Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016 Training Plan Highlights

I resolve ...

I guess you could call this my 2016 New Year's resolution. The title suggests a full year plan, but I have not gotten much past the main event for this year, the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii ("Honu") triathlon. I do plan to ride an aggressive Century Ride in September, but I am undecided about the Honolulu Marathon. Best thing to do there is sign up at the kama'aina rate and decide later. Here is what I have so far:

Feb 15 Great Aloha Run (C)
Apr 10 Hapalua Half Marathon (B) (practice run segment of HIM)
Apr 24 Haleiwa Metric Century Ride (C) (practice pacing, bike nutrition)
May 15 Honolulu Triathlon (B) (focus on swim and transitions)
Jun  4 Honu (A)
Jul 24 Tinman (A)

My first and only real A race is Honu. I have made the Tinman Triathlon an A race only because I will already be in good form from Honu and might as well sustain that level of fitness through Tinman. The other races are B and C events done just for fun or to practice for Honu.

The Performance Management Chart as a planning tool

(Click to enlarge)
The Performance Management Chart (PMC) is sometimes referred to as the bread and butter chart of Training Peaks. Anyone who has used Training Peaks should recognize the PMC as a historical tool, in that it applies complex mathematical formulas to workout data uploaded from whatever source is available (typically a GPS-enabled heart rate monitor) and displays three line charts superimposed upon each other, labeled Acute Training Load (ATL), Chronic Training Load (CTL), and Training Stress Balance (TSB). The ATL line is fuchisa. The more demanding a workout, the higher the value. Think of it as fatigue, in that the harder you work the more fatigue you end up with. The TSB line is yellow and represents something sort of, but not exactly, the opposite of ATL. Let's call it freshness. The harder you work the more negative the TSB. When training eases off, ATL falls and TSB rises. You end up feeling rested and ready for more activity. The blue CTL line represents the interaction between ATL and TSB; it represents the improvement in fitness brought about by training. The body responds to an increase in ATL by building more muscle, bone, and connective tissue, and it does this mostly during times of rest (high TSB). The result of all this cell growth is greater fitness, represented on the PMC by the blue CTS line.

The most significant data point the Training Peaks site computes from an athlete's workout data is Training Stress Score (TSS). Simply put, a maximum effort sustained for one hour generates a TSS of 100. The source data used varies for each sport, with emphasis given to power meter data and heart rate data when available. The goal is to have a metric that represents how hard a workout felt regardless of which activity it was. TSS values above 100 are not uncommon because duration is one of the terms. A three hour bike ride at moderate intensity could produce a TSS of 150. A two hour easy run might also produce a TSS of 150. The point is that both workouts, the bike and the run, should feel equally hard and leave you feeling equally exhausted.

The left third of my PMC above is historic, starting when I began to ramp up my training for the marathon. As useful as the PMC is at describing what happened in the past, it can also be used to predict the future. This is a powerful planning tool. Just keep in mind that it will always be an estimate until the actual data is uploaded. Not only that, any plan is subject to the specifics of what actually happens, day by day. What I have here is a fairly detailed plan out to June, but it will need adjustment as I go along.

The key to using the PMC to predict the future is to manually assign a TSS vaue to each planned workout. On my PMC the lines that represent future data are dashed, beginning on December 30.

Where do the TSS estimates come from? Primarily by looking back at past workouts.

Here is the workout I have scheduled for January 5th, the weekly Tantalus Ride. As you can see I have assigned this workout a TSS value of 80. The actual TSS values for the past four times I have done this ride are 88.7, 87.9, 100.1, and 107.9. (The increase in TSS here could be taken as a sign of improved fitness. I'll go with that.).

Creating a training plan at this level of detail does take time, but without such a plan there is a good possibility that important training elements will be missed. Here is a look at the week the example workout is from, the start of my spring training base period.

To produce the PMC shown here required that I fill in every week through Honu with this level of detail. Bear in mind that no two weeks are exactly the same!

A good training plan incorporates periodization, the alternation of hard days and easy days, hard weeks with easy weeks, and on the macro level, long builds to peak performance for the A races and adequate recovery time. On the PMC, the blue line represents the result of training and should show a steady rise to an A race. That progress in turn will be a series of ups and downs due to periodization.

Training volume should be reduced just before a race. This is often referred to as tapering and shows up on the PMC as a drop in ATL and a corresponding rise in TSB. This increase in TSB is called "coming into form." The blue CTL line also go down. This loss of fitness could be taken as a bad thing, but it has been shown beyond any doubt that an elevated TSB is critical for a good endurance race. I have identified the races I plan on doing between now and Honu. Notice how the TSB goes up before each, but not always the same amount. The difference is how significant the race is to me.

In a recent blog Joe Friel presented another way to look at the PMC by dividing it into zones and tracking how the TSB line falls into these zones. I have added his zones manually to my example here -- you will not see this on the Training Peaks PMC. Remember, when training is hard the TSB goes increasingly negative. Going from the bottom up, the lowest (most negative) zone is "High Risk." You can see where my long run workouts leading to the marathon often went into this zone. Such workouts will leave you too fatigued to do much for a day or two, and they increase the risk of a training injury, but in my case they were necessary to build muscular endurance needed to run the marathon. Next up is the "Optimal Training" zone. You want many of your workouts to result in putting your TSB is this zone. The "Grey" zone is what the name implies, a level of effort too low to produce much increase in fitness, yet too high to be truly restful. The blue zone is labeled "Freshness" because this is where you will recover well. With periodization the goal is to alternate between the green and blue zone. The transition zone is where you have seriously backed off training. A good example can be seen here following my marathon -- it actually takes several days for my TSB line to get up into the Transition zone, and that is exactly what it felt like.

In the same blog entry Friel addresses "coming into form" and the Freshness zone:

Freshness is fully realized when in this zone, but how high an athlete may want to be here on race day varies. Some athletes race better when high in the zone around +20 to +25, and others when low in the zone at about +5 to +10. That’s one of thing you can only determine from trial and error. 
I am following Friel's Half Ironman training plan (for athletes over 50) and I end up with a TSB of about 25. For Honu that is a good thing, because the wind and heat can take a lot out of you.

Focus: Swim

Now that the marathon is over I will shift more time to the swim, by far my weakest event. Tuesday and Thursday mornings are taken by other commitments -- group bike hill climb on Tuesday, strength training on Thursday -- so I will follow my old routine of a morning swim at the Oahu Club on Monday and Wednesday. I will do one more weekday swim in open water, where the focus is on long, continuous swimming, sighting, and feeling and adjusting to currents. For that I need a partner, and if hooking up with someone is easier on Wednesday I can swap the pool and OW swims. I will do the swim portion of weekend workouts at the beach, at whatever location makes sense, most likely Kaimana.

Joe Friel's training plan is an excellent piece of work, worth every penny, but he specifies swim workouts the traditional way whereas I am a follower of the Total Immersion method. Friel does give you the option of doing a masters class, which suggests that he is more interested in putting in adequate time and distance. Here is a typical swim workout:

WU: 100 drill, 100 kick, 100 drill, 100 kick.
400 at T-pace. (T-pace is your olympic-distance swim pace per 100).
50 kick easy.
350 at T-pace.
50 kick easy.
300 at T-pace.
50 kick east.
250 at T-pace.
50 kick easy.
200 at T-pace.
50 kick easy.
150 at T-pace.
50 kick easy.
100 drill.
50 kick easy.
500 swim good form.
You may substitute a similar masters swim session for this workout.

I have chosen to follow the same swim training plan I used last season, while increasing the yardage as much as time allows. This is the "Fast Forward" plan developed by TI coach Susan Atkinson.

There will be a week-long TI swim camp in Kona this March. I would like to do this and turn the week into a training vacation, to include a few rides on the road to Hawi. Still holding back due to the cost, but for someone already in Hawaii it is actually a bargain.

Focus: Bike

Now that I have my new Cervelo P3 I need to invest plenty of time getting comfortable in the aero position. In addition to the usual long rides I will need to take advantage of every opportunity to get out o the oad, even for thirty minutes. In support of this goal I purchasd a nifty set of lights specifically designed for tri bikes -- ever try to mount a standard bike tail light on an aero seat post? Not happening! I am still in the process of buying and installing all the little extras, and will cover that in future blogs.

Last year I finally purchased a set of Garmin Vector pedals, so I will be training and racing with power. Friel's plan includes directions for those with power meters, and I can apply what I learned from his book, "The Power Meter Handbook."

Focus: Run

My primary goal for running is to at least maintain my current run fitness while reducing the weekly mileage to make time for more swimming and biking. I will use the GAR to keep me on track, and the Hapalua to practice my pacing for Honu. During the marathon build I was running so long on Sunday that I could not manage much during the week, which resulted in my body becoming acclimated to running slow. I caught this only a couple weeks away from the race and struggled to keep my cadence above 80.  With this in mind I have increased the emphasis on tempo and interval runs during the week.

Strength training, massage, and yoga

I cannot emphasize enough how important strength training is to staying fit, especially for old geezers like me. My trainer Dorian Cuccia understands the importance of weekly gym sessions and is a genius at adapting traditional weight lifting exercises to complement the specific demands of triathlon. Our plan is to use the base period, January through mid-March, to do some especially aggressive strength training aimed at increasing power output and therefore efficiency and at the same time increasing range of motion.

When I began seeing my massage therapist Sonya Weiser Souza our goal was to fix a really bad left leg. About a year ago the leg had improved so much that we decided to drop down to a once every three weeks schedule. Our plan for this year is to stay with tht schedule through the base period while taking a more aggressive approach to mobility, with emphasis on the upper body. (I see much pain in my future!) During the build phase we will meet every two weeks to ward off injury due to increasing training stress.

I know that some in the sport consider a waste of time, and possibly detrimental to good performance. I disagree. Yoga -- or Pilates -- has a definite place in endurance training. Muscles need regular signals that they need to function over a wide range of motion. If all we do is the sport we target our muscles will be confined to a limited range of motion. At the very least this limit will act as a barrier to good performance, but it can even lead to injury, particularly when unforeseen events cause us to move in a way we have not practiced. Pattie and I will continue to attend a weekly yoga session with Elaine Chung at the East Honolulu Yoga Center.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Marathon 2015, more insights

During the my last month of training leading up the last Sunday's race I realized that I had been doing the bulk of my running at a very low pace, so much so that when I tried to do a fast finish run my legs felt very ungainly and my arms seemed to loose connection to me legs. Doing those long runs at such a slow pace is the right thing to do. Had I done say a twenty mile run at marathon pace I would be exhausted for the next couple of days and incapable of doing any useful training for a week or two. A typical marathon pace falls somewhere in the mid to high zone 2. Zone 3 should be avoided, as that is getting up into tempo range, where breathing becomes hard and the effort cannot be sustained for so long an event. I spent most of my long run training at the top of zone 1, literally 1.9, bumping over into the low zone 2 only occasionally.

I have been working on running at low effort levels while maintaining a high cadence -- 80 one foot strikes per minute or better -- but in spite of much improvement still cannot manage to stay in zone 1 without dropping down to the 70 - 72 range. I ran several long runs in the 18 - 20 mile range that I ran this way and felt reasonably good afterwards. Good old fashioned base training.

During those final weeks when I tried to run faster I finally hit a sweet spot where my feet seemed to float with little effort. This happened right around 80 BPM. I found that at this cadence I could increase my pace considerably with only a small increase in HR. Looking back on my training plan I realize now that I should have scheduled one medium distance run mid-week to be done at or just above race pace. Call it tempo if you like, perhaps "below tempo" would be more accurate. Whatever you call it, the problem was my fixed training schedule did not present a useful time slot for such a workout.

My race plan called for a reasonable warm-up period of about two miles, a long mid section done at a higher effort than my long run practice pace, and the last five miles as fast as my tired legs would go. I expected to be running at a HR in the high zone 2, just dropping into zone 1 during the one minute walk periods. I was also prepared for my HR to be evevated as compared to a workout, due to the stress of racing. What I found was that to hit my desired pace I frequently ran my HR up into zone 3. Not high enough to be a genuine tempo run, but almost. Again, those one minute breaks allowed me to keep this up for several hours. I am sure I could have done the entire race this way were it not for the heat that hit hard around mile 20.

Below is my Time in Heart RAte Zone chart from Training Peaks. I am not surprised at how much time I spent in zone 3 based on what I saw while running. I am surprised that I spent that much time in zone 3. To be sure, it was low zone 3, but my plan was to not go above high zone 2.

Below is my Performance Management Chart for the period I was doing marathon specific training. From 8/3 to 9/27 I was doing a blended marathon + century ride training. Poor weather made some workouts impossible, and the weather was so bad that I skipped the century ride. I did do the hundred miles later, on 10/11, with my friend Steve Davidson who was training for Ironman Florida. Looking at this period I would say that my overall intensity was too low. My Training Stress Balance (TSB) (the yellow line) is much too high, meaning I was not working very hard, and the Chronic Training Load (CTL) (the blue line) just meanders up and down. I was not getting any more fit. The make-up century ride, closely followed by a hard Tantalus Ride the following Tuesday, finally brought my PMC data into the proper proportions for a gain in fitness.

The first big spike in Acute Training Load (ATL) comes the following weekend, my first truly long run at 16 miles. From there through to the marathon you can see a regular progression of long runs on Sunday mornings. The bobble in early November was caused by a failed long run on 11/8 followed by the Val Nolasco Half Marathon on 11/15, which I did not run as hard as I might have because I was practicing my marathon pace. Even so you can see a nice steady improvement in CTL as the ATL peaks every Sunday in a steady progression up until the start of my taper. From there my TSB shots up high, just what it wanted for a race like this.

I would consider this a textbook case of what a PMC should look like, except the pattern visible in the last three months should be present from the start. On balance, had I worked that hard that long I might of burned out mid-November. This is why training plans are part science, part art.

One thing I learned during those long Sunday morning runs was the need to maintain better posture. By the end of a long run I had serious pain where my glutes attach to my hip bone. The other hot spot was just below my scapula. I discovered that I was running with my head tilted down. On shorter runs, like what I had been doing during triathlon season, the effort of holding up my sagging head went unnoticed, but after several hours the effort revealed itself. I learned to balance my head on to of my shoulders and to lift my mid-section up out of my hips by engageing my abs, and like magic the pains went away. No pain at all during or after the race.

Even more exciting was the complete lack of drama in my left leg. Despite being right handed it is my left leg that gets pushed into doing most of the work. For several years I have been struggling to lefty to articulate as smoothly as righty. I often find myself running with a clip-clop so pronounced you might think I was wearing two different makes of running shoes. All the hard work paid off. On Sunday, both legs started off extremely well. Around mile 21 it was righty who started to complain -- the quads (rectus femoris) and adductors started to hurt as if they wanted to cramp. I have been disabled by severe calf cramps on training runs and did not want to become part of the carnage I was running past, so I slowed down a bit and extended my walk periods enough to take in a little more water. After the race it was my right quad that hurt the most, not the left. Interesting.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Race Report - Honolulu Marathon 2015

If I had to sum up this race in one word, it would be "hot." To expand a little, hot, humid, and no wind. Last year I battled the wind and rain and managed a 7:25. This year, in spite of near perfect conditions for the first couple hours, the best I could manage was 7:37. But, seeing all the carnage I passed on my way back from the turn-around in Hawaii-Kai, I will take that as a good result for me.

I knew heat would be an issue from the weather reports going into the weekend. My good friend and physical therapist Sonya Weiser-Souza ran the Xterra half marathon last weekend and had to drop out with heat stroke. We are talking about someone with way more experience than me. Her experience inspired me to make two changes to my original plan. I increased the number of salt tabs I would carry and consume, and planned on taking in more water from my flask. It is a six ounce flask, so a full one every aid station (about two miles, roughly thirty minutes at my pace), seemed like a good target. Gut unhappiness would have the last word. I do a 5/1 run/walk and drink every time I walk, so one ounce at every walk would do it. This was probably close to what I had been doing in training, it is just that I needed to be more attentive this time. I also made sure to take one salt tab about thirty minutes before the start.

My concern for heat was confirmed waiting for the start. By 5:45AM it was 82F on course at 86% humidity. I was sweating just standing still.

All year I have been experimenting with blood pressure medication and finally came up with a mix that does a good job without flushing out salts and "excess" water. I started my new mix about a month ago, watching for signs of the most likely side effect, feeling dizzy during rigorous activity. This did happen to me several years ago. During yoga I would stand up and almost fall over. Had to change meds back then. This time, with something different, no problems so far.

I saw dozens of runners on the side of the road, shoes off, rubbing their feet. Sure signs they bought their shoes at the bargain store, cheaply made or the wrong size. You cannot run a marathon with junk shoes. I got myself a new pair of Newton Gravity IVs, wore them just enough in training to scuff the soles a bit, then saved them for the race. They were perfect. Not foot issues whatsoever.

I know there is no evidence that supports the benefits of wearing compression socks or sleeves during a race, and only tangential evidence that supports recovery. Still, I feel better doing long runs in CEP compression sleeves. This time I wore my blue pair, not because they matched my kit but because they are not as tight as my white pair. I wore the white ones for the Val Nolasco Half Marathon in November. They felt too tight, and I suffered from calf cramps at an effort level that should not have been a problem. No calf cramps at all this time, not so much as a tingle. But then this time I tapered.

I have come to prefer spandex running shorts for long runs. My Newton tri-suit is my favorite. I have a black Pearl-Izumi tri-short (basically bike shorts with thinner padding) but they are too thick and hot -- would have died in those. Pattie pointed out that since my over-all look is blue I could wear my Zoot tri-suit shorts with my Newton running singlet. A perfect combination.

Why not the matching Zoot top? Like many other people I have had problems with my Garmin heart rate monitor strap interacting with the fabric. Some people report HR spikes. My typical failure is low or zero HR. I have had it happen on several long runs and know how to correct it, but it takes times and becomes a source of stress. For a triathlon the advantages of a proper tri-suit outweigh the risk of equipment failure -- we can run by feel. But in a marathon, why bother? Eliminate the problem at the source. Besides, on a day like this I believe the loose fitting singlet is cooler.

I was torn between my trusty old Head Sweats running hat (IT&B logo) or my new Head Sweats headband (Newton branded). Due to the lack of wind and anticipated sun I went with the white hat, and I think I made the right choice.

My one last minute change to my fuel plan was to carray two packs of Scratch Labs chews instead of one. On a couple recent long runs I consumed a whole bag, but mostly during a break around the halfway point. I knew there would be no such break this time, but with the increased heat I wanted more options. As it turned out I only ate six chews.

I started the race with one six ounce flask filled with a mixture of five scoops of Perpetuem in about four ounces of water. Five scoops is enough for two an a half standard water bottles. Taking this in undiluted would result in certain gastrointestinal mutiny. The trick is to take a sip, then wash it down with water from the other flask. That water flask gets refilled at every aid station. I have practiced this for months and it works really well. I do like to dilute the mix a little when roughly a third is gone. Doing so reduces the risk of taking in too much.

My plan was to extend the life of the Perpetuem with the chews. If I did run out of Perpetuem I could finish the run on the Gatorade provided on course. Why not just drink the provided sports drink? Experience has taught me that taking on several ounces of fluids at once -- water or sports drink -- makes my gut unhappy. Taking in less at that interval means certain dehydration on long runs. My solution is to drink smaller amounts more often. For this race I drank water at the start of every walk period, and water plus a sip of Perpetuem -- or a chew -- at every other. That means taking in fuel every twelve minutes.

About halfway through the race my stomach began to complain a little. I am reasonably certain this was due to my pushing water intake. To compensate I took in extra salt. I have not done this in practice and was not sure how my gut would react to getting salt and fuel in the same period, so I held bak on the fuel. This seemed to work, as I never felt bonked. I ended up taking eight Endurolyte tabs during the race, about double my training consumption. I started taking Gatorade from the Aloha gas station in Kahala just to be sure my Perpetuem held out. As it turned out I had maybe a half hour's worth left at the end of the race. So that went as planned.

That Aloha gas station around mile 21 is my nemesis. This year my plan was to know that the long stretch leading to it is uphill, and not to freak out when my pace dropped off. From there the course is gently downhill to just before Triangle Park, and I intended to make the most of it. I walked the last bit of the hill, and as I started running on Kealaolu my right adductor said no. Then my quads joined in, the right more so than the left. This is significant, because it has always been my left leg that gave me grief. I finally decided that this was not so much the onset of cramping as good old fashioned fatigue, but I did not want to test my theory to the limit so every time my legs start shouting I cut my walk period short. A few time I walked clear through a run period -- a whole five minutes -- just to quiet them down.

The funny thing is, from the back of Hawaii-Kai all the way to the finish I was surrounded by and running past walkers. Actually they looked more like zombies. My guess is that the Japanese tours deliver their changes really early and they all line up at the front, regardless of how fast they run. This year I violated my runners creed by lining up at the fifteen minute mark, knowing full well I was closer to sixteen, in hopes of avoiding some of that. It seemed to be working well for the first few miles, then the passing started and never ended. Let me assure you, when you are surrounded by walkers and your Garmin buzzes you to start running, it takes enormous willpower to obey.

I am well aware of the advice not to bank time at the start of a marathon. Go out easy, save yourself for the end. This time, though, I had to consider the fact that heat would become a major factor in the second half, so a little banking in the first half would pay off. Who can say for sure? I say it did, because I was still running at the finish and the only reason I slowed down was the heat.

Usually I pace myself my heart rate zone, but I have noticed that in a race my HR numbers are often higher than my RPE, including respiration. This time I decided to go primarily by pace, with a nod to gradient, based upon my recent runs. For the first couple miles I would not worry about any of that, just take it easy as I worked through the mass of runners as efficiently as possible while my legs warmed up, knowing that they would feel lousy. After that I wanted to stay as close to 15 min/mile as possible, closer to 14 if I was running well, walk the hills, and go as fast as my tired legs would carry me after the Aloha gas station. The goal being a run/walk average of 16 or better. I knew that if I ran at 15:30 my overall would be much slower. Those hill take a huge toll on your average pace, but to run them is to burn off way too much precious glycogen.

It turned out I was running really well. For the first two hours my overall average was spot-on 16 min/mile. I was getting up into zone three at times, more like a tempo or half marathon pace, but I felt great and the one minute break provided just the recovery I needed. After Kahala, out on the highway, the full force of the heat started to take its toll and my overall average fell to 17. I was hoping for a little respite; some clouds, a little rain, a bit of a tailwind, anything to gain back that lost time. No such luck. My Garmin logged a steadily rising temperature (blue line on the chart below), up to 93F for the last two hours, which happens to coincide with the Aloha gas station. No wonder the run from there to end looked and felt like a death march! I did feel good enough to run halfway up Diamond Head on the return, which surprised even me.

Thank goodness for the many water showers out on course. Mostly improvised, several supplied by folks who live along the course. This was the first marathon I ran with sponges still available at aid stations and I never skipped an opportunity to use one. At many in-between aid stations I took a cup of water and poured it over my head. To have passed by those opportunities would have meant certain disaster.

Post-race I have little to show. No drama. No lost toenails, no blisters, no sunburn (thanks, Planet Sun!). My quads are sore (yes, walking down stairs hurts), but that is it. Pattie greeted me with a bountiful supply of recovery fluids and I did not even try to eat solid food until late in the afternoon. For dinner she made pesto pasta, tossed salad, and a lean steak, thin sliced and marinated in balsamic vinegar dressing. Delicious, and none of the stomach upset I experienced last year.

Here is my data, click through to get the entire Training Peaks reports.

I cannot finish without saying mahalo to my dear friend Ric Trimillos who graciously allowed us to stay in his Waikiki condo. An easy walk to the start line and from the finish. And a million dollar view. Ric used to be quite the runner. Maybe next year he could join me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Marathon race plan

This coming Sunday is the Honolulu Marathon, so it is time to write out my race plan. Bottom line up front, I plan to come in just under seven hours.

A good friend who lives in Waikiki near the Hilton Hawaiian Village will be out of town and has graciously offered to allow Pattie and me to stay at his condo. About a twenty minute walk to the start area. I am going to leave earlier than last year so that I start closer to the front.

I have come to enjoy a pre-race dinner of sushi and will probably do that again. The key is to keep it light. The race starts at 5:00AM and for my pre-race breakfast I like to eat two slices of whole wheat bread with Nutella, along with some strong coffee, so I should get up by 3:00. Pattie is on the timing team and has to report in right across the street by 3:30, so I will probably get up with her.


The weather report calls for fairly warm weather and a slight chance of rain -- complete opposite of last year's race. I won't even bother with a trash bag raincoat unless things turn really nasty on Saturday. I will be extra careful with hydration. The really big question for me is which hat to wear. In the past I always wore a white runners hat, but when the wind is up, like last year, it becomes a distraction. Recently I bought a Newton branded Head Sweats visor that fits really snug. No way that thing will be blown off my head short of a hurricane. Because it fits so tight it hurts after awhile. I did wear it on at last one long run and I must say the pain kind of fades into the background. Then there is the heat debate. The visor lets heat escape from your scalp, a hat holds it in. But on hot, sunny days a white hat reflects heat, and my runners hat is well ventilated. I am not bald, so sunburn is not an issue. Maybe I'll just flip a coin that morning.

I bought new running shoes for this race. The latest iteration of Newton Gravity, the show I have been wearing for several years. I wanted to save them for the race but have been wearing them on enough runs to be sure they present no issues. I am going to use the traditional style laces that came with the shoes rather than triathlon style Yanks laces as they make the shoe feel more stable.

After some experimenting this fall I settled on snug, triathlon-style bike shorts paired with a loose fitting running singlet. I do like the matching spandex tri top, but I have had too many issues with my Garmin chest strap dropping out due to interaction with the fabic, so I decided to go traditional. The shorts I like are from Zoot. I also like my Newton kit. I do have a Pearl Izumi tri short but for some reason -- thicker padding? -- they feel uncomfortably hot in anything above 80F. I'll be wearing the Zoot shorts, same as for Honu.

I am a firm believer in compressing socks. Actually I wear calf sleeves and regular socks. Mine are from CEP. I have three pair, black, white, and blue. Not sure why but I bought the white smaller. Wore them for my last half marathon and they felt too tight and my calves were getting that twitchy almost-a-cramp feeling at much too low an effort level. I think those are just too tight, so I will wear the blue to match the rest of my kit.

I am going to carry my phone and unless there is a tropical storm I promise to take some pictures. Last year I did not get any due to rain and fatigue. I promise to do better this year. Sometimes I get too serious. Besides, watching for photo ops is a good way to distract you from your pain. Maybe a movie across the start line would be cool, for people who have never done it.


I have done a lot of experimenting during my recent long runs the result of which is a tested nutrition plan that is as reliable as any could be. Which means no guarantees.

In the past I used diluted GU gels in Fuelbelt flasks, three gels per bottle with about the same amount of water. I would sip some gel every ten minutes along with a little water from the aid station.

As much as I liked the flavor of GU tangerine gel, after a couple hours I began to dread having to take any more. I think it was too sweet. On a couple races, or long runs, I ended up on the verge of puking and what was coming up tasted like tangerine gel. Bleh.

This summer I switched to Hammer Perpetuem, mostly because of their claims of avoiding sugar. I found the dull, vaguely creamy taste much more tolerable than the GU gels. Much to my surprise I learned that Perpetuem does not have to be diluted to sports drink level, it does fine in a concentrated form. For my medium-long runs I used four scoops of Perpetuem (enough for two 20oz. bottles of sports drink) in 4oz. of water and for my twenty mile runs I used 5 scoops. At first I used a smoothie maker to mix it, but as it turns out a blender bottle works fine. What comes out is about the thickness of a milk shake. I carry this mixture in one flask and plain water in another, refilling the water flask as required at the aid stations.

More on pacing in a bit, but I will say hear that I will use a 5/1 run/walk and hit the fuel bottle roughly every other walk. There is just enough time to take in a small dribble of fuel washed down with an ounce or so of water before the minute is up. Sometimes I feel the the intake not quite settled in my stomach and wait a few seconds until it is before I start running again.

Since I will start with a five scoop flask I plan to dilute it a bit as I go, with water from the aid stations. Makes it much easier to get out. Did this on some long runs and it works fine. If I run out of fuel early I will switch to using the event sports drink -- in this case, Gatorade.

Twice I have carried a bag of Scratch Labs chews and will again this Sunday. I will eat 3-5 around the halfway point, and the rest along the return depending on how I feel.

I am not a big believer in taking salt to avoid cramps. Neither am I sure I do not need to. So, I will carry a half dozen Hammer Endurolytes caps and take one every hour. That is less than what Hammer recommends, but I think it should come out right given the conditions. I have been doing that on my long runs without any bad results.


This is the hard one. For me at least. My overall goal is to go easy for the first two miles to let my legs get fully warmed up, moderate after that until the Aloha gas station on the turn (mile 22) and from there as fast as my tired legs will go. I will use a 5/1 run/walk and not try to set any records during the walk -- that is recovery time. I anticipate crowded conditions until after Kahala, so maintaining a steady gait will be a challenge.I will be looking for runners going the same pace and hang with them rather than accelerate and slow down a lot, a mistake I have made in the past.

I ran my long runs at well below goal pace. This was to avoid beating up the legs so much that I could not do anything until the next long run. The problem is, my legs got so used to this slower pace that when I did try to finish at goal pace it felt really uncomfortable. Because of that I scheduled some goal pace or better runs during the last two weeks and made last Sunday's shorter long run a pace practice.

I think the real challenge for me will be to keep my cadence up at 80 or better after that first warm-up period. As I go from 75 to 80 my pace increases a lot more than my HR. I can cruise for a long time running at my aerobic threshold, between 1.9Z and 2.4Z. What I do not know is how well I can endure running at the higher end of that scale, because I did my long runs at the lower end. I want to feel really exhausted at the finish, but I do not want the wheels to fall off in Kahala, either. As I get fatigued my pace drops; I lose that floating sensation, that flow that makes running feel so easy. The more I drop below 80 the harder it feels to run. For this reason I will be monitoring pace and cadence more than heart rate. Focus on good form and quick, light feet.

Estimated time

Putting it all together my goal is to come in under 7:00. Last year I did 7:25, and in 2012 I did 7:50. At the start of my marathon training I was hoping to run at 14min/mile for a finish closer to 6:00, but that is still beyond my reach.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Val Nolasco half marathon race report

Today was was the Val Nolasco half marathon, the only race I scheduled during my marathon prep. This was somewhere between a B an C race for me. Only a little taper, mostly just this week's long run.

My goals for today's race were to look for a reasonable marathon race pace and to practice my nutrition plan. It is also a good idea to go through the mental game -- planning and the associated stressing over how I'll do, the idea here being to lower the stress level of the target A race. I also did some equipment checking: new shoes, what clothes to wear, a new visor, and my Garmin Fenix 2.

Allow me to point out here that I am an advanced age, late starting runner. Specifically I am 65 and have been seriously running for only three years. At my age, there is very little margin for error in anything related to physical activity. Every athlete knows the underlying dilemma; go too easy and no improvement takes place, but go too hard and the wheels fall off. As we age the margin of error gets smaller. The good news is that I have avoided much of the accumulation of injuries that plague so my senior athletes. The bad news is I lack the years of experience many senior athletes have. I am not only talking about knowledge, but something far more significant. Many people call it muscle memory. I like to point out that the nervous system in very much in play here. I visualize this as musician: a third year piano student should be able to toss off an A-Major scale, but a seasoned pro can do so with ease, grace and precision the beginner cannot match no matter how careful they are. I am that third year student, and often -- including today -- I find myself mixing it up with seasoned pros.

I ran my first marathon in 2012, after a year and a half of preparation. I  had to pull out in 2013 due to a hernia just before the race. I logged my first swim workout in December 2012, two weeks after the marathon. I did my first triathlons in 2014, in spite of the fact that I could barley swim.

I did run the marathon last year, but the conditions were miserable -- wet and windy, cold by Hawaii standards -- and my training plan fell a little short on long runs. By this I mean I pushed a lot of my endurance training onto the bike. What I learned from that is that you can develop cardiovascular endurance by substituting long bike rides for long runs, but not muscular endurance. For this season my marathon training plan for this year included more long runs, and so far it has worked fairly well.

For this year, in the months leading up to the Honolulu Century Ride I did a blended training, alternating long bike weekends with long runs. After the century ride I only did long runs on the weekend. Ironically we skipped the century ride due to miserable weather, but I did a make-up with a training partner a couple weeks later. It rained that Sunday, too, but he had to get in the miles.

7/26 - Tinman Triathlon
8/2 - Bike 13 miles
8/9 - Run LTHR test 3.44
8/16 - Bike 45
8/23 - Run 8.6
8/30 - Run LTHR test 3.25
9/6 - Bike 43.9
9/12 - Run 6.9 rain
9/20 - Run strides 2.72
9/27 - (Century Ride, skipped due to rain)
10/4 - Brick, Bike 25, Run 1.25 with Steve Davidson
10/10 - Run 11
10/11 - Bike 100 with Steve, IM Florida training, make-up century ride
10/18 - Run 16
10/25 - Run 18
11/1 - Run 8 (R&R week)
11/8 - Run 11.6. Plan was 20, Garmin died, then I blew up just after half way
11/15 - Run, 13.4 (half marathon)

Coming up:

11/22 - Run 22
11/29 - Run 17 at goal pace
12/6 - Run 12 at goal pace
12/13 - Honolulu Marathon

My best half marathon was the 2014 Hapalua, at 3:05:56. The Hapalua is easier than today's race because there are less hills. The Hapalua runs along the coast from Waikiki to downtown Honolulu, then back to Waikiki, up the west side of Diamond Head and around clockwise to finish at Kapiolani Park. The Val Nolasco starts with a climb over the much steeper east side of Diamond Head, up the back side, down into Kahala, up to the highway, down a little where is finally stays flat for a bit, then unwinds back pretty much the same route. The worst part for me is hitting that first hill before I have fully warmed up. Today I walked the steep section to avoid burning too many matches too early; I had last week's failure firmly in mind.

My primary goal was to practice running at marathon race pace, something I have not done enough. I have been doing my long runs right at aerobic threshold, high 1Z, low 2Z. For today I wanted to keep my cadence and pace a bit higher, pushing HR into 3Z like I did for the Hapalua. I felt a bit conflicted here, because on one side this was just another long run on the way to the marathon, but on the other hand I wanted to keep the effort high. I set myself the lofty goal of finishing under 3 hours, but was prepared to miss that.

Plan: Time: 3:00:00. Pace: 13:43.
Actual: Time: 3:39:11. Pace: 16:18.

Looking over my GPS data there were many times I was running a 14:30 pace, just slightly below my goal marathon pace. It felt good, and I probably could have pushed myself a little harder.

One thing I am doing differently this season is walk/run pacing. There is a lot of advice out there that this is a good method for age groupers like me, and after giving it a try I will confirm that it does work well. I used to just walk through the aid stations, but towards the end of long races I would slow down considerably. That one minute recovery ever five minutes really helps to clear out the lactic acid, plus it gives me time to work my fuel plan.

I used to train with Cytomax and just drink whatever sports drink was offered at the race. Last year I followed Matt Fitzgerald's advice to carry your own fuel and just take on water at the aid stations. That way you race with exactly the same fuel you train with. For this, again following Fitzgerald, I would put three GU gels in a Fuelbelt 7oz. flask and dilute roughly 50/50 with water.

The GU gel flask did the lob, but towards the end of a long day I would begin to revolt against the sweet taste. I experimented with flavors -- GU does offer a lot of choices -- and the one I tolerated best was Mandarin Orange. But best was not good enough. I would start to feel nauseous if I consumed even a little too much.

This Fall I took advantage of the lull after my last triathlon and the marathon to experiment with fuel. After reading up on the Hammer line of products I gave Perpetuem a try, and I find that it works very well for me. So well that I have started using some of their other products: Recoverite, Tissue Rejuvenator, Premium Insurance Caps, and Endurolytes. Oh yes, and their nose spray Nasol. Snuff in a spray bottle.

Perpetuem is remarkable in that it can treated as a standard sports drink or in a more concentrated form for long events. Today I used a four scoops to 4oz. water mix in a 7oz. Fuelbelt flask. This is taken a small sip at a time and must include plain water intake at the same time to avoid stomach upset. My Fuelbelt takes two flasks, so I keep plain water in the other. My basic rhythm, which I vary as needed, is to take a hit of fuel every other run/walk break, which works out to once every twelve minutes, almost once per mile. It is a small sip, a fraction of an ounce. At the same time I take in 1-2 oz. of water. I refill the water flask as necessary at the aid stations. Last week I used a 5 scoop concentration and it worked -- amazing how well Perpetuem mixes at high concentrations and it still tastes good. For my next long run I am going to try what I plan for the marathon, start with normal concentration in the water flask and drink that straight until gone, then refill with water. The idea is to make the concentrated flask last a little longer. If I run out before the finish I will just switch off to the provided sports drink.

On the first half of today's race my limiter was pain in my left knee and where the medial glute connects to the hip bone. These are old familiar friends, aggravated by an aggressive but much needed yoga session on Thursday. I knew these were not real injuries and sure enough they eventually loosened up, but the pain kept me from letting go and running free. That and I was worried about blowing up again. On the return through Kahala my calves started to cramp a little. Nothing bad, just a little twitch. I have tried running through this condition before and ended up on the side of the road. Today I alternated between starting my scheduled walk a little early and just slowing down a bit. Made it through without any disasters, but it did slow me down.

Last week I forgot to take any salt with me. This fall my blood pressure has been rising, so I doubled my meds dosage. The trouble with these meds is that they make me pee a lot, which is supposed to flush out salt and lower BP. Fluid and salt loss are not the best things for endurance athletes. To counter this I did carry Hammer Endurolytes with me today and took one with my pre-race meal to avoid starting in a salt deficient state. I took three more during the race, and another three just after. Hammer recommends two per hour but that would depend on conditions and today was neither hot or humid, so I cut that in half. For next week I might increase the amount to see how it goes. Tomorrow is my annual physical and BP meds will be a major topic.

Finally, looking forward to the marathon, I hope to be a little faster than today. My goal is a 14min/mile average. A real taper should help with that. We'll see. No matter how it turns out, just being out there is satisfaction enough. The real goal, least we forget, is next year's Honu Ironman 70.3, what this blog is all about.

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Tale of Two Shoes

When I started using my Garmin Vector pedals I discovered that the pedal pod bracket rubbed against my left shoe. (The pedal pod is the battery holder.) I tried adding some of the Garmin supplied washers between the bracket and the pedal axil, but the washers just squished out when I torqued the pedal. They are supposed to go between the bracket and crank arm, but all that would do for me was move the mess sideways.

A couple of years ago I bought a new pair of Sidi bike shoes. The old ones still worked fine -- just beat up looking -- so I kept them for spin class and short, solo rides. Back then I used Dura-Ace pedals, so when I switched to Garmin I put the new cleats on the new shoes. Like I said, they rubbed. Last week I decided it was time to change the cleats on the old shoes, so I went to IT&B and picked up a set of Keo cleats. I got grey rather than red, because I have trouble with my heel striking the chain stay.

When I got home and opened the box I noticed the Keo cleats did not look exactly the same as the cleats that came with the pedals. Similar, but different. Especially the hardware. Wednesday spin class was the first time to try the new cleats, and much to my surprise I had plenty of clearance.

My goal for today was to move the Keo cleats to the new shoes. More like a swap. Before I got started I took some pictures, shoes side by side and while on the bike looking down from above. I was on a trainer, not taking pictures while rolling down the street!

Left: Cleat shipped with pedals on new(er) left shoe.
Right: Keo cleat on old left shoe. Similar, but different.

Left shoe (on your right), Garmin cleat, no clearance between shoe and pedal pod bracket.

Right shoe, just enough clearance.

Old left shoe, Keo cleat, plenty of clearance.

Old right shoe, Keo cleat, plenty of clearance.

At this point I swapped cleats.

New left shoe, Keo cleat, just enough clearance.

Old shoe, Garmin cleat, plenty of clearance.

Apparently my newer, better Sidi shoes combined with the cleats furnished by Garmin result in a combination that is too wide. Swapping the cleats ended up with two pair of useable bike shoes.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Update on new gear

In a recent post I shared my plans for new gear, and a bit later I described a bike fitting session with Ben Williams at IT&B and my purchase of a new Garmin Fenix 2 GPS heart rate monitor. Back then I knew I wanted to add a power meter to my tool bag, and a tri bike to my stable. At this point I have the power meter, and the new bike is on order.

After many weeks of use I only have two serious complaints about the Fenix 2. In other words, it is for the most part a good device for triathletes. Garmin has provided a number of software updates that add features missing at its release, so be careful when Googling for instructions on how to get something done. For example, I wanted to set up a run/walk timer and according to several posts on Garmin forums the Fenix 2 lacks such a feature. But it is there, in the Alerts section of Run settings.

Complaint #1. Stroke Length and related data during open water swimming are useless. This is not Garmin's fault. I wanted to work out a way to measure swim performance in open water that equaled the stroke per length method used in Total Immersion. The way I see it, if my SPL in a 25 yard pool goes from 20 to 18, which is a good thing, then my stroke length must have gone up. In the ocean the water is always moving, so the number of stokes to go a set distance will never be the same. But that is not the real issue. The real limiter on this approach is the inherent inaccuracy of GPS data while swimming.

Complaint #2.Alerts are so aggressive that they interfere with run interval workouts. On my FR610 I could program interval workouts on Garmin Connect where I would warm up, then run, say, 5 reps of 30 seconds hard, 1:30 recovery, with a target HR for the hard section of zone 5. Naturally, at the start of the hard interval I was never anywhere near zone 5, which would trigger a low heart rate alert. The message only stayed up a few seconds, so by the time I got near 30 seconds and wanted to check my watch I could in fact see the data I wanted to see. The Fenix 2 keeps alert messages up much longer. Seems like 30 seconds. In addition to that, the interval between alerts is very short, about one second. Which means that until I am in zone 5 I can never see the data I want to see, only the alert telling me my heart rate is too low. My work around is to not use heart rate zones as targets. Instead I select custom and enter a wide rage of heart rate. The shorter the interval the wider the zone needs to be. When I see the display read Run 0:30, 135-155 I am more interested in the high number (155) than the low number.

Room for one more complaint? Open water swim distance is always in miles. My swim brain does not think in miles. Yards, yes. Meters, sort of like yards. Tell me I swam 1,200 yards and I'll understand. Tell me I swam 0.68 miles and phttt, nothing. Hopefully I will look back at this complaint some day an chuckle.

Most triathletes want a quick release mount, a feature of the Garmin multisport line since at least the FR310xt. The Fenix 2 does not have that option. I happen to have an Edge 800, old but still going strong, so I leave that on my bike as a head unit and wear my Fenix on my wrist. I record on both, but typically only upload data from the Fenix 2.

Power Meter

After a great deal of head scratching with dog eared product reviews I finally settled on the Garmin Vector. I know that some critics say it is over priced, but I disagree. The less expensive alternatives imposed physical limitations, especially with regards to portability between bikes, or lacked the established reputation on the level of Garmin. A new entrant in the field may offer a cheaper price, but may not be there next year for updates and support.

The model I went with was the original Vector, not the Vector 2. From what I could see on the web, the mount on the 2s is less robust, even if it is simplified. That is the only difference between the original Vector and Vector 2, the way it attaches to the crank arm.

Somehow I missed the fact that I also needed to download a special app to service these pedals, and that there were already updates pending. With a GPS, as soon as you register it to Garmin Connect it tells you there are updates. The thing is, you do not register your pedals on Garmin Connect, same as you don't register your HRM strap or a foot pod. I found out about the Vector Updater App when I was troubleshooting a sensor dropout issue. My iMac is upstairs, and at first I thought the Ant+ signal would have no problem going through the wood floor to the bike downstairs, but my pedals were cranky so much to my wife's consternation I ended up hauling the bike upstairs. OK, I could have removed the pedals, but that is even more work.

As of this writing I still cannot claim to have rock solid results. But, to be fair, there are several things that could be contributing to this issue. I will be working through them, and reporting my results here.

There is much difference of opinion as to the need for a torque wrench when installing Vector pedals. Being an experienced mechanic and in possesion of a perfectly good Park Tools pedal wrench, I decided to forego purchasing one and relying instead on my highly developed sense of "tight." Believe me, I know what 25 ft. lbs. of torque feels like.Maybe those early missing left pedal issues were caused by improper torque, or maybe it was because I had not updated the software.

By the time I updated the software a new issue had appeared. The left pedal pod rubs against my Sidi bike shoe, at the metatarsal-phalangeal joint, the widest point of the foot. It is just a light brush, not every revolution, but enough so that on a long ride the pod ended up rotated until the body made contact with the crank. The right shoe is fine, missing the pod by several millimeters. When I discovered the cleat was already as far right as it could go I tried filing off the edge of the rectangular washed that fits between the cleat and the screw. This did not gain any clearance because the shoulder of the washer hitting the opening in the cleat is still a limiter. To get any movement I would have to file away some of the plastic cleat. That seemed like a bad idea, as it would create stress risers that would lead to cracks and total failure.

My second attempt to gain some clearance was to install two of the washers Garmin furnishes in the box. Those are supposed to go between the pod bracket and the crank, to fill in any recess there. (My older Dura-Ace cranks do not require washers.) Installing the washers at the designated position would not increase the gap between the pod and the shoe, only move the entire assembly sightly away from the crank. My idea was to put the washers between the pod bracket and the crank. This did work, for a short time, but soon I had no output from that pedal. Investigation revealed that the washers had distorted and squeezed out of position (they are extremely narrow compared to standard washers) and the pedals were no longer tight.

I now have a proper torque wrench and removed all washers. The readings are perfect, but the shoe still rubs. My next move will be to rotate the pods 180 deg. so that the rub point happens at a different place. The Garmin web site shows them in that position. The instructions say it does not matter. My concern is that they might strike the ground when cornering. Stay tuned.

The Bike

I am not a spur-of-the-moment shopper. I have spent a great deal of time researching all three of my  new equipment purchases. For my tri bike I finally narrowed it down to a Quintana-Roo PRfive or a Cervelo P3. For a while I was attracted to the lower price point of the P2, but when I heard that the price of the P3 had dropped, but not the P2, I decided to go for the new, 2016 P3. The way I look at it, given all the time I put into preparing for these races, and the cost of going to Kona, skimping on the bike just does not make sense. One could push that thought a little harder and go for a P5, but really, I think I would look a bit foolish showing up on such a high-end bike. A manual shift Ultegra P3 with Magura hydraulic brakes and sensibly aero Mavic wheels is plenty of bike for me. When I bought my Merlin Magia road bike Frank Smith commented that it would be the last bike I would ever need to buy. He was right. I have replaced the cassette once, and the chain maybe twice. I did upgrade the wheels, to HED Ardennes, only because I was unhappy with the feel of the Mavic Ksyrium wheels I original picked out. And, yes, the HED wheels do turn in much more securly, with much less twitch. Whatever that was caused by, maybe just the combination of the frame and wheels. At my age, this will be the last tri bike I buy. But I still want a fixie ...

Mavic Cosmic Elite S

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Nutrition and sleep, part 2

In my last post I set new goals for sleep and nutrition. In all honesty, I failed miserably with my sleep goal, but I did make some improvements in nutrition.

My sleep goal failed to take into account our household routine. The typical constraints of a full time job and family activities means that to get in the desired workout time I get up early and stay up a little too late. I never succeeded in getting to bed as early as my goal, and only came close a couple of times. I have tried to get to bed a little earlier than I was, and will continue to push myself in that direction.

As for eating, my renewed focus has, all by itself, resulted in a reduction in calorie intake, enough to allow a modest drop in weight. After hovering around 180 at the peak of my triathlon training period last spring, I was down around 174 this week. That might be my ideal race weight for marathon, but I'll keep trying over the next few weeks as my long run Sundays kick in.The fewer pounds to drag along, the better.

I started taking Hammer Premium Insurance Caps, starting with one a day, then two, then up to four a day which is where I am at currently. This supplement contains a lot of stuff that MyFitnessPal does not track, so I cannot offer any data there, but the two things it contains that are tracked -- Vitamin A and C, show a significant increase on days I take it. Note that this data is based on intake, not blood and urine tests. For all I know, all of the excess is getting pissed away. As for its effect, I would say that most days I feel more energetic. Less draggy. I wish I could say that the increase in sleep could be the cause, but I really have not changed my sleep time enough to matter.

Here are some numbers, sort of like last time except I show everything as percent of minimum recommended amount. Note that Hammer takes the position that endurance athletes require significantly more than the minimum dose. That makes sense to me. These numbers are the daily average for the last complete seven days, last Thursday through yesterday.

Item - % Recommended
Protein - 96%
Sodium - 103%
Potassium - 8%    :-(
Vitamin A -212%
Vitamin C -293%
Calcium - 72%
Iron - 42%

The one number that really stands out for me here is potassium. Several on-line sources give the recommended daily amount for me as 4,700mg, although the FDA puts it at 3,500 -- perhaps so that children are not over dosed --  and 3,500 is the number used on food labels and my MyFitnessPal. So, even if one were to eat 100% of the RDA they would still be a little short.

WebMD has this to say about low potassium: "Your body needs potassium to help your muscles contract, maintain fluid balance, and maintain a normal blood pressure. Normal potassium levels in the body help to keep the heart beating regularly. Potassium may help reduce your risk of kidney stones and also bone loss as you age."

This is interesting, because I track my blood pressure and it has been going up little by little all year, up to the point where it now demands intervention. Seems to me that the obvious next move is to increase my potassium intake. Maybe I can switch from toast for breakfast to bananas and a baked potato. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

New sleep and nutrition goals

We hear it time and time again. Most adults do not get enough sleep, and being short on sleep has a negative impact on overall health and well being. For athletes, sleep is especially important. The stress we impose on our bodies -- muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, fascia -- only converts into an increase in strength and capacity during sleep. The pain we feel after a workout is the signal that repairs are required. The body's system of repair teams only spring into action while we are asleep. Without sufficient sleep, no amount of hard work will improve strength. Very likely we will just end up feeling tired and run down.

Another claim we encounter often is that we do not eat a balanced diet. Here I see two distinct camps. One says we probably do not eat a balanced diet and should take vitamins to fill in the gaps. The other camp says that vitamins are a waste of money, that all we need is a healthy diet. I have been following the second group for years and am healthy. Or am I?

If I am to take this Ironman 70.3 thing seriously I had better do all can can to make it a success, right? Why spend a pile of money on equipment, transportation and lodging, and spend a gazillion hours training, and not do the best I can with simple things like sleep and diet?

For roughly a year now I have noticed a gradual increase in fatigue and decline in overall health. Nothing so sever as a bad case of the flu. Little things, like chronic nasal congestion, dry eyes, and an occasional sore throat. The most prominent change has been my tendency to fall asleep after dinner while watching TV or reading. At my age it is easy to blame it on old age, but I don't think that is the culprit.

After taking a hard look at what I have been doing I have reached two conclusions. First, I need to change my sleep habits in order to achieve eight solid hours every night. Since I get up at 5:00, that mens hitting the sack at 9:00. No more Tonight Show. Shucks, no more late news! That sounds totally weird, but I am going to give it a try for at least a month.

The other thing I have been looking at is nutrition. I log everything I eat on MyFitnessPal. Not only does it do a good job logging what you eat, it also syncs to my Garmin Connect and TrainingPeaks accounts, which display summary data like calories and macro-nutrients. MyFitnessPal pulls exercise data from Garmin Connect and uses it automatically to adjust my daily calorie quota. What more? My Tanita scale uploads weight and body composition to Garmin Connect via my semi-retired FR610, and the weight data ends up at MyFitnessPal. (Garmin has stopped supporting Ant+ scales, so if you want to do something similar you should look at Withings.)

According to MyFitnessPal I hit or exceed my calorie quota almost every day. Probably why I still weight more than I want as a marathon runner. At the same time I am often short on vitamins. Take this week Tuesday as an example. Nothing special, an ordinary day. Here are a few examples:

Item - Total - Goal
Protein - 105 - 131g
Sodium - 2011 - 2300mg
Potassium - 448 - 3500mg
Vitamin A - 26%
Vitamin C - 36%
Calcium - 45%
Iron - 41%

This is where things get complicated. MyFitnessPal uses a simple formula to estimate daily calorie needs. A baseline daily amount plus the calories expended in exercise. As far as I know they do not adjust vitamin and mineral values. Those are probably based on the well known minimum daily value. Some nutritionists claim that athletes, endurance athletes in particular, need a lot more than the daily allowance to stay healthy. In some cases the compound is consumed directly during activity, and in others it is flushed out due to the increase in fluid consumption. I suppose there could even be absorption issues. I know that to be the case with protein; as we age past 50 our body is less efficient at processing the protein we eat, so we need to eat more to make up the difference.

I started taking Hammer Whey protein power to offset that protein shortfall. One or two scoops a day, 17g per scoop. Tuesday was a two scooper and I still came up short.

It was while surfing the Hammer site I came across a product I have decided is worth trying. It has the awkward sounding name Premium Insurance Caps. By "caps" they mean capsules -- this stuff comes in pill form rather than a powder. What seems strange to me is that you end up eating it almost like food. Sort of like the way some people eat Jelly Beans, a handful at a time. Hammer breaks it down into three levels -- days with no exercise, workouts under two hours, and workouts over two hours, with the number of pills to take ranging from four to fourteen. So I ordered a bottle to try. If my pee doesn't turn green I will consider buying more.

If I were a real scientist I would not change two variables at the same time. But I am not. I am a reasonable guy with reason to believe that my sleep and nutrition need improvement. Sometime in the future I might be interested to know which produced the most improvement. Assuming there will be any.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tinman Triathlon race report

This year's Tinman can be easily summed up in a single word: hot. One of my goals was to push hard and not slow down, no matter what. The run up Monsarrat was harder than I remembered. By the time I got to the Elepaio aid station I knew the heat was going to leave a mark. It was at the start of the run up Diamond Head when I saw the old, bearded man in a red skin suit waving a trident and yelling incomprehensible profanities. I knew I had seen him somewhere. The Tour de France. For sure. But why was he here? It was at that point I realized I had found a what that mattered, so I slowed down and walked up the hill. Right where the road arrives at the first lookout the grade relaxes a little, and by then the old man was gone so I started running again. I was not fleet as I had hoped, but I made it all the way to the finish line.

Step back and broaden the view and we could say that weather played a significant role in this year's race. A typical summertime south shore swell transformed what had been all week a calm swim course into something better suited to American Ninja. The lack of wind made the bike leg exceptionally easy and quick -- as much as we like that tailwind pushing us back to Waikiki, you never get back everything you lose in the headwind going out. This year the reported winds were 3-5 m.p.h., which is as close to dead calm as this route ever gets. Clear skies and the absent trade winds baked the south side of Diamond Head in 94F heat, sucking whatever energy that remained from the runners.

My favorite thing: the sponges at the run aid stations. Someone had the foresight to put ice in the sponge water. I passed on the first station, because it is placed so close to the start of the run. I never need a drink at that point having topped off on the bike. The next station was at Kapiolani Community College, and that was where I found the ice cold sponges. Having just climbed Monsarrat and at the threshold of overheating, the cold was the perfect setup for the run down 18th and Kilauea. Next opportunity was at Elepaio, and again I felt terrific for at least the next two minutes. The heat really set in on the way up Diamond Head, and sadly the organizers did not put an aid station there. I was planning to stop at the drinking fountain halfway up the hill only to discover a lovely family had set up their own aid station at that point. One more at the top would have been perfection.

But I am ahead of myself.

My swim took just a little longer than my plan, but the GPS track from my new Garmin Fenix 2 has me covering 1,400 yards, whereas the course is supposed to be 750M. I know I did some zigs and zaps, and sure enough those show up on the map. But my Fenix has me turning around smack in the middle of the old Waikiki Natatorium. Roughly 180 feet beyond the actual turn buoy. Double that to 360 feet makes 120 yards extra out and back. That means I only swam 1,280 yards. Oops, that is still a lot more the 750M, which according to my conversion app is 820.209974 yards. Obviously I did a lot of zigging and zagging.

Last May at the Honolulu Triathlon I knew the swimmers starting in the wave after me would catch me before the turn around, because I am slow and that was a 1,500M swim. For Tinman I had similar expectations because I was in the first age group wave, the old folks. The young hot bloods were certain to come crawling over us at some point. I expected it to happen just before the turn around, and it did. For the Honolulu Tri my strategy was to stay outside -- to starboard -- to give the faster swimmers a straight line, then change course to port as I approached the buoy. My mistake then was to over correct, so that I ended up in the return lane and was forced to make a fast sprint to starboard. The Tinman course is too narrow to allow that. My goal was to stay in the middle of the lane outbound so that my usual zigs and zags would not carry me into the return lane on the port side or over the reef on the starboard side. I was sighting often and had no difficulty seeing the buoy or my landmarks, yet somehow I found myself once again over in the return lane. I believe that this time it was caused by currents. This part of the course is called the washing machine, and for good reason. I am sure I was pointed in the right direction, only the ocean decided to move me off to port.

None of the techniques I practiced for buoy turns came into play. As I approached the buoy I was engulfed in a thrashing school of eager young swimmers, some with panic clearly visible in their eyes. I went wide, then walked around the turn with by back against the wall. Once I was far enough past the swarm I set off again, but not before spotting another gray capper (my wave) clinging to the rocks, exhausted, assuring the lifeguard that all she needed was time to catch her breath. It looked to me like her day was over, and I allowed myself to feel a touch of pride that I was feeling quite good in spite of all the mayhem.

My main concern for the return leg was to stay out in the channel and not come in closer to shore, over the reef where the waves break. I breath on the right so I had picked out some landmarks to help me judge my progress, and was surprised to see quite a few people struggling over the reef. I was sighting on the twin tower high-rise I had used before and moving really well, then it seemed as if all forward progress stopped. That mean old washing machine. All I could do was keep swimming and wait. Apparently the same current that pulled me in on the outbound leg now spun me around. I felt a gentle knock on my hard, popped up, and found a lifeguard advising me to change course or be lost at sea. I thought she was wrong until I looked around. How did that happen? Looking at the map I would say they were right, I was swimming out to sea. So, mahalo to whoever that was.

About those lines on the map -- the Garmin only catches GPS radio when the HRM is out of the water, meaning when my left wrist is out of the water, and the signal pulse does not always arrive when my wrist is in the air. This results in a lot of rounding errors. What appear to be straight lines are in fact curves. For instance, that long, straight line to the finish was a curve starting out parallel to the shore, then gradually turning to starboard as I got closer to the buoy. Again, I wanted to stay out past the shoreline reef.

Here is the same map using satellite imagery. This was not taken on race day, but even so you can get an idea of where the reef is. The darker the color the more shallow the reef. Keep in mind that my Garmin placed the turn around well past the natatorium wall.

The bike segment went exactly according to plan. This is reasonable since I have been riding for years. My HR was higher than expected at the start while my RPE was much lower, so I just kept a brisk but comfortable pace towards and up Diamond Head waiting for my HR to stabilize. I had no problem maintaining around 18 m.p.h., which was a shock every time I glanced sown at my Edge 800 given the speed sucking headwind we normally fight against. The Tuesday Tantalus rides taught me to work harder on Heartbreak Hill right from the bottom. I stuck to my plan, pushing hard and even climbing out of the saddle for the last, steep section. I felt great. Even better was the little band of friends going crazy ringing cowbells and shouting encouragement. Not as wild as Alpe d'Huez thank goodness, but much appreciated.

Looking at the data from Training Peaks I especially like the constant spin (yellow) and the flat HR (red), signs of a well paced time trial. My goal was to push myself, and I held mid zone 4 or better throughout most of the ride, peaking at high zone 5 at the top of Heartbreak Hill. The grey shaded line is altitude, and the big "M" in the middle is Heartbreak Hill, out and back.

Training Peaks has some nice charts that let you see your data in a number of ways. Here is my HR By Zone chart, showing that I spent most of my time in zone 4 and going all the way up to 5C, at which point I was seeing stars.

A different view of HR data is given by the Peak Heart Rate chart. Here the X axis is time on a logarithmic scale and the Y axis is HR.

The last part furthest to the right is the long time I spent in zone 4 (136-144 BPM). Zone 5A (145-148) comes in at the 20 minute mark and as you move left you get into 5B (149-152) and 5C (153-158). For that two minute stretch -- roughly half the chart -- I was at or above 90% MAX HR; that is really kicking it. No wonder they call it Heartbreak Hill!

I have already said about all there is to say about the run. I started of really well. In the past my HR would spike as soon as I started running. This time it was under control. Credit all those bike-run brick workouts. The climb up Monsarrat was challenging, but still under control. I felt some pain at the top of my glutes, which is to be expected when running after a long hard bike ride so I was not worried about it. The fatigue started to appear at the bottom of the 18th Ave. - Kilauea decent. By the time I arrived at Triangle Park I felt overheated. As in heat stroke; nothing to laugh at. I adopted a run-walk strategy, all about cooling off rather than resting my legs. Actually, my legs were fine the entire run except for that tightness at the top of my glutes. Not so much as a twitch of a calf cramp.

My HR charts for the run do not look anything like the bike charts. My run HR By Zones chart shows I spent a lot of time in zone 3, which was my goal. I am surprised how much time I spent in zone 2.

My run Peak Heart Rate chart actually shows something desirable in an endurance event. Consistency. The Tinman is not a head-to-head race. Maybe for the elites, but not for me. The subtle shifts in pace that occur in a head-to-head race should not show up, and in this chart you can see I kept my HR within a fairly narrow range. Maybe I just need to get comfortable maintaining a higher HR. Maybe I can do something to get more speed from the energy I am expending.

Here are my planned and actual times and rankings, for my age group and overall.

Segment Plan Actual AG Rank (of 5) Overall (of 409)
Swim 0:20 0:29 5 403
Bike 1:30 1:31 4 333
Run 1:30 1:39 5 403
Overall 3:30 3:48 5 403

I see two important lessons to take away from this race. First, I need more practice at running in the heat. I know I was right on with my fuel and hydration. What I really need is more experience, to learn what I can tolerate without seeing devils dancing on the side of the road. Second, I need to settle into a swim groove a lot sooner, and swim a lot straighter. Practice, practice, practice.

The bottom line is that in spite of the heat I had a blast, and that is why I do this.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tinman Triathlon race plan

My primary goal for this race is to let myself push harder on the swim and run. In the past I was focused so much on just finishing that I held back too much. At least that is how I feel now. Even at the last Honolulu Triathlon where my legs felt tired near the end of the run, I believe that I could have kept going at my mid-run pace. I just need the mental fortitude to keep pushing, and trust my body to hold together to the finish line.

What led me to this new point of view was the Tuesday Tantalus ride. That weekly effort taught me how to control my effort in small gradations, push a little harder, let up just a little to recover, all the while right up at my aerobic limit. It really is possible to be struggling to breath and just keep going, minute after minute, without breaking down. A big mahalo to Sonya for helping me learn that lesson.

My swim is much improved over last year. In May I swam the 1,500M Honolulu Triathlon course at  3:00/100 yards. Last year at Tinman I did 4:40. That's nothing! At last year's Honolulu Tri I did 5:38. Lately I have been getting below 2:45, so that will be my swim goal, to do the 750 yards in 20 minutes. The predicted conditions -- plenty of wave action -- may blow that time right out of the water. Literally.

My Honolulu Tri bike segment was very strong; I doubt I can do much better than that. At last year's Tinman I averaged 15 m.p.h., so I will go with that for a time of 1:30. If I can go faster I will, but I have to save a little something for the run.

I believe I can go faster on the run. By that I do not mean a faster fast. What consumes my time is slowing down as fatigue builds. This time I am going to push myself to keep the effort high and constant. Last year I did the Tinman run in 1:36 for a 15:53 pace. I did the Honolulu Tri at a 15:35 pace, but the first half was at 15:03. My goal for this Tinman is a 14:30 pace for a time of 1:30. Not sure I can average that with the hills, but that is my goal -- a bit of a reach, but I am going for it.

My fuel plan is about the same as before except I was taking on a little too much during the run. I believe this was caused by my concern for falling apart. The thing is, if I eat on the bike I should not need much to complete the run. Taking on anything more than sports drink on the run can trigger stomach upset. I will carry one gel flask, as usual, but drink sparingly and in really small sips.

In summary, my goals are
Swim 0:20
Bike 1:30
Run 1:30

Last year my overall time was 3:55. Allowing ten minutes for transitions, I am aiming for a finishing time of 3:30.

As always, the whole point in doing this is to do it, and have fun. Even the goal of winning my age group is unrealistic. Try not being last. Middle of my age group, maybe. Better than last year, for sure. Nike really hits the nail on the head with their slogan, "Just do it." To be 65 years old and be out every day training for these events -- living the lifestyle -- is all the reward I need. Over and above that are the friends I have made. Within the triathlon community, as well as the individual sports it encompasses, I have found a group of exceptionally friendly and caring individuals who seem much more likely to give someone a hand than to step over them on the way to the finish line. I certainly appreciate all the help they have given me.