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.

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