Saturday, June 11, 2016

Fatigue exposed

In my Honu race report I described how tired I felt on the bike. How, even after a reasonable warm up period, I was unable to produce the watts necessary to follow my plan. At first it just felt weird. Then I began to understand that my fatigue was very real and the result of an hour long high power swim. Had I not been so aggressive in the water my race would have ended on the beach.

In the days that followed I did what any athlete would do in a similar situation, I began to question my preparation. Had I prepared adequately? Was I right to expect that I could produce the necessary power? In short, what went wrong? Fortunately Training Peaks makes available a ton of data, and I decided to look there for answers. I found them, too.

First, a quick review of what the data means. These are my definitions.

FTP - Functional Threshold Power. The maximum sustained power a cyclist can produce for an extended period of time, typically one hour. Equivalent to the power generated at Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR).

NP - Normalized Power. An average power, expressed in watts, for a period of time, adjusted to express the impact on the body. A ride on rolling hills at an average power of 120 watts will feel harder, and require more energy from the rider, than riding a flat course for the same duration at an average of 120 watts. In that case the flat ride will have an NP of 120 watts while the NP for the rolling hills ride will be higher.

IF - Intensity Factor. The average percentage of FTP produced for a period of time. IF = 1.0 means the ride was done at an NP equal to FTP. If the goal is to ride at an average of 85% FTP, IF will be 0.85.

VI - Variability Index. I am still not completely clear about this one. VI expresses how much the power varied from an ideal. Typically a time trial is done at a smooth, continuous power level. On a flat course VI should be close to 1.0, with anything between 0.97 and 1.03 being excellent. I am not clear how hills affect this number. A good strategy is to work harder on climbs and recover while descending. Seems to me that this will increase VI, unless the software also takes into account elevation changes.

The remaining columns in my analysis should not require explaining.

What I did was go back and get the most recent useful ride data and compare them with my Honu ride. To a certain extent this comparing apples to oranges, because none of the rides have the same profile. By focusing on a twenty minute continuos climb I was able to find something significant.

On May 8th I did a workout on Pineapple Hill -- Hwy. 99 from Haleiwa going up towards Wahiawa, which consisted of three ascents of twenty minutes each. On May 15 I did the Honolulu Triathlon, which has no hills, but I did ride at my planned Honu intensity, the goal being to sustain 85% FTP as smoothly as possible. On May 22 I did Pineapple Hill again, but this time only one ascent followed by a long flat ride with some all-out intervals.

The results of these rides and my Honu ride are given in the table below. (Click to see a larger version.) There are two sets of columns. First, the data for the entire ride. Then, for all except the Honolulu Triathlon, data for a twenty minute continuous climb. Note that I include all three ascents from the 15th.

There is a lot to look at, but one comparison in particular stands out, Honu and the second ascent on the 15th. On Pineapple Hill I was able to generate 172 watts for twenty minutes at an average heart rate of 135 BPM, while on the climb to Hawi I was making 115 watts at a heart rate of 137. What these data do not reveal is that in both cases I am very close to LTHR. Any attempt to go faster was unsustainable. There is a huge difference between 172 watts and 115 watts, and I could feel it. Even on the second day at Pineapple Hill I did 147 watts. On the first day I was going all out, On the second day I was trying to hold back as if it were a race. (The goal is to be able to run a half marathon after the bike.) For Honu my overall IF goal was 0.85. I planned to do the climb to Hawi a little above that; here I did 0.89 and followed the climb with a hard set of intervals and could still run off the bike. One more number. On the twenty minute climbs on Pineapple Hill I gained over 500 feet. For the twenty minute Honu segment -- not the entire climb but most of it, I only gained about 300 feet.

These data show that in the weeks leading up to Honu I had the strength to do well. The one thing I did not take into account was the effect of the long, intense swim. I think this confirms the conclusion I arrived at in my race report, that to do any better ay Honu I need to improve my swim efficiency. Of course there is plenty of room for improvement in my bike and run performance.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Honu pau - Ironman 70.3 Hawaii race report

Sometimes winning does not happen at the finish line.

Much of what I wrote in my previous post has a direct bearing to this one. I am not going to repeat all that, so if you have not already read it I suggest that you do. What I will summarize here are the outcomes I predicted:

  1. I would miss the swim cutoff time
  2. I would make the swim, do fine on the bike, but miss the 2:00PM halfway run cutoff
  3. I would finish

By my calculations, if I did finish I would just barely make the swim and run cutoff times, with a total time just under 8:30. The bike, specifically, was to come in just under four hours to have any chance of finishing the run in time.

My result was none of the above.

I did make the swim cutoff. It was close, as predicted. My recent best effort swim pace has been around 2:45/100 yds. I was hoping to stay below 3:00, and to have any chance of finishing the swim in time I need to get down to 2:40. I did 2:41. The cutoff was 1:10 after your wave start. I finished in 1:07:45.

Was I last out of the water? No. But I am confused by the results. There were eight people slower than me. Three made it under 1:10, and one of those finished. But there were two with swim times over 1:10 who got times for the bike and run, even though they got a DNF for the race. Hmm. They should have had their timing chip removed on the beach. Apparently they were allowed to continue. No big deal.

I was so surprised that I finished the swim in time that I hardly knew what to do. Of course I had planned everything, I just never thought I would get that far. All I really wanted to do was celebrate, but I had to hustle up the ramp to T1 and get going on the bike. I probably would have stopped at the water's edge had my sherpa team not been screaming at me to run through the arch.

Finding my bike in the corral was no problem, because it was one of a handful still there. No problems with transition, got going on the steep uphill start, executed my bike start plan perfectly. Go easy on the climb up to the Queen K and take advantage of the first long downhill to take on some water and solid food -- Scratch Labs chews.

Two things were radically different than my practice runs. My heart rate was through the roof, and I felt really tired. The degree of fatigue I felt was like nothing I had felt before at the end of a swim or the start of a ride. On my way to the turn-around my the Mauna Lani my goal was to get my heart rate down from zone 5 to below 4.5. It was not until Kawaihae that it settled down, but every hard effort would make it go up again. Basically my heart rate was one to two zones higher than what I consider normal for RPE, especially as measured by respiration.

The other thing I began to notice was that I was not hitting the power levels I had planned on. I was typically around ten watts below plan. If I tried to get back up to plan, my heart rate took off and I felt an intense wave of fatigue. But then, a bit of good news. I hit my way-point time at the junction of Highway 19 and 270 exactly as predicted, fifty minutes from the start of the bike. I thought perhaps my power levels were a little off, and that I should keep doing the best I could.

Unfortunately this would not hold. My next way-point was Lapakahi Park, which I was supposed to reach at 1:40 after start, but arrived at 1:45. Along the way my legs felt like cottage cheese. I was supposed to get to the Hawi turn-around at 2:15, I made it at 2:25. To be clear, these were maximum times to finish before the 5:30 bike cut-off. My goal was to beat them without burning all my energy. Instead I was falling behind while using every ounce of strength. This is not the way to ride the bike segment of a triathlon.

It was at that point that the words Guy Hagi said at the start really sunk home. Words I have heard countless times before, even from Terry Laughlin. "You cannot win a triathlon in the swim, but you sure can loose one." Now I knew what my problem was. Not a lack of fitness or training, some sudden, mysterious loss of leg strength. I had just had the swim of my life, a full hour going as hard as I could. No wonder I was so tired. No wonder my legs could not muster enough energy.

There was one more thing I realized just before arriving at Hawi. I had gotten behind on my nutrition, and very likely had not packed enough fuel. I had a four hour bottle of Hammer Perpetuem, the drink I have been using for over a year with excellent results. To supplement that I had one bag of Scratch Lab chews and one Bonk Breaker bar. The chews were to replenish after the swim/ The Bonk Breaker was to replenish after the climb to Hawi. The long downhill section would give my stomach a break and ensure easy digestion.

I felt better soon after eating the bar, and continued to push the Perpetuem. This was a 4X concentration, so every swig had to be accompanied by a good slug of water, which I did. By the time I got down to sea level at Kawaihae I was out of fuel. Not optimal, but at least I didn't barf. Next aid station was just past the 19-270 junction and I knew I could get a bottle a Gatorade there.

The climb from Kawaihae to the intersection was a death march. I could barely pedal. My handlebars were wobbling. Even so I passed someone. I could see vultures flying overhead.

I made the junction at 3:45 from start, ten minutes behind plan. I had not lost any more time, but I had not made any back, and I was cooked. It was there that I decided to throttle back a little so that I could at least make it into T2 without crashing. A few minutes later my feelings were underscored when I saw a truck go by with the bike belonging to the woman I had passed climbing up from Kawaihae. She was in the cab, condition unknown. I decided I was not going to abandon out here, not unless my feet fell off.

A little later an official van pulled along side to check on my condition and offer me a ride. I said I preferred to ride it in and they said that was fine as long as I was able to continue. I made it all the way to the Highway to Hell (Hoohana St.), about 100 yards from the dismount line, when the same van pulled me over. They were profusely apologetic as they explained that they had been ordered to stop and pick up all riders still on course because the course was closed. So I rode the last 100 yards in the van. Silly.

The interesting thing is that at no time did I feel bad about not finishing the bike. Well, I was annoyed that I was not allowed to ride all the way to the finish. What I mean is I did not mind missing the cutoff. Finishing the swim was a huge reward for me, and I could tell that I was doing pretty good on the bike. I had a good plan and I was prepared. I just had not grasped how much the swim would take out of me.

My supporters were more concerned about the swim than I was. They even made me my own race bling knowing that I was not likely to get a real one.

As I got off the bike both legs were flickering with the onset of cramping. Back at the condo I sat awhile in the jacuzzi, and again my legs were cramping when I tried to get out. I was really wrecked! A hard swim and a hard ride.

A number of people have asked me if I intend to do this race again next year. For now, my answer is that it depends on improving my swim. For a rough estimate I averaged the times in my age group, the idea being that if I could be a middle of the pack swimmer I should do okay. The average time in my AG was around forty-five minutes.  That is a lot of improvement to make in one year. My friend Steve Davidson did it in 54:40 and finished in 8:19:35 -- that's cutting it close! -- so perhaps that much improvement is not necessary. But there is another number and it is hard to measure. TSS is as close as we can get. I was swimming really hard. To have a good race I not only need to improve my swim time, I also need to improve my efficiency. I need to be more streamlined in the water.

It is too soon to say where exactly this is going. I will do the Tinman in a couple months. Let's see if I can shave a bit more off of my swim pace by then.

Last but not least, a big mahalo to all of my supporters, most of all Sonya Weiser Souza and my tireless sherpa and wife, Pattie.