Monday, May 30, 2016

Honu 2016 race plan

In less than a week I will do the race that inspired this blog. Ironman Hawaii 70.3, a.k.a Honu. Once it is over, whatever the outcome, the question will arise, at least in my mind, what to do with this blog. Right now I don't feel any desire to stop doing triathlon. A break would be nice. Doing Honu has been my goal for the last two years, and everything else has revolved around that goal. But the fact is my physical fitness is at an all-time high, and I am not struggling with injuries. I hate to throw all that away.

A lot depends on the outcome of this race. For example, one reasonable sounding outcome depends upon a decent result this weekend. In that case, find one or two more Half Ironman events to participate in, and if things continue to improve, go for the whole enchilada. A lot of my friends have done IM Cozumel, so that sounds like a good one to try. If this race does not go so well, I can see myself either trying again next year, or writing off the Ironman style races with their cut-off times and sticking with races that accommodate slower athletes. I am not getting any younger.

Which brings us to the main challenge this race presents to me. I know I have the strength, skills and endurance to go the distance. There is, however, a very real possibility that I will fail to make one of the cutoff times. I will be uncomfortably close to all of them.

For the swim, I should be able to average a little better than 3 min/100 yrs. I would say 2:40 tops. If we use 2,112 yds as the distance that works out to 63 minutes at 3:00, 55 minutes at 2:40. The swim cutoff time is 70 minutes. So, if all goes well and I manage to swim straight, I should make the swim cutoff, but just barely.

The bike is by far my strongest event, but Honu presents some very difficult challenges. Constant elevation changes, then a long, continuous climb to Hawi, all wrapped up in strong crosswinds. The trick to any triathlon bike event is to go fast without building so much fatigue in the legs that running is impossible. A lot of age groupers get this wrong and end up walking most of the run. I guess one strategy is to go all out on the bike and walk the run, by design. I have decided to go the other way, hold back enough on the bike to allow for a reasonable chance I can run the entire half marathon.

My bike plan begins with the decision to ride at an average of 85% FTP. This is a little low for HIM, but since this such a hilly course, and I am so old, I think it is a prudent choice. If the course were flat, like the Honolulu Triathlon, the rest would be easy. Just ride at 85% FTP. My Garmin Edge 800 can display that, no problem. But this is a hilly course, with significant wind, so a lot more needs to be taken into account. To help with that I use Best Bike Split.

After taking into account all the variables -- including elevation and wind angles of the course -- BBS estimates that at my 85% FTP average pace the ride will take 3:55 at an average speed of 14 m.p.h.

As I said, the challenge of this course is the constantly changing elevation, which leads to the question, how much power to hold at each point along the way. I have included the very nice speed and power chart that BBS produces. The blue line is altitude, the brown line is speed, and the shaded part is power. To me it is so convoluted as to be useless during the race. Unless I had a team manager riding in a car behind me calling out power targets. But I will be on my own.

The solution to this dilemma, if you can call it that, is a cheat sheet that shows power to hold for a list of conditions. Just print and stick somewhere where you can see it.

I suspect that much of my time will be alternating between 100 and 155 watts, with the long climb to Hawi at 163. To help with this I have my Edge 800 "race" page configured with grade, so I can do a better job matching my power to the BBS plan.

As a backup to this power plan I located some waypoints and found the times I should arrive. 

JCT. 19-2700:50
Lapakahi Pk1:40
Begin climb1:45
Turn around2:15
Lapakahi Pk2:32
Finish 3:553:55

I should not overreact to being a little late to the first waypoint as this section includes the transition from the swim. The worst thing you can do here is go too fast. But after that I need to be pretty close. No sense arriving at T2 with great legs but past the cutoff time.

Let's sum up so far. 

With a good swim time and hitting my bike plan, and five minutes each in T1 and T2, I begin the run at 0:55 + 0:05 + 3:55 + 0:05 = 5:00. Cutoff time is 5:30 from start of swim, so if I have a perfect day I will make it this far.

The run is a real mystery. Much of it is on grass, which slows things down a bit. At my last half marathon I was averaging only around 15:30 min/mile but feeling pretty good until mile 8, when my right calf started cramping, forcing me to walk most of Diamond Head. I know I have gotten better, but just how much is hard to say. My plan is to take it easy after T2 to let my heart rate and respiration settle, then ease the pace up to high zone 3, what would be a 15:00 pace on a smooth, flat surface. If I can average that pace my run comes in at 3:17. Added to my "perfect" day so far that comes in at 8:17. The cutoff time is 8:30. Very, very close. If I can only manage 15:30 I get 3:23. Coming at it the other way, to cross the finish line right at the cutoff time, after my perfect swim and bike, I need to run at 16:00. I am sure I can do that.

Like I said. I have what I need to get this done, but it will be excruciatingly close the entire way. Talk about exciting!

At the risk of sounding corny, whether or not I make all of the cutoff times is not what this race is about. Three years ago Pattie challenged me to take up the sport of triathlon, seeing as how I was already a cyclist and running marathons. I took up the challenge without realizing how hard it is to swim well. In my first year I struggled through the sprint distance Honolulu Triathlon, then the Tinman, which has the same short swim but with Olympic distance bike and run. It was at that point we went to Honu just to watch and support our Try Fitness friends, especially Sonya Weiser Souza. At some point in the post-race haze the women insisted I should do this race, and for some insane reason -- assisted no doubt by an over consumption of beer -- I agreed, with the condition that I would need another year. Here we are, two years later, and I find myself heading to Kona. 

What really counts here is the journey. I have learned a lot. I have made a lot of friends. I swim much better than I could two years ago. That I am ready to start the race is all that really counts. However it turns out, I have already won.

Did I actually say I am considering doing a full Ironman? Let's take it one step at a time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Understanding the power - heart rate gap

Today’s Tantalus ride was intended first and foremost to be a recovery ride, but my legs felt good so I decided to get more out of it by practicing my Honu climbing pace. This was especially challenging because I forgot my Edge 800 head unit, so I had to go mostly by feel. I wear my Fenix2 on my wrist and was able to glance occasionally at power zone and heart rate zone. At first I wondered why my heart rate was so low, until I remembered the the Fenix2 only supports one set of zones and I have them set up for running, whereas the Edge 800 is configured for cycling. My run LTHR is 154, whereas my cycling LTHR is 140 (this is normal). It works out that the zone displayed this morning on the Fenix2 was roughly one too low. The data as displayed on Training Peaks is correct.

After staring at the results on Training Peaks for a time I decided to compare today’s data with Sunday’s race data. Found something interesting, and not entirely surprising. To get a more meaningful comparison I only used the climbing portion from today and compared that to the entire bike leg of the race. Using the totals from today would include too much downhill. The climbing portion of the ride and the entire race leg represent continuous nearly constant effort.

Heart Rate
1311423 - 4*93%
Tantalus Tuesday, May 17, climb only (0:50)

* - HR zone 3 126 - 131, zone 4 132 - 149

Heart Rate
Honolulu Triathlon, May 15, entire bike leg (1:24)

The thing that jumps out at me is how similar the heart rate numbers are, yet the power output on Sunday was much lower than today’s ride. Sunday’s ride was flat, while today’s was a long, steep climb. This is reflected in the cadence numbers; Sunday’s average was 81, today’s was 48. On Sunday I was not monitoring heart rate at all, only power and cadence, but I could feel my legs getting the burn that signals getting close to the lactate threshold. Sure enough, I was at 95% LTHR. Really cannot do any better than that over an hour and thirty minute time trial. 
As good as that sounds, why was I only putting out 70% FTP on Sunday? Today my heart rate was 93% LTHR yet my average power was 94% FTP. I can think of four possible reasons. First, the excitement of the race. Call it nerves. Excitement will raise your heart rate. I was probably near LTHR just standing on the shore waiting to start! Second, cadence. I cannot spin up on the Tantalus climb. The long, slow pedal stroke is not quite the same as a fast spin, and since I do not get many opportunities to ride all out on flat roads my body is better adapted to climbing. (Hand me that polka dot jersey.) Third, fatigue. I did the bike leg on Sunday after a long, hard swim, and it lasted 50% longer than the Tantalus climb. But I did the first hour on Sunday at 72% FTP, and the Variability Index of 1.02 tells us I did not slow down at the end. Still, the swim could be the difference. Last but not least, speed. Like I already said, I rarely get to go all out for any length of time. Going twenty miles an hour down any highway on Oahu is to risk life and limb. Ford Island is good for this, but not the most convenient place to get to. My theory is that whenever I got up to 130 watts on Sunday my instincts told me to slow down.

I doubt that anyone could say for sure why the gap between power and heart rate was so much higher Sunday than today. One take away from all this is the need to monitor power and heart rate during the race. Forcing myself to hold a planned power could result in walking the run. As good a metric as power is, heart rate cannot be ignored.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Honolulu Triathlon race plan

Right off the bat I want to make one thing perfectly clear. This Sunday's Honolulu Triathlon is not my "A" race. It is a practice race on the build to Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, affectionately known as "Honu."

I say that as much for my sake as yours. When my mind gets to wandering I often end up thinking about pacing in terms of having my best race yet. (Insert needle scrape sound here.) It is only natural, especially when you consider how often we are bombarded by media headlines about winning your age group and setting a new PR. Sure I want to do well, but the definition of "well" in this case means having a swim without drama and bike and run segments done at Honu pace, along with a few more things I'll go into later.

One of the key points Joe Friel makes in his book, "Fast After 50," is that the older we get the smaller the margin of error. Going too easy in a workout will not produce the desired increase in fitness. Going too hard will demand an extended recovery time and significantly increase the risk of injury. For young athletes the gap between too little and too much is wide. The older we get, the narrower the gap. Fortunately this physical decline is offset by an increase in experience and good judgment. Us old guys know better than to go out and party before a race.

One more thing to remember about aging athletes. We need more recovery time. This is true at the micro and macro ends of the scale. Where a young athlete can do intervals like 3x5 min with one minute recoveries, us old guys need five minute recoveries. Moving toward the macro end, a whippersnapper can do three hard workouts a week, whereas us old folks can only manage one. This is a basic fact of aging, right in there with gray hair and wrinkled skin.

How does this affect my race plan? If I go all out this Sunday I will be forced to severely curtail my training over the following week, which comes at a critical time in the build to Honu. Additionally, an all out 10K run increases the risk of injury. A hamstring pull comes to mind, but I struggled with calf cramps at my last race, the Hapalua Half Marathon, where I tried to push myself hard. That sore right calf bothered me for several weeks. Arriving at the starting line at Honu in that condition is not on the path to success.

My biggest challenge will be the swim. I still tend to struggle in the first five minutes with breathing and finding my rhythm. On recent long swims with Pattie I have done very well by following her. She is very good at starting at a sane, manageable pace. I am pretty sure that going slow is much better than stopping to tread water. Somehow I will have to keep this feeling foremost in my mind when the horn goes off and my wave charges down to the water. If I do get hit with the panicky, "can't breath" feeling I will try my best to lengthen my stroke, remind myself that I really am not running out of air, and wait it out. The feeling passes, rather quickly.

Right up there with getting my breathing on track are the issues of swimming in a pack and getting around the buoy at the far end. I am not going to go wide to the outside like I did last year. I will be looking for someone to follow, but drafting is a skill I have yet to learn, and trying it in a race is not a good idea. I breath to my right, so going wide leaves me with nobody to follow. Hopefully there will be one or two folks as slow as me.

The bike is a no brainer. I am totally comfortable on my Cervelo P3.  The basic plan is simple. Hold 85% 80% FTP (130 watts) as much as possible, lower if my legs are not good. This course is pretty much flat, but where there is a need I will allow my power to go up to 103% FTP (170 watts) for a minute or two. On the return, ease up along the park, spin faster, stop pedaling and stand to stretch hamstrings, get legs ready for a balanced dismount and a quick transition into the run. DO NOT go hard all the way to the dismount line.  I do plan to go in and out of aero position, but that is really practice for Honu, where the longer ride will demand it. I will not blithely follow the riders ahead as we approach Lagoon Drive, as some might be doing the sprint and will be off to the left whereas the longer distance requires I be off to the right. Good thing I have been practicing my U-turns! I will carry one bottle Perpetuem on the down tube and two water, one on the aero bars and one behind the saddle. I plan to eat a Bonk Breaker as soon as I am out on Ala Moana and settled in. I could do the race without it, but at Honu getting in some solid food calories after the swim can be critical to a decent run. I need to see how my body reacts.

Which brings us to the run. I would like to do something better than a 15:00 pace. 14:00 would be really nice. But recall where this rant began. I will not go as fast as my feet will let me, even if they sprout wings. Save it for Honu. At the risk of aiming too low, my goal is to run the entire course and not feel any desire to stop at the finish. I will carry my Fuelbelt and partake of my favorite concentrated Perpetuem. Again, practice for Honu, where I will need the extra calories.

After hours of rigorous calculations I have come up with the following plan:

Swim - 0:35
T1 - 0:05
Bike - 1:30
T2 - 0:05
Run - 1:30

Overall - 3:45

Again, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that the race goes smoothly, without drama. No equipment failures, no wardrobe failures, no puking. That is all I really care about. No puking.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Planning my bike build to Honu

This week I went back to review my plans for the remaining bike workouts building to Ironman 70.3 Hawaii. As I began digging in I felt that old daemon, panic, a looming dark cloud of emotion, fear that I have not done enough and need to do a lot more. Only four weeks to go!

In the words of the late Erik Bauersfeld, "It's a trap!"

It started when I began to plan the details of this Sunday's long ride. My training plan calls out a basic ride/run brick, with a few Zone 3 intervals in the bike and most of the run in Zone 3 as well. I think I will get more out of a road trip back to Pineapple Hill. For those of you not familiar with Oahu roads, this is Highway 99 running from Haleiwa on the North Shore, inland and up a long, steady grade very much like the climb to Hawi.

The last time I was there was a few weeks ago, April 17th to be exact. My training plan for that day called for 1:30 bike followed by 0:30 run, with three 15 minute intervals in Zone 3. For that I substituted a ride designed to increase my FTP while simulating the long, relentlessly steady climb to Hawi. Warm up riding from Kaiaka Beach Park to the base of Hwy 99 just past the round-about, then two twenty minute intervals climbing at Zone 4.5 or better, just above FTP. Recover on the downhill. By the end of the second interval my legs were on fire. Back at the park I was too tired to run.

Here is the ride profile for that day, along with power data. You can see where I started to lose it at the end of the second ascent. The two gaps are where I stopped to take pictures.

Let's pause here and learn from this example. A cyclist riding a time trial knows that after crossing the finish line their day is done, but a triathlete still has a long run to do. In the case of Honu, a half marathon. In order to be able to run after the bike, the bike segment must be done at less than the absolute maximum. What is FTP? The maximum effort a cyclist can produce at a constant rate for one hour. If you expect to run after the bike you must ride at or below FTP. The only exception is a very fit athlete doing a sprint triathlon, in which case the bike can be a smidgen above FTP. For long course triathlon, somewhere between 65-85% FTP. How do we increase FTP? By riding long intervals at or above FTP. By definition you cannot ride above FTP for an hour. Twenty minute efforts with long recoveries are good. Can you see why I should not be surprised that I was too tired to run after my ride? Besides, it was raining and my bike was a filthy mess and I did not want to put it in the Outback without a good washing. So, no run that day.

The following Sunday was the Haleiwa Metric Century Ride. For that my plan was to ride a little below race pace, mid Zone 2, and run for at least thirty minutes after the bike. As fate would have it, I rode 56.5 miles, the same distance as the Honu bike segment. Minus the long climb to the turn-around. As I approached Haleiwa on the return I tested my legs and found that I had plenty of fuel in the tanks and could go a lot harder. Running was entirely possible. I only had to stop running because Pattie wanted to get to Haleiwa Joe's for lunch ASAP. Take that, Forrest Gump.

Until yesterday my plan for this Sunday was to do a longer version of my last Pineapple Hill ride. Three intervals instead of two. Then I got into pacing and planning my upcoming races, and that is when I got the bright idea that I really needed to do a bike ride that duplicates the full Honu course, at race pace, to see if I could. I brought up Google Maps and started to look for where I would need to start to make Pineapple Hill the midpoint. Somewhere around Kahuku it dawned on me that to ride that far that hard on Sunday would leave me wrecked for the rest of the week, and I have a race next Sunday. That is what races do, they leave you wrecked. You cannot afford to have workouts leave you wrecked. The rule of thumb is you either go long and slow, or short and fast.

As I thought about it I reminded myself I have already done a lot of long and slow. As recently as the metric century a couple weeks ago. This is not the time for long and slow.

How then do I combine the goal of running off the bike with the goal of improving my FTP? The best answer is to do these workouts on different days. But I do not have infinite days. Who does? My plan is a compromise that may or may not work. I like it because it simulates the Honu profile. I will do those three reps up the hill, but I will follow that with a ride at 75-85% FTP along the coast for at least thirty minutes. Last time it took less than ten minutes to get back to my car. I am hoping the longer ride will give my legs enough time to recover, while at the same time getting used to sustaining race pace -- that range is the upper half of Zone 3, which is right where I want to be during the race.

The following weekend is the Honolulu Triathlon. I plan to do it at my Honu race pace, with the caveat that if my legs are getting tired I will slow down on the run and walk if I have to. This is not the time to blow out a hamstring. After that there is only one more ride that really counts, on May 22nd. My training plan calls for about the same workout as this Sunday. I will wait and see how this Sunday goes, and what needs work after my next race, but I anticipate a return one last time to the hill.