Sunday, April 26, 2015

2015 Haleiwa Metric Century Ride

My goal for this years Haleiwa Metric Century Ride was to treat it as a training ride for my upcoming triathlons. My plan was to do an easy ride until past Waimea Bay, then do a non-stop time trial to the turn-around at Swanzy Beach Park, then after a nice break ride back at an easy, aerobic threshold pace. This meant riding alone, and skipping our customary stop at Ted's Bakery.

I waited until the last minute to decide where to start. I enjoy the excitement and camaraderie of the official starting point, but this time I was afraid traffic would interfere with my plan. Since Pattie was leading a slower, short distance group and we were to meet friends for lunch at Haleiwa Joe's, leaving early from Ali'i Beach Park would mean less waiting for me to finish. This is why my actual distance is short.

The Honolulu Triathlon course is flat when compared to the Tinman, and I had no idea what pace I could expect to hold for 40K. I figured that if I started my time trial after Waimea Bay the only hills on the course would be behind me. By my calculations Waimea Bay to Swanzy Beach Park was a bit short of 40K but I used 40K (24.86 miles) in my plan anyway, because I was really looking for a pace estimate.

Since my first A race is only a few weeks away I did not want this to be an all-out effort. My plan was to cut short the 40K and keep the pace lower than what I hoped would be race pace. I decided my goal pace for the time trial portion should be mid-high zone 2, just above aerobic threshold. The warm-up and return should be slower, well within aerobic threshold (1.8Z - 2.4Z). Another consideration I had was that for the century ride I had nothing before or after, whereas in a triathlon the bike comes after what will be for me a challenging swim and is followed by a 10K run. I need to find a pace that was just fast enough without requiring all my energy.

Before digging into the numbers let me say that my feeling, during and after the ride, was that I got the pace spot on. Once during the time trial I took the pace well up into zone 3 and still felt strong. I doubt that I could hold that pace for 40K and still be able to run, so I will stick to the pace I used today. Maybe a little higher; we'll see. As I approached Haleiwa my legs felt good so I decided to let them run. I am still no speed daemon, but it felt good.

I had one glitch with speed data dropping out around Kahuku on the way out. I fought off the temptation to stop and fix it as I was supposed to ride non-stop to Swanzy. A little further down the road it came on by itself. I'll blame it on the high powered radio transmitter at the fire station.

Value Plan Actual
Duration 5:00:00 3:50:47
Distance (mi) 62 51.9
Avg. Speed 12.4 13.5
Time Trial
Duration 2:00:00 1:25:24
Distance (mi) 28.8 19.9
Avg. Speed 13.0 14.0
Avg. HR Zone 2.8 2.7

Below is the breakdown of my time in heart rate zones. The time in zone 3 was mostly outbound, while all of the 4 and 5 was at the finishing sprint. What stands out is that I spent most of my time approximately where I wanted to be.

1Z 6%
2Z 83%
3Z 9%
4Z 2%
5Z <1%

Too bad the data is not finer grained; I would like to know how much of that 2Z was below 2.5. What the data can tell me is that my average HR for the TT was 126, for the return 124, and overall 124. This suggests that I did the return faster than I intended. Perhaps I was inspired by lunch to follow at Haleiwa Joe's. The pulled pork sliders were delicious, washed down with Kona Wailua Wheat Ale.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Handy hand cues

There are many times when we need to get our body into an unfamiliar position. The lack of familiarity could be due to novelty, or it could be a correction to an old, "bad" habit. A cue in this case is a trick to help achieve the new position.

I learned from Bobby McGee that a good arm position for endurance running is with the hands above the waist line, forearms roughly parallel and straight fore and aft. At no time should the elbows stick out.

My trainer, Sonya, taught me a neat trick to coax those elbows into position. Turn your hands palm up and gently tuck your thumb between your pinky and ring finger. Like magic your elbows will move it where they belong. I assume that after running this way for a time the thumb tuck will be unnecessary.

The other day at the pool I leveraged this tip to discover a cue for getting the correct catch position. Coach Susan Atkinson calls this 3D swimming -- "Drape, Define, Drive." Terry Laughlin describes it in this video. I was having trouble with the define step, where the elbow is lifted a bit as if gently squeezing a beach ball. A further opening of the armpit is another result of getting this step right. I was plunging my arm in after recovery, angled down as it should be, but trying to establish the hand position without lifting the elbow. My arm looked like a "Z." For the life of me I could not figure out how to lift my elbow. Suddenly I recalled Sonya's tip and focused on my hand rotation. It took a lap or two to work out that lowering the thumb and raising the pinky did the trick. For the right arm that would be twisting the wrist counter-clockwise. Not too much. At first, go ahead and start the pull with the hand twisted past the perpendicular, but once this starts to take hold in muscle memory lighten up so that the palm is perpendicular and pulling straight back.

I guess this works because our brain is habituated to paying close attention to what our hands are doing, more so than what our elbows are doing.

Keep in mind the kinetic chain. If you want to correct an action in one body part, look for a cause in a different but related body part. I know that my kicking leg action is entirely different -- my right leg stays straight and moves from the hip while my left leg bends at the knee -- so I expect to find imbalances between my left side and right side arm motion. Eventually I will need to sort out which is the cause and which is the effect. Maybe I will find a cue to help with that. Let me guess; it will have something to do with head position.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Plans and weather do not get along

In a recent Training Peaks webinar, "Developing Mental Toughness," the presenter Carrie Cheadle recommended planning for many different eventualities that might occur during a race. Planning in advance how you will react to events you have little if any control over accomplishes two things; it reduces stress as the race approaches, and it reduces the emotional impact of the event should it occur.

One simple example is a flat tire. While the odds of getting a flat on race day are low, they are never zero. If you never really consider getting a flat and have a friend who always helps you out on your training rides, a flat on race day will likely produce a maelstrom of panic and may well end your day. If you do consider it but have no idea how to fix a flat, your nights leading up to race day will be filled with dreams of exploding tubes and long walks to T2. The solution is simple. Ensure you carry the tools and supplies required, and practice using them. Practice enough times so that getting a flat is no big deal. Your goal should be a flat recovery in under three minutes.

Last Sunday's Hapalua Half Marathon provided us with a valuable lesson in how to plan for the weather. Reports all week called for rain. Lots of rain. Guy Hagi specifically called out the half marathon, warning runners to expect squishy shoes and blisters. I coached Pattie on wet weather run preparation, specifically to wear a hat with a brim to keep the rain out of her eyes and to apply lots of Body Glide to her feet. At last year's marathon I was cold until the turn-around in Hawaii-Kai, but even so would not recommend a jacket then (December) and certainly not now (April).

Sunday morning, no rain. As the race got underway it became obvious that the challenge had shifted to heat and hydration. Clear sky, light winds, temperature in the mid 70's. Not overly threatening but nothing like what I image most runners anticipated.

Fortunately Pattie had not altered her original food and hydration plan for running in the rain other than to expect consuming less water. She stuck to her plan and drank some extra water at every aid station. The plan worked, because she made it through four and half hours of hard work and arrived at the finish line is reasonably good shape. (I have done much worse.)

In case it isn't obvious there is a huge difference from an endurance point of view between what an elite runner feels running the course in under two hours and what the slower age groupers experience. Keeping a fit body moving for two hours is all about strength and efficiency, plus a little hydration. The nutritional focus is on preparation. Contrast this with a four hour effort which demands taking on fuel during the event. The course may be the same, but the impact on the athlete is altogether different.

The trick is to find a fuel source that your body can tolerate while running, and the rate at which it can be ingested. The only way to do this is trial and error. Even then, race day can throw you a curve ball. Weather -- heat in particular -- can contribute to the challenge. Once your stomach is unhappy with what you put in it, you cannot even keep down water and your day will soon be over. Taken to the extreme, heat stroke can be deadly.

Happily the weather on Sunday was not that hot, but for runners who prepared for rain and failed to consider a sunny day their race must have been an overwhelming and unnecessary challenge.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Head games

Talk to any athlete and they will tell you that the most difficult challenge to overcome is our own sense of inadequacy. Usually this advice is targeted at the days and weeks preceding a race. That is the time when our mind keeps telling us we are not prepared. We have not trained enough. We are not strong enough, or fast enough. We will be the last person to finish. I have come to realize that the demon of self-doubt haunts us in other ways. Specifically, at different time intervals. The pre-race jitters are the most talked about, but I propose that the successful athlete should be aware of other forms of the same demon.

One common and often overlooked version is the "I could never do that" excuse. This is what the couch potato says when contemplating getting out and running every day for exercise. It is what the devoted two mile morning runner says when someone suggests they run a marathon. Believe it or not, it even attacks the experienced mid-distance triathlete thinking about doing an Ironman race. I call this the long duration demon, because it prevents people from even starting.

At the other extreme is the short duration demon. This one pops up in every race and every good workout. I can't go any faster. I can't go any further. My legs hurt, so I should slow down, maybe take a rest for a minute. That one.

I had an experience of the short duration demon on this morning's Tantalus ride. I had been keeping up with the ride leader and a couple of other riders until we came to a place where the rate of climb kicks up to around 10 percent, at which point I got dropped. I felt my respiration increase, double checked that my heart rate had indeed risen a little. I hung on, doing my own thing like I always do, watching the group ride away. Then along comes this younger, wiry guy who blew past me and hardly breathing at all. For some crazy reason I jumped onto his wheel and in no time was back with the group.

We often hear about this watching professional bike races. On a flat stage there is aerodynamic drafting to explain the benefit of one rider leading another, but what is the advantage on a climb? It is all in the head. I thought I was maxed out and unable to ride any harder. Then along came this faster guy and I decided to hang with him. And I did. Same old bones. Same struggling muscles. Same weathered lungs. At one point I could not, and then I could. It feels like magic. All it really is, is not listening to that demon in my head telling me I cannot climb that fast.

One way to conquer our demon is to live in the moment. Our demon tells us stories about the future. Stay in the present and deal with what is so. The future will take care of itself. Just after a race -- even a challenging workout -- our demon will tell us stories about the past. We wish we had done better. We wish we could have gone faster, or farther. In time those demon grows weary and moves on. What remains is what we should have known all along, our success.

This TrainingPeaks webinar will be of interest to anyone doing long distance events. "Developing Mental Toughness" featuring Carrie Cheadle, Thursday, April 9, 2015, 11:00AM MDT (7:00AM HST). It will be recorded, so if you can't make the live broadcast you can always get a re-play.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Late March test results

In early March I speculated what my running zones would be using my most recent Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR) test. That test was a bit old (August 2014), but then once settled the number should not change much over the course of a season. To review, my last LTHR average heart rate for 20 minutes was 154, so at 5% less than that my estimated zones were:

Run Zones with LTHR at 146

1Z 2Z 3Z 4Z 5aZ 5bZ 5cZ
96 124 131 139 146 150 155

A week later (March 8) I did a new test, preceded by a first ever aerobic capacity test. Turns out my estimate was pretty good. My average heart rate for the aerobic capacity test, a 5 minute all-out effort, was 160. For the 20 minute lactate threshold test, 155. Take 5% off that and my run zones are:

Run Zones with LTHR at 147

1Z 2Z 3Z 4Z 5aZ 5bZ 5cZ
97 125 132 140 147 151 156

In other words, no real change in LTHR, which is what I expected.

On March 29 I did another LTHR test, this time without the aerobic capacity test, and my twenty minute average HR was 153. Not enough of a difference to reset my zones. Besides, on most days my HR zone reported on my Garmin FR610 matches what I feel, in the legs and respiration. Once in a while these things do not agree, particularly at the start of the run segment of a bike-run brick, when HR is much higher than respiration and Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE).

To get accurate results an LTHR test should be preceded by a couple days rest. This most recent test was run on a Sunday morning after a Saturday trip to Mokuleia for the same test done on the bike. On top of that, there were significant environmental differences, the kind that are beyond my ability to control. The day of the earlier test was cool but windy. For the most recent test the temperature was considerably warmer, and while there was virtually no wind the track was wet from overnight rain.

As for the bike time trial, my twenty minute average HR was 138, with a minimum of 133 and maximum of max of 142. As a matter of fact, my average over the entire thirty minute test (the first ten minutes are not counted), was 138. At least I was consistent. Bike results are typically lower than for running, but not ten points lower. I attribute some of that to the fact that I decided to approach this as a race effort test rather than all out. On top of that I probably held back too much trying to avoid going out too fast and blowing up. As it was I held zone 4 for thirty minutes, which is tough to do. From that angle I consider this a good test; I can expect to average around 16 m.p.h. on race day, for a bike split of around 1:30.

After Sunday's run test I drove out to the Oahu Club and swam a 500 yard time trial. Part to measure progress, part to begin gathering data for estimating my swim split. My numbers for 5 x 100 were 3:04.31, 3:13.07, 3:14.25, 3:12.25, and 3:11.69.

My overall average pace was 3:11/100 yards. I think a better result is had by throwing out the first set, since it is so much different than the last four. Doing that my average pace is 3:13, which I think is closer to what I can really do. That works out to a 1,500M swim split of around 50 min.

Since I have gone this far I might as well add my run estimates. Based on recent runs I expect an average pace of 14:30, which comes out to around 1:30:0 for the run segment.

Last year my T1 time was 5:30 and T2 was 2:30. I know I can improve on that T1 time but I will use it here; it all works out to a sub four hour race.

Here is how I look compared to last year's 65-69 age group. My estimates are in the last column. All times rounded to the nearest minute. Totals include T1 and T2.

Segment Low High My Est.
Swim 0:29 0:49 0:50
Bike 1:12 1:41 1:30
Run 0:52 1:30 1:30
Total 2:41 4:13 3:56

I am about one month out from my first of two races. I do not expect any dramatic improvements in these times. I will keep checking and tweak the numbers when I feel that it matters, but from here on my focus will be more on developing the endurance and skills to do all three segments at this level, without the benefit of rest breaks and in the midst of all the frenzy and emotional stress everyone feels on race day.