Monday, December 22, 2014

My Honolulu Marathon 2014

This year's Honolulu Marathon was cold, wet, and windy. An all-around miserable experience. The kind of race that feels more like a crazy reality TV endurance challenge than a major marathon. I fully expected to find Bear Grylls at an aid station handing out live grubs and cactus water, and to see the Tour's El Diablo out on the course prodding us with his trident.

My plan was reduced to shreds. I planned to finish in 6:45 but had to contend myself with a 7:33. I am grateful to have achieved even that. But there is much to be proud of, starting with this being my best marathon time ever; my only other marathon -- 2012 -- took me 7:50.

What I consider to be the experimental aspect of this race was my training plan. I have described it in detail in previous blog posts and will not repeat much here, except that the basic idea was to train like an Ironman triathlete, with a long run on Saturday and a long bike on Sunday, off-loading much of the aerobic endurance work to the bike in order to reduce the risk of injury. I consider this to have been a success, because I had no signifiant problems with injury despite a long-term issue with my left quadricep that has previously lead to iliotibial band syndrome. Had the conditions on race day not been so horrific I am sure I would have gotten closer to my goal time.

My original goal was to run the race at an average of 14:30 min/mile, for a time of 6:20. As December approached I realized I was not getting THAT much faster, so I set my goal for my simulation race on November 30 at 15:00 min/mile. After about twelve miles that day the wheels fell off, with my day ending at the top of Diamond Head puking and with both legs cramped up solid.  Because of that I lowered my race goal pace to 15:30. I ended up with an overall average of 17:00.

Pace Plan

  1. Do not worry about first two to three miles except to not go too fast. Wait for traffic to thin out, and for my body to warm up.
  2. Walk the aid stations to give legs a little rest and to let intake of water and gel settle. Avoid upset stomach.
  3. From Kapiolani Blvd. to Aloha gas station on return (most of the course), try to maintain a 15:30 pace where the road was flat, 14:30 where it went slightly downhill (for instance, by Kalani High School outbound). Slow down as needed to maintain HR on uphill sections.  Keep HR in low zone 2 as much as possible, let it get up into low 3's on hills but pay attention to breathing and perceived effort -- do not go crazy.
  4. Walk the steep parts of Diamond Head, three places, by lighthouse and approaching 18th Ave. outboard, Triangle Park to top on return. 
  5. Run carefully fast down 18th, don't get injured there.
  6. From Aloha gas station on through Kahala to Triangle Park, try for a 14:30 pace or better, whatever I could manage at that point. No holding back, let it fly. This is how I finished the Hapalua half marathon and the Honolulu Triathlon last year.
Fuel and Hydration Plan
  1. Drink water at every aid station, about half a paper cup.
  2. Carry a Fuelbelt with two seven ounce flasks, each with three GU gels diluted 50/50 with water. Take a sip from flask every 20 minutes. (Set time alarm on Garmin to remind me.)
  3. Try to synchronize water and gel intake.
  4. Never gulp a lot of water no mater how I feel, as that will cause me to puke, based on experience.
  5. Same for gel, just a little sip, roll in mouth before swallowing, too much and stomach will rebel.
The Start
It was raining when I was ready to leave for the start so I wore my trash bag rain coat. Removed it just before 5:00. A light rain continued throughout the first few miles, not as bad as the Hapalua Half Marathon in 2013 but in combination with the 68F temperature I was having a hard time warming up. 

I lined up at the "over six hour" sign but found myself surrounded by people mostly walking. I stuck to my plan, stayed calm, felt sorry for the kids from Kamehameha jazz ensemble playing in the rain. Everything was good until Paki Park, when the density of walkers made running difficult. Had to walk all the way from Kapiolani Park to top of Diamond Head. Strangely enough the crowd began to thin at the end of the steep section and some people around me started running, despite the fact that they did not look that strong. I waited for the grade to drop a bit before the top lookout to start running, and flew down the hill past a lot of people still walking.

Just as I planned I started walking where Diamond Head Road kicks up by the dog park. I turned to check the route to Hawaii Kai and could not see a thing, just a solid gray mass of rain. That did not bode well, and I was right.

In Kahala I stopped for a minute to cheer on a really awesome rock band, a bunch of old guys like me playing terrific blues. Who are these musicians who get up at 4AM to entertain a bunch of runners? It sure makes a miserable morning a lot less miserable.

It was after the Aloha gas station that we began to feel the full effects of the wind. This in itself was no surprise; every cyclist in Honolulu knows about that headwind. The surprise was the intensity. I have never ran against such a strong wind. I would say it never dropped below 20MPH and gusted to 50MPH. A wind like that completely destroys your balance and natural gait. All you can do is react, react, react, which sucks hugs amounts of energy.

My hat. I have run against headwinds before, and the best thing to do is to turn my hat around. I tried that, but the wind was so strong I feared my hat would be blown right off my head and all the way back to Kahala Mall, so I took it off and held it in my hand. Except that the rain would mess up my glasses, like driving a car without windshield wipers. I needed the hat brim to keep the rain off my glass. Put the hat back on, pull it down low and look down to keep the wind from getting under the brim. Now my posture is off and I cannot see much past my feet. I fiddled like this again and again, searching for the best compromise. You can imagine what that did to my stride.

Heart Rate Too High

My plan was to stay in low zone 2 all the way to Hawaii Kai. I was running at or slower than 15:30 but way up in zone 3. I have had this happen before. I do not feel like I am in zone 3. I am breathing as though I am in zone 2, my legs feel like they are running at zone 2, only my heat rate is too high. But heart rate is a reflection of energy consumption, and to run the entire race in zone 3 was not possible for me. I tried to slow down, but my HR hardly got down to 2.5 and I would automatically go back to my happy pace, which had me back up in the 3's. It ended up being a compromise -- my average HR was higher than plan while my average pace was slower than plan.

Had I been more experienced I might have known exactly how to handle this situation. As it was, I worried a lot about how much to slow down. I think I sped up and slowed down over and over because I could not make up my mind. As I was leaving Hawaii Kai I knew I was way behind plan, both time and energy, so the best thing to do was to just get through the day without trying to make any particular time. I really wanted to enjoy the day, but that was out of the question. You know the expression "Grin and bear it?" Well, I wasn't grinning.

Here is my time in zone for the entire race. The chart can display five or more zones but I only ran in (left to right) zones 1, 2 and 3. Spent way too much in zone 3.

Even though I am not happy with those proportions, I know that had I held back on the outbound segment I would have lost massive amounts of time, and I did finish in good shape, so this was not terrible. Compare this with my simulation run two weeks earlier, the one that I could not finish due to leg cramps and puking:

So I guess I can say that I learned my lesson, and even though I felt unsure about how to react to the high HR I managed to handle it well enough to avoid disaster.

Here is a little more detail. I need to point out that my Garmin battery died just before the finish, so my official time was 7:33 but I am working here with my Garmin data which ends just as I get to Kapiolani Park, at 7:25, 26.2 miles. Close enough.

I punched the lap button at 13.3 miles, right at the half way sign where one of the mid-way timing mats was located. Looks like I ran a balanced pace.

Lap 1 - 3:38
Lap 2 - 3:47

Keep in mind lap 2 is a little short, but even so, pretty good.

Here is some data by segment, using well known locations that align to my plan.

Mile > Location > Avg Pace > Max Pace > Avg HR > Max HR

Start to Mile 3 (McKinley High School) 16:16 10:46 138 143
Mile 3 to Mile 11 (McKinley to Aloha gas station outbound) 16:30 11:06 139 146
Mile 11 to mile 16 (Aloha to Hawaii Kai) 16:37 12:55 139 146
Mile 16 to mile 22 (Hawaii Kai to Aloha return) 17:31 13:18 135 145
Mile 22 to Mile 26.2 (Aloha to finish) 18:14 12:57 130 142

To interpret these data it helps to know my HR zones for running:

1 102 - 131
2 132 - 140
3 141 - 147
4 148 - 153
5a 154 - 157
5b 158 - 162
5c 163 - 170

From this we can see that my average did stay in zone 2, but I ran faster often enough to rack up considerable time in zone 3. Again, I wanted to be in the low 2's for most of the day, but right from the start my average was in the high 2's.

Leg Articulation

On many of my Saturday long runs I was bothered by stiff quadriceps in my left leg, resulting in an asymmetrical gait. My right leg would recover smoothly, while my left leg felt as though it never flexed at the knee, just swinging back and forth from the hip. During the marathon I had no such problem. Chalk it up to excellent work by my massage therapist Sonya Weiser Souza.


When I ran my first marathon I stopped to pee three times. Lost a lot of time waiting in those lines. This time my goal was to drink just enough to stay reasonably hydrated with only one stop, and that would be at the Oahu Club. This worked perfectly. I did not really need to pee at the club but I stuck to my plan. I also wasted a minute waving hello to Joe Lileikis. He and his brother Tom have been helping me to swim better. It was raining but there he was on the 25 yard pool deck under an umbrella, yelling out encouragement to one of his students. What a great coach, and a pretty good swimmer, too.


I never felt bonky. I know very well what that feels like, having hit the wall on several occasions. A carefully practiced and implemented fuel plan that relied solely on what I carried and a reasonable pace got me to the finish still running.


I brought along three salt pills in a clip-on dispenser. The day was so cool I was not sure I needed any, but I reasoned that since I was drinking water at every aid station and not producing much urine, I had to be losing some water to sweat and to not take in salt would led to my stomach not accepting the water. Slosh slosh. Been there. So I had two pills, one in Hawaii Kai and the other after reaching Kahala. Nothing else to report there.

Wet Feet

I coated my feet with the semi-liquid form of Body Glide before putting on my socks, and I wore comfortable running socks I had used many times. I guess I never wore those socks in the rain, because they kept bunching up under the balls of both feet. The left foot was more of a problem. Despite repeatedly stopping to pull up the back of the sock, and one stop in Kahala to sit and take my shoe off, I ended up with a very sore left foot. No blisters, no black and blue, just really sore deep inside. I would call it a bone bruise, if there is such a thing. I saw many runners with their shoes off, applying tape or anything else they could find to deal with blisters and split callouses. My feet did not hurt enough to slow me down, just enough to be annoying.


I had planned to walk the steep hills and the aid stations. I stuck to my plan all the way to the turn onto Hawaii Kai Drive, where I was surprised to discover I did not have the strength to run up that little bridge. I had been concerned about how much energy I was using on the way out; this was my first clue how tired I was. After my planned pit stop at the Oahu Club I had to walk over the bridge by the shopping center, and all along the return route I had to stop every now and then to walk. I was guided my the pre-cramp twitches in my hamstrings. I did not want to risk pushing any harder, least I end up like I had two weeks earlier, stranded on Diamond Head with both legs locked up solid. Of course this slowed me down, but when I did run I could run faster than on the way out, and I made it the the finish line in good shape.

The Finish

I was able to run all the way down Diamond Head to the finish, except a time or two when people got in my way. Slow, to be sure, but I could still run and was happy for that. The only bright moment in an otherwise miserable day was when Pattie met me at the finish with a big bottle of spring water and a spam musubi. We walked back to the Hale Koa to give my legs some active recovery, and after a nice cool shower went out for beer and a bowl of udon. After a nap we had dinner at Eggs & Things. I ate too much omelet and had an upset stomach the rest of the night, but I didn't care because the marathon was behind me and, all things considered, it went rather well.


My marathon training plan was designed to split endurance training between the bike and the run. Here is a chart showing relative workout times for each type of activity over the last 90 days (courtesy of Training Peaks). Notice how the bike and run are about the same.

If I had it to do over again I would have made some of the Saturday long runs even longer. Of course this increases the risk of injury, but I think my legs would have had more endurance had I not held back quite this much. Still, I think this is a great way to approach long distance run training, especially for anyone with a history of hip, knee or foot problems. You cannot finish a marathon unless you arrive at the start line ready to run.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My marathon taper

The official Honolulu Marathon FB page had a question about what people did today, seven days from the marathon. A lot of people said they did their last long run. I was surprised at the range of distances, from a few miles to half marathons. Obviously there is not much agreement in how to taper for a marathon.

I designed my own training plan, using Training Peaks and modifying the workout suggestions from the virtual coach. The idea is to do just enough running while doing the majority of endurance work on the bike. I borrowed this idea from Ironman training and wrote about it previously. My peak days were at week 16 for the bike (60 miles), and week 18 for the run, when I did my 26K race simulation.  My taper really started there:

Nov 30 Sun. Long run, 17 mi, race simulation.

Dec 6 Sat. Long run, 5 mi, last 3 at goal pace.

Dec 7 Sun. Long bike, 25mi mostly 1Z some 2Z no hills.

Dec 8 Mon. Swim. Dur 0:30.

Dec 9 Tue. Recovery run. Dur: 0:30. Followed by strength session, dur:1:00.

Dec 10 Wed. Taper repeats. Dur: 0:30. Warm up including 4 pick-ups. Then 4 x 90 seconds (recover 3 minutes) at next race pace. Relaxed speed! NOT all out. OPTIONAL 0:30 swim. Afternoon massage.

Dec 11 Thu. Taper repeats. Dur: 0:30. Warm up including 4 pick-ups. Then 3 x 90 seconds (recover 3 minutes) at next race pace. Relaxed speed! NOT all out.

Dec 12 Fri. Taper Repeats. Dur: 0:20. Warm up including 4 pick-ups. Then 2 x 90 seconds (recover 3 minutes) at next race pace. Relaxed speed! NOT all out.

Dec 13 Sat. Day off.

Dec 14 Sun. Race.

In the week between Nov 30 and Dec 6 there were the usual workouts, the stuff I had been doing throughout my twelve week plan. I've not included them here for clarity. Before the simulation there was a little taper in the plan, although I blew the execution and came to the simulation well off my best form. One more lesson to learn.

It is my understanding that the end of the taper calls for short workouts at relatively high intensity. Not all out, but definitely not at an easy jog. Just enough to remind the muscles that there is work to be done, without burning too much fuel and without risking injury. After training at much higher volume it is natural for our mind to insist we ought to be doing more.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Performance in music and sports -- learning to react and accept whatever happens

As I prepared to participate in my fist triathlon last year I got a lot of advice from friends as well as on-line sources about preparation. Mental and physical preparation. Everything from making checklists to how to handle your nerves. Apparently too many newbies focus all their attention on training, then show up on race day without the right gear at the right place and time, and frazzled to a crisp by self doubt.

Being a typical newbie I thought checklists were a bit much, but thankfully I was old enough to know my aging brain tends to forget things. As it turned out those checklists contributed significantly to my success and my peace of mind.

I have also run quite a few races, including the Honolulu Marathon. In spite of the relative simplicity of running, careful preparation still plays an important roll. I have one checklist for packing and one for getting ready that morning. As simple as it may seem, leaving out a step — like applying Body Glide to feet before putting on socks — could spell disaster before the day is done.

For most of my life I have been a performing musician. Recently Pattie and I participated in a Javanese Dance performance — as members of the University of Hawaii Gamelan — and with those first two triathlons fresh in my memory I saw some significant similarities, but even more so some interesting differences.

These was a time when I would get nervous before a concert. Not anymore. Even when I have a hard lick or two that I know I may not get right, that simply does not bother me anymore. The key is to acknowledge that you have done all that you could to prepare, and that you are ready.

This last concert was different than recent concerts in that we had a group of guest artists from Indonesia. This had an interesting effect on me. During the night before the concert I kept waking up to thoughts about the music. Not anything hard; quite the opposite. We all have had the experience of having a song stuck in our head. You can force yourself to stop playing the tune in your head, but the moment you turn away, it sneaks back. It was like that. I would just be falling asleep and there was that tune again. Was it worry, or just a very repetitive melody?

My triathlon training prepared me for this. My solution was to accept it, and not worry about it. I really did not need to sleep at that moment. This was my brain playing tricks on me, and it was okay. Before long I was fast asleep.

One of the more interesting was gamelan is different from western classical music is the degree of uncertainty. Only the true aficionado will know that during a performance there are multiple layers of variable probabilities unfolding like a quantum field collapse. Moment by moment the possibilities are resolved by sound queues. A signal can come from the drum, the rebab, the bonang, or the singer. When accompanying dance the gamelan must react to them; the process uses a woodblock called keprak (say it and you will know why), played by someone knowledgeable of the dance. The drummer reacts to the keprak, and the rest of the ensemble reacts to the drum.

The really interesting part of this is that the signaling instruments play a lot, yet much of what they play is devoid of signal. The drum may be making a lot of noise, but it is all about accompanying the action. The ensemble must not react to those drum strokes. The moment they hear a patten that contains a signal, then they must react.

What this means is that we never know exactly what is going to happen. The event unfolds as we go along. In rehearsal we practice our possible outcomes and learn to react. We do not set a specific course of action; it just does not work that way.

Success at triathlon requires a similar skill. When a swimmer practices for a fifty meter sprint, every stroke is known ahead of time. Same thing for runners, they know exactly how many strides they need to take to win a fifty meter sprint. In triathlon we must plan for many possible contingencies, then pay close attention to incoming signals and react quickly and effectivly when necessary, while at the same time not allowing ourselves to be be distracted by the chaos all around us.

Learn to enjoy those surprises, those moments when you say to yourself “Gee I never thought that would happen.” To react with “Oh crap …” will only slow you down.

Friday, November 21, 2014

At the peak and life gets in the way but no excuses

Last weekend marked the peak of my marathon training. I do my long runs on Saturday, after a rest day on Friday, and my long bike rides on Sunday. Last weekend I was scheduled for a 10 mi. run and a 60 mi. bike. The run was not your typical long run, either. It started out nice and easy, but the second half was to be a lot harder, more almost a tempo run. Training Peals called for a race pace but I wanted to get a little more out of it, so my last few miles were well above marathon pace, closer to 10k pace.

Everything went well. My body was happy and I felt energetic, signs that my training plan was not too harsh. A couple weeks ago I had been bothered by my bad old left leg, but a conference with my trainer Sonya Weiser Souza and my strength and cycling coach Dorian Cuccia concluded that the weirdness was due to a significant correction Sonya had made to my left hip flexor and gluteus medius. I just needed to be patient and let my muscles learn how to cooperate in their new setting. They were right. After about five days all was normal, and I was running even better that before.

As it turned out, my run was on Sunday and my bike ride on Monday. Why? Because I am a member of the University of Hawaii Gamelan Ensemble and we have a troupe of musicians and dancers from Indonesia with whom we are putting on a performance this weekend (Nov 22). Rehearsals for that had been rather intense, twice a week instead of once and lots of new material to learn. Good old stress, no kidding. Saturday was our first time meeting together, and for that the group planned a lunch party. Even so I was ready to run, but I had to start early to be rested and ready for a long afternoon. Guess what? I woke up to pouring rain.

Fatigue. Stress. Time constraints. Bad weather. Any one or two of these would not be enough to change my plan, but the sum total was more the sufficient to cause me to shut off my alarm, roll over, and, much to Pattie's consternation, go back to sleep. She, bless her heart, got up and ran anyway, and happily reported that the rain stopped as soon as she went out the door. But I had an ace up my sleeve. I was off Monday.

Pushing these two long days back a day has made of mess of my nice weekly plan. This week is a short week. I am supposed to do just 7:00 hours of work. It is only Friday and I have logged 8:20. That's what happens when you move a long bike ride from Sunday -- last day of last week -- to Monday.  Last week's plan was 12:00 and I only logged just shy of 8:00. That's the missing bike ride. Which means this week should be 11:30. But if I do all of that I will not get the benefit of s short week.

Yesterday I was supposed to do a swim in the morning and an hour on the bike after work, to make up for the hour lost because we had to cancel spin class due to extra rehearsal. Those plans were made long before I scheduled my vacation, and as it worked out I had yesterday off. Today, too. So I changed my plan; put my bike stuff in the Outback, drive to the Oahu Club for a morning swim, then ride from there all around Hawaii-Kai. Good plan. Except with a rehearsal every night and a long hard day at work Wednesday, made that much harder because I have been off a few days, I felt much too tired to do anything. So Thursday morphed into my rest day.

Today I woke up feeling great. Tons of energy, no pains. I decided to do the bike workout. Just an hour, but with some hard intervals in the middle, just like Dorian does spin class. As it turned out, my turn around was at the Oahu Club. Right after I started back Pattie texted my saying that lunch with the visiting artists had been moved back, from 10:30 to 12:30. Hmm. Just enough time for that swim. Rode back to Kahala, showered, put on my swim suit and headed back to the club with my lunch clothes in my tri bag. It was a short swim, but a good one. Ended with some really good work on early head return.

After lunch I thought about doing the run, a 0:40 strides workout. Then I realized that I had already gone hard this morning, and I have a long day tomorrow moving the gamelan, giving a major performance, and moving back. Better to save my legs. Playing music may seem like an easy activity, but the moving part is anything but, and the stress is real.

The next thing to juggle is Sunday's workout, another time trial. To be useful it needs to be done with rested legs. I have been doing these first thing Saturday mornings, again after a Friday rest day. Saturday will be anything but a rest day. If I feel lousy Sunday morning I'll just have to do it Monday, even though I have to go into the office afterward. The whole thing takes just a tad less than an hour, so that is doable.

Finding balance between what you think you need to do to prepare for a race and everything else life throws at you is never easy. The solution is rarely as simple as pushing stuff forward, because that stuff piles up on the stuff already planned for those days. A good solution requires blending. And just because you have a few hours free does not mean your body is ready to make use of the time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Focal point: pace

For a long time I have been using heart rate to monitor my workouts. Lately I have shifted my focus to other metrics, in particular, pace.

In Total Immersion swimming we often talk about focal points. Good technique requires a thousand muscle movements to blend together in harmony. Improvement comes from isolating and focusing attention on specific pieces of this complex process. We could just swim and see what comes up, but improvement comes faster when we decide ahead of time what to focus on. I am not aware of any cycling or running program that works the same way, but I use this approach in those disciplines and find that it works very well.

If the goal is improvement, we need a way to measure progress. In TI swimming this is done primarily with Stroke Per Length. The fewer strokes expended in swimming a set distance, the more efficient the swimmer. For cycling the preferred metric to monitor is power, but since power meters are expensive many cyclists still rely on what was previously the favorite choice, heart rate. No one has yet to construct a running shoe that measures power, so the best metric for running is still heart rate.

Heart rate is so central to modern training that most running workouts I use are specified by HR zones. A couple examples:

1. From Matt Fitzgerald.

Run on flat course
5 min Z1
20 min Z2
5 min Z1

2. From Training Peaks Virtual Coach.

Cruise intervals. Warm-up well. Then do 3-4 x 6 minutes. Build to heart rate 4-5a zone (2 minute recoveries). Relaxed form! Listen to breathing. Fast cadence.

The above translated into a Garmin FR610 custom workout:

WU 5 min 1Z
WU 5 min 2Z
4x (6 min 4Z, 2 min 1Z)
CD 3 min 1Z

Early in my current marathon training cycle I noticed that I was focused primarily on HR, with a strong second focus on cadence. It occurred to me that I could be running with inefficient mechanics and fulfill the HR goal while still running slowly. I started paying more attention to pace and HR, fiddling with mechanics to see how I could become more efficient. This led me to focus on the spring action that occurs as the foot is loaded while at the same time moving aft. It feels like a pogo stick leaning forward, with every bounce pushing my body up and forward. When I get it right my pace is faster without my HR going through the roof. Try a different position and my HR goes up or my pace plummets. Try something else.

My favorite long run setup lately is to have my FR610 only display two things, distance and pace. I use distance mostly to know when to turn around. Last Saturday I designed the run based on time, so I would have been better off using duration and pace. I still need to focus on cadence, but instead of constantly checking my Garmin I wear my Finis Tempo Trainer on my hat, just above my left ear, a spot where I can just hear it. Last Saturday's run looked like this:

Turn around at Maunalua Bay Beach Park.
20 min @ 16:30 Wailupe Park
40 min @ 15:30 Maunalua Bay Beach Park TT 72/84
60 min @ 14:00 Return TT 70/88

The first twenty minutes were warm up at an easy zone one pace. I was not locked into time, just run from Aloha Gas Station to Wailupe Park at around a 16:30 pace. I fuel every twenty minutes, so that would be my first fuel and water stop. There I would start my Tempo Trainer with a setting of 72, which gives a cadence of 84. With a proper, efficient stride I should be running at about 15:30, which should be mid zone two. For the return leg I would set the Tempo Trainer to 70 for a cadence of 88, which is as fast as I can go with good form, and try to keep the pace around 14:00, which is on the fast side for me. I like to use stretch goals for this sort of thing. I actually slowed down a bit, averaging 14:48 but I did average a 144 HR (mid zone 4), right where I did my last three mile tempo run on the track -- without looking!

A two hour run gives me plenty of time to fiddle with mechanics. I would get into a groove, check my pace, then without letting my cadence get out of sync with the beeper I would change something and check my pace. Then there was the "how does it feel" part. Continuous form checks. Foot strikes sound the same? (So often not, that ornery left leg.) Elbows back, not out. High wrists. Chin down. Leg recovery comes from lifting knee. Lean forward from ankles, not head. And so on, and on; it never ends.

I have only just started using this new focus on pace, so it is too soon to say how effective it is. Time will tell. The Training Peaks Virtual Coach (Joe Friel undercover) specifies a number of test runs to check progress. This Saturday is another one mile time trial, plus a little. Hope the weather holds. My LTHR is 154, and I can attest that doing this workout takes every ounce of will power.

Warm up for about 15 minutes raising heart rate to 10 bpm below Lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). Then start 1 mile at 9-11 bpm below LTHR. (recover for 400m). 1.5 miles all out. Times? Heart rates?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Salt deficiency causes cramps -- myth, or fiction?

My goal for last Sunday’s Honolulu Century Ride was to practice my fuel plan for December’s Honolulu Marathon, something I have written about in previous posts. The inspiration came from Matt Fitzgerald; the part about using the bike is mine:
  • You cannot count on the sports drink at an event to have the nutrients you trained with.
  • Carry your own fuel and just take on water at the aide stations.
  • Consuming an entire gel at once can cause stomach upset due to the need for water to digest the carbs.
  • Reduce the carb impact by diluting gel with about 50% water and sipping smaller quantities more frequently, at a rate that equals one gel every 30 - 45 minutes.
  • Using a Fuelbelt 7 oz flask, empty three GU gels into the flask and add water until almost full. Shake well.
Fitzgerald says that he carries two flasks in a marathon and finishes the second one around the twenty mile mark. Well, that’s fine for him because he runs fast. I am looking at over six hours on the run, so I need to work out how to carry more. In the meantime I decided to practice a six hour event using a typical twenty-something ounce water bottle, the kind we normally use on the bike. To mimic the aide stations I would carry a second bottle of plain water and refill at the century ride aide stations, which happen roughly every twelve miles, or one hour apart at a comfortable cruise.

My ride plan was to average 16 MPH. This seemed doable based on several recent forty mile bike rides. I knew it was optimistic for the entire 100 miles, but I like to set high goals and stretch a bit, which is fine as long as I remember that when I fail to achieve them. There are a lot of hills on the route, especially now that it goes along Kahekili Highway, so to average 16 I would need to stay above that as much as possible.

Let’s take a moment and translate this into effort. For a 10K run I would try to stay about 10 beats lower than LTHR, which works out to be mid zone 3. In a triathlon, the first fifteen minutes always end up in the high 4s or low 5s, until my cardiovascular network re-routes the blood flow. I try to hold a perceived effort equivalent of mid zone 3 until my heart rate (HR) comes down to match. And, yes, it takes me a lot more than fifteen minutes to run a 10K. I am slow. For longer distances I aim for mid zone 2 (roughly 70% HRmax), and allow that to rise into 3 on hills. So, for this experiment I wanted to cruise in the mid 2s as much as possible and go as high as 4 on the long hard climbs, particularly Heartbreak Hill; no zone 5. This is harder than I usually ride.

I chose start our riding with Pattie as none of her usual ride group were doing the ride. She did great, made it all the way to Kaiser High School before peeling off to return home. (As it turned out she had a much longer day. I’ll let her tell that story.) At that point I was less than a mile from Heartbreak Hill. I knew I had to get my HR up before I reached the base of the climb or my body would go into shock at the sudden increase in effort. My average HR from the start of Lunalilo Home Road until the high school was 109, barely into zone 1, almost exactly 60% HRmax, what we use in spin class as our recovery rate. I managed to get up to 135 ( low 3Z) at the start of the climb and maxed out at 148 (mid 4Z) at the top. Perfect, and for the first time ever I passed more riders than passed me, by a lot. I was feeling really good. I was really shocked to see how slow everyone else was on the decent -- call me a mad man but I find time wherever I can, and I was flying down that hill.

For this ride I chose not to stop my timer at the aide stations, making more like a race. Remember, I was practicing for the marathon, not to mention future triathlons. I did stop at Sandy Beach because my water bottle was half gone and there was no more Waimanalo aide station. Unfortunately the water station was a thousand miles from the bike parking area and the water tasted like garden hose. Nothing to do but make the best of it.

On the way to Kailua I could not decide how to compensate for the slow initial pace. Should I push the pace to try and get back to my goal of 16, or start now to stay at 16? Should I try to maintain my gel consumption rate, or slow down? I decided to go as fast as traffic would allow, and slow down on gel consumption to match my time, until things evened out. There was no way I could measure my consumption accurately, anyway. I had marks on my bottle that represented a 6 oz flask, and my plan was to consume one flask (3 GU gels) every two hours. With luck, by the time I reached Swanzy Beach Park, the halfway point, my gel mix would be half gone, midway between the second and third tick marks.

Just in case the day got hot I brought along three SaltStick pills. Each one provides  215 g of sodium and  63g of potassium. The weather was cloudy but hot and humid, so in Kailua at the 25 mile point I took one, and planned to take one more at the halfway point.

By the time I got to Swanzy I had been on the road four hours. This is spite of going like a bat out of hell at every opportunity. The thing is, I felt great. Plenty of energy, no stomach distress or other negative signs. I was passing people all along the route, often hitting 18-20 MPH.

At that point I called my fuel experiment a success, even though it was not entirely over. I was feeling disappointed at being an hour behind plan and to keep reminding myself that was not important. My only complaints were that the wet roads had made me and my bike filthy, and I was starting to crave solid food. I know I was not low in calorie intake, it was just boredom. Gels are great, for awhile, but after four hours my body was craving a big juicy hamburger. I went to pee, just in case, and there was not much to deliver. I made a note to drink more water.

Around Valley of the Temples on a long slow climb my left hamstring decided it had done enough. One of those cramp onset events that does not quite take you down but forces you to back off and stretch as best you can. It was then that I remembered not taking my second salt pill back at Swanzy, so I took it and as much water as I thought I could tolerate. I had not bothered to stop at Waihee, so now my water supply was getting a tad low. A bit further up the road a couple of friends came along so I tried to stay with them. My hamstring had other plans. I throttled back and cruised to Kailua. 

It was there that I decided to break my fast, only to discover all they had left was bananas. It could have been worse, the potassium was potentially a good thing and easy on my stomach, so I had a handful along with a big slug of blue Gatorade and felt much better. 

With a full bottle of Gatorade on the bike I headed east. Just before the really steep climb out of Enchanted Lakes -- Keolu Drive -- my left hamstring gave up again. I kept going, but I knew I was running out of road, that in a hundred yards I would have to turn right and climb the steepest hill of the ride. I pulled over and spent several minutes stretching out the leg, still on the bike. As I started up the hill a rider ahead went down hard and I could tell that he had the same problem. He got right back up on his bike, went about ten feet and crashed again. Just then I rode past, slowly, and told him I had the same thing. I stopped for a bit more water and a walk around stretch at the park across from Sea Life Park, and again at the aide station in Hawaii Kai. Made it back to Kapiolani Park without any more drama, Eight hours instead of six, but I did not care at that point.

In the aftermath I decided to check my nutrition numbers, thinking that GU gels did not pack enough sodium. I had to do a lot of adjusting to get the values in the same units, which ended up with one cup as the standard amount.

I got these numbers from ProActive Nutrition

Sports Drink 8oz bottle (1 cup)

Brand - Calories - Sodium (g) - Potassium (g)
Cytomax 80 120 15
Gatorade 50 110 30
Gatorade Endurance 50 200 90

The one brand of sports drink that came in really low in sodium was Heed. Gatorade Endurance was on the high end. I asked at the Kailua aide station what we were getting as was told “Gatorade.” So it could have been either one.

A reasonable rate of consumption is one bottle per hour, with a bike bottle running 20-24 oz. That’s three servings of the above amounts.

For my fuel I used GU Mandarin Orange. The numbers for calories, sodium and potassium:

1 gel 100 60 35

3 gels per flask = 300 180 105

Intake rate 1 flask every 2 hours = 150 90 52 per hour

Had I been drinking Gatorade at the normal rate I would have been taking in 150 330 90 per hour.

Conclusion thus far: low sodium intake. But wait. I took three salt pills, the first one in Kailua. The numbers for those:

SaltStick -- 0 215 63

Zero calories but plenty of sodium and potassium. But what about the consumption rate? One pill per hour would just about equal Gatorade, but I only had three with me for the day.

So I started reading up on sodium and cramps. What I found is that despite a ton of conventional wisdom and advice from people I respect that low sodium is a major cause of cramps, the experts disagree. Yes, low sodium can cause cramps, but the entire body is affected and only after other severe symptoms have appeared. This is nothing like what athletes experience when they get a calf or hamstring cramp. The bare, honest truth is that nobody knows what causes exercise induced cramps. (see references below) 

The best guess as to what causes cramps is fatigue, and in light of that the best way to prevent cramps is to workout at the level that causes them, to allow the muscles to learn to operate at the required level of intensity for the required length of time. We usually think of training as being about getting stronger, but there is more to it than that. Our body needs to learn to endure.

This makes sense given my situation. I have done plenty of long runs and bike rides in recent months, but nothing lasting more than a three hours, and those bike rides were not at the intensity I was holding Sunday in the first four hours. So, on that basis I did very well. What I need to do is adjust my ride plan from now until the marathon to add some longer rides. Thank goodness I do not have to survive on gels for those!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Century Ride: Marathon nutrition plan practice

Let's be real: I am a slow runner. I have been improving, but there is no getting around the fact that on December 14th I will be out on the Honolulu Marathon course for a very long time. Currently my goal is 6:30. I'm not talking pace here, that's six hours thirty minutes, a 15:00 pace. Nutrition is always an issue in endurance sports, and unless I intend to crawl down Kalakaua Ave towards the finish line I need to plan and execute carefully. The best plan in the world is useless without testing. I have been testing tolerance on my long runs, but they have not been long enough to test calorie replacement. The upcoming Honolulu Century Ride provides just the opportunity I need to test my plan.

For a little over a year my run nutrition strategy has been to take in water only at the aid stations and carry a flask or two of diluted gels in a Fuelbelt. I got the idea from Matt Fitzgerald. I put three GU 1.1 oz. gels in one 7 oz. bottle and add roughly an equal amount of water. This allows me to consume less than a full gel at a time while supplying some of the water that my stomach will require to digest the gel. More than anything it is the lack of water that causes the stomach to rebel against eating even easy to digest carbs during exercise.

GU Energy Labs recommends consuming one whole gel every 30-45 minutes. I find that the impact of a full gel is a little hard to tolerate while running, but taking half and saving the rest for later creates a massively sticky mess. As for the rate of consumption, after many trials I have found that I can just tolerate one gel every 45 minutes; more than that and I get nauseous. But, to be fair, most of that testing was done in races where I was also drinking sports drink instead of water. In any case, be it physical or mental, I have found that I do best sipping diluted gel from a Fuelbelt flask and just taking on water at the aid stations.

Salt is another issue. I have done a couple races where salt loss became significant, so when conditions warrant it I carry some SaltStick pills in a little pouch on my belt. I prefer this to using gels that include a lot of electrolytes as I can tailor my salt intake to conditions.

The current trend in hydration is to drink when you feel thirsty rather than at a set rate or timetable. Too much fluid intake can have a negative impact on performance just as much as too little. When it comes to nutrition, though, I believe that I cannot wait until I feel hungry. I need a timetable.

Last Saturday I ran nine miles late in the morning, in heat equal to or higher than I expect on race day. I used this opportunity to practice my fuel intake pace. I took a small sip of my watery GU every ten minutes, and drank water at all the usual spots along Kalanianaole Hwy. (Aloha gas station to Hawaii Kai canoe house and back.) I was fine until around the six mile point, at which my stomach began to complain. I consumed two bottles in 2:30. Way too much. But on the bright side I had plenty of energy all the way to the end, no sign of leg cramps, and the stomach upset was mild. I was not puking, but had I kept consuming at that rate bad things were likely to happen.

With my setup, an intake of one gel every 30 minutes means finishing one bottle every 90 minutes. If a sip every 10 minutes was too much, every 15 should be about right.

I still have not decided if I will run as planned on the Saturday before the century ride, then do 50 miles on Sunday. My original plan had me at 45, but I was supposed to do 50 last Sunday which I skipped to be at the Na Wahine Festival with Pattie. That, or do a short recovery run on Saturday and ride the whole 100 miles on Sunday. I am leaning towards the 100 as this will be a better test of my marathon nutrition plan.

A comfortable pace, mostly zones 1 and 2, will have me complete the ride in 6 hours. That's 360 minutes. Divide by 90, that's 4 flasks. I actually own four Fuelbelt bottles but I do not have a convenient way to carry them on the bike. (Note to self: make a plan for marathon.)  I guess I could put all that in one regular water bottle, and carry one plain water to simulate the marathon aid stations.

Sounds like a plan.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Na Wahine swim jinx

Queen Surf and I are not on speaking terms today.  Seems every time I get in the water for a competition, Queen Surf is rocking and rolling and today was no different.  No one can tell me that it's the time year either.  When I did Tin Man triathlons in July, same god awful conditions.  The year I tore my rotator cuff in a training accident and did I not swim, Queen Surf was like a pond and you could almost walk the whole course.  It's me......I'm jinxed and I apologize to all the other competitors.

Looking at the conditions before the race it didn't look that bad.  Once we got in and started swimming to the buoy those 5 to 8 foot swells predicted by Guy Hagi came rolling in with waves breaking in the channel.  Of course! The Pattie curse.

I do not like to swim in rough water or in deep water and spend a lot of time convincing myself I will not drown or be eaten by something.  Today was everything I hate but I thought I can do this and instead of hanging back started with the pack.  This resulted in getting kicked in the face which left me a little disoriented.  As I got my bearings I got slapped by a couple of waves which left me struggling.  Put my head down and started my crawl toward the buoy.  Then my silly left foot cramped up.  Kept trying to flex my foot and resolved the only way to get out was to finish the swim. The goal was to control the panic before the stress asthma kicked in.   Today was probably the worst swim of my life.  I managed to add eight whole minutes to my swim.  Only plus was I got out on my own and no stress asthma.

I spent the whole walk.....not run to the transition area questioning my sanity.  Next year I am sacrificing a chicken so I can have nice flat conditions.  Yikes!  You see, I'm still compromised.  I'm thinking of abusing myself in the same way next year.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When is giving up the sensible choice?

I have a problem with running on the track. I never go anywhere. I walk down a flight of stairs from where I park, and after that I am never more than a hundred yards from my car. I see it whenever I look up there. Pleasant, unassuming, not calling any attention to itself. Waiting for me like a well heeled dog.

Sometimes I go up and down the straight part of the track, sometimes I do full laps. The beauty of this arrangement is that I can custom fit the workout duration to my situation. The bad part is that I can custom fit the workout duration to how I feel. Lately, the result has been to cut it short.

Most of my runs are on the road, and these are always out-and-back or, occasionally, a big loop. If I should break down out there I have a long walk back to the start, but that never happens to me. My shoes never go flat from a glass shard. I never spin off on a wet manhole cover and end up covered with road rash. I never even cramp up. The worst thing that has happened on a run lately is when my heart rate monitor strap acted up. The great thing about running out-and-back routes is, I cannot cut it short. At least not anywhere near the end.

This morning my plan was to do a set of run drills, then finish with a four lap run, alternating one lap recovery with one at tempo. I would already be mostly warmed up, so I had it as cruise - tempo - recovery - tempo, followed by just enough recovery. Four laps, plus a bit at the end.

The drills went really well. So well that I repeated some. Balance is still an issue so I spent extra time on the marching drills, and with cadence still an major issue I did extra Fast Feet and A-Skip drills.  The result of all this extra time was that by the time I was ready to run the parking lot was filling up. Officially I am supposed to be out of there by 7:30, but when it comes to parking I am a squatter and I do not want to have my car towed or clamped. So it is 7:00 and I'm thinking I need to go. But I wanted to run.

I started out nice and easy, and felt so good I decided to kick it up on the first lap. Make it warm-up-and-tempo and lap one, then a lap of recovery, then a tempo. Done in three laps. By the halfway point of the first lap my HR was way up in zone 4; way too high, and my respiration agreed. I had gone out too fast. I'll take that as I sign of being stronger. So I slowed down, walked a bit, but finished at a tempo pace so that I could record myself with my GoPro. Yes, I had the remote. I did the second lap better but still had to back way off mid way around.

At the end of the second lap my mind was going crazy with excuses to stop. The parking. The traffic -- I'll be late to work. I've done enough. I don't want to end up injured. Yada yada yada. I did the third lap, but again nothing like what I planned. I felt fine and yet I was not running well. Too fast, recover, too fast. That was it. I was out of there by 7:15.

I just checked my Garmin. Splits for those laps were 3:20, 3:57, 4:24. You can see I was slowing down, but then I was not running or walking for any set distance or time, nothing like my plan.

A week from this Saturday I have a time trial. LTHR test. The last two I've done, on the same track, I cut short. I know I got plenty of data, but the plan calls for a fifteen minute warm up into high zone 3 then running all out for thirty minutes. The TT HR data is taken from the last twenty minutes. This method was developed back in the day of simple, non-recording heart rate monitors; every lap the runner would call out the value to an assistant taking notes on a clipboard, so twenty minutes gave just enough data points to be useful. My Garmin records data at one sample per second, and I can plot the results on Garmin Connect or Training Peaks. I can see that my HR during the test is very flat, and it isn't going to change if I run another ten minutes. My pace might slow down but my HR will be flat, and that is what matters.

But wait. The deal was fourty-five minutes, the last thirty all out. Isn't cutting it short just whimping out? Even if I have my data, shouldn't I use the occasion to practice mental tenacity? So what my legs ache? So what my mouth is dry? I really should finish the deal.

Should I? I already had what I came for. I will not be running my marathon anywhere near this pace or intensity. Doing so now presents a significant risk of injury. I am all about minimizing the risk of injury, but not to the point where it compromises my success.

Today, I am determined to finish my next TT, even if I know I have good data. I know my mind will go crazy with excuses to quit early, like I know I will be able to look up and see my car, silently taunting me. Yes, I can go whenever I feel like it. The question is, will I?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Marathoners can learn a lot from triathletes

In this short piece author Mackenzie Lobby describes what is essentially my marathon training plan. Look for the heading "Cross Training." Also note that in the opening section on twofers the second run of the day is short and at low intensity. Again, injury prevention is paramount. Last but not least, planning. If all you do is go out and run every day you won't get very far. Literally.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Not much running drills

I have set aside Wednesday morning for running drill practice. When I did this I made a note on today's entry on my Training Peaks calendar to assess the usefulness of these drills. Today was my third time, and in the middle of my workout I had one of those "ah-ha" moments. Even though I only spend forty-five minutes to an hour at it once a week, in that time all running related muscle groups get worked at intensities much higher than if I were just out running. The purpose of these sessions is not endurance, but power and flexibility. Similar to running intervals, but different in the way each drill focuses on one aspect of the stride. Just the fact that "running" is set aside allows me to become aware of things I cannot concentrate on while running, and to move muscle groups in ways that are useful yet impossible while running. I am definitely going to continue these sessions.

In my opinion my worst drill is Marching, which is why for today's session I put it first. I can do the first version reasonably well, but the second one still eludes me. I am good for two or three steps, then I lose my balance and fall over. It would be much easier if the motion were continuous, as it is when running. The on-line videos I have found are continuous, just slow. In Bobby McGee's version, with each step you come to a complete stop while standing on one foot with the other knee lifted so that the thigh is parallel to the ground and the shin is relaxed and hanging straight down. My landing foot tends to wander left-right, a fact easily concealed during continuous running. In this drill, every step must be spot-on or the tree is felled. Perhaps my calves are not strong enough to do the heel lift correctly, as that is what introduces instability. I am making heel lifts a regular part of my walking around at work. No heel lifts, no coffee. Too bad I can't put a swimming pool between my desk and the bathroom.

Swimmers make it a habit to plan a workout set before they hit the water. I like doing that because I can correlate my Garmin Swim data with the activity. I ran my FR610 during this morning's workout, just to see the HR data. I do not expect to correlate anything, but I take the entire set of drills that I have and construct a set that focused on my weaknesses. Here was this morning's set:

WU one lap zone 1


    High knee, STOP. follow through
    High knee, STOP, pop onto ball of foot, follow through

Endurance Skipping
    No scraping
    Quick action, pop

Quick Feet
    Fast, small steps, “push down push down push down”
    Almost not forward motion
    Small, economic arm action

Ankle Springs
    No power, move by springing on ball of feet, lean forward
    Try to touch heel down at end, heel-toe-heel-toe

Half High Knees
    Start like Fast Feet but slower cadence
    Transition to lifting knees high
    Avoid kicking to rear, focus on lifting in front
    Finish with transition to strides

Walking Butt Flick
    Knee back, kick butt with heel without bending forward

Leg Swings (hip flexors)
    Free leg moves in exaggerated running motion. Emphasize back swing, do not bend over.

Hamstring Kick-Outs
    Kick forward, crunch over, touch toe with opposite fingertips

Carioca drill
    Start with bar stool dance
    Bend forward slightly
    Arms straight out, palms in
    Turn at hips/pelvis, shoulders turn a bit too
    Do not cross legs

FINISH one lap tempo/all out

I did the warm-up lap in 4:38 and the finish lap in 3:08. Neither was at a steady pace, starting slow and gradually speeding up. For the drill section my average HR was 119, so lots of recovery in there, and the max was 140. I am certain I did some drills at a much higher intensity, they were just not long enough to hit the red zone. Max HR on the finish lap was 153, right at my lactic threshold.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The comfort zone challenge

The other day I was talking with one of the swim coaches at the Oahu Club about my late-in-life foray into triathlon and he paid me a nice compliment. He said he admired people who are willing to go outside their comfort zone and take on something as challenging as multisport. We have all heard comments like that, yet for some reason this time the words hit me.

For years I commuted to work every day on my bike. On Sunday I would drive by the office to drop off a week's worth of clean clothes and pick up the laundry. My route was ten miles one way, easy to do in less than an hour, not much slower than in a car during rush hour traffic. The only reason I stopped was to attend after work activities such as swim practice -- I just can't bring myself to entrust my bike to a lock at the beach. Then there is yoga, and drum lessons, and the British Car Club meetings. As much as I loved my bike I just could not fit in everything I wanted to do without the flexibility a car offers. I do miss it.

A week never passed that someone did not seem amazed that I rode my bike to work every day. It was so far. What about all those cars? What about the rain? What about in winter when it is dark? People treated me like superman, yet to me it was nothing more than a pleasant alternative to sitting in a car.

Obviously our comfort zones did not overlap very much. That is, in the Venn diagram sense.

Now consider the car thing. I have no qualms about tearing apart my Lotus engine. Modern engines are a bit more intimidating due to all the electrical bits, but mechanically they pose no new challenges. Why is it, then, that so many people have no desire to take on a similar challenge?

I am by no means the only person who commutes to work or restores old cars. My point is that some people do such things, while most do not. Why the difference? Why are some of us more willing to step outside our comfort zone while others hold back?

I was a Spoke baby -- my mother treated "Baby and Child Care" as though it was the bible of child raising. As a boy I loved taking things apart. Why? My father was an airplane mechanic, so fixing things seemed perfectly natural to me. Watches, cameras, the Electrolux vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, all got taken apart and put back together. For the most part my parents never discouraged me. There was only one time that my parents got genuinely angry with me, which was in high school when I took apart a guitar amp that belonged to one of the guys in my rock band. They were afraid it was expensive and that I could not put it together. Not only did I reassemble it, I fixed whatever it was that was broken. My dad was a great mechanic, but his comfort zone did not include vacuum tube electronics.

It seems reasonable to me that children are by their nature inquisitive, and that the reluctance to take on something new is the result of overly protective parents. Bounds are good, and part of parenting is setting bounds. The trick is to prevent disasters while giving a child plenty of slack, enough to allow themselves to get into some trouble. I think my parents were very good at that, which is why I am so willing to step outside my comfort zone.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Another view of bike focused training

First time I've seen this 5:1 ratio. When I get the chance I will check my ratios. But mine is a marathon plan so I expect something more balanced.

Should you do a run focused training block

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nutrition for young athletes, and the lack thereof

Wednesday afternoons I meet up with Pattie and whomever else we can coerce into joining us for a spin class, led by our good friend and coach Dorian Cuccia. We started out in Dorian's back yard, then tried Makiki District Park until we got fed up with the lack of parking and the abundance of homeless people, and ended up at Manoa District Park, on the grass south of the swimming pool under big, shady trees. There cannot be a better outdoor spin class venue on the planet.

I see a lot of kids at the park engaged in a variety of sports. Tennis, swimming, running, baseball, football, soccer, and a crossfit program. No doubt I could see volleyball and basket ball if I went looking for them. It should not surprise you that I also see a lot of parents. Nor would I expect you to be surprised that virtually none of the parents look physically fit, and a great many are seriously obese. They expect their kid to go run around the playing field when it is all they can do to carry a folding chair from their car to the edge of the fied. A few never make it past the sidewalk.

It shouldn't be this way. Parents should set the example.

As I was packing up my gear after class I saw a boy in a nearby van -- maybe eight or ten -- who had just finished football practice, gurgling the last of a large cup of soda. The cup was from McDonald's, which just happens to be the only handy fast food place in the valley. I heard someone nearby shout "We're going to McDonald's, see you there?" I spotted three or four mom types, all fat and jiggly. "Burgers, fries, and soda. Just what you need," I said to myself.

I busted out my chocolate milk and drove away thinking how much better kids could be at their sport if someone taught them the basics of nutrition for athletes. Who would do that? Shouldn't the coaches do that? But the football coaches I've seen are no better than the general population, out of shape and seriously overweight. Who is going to impress upon these kids, and their moms, that before practice they need to eat something. Not a large french fries and diet coke. A Cliff bar, or a half a peanut butter and jam sandwich on whole grain bread, and just plain, common water. They should all have a recovery drink to consume as soon as practice ends. What kid doesn't like chocolate milk?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It's a drag

Last Sunday's bike ride plan called for 30 miles, a modest increase from the previous week's 25 and well within my current comfort zone. That 25 mile ride went exactly as planned, but my time estimate for the 30 mile ride was off by a lot. Plan was for 1:45 but I did it in 2:30. What happened?

The first thing I noticed was that to do 30 miles in 1:45 required an average speed of 17.1 m.p.h. That is a bit faster that my Tinman average speed of 15.2. What made me think I would do a training ride at race pace? These rides are supposed to build endurance, and that means riding predominantly in zones 1 and 2. Not blazing fast. Besides, despite their long duration they are not supposed to leave me drained to where I spend the rest of the day sitting on the sofa watching TV.

When I developed my twenty week plan I used an average bike speed of 16. How did it get to be 17.1? Rounding. Looking back at my spreadsheet, my plan for Sunday was 30 miles in 1:52:30. Going from that data set, which was liner, to the adjusted set which included periodization, I rounded off the times to the nearest quarter hour. Perhaps my rounding rule should have been to always round down, because going faster is not really an option. A little, maybe, but that's it.

That got me to within 30 minutes, but how do I explain those 30 minutes?

The Tinman route included a climb over Diamond Head with cold legs as well as Heart Break Hill, and I was not going all-out in order to protect my run. Sunday's route started in Kahala so no Diamond Head, included Heart Break, and Makapuu with the turn-around at Waimanalo District Park. As for effort, I should have been under my Tinman effort.

Hills take huge chucks of time, which is why they are so useful in creating gaps in races. I could see how my goal pace of 16 m.p.h. was unreasonable when my ride went to Waimanalo, but why was I off by so much? Sure I had to climb up Heart Break Hill and Makapuu, but I got to go down both climbs so shouldn't that be a wash? The speed lost going up come back on the way down. Conservation of energy and all that.

It doesn't work that way.

A bike by itself creates almost no resistance to rolling. Most of what there is comes from chain friction and tire deformation. What keeps a bike from going 100 m.p.h. is drag, the energy required to push the bike and rider through the air. Most of the drag is generated by the rider's body, the other significant source being the wheel spokes.

Drag increases as the square of velocity. The speed loss when climbing is liner. To ride an average speed of 17 m.p.h. with a 5 minute climb at 5 m.p.h. will require a decent speed of 29 m.p.h.. The energy lost to drag will be less during the climb than the preceding flat section, but it will go up sharply on the decent -- there is no way to get back the energy lost on the climb.

It gets worse.

What moves the bike forward is energy provided by the rider. Elite, well financed cyclists can now measure the actual power being expended, by use of a power meter such as made my SRM and Garmin. The rest of us use a heart rate monitor to estimate power output. The harder we peddle, the higher our heart rate. This works surprisingly well.

Even if you do not grasp the significance of a term increasing as the square of another term, all you need to know is that the resistance to speed increases at a much faster rate than the speed increases. But in the case of power, the force required to overcome resistance (in our case, drag), things get ugly fast. Power increases as the cube of speed. The energy you must expend to double your speed will increase a thousandfold. Figuratively, anyway.  It is our power output that we feel when we consider how hard we are working, and our HRM is the tool we most often use to quantify that feeling.

Bear in mind I am not talking about land speed. That would be the speed at which we are traveling along the road, the speed I used to calculate my time and distance estimates. Here we are really talking about airspeed. Land speed and airspeed are the same as long as there is no wind. Sunday, there was wind. A lot more than we had in recent weeks, a lot more than for the Tinman.

By now you should see where this is going. Given an average wind speed of 10 m.p.h. from the east, the ride outbound along Kalanianaole will require far more power than the return. Because this ride was constrained more by power -- perceived effort -- than speed, the result is a much longer ride time than estimated. When two things are related exponentially, equal moves up and down along one term produce wild and crazy changes in the other term. This is why going just a little faster requires so much more energy, why the wind wrecks havoc on bike races, and why a streamlined ride position is so important. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Running with less running

Previously I described my idea to apply Ironman training concepts to my marathon training. The primary goal is to shift much of the endurance training from the run to the bike, the goal being to reduce the risk of injury. I still do a long run every weekend, but not nearly as long as if I were only running. I do the run on Saturday, and the long bike on Sunday. Again, putting the run before bike is to reduce the risk of injury.

As I trained for my first marathon just about everything I read said to go out and run every day. One hour on weekdays, longer on weekends. Run run run. One so-called expert claimed that anything less than an hour was a waste of time. I was surprised therefor to see that Matt Fitzgerald's run plans usually kept weekday runs to 30-40 minutes, but even so he had me doing them four days out of five.

Since then my reading has widened to include more on triathlon, as well as what is appropriate for old guys. (Would you believe the borderline often used for this is forty? What does that make me, antique?) The theme I see most often is to lower run training volume, increase cross training, and most of all increase strength training. As we age we naturally lose power. Just running will not do enough to prepare us for race day. Keep in mind that those books and Runners World pieces are aimed at twenty-somethings. I have to compensate for age.

Joe Friel recommends that old folks like me include two or three strength sessions during the base period, and at least one during build. Only stop doing strength workouts the week before a race. After the Tinman Triathlon I had one week of transition, followed by seven weeks of base. I have a weekly one hour workout with a weight trainer -- Dorian Cuccia -- which I will supplement with workouts either at home or at the gym.

Right up there with strength during the base period is flexibility. Later, as a race approaches, it is better to cut back on flexibility workouts as these can actually work against you. A good runner needs to be springy, not loose and floppy. The base period is the perfect time to work on flexibility, freedom of motion, and mechanics. To that end I have gotten back into yoga. I was doing yoga twice a week at work, but our instructor has moved away so I go once a week with Pattie.

One more thing I have done is set aside one run session a week to do drills. I did my first one today, going through all the drills I picked up from Bobby McGee. I managed to fill most of an hour on the track doing each drill two or three times. From now on I will pick four or five that address my limiters and spend more time on them. What is important to note is that these drills do not include very much running, yet during the session I was feeling the effects and by the end my legs were definitely burning. This is what I mean by running without running.

Just for kicks I have included this week's training plan. Most weeks follow this pattern, but no two are exactly alike.

    AM run 30 min 50% zone 2
    PM swim Oahu Club 40 min
    AM run 40 min mostly zone 2
    AM strength 1 hr
    PM yoga 1.5 hr
    AM run drills 45 min
    PM bike spin class 1 hr
    AM run 45 min strides up and down hill
    Noon strength gym 1 hr
    PM swim Oahu Club 40 min
    Recovery Day
    AM long run 6 mi
    AM long bike 35 mi

Planned time: 11:30
    Swim: 1:20
    Bike: 2:45
    Xtrn: 1:30
    Strength: 2:00

With this plan I spend more time running than anything else, but I spend less than half my time running. With so much variety I should easily avoid the workout blahs that so other show up mid-way to our goal.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Plans and graphs, with a little luck

This is the day hurricane Iselle was supposed to roll over Oahu, but as luck would have it the storm fell apart as it crashed into the Big Island. Friday's are my rest day so no workouts were compromised, and I fought off the boredom of watching endless storm coverage on TV by running through Jay Dicharry's flexibility assessment drills, followed by a little free weight exercise.

After reviewing Dicharry I concluded I need to do a set of flexibility exercises every day, to include at a minimum the "chair of death" (a.k.a. bilateral squat), hamstring stretch (laying on back with one leg straight up is a good one), and kneeling hip flexor stretch. For best results each stretch should be held for 3-5 minutes, so we are looking at about 30 minutes a day. This will take some planning.

Talking about planning, previously I wrote about my plan to blend marathon training with triathlon training. My initial plan incorporated Joe Friel's periodiztion guidelines as presented in his book, The Triathlete's Training Bible. The same "two hard one easy" weekly pattern shows up on my Training Peaks Annual Training Plan, because I was honest about my age and training goals when I created my plan.

My next step was to use the Training Peaks Virtual Coach to help fill in the weekly workouts. It was during this step that I realized how the Virtual Coach puts into effect the recommendations Friel makes concerning easy weeks and testing. Every third week my training volume is reduced to seven hours, and on every one of those weeks the Virtual Coach recommended some kind of test. In the past this puzzled me, because a test has to be done all out, which does not seem restful to me. Now, finally, I got it. Yes, the effort level is high, actually higher than workouts during hard weeks.What makes it "easy" is the short duration. No test is ever perfect, so by doing several of them you can smooth out the irregularities and get a more accurate picture of overall progress.

Friels uses two tests. The first one (LTHR) is just a measure of your lactate threshold as measured by heart rate. This is how we establish our HR zones.

Warm up well. Then run a 30 minute time trial on flat course/track. Punch HR monitor 'lap' button 10 minutes into Time Trial. Average heart rate for last 20 minutes predicts Lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR).

The second (TTT), is based on the LTHR results from the earlier tests but is more focused on all out, maximum performance.

Warm up for about 15 minutes raising heart rate to 10 bpm below Lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). Then start 1 mile at 9-11 bpm below LTHR. (recover for 400m). 1.5 miles all out. Times? Heart rates?

My twenty week marathon plan includes three LTHR tests, the first tomorrow, and three TTT tests.

The problem I ran into in incorporating these tests into my workout plan is that my plan is based on specific times and distances, based on a reasonable pace. For these tests, that approach is thrown out the window. When you do these tests you should only be looking at your HRM for time and distance. In the case of the LTHR, only time. You are not trying to hit a particular pace or heart rate, you are going as fast as you can for thirty minutes, just by feel alone.  I know the LTHR will take forty-five minutes because I allow fifteen minutes to warm up and the test itself is thirty minutes. What I can't say is how far I will run that day. Estimating the duration of the TTT is even harder, so I made a wild guess of fifty minutes. Again, no idea of distance. Obviously more that 2.5 miles, but how much more?

I finally figured out how to make graphs in Google Docs. No doubt someone with more experience could make something better, but at least I was able to graph my weekly long bike and long run workouts. Nothing reveals the ups and downs in a table of numbers better than a graph.

My first graph plots time. You can clearly see the three week periodization. Did I mention that to hit seven hours without giving up everything during the week I had to drop most easy week Sunday bike rides?  That is why the bike lines goes to zero on those weeks.

I also plotted distance, and here you really see how the bike provides the bulk of the endurance training. See where the blue line goes to zero every third week? That is not really a zero, I just don't know what to but there. It should end up looking like the time chart.
No plan ever gets put into practice without some changes. I know that I may have to make adjustments based on my reaction to this training load -- us old guys need a lot more time to recover than the young grasshoppers -- but I also know that life has a way of getting in the way. To pull this off successfully will need more than good planning. Now where did I put my dice?