Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A new year and a new approach to training

It was not until I started run training to prepare for my first marathon that I began to follow a training plan. At first the plan was simple. Go out and walk/run for thirty minutes every day, fifteen minutes out, then back. Start with one minute run intervals, then gradually make the run interval longer and the walk interval shorter. It seemed to take forever, but eventually I got to where I could run without walking.

My first "real"training plan came from an excellent book on nutrition for runners by Matt Fitzgerald. His half and full marathon training plans specify short, weekday runs by time, but he prefers to specify the long run by distance.

As time went on and I gained experience with training I learned that all training plans are designed by one or the other -- time or distance. But what about intensity? Intensity is not an important factor for beginners, but as strength and endurance develop intensity needs to be taken into account. The better training plans I have used relied on simple descriptive words like "easy" or "hard" along with heart rate zones to specify intensity. Helpful, but not very useful in evaluating the cumulative effect of training.

Training Peaks gives us a better tool for evaluating the effect of a workout. If we combine duration and intensity we get a number called Training Stress Score. When a power meter is used the intensity value is very precise. Currently power meters are just becoming affordable for bikes. Running power meters are starting to appear, but are still a bit experimental. For runners, and cyclists without a power meter, a heart rate monitor provides slightly less accurate but still valuable data. For swimming the technology is less well developed, but time and distance values can be used to compute a reasonable estimate of swim TSS. Triathletes rarely have the time to swim enough that managing swim TSS becomes an issue.

Training Peaks provides a wealth of charts for analyzing data. The chart of all charts is the Performance Management Chart, which plots three lines computed from the TSS values of individual workouts. I am not going to explain the PMC here; if you want to learn more about it you can find a number of blog posts and YouTube videos that explain how it works. (Here's another good introduction.)

Here is my PMC covering all activities from November 2016 through the end of March 2017 (click to enlarge). You can see the peak produced by the marathon (spike in purple line), and the sag in training just before that caused by my ankle injury and tooth infection, and the very nice rest period I have been enjoying since the marathon.

Last October Training Peaks introduced a radical new way to create an Annual Training Plan using TSS in place of duration. The old method, explained in great detail in Joe Friel's book "The Triathlete's Training Bible," assigned a target number of hours week by week. Being an old guy my plan includes one R&R week in every three. Younger athletes usually do one in four. The number of hours available is set by the athlete and is based on available time and recovery time requirements derived from past experience. The new method starts with a TSS value for the year, which should be derived from prior years data. From that the system will compute TSS targets week by week, or an experienced coach or athlete can go manual and assign whatever numbers they choose.

Here is the start of my 2016 ATP compared to this year's (click to enlarge). Of course this year's ATP has no "Actual" data yet. You can also see how the year starts of with dashed lines that represent results going up and down, then falling off. This is because I have not completed daily plans after March.

I still am not sure how to read the shaded lines vs. the dashed lines. My confusion should clear up by the end of January, when I have uploaded a few weeks worth of data. In any case I think this will prove to be a significantly more accurate planning tool.

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