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.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The chart of tapering

Tapering to athletes means reducing the volume of training in the days leading up to a protected race. Exactly how much to cut back, and for how long, are a matter of great mystery and speculation. Any discussion of tapering will go the way of debates about what to eat, how much water to drink, and what brand of running shoes to wear.

When it comes to personality types it is a foregone conclusion that athletes are highly motivated individuals. If not they would be sitting on the couch wondering why those crazy people go out and run every morning. Being highly motivated is a real boon to achieving performance improvement goals, because more than anything else success depends on consistency. To get up and do the day's planned workouts is not always easy. That snug, comfortable bed can easily lure the unmotivated athlete off the path and onto the road to ruin. Elite athletes have the advantage of rare, performance enhancing genes. The rest of us must make do with motivation.

When motivation meets tapering the result is all too often a train wreak.  The athlete knows they are supposed to cut back on their activity, but this is the time when the event they have been working so hard for is rushing towards them.

A common experience we all share is the feeling of panic that grows stronger as a significant event draws near. The event could be a wedding, a camping trip, an exam, a job interview ... anything with a deadline that is significant to us. For athletes that includes races. 

The most common response to the panic caused by an approaching race is to get out and train harder. More is better, right? Wrong!

The reason for tapering is to let the body reach its peak ability. Training provides the stimulus for increased ability, but at a cost. The price we pay for getting stronger and faster is fatigue. The fatigue sets in quickly, but the beneficial results of training take time to appear. Fortunately fatigue decreases almost as fast as it increases, so after a few minutes our breathing is back to normal and after a day or two the deep-set fatigue our hard work produced is gone. In other words, we feel fine. But we are not fine. We are not 100% recovered. If we went out and did our race at this point we would probably fall flat on our face miles from the finish line.

Our goal then is to gradually reduce the amount of effort we put into training, without stopping altogether. The body needs reminders that demands will be placed upon it, so we need to do some short but intense activity.

This drives the highly motivated athlete crazy. The panic of needing to do just a little bit more will at least haunt them with feelings of inadequacy. At its worse it can lure them to get out and run one more tempo 10K, just to shake out the cobwebs. That is the beginning of the end.

Training Peaks has a really cool chart called the Performance Management Chart (PMC) that graphically illustrates the interplay of workout stimulus, fatigue, and the resulting rise and fall of fitness. Data is taken from the athlete's uploaded workout data, but it can use estimates hand loaded into planed workouts posted by the athlete on their calendar to predict the future. I make it a point to assign TSS estimates to all my planned workouts, to see if the projected result goes the way I intended. (It was from doing this that I discovered that skipping the Tantalus ride on my easy weeks was killing my progress.)

Here is my PMC as of today (click for larger version). The actual data ends where the blue filler ends; everything to the right is future estimates.


The Tinman, my next protected race, is marked by the vertical red line. The purple line that is high today is training load. The harder I work, the higher it goes. The yellow line is fatigue (from training, not from staying up all night). The blue line is the result, best described as fitness. You can see how my training plan has my training load starting to fall from here through race day, and as it does how my fatigue improves. Yes, this will cause a drop in the fitness line, but experience tells us that the best endurance performance comes just as fatigue goes above training load.

In case you were wondering, the last low point in my training plan, marked with a star, was the little vacation we took when our house was fumigated. Even though I squeezed in a run and some swim sessions, the effect of the reduction in volume is obvious. Not a bad thing, though. We need a break from tike to time, and with nothing going on, that was a perfect time.

Just the other day I was studying this chart and started to panic that my fitness line was dropping too much. I was about to add some more workouts, or increase the duration of what I had, when I caught myself. The goal of this period is to rest and let the stimulus already supplied take effect. For a moment there I forgot.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Gotta love it when things fall into place

"I guess we are going to Kona. Better start planning housing."

That was the text from my wife when I told her I had signed up for Honu. As much as I enjoy details when it comes to training, she is much better at everything related to travel. I am more of a "take it as it comes" traveler, which is not an ideal approach to an away race.

What triggered this flurry of activity was a change on the Ironman web site. Today the info on Honu changed from "Opening soon" to this:

Naturally I jumped right in only to discover that I needed as much information as a FEMA loan application. Active.com password. Emergency contact information. USA Triathlon member number. My medications. My cat's name. My wife's cousin's middle name. I took so long the first time that the web site gave up and made me start over. My guess is that the IM folks designed it this way to weed out anyone lacking the patience and perseverance to get through it. Sort of a race qualifier.

A few things to remember:

  • Everyone gets 1:10 to finish the 1.2 mile swim
  • Everyone gets 5:30 to complete the 56 mile bike ride
  • The race ends 8:30 after the last wave of the swim start

Had registration opened a week ago I might not have made it. Awhile back my wife was hit by one of the endless rounds of budget cuts at U.H. and had her hours reduced to half time. Together we make enough to get by, but the cost of doing this triathlon - travel and accommodations - pushed it far into the extravagance zone. Just a few days ago we learned that her department reshuffled their funding and want her back full time. Just in time.

Speaking of earned income, I went to a retirement planning class recently to learn what I needed to do to retire. I figured retirement would give me more time to train, work on my cars, and do the home improvement projects I keep putting off. If I wait much longer I will be too old and feeble to enjoy retirement. Know what I learned? I cannot afford retirement. Oh, I could make a few changes here and there and have enough income to sit on the beach drinking iced tea all day. The problem is, all these things I want to do when I retire cost money. A lot of money. As good as my retirement plan is, it will not support my "elder baby boomer" lifestyle. It is a good thing I love my job, because I will be doing it for the foreseeable future.

I guess it is not too soon to start planning next summer's travel. This year has been strictly stay-cation stuff. Now that we can afford to travel, we should. While we still can. Europe would be nice.