelnicki is an elite/pro level triathlon coach who founded QT2 Systems, LLC; a leading provider of personal triathlon and run coaching, as well as TheCoreDiet.com a leading provider of sports nutrition. He is the triathlon coach of professional athletes Caitlin Snow, Dede Griesbauer, Ethan Brown, and Tim Snow among others; and nutrition/cardio advisor for professional UFC fighter Kenny Florian. His interests lie in coaching professional triathletes using quantitative training and nutrition protocols. You can track his other coaching comments/ideas via his blog at www.kropelnicki.com.

Jesse is definitely right, there’s not a whole ton of good scientific evidence that this strategy is net-beneficial. That said, it is something Steven Lord had me do during training in 2010. I tried to read up on it, and came to the same conclusion as Jesse, there’s not a whole ton of scientific PROOF that this is a great idea but intuitively it seems like one of the only ways to make the kinds of changes that you’d like to make in your body’s metabolic defaults. Lots of different exercise physiologists will tell you that you get an advantage at ironman by being a fat burner, but there aren’t a ton of people who will tell you how to do it. Alan Couzens profiled the technique he employed with one of his athletes a while ago in some of his writing. Now that I want to post a link to it I can’t find the exact article I’m thinking of. In any case, he had this guy modify his substrate consumption to increase fat, decrease carbs, and do a lot of work at aerobic threshold with a whole heck-ton of patience. I wish I could find the article, what he had the guy doing was low intensity stuff and not the kind of stuff that’s going to make you fast very quickly. It was however, going to make this kid fast in the long run because there were significant gains made to this athlete’s fat usage during exercise. The numbers were mind-blowing actually, this average guy was scoring somewhere near the 10calories/min from fat that people have calculated Mark Allen was able to do during his heydey in Kona (I presume that lots of the guys in the top 10 this year must be around that magic number as well).

I decided to listen to my coach.

Annette said that she was really proud of me a couple times this past year for listening to what he said. Her opinion was that lots of the other people she knew who had coaches often tried to be too smart and didn’t listen, and thus didn’t get the benefit of the protocol as it was designed. I can’t say I listened to Steven all year long about everything, and I did some complaining (thinly disguised as asking tough and frustrating questions) about some things. This was one of the things I think I complained about, but I did do what he was suggesting I do about modifying substrate usage.

This year I had already decided I was going to eat more fat than last when I had been on this idea of making my body into a carbohydrate furnace, ready to pour them in, rev a high HR, and make more watts at any cost. I wasn’t racing so long (less than 5 hours) that I felt there was a huge detriment to doing that. I knew that I could eat and digest at pretty high intensities so my game plan was to just pour fuel on the fire and not worry about running out. This worked, it wasn’t a really long term strategy I found, and I think the lack of fat in my diet was probably a bit unhealthy in other regards. My skin didn’t heal very quickly amongst a few other things that I noticed (along with some search-engine help) were probably an indication that this “burn as much fuel as you can and you’ll go faster” was probably a bit shortsighted. It made me fast at a cost that I identified as being probably not the best for myself. So, that wasn’t a change posed by Steven, but he did put a few other interesting ideas on the table.

Starting early on Steven began suggesting on my endurance focused rides that I cut the carbohydrates completely in the morning before the ride. Now it’s totally possible to load up and feel full without hardly any carbohydrates and I always did that, I never did pure starvation in the manner alluded to by Jesse’s article, however I was doing a form of starvation training. A typical breakfast would be between four and six fried eggs with cheese melted on top. A red pepper, a glass of milk, and a handful of cashews or pecans. I also pre-ran prior to some of those weekend bike rides during the spring to rack up a bonus 40 minutes. Those mornings I’d just eat some nuts or halva with water or milk before the short run, and then come home and make my big pre-ride omelette. Then I’d start riding and I definitely and noticeable wouldn’t have any blood sugar.

These long rides were not completed without eventually getting myself into the carbohydrates and eating sports nutrition (i.e. practicing the race plan) along the way. Generally I’d ride the first two hours on just water and perhaps a bit of sausage or some almonds. That was it though, I’d generally feel pretty slow (even though I wasn’t necessarily being slow) and was just a bit mentally dreary. Considering the fact that your brain won’t fuel itself off anything other than sugar the mentally dragging your ass along the road feeling was going to be par for the course. Then I’d eventually pick up the fuel, and finish off the ride allowing the body to run off of both ingested carbohydrate fuel and processed fat.

Did I observe the four points that Jesse makes? Yes. Did I suffer the consequences he outlines? Only once did I actually bonk and had to pay the consequences of taking this method to to far an extreme by missing out on planned training.

1 & 4 I no doubt experienced the catabolic effect of this kind of training as it prevented strength gains during this period of time. Whether or not it was the low-carb riding that did it or the incessant running I was doing while shooting for 7 runs per week frequency is an open question but I no doubt would say that I didn’t get any stronger during this period of training (Mid-April through Mid-July). I basically made zero gains in the gym with weights between early May and the end of July when I quit strength training. I wasn’t in a period of trying to build strength in the gym, but I would have expected that my leg strength would have improved by the amount of riding I was doing and I’d be able to see evidence of that in the gym. This was not the case, leg-holds on the leg-press sled probably got relatively more difficult as the summer went on even though I did the same set at 270lbs with each leg all the way through. Did I suffer a compromised immune system? No. I didn’t get sick at all, but I can’t rule out that the hormonal effects tied to getting so tired weren’t related to the hormonal effects brought on by operating occasionally with a blood sugar deficit. The worst blood sugar low did result once in a total bonk and came a week before a race which I proceeded to do fantastic at. In a round-about way this could have been something setting me up to get knocked into serious fatigue as a result of that race. I was at a low mentally with motivation and with energy levels the next two weeks.

2 The warning is that if you do this to your body you’re unable to push your physical limiters. OK, if we narrowly define fitness there’s a way to make this statement true. I likely didn’t make any gains with my functional threshold power over 2009 during this season, heaven forbid perhaps it got a bit worse. This is a problem with deciding that your functional threshold power is the best metric for measuring success. As a result of this training I was able to post an age-group fastest bike split and on the run, run within a couple percent of my open marathon time. These are measurements of fitness success both un-acheivable last season, and so I think it’s misleading to say that because you might not be gaining a certain type of fitness by doing these workouts that it means you’re not getting better. If it makes you faster for your target race then that’s the measure of success.

3A true starvation workout doesn’t allow you to practice ironman fueling but I’d suggest that the method I used which is what I guess I’d call hybrid-carbohydrate-starvation is actually an extremely ironman specific way to practice doing the fueling. Starting with a morning-prior-to-the-ride-carboload is going to lull you into a false sense of having your glycogen stores and blood sugar at a maximum before beginning the ride. It will reinforce the idea that your nutrition is not a fragile calculus because you’ve got the glycogen reserve buffer to work against. The ironman swim is going to use up a large chunk of your glycogen and you’re not going to be eating with the “bank in reserve” during the race, you’re eating with the glycogen bank on it’s way to being empty. This is exactly what happens if you start your morning with no carbs, the blood sugar stays down, and while you’ve got some glycogen in your muscles you don’t have a big stash of liver glycogen because your body has used it over the course of the night to keep chugging along.

So would I recommend it? Early in the season (especially at bike camp in early April) I needed to be consistently eating all the way through the ride to stay topped up. Later in the season, I could still eat (I mean, I ate a LOT at Ironman, so I clearly didn’t de-train this ability) but I didn’t feel the need to constantly be eating as the season progressed. I’ll take the desire to eat carbohydrates as a measure that my body was requiring more carbohydrates, it’s generally smart like that. I also felt a lot better during the pre-carbohydrate portions of those rides as the weeks progressed. They set me up with sufficient cycling base to do the hard-ironman specific intervals that the program required as the race grew closer. I could have done all those earlier season rides fully fueled and I would have shown up with a similar cycling base, I don’t know if it would have been any better, but I wouldn’t have changed my need to be constantly pouring sugar into my mouth. I probably would have trained harder during this base period and perhaps would have come into better fitness sooner but that’s then a measure of planning appropriately and not so much what you eat. I don’t have the financial resources available to do the testing to prove that I made big gains in my metabolic efficiency this past year but I am confident that I did. Sorry, no fancy graphs from me for this post. Just a good idea for early-season pre-ride breakfast:

EGGS

I’d definitely suggest that Jesse is casting this rather experimental kind of training in too negative a light. There are intelligent ways to do metabolic efficiency training and there are unintelligent ways of doing it. By suggesting that no-food starvation training is terrible without considering the middle-ground of beginning long rides in a carbohydrate depleted state I think he’s suggesting that this is something we’re hopelessly unable to improve. While I’m hesitant to really recommend what I did I do think that it’s definitely got merit. I’m quite open to there being a better way to develop this skill with our bodies than the method I used but I’m pretty confident that it is possible to do a better job of it than doing no job at all which is what Jesse is unfortunately suggesting.

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Long Term Goals

I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about where things are headed in 2011 and beyond with the fitness game, I’m currently under the assumption that I continue playing it. I still love it, and I’ve enjoyed making a progression through things, but Ironman was a bit of a destination and so future things needed to be sketched from scratch.

I was having all sorts of scenarios play out in my head about this and that and it was hard to sort anything out. Then I decided I needed to sit back and write down a few goals. The Ironman had been on the horizon for a long time before I got really serious about it, it was a multi-season goal, and now it’s multi-season goals that once again are making up the majority of the thoughts rolling around inside my head.

This entry is in two parts: Long Term Goals and a sequel outlining my Specific Athletic Goals for 2011.

Long term:

  • Reclaim balance in my life with sport. I have been trying too hard and it is mentally exhausting. I spent a year with the mental attitude of “pull out all the stops” and I can’t handle doing that anymore. I can create as many good habits as I need to and I can drop all the bad habits that I need to but I can’t live with the attitude that I need to do things that I don’t want to do. The backlash from this is unhealthy. This is also making too many things a point of stress in my life. If I’m going to train like this again I need to make the training stress the only source of stress in my life, because I can’t let myself re-do that period of time, it wasn’t healthy.
  • I need to reclaim a rest day each week with NO training. No easy training days and pretending that they’re rest except for during specific prep for the season’s A race between 8 & 3 weeks out. I’m undecided if this rule applies to a consistent block of running or not. I would like to think that it does apply. If I’m doing a MAF development challenge then I need to plan to double up once a week. I executed my first aerobic development challenge with 6 days a week of running, it found me more than 6 minutes of half marathon PR. The seventh day of training is the less value than the seventh set of workouts. If I need the seventh day worth of workouts then I can fit them into 6 days. In my mind this is quite clearly and if.
  • Make it to Kona
    • 1 hour swim (1:25/100yds)
    • 4:50 bike. (23.2 mph or 37.3 kph) – I think this is approximately 54 minute 40km TT shape i.e. FTP yields 44.4kph in fair conditions.
      • Analytical Cycling says that this is an FTP of approximately 334Watts.
      • I have absolutely no idea where I’m at.
    • 3:15 – 3:20 run (4:45/km or 7:40/mile)
    • transitions
    • contingency time

What it takes? The first two long-term goals are going to require dedication and aren’t always going to be easy, but they’re probably more important than #3. The breakdown of Part 3 goes as follows – to get the Kona slot I think I need to:

  • Treat Ironman as a race with finite duration rather than infinite duration. Unlimited endurance is unnecessary and seeking it drained me too much. Not being tired at the end of Ironman but only being sore is not the fastest way to do this sport.
  • Get my MAF run pace down to 3:50-3:52/km. This will come with consistency, but it might not come within a year. My best recorded MAF test result was at 4:02 this summer, it was a single data-point though and I think I really only achieved a MAF pace of 4:05-4:07.
  • Run a significantly faster marathon than I need to run for Ironman. Goal = 7 min miles = 3h4min
  • Get my threshold swim speed down to 1:22/100yds (10 seconds faster than what I can do now)
  • I am probably good enough to ride this fast if I decided that this was how fast I needed to ride. I could do it, but with not much confidence that I’d be running my best afterward.
  • I need to adopt a bit more of a balanced cycling program so I can strategically race the bike leg. This means I need to improve the short duration end of the power-curve. This is not to be done at the expense of totally giving up the favorable fat burning bias I’ve developed so successfully in 2010.
  • I now want to use a power meter.

In all honesty I don’t think I’ll be ready to race at this level next year. I can get there in the long term but I’m not yet ready to do it next year. Making this realization answered my questions regarding racing Ironman Cozumel in 2011. That time line is too aggressive. I can’t ever be sure I’ll qualify the next time I try Ironman, but I don’t see that it’s worth making all of the sacrifices to try it until I at least think I have a chance. The time/effort/stress cost of it is too high to rush it.

Quarq cinquo FSA SL-K

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Specific Athletic Goals for 2011

This entry is in two parts: Long Term Goals and a sequel outlining my Specific Athletic Goals for 2011.

Swimming:

  • Figure out how I am going to fit more swimming into my new life as a working person. I need to find my love of swimming again.
  • No swimming with the purpose of building fitness, only swimming with the purpose of being a better swimmer.

Running:

  • Twice I need to put a 6 week focus on MAF running and aim for high frequency. Learn what this does to MAF pace.
  • Run a fast marathon.
    • I feel like 7 minute miles is a rough estimate for the prerequisite I’ve estimated for Kona qualification. This will be a rough target for the year however race-day target pace will be based on evidence in training and not what I want to do.

I’m unsure of what the “minimum” is when I’ve got the MAF focus. Perhaps 30 minutes for 3 weeks immediately into 40 minutes for 3 weeks. Or 7.5kms for 3 weeks into 10kms for 3 weeks Those seem challenging yet appropriate. Keep track of MAF pace throughout this kind of training as well as through less focused training. I don’t believe I have graduated from MAF training on the run yet.

Otherwise I hope to execute a balanced run program. Be a balanced runner. 1x weekly endurance focused run, 1x intervals session with focus on 400m-1000m VO2max intervals with perfect form, 1x progression run or general tempo run designed for experience at marathon pace. During specific prep phases include a hills run where I run fast on ups and on downs (to eccentrically load the muscles and develop leg strength) plus additional easy runs (to get miles).

Cycling:

  • Learn to really race bikes.
  • Switch clubs so I have people to train on the road with and race as much as I possibly can. This means that this is the focus for May-August.

Triathlon:

  • Don’t miss out on an entire season to gain some experience racing. That would be silly, so I need to race, and 70.3 seems like the appropriate distance.

An Aside:I am no longer convinced that I tapered ideally for the bike for Ironman. When I rode my best bike splits relative to my fitness (Chinook 2009 and GWN 2010) I had not been as bike-rested as I was for Ironman and Calgary 70.3. This makes me think I should probably try to design a slightly different protocol. For example I rode a pretty serious ride two days out from GWN, long stretches above IMeffort. I think the reason is this: I have such a hard time getting actually sore from cycling using the kind of protocol I used this past year that I can work on fitness so well on the bike that as soon as I stop riding I start to loose it. There’s minimal rest required with the method of training I employed this past year. If I were training with a balanced program and loading up on muscular fatigue then perhaps I’d need to taper but if I’m not training hard, just riding a lot then I don’t need to taper from it. We’ll see next year as I intend to train with more intensity on the bike, I may well find that I need to taper on the bike to perform well.

I should be able to learn quite a bit about cycling and cycle tapering by racing bikes and doing a half Ironman without a bike taper. I may squeeze in a few short course races as well depending on how they fit in alongside bike racing. I think they’d help maintain and develop skills in mentally focusing at max steady state effort instead of cycling which will be far more strategic next year. Some power and HR data from Olympic distance racing would probably be valuable in planning future training. If I decide to do it it would have to fit into a schedule with a few specific prep run-workouts and about 3 days of unloaded training so I could actually perform well. Weekends quickly get busy in the summer, so I don’t know exactly how this will fit, the ATA schedule is not confirmed anyhow.

Season plans:

As soon as the Achilles allows – get in the pool. Start knocking down 10km weeks. Figure out how to make it fit. Figure out how to stay focused. Figure out how to love it again. If I start hating it I need to change something to make it work again. Think about swimming primary goal for swimming is getting to the pool with motivation. This needs to continue throughout the year.

Cycling through the winter.

Indoor training 2 or 3 sessions per week. Ride as much as I want to, no pressure to “get workouts in” until May.

Running until Christmas – just get back into it

starting in January:

  • 3 weeks balanced program
  • 1 week reduced balanced program
  • 6 weeks MAF focus
  • 1 week reduced balanced program
  • 3 weeks push balanced program
  • 3 weeks taper to Marathon including 10mile race.

MAF tests bi-weekly throughout

Run focus finishes with Vancouver Marathon on May 1

May – train like a maniac on the bike, long easy miles transition into balanced intensity high mileage.

Running stays balanced and easy recovery from Marathon, no rush to get run fit again keeps the pressure down.

Early June – Oliver Half Ironman

Minimal taper on bike to see how that works, I need to log the TT time though to make sure I’m ready to put out power in that position as not doing so was a recipe for disaster at Chinook 2010 on the bike leg. I’d mostly rely on residual run fitness from marathon prep, 5 weeks later is late enough to race again but it’s not really enough time to put in a good training block after the marathon. My 2009 marathon showed me that it will take a while to get my run legs back. No pressure on race day, set my sights high and just race. Love the sport and have fun. I’m not trying to benchmark or gauge progression or test a strategy, I’m just racing. It will probably be a season highlight.

June-July-August. Race bikes whenever possible. Go backpacking a couple times. Perhaps fit in a bike-tour with trailer for a few days. Minimal structured training except to fit in specific prep to race well at Bowness Stage Race, Road Provincial Championships and LaPierre Stage Race in August. If I’m feeling interested, race a late summer olympic distance triathlon. Help out friends training for IMCanada by accompanying them on their long rides when possible.

Run three times/week bi-weekly long run.

Cyclocross continues in the fall as entertainment and I don’t worry about my bike fitness. I let it fade and try to reap the rewards with some racing. This probably means I should move my long run to midweek in the fall so I can do a bit more horsing around on the ‘cross bike on the weekends.

Running – Begin focus again in September 2011

  • 6 weeks MAF focus with weekly cross country race.
  • 1 week reduced balanced program
  • 3 weeks push balanced program
  • 3 weeks taper to Marathon.

Marathon in Nevada on November 20. Choose either a fast one or a really challenging hilly one depending on how the spring marathon goes. Both options exist on the same weekend, I can of course wait until after the spring marathon to decide which one I’d rather do, if I choose hills the training will of course have to reflect this choice.

Mesquite Marathon

Spring Marathon – in the city.

Vancouver Marathon

Fall Marathon – in the desert.

Sneak Peak at Ironman Attempt #2 – 2012

Take a break until Christmas and then begin structured training in January 2012 for Ironman. At which point I’ll almost certainly be a better runner. Hopefully I’ll be a more confident runner. I’ll almost certainly be a better cyclist. I’ll have a season of training with a power-meter and will have a pretty good idea about training with it in the lead-up to IM. Listening to Gordo talk about this and seeing how many people raced Kona with them has me almost convinced that there is cause and effect. It can’t be just the fact that people think they need then when they’re so widespread at the top level yet still not cheap.

Options include: Cozumel in November (AZ is similar time but I’d rather go to Mexico if I choose a late-season race), Coeur d’Alene in June, St George in April, or potentially Ironman Canada or Wisconsin at the end of the summer or potentially Brazil in late May. Brazil and Cozumel would be the faster races. We’ll presume that Cozumel will be just as competitive as everything else by that point in time. I can’t see how anything can stay stay non-competitive with people wanting to get to Kona, the first year has got to be a fluke.

I don’t know if it’s an advantage or disadvantage for me to choose a tough race or a faster and easier race. My instinct is that I shouldn’t choose a tough run course (StG is a bad idea). Choosing a hard bike course like Wisconsin seems like the strategic option, but all those rolling hills could thrash me just as much as anyone else, there isn’t really a safe bet. Wisconsin also qualifies for an entire year later which is kinda cool. I also might have the opportunity to run Boston the following spring if this marathon game is successful. If I qualified I think I’d like to do it, it would be really fun, that puts the earliest I would be ready to try Ironman well into August because I presume I’d be training to run well in Boston. I think Wisconsin becomes the preference although the financial cost of that doing that one is pretty high, it probably needs to be weighed pros/cons against Ironman Canada in more detail, but I’ve got almost a year before I’d have to sign up. Unfortunately I need to decide on which race to do before I can hear first-hand stories about Cozumel from Stefan.

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Mental Training

I have a sense that I spent a vast majority of the last year mentally training for Ironman and not so much physically training for Ironman. When I go back and look at the training log there are very very few sessions in there that were physically challenging to complete. When I look at how I trained 4 years ago when I was just getting into the sport, I was physically challenging myself a lot more than I did this season. Recently I’ve been trying to do so much all the time that the thing that’s limiting me from training better is basically fatigue management. Mental gymnastics to motivate myself into adding more aerobic training load to the table. I never wanted to go so hard one day that I was potentially sacrificing tomorrow’s training. That’s supposed to be the golden rule… but I spent 7 months on the edge of getting too tired. That was almost the only mode of training and it became a total mental game. If I recount what was physically challenging I can list it all for 2010, I can’t do that for last year, it would mean copying and pasting 5 out of 10 workouts each week most months.

Workouts where I got to a limit of what I could do during the 2010 season:

  1. One part of one ride at the spring training camp on the bike I totally challenged what I could ask myself to do. The entire rest of the camp I was too concerned with not getting too tired.
  2. My first 30km run of the year was a challenge, it was a big step up from what I was doing, muscles could barely handle it past 26kms.
  3. Sunday morning bike race way back April was a challenge, I got to race a category above what I normally am allowed into and raced HARD. It would have qualified for the list even if I hadn’t tacked on another 100kms to the back end of it to make an iron-ride out of the day as well.
  4. The Calgary Police Half marathon was a challenge, and I succeeded in going sub 90 minutes for the first time ever.
    • May had no challenges, not surprisingly I was so stressed out from organizing that race that I had no ability to challenge myself in training, only to do it.
    • 40 runs in 40 days was tough but it didn’t challenge the physical limits in any workouts, just mental ones.
  5. Highwood pass double traverse: The only time I think my endurance was challenged – completing the 300km ride.
  6. Chinook Half was only challenging on the run, I couldn’t mentally cope on the bike with frustration and lack of experience riding my TT rig. Fortunately I then I got off and lit up a great run.
    • The Ditch Bonk – challenge? er… no… Stupidity?
  7. Great White North. Challenging swim, bike and run. I had spent so much time on the edge of getting too tired that this one really knocked me down for the count. As you probably recall I got smoked.
  8. Challenging bike ride 185km two man TT “race” just prior to my mini epic camp.
  9. 3×10km poker pacing run during epic camp. No challenging riding or swimming happened all week despite netting 47 hours. Just mentally tough to get through.
  10. The 34km run 3 weeks prior to race day was a challenge, largely brought on by the heat.
  11. Ironman Canada. Challenged the pain threshold for miles 16 through 26. I’m not sure if I really should be counting this as the race, or just the run. If I use the same criteria as my other rides through the summer this ride wouldn’t actually have made the cut which as a challenging ride. I’m not sure what to think about that. It means there’s still something to accomplish out there.

In retrospect I netted 10 times physically challenging myself in the course of 6 months prior to race day and spent the rest of it on the balancing edge of getting too tired by doing too much. My gut feeling is that this ratio is not correct. Considering that 5 of those were brought on by racing and only 5 were in training on average I was challenging myself in training less than once a month?

I had a good chat with my coach today and he wasn’t overly surprised by this tally. Not nearly as surprised as I was. I mentioned the fact that I had read that Mirinda Carfrae was doing two really focused and challenging bike workouts per week all year and it looks to have paid off at the world championships. His comment was that’s all well and fine but we can’t just look at how the person trained during their last year before the race. We have to look at their whole career. I myself have been saying that Ironman training takes more than a year so I should agree. Sometimes it’s hard to agree with myself though! I did a good job of finding a coach whose philosophy I agree with, so when I now wonder and have all sorts of questions it feels kind of like I’m the one who’s saying to myself “I told you so”.

Often when I read about how people who are better than me train, they have designed a training schedule where there are key sessions to show up for… and you physically challenge yourself each time you go do them. Step 1: Get mentally charged up for the workout. Step 2. Go nuts! I did mentally get charged up for a few workouts this summer… and they all got listed here. I had a schedule and mindset where everything was just a part of the whole and you had to dole out your ability to train carefully so you could do it all. I did get faster on the run since February but I’m not totally convinced that I got a whole lot on the bike or the swim.. I slapped together 3 x 20 hours weeks in a row in February in the middle of winter when I had less than 8 hours a day of sunlight to deal with and the cards were stacked against me. Later on in the summer I was equally fatigued from putting together a string of 20-22 hour weeks. I think that means I was a bit too close to the edge of being too tired for too long. Getting to that edge is important, it makes you strong for Ironman but I’m not convinced I need to go there and sit there for months at a time. Going to visit is nice, but a few weeks visit a few times a season is probably enough.

I made a chart that shows my moving average equivalent hours of work representative of RPE and it starts out when Steven started coaching me at 1.4. We did a 30/30/30 challenge and by the end of it I was down to 1.3. I stayed right around 1.3 all the way until we neared the end of the 40/40/40 at which point it falls off to 1.25 and it stayed there through until late July. During August and my taper it rose up to 1.35 by race day. In comparison to the season prior, I spent the winter “low” at 1.35 and it increased and increased my intensity along with with my training load. Then I overdid it a bit towards the end with the intensity and volume getting a bit out of control at 1.55 and I wound up flat for my season ending race. Along the way though, I had some fantastic performances and I got really really fit. I might have had a higher functional threshold power last year than I did this year. I absolutely would not have been surprised if I had power data to back this guess up. It was not a slouch on the bike this year but I might not be faster. I saw my average speeds from our Icefields Double Traverse last July and I don’t think I could have done any better this year.

Photo from gallery: Triathlon - 2010

What does this trend tell me? I think it’s saying I beat myself down too hard in late May and June. My average training intensity was falling at a point in the season where the “big base” should have already been built. I would think that with 12 weeks to go to Ironman that you should be thinking about picking up the specificity which would mean trading in some of the long long long slow slow slow, for Ironman pace and perhaps paring back a bit of the overall load to do so. I hampered the ability to design things that way by racing a few times during this part of the year. I would have ideally made the turn towards gradually rising intensity at the beginning of June rather than the middle of July. Making that shift earlier probably would have meant I would have have trained with a bit more intensity, stressed the muscles a bit more and been a bit stronger. It would have meant I had a bit more power at IM effort. Maybe it would have meant I could have run faster from mile 16 through to the finish.

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Ironman Nutrition

Michael Lovato posted his nutrition plan from Ironman Hawaii on the First Endurance Blog yesterday and I of course read it… and then I thought about it an awful lot in the past day. Of course, he’s got an agreement with a specific company to use their products during training and racing so there’s some impartiality lacking, but that’s besides the point. The details of a plan are given and it’s not a bogus plan, it’s real and accurate and the guy executed it and it sounds reasonable. Unfortunately there’s not as much of that on the internet as you might imagine. There’s people posting all over the internet what their strategies are for triathlon nutrition but there is no way that they’re accurate. There’s also just as many garbage plans posted to the web out there as there are good plans posted to the web. Lovato has a good one and there is a LOT of really good information in it. I’d recommend reading it.

While Lovato doesn’t explicitly state he’s trying to create certain hormonal condition for racing in addition to getting the fueling right I think the plan he gives does just that. I’ve been thinking about tricking your body’s insulin response quite a bit recently and some of the related things that go with hormones during both exercise and recovery. Joe Friel had an excellent article on his website today about RER & fuel sources during exercise. In it he provides a reference to a study I’d recently read the abstract of about pre-exercise fuel. I still can’t get the full text of it and the abstract doesn’t allude to the answer but I believe the authors likely would assume the source of the variation seen has something to do with the insulin response caused by the glucose versus the fructose. Also worth linking for the interested reader is an article about exercising under depleted carbohydrate conditions (this is a valid way to train your body to run at a lower RER despite what people may think) and another article establishing that consuming carbohydrates during exercise raises RER. Us as athletes can’t somehow select an RER during exercise, our body decides upon it based on our exertion… but because the relationship between RERs and exertion do sometimes change, it’s something that we probably can modify if we want to, in theory it can be trained.

An aside for the real geeks: The electrical engineer slash physicist in me wants to learn the dirac-response to all of the different things I could put in my body as though I function as a neatly organized linear system. Then I could make a “Nutritional Born Approximation” of my body and the protocol I’m following and have a pretty good idea of what’s going on with the macronutrient levels in my blood/liver/muscles during exercise. Clearly it doesn’t work like that and I think a lot of people then dismiss the question as “the body is more complicated than you think”. I agree, the body is more complicated than I’d like it to be in this regard but I refuse to believe that it is too complicated for me to study and learn. How do we learn to make any improvements to sports nutrition at all? I am far exceeding progress compared to where I could be based purely on trial and error so obviously some of the system is at least quasi understandable. The obvious question to ask then is what makes the system nonlinear. That’s the starting point to make a guess at how to best approximate a nonlinear system and as best as I can tell the answer is hormone levels. Insulin is the obvious one as well as the ones involves in regulating free fatty acids, and the more I reflect on the past couple seasons epinephrine has likely got to have something to do with substrate consumption. Paul Tichelaar mentioned while we were riding together at one point this summer that he thinks very very few coaches really understand hormones and that getting a grip on that would really help us out as athletes. I thought a bit about it at the time but I couldn’t see the course of action to learn to be better about it, now I’m starting to see it and I’d like to pursue it. If only I had more time.

Now that I’ve written a half page of ramble I’ll finally get to the point I was going to try and make. I had a great nutrition plan at Ironman. I practiced during training with it and I executed it very precisely on race day. Energy levels and gastric distress did not play a role whatsoever in my race which is exactly the role that you’d like them to play. So if you didn’t get the clue already I’d recommend reading Michael Lovato’s nutrition plan and if you’re so inclined feel free to continue reading and have a look at mine.

  • Friday is the day of my last workout (Sunday = Raceday). Total duration set to be close to my previously established duration of glycogen supply when my body is operating at Ironman pace. For me this is 1 hour 40 minutes and I did about the equivalent of a sprint triathlon with a 50% too-long bike leg. The workout is long enough that I’m going to generally drain out my muscles but I’m not going to drain then dry. Immediately following this workout I hit myself hard with good recovery food. Approximately 3:1 carbs:protein. Consume a whole protein source. I ate fruit, rice, sausage and nuts. I ate until I was full… and then ate a big lunch 30 minutes later. This marked the end of excessive eating. I needed to make sure the body would be reloaded but not stuffed.
  • Night before – Ate a bunch of stuff that I enjoy eating, not trying to stuff myself. I ate a bunch of Quinoa and half a pork tenderloin. If I wasn’t sharing with Dad I would have probably eaten the whole pork tenderloin though!
  • Breakfast – 4 fried eggs, 4 small pieces of bread, some olive oil on top to make things slimey, and a full tub of yogurt. I also had a few pieces of cheese as well as a banana and a kiwi fruit. Emphasis is on not being hungry and lasting from 4:30am when I ate the meal until 8am when I would be on my bike and beginning to eat in earnest once again. There’s no big sources of fiber here, and there’s a relatively high fat and protein content in this meal compared to what is often recommended for pre-exercise. Carbohydrates are there but the emphasis is on stuff that has low to medium glycemic load, I guess the fruit doesn’t really fit the bill. The idea is to get the digestive system running, and running above a minimal idle, not just to put the key into the ignition. Minimal insulin response to this meal and in that sense similar to Lovato.
  • Race Morning – brought water along but didn’t drink more than 500 mls. Banana at 30 minutes until the start. This will be hitting my bloodstream and leaving the stomach as the race begins. Note Lovato’s tip: don’t go into that long swim with a slightly dipping blood sugar. I wouldn’t go into any swim with a dipping blood sugar and that’s often the reason I’m the guy standing on the pool deck at triathlon club workouts while we wait for the group ahead of us to finish and I’m munching on something. Low blood sugar is a recipe for poor focus and low motivation and personally that’s a recipe for disaster during a swim.
  • During the bike – Targetting 2500 calories in the first 4.5 hours on the bike leaving me a full half hour for the descent off of Richter without any pressure to keep consuming. It is un-aero and inefficient to eat when you could be doing more than 60 kph. I also want to give my stomach a chance to empty out so I hit the run with my body loaded up with energy and fuel but without a brimming stomach.

    With me:

    • 2×24oz bottles of Gatorade = 350 calories
    • 2 tube shot bloks = 400 calories, (one before Richter, one before yellow lake)
    • 4 gels 4×110 = 440 calories
    • 4 clif bars = 960 calories

    Need to get en-route:

    • 5 bananas = 600 calories (try at every aid station if there’s time, there isn’t always if I’m trying to get two bottles)
    • 2 bottles of Gatorade = 350 calories
    • Drink Water the rest of the way. (Leave every aid station with more than half a bottle of water)

    Add up all the calories except for the gels and throw away 4x(1/4) full bottles of gatorade and you wind up at 2500 calories.

    The plan was not to eat any of the gels unless I felt like I needed to get more simple sugar flowing into my body in which case they could replace a clif bar or bananas if I couldn’t get them from the aid stations. I preferred to stick to a slightly more complex carbohydrate than powergel. Admittedly I could just choose to eat hammer-gels or carbo-pro or mix up a stiff bottle of perpetuem or something like that and achieve the same ratios and style of calories but I want to be able to happily get through this race without feeling hungry which I discovered can happen if I’m fully fueled but I’ve not been eating much real food. The end result is that I wanted to chew on something to tell the body I was eating and selected to eat clif-bars. They taste good, they chew a lot prettier than a powerbar, and they are at a pretty optimal level of carbohydrate complexity for the intensity I planned to race at. They’re not as low in fiber as all the other options I mentioned earlier but they’re not “high” like any oat based granola bar. That said, I am drinking gatorade as my primary source of electrolytes on the bike and am getting some pretty simple sugar from there as well as from the 2 tubes of shot bloks which I consumed at the base of each climb, with the intention of riding at a higher exertion on the climbs than on the flats and making sure that I was only asking my digestive system to to relatively easier work while I was asking my legs and lungs to be doing relatively harder work.

  • Can of coke in bike special needs… only plan to stop for it if I’m having a rough time, otherwise I want to conserve the caffeine boost until the run.
  • On my aerobars I had a list of landmarks and relative locations of aid stations as well as a guide to how many calories I needed to put in by certain landmarks to stay on track nutrition-wise. I also noted where I would be when each hour of the ride rolled over to the next if I was keeping pace for a 5 hour 5 minute bike split.
  • Leaving T2 – I had a disposable bottle filled with two cans of cola and extra electrolytes added (3xEload caps) which had been frozen overnight and wrapped in tin foil to keep it slushy/frozen in my T2 bag until I arrived. I took this in my hand as I left and used it as a reason to help me do the first mile slow enough otherwise I would likely totally overdo it. It also got the caffeine flowing in my system which is just what I wanted as I find it gives me a good boost. I had a second bottle of the magic mix stashed in the special needs bag along with all sorts of random crap thinking that I wanted to cover all the bases of what I might be craving. I wasn’t craving much when I got there so I didn’t take much other than a fruit leather (50 cals). A special note for people doing Ironman Canada, you should have something to drink in there as there is no aid station at special needs but the stations are spaced out along the way as though you are due for one when you get there.
  • Aid Stations – Gels at every third aid station with water (8 gels). Drink coke/gatorade at each of the other aid stations when possible. Don’t drink more than 500ml at any one aid station as it will make my stomach slosh. Always try to have one gel in my pocket. Stash ice into top at each aid station. Once through the aid station redistribute the ice how I’d like, into arm coolers and neck. Never leave without arm-coolers being wet. The game plan was to switch to water instead of coke and gatorade if I’m feeling like my belly is full. In the final 10 mile I was full up on energy and dealing with cramping in my legs as I ran. By this point I was largely just going through the motions and taking tiny sips at the aid stations rather than drinking anything of substance or consuming much fuel. The game had changed by that point, I had no doubt about my ability to finish strong energy-wise and by the time I hit the south end of town I was in good enough shape mentally and nutritionally to lax up the plan fuel wise and put the focus on the main task which was pain management with the cramps and just keeping on trucking. I took no gels during the last 10 kms and stuck with the coke/gatorade instead.

Post race I ate some pizza but not a lot. Drank some of this and that but didn’t really do that good of a job loading up my body with all sorts of good food. I was hungry but didn’t have much appetite to actually do the eating as I’d spent the whole day eating. Oh well, I ate some chips, drank my first beer in four months, and went to bed. Nothing fancy.

On a related note I wanted to mention that I am really happy to have a guy like Chris McCormack as world champion in our sport. I’ve had differing opinions of the guy over the course of the past few years with lots of the different spins that the media tries to put on this guy. Over the past season though I’ve paid better attention to what he’s doing and what media he’s putting out and how he’s contributing to triathlon. I’ll admit the swaying of opinion could be swayed a bit by the fact that I’m now consuming more “Chris McCormack sanctioned” media and him and his sponsors have had the opportunity to polish it up a bit, take the edge off the sharp bits that might stab you, and at the same time highlight the highlights. Sure, that might have something to do with it but we can also look at the facts.

Chris probably partied hard and reveled in his win as he alluded to in his victory speech… but a week later he was in California spending a week on a big bike tour with the CAF. Where’s Mirinda Carfrae following her victory on the womens’ side? partying in Vegas. I’ll make no illusion that I wanted Macca to beat Chris Lieto, the guy I’m totally rooting for to win Kona before he retires, or even Craig Alexander who is a consummate professional and great role model in his own right, but really I am mighty mighty happy to have Macca take the crown.



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Kona Points

My coach Steven Lord posted an interesting question in his blog earlier this week. The question was this:

As there are a finite number of points to be won by any pro triathlete under the new Kona Points Qualification system implemented by WTC for the Hawaii Ironman, there must be a number of points that guarantees an athlete to qualify, because if one athlete had amassed more than that number of points it would be impossible for 50 (30 if female) other athletes to amass more than that number of points. What is the threshold?

A professional [I presume Steven is thinking about this as his partner, the rookie pro Jo Carritt, is probably planning her 2011 season right now] could then design their season to try and get that many points and once they had met that threshold they could quit racing and just focus on training for the big dance in Hawaii with confidence that they were safe instead of waiting for the deadlines of point accrual set out by WTC.

In case you are unaware points are awarded as follows:

IRONMAN KONA QUALIFYING POINTS TABLE

       IRONMAN RACES   70.3 RACES  
Place P-6000 P-4000 P-2000 P-1000 P-3000 P-1500 P-750 P-500
1 6000 4000 2000 1000 3000 1500 750 500
2 5400 3520 1760 880 2000 1200 660 440
3 4900 3120 1560 780 1500 1000 585 390
4 4450 2800 1400 700 1200 700 525 350
5 4000 2400 1200 600 1000 600 450 300
6 3300 2240 1120 560 900 560 420 280
7 3100 2080 1040 520 800 520 390 260
8 2900 1920 960 480 750 480 360 240
9 2700 1760 880 440 650 440 330 220
10 2500 1600 800 400 600 400 300 200
11 2300 1440 720 360 540 360 270 180
12 2100 1280 640 320 475 320 240 160
13 1900 1120 560 280 420 280 210 140
14 1700 960 480 240 360 240 180 120
15 1500 800 400 200 300 200 150 100
16 900 200 100 50 75 50 38 25
17 800 200 100 50 75 50 38 25
18 700 200 100 50 75 50 38 25
19 600 200 100 50 75 50 38 25
20 500 200 100 50 75 50 38 25
21-30 400 100 50 20 40 25 15 10
31-40 300 100 50 20 40 25 15 10
41+ 200 100 50 20 40 25 15 10

Downloaded from ironmanusa.com on October 5, 2010

The race schedule distributes points at the following race according to the race classification:

Date for
Kona 2011
Event 70.3
Points
140.6
Points
Prize Purse
9/12/2010 Ford Ironman Wisconsin   P-1000 $50,000
9/12/2010 Subaru Ironman 70.3 Muskoka P-500   $25,000
9/19/2010 Ironman 70.3 Syracuse P-500   $25,000
9/19/2010 Ironman 70.3 Cancun P-750   $50,000
9/19/2010 Ironman 70.3 Centrair Tokoname Japan P-750   $25 000
9/19/2010 Ironman 70.3 Branson P-500   $25,000
9/26/2010 Ironman 70.3 Augusta P-500   $25,000
10/9/2010 Ford Ironman World Championship   P-6000 $580,000
10/17/2010 Ironman 70.3 Austin P-500   $30,000
10/30/2010 Ironman 70.3 Taiwan P-500   $15,000
10/30/2010 Rohto Ironman 70.3 Miami P-750   $50,000
11/6/2010 Ford Ironman Florida   P-1000 $50 000
11/13/2010 Foster Grant
Ironman World Championship 70.3
P-3000   $100,000
11/21/2010 Ford Ironman Arizona   P-2000 $75,000
11/28/2010 Ford Ironman Cozumel   P-2000 $75,000
12/5/2010 Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship P-1500   $75,000
12/5/2010 Ironman Western Australia   P-2000 TBD
1/16/2011 Ironman 70.3 Pucon P-500   $15,000
1/23/2011 Ironman 70.3 South Africa P-750   $50,000
3/5/2011 Ironman New Zealand   P-1000 $50,000
3/19/2011 Ironman 70.3 San Juan P-750   $50,000
3/20/2011 Ironman 70.3 Singapore P-500   TBD
4/2/2011 Ironman 70.3 California P-750   $50,000
4/10/2011 Ironman South Africa   P-2000 $75,000
4/10/2011 Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas P-1500   $75,000
4/17/2011 Ochsner Ironman 70.3 New Orleans P-750   $50,000
5/1/2011 Ironman 70.3 St Croix P-750   $50,000
5/1/2011 Ironman Australia   P-1000 $25,000
5/1/2011 Ironman 70.3 Port Macquarie P-750   $15,000
5/7/2011 Ford Ironman St George   P-2000 $75,000
5/14/2011 Thomas Cook Ironman 70.3 Mallorca P-500   $15,000
5/15/2011 Ironman 70.3 Florida P-500   $15,000
5/21/2011 Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas   P-4000 $100,000
5/21/2011 Ironman Lanzarote   P-1000 $25,000
5/22/2011 Ironman China   P-1000 $25,000
5/22/2011 Ironman 70.3 China P-500   $15,000
5/22/2011 Ironman 70.3 Austria P-750   $50,000
5/29/2011 Ironman Brazil   P-2000 $75,000
6/4/2011 Ironman 70.3 Hawaii P-500   $15,000
6/5/2011 Powerbar Ironman 70.3 Switzerland P-750   $50,000
6/5/2011 Ironman 70.3 Mooseman P-500   $15,000
6/11/2011 Ironman 70.3 Boise P-500   $15,000
6/12/2011 Ironman 70.3 Kansas P-750   $50,000
6/12/2011 Subaru Ironman 70.3 Eagleman P-750   $50,000
6/19/2011 Ironman 70.3 UK P-500   $15,000
6/26/2011 Ford Ironman Coeur d’Alene   P-1000 $25,000
6/26/2011 Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake P-500   $15,000
6/26/2011 Ironman France   P-1000 $25,000
7/3/2011 Karnten Ironman Austria   P-2000 $75,000
TENTATIVE Ironman Japan   P-2000 $75,000
7/10/2011 Ironman Switzerland   P-2000 $75,000
7/10/2011 Amica Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island P-500   $15,000
7/17/2011 Ironman 70.3 Racine P-500   $15,000
7/17/2011 Ironman 70.3 Vineman P-750   $50,000
7/24/2011 Frankfurter Sparkasse
Ironman European Championship
  P-4000 $100,000
7/24/2011 Ford Ironman Lake Placid   P-2000 $75,000
TBD Ironman 70.3 Antwerp P-500   $15,000
7/30/2011 Whirlpool Ironman 70.3 Steelhead P-500   $15,000
7/31/2011 Ironman UK   P-1000 $25,000
7/31/2011 Viterra Ironman 70.3 Calgary P-500   $15,000
8/7/2011 Ironman Regensburg   P-1000 $25,000
8/7/2011 Ironman 70.3 Boulder P-750   $50,000
8/14/2011 Ironman 70.3 Germany P-1500   $75,000
8/21/2011 Ironman 70.3 Timberman P-750   $50,000
8/21/2011 Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines P-500   $15,000
8/27/2011 Ironman 70.3 Brazil P-750   $50,000
TENTATIVE Ironman Korea   P-1000 $25,000
8/28/2011 Ford Ironman Louisville   P-1000 $25,000
8/28/2011 Subaru Ironman Canada   P-2000 $75,000

Downloaded from ironmanusa.com on October 5, 2010

Different races are set to distribute the points according to different schedules, similar to accumulating points towards the Alberta Bicycle Association Alberta Cup where some races are ‘Schedule-A’ and some races are ‘Schedule-B’. Intuitively you know that if you do good at the good events you are going to soak up the points, but the competition knows this at the same time and they’re going to show up there as well and stiffen the competition for those points. It will be quite interesting from a spectator’s perspective to watch how the pros decide to go about accruing points in the next year… I haven’t seen any “instructions” or guidelines directing people on what’s a decent strategy. It might be the case that some of the professionals aren’t going to quite figure out how to play the Kona-Points-Game in the first year that it exists. That will be interesting as then they’re going to want to have exceptions made according to the Lance-Armstrong clause that so many of them whined so much about in the last few months. I’m not confident I understand the strategy for second-tier pros well enough to make a suggestion of where they should focus their efforts on racing well to accrue points, though for the highly competitive professionals I think that the system quite clearly suggests one strategy.

I’m pretty sure that the strategy for the big guns is to make sure that they shy away from the P-1000 ironman races and to make sure that you have flexibility in your schedule until they’re past the threshold (I’ll get to that in a minute). They need the flexibility to make sure that they could race two full WTC Ironman races and three WTC branded 70.3s. You’ll see soon that for the real hotshots in our sport, they can net themselves a Kona berth without dedicating their whole season to race as a “WTC owned athlete” which is what I’ve heard some grumbling about. A half decent finish in Kona this year, perhaps backed up with a season-wrapper-upper at Arizona, Cozumel or Western Australia and you’re almost done. Then pick up a couple WTC brand 70.3 races next year to tune up for wherever else you want to race… like Roth, Copenhagen, Henley-on-Thames, or Abu Dhabi and you’re set. If you don’t do well in Kona this year to get a good start on your points (doing well in Kona is a big boost to get back to Kona, I quite like this aspect of the system) then you probably want to schedule in racing either the new IM Texas or the Frankfurt race. Put together a good race (top 5) at either of those races, do a couple 70.3s where you’re likely to win or at least come second, and you’re set. The ladies from TBB can all go on racing an IM every weekend and they’ll qualify without thinking about it, but the system isn’t requiring much more racing than what I understand most pros to be doing (some of the german guys being the exceptions… they’ll need to race a bit more, and requiring the non-Kona ironman out of people like Crowie and Carfrae who opted to skip it this past year.). Like I said, I don’t really know what the strategy is for people who aren’t yet famous and just trying to crack into the pro ranks. Do you avoid the big races so you can win or come second at some of the smaller ones? I dunno, time will tell I suppose.

OK what’s the number!

Truth is – I don’t actually know the number. It’s a pretty complicated process to figure it out and pretty quickly after trying to solve the problem exactly I wrote a little monte-carlo simulation to search for the answer instead. One thing we do know is that for Men (50 qualifiers) the threshold MUST BE BELOW 6714 and for Women (30 qualifiers) the threshold MUST BE BELOW 8525. If you’re a pro and you reach this threshold then for sure there is no way that you won’t get an invite to roll on the Queen K. However, the actual threshold is quite a bit below this. I can only say quite a bit because I’ve only run a simulation to find solutions to the problem and not actually “solved” anything.

This simulation does not take into account:

  1. The requirement that each pro must race one Ironman other than Kona
  2. The limitation on using only 3 70.3s for points
  3. The athlete could potentially enter a race twice at the same time and win both first and second place. This isn’t an issue with P-2000, P-1000 or P-750, P-500 races, but is an issue with the impossibility of scooping points twice in kona, texas or Clearwater.
  4. There’s no accounting for the possibility that the past 5 years champions somehow came 1-5 on the Kona podium and scooped up the highest points totals rendering them “useless” in terms of earning qualification as they’re all going to be allowed to come anyways. That would make a killer race though. I want to see Macca and Crowie running neck and neck for the win out of the Energy Lab this year, it would be great! Macca would be trying to get inside Crowie’s head the whole time.
  5. There is no accounting for athletes earning an “early qualifier” at the end of July and then some others contesting the final few spots during the August races on the calendar, I can’t really comment on whether or not that helps anyone or not, one thing I do know is that it offers peace of mind to a bunch of people who are liable to get very stressed out about this kind of thing. The athletes asked for this clause and WTC granted it to them, there’s a mark of hope for the world to look at!
  6. Not so much a “disregarded contingency” but to be clear, we’re going to presume here that no-one other than the 50 men (30 women) seeking a Kona slot place in all the top ranks at all 69 of the races on the schedule, enough to scoop all of the highest point totals to use for their point-stash… but we know there are more people who will inevitably scoop some of these big scores up but not enough to qualify, and some who do not do any full IM races to try and come to Kona.

All of these things are limitations to how many points different athletes can actually accrue and so the sum total of points that can be won by all the athletes is less than the simulation suggests so the threshold to qualify for kona is actually all but guaranteed to be less than these metrics. In addition, it’s very very highly unlikely that all the points are going to be distributed in the worst possible way for the kona qualifying threshold to be driven up higher and higher. The really good athletes are going to blow past the threshold and scoop a lot of extra points, that’s going to lower the threshold. Points are going to go unclaimed when fields are not super deep, that’s going to lower the threshold too.

The worst case scenario’s that I’ve been able to find are as follows:

  • It’s possible with 50 qualifying slots (Men) that the Kona Points Threshold for qualification gets as high as 6600 pts
  • It’s possible with 30 qualifying slots (Women) that the Kona Points Threshold for qualification gets as high as 8360 pts

I all but guarantee that it will be lower than this, and my guess is that it’s going to be between 5% and 20% lower than this. It’s interesting to note that the Men’s winner likely just needs to finish an Ironman in 15:59 and he’s allowed to come back with this points breakdown, after completing the stipulations (of a non-kona IM finish) of validating his entry he likely doesn’t even need to exercise his free invitation. (I’ll add that it’s possible that, even with the computer running on this calculation, it didn’t actually find the worst case scenario (which we know can’t be above 6714 and 8525 anyways), but take note of all the reasons above why this worst case scenario is unlikely to happen anyhow.

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Ironman Training – A retrospective

Ironman training is not really a one year thing.

I’m talking about the kind of training that it takes to do Ironman as a race. The vast majority of people out there are not doing Ironman as a race, they’re doing Ironman as a stunt. This isn’t necessarily good or bad, but it’s a stunt, a “look at me, let’s see if I can do this” kind of undertaking and it does not require what I’m about to describe. I also know that it doesn’t take more than one year to prepare to do the stunt called Ironman because hundreds of people do it every year, they watch the race on Sunday, sign up on Monday, and start training on Tuesday. The next year they make their way to the finish line on Sunday and are spending Monday spending in the merchandise tent outfitting themselves with all kinds of clothing and widgets with M-dot insignia to tell everyone that they were successful at the Ironman stunt.

Ironman was conceived as a race and to tackle Ironman with any sort of race-mentality or race-approach there’s a requisite level of ability in swimming, cycling and running required. I wasn’t keen on attempting 226kms of racing until I was going to do 226kms of racing and not just performing the stunt. I would recommend the same thing, and to do that requires a few years of learning to swim, bike, and run. Learning what different paces feel like in the pool and on the road. Learning approximately how long you can last for a variety of these different paces. Learning that you can push your body to do a bit more than you know is possible. Learning what kind of effort it takes to do 25kph 30kph 35kph and 40kph on the road with your bike. Learning what it feels like to accumulate fatigue over the course of a period of tough training and learning to trust your body to recover and get stronger when you unload training stress. Learning how to change a flat tyre on your bike. Learning how to request a higher level of performance from your body on race day than you do on any other random given day of the week. Learning how to consume food and nutrition while exercising at intensities that allow for it. Learning how much clothing is appropriate to wear in a vast array of differing environmental conditions. I think those are all prerequisites to deciding to try and race an Ironman. None of it is necessarily difficult but I believe that all of it is important, without those basic skills, you would have too much experience to gain that you’re going to be unable to train yourself effectively without getting caught up addressing details throughout the preceding year. When push comes to shove, you need to direct your attention to training your body rather than learning how to train your body. Learn in the minor leagues, perform in the majors.

It would be awfully nice to have completed all three legs of an Ironman as stand-alone events prior to race day. The confidence boosting aspect of not setting a record longest ride, longest swim, or longest run at the same time as trying to race Ironman is worthwhile. If you’re out there for the stunt, then disregard this, why not make Ironman your longest swim, longest bike and longest run. The stunt is just all the more impressive if you do it that way. If you’re racing though, the extra stress is nothing but bad news for you. You’ll likely do the swim and ride durations many times throughout the year but likely will never do the run in that final year if you’re being intelligent about it. (Full article about why that would be considered intelligence) In short: the recovery from doing so will cost you too many days recovering of the 365 in that last year to be of net-benefit. Thus to have previously run a marathon at some point in your athletic career is a real asset.

I did 800 hours in the preceding 12 months. That averages to about 16 hours a week. I did 700 the year before that. Ironman takes a lot of training so you’d better love training. Even Ironman athletes who are way on the low end of the spectrum with an average of around 10 hours per week are still doing more than an hour a day on average. That is a lot of training. The 800 hours level of volume is almost certainly more than what you need to be able to race, but it’s not unreasonably high by any stretch of the imagination compared to others in the sport. 800 hours is likely somewhere close to what is required to get yourself in and around the 10 hour mark.

That said, you don’t need to do it fast to have a good time. My biggest goal this season was to have fun. Luckily for me training is fun, especially riding. I think I would have had just as much fun on race-day if I did it in 12 hours if 12 hours was what I was prepared to do as a best effort. My second goal was to finish (an important goal for first timers!). My third goal was to run the entire marathon. I didn’t have a time goal but rather a time target of 10 hours to keep me on track for what I knew I could do rather than what I hoped I could do. I was within a percentage of that in the end and so I’m at peace with it despite agonizing over that one minute quite a bit in the following week. Be careful about setting goals, they can make the sport a lot less enjoyable. On a slightly related note I think it’s mightily important to get approval from the people in your life before you try and train 800 hours. That’s a lot of hours.

Running

Despite what you may like to believe, I believe that triathlon is all about the run. You may cite examples of various race outcomes that might seem to suggest otherwise but on average over the many years that this sport has evolved and changed, it’s the best runners who are the best triathletes. That doesn’t mean that they don’t ride well, or swim well, but more often than not it’s the guys who can approach the run like it’s an ace in the hole that are performing to their potential. They need to be smart about the bike ride but they don’t need to worry about going too hard, they’re good enough runners that they can do portions of the bike “too hard” when it’s strategically advantageous to do so and still run extremely close to their potential. Treating a triathlon as though the run leg is the most important makes you want to be a great swimmer and a great rider. You’re going to train hard on the bike because you want to arrive to T2 ready to lay down a run split that is within only a few percent of your open run time over that distance. This means running the whole marathon no exceptions. Having the ability to run that entire marathon is going to make or break any charade of whether or not you raced Ironman. To do that you need to make yourself into a runner. (You’re also going to have to be a cyclist so you can ride 180kms to even start that run running).

A year ago I wouldn’t consider myself to be a runner. Now I would. I didn’t do anything totally out of the ordinary except make running a priority. My biggest run week was at around 90 kms. Based on the decision of my coach I took a low intensity approach and tried to target high frequency. Many weeks I ran every day if only a bit. For basically all of it I used a heart rate cap of 162bpm which is my maximum aerobic function heart rate. How you settle on a heart-rate to use can be as the result of gas analysis while running on a treadmill or guessed at by some combination of formulas as originally explored by Dr. Phil Maffetone. Get your google search going and you can find all sorts of info on this approach and will likely also find this endorsement from uuber-Ironman-runner Mark Allen. The purpose is/was to develop durability and efficiency at around IMpace, which is going to be aerobic and likely sub-maximally so. There are a lot of people out there who will tell you that you don’t need speedwork for Ironman because you will not run fast, no-one runs fast. When you’re building up your durability and making aerobic development this is totally correct. There’s a point to doing some fast running though as on occasion it’s necessary to make your muscles sore and to develop run strength. Not doing this is going to result in your legs giving up before you lungs and that’s what happened to me. It’s the better of the two options though, because if you’re not fit enough you go really really slow despite how strong you are, if you’re not quite strong enough you’ll slow a bit but it just really hurts. Speedwork: that’s icing on the cake, so you first need the cake. I got the cake baked but didn’t have the time to ice it completely on my first go-round. If someday I am going to try it again I’d hope to be able to put some more icing on the cake, but I wouldn’t force it, you’ve got to be confident that you’ve got that cake baked first. So, back to the strict aerobic cake baking strategy… The strategy means you often run tired but never run sore. Tired running is where you’re going to make your biggest leaps in running economy and if you’re challenging yourself with the volume this is also a great place to be developing mental fortitude. This is the kind of mental strength you need as it’s race-specific. Mimi from Endurance Corner stated it like this: “Train tired. Learn to push through fatigue that is driven largely by volume, not intensity. Being able to get the job done when tired builds capacity for concentration.” As the race approaches, it comes time to choose a realistic target pace and run a lot at that target pace so you know what it feels like. Ideally you do this enough that it becomes default pace and when you leave T2 you don’t need to think too much, on race day you’ll just run.

Where to start? If you’re unable to run 45 minutes every other day for a statistically significant duration (ie, twice running 45 minutes in three days doesn’t suggest that you could do it forever) then that’s the first target. Get to the point where you feel like you could do 45 minutes every other day for the rest of your life. Once there, starting daily running even if just for short durations is a great way to boost the run volume and start working on efficiency and durability. There are numerous ways to do it including a 30 day run challenge where you try and run 30 times in 30 days with some minimum duration. There area a boatload of variations on this challenge including increasing the duration or varying the minimum. I did a 30 minute minimum for 30 days and then a 40 minute minimum for 40 days in my lead-up to Ironman. A friend did a 40 minute minimum for a month and there’s talk of a crew of us trying 100 runs in 100 days starting on New Years Day 2011 to build a big run base for next summer. (20×20min 30×30min, 40×40min, 10xhalf marathon is one proposed minimum, 100×10kms is another which has the added bonus that you’d also conquer 1000kms during the challenge which is at least as good a number as any other (stats are stupid but they’re also fun.).

The Swim

I’m a mediocre swimmer at best so I don’t think you should take a whole lot of stock in my advice on how to swim well. My biggest swim week was at around 20 kms but it only happened before I was trying to boost volume in the other disciplines. Throughout the rest of the year I tried to swim more than 10 kms more weeks than not. I swam as much as I could with a coach on deck. I also made an effort to try to swim intervals rather than just zombie swimming in the pool for an hour. I also tracked progress at how fast I could do a 4000 yard TimeTrial approximately each month. Lots of the stats from those Friday-night swim TTs made it into this blog so you can see my progression and retrogression and re-progression if you want by using the search box. This mentally prepares you to pace a long swim and it should show you progression of your speed when your training is working. I got the idea from Chuckie Veylupek, who is a mighty fine swimmer as far as triathletes go and a beacon of hope for people who start swimming later in life. The same concept (track progress on long swim) was reinforced by my coach Steven Lord when he came on board. Ideally you’ll want to see improvements in your 4000yd speed.

4000yd speed is supposed to be threshold speed, so you could also use Mr. Smooth’s critical swim speed calculator or the threshold speed calculator formula suggested by TrainingPeaks. They’re the same calculation, and I think the same one that my coach uses/used (same results anyway). Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim though and that can’t be avoided, so doing the long swim is a demon you’re going to have to face eventually… better to start sooner rather than later.

When the improvements arise, look at what you’ve been doing and then keep doing it! Like I said I am not yet a good swimmer but I felt like I prepared with a high degree of specificity for what this swim would be like and thus did an acceptable job on race day. You don’t need to do all strokes in the pool but if you swim enough it is a good thing to do them all as you get more in tune with how your body moves in the water than if you just do front crawl. I will be doing more varied strokes next season. I also am kicking myself for not learning to flip turn ages ago. Partly because it makes you faster but partly because it forces you to hold your breath for a bit on every single length. Despite never flip turning during the race that’s an Ironman specific skill. When you get hit and splashed and dragged under you’re going to have to skip a breath now and again and you damn well need to be able to do it and keep swimming otherwise the hitting and dragging and splashing is going to continue. Flip turning is now on the menu of things to tackle for me.

The Bike

It’s not all about the bike, but if you want to be an Ironman you need to spend an awful lot of time on your bike. So the first order of business would be to get some good shorts and get comfortable riding a lot. Get a sore ass. If you can ride with effort long enough that you are having a hard time sitting on your bike. Then you’re probably riding enough. It happens to me when I get past 400 miles in 4 days.

This year between Jan and race-day I rode 10000 kms. Biggest week was 1000 kms. I targeted 400kms most weeks since May and accomplished the target basically whenever I didn’t have an excuse (ie no bike to ride). I once did 300kms in a day to see what a 10 hour day was like. You certainly don’t need to do this, but it is confidence building if you can. Do it in 10 weeks out at the latest if you do or it will interrupt your training close to the race when it counts more.

Most weekends since April I rode more than 6 hours one day and the other day some other combination of riding and running totaling more than 4 hours, often 5 or 6. I rode my TT bike a lot, but did recovery rides on my road bike. I often rode alone, I also often rode with groups. You can do both only if you ride a lot. If you only ride a bit you need to ride alone or at least don’t draft and make sure you’re the one setting the pace so you’re learning pace judgement at the same time. Now that I write that I realize: essentially all of my riding this year was self-selected pace. When I group-rode I did pace setting for a vast majority of the time. That’s a big coup and it made a big difference. Sitting on the front of a paceline into a headwind sitting straight upright to make a big draft and trying to keep a group together is good motivation to keep the power steady and high.

In the off season I rode inside on a stationary bike with a weighted flywheel. It’s lousy riding but it makes for a good workout as everything is some form of drill or interval. There’s no such thing as an easy ride inside, you’ll loose your mind if you try to do it. I made a point this year in the out-of-season season to nudge up my cadence a bit and really work on my pedal stroke. These weren’t weaknesses, they were already strengths, but neuromuscular efficiency is of high importance when you’re going to be riding a lot and so I made a point of focusing on them while inside. Riding aero doesn’t become too important until ~8 weeks out from a race (in my opinion) at which point you’ve got to switch and then start riding aero almost exclusively. I wouldn’t bother being strict with it at all and ride the aerobars if you want to but never force yourself if you don’t want to during out-of-season season, sit up let yourself breathe fully and don’t restrict your hip angle. You’ll be a better cyclist and get a better workout as a result.

I often rode more than 200kms and during the last two months did up to 50% of my long rides at IMeffort. Lots of 20,30,60 minute intervals at IM pace with 25% duration easy between each. That’s the formula for “Muscular Endurance” according to Joe Friel. I’d rather just call it what it is, TT specificity. Not a lot of sprinting since April, but in the winter I did lots of drills and shorter intervals to make the most of my time when riding stationary bikes. Then on race day I rode conservative the whole way. I never worked hard on the bike at all, this might sound crazy as I was fastest in my AG, that’s true though. Luckily I was able to get ahead of this traffic jam though:

Photo from gallery: Triathlon - 2010

IM effort on the bike takes learning. What I ended up targeting would be described by this highly unscientific formula:

~10 beats per minute below the highest HR you’ve ever averaged in a half Ironman and still run within 2% of your open Half Marathon time after it.

Likely unless you’ve been around the block a few times you don’t have an actual datapoint for this. It’s likely ~20bpm lower than your running Maximum aerobic function HR. In retrospect I may have been able to push a bit harder on the bike during Ironman. It’s also likely true that I could have pushed slightly harder on the bike in the Half Ironman I was basing this estimate on as I ran a Half marathon PR, so I was within 0% of my PR instead of the 2% or so that I would have allowed for. When I trained at IMeffort I typically tried to average the ceiling of what I would eventually actually attempt on race day. IMeffort in training often netted me around 37-39kph and on race day I did less than 35 which was partly due to conditions but partly intentional, to take it easy in the race.

Training Load

You’re going to want to take an out-of-season break from structured training sometime in the winter to recharge a bit and relax. Then once you get going again the key will be to stay uninjured and healthy all the way through to the race without any gaps in your training. That’s a tall order. Until you take that break you should be stretching yourself a bit and finding out what kind of weekly volume is sustainable and manageable. It’s OK if you get too tired once or twice and have to back it off to recover. The idea being that once the real season starts in earnest you’re not going to make mistakes of biting off more than you can chew… because at that point you’re sacrificing race-performance if you miss training. During the pre-season season, you’re just learning how your body responds so pay attention to it and write a lot of stuff down. How far out from the race you want to “start” your buildup is a matter of preference. Many professionals often do 11 months of it every year but they’re fitting in some mid-season R&R as well. I did 8 months of gung-ho and it was a bit long and I think that 6 months would be more ideal. Ideal is a relative term. If the weather decides to be minus 40 then I better decide to not try and do 20 hour training weeks. On the contrary, when you’re motivated to train because there’s no snow on the roads in the middle of February you should capitalize on it and ride your bike!

One other note that I only remedied mid-season was that when you look at your training log in week by week chunks it is easy to miss details like one back-end loaded week being followed by a front-end loaded week. Those sorts of things can make you more tired or more rested than you believe should be the case. I switched to calculating an acute stress score and a chronic stress score in a similar manner to that done by TrainingPeaks’ WKO+ language and as a result I got a much better handle on it. I’ve yet to settle on what I believe to be the best way to calculate race-readiness as the training stress balance metric used by WKO+ leaves something to be desired, the problem is that I haven’t pinpointed it yet. What I’ve got is pretty good, it gives me a curve of where my fitness would go if I stopped training right now. It would rise for a while while I rested and then start to fall. I’ve also used it as a gauge on how much training stress I think I should be able to handle… perhaps I’ll write a bit on that in the future.

I’ll leave this post off with a comparison between my planned training stress and my actual execution of training during my taper for Ironman. I was basically able to execute exactly what I wanted to during the final month.

taper plan

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Recovery is over

Recovery is over. I’m training hard enough as of this week to make my quads sore which should be a sign that I’m no longer holding anything back. In case there was any uncertainty, for me that’s a good thing. Some pretty tough intervals on Monday, a 750m swim TT with fins on Tuesday morning, a cyclocross race on Tuesday evening and a cross country running race on Wednesday evening. My legs are shelled and I’m loving it! I think I can tell I’ve lost some fitness over the last 6 weeks since I was last “training hard” with 3 weeks of taper and three weeks of recovery. I have no lingering fatigue from Ironman at this stage though. That doesn’t mean I can’t tell I spent the summer training for it, I certainly can. I’m not fast, that’s how I can tell. I spent all summer getting “long” instead of getting “fast” and so it’s taking me some serious time to dig up what fast is like. I am surprisingly capable of driving my HR way up and holding it there. That’s not a problem. I though I might just not be able to sustain a mega-high heart rate for a long duration but I’ve run the last two cross country races at an average HR over 180 bpm which for me is high! I also netted a new HRmax for the season last night at 197bpm. Still quite a ways short of what I think I could probably do if I was trying to test for it directly but that’s high nonetheless. The things that I’m really not good at include creating huge accelerations on the bike back-to-back-to-back. Pretty quickly I find myself unable to drop the hammer when I’m trying to launch myself out of a corner and am just pedaling along without any gusto with the high effort and high heart rate. I also am miserable at running down hills. This is actually really sad for me because I thought I used to be good at this, better than average at least. In no uncertain terms though – I am not good at this right now. I can’t spin the legs over as quickly as I need to be able to do to run down any hill with serious speed and momentum. Hopefully I can make amends on this in the next few weeks though as I’m going to throw away a lot of time at Winterstart in Banff if I can’t launch myself down that hill full tilt in November.

I should also point out that this great movie was made of the Ironman race in Penticton last month and I star in it around the 2:45 point. Take a look:

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The Swim

This post is in three parts. The Swim (here) The Bike (here) and The Run (here).

We woke up at 4:10 and I ate a breakfast of 4 fried eggs, 4 pieces of bread, some olive oil on top to make things slimey, and a full tub of yogurt. I also had a few pieces of cheese as well as a banana and a kiwi fruit. I had been out of bed to pee three times during the night (overenthusiastic hydration strategy along with the great pork tenderloin for dinner the night before) and so I didn’t drink much the morning of besides a glass of milk. We were on the road close to 5am and arrived into Penticton with plenty of time. The special needs bags were deposited where they needed to be deposited and we stood in the line-up to get body-marked and did some people-watching. I then sauntered over to my bike, pumped up the tyres and added my two bottles of fluid and then sought out a toilet. There were about a thousand people in line (no joke!) and so I left the transition compound and found the toilets that were ready for the post-race crowds, and had no line whatsoever. I then found Mom through the fence, soon saw Dad through the fence and then headed in to put on the wetsuit and eat my pre-race banana (a four year tradition, it hasn’t failed me yet!). I watched over the fence as the pro start took to the water and then joined the crowd of people flowing out of the transition zone onto the beach. 2800 people. Wow.

Ironman

It was only at that point that I found my brother, camera in hand, in the swim corral snapping shots left right and center while people put their caps on, zipped up eachothers wetsuits and talked about how much colder the lake was this morning than a few days ago prior to all the crazy wind that had been causing white-caps on the water by late afternoon each day since Thursday. I thought the water was plenty warm for swimming and wasn’t put off at all swimming with a sleeveless suit but I still skipped a swim-warmup opting instead for just shoulder circles with dry arms. Getting all wet and then standing around with wet arms and head and no wetsuit to keep the chill off would have been chilly. I made my way to the front and everyone was pretty happy to let me past them. I thought I might have to do some jockeying for position to get to the second row but because I was a bit left of center there wasn’t much to it. I just walked up, said hello to the people around me and promised the girl in front of me that I wouldn’t swim over her so long as she kicked hard and made a good draft. She just gave me a nervous smile, and it was at about that point that I realized that I was awfully calm considering the situation with a few dozen people poised to swim directly over me! Too late to get nervous now, I sang the national anthem at full blast along with a few thousand people and then the countdown was on. The horn went and I was off like a rocket. No hesitation like GWN that had cost me a couple people dashing by and congesting my start significantly. I was off and away swimming hard and finding very little in the way of shoulder bumping let alone the full on arm-wrestling that I’ve experienced before in much much smaller swim starts.

Swim calm before the storm Swim Start

I settled after what I figured was about 200m and set out to start lining myself up for a draft rather than just relying on the general draft of the crowd ahead of me. I was sighting for a bit and then noted two things. 1) I am good at swimming in a straight line so I was never really thinking I needed to make a correction. 2) There was absolutely nothing I could do about altering my direction without getting hammered by people swimming over me even if we were going off course. I stopped sighting regularly at this point and just swam, telling myself to keep the gas on, but don’t go hard. I could tell when we were nearing another buoy each time as the crowd would squeeze slightly as the people way off to the left aimed in a bit more people on the right aimed in a bit more, it got tight each time but never too tight that anything got interrupted, just enough to thicken the crowd up and make the draft stronger and easier to follow. Wahoo, this swim was going so well! I decided to take a peek and looked up at one point, we were already surprisingly a mile into the swim as the first houseboat was right there. I was preparing for a little wrestling match to get around the corner but it never came and never came and never came. Then I saw a scuba diver under me and thought to myself “I’m likely never going to be back here” so I took the opportunity to coast for a second and wave at him. He waved back and I could feel a big smile spread across my face. I’d read about waving to the scuba dudes under the houseboats out here in the lake even before I’d done my first triathlon. That was a long long time ago, it seemed, and today it was finally happening. It was a bit of an emotional experience. I was already a mile into this thing before I fully contemplated how big of a dream coming true this really was. This is a big deal, it’s been a really long time in the making, and I was so happy to be out there.

Photo from gallery: Triathlon - 2010

Then, bam! I got hit in the head. Then again in the ribs, then again on the head, someone grabbed my leg and pulled it down, someone else swam sideways across my back, I have no idea where they were going. Okay, that wrestling match was starting. Everyone had gone into the corner nice and wide, the people on the far side all knew they were only going to wind up in a brawl if they took the corner tight so they didn’t swim straight at the boat. Unfortunately they didn’t swim far enough past the boat to keep the corner wide. We’d just merged probably 20 lanes of traffic into 12 lanes of traffic. I just tried to pull hard at the water, keep breathing and keep swimming and soon enough it was over. Off to the second houseboat we go! There was now no mountain to sight off in the background and those 12 lanes of traffic dispersed awfully quickly and I was swimming in clear water but right on track to maintain the straight line. I knew it was only 400m to the next turn and figured I’d just swim rather than go look for a draft. I knew where I was going and so I just went. Soon enough I found someone else again and hopped aboard their feet for a tow. Seeing the houseboat I got prepared for another melee but this was quick and off we were going back to shore, no punches at all.

Then I saw a huge person. I’m not kidding, she was enormous but hey, she was swimming faster than me so far because she was still ahead of me at this point. I hopped into the draft and it was like swimming into vacuum cleaner. I went from “keep the gas on” to just coasting along. I don’t know how long it lasted nor do I know how I lost her draft but eventually I realized I was having to work harder to keep up, then I realized I wasn’t behind the whale wearing the blue helix wetsuit. Oh well. Then I met a friend with white and orange goggles. I don’t know his number or his name, nor did I talk with him before, during, or after, the swim, but I still felt like he was a friend. He was nice and we swam side by side for a long long time, we had the same rhythm and were going the same speed and drafting off of two people ahead of us swimming side by side. I was behind a guy with something written in green on the calf of his wetsuit and he was behind someone who had the whitest feet I’d ever seen in my life. I swam right there with those three people all the way back to the beach. My friend with white and orange goggles never once bumped or interrupted me but we swam shoulder to shoulder all the way back to the beach together. When I started to touch the bottom I stood up and heard Dad shouting my name. I waved in his direction as I stood up and stepped gingerly over the rocks on the sand-bar and then dove back in once we got back to deeper water. I swam past a bunch of people wading chest deep in the finish chute and got up into the finish chute. I got my wetsuit undone on the first try which always makes me feel really lucky and then off up the beach. I saw 1:05 on the clock and was completely ecstatic with my swim performance. I’ve got time in the bag, already ahead of schedule, and I hadn’t had to work hard at all to earn it.

Photo from gallery: Triathlon - 2010

I had hoped to swim 68 minutes way back last year when I first contemplated how much improvement I could hope to expect to make on my swimming in one year. It was an ambitious goal, and even on race morning I was prepared to not be able to swim 68 minutes. I had budgeted 10 minutes of “contingency” time into my race goal to take care of things like a flat tire or a need to stop for a washroom break or things that aren’t really “racing time”, and I was prepared to use some contingency time to make up for a swim that wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. I was mentally prepared to be a bit disappointed, so when I found out that I’d scored three minutes of “extra time” I was super happy. Percentage wise that’s the same as “accidentally” biking a full 15 minutes faster than anticipated or running 10 minutes faster, really it’s amazing. So despite the fact that “compared to the average” I was less good at the swim than I was at the other two legs I’m totally proud of the effort.

Photo from gallery: Triathlon - 2010

I pointed at the tallest, burliest guy stripping wetsuits in the whole crowd of bodies and arms and wet grass and legs and neoprene there and got his attention as I ran through, hopped on my bum and he peeled it off in a flash and I was off. I ran directly to my swim bag, never hesitated, and was into the tent super quickly. I dumped my stuff on the ground and had my race belt on and was clipping up my helmet when a volunteer grabbed my wetsuit, I said thanks and was off jogging with my shoes in hand before I had even really realized what had happened. There were probably two hundred guys in that tent and just as I was leaving someone came in and cheered, then the whole place erupted in response. What an experience! I got sunscreen slathered on my arms in two seconds flat by a cute girl in a bikini and was off to find my bike. I opted not to run through here as at GWN I had hopped aboard my bike with what would become my maximum heart rate for that entire day. I didn’t want to spike my heart-rate so kept it to a jog. I got to the bike and wobbled a bit to get the shoes on. Whoa, steady… and then un-racked and hopped aboard. Let’s go for a bike ride!

Bike Racks

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