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 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 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


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, 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?