Monday, December 28, 2009

The Taco Bell Diet

Funniest commercial ever (sorry, I cannot embed the link):
http://drivethrudiet.com/christinesstory/mediagallery

According to the commercial eating Taco Bell (yes, Taco Bell!) will now help one lose weight, and not just as a result of diarrhea! Also coming soon is a new cooperative ad campaign from Folger's and Marlboro promoting the slimming benefits of copious amounts of coffee and cigarettes. Of course, the Taco Bell commercial's small print tells a more complete story -- Christine cut her caloric intake to just 1250 cal/day. It shouldn't come as any surprise that a quasi anorexic diet produced weight loss.

Anyhow, my $12 blender finally bit the dust and has been replaced by a much, much more robust model:


This new super-duper blender can even grind meat, so I am going to give making my own breakfast sausage a try by grinding pork loins. My ingredient list will look something like this:
10-lbs ground pork
4-tbsp salt
1 3/4-tsp white pepper
3 1/2-tsp ground sage
2 1/2-tsp ground thyme
2 1/2-tsp nutmeg
2 1/2-tsp ground ginger
1/2-tsp red chili peppers flakes
1/2-cup cold water
I cannot imagine how low the quality of meat in store bought breakfast sausage is, so hopefully making my own sausage is an easy, equally inexpensive alternative.

Another use for the blender is creating a more nutritious alternative to ice cream. I bought some chocolate protein powder a while ago because the store didn't have any vanilla powder, which I typically use in smoothies. (On a side note, I'm hesitant to use too much protein powder and am searching for something else that will give my smoothies the same consistency.) Turn out that I really dislike chocolate protein powder mixed with fruit. So, I created a "chocolate milkshake" with one banana, almond milk, coconut oil, ice, and the aforementioned chocolate protein powder. The result is a close enough ice cream substitute to satisfy cravings.

I also created a veggie smoothie recipe today that includes carrots, celery, broccoli (bet you didn't see that one coming!), a cucumber, an apple (the whole thing, seeds and all, because I was too lazy to cut it up), ice, and dashes of almond milk, OJ, and honey. Not horrible, but far from delicious.

So, if anyone has a better veggie-heavy smoothie recipe, I'd appreciate it. A quick search of the world wide web has shown me several recipes, all of which are a bit too fruit based.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dave Scott

Last week I was invited to a dinner featuring Dave Scott as a guest speaker. For those among my legions of fans that don't know who Dave Scott is, he's kind of the Wayne Gretzky of triathlon. Dave is a very articulate and well-practiced public speaker. He's also surprisingly short, maybe 5'9". At 55, he still looks like an extremely fit 35 year old. He's a great example of the powers of exercise and a good diet over the long run. (Everyone my age still looks pretty good no matter how bad their personal habits may be, but that won't be the case in ten years.) Anyhow, it's now time for my corniest blog entry ever...

After a few insider comments on his six IM Hawaii victories and his two "failed" attempts at ages 40 and 42, Dave talked about four types of fear and how these fears can hold one back. The four types of fear Dave spoke about are the fears of disapproval, the unknown, failure, and success. I didn't fully absorb the details of his speech (as I'm having trouble recalling some of his lessons as I write this), but a fair amount of what Dave talked about had to do with letting go of one's ego.

Personally, I would say the fear of failure affects me the most. That's probably because I believe I've been given so many advantages in life that any time I am not excellent at something, it's merely because I haven't applied myself enough. I can only blame myself whenever I'm less than perfect instead of accepting that one person can not be good at everything. As a result, I probably put too much pressure on myself to succeed. (A related topic that I'll briefly touch on below is whose standards one should use to judge success.)

Triathlon is a funny example of my fear of failure. I didn't get into the sport expecting to be good. Indeed, triathlon initially required that I overcome my fear of failure. For example, I knew when I first went to the pool that I'd barely be able to swim a single length. Nearly drowning trying to swim 25m is a bit humiliating! I also had to overcome my fear of failure when I showed up at my first race, as the less courageous thing to do would have been to make up some excuse and bail on the race. It's funny then that triathlon turned out to reinforce my fear of failure when to my surprise I became pretty decent at the sport.

Believing that one must always succeed can be bad for a few reasons. First, it can prevent one from trying new things. Second, it can cause one to be in what I'll call "competition mode" at all times. To provide an example specific to triathlon, being in competition mode at all times means not allowing a runner to pass even when one is supposed to be doing an easy workout. If every workout becomes a competition, over training is sure to follow and progress will stall.

The fear of failure can be overcome by letting go of one's ego. This doesn't mean that one can't have a big ego, rather that the ego must be tempered. Interestingly, the ego can be tempered by confidence, which I would typically associate with having a big ego. As an example of tempering my ego with confidence, by having confidence in my training plan I can allow another runner to pass me without feeling the urge to re-pass him (or, gasp, her!). Controlling my ego will certainly be necessary now that I've moved to Colorado, where there is a much higher concentration of talented athletes compared to back in Michigan.

One final comment on Dave's discussion of fears and the ego involved being able to set aside pressure and its associated stress. Dave recommends to his athletes that they have a time (a literal time of the day, like 9PM) after which they are no longer allowed to worry. Worrying and stress are just energy drainers without contributing anything positive, so limiting these emotions is beneficial. Also, introducing levity in a stressful situation can have a similar effect. Perhaps I'll watch a funny movie the night before my next big race.

I don't recall Dave touching on this subject specifically, but I think a big part of overcoming the fear of failure is having one's own standards for judging success. Since this is a triathlon blog, I'll stick with a triathlon-related example even though I think having one's own standards for success is more important elsewhere in life. My standards for judging success in triathlon include enjoying training and racing, being the best that I can be, and being healthy. Being the best that I can be requires that I give a full effort. It seems to me that so many people are afraid to give their all, or are afraid to admit that they are giving their all, because to do so would make them susceptible to failure. They likely subconsciously think that if one doesn't try, one cannot fail. However, by changing one's paradigm such that giving one's all is the measure of success, the fear of failure can be overcome because one can control the outcome. I believe giving a full effort is important because that's the only way to find out what one is capable of, which is a very rewarding experience.

Okay, that's enough emotional/spiritual content for one day. Dave mentioned a few other interesting points. First is the importance of body composition for triathlon performance. Dave mentioned that one major difference between the top 10 women at Kona this year and the rest of the pack was a noticeable difference in body composition. Chrissie Wellington, as Dave put it, is like one big vein. She is extremely sinewy. I, on the other hand, am a relative beefcake. My BMI is closer to overweight than underweight. (See exhibit 1.) Hopefully my commitment to a good diet pays off over the next few months and I slim down a bit. My approach is not to try to minimize how much I eat, but rather to eat quality food and only cut back in the few hours before going to sleep. The goal is to go to bed slightly hungry (though not stomach-growling-hungry).

Exhibit 1:


Another comment Dave made was that athletes should take in calories during exercise, as this promotes fat burning. Fasting during exercise just teaches the body to conserve as much energy as possible, which encourages the body not to burn fat. Now, one needn't take in calories during, say, a 30 minute jog. However, once the sessions lengthen, one should eat. I will start using calories on workouts longer than 1h30min, even though I can go a bit longer without.

Now back to my go-to topic as of late, swimming. Many of my competitors swam as kids. These folks have years of swimming six times or more per week, and many of them still probably swim in the range of 20,000m per week while training for triathlon. It is ridiculous for me to think I can be close to them out of the water on just 3 or 4 swims per week, especially when I average 2500m per swim. Actually realizing how much work it's going to take me for my swimming to get to the level I want it to be at is actually calming. I can avoid the need to notice constant improvement by recognizing that improvement is not going to come without lots and lots of hard work. I'll get out what I put in.

Finally, here's my trainer workout for today, purloined from Linsey Corbin:
Hour One - warming up
15 minute warm up (180 watts)
15 minute Single Leg Drill (1 minute left leg, 1 minute right leg, 1 minute both, repeat)
15 minute steady riding (225 watts)
15 minute tempo riding (250+ watts)
Hour Two - big gear, low cadence work
4 x (10 minutes of big ring, low cadence, 5 minute recovery)
I'll go one gear harder after each 10 minute segment, so my cadence lowered throughout the set. #1: 70rpm, #2, 65 rpm, #3 60rpm, #4 55rpm. I'll see how 260 W goes for these efforts.
Hour Three - power hour!
The third hour is a ladder effort of 2x through:
(1 minute easy, 1 minute hard, 2 minutes easy, 2 minutes hard, 3 minutes easy, 3 minutes hard, 4 minutes easy, 4 minutes hard, 5 minutes easy, 5 minutes hard). I'll try to hold 270 W for the hard efforts.

Wow, longest entry ever...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Swimming technique

It may seem odd, but when I first went to masters swim practice I hoped that the instructors would see my stroke and then list off a multitude of things I'm doing totally wrong. I reasoned that if my stroke was flawed I could make some simple technique changes and suddenly I'd be a front of the pack swimmer. While I've received a few tips, the consensus among the instructors seems to be that my technique is not horrible. (As an aside, I was even told to "not change a thing" about my backstroke.) I recognize that instructors may have a laundry list of corrections I need to make and are doling out just one or two tips at a time so as not to overwhelm me, but the tips I have received thus far are minor things.

First, I've been told my right arm is a bit too straight during recovery. This is not too problematic so long as my shoulder is comfortable, but a bent arm can better position my hand for entry. I think I've made good headway over the past two swims toward having a classic bent arm during recovery so that my hand is traveling nearly straight forward upon entering the water.

Second, I've been told that I should roll each should forward a bit during the extension portion of the stroke. By rolling my shoulders forward, each arm's extension will be a bit longer, which in turn will allows for a longer stroke. Making this change is going to take a bit of work, as rolling my shoulders feels like it alters my timing.

In addition, I've also been tweaking a few parts of my stroke on my own accord. I'm trying to align each hand's entry with its respective shoulder so that I can roll my body to a position inline with that shoulder as my recovering hand extends forward.

Further, I'm paying close attention to the vertical location of my hand as I extend it forward under water toward the end of its arm's extension -- I'm trying to avoid letting my hand go above my shoulder (i.e., I'm trying to prevent my hand from being nearer to the surface of the water than my shoulder). I think having my hand vertically inline with or slightly lower than my shoulder may facilitate good leverage when initiating my catch/pull.

A final piece of my stroke that I keep in mind while swimming is having an open armpit during my catch. Having an open armpit allows for a high elbow during the catch. I've also heard that one's wrist should break slightly downward right before (or maybe at the beginning of) the catch, but I can't really feel this so I haven't worked on it.

Since my stroke is adequate, my progress is going to come from hard work in the pool. I've got to avoid becoming discouraged when I don't see immediate improvement. I'm not going to be doing holding sub 1:30 for 100m next week. Instead, I need to expect a gradual reduction in my times over the course of months. Shaving just 1.5 seconds/100m per month for each of the next nine months would add up to drastic improvement. However, 1.5 seconds/100m isn't an extremely noticeable change over the course of four and a half weeks, as 1.5 seconds is about the precision of my timing.

Finally, a tip for anyone working on flexibility: check out the YOGAmazing video podcast (available on iTunes). There are specific episodes for running, swimming, beginners, etc.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Another productive week with lots of swimming. Stacey and I went down to Littleton yesterday with the plan of hiking to the top of Goat Mountain. It was a beautiful and sunny December day. On the climb up I got so hot I had to roll up my pants and strip down to just a base layer on top even though we were often hiking through several inches of snow.

A few hundred vertical feet short of the peak Stacey and I came across one of these guys in the trail right in front of us:

We were about 25 feet away from him when we noticed him. After retreating a few hundred feet, I couldn't talk Stacey into climbing any further. Still, a nice little walk that's making itself felt in my quads today.

As a PSA, Hulu.com, my source for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes, now has NBC's broadcast of last year's IM Hawaii. It makes for some good programming during a trainer ride.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Trainer ride

Here's a nice trainer workout: Warm up for 15 minutes. Ride at HIM pace or slightly harder for 2 minutes (I tried to ride near 260 W), then ride easy for 1 minute. Repeat that 3 minute cycle twenty times. Cool down for 15 minutes.

My HR would get fairly high, well into the 160s. Still, time goes by pretty quickly since the focus is on completing each 2 minute effort and then enjoying the 1 minute breaks.



I'll play around with the ratio a bit in the future, gradually extending the time spent working (maybe 3 min to 1.5 min easy next time).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Weekly schedule

Off-season? What off-season? Here's a general outline of my current weekly schedule:

Monday - Easy run of 45-60 min in the morning, 90 min masters swim in the evening
Tuesday - Easy swim of 45-60 min in the morning or at lunch, 90-120 trainer ride in the evening with some efforts in the range of 145-150
Wednesday - Same as Monday
Thursday - Long run of 90-105 minutes in the morning, easy swim of 45-60 minutes in the evening
Friday - Same as Tuesday, though typically with an easier trainer ride
Saturday - Long aerobic ride (3:30 to 4 hours) + recovery swim
Sunday - Trainer ride with some efforts + recovery swim or run depending on what I feel like

This schedule is very flexible. Stacey and I try to go for a hike or trail run once a week, so I'll mix up the schedule (typically by dropping a trainer ride) as necessary to fit that in. If I feel especially fatigued, I'll take an off day. Otherwise, I use the holidays as built in recovery periods. With swimming, I've been going every day and taking a day off only when I feel fatigued. Swimming is my focus for the next few months. Lastly, if I don't hit all of the above, it's no big deal - there's plenty of time once January or February rolls around to get more focused for Cali 70.3. Right now I try not to place too much importance on hitting all the sessions so that I can maintain some focus in reserve for closer to my "A" races.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Where I'm at

Here are a few stats from workouts I've done recently that provide some indication of my current fitness:

Swimming: 8 x 100 SCM in 1:32 to 1:35 at a mod-hard intensity (~95% effort) leaving on 1:45 to 2:00, depending on the location of the other swimmers in the crowded lane I was using. When I went slower than 1:32 or 1:33, it was because I had to slow for another swimmer in the lane. I'm happy with this pace, but hope it drops precipitously as I continue swimming six times a week.

Biking: An hour and a half on my new Computrainer riding the Hawaii course at IM intensity yielded 226 W at 144 bpm. I noticed a drop-off in power over the course of the hour and a half. For example, after a half hour I was averaging 234 W at 141 bpm. I wonder if increasing body heat played a role in my performance's decline, as I was sweating more than during a typical trainer ride. Maybe a second fan is in order.

Running: I averaged 7:23/mile at 143 bpm during an hour run around the neighborhood on mostly flat terrain. My stomach wasn't feeling its best, as I did this run the morning after Thanksgiving.

Overall, I'm about where I want to be at this time of year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

IM Run Assessment

Running has become my strongest of the three triathlon disciplines. I started running after moving to Chicago for law school and seeing the excitement surrounding the 2004 Chicago marathon. I decided I was going to do the race in 2005. Up to that point, I didn't run much. I'd never run longer than 5 miles and probably had never run more than 12 miles in a week. I had run in only one race, a tiny 5k in my hometown. In the five years I've been running, my times have continuously improved to the point that I'd consider myself a respectable runner. Here's a race history of the marathons I've done with first and second half splits in parenthesis:

2005 Chicago marathon - 3:27 (1:41/1:46)
2007 IMCdA - 3:28 (I can't find splits, but I recall something like 1:30/2:00)
2007 Chicago marathon - 3:03 (1:23/1:40)
2008 IMLP - 3:17 (1:29/1:48)
2008 Chicago marathon - 2:48 (1:18/1:30)
2009 IMLP - 3:19 (1:34/1:44)
2009 IMLou - 2:54 (1:21/1:32)

The most obvious trend is I run a fast first half and a slow second half. My nearest to even pacing out of my six most recent marathons is losing 10 minutes in the second half, meaning I've slowed by at least 40 seconds per mile from the first half to the second half. Now, I'm not of the opinion that negative splitting (i.e., running the second half faster than the first half) is the way to go, especially for an IM marathon. I think running the second half about 5 minutes slower than the first half would be a sign of good pacing that still allows me to push myself close to my limits. Such a split would mean losing about 20 seconds per mile from the first half to the second half.

My Louisville marathon is a great example bad pacing. Here are my splits:
FIRST RUN SEGMENT 3.38 mi. (19:17) 5:42/mile
SECOND RUN SEGMENT 8.25 mi. (30:26) 6:14/mile
THIRD RUN SEGMENT 13.1 mi. (31:37) 6:31/mile
FOURTH RUN SEGMENT 15.33 mi. (15:16) 6:50/mile
FIFTH RUN SEGMENT 20.19 mi. (33:55) 6:58/mile
SIXTH RUN SEGMENT 25.04 mi. (34:59) 7:12/mile
FINAL RUN SEGMENT 26.2 mi. (8:33) 7:22/mile
TOTAL RUN 26.2 mi. (2:54:03) 6:38/mile

I started out running a 17:15 first 5k, which would be a new 5k PR. Starting an IM marathon with a 5k PR is not good pacing! (In my defense it's been a long time since I've done a 5k and I could probably run a fair bit faster than 17:15 now.) I continued to run a 1:21 half marathon, which is about 4 minutes off my stand alone half marathon PR.

Why did I start so fast? First, my starting pace felt easy. I primarily pace myself based on feel. Under most conditions I think that's the best way to pace one's self because feel takes all factors (heat, hydration, course profile, etc.) into account. One drawback of running by feel is that adrenaline and the excitement of starting an IM run are difficult to account for. Those feelings are unique to racing and as a result it's difficult to get enough experience taking adrenaline and excitement into consideration when running by feel. Running by feel, after all, is possible as a result of accumulating experience doing runs at different paces and under different conditions.

However, I know that adrenaline will affect my pace in an IM. I know to be very cautious the first feel miles of an IM, as being cautious at this time allows me to wait until the adrenaline dies off 3 or 4 miles into the run before switching to running purely based on perceived exertion. So the second way I pace myself during the first few miles of an IM run is to look at my HR monitor frequently. I try to cap my HR at 160 bpm for the initial three miles.

Here is my HR data from Louisville for miles 3-26.2:


I didn't start collecting data until about mile 3 because I always screw up working my GPS unit during races when my mind is thinking about other things. Even though I didn't start recording data until mile 3, I could still view my HR and did so every couple hundred feet during the first three miles. Despite the bad initial pacing, my HR was at or below 160 bpm every time I looked at it during the first 3 miles. While running well under 6:00/mile at 160 bpm seems impossible for me, I have photographic proof of me inspecting my HR coming off the bridge about 1 mile into the run. Since I ran too fast even obeying my HR cap, I need to alter my pacing system. I've got some ideas below for preventing running that fast in the future.

Regarding the data I do have, I began pacing myself by solely based on feel without looking at my HR around the time I started recording data. My pacing based on feel looks pretty good, as my HR remains at 160 +/- 5 bpm until after mile 15 (mile 12 on the graph). I'm not sure what happened at mile 15, but I had trouble sustaining my HR. There's a noticeable drop to 155 +/- 5 bpm until about mile 24 (mile 21 on the graph) at which point the adrenaline of being near the finish likely kicked in. At IMLP I also had a depressed HR, and there I was confident it was because I wasn't getting much fuel in during the run. Here at Louisville I'm not so sure. Maybe I lack enough endurance for the effort I'd put in up until that time. That would make sense given my too fast start to the run. Maybe with better pacing in the future I'll be able to maintain a consistent HR throughout the run. Still, the decreased HR is basically a mystery to me.

Since I assert that my HR didn't go above my 160 bpm cap during the first three miles and I still ran too fast, I need to improve my pacing. One way to do this in the future will be to set a pace cap. Assuming my training goes well, I feel great off the bike, and the conditions aren't too harsh (a lot of assumptions for an IM) a 6:15/mile pace cap for the first three miles would be appropriate. Holding this pace for 13.1 miles would give me a 1:22 first half of the marathon, basically what I ran at Louisville but paced more evenly. Hopefully I'd be able to stay within my goal of only losing 20 sec/mile for the second half for a 1:26 second half and 2:48 total marathon time. Fast, yes, but hopefully I can cut off 6 minutes next year with improved fitness and better pacing.

Since I know the importance and difficulty of good pacing early on in an IM run, why didn't I use my actual speed to pace myself this year? After all, I run with GPS and thus my actual speed is readily available. There are a few reasons. One reason is that determining a pace cap is difficult. The pace cap could be too ambitious, or it could potentially be limiting. Now that I've run a 2:54, a 6:15/mile cap would still give me a chance at being the fastest runner at many Ironmans, so it is very unlikely to be limiting. Also, that cap is slower than I started at Louisville, so I don't think it's too ambitious if my race goes according to plan during the swim and bike (again, a huge assumption in an IM).

Another reason I didn't pace myself based on my actual speed - and this was the most important reason for me during IMLou - is that I simply did not want to know my actual speed. I was worried it would be slow and I'd be discouraged. I was not thrilled with my race up to starting the run (a horrible 1:12 swim and an okay 5:07 bike). Seeing slow run times would have been extremely discouraging and might have killed my drive and determination for the race. Ignorance is bliss, I reasoned.

In summary, here's my plan for my next IM -
Miles 0-3: pace by perceived exertion, but cap effort based on HR (~160 bpm) and pace (6:15/mile if I feel great)
Miles 3-26.2: pace by perceived exertion

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Masters Swimming

I need to become a better swimmer. My approach is mainly (1) to swim more and (2) to swim with faster swimmers. I say "mainly" because other factors will also play a part, such as working on my technique and flexibility.

As far as swimming more goes, I've been doing good the past few weeks. I have been to the pool (and not just sat at the wall and chatted!) something like nine out of the past ten days. I'm going to continue trying to swim every day, even if I only get in 1500-2000m on some of those days. I've done a few 3000m+ sessions, though they're still tough for me after my recent month long break from swimming.

To swim with faster swimmers, Stacey and I have been going to the DU masters practices. The DU masters program has a lot of good things going for it. The DU pool is a massive 50m pool (however sometimes the pool is set up as seventeen 25m lanes). The coaches I've met so far are kind and knowledgeable. There are plenty of swimmers that are faster than me, as last time I was in lane five of six (though next time I'll move up to lane four).

The biggest downside is that weekday practices are from 5-6am, with Tuesday and Thursday having additional sessions in the evening and Friday having a session at lunch. Attending the early morning weekday sessions requires that I wake up at 4:20am, which is really, really early. I went to the morning session yesterday and was tired all day as a result. One solution would be to try to get in a habit of going to bed around 8:30pm, but that would be tough for me to do day in and day out. Instead, I think I'll attend masters Tuesday and Thursday evenings plus Friday and Saturday when possible. On the other weekdays I'll swim at Washington Park. I think attending the early morning masters would cost me more in terms of sleep than the benefit I'd get from going.

One other downside of masters swimming is that some of the faster swimmers are either snobs or completely lacking in social skills. I'm not going to let that bother me though. It's not like being a crappy swimmer defines who I am as a person. Anyhow, I'll just work hard and improve.

Finally, one other thing about swimming masters is that it's going to require me to learn decent breast and fly strokes. Yesterday's session had a lot of IM work, and I had to skip the fly portion.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lookout Mountain

Yesterday I rode from right out my door to the top of Lookout Mountain and back. The route wasn't too bad - I felt safe the entire trip, but there were a few too many lights. The ride took a bit over three hours and my avg. HR was 130, although that is artificially low due to my heart slowing while stopped at traffic signals. I got in a half hour or so at 160-165 bpm while climbing, so not a bad effort.



I also snapped a bunch of pictures during the ride. Most of these were taken while riding, so excuse me if there not the greatest photos.

The bike path approaching downtown:


Confluence Park - you can see the man-made kayak course (this one's for my Dad):


Six Flags on the left and Invesco Field at Mile High (lame name) on the right:


Where I'm headed:


Where I'm headed, from much closer...I'm going right up by the towers:


But to get there I've gotta wrap my way around the mountain to it's right...you can make out an "M" on the face of the mountain for the Colorado School of Mines, and you can also see one of the roads cut into the side of the mountain:


A few minutes into the climb:


As is often the case, one can see a higher portion of the road ahead:




Pitstop for a scenic overlook:


The top! Buffalo Bill is buried up here. Four states (Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Nebraska, I presume) are visible from here. This shot is of Golden, however:


Here's Denver:


View of some other mountains from the top:


A chart showing exactly which mountains are in the above photo:


Yours truly at the top:


Back down into Golden:


By the time I got down I was pretty hungry. Two eggs and two strips of bacon don't make for a large enough breakfast before a 3 hour ride. I would have brought some PBJs with me, but didn't expect the ride to take so long. Scone time:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mountain biking



Gavin took me mountain biking a few days ago. We drove about an hour from Denver to get into the mountains, then pretty much had the trail to ourselves. We started down an old fire road. About a half mile in, we turned onto some single track. The path went up at a pretty steep angle right as we turned. As I increased my power to pedal up the path, I pulled up on my front wheel, popped the front of the bike off the ground, and tipped myself and the bike over backwards. Oops.

Mountain bike handling is certainly different than road bike handling. After a half hour of riding I began to get the hang of handling skills like leaning forward while ascending, releasing tension in my arms so as not to pull the front wheel around, and trusting that the bike would stay upright instead of trying to make a quick course correction like I would on a road bike.

After climbing for a while, Gavin and I began a pretty long descent. I was feeling good about my handling skills and staying fairly close to Gavin as he flew downhill. Well, apparently I got a bit over-confident. I was taking a section of downhill that had a few twists and turns, nothing that a real mountain biker would consider technical, when I began to lose control. I unclipped and believe I got one foot down, almost enough to stabilize myself. However, that wasn't quite enough. I hit a rut or something with the front wheel and went right over the handle bars, the bike landing on top of me. I probably looked just like the guy pictured above.

Fortunately, neither fall produced more than a few scrapes and cuts. Fun ride though. Out of a 2:20 ride, I probably spend almost an hour at > 160 bpm.

Otherwise, training has been going well here. I can ride to Deer Creek Canyon (i.e., the mountains) in about 1:15, but that means I've got to do a 3+ hour ride to get any significant climbing time. I'll keep experimenting with routes, as Lookout Mountain, among other good destinations, are probably closer. All things considered, riding is good right out my door.

I've found some good running routes including a few predominately on dirt or other soft surfaces that are also right out my door. My HR is noticeably higher while running (perhaps 5-10 bpm). I'll be curious to see whether the bpm come down over time.

Swimming is a bit different. I'm getting used to circle swimming with 5 or 6 people in each lane. After a few more sessions, I'll have most of my swim fitness back and will be able to push it to try to stay with the faster folks, which should help. I don't suck air like up in Vail a few weeks ago, but I think there is some difference from Michigan. I've swam 5 of the past 6 days and will try to continue that trend. Gordo Byrn is organizing a swim challenge (see xtri.com) via Twitter that I may participate in (first time Twitter has ever been put to productive use?). Otherwise, I will join the masters program at DU soon, probably this week.

There's so much to do here that for the next few months I am not going to hesitate too much when an opportunity for cross training arises. For example, instead of running or riding yesterday, Stacey and I went over to Golden Gate State Park for a hike. It was very scenic and moderately challenging.

Finally, unless the weather is spectacular all week I will do a 2 hour trainer ride with the power meter and get some baseline data. I'll repeat the test often, and expect to see a lot of progress as I reacquaint myself with my tri bike. My bike fitness has still gotta be good - I've been riding quite a bit since Louisville.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ironman Data and Comparison

While no two races are identical, valuable information can still be gained from observing performance differences between races. I did two IMs this summer, one in Lake Placid and the other in Louisville. At IMLP I went 9:41 with a 1:05 swim, 5:10 bike, and 3:19 run. At IMLou, I went 9:19 with a 1:12 swim, 5:07 bike, and 2:54 run. The major difference between my races was running 25 minutes faster at Louisville. What allowed me to cut that much time?

At Lake Placid, I was exhausted at the start of the run. Anyone that has run a marathon knows they're hard enough to do when you start fresh. Starting a 26 mile run feeling depleted is not a recipe for success. Why was I so tired? My best guess immediately after the race was that riding too hard was the primary cause of my fatigue. My gut feeling was that I pushed a bit too hard during certain segments of the LP bike course, especially when heading uphill and into the wind near the end of the course. Though I had nutrition/dehydration issues during the race, I believed those developed during the run. By inspecting my LP race data and comparing it with data I collected at Louisville, it appears that nutrition issues (and potentially the weather) were the primary cause of my lackluster LP run.

My powermeter allows me to accurately compare the two races. At IMLP I averaged 204 W on the bike, and I averaged a nearly identical 201 W at IMLou. Still, average watts don't reveal much. Consider an extreme example: one can average 200 W for an hour of riding by (1) riding at 200 W for the entire hour or (2) riding at 600 W for twenty minutes and 0 W for the remaining 40 minutes. Riding at 200 W for an hour is not very difficult. Riding at 600 W for 20 minutes is spectacular, if not impossible.

My initial hypothesis was that my race data would reveal that I spent more time at high wattages (e.g., > 270 W) at IMLP than at IMLou. To offset the greater time spent at high wattages during IMLP, I also expected to see more time at lower wattages during IMLP than during IMLou. Looking at the actual data, however, shows that this is not the case:
IM Lake Placid Power Distribution


IM Louisville Power Distribution


It turns out I spent almost the same amount of time at above 270 W during both races. Incidentally, I intended to cap my effort at 260-270 W during both races, so ~45 minutes spent above 270 W seems to indicate bad pacing. However, I now think that my IMLou run proves my bike pacing was pretty good at both IMLou and IMLP. Also, the 45 minutes above 270 W were not much above 270 W, with only a tiny portion of that time being above 300 W.

The main pacing difference between my races is in the 210-240 and 240-270 W ranges, where I spent about 20 minutes more at LP than at Lou. I do not think these pacing difference were responsible for my poor LP run, however. Why? First, 210-240 W is right around the range I expect to ride on the flats, so spending more time there shouldn't effect me much. Second, I only spent a paltry seven more minutes in the 240-270 W range at LP than at Lou, and I think that difference would not have as drastic effect as 25 minutes on the run.

After reviewing my data, I think my run difference was mainly the result of becoming dehydrated starting on the bike at LP. I think my nutrition suffered before the run at LP even started, and that a lack of calories/water was why I was fatigued at the start of the run. The weather, I believe, was a factor in my nutrition. At LP the weather was sunny and warm, and I was sweating a lot on the bike and craved fluids. Dressing in all black probably didn't help. Lou ended up being a perfect day weather-wise, though I still wore a full sleeve white top a la Torbjorn Sinballe. I think I perform better in cool weather, and will use that top in most future IMs. Other factors may have played a small roll. For example, LP is a more difficult run course than Lou, though I'd expect a pretty small difference (~5 minutes?) due to course difficulty.

Reviewing this data is useful for me becomes it allows me to confirm that my bike pacing strategy works. I don't need to change my pacing for next year (though hopefully I can bump up all the wattages by a bit by increasing my bike fitness).

I'll analyze my Louisville run in one of my next posts. While I am happy with the time, my pacing was not ideal.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nutrition


Swine flu season is in full swing. Do you have your flu shot yet? If not, don't worry. Instead, just pick up some Cocoa Krispies, as Kellogg's claims that the super sugary cereal “[n]ow helps support your child’s IMMUNITY.” I'm sure all Kellogg's executives have forgone flu shots for their children, instead relying on copious amounts of chocolate flavored corn bits to maintain the health of their children.

Seriously, I hope no one buys that crap, both in the sense of purchasing and believing. Indeed, this embarrassing claim should throw Kellogg's credibility down the toilet. I don't know if the FDA has the authority to fine companies, but if it does this certainly bogus claim deserves a hefty levy. At least newspaper articles make the rediculousness of Kellogg's assertion quite clear, and hopefully the public will catch on. This article, for example, has a pretty tasty quote from the director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity: “By [Kellogg's] logic, you can spray vitamins on a pile of leaves and it will boost immunity.” I'd go a step further though - the pile of leaves, even without the vitamin spray, is probably more beneficial to an eater's health than Cocoa Krispies!

Okay, throwing stones is easy to do and isn't of much value without offering an alternative. So, I'll offer up a simple diet plan that I follow. (I'm not going into too great of detail about why I like this plan, though if one is curious one can read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain or www.marksdailyapple.com, or just use common sense.) In order of importance from most important to least important, my plan is:

1. Eat whole foods, meaning non-processed foods that have been around forever. Fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, nuts. Any food that has been invented or created, as opposed to existing in nature, should be viewed with skepticism. (E.g., see above.) Further, the more recently something has been invented or created, the less nutritious it likely is. Bread and beer are superior to Pop-Tarts and soda, for example. I'll choose butter over margarine or any other faux butter. I'll choose Haagen-Dazs, which typically has just three or four ingredients (and tastes phenomenal!), over low-fat or low-carb "ice cream". The main reason to avoid new foods is that the newer a food is, the more likely it is to be processed and full of stuff that does god-knows-what to its eater. At least I know the damage Haagen-Dazs does to me! A bit of vigilence is required on the part of consumers, as even traditionally lightly processed foods such as bread are often full of crap that should be avoided. Since when does bread require high-fructose corn syrup? Consume processed foods prepared according to recipes that are hundres of years old, if possible. Food processors have their bottom-line, not your health, as their primary concern. (Again, see above.) Eating whole foods isn't a new diet so much as reverting to the way people used to eat.

2. Eat grass-fed meats and ocean-caught fish. As Michael Pollan says, not only is it true that you are what you eat, but you are also what what you eat eats.
This is because all meats and fish are not created equal. For example, the types of fat in meat varies greatly depending on animals' diet. Corn-fed beef has a much higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio that grass-fed beef. Perhaps even more troubling than the different nutritional content are the chemicals in farm-raised animals, such as antibotics that are necessary for farm raised animals to survive in the terrible environments they're raised in. Now, here's the caveat: be skeptical of any claims that animals are grass-fed. The USDA is not on your side and allows terms such as "grass-fed" and "organic" to be used far too liberally. (See The Omnivore's Dilemma.) This means consumers must be more active in finding true grass-fed meat. While I haven't yet implemented this step, as soon as I have the money I will buy meat from a local farmer that I can trust or, if that proves difficult, will order half a grass-fed cow online and split it with a friend or two.

3. Go organic. I'm not sure of the value of organic food to eaters, at least in terms of nutrients (the studies I've seen are not conclusive). I'm also not sure how many chemicals remain on non-organic fruits and vegetables. Still, I'll err on the side of caution and eventually start buying organic fruits and veggies, beginning with foods that I eat the skin of. Perhaps as importantly as my health, eating organic fruits and veggies (and grass-fed beef!) is good for the environment.

Pretty simple, eh?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jog hard

A bit over five hours of running over the past three days. Felt great at the start of the third day and pretty good at end. I picture Craig Alexander's form when I start to tire.

Leaving for Denver super early tomorrow morning.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cold ride

Training has been going well. I got in 18 hours or so of biking and running last week, but won't be quite that high this week. Since training volume has been down a bit this week, I have upped the intensity on a few sessions. I notice a huge difference in recovery after doing any intensity. The day after a four hour base ride, for example, I feel pretty much fine. The day after a 1.5 hour ride with 2 x 15 minutes working hard, however, I feel some fatigue in the legs.

Yesterday I did a point-to-point ride (my favorite type!) from Battle Creek to Lansing. It's just under four hours from door to door. About two hours into the ride, it started raining. An hour later, my toes and fingers were freezing. Only upon finishing the ride did I see that the temp had dropped from the upper 50s to the mid 40s. I traversed a load of dirt roads and was filthy at the end of the ride. Other than the coldness, though, a very enjoyable trip.

Otherwise, the PODS that Stacey and I are using to move our stuff to Denver just left Michigan. We're making the drive out early next week. Our goal is to complete the entire 18 hour drive in a single day. I'm thinking that's a three, maybe four coffee trip.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fall riding

First off, if any of my two readers (hi mom!) are interested in buying a Powertap wheel, please leave a comment with your email address and I'll get in contact.

Moving on, I've got in a pair of decent rides over the weekend: 3 hours on Saturday followed by an hour run and 5 hours on Sunday. Saturday I rode by PE, riding right at the level where my breath begins to deepend (typically just under 130 bpm). I ran nice and slow for the hour. On Sunday, I rode 5 hours at the same effort as Saturday, this time with a HRM. I averaged 126 bpm. Despite the low effort level, 5 hours still takes a toll on the legs. Nice scenery while riding this time of the year.

Monday I did an easy hour of running (132 bpm avg. and something like 8:30 per mile) followed by a few strides. Later on, I rode an hour recovery ride with Stacey. No need to push things when my next race isn't for almost 6 months.

Yesterday was an interesting workout. I rode for 2:10 and did 8 x 5 min. in my 53 x 12. I expected a HR of 150 bpm or so with a fairly low cadence (~60 rpm, though that's just be best guess). However, my HR rarely went above 140 bpm. Pushing harder to raise my HR was tough - maybe my legs are just too weak. At any rate, it was a good enough workout to tire my legs out a bit. However, I'll try this workout again soon and push really hard to see where my HR goes.

I also got in one impromptu sprint while riding down a dirt road when I noticed a pair of dogs dashing out of the woods right toward me. As I started sprinting I looked back to see one of the dogs just a few feet away, and to make matters worse he appeared to be gaining on me! With a surge of adrenaline, I picked up my pace. Two or three seconds later, I looked back a second time to see the dog giving up the chase. Fortunately for me the dog must have lacked self confidence, as I'm pretty sure he could have caught me had he kept going.

Now I'm off for a long run wearing my new bright orange hunting hat with a few Competitor radio shows on my iPod. Maybe I'll also listen to some Fujiya & Miyagi and the Junior Boys. (Incidentally, Stacey and Maggie - the dog, not Stacey's friend Maggie - are having a dance party in the kitchen to "In the Morning". Stacey's doing what I can only describe as some sort of fishing manuever.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Watching the IM world championships tomorrow


(Chrissie Wellington, looking like she could stand to lose a few pounds.)

Surprisingly, I don't feel too bad about having passed up the chance to go to Kona this year. I can't imagine fitting training and travel in alongside moving away from Detroit and then to Denver in a few weeks. Still, I enjoy checking out folks' Kona pictures and blog entries about the days leading up to the race. I keep all those images in my head during training, and next year I hope to race Kona and put up a solid result there. Not getting chicked would be pretty good.

After getting in a long ride tomorrow morning, perhaps to a cider mill and back, I plan on having the computer in front of me all day to watch the live streaming coverage of the world championships. I don't understand how some triathletes can find watching IMs, especially Kona, to be boring. Lay-people, sure, I can get how they don't see the excitment of 8 hours of swim-bike-run. But to triathletes with knowledge of the top pros' strengths and weeknesses, there should be plenty of suspense. Watching the uber-bikers lead over the main pack and wondering whether any of 'em will be able to hold off the fleet-footed likes of Craig Alexander and Chris McCormack is more entertaining to me than about any other professional sporting event.

There are plenty of althetes I'll be keeping an eye on. I've got a soft-spot for the fast riders because they bring some of the most drama to the sport. I'd like to see Normann Stadler be healthy and have a good race. Maybe he'll even get some support - a train of fast riders would be a nice equitable balance to draft advantage offered available to those in the main pack. Chris Lieto, Philip Graves (just 20 years old!), and maybe Maik Twelsik (probably spelled that wrong) will hopefully ride near Stalder and even things out. I'd also like to see Faris Al-Sultan back toward the front. He just seems like an interesting guy. Finally, I've also got to root for Andy Potts, assuming he races, because he's a U of M guy.

On the women's side, it's hard not to root for Chrissie Wellington and Natascha Badmann. Both of them seem so happy to be racing. I'll also be checking the splits of Heather Wurtele, one of Chuckie's professional athletes.

Finally, I'll also see how some of the AGers I've competed against this year do. Somehow almost all of the top 25-29ers at both LP and Lou are managing to make their way to Kona, and I wish them good results.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I won my first race!

This past weekend Conor, Teresa and I traveled down to Rend Lake, just outside Benton, IL, where Conor and I competed in the first ever Last Chance Triathlon. While 172 people were registered for the short and long course races in the aggregate, only 36 people ended up starting the long course. The race distance suited my strengths pretty well, with a 1.5k swim, 67k ride and 15k run. I have barely swam since Louisville (efforts to swim at MSU were thwarted by the university's new no-non-student policy), so I didn't expect great results in the swim. I came out in 28 minutes and change, which Teresa informed me as I exited the water was 7 minutes down on the leader. Okay, make up half of that on the bike and half on the run, I thought.

The bike was flat and on good roads. I thought I could average 24.5-25 mph with a good effort, but I think my lack of tri-bike rides since IMLou has hurt my wattage. I busted the tri-bike out on the Wednesday before the race to reacquaint myself with it, having spent the past month exclusively on my steel cyclocross machine, and was surprised to feel awkward while riding and abnormally sore after riding, particularly in the posterior. The slight difference in muscle groups used by the two bikes was apparent. While I hoped to average 260 W or thereabout, I ended up with just 239 W, resulting in 23.9 mph. It may have been worse, but I was passed by a 50 year old (50!) about halfway through the bike. I upped my effort so as not to let him out of sight and stayed about 100 yards behind him for the next 20 miles. Maybe the low wattage could be a result of reduced training lately, which would be good.

On the way into T2 I was told the leader had just left. I ran hard the two miles to pass him and put some distance in, pushing my HR to 175 bpm. It would have been a tough race to hold that effort for the rest of the run, and I dropped to a more comfortable 170 bpm or so (meaning, I dropped my effort level - I only look at the data post-race for HIM and shorter). The run was out-and-back, and at the turn-around I noticed I had a few minutes lead. I ended up averaging 6:02/mile at 171 bpm on the very slightly hilly run.

Total: 3:13, good for a comfortable margin of victory. Of course, I'll be happy to be in the same time zone as the second and third place guys, who combined average 20years my senior, when I'm their age.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

DENVER!



I used to be perplexed when reading some bike workout in a traithlon magazine or training book that includes an hour-long climb. An hour-long climb? I didn't think there was such a thing within a 500 mile radius of where I lived. Hell, a five minute climb was huge by my standards.

No longer. The big announcement referenced in my last blog is that Stacey and I are moving to Denver in mid to late October. That should make for a very welcome change from Detroit suburbs/exurbs, where moving around outside of a car is frowned upon. It will be nice to live somewhere that people understand the appeal of being outside, where people do more on their weekends than get together to drink or golf or drink and golf, where having a BMI under 25 does not make one an outcast (okay, that's a bit harsh), where pictures in Outside magazine seem more like reality than fantasy.

The move should be good for training, but also for improving my quality of life outside of training. I really look forward to doing some hiking, camping, mountain biking, and maybe even skiing. I look forward to 300 days of sunshine per year. In Michigan in the winter it seems like month-long stretches without a sunny day are common. I could go on and on, but I think everyone that reads this understands Stacey and my motivations.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Big announcement...

...is coming soon, just as soon as everything is set in stone (although I think all two people that actually read my blog already know).

Anyhow, I got in a good ride yesterday. After a few minutes warm-up, I decided to ride as long as I could in the 53x12. Of course, I kept my cadence low so that I got a strength workout instead of a killer anaerobic, super-high HR workout. I'd only shift when going uphill and my cadence dropped below 40 or so, or when approaching a stop sign or stop light. I ended up doing 2 x 45 minutes of that separated by a short spin around Marshall, and I finished with normal riding for the final 30 minutes. Total: 2:15. I followed that up with an easy 30 minute run in the evening with Stacey.

Wednesday I just did a 1:15 run with a HR around 145 bpm. I felt very smooth, especially for the first half-hour. I had hoped to get in a swim in Goguac Lake, but ended up just talking about the aforementioned big announcement with Stacey. Today and tomorrow I hope to swim at MSU.

Finally, I signed up for a final race of the season, the Last Chance triathlon in Rend City, IL. It's an interesting format. 1.5k swim, 67k ride, 15k run. I like the ratio of swim to bike + run. It willl be my brother Conor's first triathlon, so that should be entertaining.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Point to Point Ride

This past Saturday I did a 106 mile point-to-point ride from Battle Creek to Plymouth via Marshall, Albion, Jackson, Chelsea, Dexter and Ann Arbor and then got a ride home from Stacey after having dinner with her family. I anticipated wind at my back, as wind typically blows from the West, but instead rode into a slight headwind all day. As a result, the ride took a longer than expected 6h15min at 178W avg. My legs weren't even tired and I could have easily gone another few hours. It was a beautiful day and riding through mostly farmland was a great way to spend it. It's nice to do a leisurely ride without worrying about watts, HR or any of that stuff.

On Sunday Stacey and I went to Ft. Custer, just outside Battle Creek, for a 1h45min trail run. We should have checked out the lake there to see how swimable it is (it can't be too bad, because Ft. Custer hosts an Xterra race).

On Monday I did an easy run and an easy ride. 1h30min total.

Today the plan is to ride over to Coldbrook County Park to do a swim, assuming I can find my old and illfitting wesuit (I broke the zipper on my race wetsuit during a training swim a month or two ago).

Friday, September 18, 2009

2010 Plan

First up, here's the view from just outside the hotel my family stayed at out in Avon, CO, courtesy of Terry Seabass:

Wouldn't it be nice to live somewhere that one could see a view like this everyday?

2009 Recap
I didn't race too much, just four triathlons and a single running race that was basically a training run. I may fit in another traithlon and hopefully a few running races this fall, but otherwise the season is basically over.

Going back to May, I raced pretty well at the Triple-T, my first race of the season, showing improvement in my swim times and getting stronger relative to the field as the weekend went on. My swim is holding me back relative to top guys, and my bike is close to the top but still a bit slow. My running was good, fastest OA in one of the olympics and second fastest in the half. Overall, a great start to the season and an indication that I'm continuing to improve on all fronts.

Two weeks after the Triple-T I raced a half IM, the Race for Recovery. I had a 38 minute swim in the choppy waters of Lake Erie, though I can't chalk all the blame to the choppy waters because the top guys still had pretty good swim times. While spotting during the swim at the Triple-T was a piece of cake, it was more difficult here due to the waves. I partially made up for the swim with a race-best 2:18 bike split, a new PR by 5 minutes or so. Finally, I finished the race off with a solid 1:22 run, also a PR for the distance by 4 minutes. I'm happy with both my bike and run, which propelled me to a 4:20 final time, but my swim took me out of contention.

Next up was my first IM for the year, Lake Placid. I got off to a great start with a 31 minute first loop on the swim, but faded a bit to 34 minutes for the second loop. Still, an improvement of several minutes over LP '08. The bike was a bit draining, and I think my nutrition issues began on the bike. I need to drink enough that I have to pee a few times on the bike, but I don't think I went even once here. My bike time was an improvement of a few minutes of LP '08, but I finished the bike feeling too drained. My run time was not spectacular, but I consider it my biggest accomplishment because I ran every step. I finished the race in the med-tent after a new PR of 9:41. Pros: improving swim and bike, ran every step. Cons: messed up nutrition, swim needs to be sub-one hour, too depleted off the bike (likely related to bad nutrition).

Finally, I completed IM #2, Louisville, just a few weeks after IMLP. My swim was a god-awful 1:12, my bike a respectable 5:07 (IIRC), and my run a stellar 2:54. Pros: awesome run, good mental strength after getting off to a bad start. Cons: swim, swim, swim, and my bike needs some work as it's still about 20 minutes slower than the top guys.

To summarize the year, the clear theme is my sub-par swim. I have been making strides, but I simply cannot give up 10 minutes in a half and 20 minutes in a full-IM and still expect to finish high. My bike is very good relative to AGers, but I want it to be good relative to pros. I haven't been biking for too long, 5 years with minimal trianing the first half of that time, so I expect my bike to continue to improve merely by continuing to ride. My run is good, and I believe I can maintain it through the winter even if I place a greater focus on swimming.

2010 Goals
My primary goal is to qualify for Kona. I qualified at both IMLP and IMLou this year, but passed on both slots. In 2010 I would accept a slot. I've got two chances to qualify: Oceanside 70.3 in March and IMLou in August. Qualifying at Oceanside is going to require some swim improvement, as I don't have as much time to make up for a horrible swim as in a full IM. Qualifying at IMLou shouldn't be too tough assuming I don't have any disasters in training or during the race, as I've qualified comfortably at both IMs this year.

My secondary goal is to improve so that I can be competitive should I race as a pro in 2011. I'd be close now if my swim were substantially better, but I still have a lot of room to improve.

How am I going to acheive my 2010 goals? First, I'm going to swim a lot. I want to be in the pool 5 days a week. I will join a masters swim group, hopefully one with a good, hands-on coach. Another area of swimming that I need improvement on is open water swimming. My races where the course isn't easily visible and/or where the water has been choppy are much worse than my races where spotting is not challenge. I will do more open water swimming to work on spotting, swimming a good line, etc.

Second, I'm going to continue to develop my base on the bike and running. I can acheive my first 2010 goal, qualifying for Kona, without much improvement in either. I want to acheive long term development so that in 2011 I'm as good as I can be.

2010 Training Plan
Since IM Louisville a few weeks back I've remained very active, getting in a few
hikes, swims and good rides out in Colorado. Still, I feel pretty well recovered from Louisville and will get back into a regular training routine shortly.

My thought is to break winter training up into two portions. The first portion is between now and January 24, 2010, nine weeks before Oceanside on March 27, 2010. The second poriton is from January 24 to March 27. During the first portion, I will work on base for runnning and biking while swimming as much as possible. I will do one long run of 1.5-2 hours per week and one long ride of 3-5 hours per week. Most of my running and biking sessions will have a low HR cap, maybe 145 while running (except any running races I do) and 140 while riding, though I will review the workouts I did this past winter and early spring to refine my approach. Once the weather forces me onto the trainer for my long rides, I will break long rides up by running 15-30 mintues after every hour or two of riding. I will take rest or recovery days when my body tells me to, when I have a very busy day, or when my motivation just isn't there (which doesn't happen often).

Come January 24, I have an eight week focused build toward Oceanside with a one week taper. I've never really tapered for a half before, but my guess is one week would be sufficient. During these eight weeks I will begin building toward HIM speed. Each will I will do a ride with portions at HIM effort, another ride getting in some threshold work, and a long ride. Depending on my recovery, I may get in a harder run each week, and that run would probably slowly build toward HIM speed without going much over it. If I'm too tired from biking to run hard during the first three weeks, I will bike easier on weeks 4 and 8 and do one or two harder runs each of those weeks.

After Oceanside, I will take some time off (a week, perhaps) to recuperate mentally and physically before beginning to build toward IMLou. I also want to race a lot more in 2010 than I did in 2009. One bad thing about a mid-season IM, such as LP, is that training gets in the way of racing. A late season IM (well, hopefully two late seaons IMs) should allow me to race a lot more.

Other Aspects of Improvement
There are a host of areas where little changes can make a big difference. Some of these are things that are good not just for training but my overall health and quality of life.
- Diet: I drastically improved my diet around June 2009. I'm going to continue refining the type of food I eat. Meat, fish, nuts, fruits, veggies, healthy oils, and good carbs (sweet potatos, fruit, processed items like Larabars) before/during/after workouts as necessary. "Worse" carbs, like sugar, after hard workouts. I hope to acheive steady body composition improvements, but by eating quality food and not by calorie counting or dieting. Also, I'm going to try to maintain a lazer-like focus on diet during the eight weeks before Oceanside and Louisville, my A-races.
- Sleep: I slept 7 or 7.5 hours most nights last year. I need to get another hour on most nights and another two hours after tough workouts.
- Stress: Having a job I did not find fulfilling was very stressful. I need to find a job that I enjoy more. Reducing my stress level will improve my athletic performance, but more importantly improve my overall happiness.
- Core strength: I am committing to five minutes of core work each weekday morning. I'll be using Josh Cox's routine (see the video at www.joshcox.com). I like his lower back stuff, too.
- Stretching: I should work on my lower back flexibility and opening my hips. This could allow me to keep or improve my current bike position, which is perfectly comfortable until the latter stages of an IM ride. I will try to find a quick routine I can do after workouts two or three times a week.
- Equipment: My bike is dated. It has a 2004 or 2005 aluminum frame. From what I've read, a top-end frame could save me five minutes or more, and I would expect most carbon frames to be more comfortable than my uber-stiff steed. While I'd like a new bike (or at least a new frame), I think my money could be better spent since long term development is a main goal of mine. I think I'd prioritize a Computrainer and Vasatrainer over a new frame. A Computrainer would hopefully improve my enjoyment of indoor riding, while a Vasatrainer may help me beat driftwood down the Ohio. Plus, I could probably get both pieces of equipment used for the price of a new frame. Really though, my equipment is plenty good to meet my goals for 2010.
- Group training: If possible, I'd like to work with a group for some workouts, just to change things up. Certainly swimming with a group will be one of my highest priorities for the year, but I'd also enjoy riding with others and maybe the occasional group run or track workout.
- Mental: I'm getting to the point where I cannot expect every split in every race to be a PR, even on the same course. Recognize that improvement is a slow and steady process and do not get discouraged if each race isn't better than the one before it. Remember, my goal is to be as good as possible for 2011.

And that's that. Lots of areas to improve, lots of work that can be done. One great thing about Ironman is there are so many things to improve upon. Executing a perfect race could take years and years of work.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Vail pass

Stacey and I, along with the rest of my family, are staying out in Avon, CO for a few days for a wedding. The town sits at around 7,500 feet and is tucked into a valley along highway 70 that includes a bunch of well known skiing towns.

The hotel we're at has an awesome 25 yard outdoor salt-water pool. It's nice to rest at the wall and have a mountain view. I've swam the past two days, though nothing too tough. Swimming at altitude is tough - I've really got to keep the pace low to even be able to swim 200 yards non-stop.

The riding is great around here, too. Yesterday Stacey and I rode 50 or so miles up to Vail Pass and back. The ride begins at 7,500 feet and tops out around 10,600 feet. The ride is basically a small uphill gradient for 15 miles and then a steeper uphill gradient for the next 10 miles. The elevation didn't give me much of a problem, though once again I didn't push the pace (well, at certain times I had no choice but to work hard or else I'd have had to walk my bike). I kinda wish I had my powermeter with me to see my HR and power just to see how they're effected by the elevation.

Today I did my first run since IMLou. I found a trail and ran uphill for 3.5 miles through the Beaver Creek ski area. I was gasping for air the entire ascent despite averaging about 10 min/mile on the way up. I used my brother's Garmin, which he has set to auto-pause when one's pace drops below a threshold. At every steep uphill section the Garmin would beep to signify that it was auto-pausing because my speed was so slow the device took it as me being stopped. After 35 minutes, I turned around and ran back, taking a slightly longer route. In total I ran a bit over one hour and got in 7.5 miles. It was a fun but not easy run.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Boulder riding

Stacey and I made it out to Colorado a few days ago and have been staying in Ft. Collins. Yesterday, our second full day at elevation, we drove down to Boulder to check the town out and go for a ride. I decided on a loop including Left Hand Canyon and Highway 72 (Peak to Peak). We also decided to climb Old Stage Coach Road on the way to Left Hand Canyon just for good measure.

Riding out of Boulder was easy enough, although the city is busy and somewhat congested, especially due to traffic-delaying construction along Broadway, a main thoroughfare into and out of town. Once we began climbing Lee Hill/Old Stage Coach Road Stacey started feeling the effects of the high altitude. She had to stop midway up the climb to regain her breath. "I think this may be the hardest [or maybe steepest] climb on the route", I told her. After her break, Stacey powered on and we descended to Left Hand Canyon. A sign near where we turned onto Left Hand Canyon informed us that the town of Ward was 10.5 miles away. I didn't realize that those 10.5 miles were all uphill, nor did I know that Ward sat around 9300 ft.

I didn't feel any effects from altitude on the way to Ward. Granted, I wasn't pushing it, but I wasn't going recovery pace either. Stacey was struggling, though. I'd loop back to her every 15 minutes or so, and once we were pretty far along the climb her struggling increased. Shortly before Ward, she had to stop due to shortness of breath and had trouble regaining her breath. Neither of us realized we were at 8500 feet or so. Despite her struggles, we continued on to Ward because we were so close.

Ward is a tiny mountain town (pop. 169) that I've since learned was originally a bustling mining town that was one of the wealthiest towns in the state. Now the only thing there is a general store. A handful of apparently feral dogs roamed free. Two older riders were sitting on a bench in front of the general store. I asked how much climbing the remainder of our route included hoping the answer would encourage Stacey. Stacey added that she wasn't used to riding under these conditions because we're from Michigan. As it turns out, one of older riders was from Detroit and went to U of M before moving to Boulder, where he has happily remained for nearly 30 years. I thought that maybe he was me in 30 years.

After our stop, we continued climbing, only this time we only had to climb a bit before hitting Peak to Peak Highway. I've found conflicting numbers, but its elevation appears to be 9200 to 9600 feet. I began to notice some shortness of breath climbing I'd normally consider a fairly small and easy climb a few miles into Peak to Peak. Other than that climb, I doubt I would have noticed the altitude had I not been aware of it and feeling for signs of its influence.

The scenery along Peak to Peak is absolutely stunning. One especially awesome part of the ride is a large U-shaped descent around a valley. A cathedral is pearched atop a steep sheet of rock in the center of the valley.

Save for the small aforementioned climb on Peak to Peak, past Ward the route is nearly all downhill. It was fun to just look around. Low traffic, good road surfaces, fantastic views, tough climbs, pleasant drivers (many actually wave!)...Boulder appears to have it all.

However, Stacey may have gotten a bit of altitude sickness. She was pretty tired after our ride and went to bed shortly after we got back to Ft Collins. An hour later she was naseous, and another hour later she was vomiting up the delicious Juanita's burrito she consumed post-ride. She's doing all better now, though. Maybe riding to >9000 ft on one's second day at elevation isn't a good idea.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

IM Lou Summary, In Detail

Right off the bat, I did not think I was capable of a 2:55 IM run, at least not this year. Sure, I've thought to myself that at some point in the future I can run sub-three hours in an IM, but I thought that was two or three more years of hard training down the line. 3:05 or 3:10 seemed like a more realistic yet still very ambitious goal for the run. I'm ecstatic about my run split.

Back to the week or so before the race, I had a lot going on. I left my job (permanently, that is) on the Thursday before the race. All week I was a bit stressed trying to wrap-up everything at the office to ensure the transition went smoothly and that my former employer wouldn't skip a beat once I left, not to mention the stress of trying to figure out what to do next! On top of that, Stacey and I are moving out of our apartment starting tomorrow, just three days after the race. Immediately after that, we're driving out to Colorado for about a week of relaxation, a job interview for Stacey, a family wedding, and just scoping the place out in general. Needless to say, all of this had me stressed out. I was not going into the race under ideal conditions, but I didn't know that'd be the case when I signed up a year ago.

With all that going on, I couldn't focus much on the race until two days before the race. Still, packing all my gear, driving down to Lou, and getting my gear organized for the race and into the transition area the day before hand went extremely smooth. At my first IM two years ago I spent nearly an entire day getting my gear in order, so to do so in such short order made me feel like I was missing something, or that I was taking things too lackadaisically. I had plenty of time to lounge. Big thanks to Stacey for packing two grocery bags and a cooler full of good food so that I didn't need to worry about pre-race meals and to Conor and Teresa for driving down there with me and helping make everything as easy for me as possible.

When race morning rolled around, I was extremely calm. I even leisurely skimmed the Detroit Freep Press online while eating my breakfast and read to my great horror that the University of Michigan is being accused by former and possibly current players of NCAA violations. AHH! Anyhow, once I got to transition, I spent all of five minutes readying my bike and made it over to the swim start in time to get a decent place in line.

About that swim time...1:12 is not what I was hoping for. I thought I executed well enough while swimming. I was focused and kept my effort up. Perhaps I didn't spot well. Perhaps I swam a bad line. Previewing the swim course wasn't possible for me, so I was winging it to some extent. Next year, I'll try to do a bit more research about the course. When I looked at my watch upon exiting the water, I was dissapointed, but I told myself that maybe the current was odd and that perhaps everyone's swim times were off. Without knowing for sure that my time was bad relative to the field - and I didn't yet know that because I only knew my time - I was able to remain positive.

As I said in my short race summary, the bike was tougher than expected. On the positive side, the time trial start meant I rarely had to pass packs of people and as a result I was able to race my own race without fear of violating drafting rules by not passing quickly enough or by getting caught in a pack. I was quickly able to settle in to a comfortable pace that didn't violate my predetermined power cap. I kept the wattage at a moderate level, 250-300 W uphill depending on the slope and apparent duration of each climb. (On a side note, and I am not trying to be condescending here, but AG guys really, really, really need to learn how to pace themselves. Five or ten guys, all without power meters but almost all with carbon bikes and wheels, would pass me on every hill while I was riding circa 275 W only for me to fly by them on the next flat while only pushing 190-200 W. I would bet that these guys are setting themselves up for awful run splits by attacking each climb like its a hill-top finish in the Tour de France. When I first got a power meter, I was amazed by how easy it is to put out the watts when going uphill, so I would urge each of these guys to at least test one out.)

My bike nutrition seemed to go well. I urinated four or five times on the bike, mostly in the first 70 miles. Despite all that pee, I remained thirsty and so I continued to drink plenty of Gatorade. I didn't drink any water, even while eating my Powerbars and gel.

My bike pacing was about right. Around mile 80 I started to tire and had to push through it. My lower back was getting pretty sore. At Lake Placid, this isn't an issue because there's so much climbing toward the end of the bike that I'm out of the aero position a lot. At Lou, however, the last 20 miles are best handled while predominantly in the aerobars. Before next year, I've got to increase lower back flexibility or adjust my position a bit. I haven't had time to check out my power file yet, but I averaged 214 W without zeros and 147 bpm (which I do not think is accurate despite my CPU battery change because the CPU showed my HR as >170 bpm during my easy ride the day before the race).

One final note about the bike: There were WAY too many cars on the course. During many portions of the ride, neither lane was closed to vehicular traffic. Cars were often stuck between riders, prevented by oncoming traffic from passing or even moving away from the right lane line. I was held up numerous times on the second loop of the ride because a car would be stuck behind a slower rider. It seems that a better solution for both drivers and racers would be to close one lane to traffic and have all cars travel in a single direction. One reason I choose to race Ironman brand events is their typically excellent race organization (another reason is top-notch competition). I was not impressed with the traffic control at this race.

Near the end of the ride, I felt just slightly better than at the end of my ride in Lake Placid. I wasn't hurting quite as bad, but I wasn't feeling great. My legs were shelled, or so I thought. Also, I was again dissapointed with my bike split. 5:07 is only a few minutes faster than at IMLP, which has a reputation for a much harder ride. Maybe my expectations were not in line with the difficulty of the Louisville course, but I was anticipating sub-five hours. Still, I was off the bike in just over 6:20, which I thought should still put me in position to potentially win my AG.

Once off the bike, I felt great. My fatigue was gone. I sped off running what I thought to be around 6:45 to 7:00/mile, but what was in reality sub-6:00/mile. (One might wonder why I didn't notice my pace was so fast, seeing as I wear a Garmin, and my answer is that I don't care about my pace because I don't have much control over it.) I kept my HR in check, and was happy to see it at 153 bpm a quarter mile or so into the run and at 154 bpm running slightly down hill off the bridge near the start of the run. I checked again a few more times during the first three miles and every time my HR was right about 160 bpm.

The first three miles of running went by quick. At Lake Placid, the first mile marker of the run seemed to take forever to reach, while now I was past mile 3 in seemingly no time. Stay calm and slow, I told myself, there's a lot of racing left. I was popping a salt pill or two right before each aid station, then drinking just coke and water. Since I was dissapointed with both my swim and bike, I avoided looking at my run time or pace for almost the entire run. I didn't want to risk being further discouraged. Instead, I just kept going, always trying to keep myself from running too hard. I went through the halfway marker still feeling good, but knew I was on the verge of having to dig a bit deeper.

I wanted to push it until mile 20 and then let the anticipation of the finish carry me from there. I told myself I'd check my run pace at mile 21. If I was running well, which I suspected I was, I would get some positive affirmation that would further help carry me to the end. At mile 21 I checked my watch and was amazed to see that only 2:20 had elapsed since I left T2. My god, I realized, I can run well under 3:00 if I keep pace! I just pushed to the end, never walking a step for the second IM in a row, and finished in 9:20. It felt pretty good.

Immediately post race, I felt pretty good. No stomach issues all run. Indeed, the run felt easier than any stand alone marathon I've run. Dealing with muscular fatigue isn't too bad, much better than puking and going to the med tent.

So that's that. A 21 minute PR despite a dissapointed swim and what seemed at the time to be a dissapointing, all due to a run that far exceeded my expectations. Once again, I finish a race and immediately think, "Okay, what do I need to do to improve from here?" The answer is pretty obvious. In my next post, I plan on discussing my thoughts for the upcoming so-called "off-season".

Sunday, August 30, 2009

IM Louisville Quick Summary

1:12 swim - Some drift wood floating down the river passed me.
5:07 bike - More challenging than I anticipated.
2:55 run - Where'd that come from?

9:20 overall, 2nd amateur, 2nd in my AG (damn!), 17th overall.

I absolutely nailed nutrition. Salt pills are my new best friend.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The past two days

Yesterday morning I did an hour swim including a 2000m time trial at IM pace. I took a split each 500m:

0000-0500m - 8:21 = 1:40/100m
0500-1000m - 8:28 = 1:41/100m
1000-1500m - 8:43 = 1:44/100m
1500-2000m - 8:41 = 1:44/100m

Hmm...looks like I've got to work on what I believe is called "muscular endurance" - it's not my aerobic system causing the slowdown. I suppose that's what all the paddle work is for.

Yesterday evening including a trainer ride with 30 min at 145 bpm and 4 x 5 min at 260 W, which could be in the 30 min. I started with 10 minutes near 145 bpm and averaged 243 W at 143 bpm (I was >140 bpm at the start of the effort) and 79 rpm.

Next, I did 5 min at 261 W, 143 bpm (starting from 120 bpm or so) and 80 rpm. I followed that up with an identical 3 minute effort, after which I decided to err on the side of rest and put a stop to the hard efforts. It's not that I was hurting, just that I was starting to have to work a bit harder. I rode for a total of 1:10. After the workout, my legs were a bit stiff, so I think I made the right call.

Today I started off with an easy 30 minute run with one mile at 6:30 pace. In the evening, I hopped on the trainer once more for a planned two hour ride. I cut it short by a half hour because I still have a few minor things to take care of this evening before I'm all packed, and I want to avoid rushing to keep my stress level down. I included a bit over 20 minutes at 249 W, 147 bpm, 80 rpm and felt strong. After that, I just cruised until I racked up an hour and a half.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

IMLouisville Plan

Wake up at 4:15 AM or so. Breakfast at about 4:30 AM. 900 calories in the form of two English muffins with peanut butter, a glass of OJ and a V8. Also, two cups coffee. Carry a water bottle with me from here until the race starts and drink as thirst dictates, but not forcing fluids.

Swim start: The swim start at Lou is unique in that it's a time trial start. Everyone is supposed to be in the water within a half hour. I'm not going to rush to try to get in line early. Instead, I'll just get in line when I am ready. As far as pacing goes, there isn't much of an option except to use RPE. How deep of breath I require is a good indication at the start of the swim or at other times when adrenaline may override RPE. In addition to pacing, I MUST FOCUS THE ENTIRE SWIM. No letting my mind wander to other parts of the race and letting my effort slide. Maintain a steady effort through the second half of the swim. Focus on effort, arm entry, extension, catch, and pull (though not necessarily all at the same time).

Transition 1: Grab the correct bag. GRAB THE CORRECT BAG! I've screwed up a transition in each of my last two IMs, and my screw-up in LP cost me probably a minute a so and potentially the AG win. Otherwise, relax. RELAX! Saving two seconds by sprinting isn't going to win the race. Be calm, yet attentive, and keep the HR down.

Bike pacing: Early in the ride pace based on RPE, but let power control. Don't go much above 220 W on flats. Don't work too hard to pass people, as I may have a lot of passes to complete. Do not be afraid to sit 7M behind an overzealous rider that passes me. Try to figure out how many W are going to be required for a pass before making it - do not kill myself just to pass one rider.

As the ride goes on, settle into a steady IM effort. DO NOT CHASE WATTS! Do not try to sit at 220 W the whole time if that effort feels hard. If that effort feels easy, be very, very cautious. Cross-reference HR if it is available (on that note, I believe I simply need to change the battery in my CPU to get HR going again - I'm making the change today). Cadence should be 80-85, but don't worry too much about checking this because that's where I typically naturally ride.

Be prepared to beging feeling ftigued before 80 miles. You've ridden hard before and still been able to run, you can do it again. That said, ride my own race and don't pick up the effort to make passes that will only save a few seconds. Sit 7m back from anyone that passes me or is going a good speed.

Spin a high cadence and decrease the effort the last two minutes or so of the ride.

Bike nutrition: Begin drinking fluid whenever I feel like it, likely just a few minutes into the ride. Drink Gatorade as thirst dictates, but ensure that I'm going through at least one bottle per hour, providing 200 cal/hour. (That's about the bear minimum I ever drink, so I doubt drinking less than that will be a problem.) If I don't have to pee by mile 60, considering increasing fluid intake.

Eat Powerbars at the beginning of the ride. Carry 2 bars (>400 cal total) and the bars in pieces over the first two to three hours. That gives me a minimum of 300 cal/hour, and I'll almost certainly drink another 50 cal/hour or so in Gatorade (i.e., in addition to the 200 cal/hour mentioned above) because I'll probably drink more than 1 bottle/hour. I will also carry 5 gels in a gel flask. That's 500 calories. Begin supplementing Gatorade with gel once Powerbars run out.

Drink water instead of Gatorade as taste dictates. Consider grabbing water to wash down Powerbars and gels if an aid station is approaching. Reduce calorie consumption around mile 105 to give my stomach time to settle.

Transition 2: Same as transition 1. Relaxed, not hurrying, calm and attentive. Hurrying is more likely to cost time than save it here.

Run racing: RPE is my guide. Override RPE during the first mile or two. 160 HR expected. If it is hot, be cautious and start slow. Start a notch below where RPE would dictate if the temp feels warm. Slowing 30 seconds a mile for two or three miles only costs 1:00-1:30. Going too fast could cost 20:00. Do not chase a split - let RPE and the conditions be the guide. Quick cadence.

Run nutrition: Carry salt tablets. Eat them frequently. Each pill only include 40mg of sodium, so even 10 pills/hour isn't too much.

Otherwise, have coke and water. If I feel like Gatorade, gel, etc., have it. If I have a gel, eat is slowly between aid stations. Pay attention to how I feel and let that dictate how much to consume. If I'm really thirsty, that's a sign that my body needs water. Slowing a bit to drink more is going to be faster in the end. Think and be aware and attentive.

Have a flat Red Bull in a sports bottle in my special needs bag. Red Bull is tasty, and I'm told it "gives you wings", whatever that means.

Put ice down my shirt. Dump water on myself. Do whatever cools me down.

Always: Stay positive. STAY POSITIVE! Repeat a mantra if necessary. Know that I can run every step of the race. Know that I can finish no matter how I feel. Keep going. The point is to have fun - have fun. Smile and embrace the pain - I may not know I'm doing my last IM until after the fact.

Result: Win AG. Set a new PR (yeah, yeah, there are no PRs). Enjoy the finish, no matter what. Go get some beer and pizza and ice cream.