Friday, August 19, 2016

Working on muscle fatigue

The Tinman Triathlon closed out the serious part of my race season for this year, leaving the Honolulu Century Ride and the Honolulu Marathon to close out the year. Prior to Honu I was undecided about doing the marathon. The thought of another long training sequence was not very appealing. I guess I got bored during the long taper to Tinman, made a week longer by tropical storm Darby, as that is when I decided to get serious about the marathon, joined Jason Fitzgerald's Strength Running group and began planing my fall workout schedule.

After Tinman I thought about what my challenges had been. What happened that failed to meet my expectations? What seemed to be keeping me from going faster? This is not a question without merit, in that I routinely finish near last place. If those other athletes are going so much faster, what do I need to do to be more like them?

For any athlete who asks that question -- are there any who don't? -- the first thing they will probably turn to is physique. The assumption that those other guys are faster because they are gifted. They have bigger lungs. Longer legs. Longer arms. Shorter legs. Smaller bodies. They are taller. Shorter. Thinner. Ripped.

It seems to me that there are certain physical features that contribute to success in certain events, but this only applies to a handful of people. Besides, there isn't much I can do about the length of my legs. What I can do, and work hard at, is to develop my form to the best of my ability, to learn how to arrange my body parts to make the most of what I have.

After we accept out body as perfectly suited to the task at hand we come to skill. Technique. I can't do anything about the length of my legs, but I can learn to move them in ways that allow me to perform better. Skill comes in two parts, knowledge and practice. I happen to love the knowledge part. I really enjoy studying technique, be it from books, videos, or conversations with experts. The practice part is not as much fun, but I am as consistent and conscientious as anyone. One thing is always true about technique: you can never stop working to improve. Especially swimming. The difference between a slow swimmer and a fast swimmer is for the most part a bunch of very small deviations from ideal form.

For endurance athletes -- for me at least -- the thing that comes right after skill is muscular endurance. However good our skill is, we need to repeat the muscle contractions that create that movement over and over again. What I notice is that towards the end of a long event my muscles start to complain a lot. I try to take inspiration from cyclist Jens Voigt's famous line, "Shut up, legs!" but that is never enough to keep me going. I first learned that "muscular endurance" was a thing because it is listed as a limiter on Training Peaks. Joe Friel goes into more detail in his books, such as "The Triathlete's Training Bible,"Chapter 6, "Training Advanced Abilities."

At last year's marathon I slowed considerably, walking a lot after mile 18. I was at my target pace until then, but missed my plan by a wide margin. At Honu I was exhausted after the swim and genuinely surprised how little power I could produce on the bike. At Tinman I had planned to run the entire 10K, in spite of the hills, but even before I got to Monsarrat I had to walk just to keep moving -- my legs felt like lead. I decided that I needed to focus on muscular endurance.

After deciding to look deeper into the subject of muscular endurance I found that, as so often is the case, there are multiple and sometimes conflicting views of what it is and how to improve. The "what it is" part can be divided into two camps. One, the older group, say it is physiological. Here is an example of one such description. I do enjoy the details.

How to Offset Muscle Fatigue.  Runner's World, October 8, 2009.

Joe Friel's discussion is similar, though less detailed. "A high level of muscular endurance results from adaptation of the mechanical properties of the muscles to resist fatigue, an elevated LT (lactate threshold -- gd) and tolerance of lactate that slowly accumulates at such intensities."

The other camp, of more recent vintage, claim that the physiological explanation is wrong, that the real limiter is the mind. Here are two articles that take this position:

Perception of effort, not muscle fatigue, limits endurance performance., March 19,2010.

Why Endurance Athletes Should Re-Think Fatigue. Bicycle Lab.

 I have decided to blend these two points of view together. I think it is obvious that an increase in muscular endurance cannot be achieved without physical training, and even if the mind-over-matter theory sounds a bit far out, it cannot hurt to include it in one's mental fitness training.

This does not mean the matter is resolved. Not at all. The next question is, what to do during workouts to increase muscular endurance. And, once again, I find differing opinions from people I have the utmost respect for.

There is one thing everyone agrees on. A good way to improve muscular endurance is do long intervals at or just below LTHR, either running or on the bike. Runners are likely to call this a tempo run. There appears to be a lot of flexibility in how long to make the work interval, but one thing they all have in common is a relatively long work interval and a short recovery. Apparently doing this very much above your LTHR does not produce the desired response, as you are actually stressing your anaerobic system, with the likely outcome of an extended recovery period -- several days before another quality workout can be attempted.

I decided to get started with something simple, done on the bike until the century ride at the end of September, then switching over to the run until the marathon in December

Bike: 3 x 12 min at 90% FTP, 2:30 recovery

Run: 3 x 12 min at 95% LTHR, 2:30 recovery

I figured that if I made significant improvement I could increase the working duration, something like this:

2 x 20 min at 95% LTHR, 2:30 recovery

LTHR is right at the start of zone 5. A lot of sources describe doing tempo runs at HR zone 3. For me, 90% LTHR comes in at low zone 3, 95% at very top of zone 3. The bike version is based on using a power meter, just figure that heart rate at FTP is LTHR. Same physiologic condition expressed a different way.

Now that I know what to do, the next step is, when and how often. To answer the second question first, at my age I only have room for one long run per week and one quality run per week. All the more so because I am still training as a triathlete even though my next goal race is a marathon. I had considered adding these to my calendar, making for two quality runs per week. The only available slot was Friday morning, the day before my long run. Jason Fitzgerald recommended against this plan, and I agree. So my weekly run schedule goes something like this:

Mon. Base run, 3 mi.
Wed. Quality run
Sat. Long run, 12-18 miles

I think hill repeats are another excellent workout, too good to ignore, and I am fortunate to live near a perfect hill for run and bike intervals. I plan to alternate hill work with track work, hills more for power and the track more for muscular endurance.

One more thing. As marathon training proceeds, the long run should finish at race pace. In Build 1 the long run should be done entirely at no higher than mid zone 2, with considerable time at the start in zone 1. It is during Build 2, the last three to four weeks before peak that the long run pace should be pushed for the last couple miles, to get the body and mind conditioned to running at that pace even while fatigued. Based on the articles mentioned above, this is as much about the mind as it is the muscles.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Tinman race report

This year's Honolulu Tinman Triathlon was a great race for me. The swim was especially good. The bike was fine. I thought I fell apart on the run but somehow managed to come close to my estimate. Quite different from Honu, and last year's Honolulu Marathon. Plenty of take-aways, the biggest being how to deal with muscle fatigue.

As always I came up with my estimates by writing down a bunch of different times, putting them in a bag, giving it a good shake, then setting it aside and looking back over my recent Training Peaks data. Tinman is like the Honolulu Marathon (and Hapalua) in that there is no cutoff time as there is in Ironman events, so for this race I did not even care about time. I did try to peek at my swim time as I ran up the beach, but since I can't even walk and chew gum at the same time I decided not to risk it. Once I hit the swim exit timing mat and pressed "Lap" on my Fenix 2 my swim time was lost to me, and there is no official clock anywhere near there that I know of. Just as well. For the bike the only numbers I cared about were power and heart rate; knowing my time would not help. On the run I was looking primarily at pace, with heart rate and cadence there on the same screen. So, during the race I had no idea what my time was. That is why I am so surprised by how close my estimates were.


The best thing about the swim was the complete absence of stress. I knew what to expect, I had my plan, and was ready to go. This time I did not hold back to let the others get out ahead, I took off as soon as I could and ignored the the thrashing going on all around me. Just as I figured it was not long until I was mostly alone. I did pass one struggling swimming who appeared to be doing a frog stroke; dog paddle arms and breast stroke kick. "Gee," I thought, "even I have better form than that." Maybe a frog is not the best label. They look funky but they can swim pretty fast. The wave behind mine began to catch me just as I got to the turn around, but only a few; no traffic jam at the turn. About twenty yards past the turn is when the pack got to me. Mostly I did not care, but there was one swimmer who insisted on getting just in front on to my left, swimming with considerable feet-down sag and constantly a threat of kicking me in the face. Finally I just pulled up, moved to the left, and got away from her. I felt as though had I held my spot I would have ended up over the reef along the shore, a place you really want to avoid.

I actually ran across the lawn to the bike coral. In the past I walked, the problem being vision. This time I just assumed the ground would still be there and hoped that the folks ahead had already found all of the ironwood seed cones. Who ordered the grass cut the day before the race? I spent an extra minute washing all the blades off before putting on my bike shoes. By the way, the Shimano TR9 shoes are incredibly comfortable and have held up well through lots of miles this season.

Speaking of apparel, I wore my IT&B kit and love it, same as for Honu. I have had problems with gloves. I have two pair of Giro Monaco gloves, one white, one black. Very comfortable. The white pair turned to stone after a run through the washing machine. I tried using hand moisturizer to soften them. Worked fine, but dissolved the tape holding on my tri bike's handlebar tape. The black pair remained soft but dyed my palms black. I know the rule about nothing new on race day, but even so I dropped by IT&B on Saturday and picked out a new pair of Pearl Izumi Elite gloves. Well, as I rode away from T1 I realized I had forgotten to put on gloves. The new gloves. No problem, rode fine without them. While packing up after the race I discovered I had not removed one of the tags, so I would have pulled a Minnie Pearl had I worn them. I did wear them Tuesday on the Tantalus Ride -- on my trusty Merlin road bike -- and the jury is still out. I like the synthetic textured fabric at the pads, but I don't like the way they feel on the drops. Could be that I have not ridden on the drops for many months.

Coming into T2 I felt ready to run. Complete opposite of Honu. I took off at a good pace, right where I wanted to be on the flat, around 14 min/mile. I had sworn an oath in blood to run the entire race, no walking, but by the time I turned right onto Paki I broke my vow and walked a bit. Going up Monsarrat was a walk/run. From 18th Ave on it was a mixed bag, but I did try to keep my walking pace as high as possible and I guess it paid off. When I did run I went faster than plan, and when I walked it was not as slow as in the past.

Even though I made my plan I feel the need to improve my ability to keep going hard for longer periods of time. We call these activities endurance sports, but the fact is, there are two distinct types of endurance. Aerobic endurance is about training the body to conserve glycogen and avoid running out of fuel. Muscular endurance is about training the body to endure repetitive muscle contractions, in particular getting rid of the byproducts of fuel burning that accumulate in muscle cells and inhibit performance. Aerobic endurance is improved with long workouts at low intensity. The kind of runs that we older athletes prefer to do. Muscular endurance is improved through Lactic Threshold workouts, usually long duration intervals at or near LTHR.

Going forward, my workout schedule is dominated by marathon training, with just enough swimming and cycling to keep me in the game. A typical week of runs looks like this:

Mon 3 mi base
Wed 4 mi, last mi @ tempo
Fri LT intervals, typ. 3 x 12 min at 95% LTHR, 2:30 recovery
Sat Long run
Sun Easy bike or run

My marathon prep long runs officially begin Aug 27, with a little sag for the Century Ride. My current long run mileage plan is 12, 12, bike test, 14, Century Ride, 12, 15, 15, 12, 16, 16, 14, 18, *, 13, race. 

Two weeks out , where I show an asterisk, I am trying something different. Thursday of that week is Thanksgiving. I plan to run 13 miles on Thursday and 13 miles on Saturday, a marathon split over two days. If nothing else that should burn off the turkey pounds.

I am going to be reading up on fatigue and sharing what I learn in future posts ... stay tuned.