Day 36 – A Triathlete’s Epiphany

138 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

I may have had an epiphany this morning and it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it might.

My training plan doesn’t kick in until the new year, which begins tomorrow, so today’s workout was pulled from my Athlete Stash of Scholarliness. If you think of a good acronym for that let me know.

Anyway, back to that monumental moment of epiphanousness from earlier in the day. Running just before sunrise has a magical quality that comes from a slight fear of what lies beyond the dark. Bear, wild hogs, deer, even possums can be hazards to a runner with a dim head lamp. And believe me, all of those live in the woods near my house.

The goal of this workout was to complete a very slow recovery run following a short and easy indoor trainer ride. Heart rate was scheduled for zones 1 and 2 with a couple of short pokes into zone 3.

Anyway… I was jogging along at about 13:30/mi when the podcast filling my ears came to an end and the horizon started changing colors. Without a voice in my ear, my mind wandered, as most endurance athletes probably let their minds wander during training and racing. It wandered to Hawaii where I will someday compete with the best of the best in the world, and I use the word, compete, loosely here.

It is so tempting to envision myself slogging it out along the lava fields and into the energy lab (whatever that really is). Cheering spectators along Ali’i Drive motivate me to run toward the red carpet with every last bit of energy left in my body. But I soak in the whole experience as I run to the finish line and high five every hand sticking into the finishing chute. Then the magic happens and Mike Reilly calls my name, but the crowd is so loud it’s impossible to hear his famous words,

“… YOU. ARE. AN IRONMAN ” .

It doesn’t matter, because I know what he said. I look down at my watch to stop the clock… and OMG! I’m still in the middle of the woods in North Carolina running an 11:00/mi pace and my heart rate has sky rocketed to a whopping 140bpm.

Focus, boy! Get with the workout.

And then it hit me (the opposum, I mean the epiphany). If I can’t get control of my mind, I don’t stand a chance of training properly which means I need to buckle down and learn how to focus.

That’s it. As simple as that. All my long windedness for that. Thanks for reading it.

Until tomorrow…

Day 35 – Relative Perceived Exertion

139 Days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

My New Friend, Alexa

Me: Alexa, How many days until Chatty?

Alexa: It’s coming up. There are 138 days until Chatty. I hope you’re ready.

Am I pathetic or what? I programmed my little home invader, also known as an Amazon Echo, to tell me how many days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga. Just below the title of this post the quote says 139 days , but Alexa tells me it’s only 138 days. Crap! That’s one day less of training.

Today I didn’t do any workouts, so that’s another training day lost. I’m not worried. I’d rather do too little training than too much. In reality, I’d rather do the right amount of training than not enough. Trying to figure out how much training is the right amount can be difficult. That’s why we have gadgets.

A Triathlete’s Best Friend

I used my Garmin 735XT yesterday in the pool for the first time. I’m still trying to learn how to use it. My first impulse with workout numbers is a competitive one: more is better. That’s OK for a first impulse, but not for long term success in this sport or any endurance sport. Heart rate monitors, power meters and GPS devices need to be used intelligently. They need to be used to train with purpose and guide our workouts. Without these devices, the only smart way to train is to use relative perceived exertion (RPE) which can be quite accurate if you’ve practiced with it a lot.

I used to think I had a pretty good idea of zone1, zone3 and zone5 when I used RPE. However, I went for an easy run a couple of days ago and had a tough time staying in zone1. Actually, I forgot my zones after I got out the door, so I estimated by setting 120bpm as my max heart rate for this run which began as a slow easy jog. Before two minutes the heart rate was at 125 so I walked to get it down. Then I jogged again for a minute which shot the heart rate back up to 125. After jogging/walking for about 10 minutes I realized I don’t have the faintest idea where my zones are with respect to RPE.

Me: Alexa, What are my heart rate zones?

Alexa: Rocky Point, North Carolina is on Eastern Standard Time

Until tomorrow…

Day 34 – Triathlon Books

140 Days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Books Are Wonderful Things.

For the younger readers here, a book is like a blog on paper.

If you look for triathlon books on Amazon.com, you’ll find plenty. In fact, you might be overwhelmed by the staggering number of people who write about triathlon. Maybe I exaggerate, but there are many books to choose from and the choice of which to read can be difficult if you are new to the sport.

As a side note – which really is not a side note because we are still in the main body of text – if you don’t know which should be your first triathlon book, consider joining a local triathlon club if possible. You’ll get a better introductory education to triathlon that way than through a book.

I have noticed a pattern among the few triathlon books I’ve read. They can be classified as either training books or perspective books.

Training Books

The Triathlete's Training Bible by Joe Friel
My favorite training book

The training books tell us how to do some aspect of triathlon. My favorite in this group is Joe Friel’s “The Triathlete’s Training Bible.” You are not going to curl up on a couch in front of the fireplace to read this book for the day. This is a book you will want to study. Friel carefully explains what the latest scientific evidence has to say about training the body to perform. It will not give you a race plan, but it will tell you how to create one that is specific to your needs. Other books in the training category include Don Fink’s “Be Iron Fit” and the current book I’m reading, Dan Golding’s “Triathlon: Winning at 70.3.”

There seems to be an abundance of books in the training category.

Perspective Books

Books that explore why we race or why we care about endurance sport or tell stories of great endurance feats make up the second category. These are books that offer perspective rather than attempt to make us faster. The first book like this that comes to mind is “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall who tells the fascinating story of an entire culture that raises its young to run great distances.

My favorite book in the philosophical category is Scott Tinley’s “Finding Triathlon. How Endurance Sports Explain the World.” Tinley boldly asks, “Why do sport at all?” and offers the most satisfying answers of anyone I’ve read. I enjoyed the book so much that it’s featured in a TriRiot video.

That’s about all that I can pull from my mind today. This morning’s swim workout was a doozie and I’m beat.

Until tomorrow…

Day 33 – Training Plan

141 Days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

As I write this, I am sitting in the “Well Waiting ” area of the local urgent care. “Local,” of course, is a relative adjective, because we had to drive 30 miles to get here.

My sister twisted an ankle on a walk this morning, so here we are. Now I have plenty of time to analyze and transcribe a minute fraction of the wavelengths emanating from the cosmic depths of my mind.

Harvey said it so much better than I…

My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.

Harvey Korman as Hedley Lamar in Blazing Saddles

My Creative Alternatives

The big bad LG annual training plan has finally taken shape. Actually, not the whole plan, just up to IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga. I don’t yet know each day’s workout which is why I hired a coach and for my friends in the U.K. I mean a person to help me train, not a bus (wink wink, Charles).

The plan is sort of rough but it’s a good start on training with purpose.

Training with purpose involves breaking down the season into periods.

The main idea is to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of each sport and train accordingly.

Swim

The swim is my strength, so rather than spend a lot of time building a swim base, I’ll begin the season with just two sessions per week: both low intensity and short duration. Some coaches advocate no swimming for prep and base (general focus) phases, but I find that the pool environment keeps me focused and motivated. During the build phases, which are more race specific, we’ll focus on distance, a little on strength, but keep some technique. For speed, Coach Sami says, “Swim as fast as form will allow.” Makes sense to me.

Bike

I’d like to jump right into some VO2max work on the bike, but I need to work on my aerobic endurance base. After four weeks of that, we’ll try a week of VO2max and speed sessions. If that goes well, we’ll build up to another one after about four weeks. The point is to build speed early in the season and build distance later on. This fits with the idea that training should be more race like as the season progresses toward the A race(s).

Run

Running is perhaps the most basic and natural of human endurance activities (other than walking). If that is true then why is it so difficult? Why is it blamed for so many ailments? I like to hypothesize that the lazy and impatient founders of our modern civilizations rejected our natural tendencies in favor of labor saving devices and high speed transportation. Regardless, I’m not yet the runner I’d like to be.

IM703Chatty has a long run, so you would think that my later season running should focus on distance and my early season running should focus more on speed. Not so. Speed work involves raising VO2max and anaerobic threshold which are advanced skills. My base needs to be more solid before I can graduate to the advanced skills. Therefore, the running strategy for my 2020 season is to start off by building a big aerobic base and distance before building speed.

Dailies

Daily workouts will be assigned one or two weeks ahead of time rather than all of them at the beginning of the season. We do it this way because it’s a certainty that the plan will have to adjusted in the middle of the season. We just never know what will happen or when.

To aid in my planning, executing and analyzing, I use the following technologies:

  • Garmin Forerunner 735XT for recording:
    • heart rate
    • power
    • cadence
    • pace
    • speed
    • distance
    • time
  • Garmin Connect to send the data to TrainingPeaks for recording and analysis
  • TrainingPeaks to send workouts to Garmin Connect
  • Wahoo TICKR X heart rate monitor
  • PowerTap power meter (power, speed, cadence)

Afterword

So my sister, Debbie, came back into the waiting area wearing a medical boot on her left leg… broken ankle. Can you believe that? She was walking down the road in a pair of running shoes (trainers, as the Brits might say) and BAM!, broken ankle. Life is so unpredictable. I hope my training is more predictable than life.

Until tomorrow…

Day 31 – Pool Discipline

143 Days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

When swimming along side others it’s easy to get caught up in a competitive mode. If you can’t swim faster than that dude in lane three wearing the board shorts there must be something wrong with you, right?

Of course that’s wrong, but the undisciplined mind just can’t stay focused on the actual workout long enough to ignore what everyone else is doing. There were times my plan called for 1:40/100y intervals, but because I was so caught up in what others were doing that 1:40 was more like 1:25. That’s a big deal. I was blowing all my energy when I should have been holding back.

Pool mantra #35:

Swim your own workout

LG

My first solution to the problem was to count strokes, but that didn’t work so well. At one point, out of frustration and talking to myself, I said, “Swim your own workout.” 💡 A light went on and that became the mantra.

After about a year of saying that in rhythm with my stroke , I realized that I was no longer paying attention to the other people. It may not take you that long, but some habits are hard to break and I just knew that if I stuck with it I would be able to ignore my competitive nature for certain workouts.

These days I can focus pretty well which helps a lot because most of my work right now is on form and technique. For example, this morning was 1200 yards of drills. Throw in another 600y of easy swimming and you’ve got a workout that demands some serious focus.

Don’t get me wrong. Some workouts require that intense competitive drive, but that’s a different issue.

Counting Lessons

Another problem with losing focus in the pool is counting laps. Raise your hand if you have ever lost count of your laps on a 600 yard interval in the pool. You can put your hands down.

My solution to this is to count backwards from the number of laps I need to do. Let’s do some math. In a 25 yard pool, one lap is 50 yards. If the interval is 600 yards, that means you need to do 12 (600 รท 50) laps. At the start of my first lap, I begin counting with each stroke,

Twelve… Twelve… Twelve… and so on until I’m back where I started then,

Eleven… Eleven… Eleven…

You get the idea. And if there’s any doubt, stop swimming after,

One… One… One…

Don’t go

Zero… Zero… Zero…

Until tomorrow…

Day 29 – Functional Threshold Test

145 Days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Christmas Eve day started out with everybody’s favorite indoor bike ride: the FTP test. If you’re not familiar with it, let me tell you all about it.

Functional Threshold

A long long time ago in a laboratory far far away, the idea of training thresholds was born. Dr. Andrew Coggan is perhaps the most recognized authority on this subject and he has written many articles on it. One such article is here on TrainingPeaks. The overall idea is that athletes need to train at certain levels (of heart rate, power, pace) depending on their needs and those levels are unique to each athlete. The way to establish the levels, called zones, is to establish a benchmark which happens to be tied to a physiological phenomenon called lactate threshold.

Power Tap wheel hub
Power Tap hub on rear bike wheel

So Coggan tells us that our benchmark can be found by performing our sport (cycling or running) for an hour at maximal sustainable intensity. From that we can approximate threshold heart rate or power (using a power meter on the bike).

But doing that for an hour requires superhuman mental toughness to stay focused and maintain sustainable intensity. Therefore, Coggan suggests that a 20 minute test will suffice, but the results have to be adjusted downward by 5% to approximate a one hour test.

The Test

For 20 minutes I bathed in my own sweat as I hammered through the FTP test on my indoor trainer.

My strategy was to break the 20 minute ride into five minute blocks. I planned to start out at a slightly lower intensity than I thought could be held for the 20 minutes and then increase the intensity ever so slightly each five minutes.

Power Tap indicator
Power Tap indicator (yellow ).

What actually happened was a little different. I started out pretty well, but after the first five minutes I decided that I was at my 20 minute peak intensity already so there was no change for the second five minutes. When the 10 minute mark arrived, I was really really hurting, so I brought the intensity down a bit by changing gears and increasing the cadence. That seemed to help, so by the time 15 minutes rolled around I moved back into the higher gear. The final five minutes lasted about an hour or so it seemed.

When it was all done, my average watts for the 20 minutes was 181w ( that’s average watts, not normalized watts).

181w?

That’s a big difference from the 235w I was able to achieve several years ago. It just shows how much fitness I’ve lost in the absence of proper training. But that’s OK, because now I have my benchmark. Actually, my FTP is 181 watts minus %5 of that, because we only tested for 20 minutes, and FTP is supposed to represent one hour. That means my current FTP is 172w.

Can you tell which 20 minutes was my FTP test? (hint: between 29 and 49). The heart rate (red line) is out of sync with the power and rpm in case you noticed how flat it is from about 42 minutes on.

Proper Training

With my new FTP I can confidently train in the proper zones. For example, on recovery rides I know that my power output needs to stay below 130w. Alternatively, during anaerobic threshold workouts, the watts need to be between 157w and 182w.

The same concept applies for heart rate, so even if you don’t have a power meter, this applies to any athlete.

Until tomorrow…

Day 28 – Triathlon Goes Virtual

146 Days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

I caught a cold yesterday. The zinc I took for it may have done some good. Does that mean I am now galvanized?

No training today. No meaningful thoughts today. Today is a zen sort of day: just nothing.

Meditating on VS2
Meditating on virtual triathlon

There is one thought…

Virtual Triathlon

I’m not sure about this virtual triathlon thing. Is is just marketing hype or is it really something that people enjoy? If you swim, bike and run by yourself, is that not just a training day? I can see some value in it to get people thinking about triathlon and for charities to raise money, but as a regular thing to do?

TA energy can be very exciting.

I’m usually very positive, but when you take away the finish line and the crowded transition area and the other athletes and the port-a-johns and the announcer, what are you left with?

You’re left with an empty field and yourself.

I guess that’s what it all comes down to anyway. Triathlon (like running) is an individual sport. We may think we are competing against others in our age group, but the real competitor is ourself. We are always battling that part of ourselves that wants to slow down or stop.

On the other hand, those around us (in training and racing) help push us to limits previously unknown. When you “race” by yourself, the only “competitor” pushing you to be better is yourself who is the same competitor that is trying to get you to slow down or stop.

I’m sure there is value in virtual triathlon and maybe I’m not understanding the concept. I’m just not feeling it… yet.

Until tomorrow…