Thursday, September 29, 2016

Event plans 2017

2016 is not quite over, yet it is time to start thinking about next year. At this time last year my goals were clear: do whatever I could to succeed at Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, a.k.a. "Honu." Even though my result was a DNF I had a great time preparing for the race, and definitely want to do it again. When? I doubt that I can improve enough to warrant the time and expense of another attempt in 2017. Besides, there are a lot of things I have not done, and I think I can use them to work on the improvements I need for success in long course triathlon. Better to work hard and plan a return to the Big Island in 2018.

As my 2017 plans began to coalesce I realized that I might improve more by focusing on one skill at a time. One of the challenges of triathlon is the need to divide ones time between three activities, swimming, cycling, and running. Oops, I left out sleeping. Well, that goes with any sport. Oh, and eating. Did I leave out anything? Beer?

Seriously, when I hang out with swimmers I hear about the daily trip to the pool. Same for runners; how can you consider yourself a serious runner and not run twice a day, every day? Anyone serious about cycling only gets off the bike to sleep.

One complaint I often heard from my fellow age group triathletes is that they admire professionals because training is all they do. Working out is their work. The truth is, even with nothing else to take your time there are limits to how much training your body can absorb. The average body will soon break down trying to do everything completely all the time. Someone once said that one characteristic of elites is their ability to train more without breaking down. That is something you are born with. The rest of us need to make the best with what we have.

Now let's delve into a less well studied area: learning and retention -- whatever it is that happens when we do a workout. When I say "learning" I do not mean memorizing a bunch of facts. I mean practicing a skill until you get really good at it. Increased strength and endurance are natural byproducts of mindful practice. All sports require that the body learn skills that are not inherently easy. Practice makes perfect. Better still, regular, consistent practice makes perfect. It is intuitively obvious that too much time between practice sessions results in very slow progress. The longer the gap between sessions, the more the body has to do over. Again it should be intuitively obvious that learning new skills becomes harder with age. A twelve year old can make enormous progress after studying piano for just one year, whereas someone over 50 who never studied piano will struggle to learn Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Where am I going with this? When I began to sketch out my year I spotted some trends, and decided to home in on them, the trends being the emphasis on one particular activity for a time. This focus is not exclusive. To have any hope of being good at triathlon means I have to keep up all three activities, swimming, cycling, and running. My thinking for this year is that by focusing on one for a time I will make a lot of improvement in that activity. After that the trick will be to stay active enough to retain the skills learned.

The chart below (click to enlarge) shows the focus by activity in terms of color saturation. The brighter the color, the greater the focus. The chart begins with this year's build to the Honolulu Marathon, thus the bright green. In January the focus shifts to the bike, at first climbing, then the red turns orange to highlight road race skills.

My "A" races will be the Hapalua Half Marathon in April, Cycle to the Sun in June, the Dick Evans Memorial Bike Race in August, and the Waikiki Rough Water Swim in early September. Finishing out the year, if I have any energy left, another Honolulu Marathon. I have neer done the CTTS, the DEMRR, or the WRWS. Bucket List!

For my "B" races I will do the tried and true triathlons and the North Shore swim series. I will not list the schedule here because I do not have confirmed dates for all of them.

In January 2018 things get back to normal with the start of the Honu base period. Hopefully the abilities developed during the previous twelve months will carry through the spring and bring me to the finish line.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Honolulu Century Ride 2016

My triathlon season ended with the Tinman, but I did not want to shutdown entirely at that time. Instead, I decided to focus primarily on the Honolulu Marathon in December, and do the Honolulu Century Ride with as much training as I could fit in without jeopardizing my marathon training.

A few years ago I tried a hybrid approach, moving some of the long run time to the bike. The result was disappointing. Yes, long rides do contribute to aerobic efficiency and endurance, but not enough to muscular endurance. A marathon requires muscles, tendons and bones be developed to a high degree, and the only way to do that is to run. The workouts that are most important to the marathon are the long runs, done over many, many weeks, gradually building to 18 or 20 miles roughly three weeks from the race. Shifting those miles to the bike will have a negative impact on muscular endurance.

Between the Tinman and the Century Ride my weekends consisted of a long run on Saturday and a long bike on Sunday. I was building on a strong base, especially with all the work I put in preparing for Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, so it was simply a matter of doing a build to be ready to do 100 miles at a moderate pace.

On the first of these long rides I was going too hard. My notes remind me that I stopped about every ten miles and was exhausted at the finish. That reminded me of what many coaches have said, that the long run and long bike must be done at low intensity in order to train the body to burn fuel efficiently. A long training ride should not leave you totally depleted. Go too hard too long and your life outside training will suffer, and your workouts over the following days will be have to be drastically curtailed. Oh, and by the way, the older we get the more critical it is to get the intensity right.

My goal for the Century Ride was to do it at an average of zone 2, a lot like the bike segment of a full Ironman, and stay strong all day. No cramping, no wheels falling off. No limping back through Kahala, no crawling over Diamond Head. That first workout was already up in zone 2 and it nearly killed me, so I knew I had to really hold back and build up to it. I am pleased to say my plan worked.


The table above shows four of my build rides and the century ride. NP = normalized power, a calculated value similar to average power that represents the effort in watts for an equivalent ride done at a constant effort. NP is considered more useful for doing comparisons than average power. IF = intensity factor, where 1.0 is maximum sustainable one hour effort, also known as threshold, or lactate threshold. Longer events demand an IF well below 1. My Century Ride IF is a bit lower that I would have liked, but not too bad.

What this data shows is that after my initial over-cooked effort I pulled back and built back up to where I could go all day at an intensity that nearly killed me after 30 miles. Those long and slow rides really paid off.

As the ride got started I saw something similar to the start of the bike segment at Honu. My heart rate was through the roof. At Honu I had the swim to blame, but here it was all adrenaline. Normally my heart rate zone tracks closely with my power zone, although of course the power number dances up and down like a butterfly while the heart rate lags slowly behind, but from the start all the way to Kailua the two were split by at least one zone, as much as two at first. It looks really strange to be rolling slowing up Monsarrat at five miles an hour and see your heart rate in zone 4. All I could do was wait for it to settle down. A good reason why a power meter is so useful.

When a ride can be done at a steady, constant effort, NP and average power we be equal. The more variation in effort, the greater the difference. Another useful calculated data point is VI, Variability Index. A VI of 1.0 means NP = average power, regardless of what the power level was. Triathletes on a flat course strive for a VI as close to 1.0 as possible. The typical bunch start bike race demands considerable variation in effort, so expect to see a higher VI.

I extracted some data from each of the eight stages of the Century Ride:



1 - Start to Sandy121853970.711.42
2 - Sandy to Kailua113924610.671.23
3 - Kailua to Kaneohe103802820.611.29
4 - Kaneohe to Swanzy95831970.561.14
5 - Swanzy to Kaneohe93813740.561.15
6 - Kaneohe to Kailua99692730.591.43
7 - Kailua to Hawaii Kai101763420.601.33
8 - Hawaii Kai to Finish91693620.541.32


After we got settled down out on the highway I noticed that I felt good at power level 1.9, allowing it to rise up into the mid zone 2 for maneuvering or small climbs, higher for more pronounced climbs. My zone 1.9 works out to be around 88 watts. As you can see, the average power for most of the ride fell in right around that level. NP is a different story. NP was high during that first stage, and VI confirms it. After stage 1 things settled down a bit, but there was still a lot of variation. This is understandable given the crowded roads and variable terrain. Towards the end I could feel my quads complaining whenever I let my power drift too far into zone 2 for any length of time.

Take a look at stages 4 and 5, the same segment going in opposite directions. The data are identical except for a small increase in maximum power on the return, probably nothing more than pulling away from the aide station. This reveals that there was no wind out there; the speed and duration numbers confirm this.

The charts below show that I achieved my goal of riding on average in zone 2, with a nice, even distribution of effort. That I spent more time in power zone 1 (purple charts) is a reflection of the variability, and that my cruise power target was just slightly below zone 2.

The really good thing about this ride is that for the first time in a long time I was not a wreck towards the end. I was happy it was over, but I still had plenty left to ride home. The muscular endurance was there.