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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A new chariot for my horsepower

I’ve been thinking about another road bike since early 2009. That year at the Pigeon Lake Road Race, which I went on to win with Stefan [race report] I could really tell that the bottom bracket of my aluminum Cervelo Dual was swaying back and forth pretty seriously when I was laying down the watts. I didn’t necessarily suffer big losses as a result of this but I did decide at that point that if I was going to really decide that I was going to race seriously I should probably get another frame under me that solved some of the bottom bracket stiffness issues that I was seeing in a 2004 aluminum frame. This definitely isn’t a criticism of that bike, it’s an observation. It’s an older aluminum frame by this point and no-one is going to tell you that they’re supposed to be the stiffest bikes with long lives. Aluminum has a fatigue curve that’s a heck of a lot different than steel, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve ridden my way down that fatigue curve a LONG ways.

In 2010 I wasn’t about to be upgrading my road bike because the focus was on Ironman Canada and I also had to unfortunately deal with the replacement of my Cervelo P2 carbon fiber frame after an unfortunate incident with an exploding chain. That basically decided for me that the new bike wasn’t coming so soon! I also had an experience riding a Giant TCR that showed me what riding an entry level carbon fiber layup was like. I wasn’t super keen on slapping down any money if I wasn’t going to do better than that, I was going to be picky with my geometry (the back end of the TCR seemed squirrelly) and also not buy a carbon fiber bike that some bike company made out of carbon because they wanted to serve the “I want a carbon bike” demographic. It had better be made out of carbon fiber to serve a purpose, and unfortunately I see a lot of riffraff in the catalogs and shops that aren’t exploiting carbon, they’re just using it. I did upgrade my road bike to 10 speeds though at the end of 2009 and made the leap (sorry, couldn’t help myself) to SRAM with some Red doubletaps. I did so with the intention of taking those components along to my next frame at some point, and still managed to put on a bit more than 3500kms on that bike this past summer including an 800km week training camp in Penticton. The time has come though, that I’m going to retire my “first bike”. Well, at least the first bike that wasn’t purchased with Dad’s money!

The looking started amongst Ti frames. I was pretty sure I wanted to buy a life-long bike. I wanted to get the geometry right, and have something I could put ten thousand kms on every year for the next three decades. Once the looking got serious and I paid a visit to a shop to start discussing details the reality set in, it wasn’t going to happen. The cost of doing that was basically unjustifiable and so, as time wore on I gave up on the dream of buying a Moots and being “that guy” every time I was out on a cool ride. Not that I want to be “that guy”, I certainly don’t, but I did want to be able to ride “that bike”. I don’t know if the difference is understandable to someone who doesn’t know “The Rules”, but learning Rule 4 would be an appropriate place to start (please oh please read this stuff in context!).

It was about this time that pretty much all of my heros descended on a little town by the sea otherwise known as Mecca Kona for the annual pilgrimage showdown (OK, Heather Jackson and Angela Naeth weren’t racing but they were still there!). The number of powermeters used at the top ranks of my sport is mind-boggling considering the fact that they’re still not cheap. I am fully aware of the fact that there is a bit of a chicken and egg question here. Do they help people qualify, or is their purchase the result of being a qualifying level kind of triathlete. I’m well aware that Stefan’s only power measurement was on his trainer (inaccurate, but repeatable for his key sessions) and that both of the Pro winners did not race with power-feedback on the day. That said, after reading Gordo’s thoughts on the matter I have nearly decided that it’s an egg and not a chicken thing. Power-feedback is worthwhile, and if I decide to gun for a qualifying time then I would be wise to be training based on watts in addition to RPE and HR. That being said, there was now a big budget hole arriving right around the bottom bracket! Ti was unquestionably out.

OK, the search was dialed back to basically square one and I set out in search of a bike with a few less criteria than I had when I’d started out in dreamland (otherwise known as Steamboat or Chattanooga) earlier. I wasn’t about to give up on trying to cheat the custom bike builders rule of three, but I did decide I had to start learning and looking at carbon fiber with more seriousness.

Custom Bike Builders Rule of Three:

Light, Durable, Cheap – Choose Two.

OK, I’m going to try to get through this stuff quickly. There are a dozen different blog posts in here if I go into all the detail I’m tempted to. This is supposed to be chronological, not logical, so don’t suspect that the order makes much sense! I started by looking at the cheap carbon bikes that you can buy built from the old Kuota layups. They max out at 59cm frame size, No deal. Ibis Silk. Too small again, no deal. Kuota KOM and Cervelo S2, too close to the Ti pricepoint to feel like I was coming out ahead, no deal. KHS, not big enough, no deal. Colnago, doesn’t suit my style. Look, BMC & Pinarello, far too expensive. Trek, Giant and Specialized all seemed to have offerings right in my price-bracket but as soon as I started reading about them I realized the quality I was expecting was actually a step higher on their rather complicated ladder of products than I was looking at. Worth noting is that all of these guys are pushing women’s geometry, something I don’t believe, sure, sell women’s paint and a women’s parts kit, but base the geometry on research. Research says no dice there. This really makes my impression of them go straight to question the marketing, these are marketing companies. There are smart people selling those bikes for sure, but I figured I could do better, No Deal. Cannondale, very tempting actually, they’ve actually got an excellent spread of bikes at the moment. And if I decided on a cannondale I’m sure I would have been happy. I probably would be incredibly happy with a CAAD10 even if I didn’t nose my way all the way in amongst the SuperSixes. Then I was looking at laying my hands on a Scott Addict, but I didn’t actually read too much about it because I got distracted by the Wilier Imperiale. I was actually *really* keen on this bike for about a week. Then it started to make me feel the same way as I had with the Kuota KOM and Cervelo S2. This is a fantastic bike but it’s not the best bike, so why would I pay such a high fraction of the price of a best bike without getting one. Revamping this thinking AGAIN after basically doing a complete survey of almost all the bike bike companies out there made me re-evaluate my plan.

Let’s see how cheap I can get a bike that is still a definite upgrade from what I’ve got. If I do that, I can almost certainly find the bike with a pricepoint that allows me to buy some carbon wheels to trip it out for racing. The performance of that combination is going to be good. It might even be better than the tripped out bike (I’m comparing against the Wilier here) with the mid range Mavic Cosmic Elites that I used as my TT training wheels and road racing wheels this past year. OK, my mind was made up, or more made up. I still now needed to find whichever bike it is that fits this performance metric and scores on the pricepoint.

I went straight to Neuvation. I was frustrated (to say the least) that the FC500 wouldn’t come big enough for me, and I started to despair and was considering the Neuvation FC100. This was NOT going to be an upgrade from the dual, and I knew it. The geometry was excellent but the carbon layup was supposed to make for a bike with satisfactory stiffness according to review, not great stiffness. I couldn’t convince myself that this bike was anything better than a full carbon Trek Madone built up with cheap carbon and Tiagra components to put a bunch of groupies on “the bike that Lance rides” that a few friends and I have spent so much time making fun of in the past couple weeks. OK. Neuvation is sadly out. I’m starting to wonder about the viability of me finding what I wanted. How good of a bike will I be riding if I put carbon wheels, a new crank, and upgrade the bars/stem on my Cervelo? I think I could bring it in under 18 lbs, maybe mid 17s

Then I had a brainwave. I was pretty sure there were other companies out there making similar bikes to the ones that I’d seen on Ebay using the old Kuota molds. I didn’t need something from a Kuota mold, I didn’t care actually but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to get something with funny geometry that some dude built in his garage. Then I decided I wanted something from a Cervelo mold as I am proof of the effectiveness of their superior geometry. I was 100% certain that Cervelo wasn’t going to sell their Soloist molds to anyone but what if there was someone out there who reverse engineered it? I plugged “Cervelo S” geometry into google. On page three my world got a bit turned upside-down. I found EXACTLY what I wanted.

Aerocat is a little company out of Indiana. Good sign, that’s where ZIPP is from I thought to myself. (Not that that makes any difference, but at least I stayed on their site!) They have a bike called the R509 that’s built up based very similar geometry to the Cervelo S2/S3. I might even go so far to say that I like the geometry a bit better because the toptube is closer to flat. For someone who rides with a lot of post on the largest bike you can buy the idea of sticking with a level toptube is actually valued by me. I don’t know if this is a silly line of thinking. I haven’t read all that much about it because I don’t think much has been written, but I do think it is logical. If your bike is going to be a bit on the small side (which any bike except for that Lynsky custom Ti is going to be), then you shouldn’t exasperate the problem by selecting a compact geometry or heavily sloping toptube (a big reason Specialized doesn’t look quite right). A quick email to confirm that I could buy the fork/frameset and not a full bike from them and I was sold. So, if it sounds like the flat toptube really sold me on this bike you’d probably be at least partly right. But the rest of it checked out too. I can’t say that I was able to read all that many reviews of this bike in particular as it’s a new addition to the Aerocat line. The number they gave to it suggests that it fits in their “ranks” quite near the top. I was able to surmise that the carbon fiber layups in some of the lesser numbered bikes was actually pretty fantastic and that stiffness wise I’d have nothing to worry about with this bike. I am concerned that a company without a whole ton of proven engineering experience may not have perfected the balance between bottom bracket stiffness and vertical compliance. If it’s the case that I get road shock up through the back of this bike I am going to understand why but I am not buying an R5 so I can’t expect the world. I’m almost certain though that vertical jamming is not going to be worse that that which I experienced on the Giant TCR I rode in San Francisco (which didn’t ruin my ride by any means, but it was noticeable enough to be noticed though). With a proper geometry I would surmise that the effect of perhaps less than ideal vertical compliance isn’t going to be as noticeable. With the R509 I score the proven geometry, a la Cervelo. I wasn’t convinced that the TCR had it right because it felt off balance especially descending, perhaps not enough bb-drop or a chainstay length issue. Now that I’ve thought about this I’ll probably be hypersensitive to how that feels and I’ll let you know. I’ll be sure to run it with my same default Ritchey wheels when making the comparison as good vs. great spoke lacing can make a difference in that regard.

The proof of whether or not this bike is as amazing a coup as I think it is will arrive shortly. This bike is ON THE WAY! I’ll be building it up temporarily with parts I have before I get everything together for the build I plan to use next summer. That final build is going to look like this:

R509 with Williams 58 and a zero setback post

I make no apologies for the hack-job I did stitching together these images. It’s supposed to help you dream about what it looks like from the side, but as you dream don’t start criticizing, I think I can build even better than I can sketch. For starters I promise my bike won’t violate Rule 46 once I build it. Travis just un-sold me on the prospect of white Nokons, I am undecided what the alternative to that will be.

An aside for anyone who read all the way to the bottom, I’m sure you’ll appreciate Coach Gordo’s advice on how to make flat coke. Any wonder that tri geeks love this guy?

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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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