Monday, July 25, 2016

A look back at power data

With the Tinman race being moved back a week to make room for Tropical Storm Darby I accepted an invitation from Ben Williams to check out his Computrainer set up at his new shop, Hawaii Triathlon Center. Very sweet, indeed. The task sort of simulated what we would have done for the race, only on a flat course and only thirty minutes. A thirty second time trial sounds deceptively easy. Without any let up by way of cornering or climbing or going downhill the legs just keep cranking out continuous power, something our bodies by nature dislike.

The first I saw reviewing my data was how my power level fell off. Actually it starts out a bit low, then shoots up, then falls. What happened there is that I began at an effort I planned to use cruising on the flat sections of the race course, then at Ben's urging changed to an all-out effort like that of a Lactate Threshold Heart Rate or CP30 test. After all, that is the definition of CP30, an all-out thirty minute time trial.

The second thing I noticed was how flat my heart rate was, once my power had settled down. Sure enough, I was grinding along at 140 BPM, exactly what my bike LTHR has been for at least a year. I was not paying attention to that number up on the display. I did notice I was hitting HR zone 5 on my Edge 800 head unit. My reaction to that was "Hey I am working pretty hard here." My attention was on the watts and cadence and trying to get both number higher. My legs refused to go faster for any length of time, and the HR line shows why. The body cannot sustain an effort above LTHR for very long. The more you do, the more it will cost a bit later.

Having gotten this far I decided to compare these numbers with some other recent data, with an eye on Honu. This turned up something quite revealing. My perceived effort at Honu was that I could not produce the power I needed. I felt like I was working really hard, but my speed and power numbers were well below plan. Take a look at this table and take note of the Honu numbers.

5/15Honolulu Tri133115691.0281
5/8Ford Island TT133161971.0357

For each event I selected a section from the entire event.that represented a similar effort. For the Computrainer workout that was the middle, thirty minute time time minus the thirty minute warm up and cool down. For the Tantalus climb it begins just after the first turn and goes almost to the top, to where the pitch flattens out. For Honu it is from Kawaihae (sea level) to the top of the Hawi climb. This year's Honolulu Triathlon was flat and my goal was to ride it at 85% FTP, as practice for Honu. I missed that goal, probably because I never let my power go above 85 but it did drift below quite a bit. On Ford Island I had to stop in the middle for flag raising, so I used the second half.

Two things jump out at me. First, I could only average 96 watts on the Honu climb, and that was at a heart rate higher than plan. Yes, that is how I felt, unable to produce the power I knew I was capable of. Second, I do much better climbing at a low cadence than going fast on a flat road. On the Computrainer I should have been up at 166 watts, my FTP, since I was at my LTHR. Only hitting 134 tells me my legs need to be conditioned to produce power at high cadence.

Back in January I measured my FTP at 161. As you can see, the May test had it at 161, but right after that Training Peaks bumped it to 164, and two weeks ago it bumped me up again to 166. I suspect that those increases come mostly from the Tantalus rides.

One more thing. That column labeled "VI." That stands for variability index, a computed value that shows how much the entries in a data set vary. The set 140, 140, 139, 140 will have a VI near 1.0, while a set like 140, 135, 145, 140 will have a similar average but a higher VI. All of my VI numbers are good except for Honu. To me that suggests how much I was struggling trying to go faster.

I am curious to see my Tinman numbers.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tinman race plan

As anyone who has been following this blog knows, my big goal for 2016 was the Honu 70.3. Coming as it did in June that leaves about half a year with nothing to do. When Tinman sign-up opened I decided to put my conditioning to work one more time, but where Honu was serious stuff, Tinman is more about having a good time.

Based on my recent swim data I can expect a pace of 2:45/100yds. The course is 750 meters, about 820 yards, so that comes out to 22:30.

The bike is always a mystery because I never ride race distances at race pace. I used Best Bike Split to develop some models and came up with 1:39. Training Peaks just informed me my FTP has gone up again, this time only by two watts, but I am holding off changing my zones and stuff until after this race.

The run is as much of a mystery as the bike. Last Saturday I ran a 10K to get a better feel for the distance and sustained effort. Close to race effort but not nearly as hilly as the race course. Did it in 1:37. I was more interested in maintaining a high cadence than just going fast, will need to compromise a little there on Sunday. Let's just go with 1:40.

Here is how things stack up with my last two Tinman races:

201420152016 est

One thing we can see from this is how hard I have worked on my swim. For the bike and run I would like to improve, but it may just be that this is a fast as my body will go. Let's see what happens.

My fuel plan is pretty basic. The usual pre-race meal -- two pieces of toast with Nutella work well for me. On the bike I will carry a four scoop bottle of Perpetuem and two water bottles which I will swap at the turn around. I prefer to stop for that rather than risk a crash. I will get started on that coming out of T1 and as soon as I crest Diamond Head, to replace the calories I burned in the swim. At Honu I used Scratch Lab chews for this and they worked well, but for this distance an all liquid approach makes more sense. I will carry a Bonk Breaker, which I did use at Honu, but only as a backup plan in case I start to feel bonky, which did happen at Honu. I will take one Endurolytes tab every thirty minutes unless it is raining hard, which is a distinct possibility. For the run I will use my two bottle Fuelbelt, one two scoop bottle of Perpetuem and one water. I plan to have finished the Perpetuem as I climb Diamond Head on the return. I will also take Endurolytes as on the bike.

My goal for this race is to end my triathlon season with something fun. I am not going to worry much about pace and cadence and all that. Instead I want to perform well and be smiling at the finish line.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Improving my swim, part 2

In my previous post -- part one of what I plan on being a series -- I presented a video of me swimming with fins. The above water stuff was useless so I decided to do it again last Wednesday, and for this iteration I decided to see how much worse I was with bare feet. Much to my amazement I was not worse. If anything I was better! This is counter-intuitive, because the fins are supposed to help lift the feet, mimicking the bouncy of salt water. In any case I was surprised to see how high my hips are, most of the time.

This video consists of over fifteen short clips. (I rushed to get it done last night and got one out of order -- oh well.) I made notes on each clip, but to present them here would be really boring so I have boiled them down to a few comments.The overall sequence is


  1. Full length whole stroke
  2. Half length freeze action drill with snorkel
  3. Full length whole stroke with snorkel

Above Water

  1. Full length whole stroke
  2. Pool side - out of sequence
  3. Same freeze motion drill seen from above
  4. Pool side, not very useful
  5. Dramatic finish
About the drill, this is based on something I learned last March in Kona from Celeste St. Clair, embellished by the "Hook, Line and Sinker" video by Suzanne Atkinson. (Please do not hold them accountable for what you see here. I take full responsibility!) My goal is hold a straight line from my spearing hand to my same side toes. This part of her video demonstrates the desired position, straight as an arrow where mine looks like a bent wire coat hangar. 


  • Overall my hips are closer to the surface than I thought. This is good.
  • My knees want to be lower than my hips (thighs angle down). This is to some extent a flexibility issue. Even when I do a quad stretch I have a hard time getting my stretching side knee even with or behind my standing side knee. A result of years of cycling.
  • In an attempt to raise my foot I bend my knee instead of lifting the whole leg. (This and the previous bullet are conjoined twins.)
  • Underwater, swimming away, hips drop as left leg lifts in preparation for kick. Not so bad on right side. At the same time right foot should be low and steady, but mine flicks up and down as if reacting to left leg trying to lift and kick.
  • As my hands enter they go too low.
  • Neither arm is straight enough.
  • Right arm too far in towards center, even crosses.
  • During recovery, right upper arm goes vertical trying to make breathing easier. Arm should be at 45 degrees, rotate head enough to get air.
  • Overall, I need to have a bit more quickness during the spear, get that lead hand forward, then hold the long, straight line longer to extend the glide. Being so crooked there isn't much glide to enjoy, leading to too much activity. The lack of smoothness snowballs.
For the next phase of swimming I am going to focus on arm position. I think correcting my legs will be easier when my arms are moving correctly.

Here is this week's video:

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Improving my swim, part 1

The number one take-away from last Month's Half Ironman is that I need to improve my swim. Specifically, my efficiency. A seemingly more straightforward way to say it would be that I need to get faster. The trouble with putting it that way is that it invites a solution by way of increasing effort. No doubt a harder pull and a higher stroke rate will result in a faster swim, but at a terribly high energy cost. It was the near depletion of my energy that led to my downfall on the bike and put the run entirely out of reach. I cannot just hold back a bit, either, because with a swim time of 1:07:45 I am already too far back in the pack and precariously close to the cutoff time of 1:10:00. Nope, the only path to improvement is improved efficiency.

Back in March I finally learned how to do a proper two-beat kick, which is the preferred Total Immersion (TI) technique. When I start swimming for triathlon a couple years ago my friends all told me to forget about kicking and just let my legs drift along behind me, because if I did kick my stiff feet would just make me go backwards. I tried some kick board drills and what they said was true. I went nowhere, or backwards. Unless I wore fins.

When I worked through Terry Laughlin's Freestyle video it so happened that nothing was said about kicking until near the end, and even then there was no explanation of a two-beat kick, only instructions to use it. I guess experienced swimmers know what a two-beat kick is. I didn't.

At the TI Open Water swim camp in Kona last March Coach Celeste spent a lot of time on how to do a proper two beat kick. By the end of the week the personal direction from Celeste and Coach Bill was that I need to get my butt up to the surface and my feet as close to the surface as possible. I tend to go through the water like a rear-heavy power boat, which creates a ton of drag. I am certain that by getting my body level my efficiency will go way up.

I have included some links to some videos that set a good example. None are perfect, but each one offers something valuable.

First up, Shelley Taylor Smith and Mel Benson. I doubt these two women consider themselves TI swimmers. The kick looks exactly like what Coach Celeste taught us:

  • Legs motionless between kicks
  • Legs slightly apart
  • High hip leg foot lower than the other (counterintuitive)
  • Leg on low hip initiates body roll with downward kick, which lifts legs and hips

What is not TI about this clip is the arm motion. Both women thrust forward while still out of the water. The TI way is early entrance into the water, then reach forward and down. More on this a bit further down. This clip begins with Shelley Taylor Smith, Bel Benson enters at 2:30.

Here is a clip of Terry Laughlin himself. Notice how he brings his feat close together after the kick.

An oft quoted clip of good TI form is this one by Shinji Takeuchi. Notice how, like Terry, he returns his kicking foot to end up next to the high foot.

Is this clip Coach Suzanne Atkinson is demonstrating a drill she calls Hook, Line and Sinker. It just so happens to show a key aspect of the TI two beat kick, how the high leg forms a straight line with the lead arm. The lick set happening in the background is not TI! The first shot of leg position comes about 4 minutes in, but the entire clip is worth watching.

At the TI camp Coach Celeste had us take a look at this clip of Sun Yang finishing a 1500M freestyle race. His stroke looks to me like TI perfection, at high speed. His legs are mostly a two beat kick with a little flick in the middle, up until he decides to turn up the heat. Pay close attention to the comments my the female commentator.

The other thing Coach Celeste helped me with was a low spearing hand position. Take a look at Suzanne's video and notice how her hand enters early but stays close to the surface until she is ready to set up her catch. Now listen to the master himself address a similar swim camp a few years ago, especially how he describes dropping the lead arm through the mail slot right on down to the catch position. It was this advice that got me to a low hand position. Most likely a misunderstanding, but TI technique has evolved.

Now brace yourself for how I swim now. Right off the bat let me point out that I am wearing stubby fins. I find they give me a better feel for the water in the pool. In the ocean I do not use them. I will shoot this again in a few weeks, without fins.

This video was shot July 1, 2016, at the Oahu Club 25 yard pool, where I swim Monday and Wednesday mornings. It begins with whole stroke warm-up, then a freeze action drill I use to work on balance and leg position. For this drill I use a snorkel. What I feel is that my right leg is good at getting into position. When it is the left leg's turn to form a straight line with my left arm it does not know what to do and flops around like a headless chicken. When I watch this the thing that jumps out at me, something I am not aware of in the water, is how much I bend my knees. That has to improve.

The last part is some above water stuff. I was too low to see any useful leg work, but it does show arm position during recovery. Sorry for the tilt.

In the coming weeks I will continue to post videos of my progress. Let's see how much better I can do that 2:40/100 yards. My short term goal is straight legs!